Five Things We Learned from the SFL

1) “You can’t win anything with kids” in the short term

SATURDAY’S fixture between Falkirk and Hamilton Academical was not a thriller, but it did give the Falkirk support something positive to go home with. A last-minute winner from 17-year-old substitute Lewis Small secured the Bairns’ first win of the season at the Falkirk Stadium.

The difference between the two sides on the day was epitomised by Falkirk’s full-backs, with Stephen Kingsley and Kieran Duffie allowed to get forward at every opportunity. Darren Dods and Jonathan Flynn in the centre of defence managed to deal with Stevie May, thus allowing the the full-backs the freedom to support in attack. Duffie is still trying to find the form of last season, but the width he provides his team is invaluable to their play. Billy Reid’s Hamilton, meanwhile, never got forward to any real extent and Jonathan Page’s goal from a set-piece was their only effort on target during the match. Falkirk eventually broke down the Accies defence, but with a lack of any real leadership or focus in midfield since Mark Millar left in the summer, they made difficult work of it.

The Bairns have now risen to the relative safety of sixth place in the league, ahead of Hamilton and the division’s three part-time teams. However, they are still some way off competing with the top half of the league, and it is plausible that Steven Pressley will be more distracted by looking over his shoulder for the rest of the season.

Youth was the prevalent theme of the day. Hamilton took the lead before the hour through Page, 22, but the home team equalised through 17-year-old Conor McGrandles before Small’s timely intervention. Falkirk started the match with as many as seven graduates from the youth system, with two more coming off the bench (including the match-winner, who was only making his second first team appearance). Falkirk’s first XI had an average age of 22, which is skewed by Dods being more than twice the age of half of the team at 37. Hamilton themselves started six youth graduates and brought on another two – they too had a starting average age of 22.

In terms of committing to the next generation of footballers, no complaints can be made of either club, but it is currently difficult to see what realistic short-term aspirations of either team will be. JAM


2) The First Division might be settling into a familiar pattern, but it’s the least competitive league in the SFL

Thistle, Dunfermline; Morton; Rovers, Livingston; Falkirk, Hamilton; Cowdenbeath, Airdrie; Dumbarton. As far as anyone can look into the future, this is how we would expect the final table to finish. January signings might change things of course, but we cannot see many deviations among the bands delineated.

Such a statement is based on the level of competition amongst those bands. Thistle, Dunfermline and Morton have won 20 matches out of the last 30 among them; by the same measure, Dumbarton, Airdrie and Cowden have won only three. It is relevant to look at the top three and the part-time sides in particular, because the sharing of results has been clinically brutal, with 100% of the points going to the top team in the corresponding fixtures so far.

Taking Queen of the South’s emphatic dominance in the Second Division out of the calculation, the gap between second place and second bottom is at its largest among the SFL in the First Division at 17 points – this time last year, there were only ten points between the same positions in the same league. With both Ross County and Dundee being promoted to the SPL in the summer and the advent of three part-time teams rather than just one last season, it was inevitable that the level of competition at both ends of the table would be polarised. JAM


3) Alloa Athletic’s attacking options can fire them into the First Division

The first meeting of the season between Alloa Athletic and Stenhousemuir at Recreation Park in mid-September finished with the home side losing by two goals to nil. At the time, it had been suggested that many had overestimated Alloa’s ability and although the club were highly unlikely to concern themselves with relegation, consecutive promotions seemed a little far-fetched. Two months later, and with Paul Hartley’s side currently sitting seven points ahead of third-place Brechin City, anything other than finishing the campaign in the play-off positions seems unthinkable.

On Saturday, Alloa demolished Stenhousemuir at Ochilview, picking up their 19th point from eight matches in the process. While the Warriors were utterly wretched and turned in their poorest performance of the season, they were undone by a superb Alloa side. Although the victors were expertly served in every area of the pitch, it was their vast array of attacking options which caught the eye.

In players such as Kevin Cawley, Robert Thomson and Graeme Holmes, the Wasps have some of the most potent forwards in the division. Both of their first half goals against Stenhousemuir may have come from defensive lapses, but it was the manner of their execution which was most impressive. For the first, Ross McMillan’s careless square pass was intercepted by Cawley and the striker finished well from close range after storming into the 18-yard box; for the second, Robbie Thomson had impressively blocked from Cawley and Holmes before the ball spun up off McMillan and hung in the air – Stephen Simmons adjusted his body and launched a superb overhead kick into the net. Such was their attacking threat that injured forward Martin Grehan – the club’s top scorer so far this season – was not missed.

Alloa cantered through the second half, rarely raising their performance beyond “professional”, but such was the distinct lack of threat from their hosts, they didn’t need to. In Hartley, the club have one of the finest young managers in Scotland and although he will eventually graduate to bigger and better things, it is not unrealistic to believe he can guide the Wasps to the First Division. His contacts have been crucial in augmenting his side with some of the finest young players in the country, including Mitch Megginson, Nicky Low and Callum Tapping and in the event of promotion, this will surely hold his side in very good stead. CGT


4) Division Two’s Angus sides are experiencing changing fortunes

In this brief entry, let us look at some interesting statistics.

After eight games in the Second Division, Forfar Athletic and Arbroath occupied second and third place respectively, with 16 and 15 points. Their counterparts Brechin City, meanwhile, languished in eighth with six points and a goal difference of -11. Six weeks later, Forfar and Arbroath have fallen to fourth and fifth place respectively with 19 and 18 points and although Brechin also have 19 points, their superior goal difference has seen them clamber into third. Such is the differing form between the division’s Angus clubs.

In fact, had the league begun when Ray McKinnon took charge of the Glebe Park club on 9 October, his side would be sitting at the top of the table on goal difference (they have scored 18 goals in their last five matches, three times as many as they managed in their first eight games); Arbroath and Forfar, meanwhile, would be lying in eighth and ninth and position – both sides have struggled defensively, having conceded 12 and 18 goals respectively.

In short, the times they are a-changing in Angus. CGT


5) Musical instruments have no place within the SFL

This might be a bold statement, but it is one steeped in truth. For example, at international level, think of the England brass band, mirthlessly parping their way through The Great Escape or God Save The Queen; think of the vuvuzela, the scourge of the 2010 World Cup, which rendered each match almost unwatchable and seem as though they were being contested in the bowels of a nest of very angry hornets; and at domestic level, think of Livingston’s defunct Drum Beat Mafia, a risible gang of spotty teens who threatened to “reclaim the terraces”. It is not yet known if the group were ever successful in their aim.

Supporters in the SFL would prefer to talk amongst themselves and occasionally harass the stand-side linesman for failing to curb the opposition full-back from “stealing yards” whist taking a throw-in than listening to the sound of a tatty old drum for 90 minutes, but on Friday night’s match between Queen’s Park and Stirling Albion, the wintry evening air was incessantly peppered by the tedious sound of four youngsters relentlessly thrashing away on a tom-tom. While their enthusiasm should be encouraged, it should be channelled into something else instead of irritating the entire crowd.

The four boys began in high spirits and attempted to cajole the crowd into participating with their singsong. When it became apparent no-one other than a bespectacled middle-aged man in a brown coat towards the back of the stand was prepared to join in, they sat down forlornly – this did not discourage them from banging away on their drum, however, and they continued to do so with no dsicernable pattern or rhythm. If one closed their eyes, it almost sounded like the distant artillery fire across the Gaza Strip. The drumming only briefly ceased whilst the youngsters celebrated Scott Davidson’s 58th minute equaliser by gesturing towards the home support, before quickly resuming. They eventually stopped permanently after Tony Quinn’s late penalty secured the three points for the Spiders. It is difficult enough to follow Stirling Albion at the moment without their matches soundtracked by four youths and a tinny drum.

As for the match itself, it was exactly how you would imagine a game between two out-of-form teams to be. Other than the goals and the sparkling attacking verve of Spiders defender Andy Robertson, it was a tepid affair. Queen’s Park were marginally better, but neither side genuinely merited the victory. While the Glasgow side will have been relieved to consolidate their play-off position (and rise to third in the table in the process), there are obvious problems at Stirling Albion.

With central defenders Brian Allison, Gary Thom and Jamie Clark all unavailable through injury or suspension, player-manager Greig McDonald was forced into starting his second match of the season (his first was in the Ramsdens Cup tie with Falkirk in late July) alongside the chronically unfit Jamie Bishop, who had joined on loan from Forfar Athletic through the week. McDonald’s side offered virtually nothing other than their goal, and as the game appeared to be heading towards stalemate, his decision to crudely slide into Ian Watt as he charged into the penalty box proved to be the decisive factor.

McDonald is popular with his players, but the harsh reality is that he appears badly out of his depth as a manager. Although the 2012-13 campaign was always going to be difficult, especially given the continuous cost-cutting measures at the club, surely a lot more would have been expected from Stirling Albion than tenth place in the division. The victory over Rangers (a match in which he wasn’t even present at) seems to have extended McDonald’s credit with the club, but a change of manager is perhaps required to arrest the immediate decline at Forthbank. CGT

Tell Him He's Pelé

Tell Him He's Pelé

If Tell Him He's Pelé were a boy band, they would probably be the much-missed One True Voice, both in terms of appearance and musical output.

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