1) Chris Erskine’s first touch can change lives
PARTICK THISTLE enjoyed a comprehensive 3-0 victory against Raith Rovers at Firhill yesterday afternoon. However, the result might not have been so emphatic – or indeed in favour of Thistle – had it not been for an eight-minute exhibition of audacious technique by Thistle forward Chris Erskine.
Erskine began the 2011-12 season as something of an enigma. He suffered from erratic form which was exacerbated by the problem of trying to find a permanent role in the team for him. He always had the ability to turn a match on its head by himself with his capacity to beat players through his dribbling, as well as having a dependable technique in striking the ball.
It was Erskine’s ability to kill the ball with either foot, however, which made him stand out against Rovers. He scored the Jags’ first goal by twisting his body goalwards after collecting a cross-box pass from Steven Craig played in behind him; the second goal was an assisted cut-back to Craig after taking a 40-yard pass from Sean Welsh down with the outside of his right boot; and he scored his team’s third after cushioning another long pass to the ground before cutting inside his marker and curling the ball beyond goalkeeper Allan Fleming. All three goals had significant contributions from his teammates, but Erskine’s skill was the biggest factor.
Jackie McNamara’s side are well enough organised and comfortable in possession of the football to carry Erskine when he is at his unpredictable worst. It is when Erskine “‘gets it” that the team really excites. JAM
2) BBC Alba’s coverage shows others how it’s done
Traditionally, the half-time intervals on televised football matches tend to usher in the most inspid of broadcasts: the half-time analysis. The format can vary from station to station, but it is conventionally more or less the same everywhere – handsomely paid ex-professionals spouting poorly constructed clichés at one another, or essentially telling you what you can already see.
How refreshing then, for BBC Alba. Last season, the channel was hailed for its coverage, and yesterday’s match between Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers was also handled with the same respect and value.
Granted, Billy Brown’s pitch-side contribution was largely unnecessary, but their half-time interview packages deserve the upmost praise. Insightful and hugely entertaining, the interviews with Jackie McNamara and Simon Donnelly and then Grant Murray were the perfect tonic to the bland wittering on other channels. The closeness of McNamara’s relationship with Donnelly was quietly touching, while Murray brought a stoic honesty when he outlined his ambition for Raith.
Rival broadcasters would do well to copy BBC Alba’s format. With the exception of Pat Nevin, there are few football pundits on Scottish television with anything interesting to say. Instead of offering up a forum for their dull, witless patter, why not include perceptive interviews with players and management? These would be of far greater interest to viewers.
And finally, although the Gaelic commentator and his analyst were mostly impenetrable, they made infinitely more sense than Craig Burley ever has. CGT
3) Cowdenbeath’s solid defence will see them through
In a stuffy game with few talking points, Cowdenbeath eased past East Stirlingshire at Ochilview and secured their first semi-final appearance in a national tournament since 1970.
Despite winning the tie 2-1, the Blue Brazil were perhaps fortunate to progress – throughout the match, they lacked cohesion in midfield and their poor use of the ball saw them cede possession to the Shire at an alarming rate. It says a lot about their level of performance when their defence was seen to have been its finest aspect.
Last season, their solid, robust defence was their strongest asset and conceded a miserly 29 goals in the league, while this term they have lost four in four matches, a fine statistic for a part-time side in the First Division. In John Armstrong and Joe Mbu, they have two of the SFL’s most physical and dominating centre-backs, while full-backs Kenny Adamson and Dean Brett were among the Second Division’s best performers in 2011-12. Cowdenbeath have started the season above expectation and sit in third place – as the campaign progresses, much will be expected of their defence to continue to the same high standard.
Meanwhile, John Coughlin must be baffled as to why his East Stirlingshire side cannot translate their outstanding cup form into league success. The Shire beat Ayr United and Airdrie United in the previous rounds and for large parts, were the better side yesterday. Having yet to register a solitary point in the league after four matches, Coughlin must figure out how to correct their poor run of results, otherwise another season propping up the division beckons for East Stirlingshire. CGT
4) Arbroath have a strong spine in their team
The Red Lichties progressed to the semi-final of the Ramsdens Cup after seeing off Stenhousemuir in a 1-0 home win, an encouraging result in light of the 6-0 thrashing from Queen of the South the previous weekend.
Despite Stenny going down to ten men with nearly half of the match remaining and then missing a penalty to equalise in injury time, Arbroath showed they have a robustness in their team which will be important as the season develops. Stuart Malcolm and Alex Keddie did not play together in the drubbing at Palmerston (the former replaced the latter as a substitute), but together they have significant experience of playing in the SFL and might prove a prohibitive – if a little slow – defensive partnership.
In midfield, Arbroath player-manager Paul Sheerin introduced Scott Robertson to his squad after he missed out against Queens. Robertson’s versatility (being able to play at centre-back and in central midfield) is an asset to Sheerin – if Malcolm and Keddie can perform well together, Robertson’s strength can be used further up the pitch. In attack, Derek Holmes is a fairly immobile forward, but there is no doubt about his ability to act as a target man for the rest of the team.
Among those players and veteran goalkeeper Tony Bullock, Abroath have an enviable measure of physical strength and playing experience within the centre of the team. If they are to recover from the abominable result against Queen of the South, they must be able to depend on this core of players. JAM
5) John Gemmell has given Stenhousemuir fans a glimpse of his petulant streak
Over four weeks ago, a similar article on this website noted how a fully-fit, fully-focused John Gemmell could be a vital component in Stenhousemuir’s challenge for promotion this season. For the best part, the former Albion Rovers forward has been arguably one of the SFL’s exceptional players between July and the beginning of September: a goal and an assist in a Ramsdens Cup first round tie against Stranraer; an outrageous hat-trick against Brechin City; and the winning goal in the League Cup triumph over Kilmarnock, one of the Warriors’ most famous victories.
While the Stenhousemuir support were rapturous in their praise of Gemmell’s early season form, it had been cautioned by supporters of his previous clubs how the striker has a tendency to “down tools” at various points over the season, with mediocre performances and displays of pique an inevitable and unwelcome mainstay of his game.
In yesterday’s defeat at Arbroath, his red card at the beginning of the second half for lashing out at Stuart Malcolm was the first incident of his capriciousness and ill temper this term. With play having moved upfield, Gemmell and Malcolm clashed and the former raised his hands to the Arbroath defender, leaving referee Brian Colvin little option than to dismiss him.
Ironically, Stenhousemuir were perhaps the better side after Gemmell’s red card and should have taken the match to extra time, but Stewart Kean’s penalty, won in the 90th minute, was blazed wildly over the crossbar. The forward has since apologised for his petulance, but given his status as his side’s focal point of how their team’s play, the Stenhousemuir support will be hoping the incident will not be repeated. CGT