1) Dunfermline’s away form should make Partick Thistle nervous
RED seemed to be the theme of the day as Starks Park hosted the season’s second Fife derby. Dunfermline began the match sporting a rouge away top which appeared to have been inspired by the Melchester Rovers strip of the mid-eighties and for the best part of the first half, they were equal to their hosts. However, the result was effectively handed to them by factors of a similar scarlet hue.
Raith’s Allan Walker and Dougie Hill were both red carded in a heated – and at times downright ugly – opening period. Their dismissals meant that the second 45 minutes become an anti-climax, and the game began to resemble a dull training ground exercise of defence versus attack.
The home side’s game plan seemed to centre around preventing Dunfermline’s Joe Cardle and Ryan Thomson from influencing the match. The destructive tactics distracted Rovers from focussing on the things they tend to do well, namely exploiting the pace and ability of Grant Anderson and David Smith – the two wingers having been crucial to providing chances for their side’s forwards this season.
Although Dunfermline would have been delighted with the win (the club are now level on points with Partick Thistle at the summit of the table), supporters were perhaps disappointed by the relatively low scoreline (in the circumstances), particularly given their ability to score so freely away from home. The Pars have netted at least twice in every away match this season – 17 in total – including three in Hamilton and Kirkcaldy, and four in the rout of Cowdenbeath. Thistle, meanwhile, have scored a measly five away from Firhill – Dunfermline’s away form will give them a strong advantage as the race for the championship progresses. SM
2) Billy Reid has turned it around at Hamilton. Sort of…
If matches were decided by corner-kicks alone, Hamilton Academical might well still be sitting in the relegation play-off place just now instead of Airdrie United. As it happens, Billy Reid’s Accies have won their last two league matches in succession (against two of the top three in the league, no less) by one goal to nil to slingshot them to faux-safety in seventh place.
Indeed, the aggregate corner count against Morton and Thistle is 12-29 against Hamilton, but the combined “shots on target” tally is reassuringly even at 5-5. In both matches, Hamilton have had to concede territory to the teams above them to a considerable degree, but Billy Reid has traditionally enjoyed success with a counter-attacking approach – the most important thing to note is that Kevin Cuthbert has been able to produce two clean sheets in a row while a couple of goals have been scored at the other end.
Has much changed to convert alarming form of one win in ten to three in five? Not much, on the face of it. Stevie May’s loan signing from St Johnstone after the first three league matches is an obvious place to look – despite a relatively meagre supply, he has still managed four goals from his nine appearances (carrying on from last season’s excellent form on loan to Alloa).
Nevertheless, there are otherwise some positive hints of consistency appearing. Despite Reid’s fondness towards tinkering with his team and the tactics therein (for example, 20 different players have appeared for Accies in the league so far this season), there does seem to be something of a settled XI emerging. Only a handful of players could be classed as first-picks, but with the same winning team used twice in a row, Reid surely must be compelled to stick to a winning formula for the third time in a row. For the form to continue, a lot rests not only on the experience of Cuthbert and ferocity of May, but also emerging talents such as Ziggy Gordon. JAM
3) There is no love lost between Michael Moore and the Ayr United support
Given Stranraer’s relative isolation from other SFL clubs, the 52 miles between Stair Park and Somerset Park makes their fixture with Ayr United their version of a “local derby”. Although most Ayr supporters treat the match with indifference, Saturday’s meeting between the sides was played out in an irascible atmosphere. The primary instigator for this was Blues striker “Mr Stranraer” Michael Moore – a former Honest Man with unhappy memories from his brief spell at the club.
Moore has an inordinate ability to irritate opposition fans. His physical approach often strays outwith the laws of the game, and his willingness to go to ground to win his side an advantage is equally as aggravating. However, it was the manner of his departure from Ayr that was particularly infuriating.
The striker was brought to Somerset Park by Neil Watt in June 2007 alongside five other former Stranraer players who worked under the manager during their consecutive promotions between 2003 and 2005. Much was expected from Watt, but his tenure was an unmitigated disaster and lasted only seven months. Brian Reid eventually replaced him and quickly moved on his predecessor’s players amidst rumours of dressing room unrest. Moore had more or less downed tools following Watt’s resignation and eventually left for Dumbarton in late January 2008, having not played for almost two months.
Moore’s role in the dismissal of United midfielder Ryan McStay did little to lessen the animosity between the striker and the Somerset support. Referee Gary Hilland’s version of events might differ, but Moore appeared to catch McStay with a stray arm, provoking the midfielder to crash through the back of his opponent. Moore was booked and immediately replaced by the gargantuan Armand Oné.
Regardless of popular opinion, Moore – when fit – will play a vital role in Stranraer’s battle against relegation. His side were unlucky not to take at least a point from the match, particularly after the denial of a certain penalty with the scores tied at 1-1. “Mr Stranraer” – just six goals short of reaching a century with the club – possesses a fighting spirit that will serve his club and his teammates well. AG
4) East Fife are bouncing back under Billy Brown
Billy Brown’s first match in charge of East Fife – last weekend’s disappointing 0-1 home defeat to Alloa Athletic – laid out the difficulties facing him and his new team. Low on confidence and with clear fractures between the players, their performance against the Wasps was sloppy, disjointed and a clear indication of the direction in which the club was headed.
What a difference a week makes. Against Albion Rovers – another team badly out of form having won once in their previous five league games – many predicted the match to finish as a stalemate, but the convincing manner in which the Fifers dismissed their hosts was hugely encouraging. Bobby Barr was largely excellent against his former club, while Darren Smith and Steven Campbell played with gusto. Former Celtic trainee Liam Gormley also looked impressive and scored a fine goal to open the game – Brown will be hoping to secure the 19-year-old on a permanent basis.
East Fife looked far more solid and organised on Saturday than at any point under the doomed tenure of Gordon Durie and Gordon Chisholm this season. Unless there are major changes in personnel, East Fife look unlikely to unseat the likes of Alloa or Forfar in the play-off places but they should have just enough about them to avoid worrying about the spectre of relegation.
Albion Rovers, meanwhile, looked reasonable threatening going forward but lacked the cutting edge to truly unsettle their visitors. The acquisition of Mark McGuigan was widely praised elsewhere on this site, but his return to Partick Thistle has blunted Rovers’ offensive menace. Manager Todd Lumsden must work diligently to find an able replacement otherwise his side could be resigned to a repeat of last season’s toils. CGT
5) Queen’s Park are in a slump
Given the fact that Montrose are unbeaten in their last four matches, Queen’s Park’s 1-1 draw at Links Park on Saturday might be considered a very decent result for the Glasgow club. However, the result masks an undeniable truth: the Spiders have been in a slump for eight weeks.
Since their hugely impressive 4-0 victory over Elgin City on 22 September, QP have failed to win a league match, picking up four points from a possible 18. Only goal difference separates them from Annan Athletic and Montrose in fourth place, while Berwick Rangers sit one point behind them. Had the club not started the season so strongly, they would be closer to Clyde instead of keeping pace with Peterhead in the play-off positions.
What has happened at Hampden? Manager Gardner Spiers must shoulder some of the blame after continually shunting his best players into unfamiliar positions in recent weeks and failing to maximise the talent of Jamie Longworth (an unused substitute on Saturday) and Lawrence Shankland. The pair are among the best forwards in the division and to waste them, as Spiers has done recently, in central midfield and on the left flank respectively is bizarre, while Tony Quinn is regularly fielded despite having offered little of late.
A lack of confidence runs throughout the team, and the side are badly lacking in craft and invention. Next week the club face a dismal Stirling Albion side, and the match should present Spiers with an ideal opportunity for his side to correct their poor form and consolidate their play-off place. Anything other than three points and there are concerns QP will cede their position to one of Annan, Montrose or Berwick – all three clubs are in form and look likely to usurp the Spiders for fourth place. CGT