1) Airdrie United must make hay while the sun shines
EVEN if Airdrie’s cup form has been erratic (losing 2-3 to Queen’s Park in the League Cup and then 0-3 to East Stirlingshire in the second round of the Ramsdens Cup), the early results in the league have been reassuringly auspicious.
Last week’s “six pointer” has since been followed up by what must be a surprise 2-0 victory away to Livingston. John Boyle has now scored four goals in two league matches and Airdrie are now top of the table by virtue of an impressive +5 goal difference.
Livingston attempted to take the game to Airdrie, and John Hughes admitted his team did not do enough in the final third of the pitch to penetrate the Airdrie defence. Hughes is – so far – stubbornly sticking to a short-passing approach that does not always work in the First Division. Ross County, Dunfermline and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have shown in recent seasons that a mix of short passing and direct play is required to unsettle an opposition midfield. Airdrie were simply too strong and organised to be passed around.
Nevertheless, Jimmy Boyle will well know that as manager of a part-time team, he must make the best of his club’s early season form to help delay the inevitable dog-fight into 2013. JAM
2) Raith Rovers must remain grounded
With five wins from five this season, some Raith Rovers supporters are beginning to wonder if the anticipated mid-table finish might just have been setting expectations a little too low.
After the down-and-up nature of the last campaign, no-one was entirely sure how this season would pan out and, as a result, neither of the two league wins were particularly expected. While the fans were hopeful of a good start against Hamilton, few were predicting an away win at Falkirk, one of pre-season favourites to win the First Division championship.
Manager Grant Murray is deservedly taking the plaudits for the impressive start, but it should be remembered the four outstanding players – Brian Graham, Eddie Malone, Grant Anderson and Jason Thomson – were all signed by previous incumbent John McGlynn.
How McGlynn would have utilised their talents is open to conjecture, but in these four, Raith suddenly have an abundance of width, pace and, most importantly, goals – attributes the Starks Park side have lacked in the last couple of seasons. It could be argued that the goals have come against lower league opponents, but 17 in five matches is still an impressive return.
However, no-one connected with Raith is getting carried away, as the Montrose match apart, they have yet to truly dominate a game. Seven goals have been conceded in the cup matches against Wick, Berwick and Montrose but ironically, Rovers are the only side in the First Division yet to concede in the league.
Whilst remaining grounded is a must, if Rovers were to gather points from the next two fixtures against Livingston and the eagerly-awaited derby match with Dunfermline then maybe, just maybe, Raith can start to consider themselves as a potential dark horse to challenge at the top end of the table. SM
3) Stenhousemuir will benefit from Sean Dickson’s versatility
In the wake of Stenhousemuir’s 3-1 victory over Brechin City, striker John Gemmell’s towering performance will inevitably be the match’s biggest talking point. While his hat-trick was quite superb – all three goals could be legitimate contenders for Goal of the Season – it would be churlish to ignore the contribution of young full-back Sean Dickson.
The 20-year-old was one of the game’s outstanding performers, both diligent in defence and able in attack down the left flank. His cross for the game’s opening goal was quite magnificent – full of dip, arc and swerve – and only equalled by Gemmell’s emphatic execution.
Before the 2010-11 season, Dickson was an attacking winger with a handful of first team appearances to his name. His sustained run in the team at full-back was born more out of necessity than merit; then-manager John Coughlin had become wearied with the ineptitude of left-back Stephen Thomson, and Dickson was shoehorned into the unfamiliar position in his place. Davie Irons would continue to play Dickson at full-back on a semi-regular basis during his time in charge of the club.
Under new manager Martyn Corrigan, Dickson has excelled in the early stages of the season and is maturing into a fine player. His spells at left-back have been hugely beneficial to his development – he is now equally as comfortable in defence as he is in attack, and can combine both roles with ease. His goal against Annan Athletic in the Ramsdens Cup – a run from the halfway line, followed by a neat exchange of passes then a shot underneath the goalkeeper – was outstanding and entirely emblematic of his current form. Against Brechin on Saturday, meanwhile, he patrolled the left side of the pitch untroubled, switching between defence and attack at will.
Dickson is blossoming from a bit-part player to an indispensible member of the squad. If he is able to maintain this high level of performance over the course of the season, his versatility could be instrumental in Stenhousemuir’s charge up the league table. CGT
4) Jim Weir is the right man to take Brechin City into the playoffs
It is not unfair to say that Jim Weir is still lucky to be employed as manager of Brechin City. Last season, Weir guided the club to their lowest league finish in 12 years. Brechin have always been regarded as one of the best-run clubs in the lower echelons of the SFL, and for a club of their standing to avoid relegation on the final weeks of the season is simply not good enough.
Remarkably, Weir kept his job, but with the caveat that results must improve quickly. Results haven’t necessarily improved – Brechin have only won one of their four matches – but the nature of their performances have been positive.
Only in the League Cup defeat to Stenhousemuir were Brechin only ever outclassed. Against Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup, they competed well and, for the best part, matched their opponents, while against Stenhousemuir again at the weekend, the Glebe Park side were perhaps unlucky to lose the match.
Despite being generally outplayed in the first half, Brechin were the better side for most of the second period. After Andy Jackson tied the scores at 1-1, the same player hit the crossbar from close range. Later in the match, Garry Brady hit the post, and with goalkeeper Callum Reidford lying prostrate, Jonathon Brown contrived to smash the rebound high over the bar. John Gemmell’s freekicks – two powerful Exocet missles – ultimately decided the game.
With Alan Trouten and Derek Carcary set to return for Saturday’s match against East Fife, Brechin should have a far greater threat from midfield and, coupled with recent performances, Weir should have enough to bring the club back onto an even keel and challenging for a playoff position. CGT
5) Montrose can feel hard done by
MONTROSE have been rather erratic with their performances and scorelines this season. Wins in the first rounds of the cups against Inverurie Locos and, more surprisingly, against Cowdenbeath hinted at some promise, but in the league, the Gable Endies have twice taken two-goal leads, only to eventually succumb to late pressure.
Against Clyde, a 2-0 halt-time lead was turned around to a 2-3 loss, and on Saturday, against Queen’s Park at Hampden, a 2-0 advantage was nullified by Craig Smith’s equaliser in injury time. The sudden drop in performance towards the end of matches so early in the season must be of concern to manager Stuart Garden and Mo supporters.
There is one positive thought at least: even if last season’s 22-goal striker Martin Boyle has recently joined Dundee, former East Fife forward Lloyd Young has showed that no player is indispensable. Young now has two goals in successive league matches – together, he and Garry Wood will have to continue to develop their rapport if Montrose are to avoid finishing the season with the wooden spoon. JAM