1) A subdued affair betrayed the history of a historic fixture
FOR a lot of football fans, the build up to a new season only really begins with the publication of the new upcoming fixtures. Normally released midway through June, the list can please and frustrate in equal measure. For the supporters of Raith Rovers, Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath, this season’s set of fixtures was supposed to herald an exciting season that would feature almost one Fife set-to a month. Within such a derby-laden agenda, however, there is a sad irony that Saturday’s meeting could very well be the last Kingdom head-to-head to feature Dunfermline Athletic.
If the worst case scenario does indeed come into being, the weekend’s match between Rovers and the Pars would be a fairly poor way to bring down the curtain on this grand old fixture. Raith’s gesture to allow Dunfermline to keep a portion of the gate receipts if they brought more than 2000 fans failed to materialise, as just over 1900 made the trip. Worryingly though, that figure was still larger than the home support.
That the crowd was so low from both sets of supporters can be put down to the apathy which currently engulfs both of these clubs’ fan bases. Whilst the reasons for their separate malaises might be different, they’re both connected to the same event. Raith’s attendances have been on the wane since the failed title bid of 2010-11 which can partly be attributed to the fact that although fans may be willing to turn out if a team is winning ugly, they are far less likely to part with their cash if their team is drawing or losing with the same style of play. As for Dunfermline, their title victory that season (and subsequent SPL stint) appears to have been a tipping point in their financial predicament – the final straw of a bullish, probably reckless approach to running a football club. The mismanagement of the club appears to have driven away a significant percentage of previously loyal fans.
The result of all this was what was served up on Saturday: a lacklustre, forgettable game played out in a flat atmosphere in a stadium not even half-full. There is no doubt the Pars fans had done their bit but although they created virtually all of the noise before, during and after the game, this was a poor spectacle compared to the encounters of just a couple of seasons ago. The 1-1 draw did little for either side, but in truth, considering the off-field concerns for the East End Park club, never has a derby result been less important – Dunfermline have far bigger battles ahead of them in their quest to survive.
This rivalry has been ongoing since the late 19th century. It is a duel that supporters of both clubs wish to see on their fixture lists for a long time to come and it would be a shame to lose it any time soon. SM
2) Cowdenbeath are doing just enough to stay away from trouble
Cowdenbeath won a typically gritty match at Central Park on Saturday over Airdrie United thanks to a number of factors, but most notably Craig Moore’s winning goal and Colin Stewart’s effort between the sticks.
After losing the lead to an early strike from Jordan Moore, Cowden responded with an equaliser almost immediately through Marc McKenzie and largely controlled the match until half-way through the second half when Greg Stewart put them ahead. The Blue Brazil were leading 2-1, but it was in spite of the lack of performance in the engine room – Jamie Stevenson had to make do on the left side of midfield, while promising starlet Lewis Milne looked jaded in the centre from playing his seventh full league match since the beginning of February.
The match turned when former Hamilton midfielder Jordan Kirkpatrick came on for Airdrie with 20 minutes left and scored from as many yards with what was effectively his first contribution to the game. Cowden’s midfield lost its shape at that point and it took Colin Stewart to make a couple of fine saves before Moore found the winner with full-time looming.
Moore’s goal would have given him five out of as many matches if the result of the fog-ridden postponement against Partick Thistle had stood. As it is, Moore still has three in four and the Motherwell loanee seems to have been more of an inspired signing than previous acquisitions. Moore scored five goals in 13 starts for Motherwell’s U-20 team this season before going out on loan – one can only suspect that the relegation battle with the other two part-time teams (plus Hamilton) will provide him with a more enriching playing experience, while Colin Cameron will benefit from an in-form striker who has a promising all-round forward game.
Cowden’s win was the first by any of the three part-time teams in the last 15 matches combined. Now that Hamilton are sucked into the battle, the Central Park outfit have as much of a chance as any to avoid the relegation places and consolidate the best league placing for a part-time club in six years. JAM
3) Stenhousemuir will guarantee goals – at both ends
A quick glance through Stenhousemuir’s recent results makes for some interesting reading: a 3-3 draw with Brechin City; a 3-4 defeat to Albion Rovers; a 1-1 draw with Alloa Athletic; and another 3-3 draw, this time with Forfar Athletic on Saturday. That the club have scored ten goals in their previous four fixtures but have failed to win tells its own story – Stenhousemuir’s attacking prowess is being undermined by their defensive deficiencies.
Indeed, as an offensive threat, the Warriors are one of the most impressive sides in the division and in John Gemmell they boast a powerful striker enjoying the hottest run of his career. Against Forfar, Gemmell scored a brace of excellent headers to take his league total to 14, which underlies his importance to the squad. While the former Albion Rovers forward is undoubtedly the club’s major attraction, he is ably abetted by players like Darren Smith and Stewart Kean – there are goals in this team.
Yet Stenhousemuir are consistently undone by numerous defensive lapses. It is difficult to pinpoint the main reason behind their concession of so many goals, with the opposition scoring through errors, both collective and individual, and the odd 25-yard screamer. Manager Martyn Corrigan, a former centre-back himself, must be perplexed by his side’s sloppiness – against both Brechin and Forfar, they contrived to turn 3-1 leads into 3-3 draws and six points into two. It goes without saying, but had they won both fixtures they would be sitting comfortably in fourth place.
Injuries have also played a factor and disrupted a defence which kept three consecutive clean sheets at the beginning of the year. With club captain Ross McMillan missing since the 1-1 draw at Stranraer in late February, the signing of Joe Mbu on a short-term loan agreement from Cowdenbeath seemed to be a very decent temporary solution. However, Mbu has struggled to find form since joining, with his performances veering from the haphazard to the downright rotten. With Scot Buist likely to face suspension after his red card on Saturday, McMillan could be rushed back to action earlier than anticipated.
Stenhousemuir are still a competitive side and certainly look as capable as Forfar, Arbroath or Ayr United in challenging for fourth place, but the club must find a balance to complement their attacking threat. A team who concede as often as the Warriors might just stumble into the final play-off position, but an opposition with any gumption would surely pull them apart. CGT
4) Berwick Rangers’ unbeaten streak has been perfectly timed
Unbeaten in five matches leading up to this weekend, Berwick Rangers claimed a comfortable 3-0 victory away to East Stirlingshire to consolidate a place among the play-off candidates.
Since the home defeat to Rangers in February, Berwick have now won five in six and, most remarkably, have now kept four clean sheets in succession. The recent defensive success is a phenomenal achievement in a hugely unpredictable league – not even Rangers have gone as long without conceding at any point in the season, while Berwick’s nearest rivals in the division, Montrose, have only kept three sheets on aggregate throughout the campaign.
That success can be at least be partly down to the consistency in the team selection. Dundee United loanee Marc McCallum has started every game since joining the Sheilfield club and, despite being only 19, has recently been showing maturity on the park and a real aptitude for organising his defence. In the centre of midfield, Lee Currie orchestrated events but on the whole, the Wee Gers were never overly tested by a Shire side bereft of confidence after the 1-9 mauling from Stirling Albion last week.
It says everything about the confidence flowing through Ian Little’s team at the moment that during the same period in not conceding, Berwick have scored ten goals, with none of them from the club’s top goalscorer Darren Lavery. Nevertheless, Dougie Brydon, Neil Janczyk and Scott Dalziel were all taken off during the most recent win due to one form of injury and another – Little will want and/or need them back to maintain the club’s consistency against arguably the most important test of their credentials this season: a home tie with Peterhead. JAM
5) Peterhead are back in contention for a play-off place
Two-thousand and thirteen has been fairly wretched for Peterhead. At the New Year, the club sat in third place, just two points from Queen’s Park in second but a horrendous series of results has seen the club shawshank out of the play-off places and into fifth. The Blue Toon’s problem was, bluntly, an inability to score. Before Saturday’s match with Montrose, the club had scored a grand total of five goals in their previous ten matches. Rory McAllister has toiled, while Andy Rodgers, signed on-loan from Stenhousemuir, had only scored twice since joining in January.
Against Montrose at Links Park, Peterhead would have been an unfancied prospect – Montrose had won three of their previous four matches, scoring 11 goals in the process, and had also won the previous two meetings between the teams – but what followed was entirely unexpected.
Peterhead completely dismantled an awful Montrose side who looked bereft of guile and invention. Of course, the nature of the match could have changed on 20 minutes – with Peterhead leading one-nil, Montrose’s Garry Wood was pulled down in the penalty area by Scott Ross but Stephan McNally’s weak penalty was easily saved by Graeme Smith. McAllister added two goals to Ryan McCann’s opening goal to give Peterhead a comfortable lead at the interval.
After 82 minutes, the Montrose goalkeeper John Gibson was dismissed after felling McAllister in the penalty area. Having used all three substitutes, striker Garry Wood had to deputise in goal. Although he skelped the subsequent spot-kick against the post, McAllister completed his hat-trick between an Andy Rodgers brace.
The result keeps Peterhead within touching distance of Montrose in fourth place, with the gap between the sides now just three points. The club have a difficult away trip with Berwick Rangers to negotiate followed by home fixtures against Annan Athletic and East Stirlingshire. If they are unable to collect at least six points from the three games, then they could usurp the teams above them but given their inconsistency, nothing can be taken for granted.
Montrose, meanwhile, have now suffered two consecutive defeats, both by heavy margins. It suggests that their position within the play-off places isn’t quite as secure as it was a fortnight ago. CGT