1) John Baird’s patience is a virtue
Queen of the South striker John Baird has made an appearance in every league match this season, but he has had to bide his time for a chance to star as the lead centre-forward. Until his first start of the campaign against Raith Rovers in the previous round of fixtures, Baird had averaged only 16 minutes of game-time per match, with Derek Lyle, Gavin Reilly and Iain Russell ahead of him in the pecking order (and probably with some justification, having netted 12 league goals among them). Baird scored against his previous employers (of whom which he still bears enough affection to deliver a cute handmade collage to), which meant he merited another start against Falkirk. Although he didn’t add to his tally, he looked back to his best.
What made Baird such a success in his first spell at Stark’s Park was the way in which he developed his game to link around the box. John McGlynn would happily play him off Gregory Tadé, knowing that the team had the pace and strength to lengthen the playing area of the pitch, while Baird would scurry into patches of space to either drag his marker elsewhere or get a shot off. He is a canny forward who is typically aware of the runs of team-mates when he drops short with the ball, which benefited Reilly at the far post to give Queens a 2-0 advantage over Falkirk before half-time – Baird barely had to glance to know where to dink the ball over Peter Grant’s head. The young centre-back ought to have been more diligent in tracking Reilly from the attack immediately prior to that, but nonetheless it was a smashing pass over the top from just outside the box. Reilly was able to take his time to stroke a low volley beyond Jamie MacDonald, and the lead was no less than what Queen of the South deserved in a fairly one-sided match.
Baird toiled in the division above when asked by Dundee and then Partick Thistle to drudge through the slog of being the solitary striker in the underdog team. His tireless work ethic and selflessness gave him the opportunity to start matches, but against generally bigger, stronger and quicker defences his lack of sheer strength or pace make work difficult for him, to the extent that when goal-scoring opportunities came his way his confidence had been chipped away enough that he barely got beyond the three in as many games for John Brown’s Dundee in March 2013.
However, in the Championship, his touch and awareness are above par and he seems to be a good fit for Russell and Reilly on either side of him – in the set-up at Queen of the South, there are two forwards who can both stretch the play laterally but who also look to get behind defences. With Baird comfortable in doing both the donkey work and linking with others, it looks like he has found an environment where he can thrive again. JAM
2) Alloa Athletic lose out in the Championship’s basement battle
When playing against Alloa Athletic, there’s a pretty straightforward formula for success: score first, and it’ll almost guarantee a win. Over the last season-and-a-quarter, the Wasps conceded the opening goal in 24 matches and went on to lose 22 of them – after the weekend’s 2-3 defeat to Cowdenbeath, that’s now 23 in 25.
Barry Smith was not in charge for all of those matches of course, but since his appointment in January he has been unable to alleviate the malaise surrounding the club. His record stands at five wins (which did include the fantastic 2-1 turnaround against Hibernian), three draws and 16 defeats across this season and the last. Despite having made a number of reasonable signings over the summer, there appears to be no discernible improvement on the park.
Compare Saturday’s match with the previous meeting between the sides. August’s encounter saw Alloa run out as worthy victors, winning 3-0 at Central Park. At the time, there were concerns that the Cowden squad lacked the quality to compete with the rest of the division, with Jimmy Nicholl criticised for a shoddy recruitment policy. But since then, the manager has brought in Calum Gallagher, Kudus Oyenuga and Marcus Fraser on loan and their season appears to be on an upward curve; Alloa, meanwhile, look stuck in reverse.
On Saturday, the Wasps were probably unfortunate to be trailing to Oyenuga’s goal at half-time but by the end of the second half, they got what their performance merited: nothing. Gallagher grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, setting up Oyenuga for his second and then scored the third, vital goal. Liam Buchanan netted his fourth of the season to tie the score at 1-1 but it was against the run of play. Greig Spence added Alloa’s second with 12 minutes remaining but it was nothing more than consolatory and Cowden saw out the match for a deserved win.
There seems to be a disconnect to Alloa’s play at the moment with Ryan McCord and Kevin Cawley, two players central to their recent success, both out of sorts. The pair, alongside Stephen Simmons, were substituted at the weekend (three of the sides four midfielders), something that suggests Smith is aware of where his side’s difficulties lie. Even more problematic was that Alloa’s starting XI on Saturday was more or less at full strength, and even then they were still a distant second to Cowden.
Their current form is wretched – they’ve taken one point in their last six matches – but it’s not bad enough to see them sink to the foot of the table. That might change shortly, with Livingston in tenth boasting a game in hand. Cowden, meanwhile, might only be a point ahead but they too have played one match fewer and, crucially, they’re on a three-game unbeaten streak. It’s not a desperate situation at Alloa just yet but if Smith is unable to bring around a change in fortunes soon, the board might be forced to act. The game with Livi on 8 November is looking like a decisive fixture. SM
3) League 1’s full-time sides are lacking in “game knowledge”
League 1’s top four teams went mano a mano on Saturday and although the two games yielded just one goal, there are were no shortage of intrigue. The match of the day was in the Kingdom of Fife, where second place Dunfermline Athletic hosted leaders Forfar Athletic., while on the Cldye Riviera Jim Duffy was looking to extend third place Greenock Morton’s unbeaten run at home and fend off the advances of Ayr United.
At East End Park, title favourites Dunfermline passed up the opportunity to avenge their defeat at Station Park in August and were held to goalless draw. The Pars continue to underwhelm and were lucky to gain a point, and even more fortuitous to keep a fourth consecutive clean sheet (and a sixth in nine league games). The home side had the majority of possession but found it hard to penetrate the Loons backline and test Rab Douglas. Forfar pounced on a number of lax moments from Pars defenders but found Ryan Scully in excellent form.
The most presentable chance of the match came with just five minutes remaining after the home side were awarded a fortuitous spot-kick when referee Stephen Finnie adjudged Stuart Malcolm to have handled Ross Forbes’s shot. A remarkable act of egotism then followed from striker Gozie Ugwu. The 21-year-old defied the orders of his manager and captain Josh Falkingham to grab the ball and place it on the spot, but his penalty was superbly saved by Douglas. Jefferies was seething after the match, as much with Michael Moffat, the designated taker (Ross Millen had already been replaced), and with Falkingham for allowing Ugwu to take the kick as with the miss itself. Regardless, it would have been an undeserved win – Dick Campbell may not have been the victor, but the spoils were certainly his.
The match at Cappielow was similarly hard fought. Ayr United ended their sequence of three consecutive losses to inflict Morton’s first home defeat of the season. Spurred on by some gentle banter from a Ton fan on social media, it was Scott McLaughlin who had the last laugh against his former club, steering home Michael Donald’s parried cross to score the only goal of the game. This was a professional performance from the Honest Men, in which some old heads through the spine of the side proved to be the deciding factor. It was something that Duffy picked up on after the match. “We lack a wee bit of game knowledge,” he admitted. “When it’s a tight game like that you need one or two guys who have been round the block once or twice to control the game, pass the ball and not be too frantic.”
The same thing applies to Dunfermline. The two sides meet each other at East End Park on Saturday, with both managers coming under increasing scrutiny. Jefferies and Duffy boast full-time squads but it comes at the cost of the 30-somethings that contributed to Forfar and Ayr’s performances this weekend. “Game knowledge” is not something that the managers can easily impart on their players, despite all their years in the sport, but is something lacking amongst their squads. Whether or not it will undermine their title aspirations is yet to be seen. AG
4) Callum Reidford adds to Stirling Albion’s despair
There was a lot to lament about Stirling Albion’s dismal performance in the 0-4 home loss to Stenhousemuir – how about their dreadful defending? Or the apparent lack of fitness throughout the squad? Or what about Willie Robertson’s tremendous headbutt right across Colin McMenamin’s face several yards from referee Barry Cook? It was all too much for Greig McDonald and his assistant Marc McCulloch, who immediately resigned after the defeat.
Perhaps the game’s most uproarious moment came courtesy of Albion goalkeeper Callum Reidford. Midway through the second half, he collected a straightforward backpass into his feet. With Gary Oliver haring down on him, Reidford had a number of options available – boot the ball into the stands and away from any immediate danger, or take the forward on and create space before making a pass. The goalkeeper chose the latter, taking a second touch before dropping his shoulder and attempting to flick the ball beyond Oliver. Calamity struck: Oliver was able to poke it away and left Reidford prostrate. He even had time to dance a jig before running the ball over the line.
It was probably the least the goalie could have done for his former side. Regular readers of Tell Him He’s Pelé will be familiar with Reidford, particularly during the 2012-13 season. Martyn Corrigan’s team were a decent proposition that year (and one that should have done a lot better than sixth place) but they were routinely hamstrung by the goalkeeper’s strange and erratic performances. At times, Reidford could be a very decent player – he stood out amongst the dreck during Clyde and Stirling’s relegations of 2009-10 and 2011-12 respectively, and was crucial to the Warriors’ League Cup triumph over Kilmarnock – but his game was often pockmarked by bad handling, rash decision making, poor kicking and a lack of communication with his defenders. His display in the 4-4 draw with Albion Rovers was so bad it had to be seen to be believed.
Work commitments forced his retirement in March 2013 but Reidford returned to Stirling for a third spell in 2013-14 as David Crawford’s deputy. This season, he has featured with greater regularity, making nine appearances – he has lost 20 goals and kept just one clean sheet.
After his error on Saturday, a section of the home support sarcastically cheered his subsequent touches. Towards the end of the match, Reidford made a fine save from Alan Lithgow, diving low to his right to bat away the defender’s header. His response was to turn to the stand and deliver a defiant fist pump in their direction. It was a bizarre moment and wholly inappropriate given his side were four goals down at the time.
There are many issues for caretakers Darren Smith and Ross Forsyth to deal with until a permanent manager is found, and the poor performances and misbehavior of their goalkeeper is a distraction they can do without. Perhaps restoring Greg Paterson to the starting XI for the weekend’s match with Airdrieonians might be better for all concerned. CGT
5) Clyde get the results right, but performances are still poor
Looking at their results and nothing else, it would appear as though Clyde are hitting something approaching good form. Five points from their last three matches (all against sides expected to compete for the championship) would generally be considered a decent return, but it masks the fact that their recent performances have been inadequate and lacking in spark. The Bully Wee might have recorded a solid-looking 2-2 draw at Albion Rovers on Saturday but they played against ten men for 87 minutes and scored from two penalties; a lot more is anticipated from Barry Ferguson’s team.
Three minutes into the match, Clyde’s Kevin Watt ventured into the opposition penalty area but his run was illegally halted by Ciaran Donnelly. Referee Nick Walsh deemed that the challenge denied a goal-scoring opportunity and sent off the Rovers captain (although there was some dispute as to whether or not the foul had occurred inside the box). Scott McManus dispatched the resultant spot-kick.
Darren Young hastily reconfigured his defence and the match became a stuffy contest, high on huffing and puffing and low on quality (although the Cliftonhill pitch, looking in a particularly shabby condition at this stage of the season already, was perhaps a factor). Scott Chaplain, making his first league appearance of the campaign, scored with a well-placed freekick on 27 minutes to tie the score (and continue his fine record against Clyde in the process). As the first half petered out, Kyle Turnbull felled McManus inside the area and the striker converted from the spot for both his and his side’s second of the match.
There was something quite hilarious about the Rovers equaliser. Goalkeeper Alan Martin carelessly handled Euan Smith’s haphazard backpass from distance and cost his side an indirect freekick. Chaplain’s initial effort was blasted against the wall but Mark McGuigan was able to prod home the rebound. The four goals, all from set-pieces were the sole highlights of the match – it was a dreadful encounter.
On the balance of play, a draw was probably the correct result but only Albion Rovers can be satisfied with the outcome. They were cannier and more streetwise than their visitors and were able to reduce the match to its basest terms to suit their numerical disadvantage. Despite Clyde’s midfield including Stephen O’Donnell and Andy Gibson, they never once looked as though they were capable of breaking down the Rovers and their use of the ball was particularly abject. With Scott Ferguson absent through injury, they looked dour and unimaginative.
A home match with Elgin City and a Scottish Cup tie at Spartans in the coming weeks should give Clyde the opportunity to extend their unbeaten run further but Barry Ferguson must work on getting more from his midfield if his side are to climb the table. Perhaps selecting himself might go some way to addressing their deficiencies – the manager has only played once, appearing for 48 minutes in the recent 1-1 draw with Annan Athletic, but a footballer of his calibre would certainly address their current problems. CGT