1) Lyle who?
There has never been any doubt about Philip Roberts’s potential. The forward was top scorer for Arsenal’s U-18s in 2011-12 and last season marked his Inverness Caledonian Thistle with a superb strike against Dundee United. Despite his impressive start with ICT, however, Roberts’s confidence and interest began to wane after Terry Butcher misused the player by continually deploying him on the flanks. So negligible was his overall contribution, there was little fanfare when his loan agreement was terminated long before the campaign’s conclusion. Following his release from Arsenal, Falkirk’s Gary Holt took a chance on the Republic of Ireland U-19 player and so far, it appears to have been an excellent piece of business – Lyle Taylor’s departure has been considerably softened.
In tandem with Rory Loy (on Saturday, the former Carlisle striker was the Bairns’ only outfield player born before 1992), Roberts excelled as a central striker against Livingston. The player scored the perfect hat-trick (a left foot, a right foot and a powerful header for good measure) and used his pace and technical ability to bewitch the home defence throughout. Roberts has now taken his season’s total to five and is looking like he will flourish under Holt.
Although his first spell in Scotland’s top flight was disappointing, it is entirely plausible that Philip Roberts will be afforded another opportunity in the Premiership. After Falkirk’s impressive start to the season, it might even be with his current club. LS
2) Allan Moore is experiencing déjà vu
It was this weekend last year when we mused over Allan Moore’s prospects with Greenock Morton after a significant squad turnover and a winless start after three matches. Twelve months later and although his side won in the club’s opening league match at home to Cowdenbeath, consecutive 1-3 defeats on the road have kept Moore’s team close to the bottom of the formative table.
Last year, the manager still had the experience of Martin Hardie and others to call upon, but the most recent results are arguably with Moore’s strongest line-ups and could be an early indication of season-long mediocrity without any radical changes. Among the latest acquisitions to the playing staff, Kabba-Modou Cham doesn’t look capable of leading the front line on his own, Dougie Imrie hasn’t shown enough of a hint towards a return to the form of his early career, and Tomas Peciar simply just isn’t up to standard. If Morton chairman Douglas Rae wants Moore to lead the club towards a promotion push again this year, a lot of work still needs to be done. If nothing else, the lack of incision from midfield will make Moore rue the release of Kyle Wilkie, who hasn’t started superbly at Livingston but who would have presented a creative option on a different axis to Imrie.
Nevertheless, this was Dumbarton’s win more than Morton’s loss. Ian Murray made a couple of ambitious but undoubtedly astute signings in Colin Nish and Hugh Murray, and neither disappointed. While Nish can often resemble little more than an unbalanced harlequin with a tendency to wake-up for a match day offside, his preserved record as the tenth top scorer in the history of the SPL isn’t to be scoffed at – Nish’s goal for 2-0 just before half-time left Moore with a double-substitution to organise. However, of greater importance is the introduction of Hugh Murray into the team: he sat at the back of midfield, which released Scott Agnew and Chris Turner (among the best technical midfield partnerships in the lower leagues) to dictate and support Nish, instead of taking it in turns to protect the defence themselves.
If Hugh Murray can avoid the recklessness that sullied his initial excellence at Partick Thistle last season, Dumbarton will rarely lose a midfield battle in the league and therefore should be looking up, not down the table. JAM
3) Cowdenbeath need to start collecting points
At the beginning of the season, Grant Adam’s claim that Cowdenbeath could be challenging in the upper echelons of the Championship may have raised some mirth, but after the weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Alloa Athletic (their third consecutive loss), his remark now sounds like utter bunkum. In the goalkeeper’s defence, no-one should be criticised for aiming high, and if he is reflecting the mood of his team-mates, then the positivity surrounding Central Park should be commended, but after the club’s worst start to the season since 1997-98, another relegation tussle seems the more likely scenario.
Of course, there is no need for the Cowden support to panic just yet, but even at this early juncture, the opening three rounds of fixtures have offered up enough evidence to suggest they should be concerned – and not just with their own team’s results. The league’s other part-time clubs, Alloa and Dumbarton, have both started impressively. The Wasps are currently residing in third place, while the Sons have built on their opening day draw with Falkirk with an excellent win over Greenock Morton. Cowden, meanwhile, have lost to Morton, Raith Rovers and now Alloa.
On Saturday, Colin Cameron attempted to address his side’s weaknesses by utilising a 4-5-1 formation, with Kane Hemmings operating diligently as a lone striker and Nathaniel Wedderburn, nominally the team’s sole screening midfielder, offered greater assistance in protecting the defence – it was little coincidence he turned in his best performance for the club. And yet, Cowden were undone by poor defending once again. With the game tied at 1-1, an error from Kenny Adamson allowed Andy Kirk to score and swing the game irrecoverably in Alloa’s favour. Eddie Ferns’s last minute goal added gloss to the score-line, but this is the quandry facing Cameron – while Alloa can win without playing well, his side seem to have picked up a nasty habit of dropping points despite being in the ascendancy.
Curiously, the last time Cowdenbeath lost their opening three fixtures, they shared a division with Dumbarton and Alloa. The 1997-98 Third Division campaign concluded with Cowden in eighth, while the Sons finished bottom. Presumably Grant Adam would be pleased with a similar outcome in May, but his side badly need to start collecting points. The forthcoming fixture with Dumbarton will make for fascinating viewing. SM
4) Dunfermline Athletic just might die with a smile on their face after all
“I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, now it’s happening in mine,” croons Morrisey in The Smiths’ seminal single That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. Dunfermline Athletic’s 5-4 victory over Stenhousemuir at Ochilview, where the Pars scored three goals in the final six minutes, was the kind of thing you only ever see on the telly, or read about in the papers, or hear other fans talk about, or see on a Danny Baker compilation DVD – a madcap series of incredible events that defy belief. Such was the extraordinary nature of the match, it was included in The Guardian’s Saturday Sundae supplement (although this perhaps had more to do with a knackered vidiprinter than the game itself).
Even when they were enjoying their handsome advantage, the Warriors always looked brittle. Early in the second half, a fine finish from Sean Lynch added to strikes from John Gemmell and Ross Smith to give the Warriors a three-goal lead but there was a nagging feeling that the Pars could still take something from the match. Jordan Moore and Andy Geggan reduced the deficit, but Sean Higgins’s goal – Stenhousemuir’s fourth – should have seen them close the game out in comfort. Not so – with six minutes remaining, Allan Smith, Moore and Geggan all scored to complete Dunfermline’s astonishing comeback. The match will surely enter folklore – where were you on 24 August 2013? Let me tell you about this game I went to…
The manner of the result could be the making of this Dunfermline team. When discussing the Pars, one is obligated to include the words “young and inexperienced” but their performance on Saturday was remarkable and showed an unbound relentlessness that belied their lack of stature. They were enthusiastic and, particularly after the introduction of Ryan Wallace and Stephen Husband, they attacked and attacked and attacked their opponents, driving Stenhousemuir deeper into their own territory until they eventually succumbed. In Jordan Moore, the game’s outstanding player, they boast a muscular, physical striker who is equally adept at creating as he is finishing. Moore’s first goal was quite delightful and his progress over the course of the season will be of great benefit to the Pars and Dundee United, his parent club.
The result was sickening for Stenhousemuir, with their defensive frailties exposed once again. The addition of Ross Smith from Dundee United on a temporary basis looked to have addressed their deficiencies (the Warriors kept clean sheets in their opening two league matches) but without the suspended Ross McMillan, the backline was appalling and lacked any sort of leadership and organisation. Smith and makeshift centre-back Eddie Malone were dire throughout, with even the basic elements of defending apparently beyond them. That said, they were hardly abetted by a sluggish midfield, with Sean Lynch looking especially leggy (although his goal was well-taken, the former Airdrieonians player is either badly lacking in fitness, injured, or just not good enough). Stenhousemuir’s midweek exertion against Peterhead was perhaps a factor for the spectacular manner in which they fell away, but to capitulate with just six minutes remaining is inexplicable.
Dunfermline face Falkirk in a League Cup tie on Tuesday before taking on Stranraer, an excellent opportunity for the club to reaffirm their play-off credentials. Stenhousemuir, meanwhile, must consolidate and work out just how on earth they lost the match. It was dark as they drove the point home. CGT
5) Peterhead are no longer title favourites
Peterhead, looking to claim their first league win of an already vexatious season, welcomed Elgin City to Balmoor on Saturday. The Blue Toon started the match as strong favourites: Elgin were dismal against East Stirlingshire last weekend and followed the performance with a humiliating defeat at Highland League side Formartine United in the Ramsdens Cup. Ahead of the match, City manager Ross Jack rolled out the classic cliché that “form usually goes out of the window” in derby games but unfortunately for him and counterpart Jim McInally, the game reflected both clubs’ underwhelming form.
The home side were boosted by the return of striker Rory McAllister from a club suspension (the striker was temporarily exiled after reporting for training drunk) and the addition of loan signings Ryan McGeever (Falkirk) and Stephen O’Neill (Aberdeen). McGeever was to play a prominent part in the game, with the 18-year-old centre-back at fault in the 77th minute when an intended pass-back from distance became a perfect through ball to Craig Gunn, who doubled City’s advantage. But just two minutes later, McGeever nodded home a David Cox corner and with six minutes remaining, Brian Gilfillan stabbed in a McAllister knockdown to earn Peterhead a point.
It was another mediocre result for Peterhead, who started the season as clear favourites to win League 2, but have since drifted from 6/4 to 5/2 in the market. Meanwhile, East Stirlingshire – picked out as a “decent proposition” at the start of the season – are the early pacesetters, having made a perfect start (their superb record perhaps puts Elgin’s performance at Ochilview last weekend into perspective).
After the match, a disappointed McInally admitted that “doors were being kicked” in the dressing room, but said he was generally satisfied with his team’s character in the face of adversity. What he was at a loss as to explain, however, was the poor defending which has been a feature of Peterhead’s start of the season (and in stark contrast to last term). With a number of his squad based in the Central Belt, it might be difficult for McInally, who has never carried the burden of expectation comfortably, to address these shortcomings. He will be hoping that Rory McAllister doesn’t add to his concerns with any further misdemeanours. AG