1) Livingston have goals – and talent – in abundance
Livingston made amends for last week’s surprise 1-0 loss at Annan Athletic with a tyrannical 8-0 thrashing of Stranraer. The trip to Stair Park could have been considered potentially perilous (although Stranraer lost narrowly in the Challenge Cup to Stenhousemuir 2-1, they have enjoyed an otherwise respectable pre-season), but Livi ensured the win was not only routine, but emphatic. Match statisics, including 20 shots with one reply, illustrate the dominance of the visiting side.
Even with last season’s top scorer Rory Boulding having left for Kilmarnock, Livi still have plenty of strike power in their squad. Iain Russell might be merely expected to contribute around a dozen to 15 goals this season, but it was his ability to lay off chances for others that was so notable against Stranraer. Russell’s speed in his dribbling is not unique to the squad, but his decision making was excellent. As well as scoring a brace, Russell had three direct assists on Saturday from the inside-right channel.
And yet, Russell might not even be Livingston’s best forward at the moment – Marc McNulty’s hat-trick yet brings forth the argument he might be the club’s most promising youth product since Leigh Griffiths, while Bobby Barr’s 25-minute cameo still managed to include two direct assists.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance is the manner in which John Hughes has his Livingston side playing. Hughes’s lack of eloquence sometimes encourages the thought he is a tactical neophyte, but the last goal at Stair Park involved twenty-three passes without interruption, almost all of which converged upon playmaker Stefan Scougall.
Nonetheless, let us not forget that Greenock Morton enjoyed the exact same result against Stranraer this time last year – it would essentially end up being Morton’s highlight of that season. JAM
2) Farid who?!
2011-12 was an eventful season for Falkirk. When many predicted they would simply consolidate their league status, they had an encouraging tilt at the First Division title (until Boxing Day, at least) and won against Rangers on the way to the League Cup final.
This moderate success was remarkable in the circumstances. Falkirk were relegated to the First Division after the 2010-11 season and the first team squad was dramatically changed to purge the excessive wage structure. The reliance upon starlets such as Jay Fulton, Murray Wallace and Blair Alston might have been a risk (compare Falkirk’s reduction in staff salary to Queen of the South’s), but the striking transition from experience to youth was made a much more easy process by the signing of Farid El Alagui.
The Egyptian-born striker scored 28 goals in his single season at Falkirk. His endless strength, idiosyncrasies (including kissing his “lucky coin”) and apparent admiration to Falkirk and its supporters instantly made the player a local hero.
However, new signing Lyle Taylor seems to have adapted immediately and could considerably accelerate the decaying of the memory of Farid. Three goals in two competitive matches – including one in Saturday’s 2-0 win at home to Elgin – followed four pre-season goals against Bolton Wanderers and Middlesbrough. Taylor might be around an inch shorter than El Alagui, but off-sets his lesser aerial presence with mobility on the ground. If he can continue his very early season form into the league, he could be a strong tip for the top scorer’s award for the end of the season. JAM
3) Colin Cameron needs help at Cowdenbeath
Cowdenbeath were on the end of the biggest shock of the round as the Second Division champions crashed out to Third Division also-rans Montrose after an insipid performance at Links Park. A large part of this game’s narrative focused on two of last season’s award winners: one going, and one gone.
Montrose’s highly regarded striker Martin Boyle, winner of last season’s Ginger Boot, opened the scoring for the home side after 30 minutes and put his side into a leading position from which they did not falter. For the meantime, Boyle’s presence will provide hope in this corner of Angus, but, as has been discussed elsewhere on this site, manager Stuart Garden will be preparing for the talented 18-year-old’s inevitable departure before the beginning of September.
As for Cowdenbeath, the absence of the PFA Second Division Player of the Year Jon Robertson has been keenly felt, more so than was perhaps anticipated. The energetic midfielder provided the legs for the 39-year-old player-manager Colin Cameron last term and without his dynamism, the Blue Brazil’s front six failed to provide the necessary protection for the back four and goalkeeper Thomas Flynn.
The result will leave the Fifers apprehensive ahead of Dunfermline’s visit to Central Park this weekend. AG
4) John Gemmell can be Stenhousemuir’s key player this year
When Stenhousemuir’s fluent passing approach began to wane midway through last season, manager Davie Irons opted for physicality over flair and recruited Gary Smith (Motherwell) and Kenny Deuchar (Livingston) on loan. The theory, it seemed, was to use the burly strikers to batter oppostion teams into submission through brute force. It didn’t work in practice. Smith was athletic, but painfully timid; Deuchar, meanwhile, was unfit, immobile, and just plain uninterested. Both players’ signings were unsuccessful and the Warriors’ promotion bid failed.
In the summer, Irons moved quickly to rectify the need for permanent offensive muscle and drafted in John Gemmell from Albion Rovers. Despite an indifferent season with a struggling side, the striker was one of the few players to genuinely unsettle Ross McMillan in the Stenhousemuir defence and his selfless displays were key in helping Rovers maintain their Second Division status.
It is a shame Irons is no longer at the club to see his new signing bed in: in his first two competitive games, Gemmell has now scored twice and laid on another two goals for his teammates. His goal in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Brechin City – an audacious turn-and-shoot from 30 yards – was indicative of the striker’s fine form, but only goes some way to explaining his contribution to his team’s victory. Paired against Gerry McLauchlan, one of the more accomplished defenders in the division, Gemmell was expected to have a difficult afternoon. This was not the case.
Gemmell won almost every high ball, linked well with his team and generally fulfilled the lone striker’s role with aplomb. He didn’t just outperform McLauchlan on Saturday – the striker bullied his opponent across the pitch so much, it was almost the equivalent of hoisting the defender up by his ankles and shaking the dinner money from his pockets in the school toilets.
Since Gemmell’s addition, Stenhousemuir now have arguably the most versatile forward line in the Second Division. The new player’s strength and aggression neatly dovetails with the work rate of Stewart Kean and the artistry and unpredictability of Andy Rodgers to create a potent attacking threat. While it would be unrealistic to expect Gemmell to perform to this high standard in every match, the big forward’s hugely impressive start suggests he can become a vital component to the Warriors’ promotion charge this term. CGT
5) East Stirlingshire revert to type
Last week, East Stirlingshire secured a highly unlikely victory in the Ramsdens Cup against Ayr United. Not only did the Shire overcome their opponents, they did so with style and panache. While few would have expected them to repeat the trick against a strong Morton side yesterday, the way John Coughlin’s side were efficiently dismantled 5-1 indicates the win over Ayr was nothing more than a freak result.
The defeat to Morton (as well as the majority of last season’s defeats) suggest Coughlin must learn to temper his side’s maverick streak and – like his Berwick and Stenhousemuir sides of the last six years – make them difficult to beat. The Shire have a number of capable players – winger Nathan Shepherd has already caught the eye, while Paul Quinn and Michael Hunter would fit comfortably into most rival teams – but the manager must ensure are efficiently drilled, stuffy and tough to break down.
East Stirlingshire host Queen’s Park on Saturday, one of the more fancied sides in the Third Division, and a positive performance against the Spiders could suggest the result against Morton – and not Ayr – was the fluke. CGT