Five Things We Learned from the SFL

1) Dunfermline’s season is over – survival is the priority

IT was not wholly surprising to find Greenock Morton winning away at Dunfermline Athletic at the weekend. The Pars had lost four in five league matches leading up to the fixture and indeed, only won three times since the end of November. Back then, the league was a two-horse race between them and Partick Thistle; now, Dunfermline are only two points ahead of fourth place but 13 behind leaders Morton.

The comprehensive 1-4 loss at home was not even a great shock. With the club making headlines in the build-up to the game because of a continual tardiness in paying the playing staff’s wages, it was little wonder that the players did not perform to their maximum potential. Having said that, Dunfermline could have been winning the match at half-time due to an encouraging first-half performance – it took a typically exuberant save from Ton goalkeeper Derek Gaston to prevent Andrew Barrowman from opening the scoring, before the striker smashed a penalty against the crossbar on the cusp of the interval.

Nevertheless, Dunfermline’s early dominance could not be converted into goals and a 30-minute masterclass by Morton in the second period finished the game off. Michael Tidser scored a brace while providing a beautiful crossed assist for Peter MacDonald, who also netted twice. Tidser has contributed three goals in four league matches to highlight the probability of him playing SPL football next year, with or without Morton. Riding early pressure and hitting rival teams with concentrated spells of attacking play appears to be true championship form. The duel with Thistle for the title continues to fascinate.

For Dunfermline, the immediate future is bleak. Jim Jefferies has done a remarkable job to keep the squad competitive to this point given the near-catastrophic circumstances at the club. As far as the league is concerned, Livingston must surely be favourites to claim third spot and the Pars could end up competing with Falkirk for fourth place – that is if there are no points deductions for either a players’ strike, a sanction from the SFL for not paying wages, or administration if any of these were to happen before the end of the season. A strike cannot be out of the question yet, with the squad rumoured not to have taken club official Gavin Masterton’s thoughts on the lack of payments (“It’s tough, it’s embarrassing but it’s not the end of the world…”) particularly well.

Dunfermline are hoping to release a share issue for supporters to assist with the current “cash-flow crisis” which has recently affected payments to the playersHM Revenue & Customs, and Scottish Power among others. Masterton hopes to raise up to half a million pounds for working capital, but with the club requiring as much as £200,000 per month to remain operating, it remains to be seen if Dunfermline under their current guise can continue to exist beyond the end of the season – if they reach that far. JAM

 

2) The battle for fourth place in Division Two continues to intrigue

On and off the field, the contest for the third promotion play-off position remains far from clear cut. Alloa Athletic look assured in second place, while Brechin City – seven points behind the Wasps but with four games in hand over their immediate rivals – should also expect to feature, but the final play-off berth is shaping up to be a four-way battle between Arbroath, Forfar Athletic, Stenhousemuir and Ayr United.

However, the whole dynamic of the race for the promotion play-offs could be changed if proposals for leage reconstruction are implemented for next season. Details outlining the mechanism for the expansion of Scotland’s second tier emerged last week which would see no relegation from this season’s First Division, automatic promotion for the second placed side in Division Two, and a play-off between positions three, four and five.

Regardless, Arbroath, Forfar, Stenhousemuir and Ayr are all in action through the week and with the season entering its final quarter, each match is becoming increasingly significant. Ayr, 2-1 victors over Forfar on Saturday, face Stenhousemuir at Somerset Park tomorrow night. The Honest Men are a single point behind the Warriors, with both sides having played a game less than Arbroath and Forfar. After a rare away victory at Recreation Park on Saturday, Arbroath host Alloa on Wednesday, while a stuttering Forfar side take on Albion Rovers at home.

The results will not determine anything just yet, of course, but with Queen of the South certain champions, Albion Rovers likely to drop into Division Three and Alloa and Brechin probable candidates for second and third place, the battle for fourth is the most fascinating in the division with significant levels of intrigue. AG

 

3) Queen’s Park are a certainty to be the “best of the rest”

With a comfortable Jamie Longworth-inspired 2-0 victory over Peterhead at Balmoor (their first in 11 years), Queen’s Park verified their credentials for finishing as runners-up in the league.

Whereas Martin Bavidge was not in the home squad due to a hamstring injury, Longworth inadvertently highlighted the veteran striker’s importance to Peterhead by producing the quintessential Bavidge-esque performance. The away team took the lead following a tidy interchange between Longworth and Sean Burns – Longworth drove to the bye-line and flashed a low ball aimed across the goal, with Steven Noble diverting the the ball into his own net. Longworth led the line well and could have had a goal or two more on another day, with Peterhead’s defenders finding it difficult to compete with his physicality.

Peterhead have been recently partnering Rory McAllister with Stenhousemuir’s on-loan forward Andy Rodgers. Neither player found their best football on the day and the latter occasionally looked a player frustrated as much in his own form as in the lack of quality service given to him. On paper at least, McAllister and Rodgers together represent one of the most potent forward partnerships outside the First Division, and with four goals in as many games between them in the league since the latter joined, there is certainly promise, but the midfield must continue to create chances for them if Peterhead are to remain in the play-off positions with the Spiders and Montrose.

Queen’s Park killed the game off with another scintillating move by Burns to pierce a low, dipping cross to the far post where Lawrence Shankland tapped in for his sixth league goal as a 17-year-old. With talent throughout the squad and an ever-improving (but still often protected) Shankland able to contribute to the goals chart, there is no reason why Queen’s Park cannot finish the season in second place. JAM

 

4) Annan Athletic will rue overlooking Euan Brydson for manager

There was an inevitability about the resignation of Harry Cairney as Annan Athletic manager. Popular among his players and well-regarded by the majority of the Galabank support, there was a feeling he had taken the club as far as could. With the installation of a new plastic pitch and the addition of talented players such as Scott Chaplain in the summer, Annan should have been bidding for promotion this season but following a run of five consecutive defeats, Cairney’s resignation in mid-December was reluctantly welcomed.

His assistant Euan Brydson was charged with managing the side on an interim basis and under “Buff”, Annan arrested their decline, picking up ten points from a possible 15 (their only defeat during this period as a defeat to Rangers) and re-established themselves as contenders for a play-off position. In mid-January and with the club sitting in seventh place and only three points behind Peterhead in third, Brydson seemed the logical candidate for permanent manager.

It was some surprise then, that Annan’s committee overlooked him in favour of Jim Chapman. The 47-year-old showed promise managing Albion Rovers but it was his tenure with Dumbarton which marked him out as a very good coach. The Sons won the Third Division championship in 2008-09 and established themselves as a decent Second Division side, but following a poor series of results, he was replaced by Alan Adamson in October 2010. Having spent more than two years out of management, his appointment at Galabank seemed decidedly left-field.

Under Chapman, Annan have been wretched. Decent draws in their opening two matches with Peterhead and Queen’s Park were tempered by four consecutive losses, including defeats to East Stirlingshire and Stirling Albion. Saturday’s 1-5 capitulation at Montrose was probably their poorest performance of the season. Four-nil down after 35 minutes, it was an apathetic surrender. The Gable Endies’ mercurial forward Martin Boyle scored four and the match been played out in front of TV cameras, his third would surely have been included in a gaffe reel presented by Danny Baker. Thinking he was alone in his box, goalkeeper Craig Summersgill dropped the ball at his feet, only for Boyle to nip in from behind him and poke the ball hope.

The goal summed up Annan’s hopelessness. Since Chapman’s appointment, the club have regressed. Where Brydson had the club playing with confidence, encouraging them to play an enterprising style of football, the new manager has undone his predecessor’s fine work by chopping and changing the starting XI, shunting players into unfamiliar roles and relegating his side’s strongest attacking threat to the bench. There are even rumours emanating online that the squad are already unsettled by Chapman’s brusque style of management.

Just six weeks ago, Annan could have been considered as credible contenders for a play-off position but on current form, yet another season of consolidation in the Third Division surely beckons for the club. The decision to overlook Brydson could prove to be a costly one. CGT

 

5) Clyde are going nowhere under Jim Duffy

Having spent a large majority of the season propping up the entire football league, Stirling Albion have finally moved off the foot of Division Three. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Clyde – their third win in five games – allowed them to leapfrog their opponents into ninth place.

Clyde have been in steady decline all year and find themselves bottom of the table for the first time this season. After four matches, the club had collected nine points and sat in second place, but a long winless run between September and November had seen the club gently slide down the division. Clyde have won once in 2013 and with the recent improvements in East Stirlingshire and the Binos, it is little surprise to see the club languishing.

The supporters’ enthusiasm is perhaps at its lowest ebb, with many deeply unhappy with the management of Jim Duffy. There are a number of very capable players at his disposal (most notably Sean Fitzharris and Dumbarton’s on-loan midfielder Kevin Nicoll) but Duffy appears unable to get the very best from them. Particularly aggravating is his inability to organise his team’s defence – having forged a career as a solid centre-half, it is astonishing to see the Clyde backline look so chaotic and haphazard. That John Kane, a defender who has perennially underperformed throughout the season is a near-permanent fixture in the squad surely calls Duffy’s judgement into question.

Clyde only need to look at Dumbarton to see the positive impact a change of manager can have on the club. However, with Duffy himself on Clyde’s board of directors, any such revolution at the Bully Wee in the immediate future is highly unlikely. 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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