Five Things We Learned from the SFL

1) Grant Murray has a long way to go before he can get one over Jim Jeffries

IT was a case of master versus apprentice in Saturday’s eagerly anticipated Fife derby as Jim Jefferies’ Dunfermline came up against Raith Rovers, managed by novice Grant Murray. Murray had played under Jefferies at both Hearts and Kilmarnock and based on the result, it may take several more runs around the block before he is able to get one over his old mentor.

While both clubs went into the game after midweek cup victories, Raith were on a particular high after their 4-1 win over Ross County at Victoria Park. In truth, the seeds of their defeat to Dunfermline were sewn in Dingwall, with defender Laurie Ellis missing out because of a back injury sustained in Tuesday night’s victory. His deputy, youngster Colin Wilson, endured a torrid 45 minutes and was replaced during the interval.

The match underlined the pre-season concerns that Raith’s threadbare squad might struggle to cope with even the smallest injury problems, while the defence still seems to have particular difficulties when dealing with cross balls. While they could point to Brian Graham’s wasted penalty with the scores tied at 0-0, they were well beaten. After a bright start to the season, it will be fascinating as to how Murray’s team react to the defeat.

Dunfermline, meanwhile, will look to continue their reasonable form after a trying opening to the season. The deserved victory stemmed from their midfield dominance and was encapsulated by the performance of Josh Falkingham. The former Arbroath player was central to the majority of his side’s fine play, much to the delight of the Dunfermline fans and the chagrin of the away support. If the Pars are to sustain a challenge to early pacesetters Partick Thistle, Falkingham will be key to their improving form. SM

 

2) Steven Craig has a new lease of life

Partick Thistle made an important signing last week, inviting Ross County’s Steven Craig to Firhill on-loan until January (although after the transfer, County manager Derek Adams revealed Craig is free to find a new club on a permanent basis). It appears the forward has initially been signed as a back-up to the Jags’ chief striker Kris Doolan, but with Doolan stricken by injury after 35 minutes of play against Hamilton, Craig quickly found himself with a point to prove.

The former Motherwell, Livingston and Aberdeen striker took his chance with aplomb, scoring the second and final goals of the comprehensive 4-0 victory over the Accies. Although Thistle were not at their most fluent best, it will be reassuring for them to convert a slightly above-average performance into an emphatic win.

For Craig, Partick Thistle is probably the perfect fit. He will relish the cut-backs from the touch-line that Thistle have been consistently producing since the beginning of the season; he will look to run alongside and behind his marker’s blind-side, encouraging the opposition defence to fall back (creating space for Chris Erskine to use); and most importantly, he will feel wanted.

The last couple of seasons at Ross County have largely passed Craig by, with Adams tending to use him on the wing – this has resulted in average performances in a position not suited to him. Thistle might just see the best of him. JAM

 

3) Stranraer’s pressing game can make Stair Park a fortress

On Saturday’s match against Ayr United, Stranraer manager Keith Knox shuffled his side into a quasi 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 formation and encouraged his players to squeeze the game high up the park. It was effective – Craig Malcolm, the main striker, is adept at holding up play, but the assistance from midfield was crucial to their 2-0 victory. Former Albion Rovers forward Robert Love, already held in high regard by the home support, possesses an immense work-ethic and forces opponents under pressure in their own-half.

Despite Love acting as a “supporting striker”, Stranraer’s system can quickly morph into an all-out four-man attack with Malcolm and Love supported by Ryan Borris and Sean Winter pushing forward on the flanks. Knox’s philosophy of quick, expansive football also appreciates that when his side are not in possession, it is imperative they win the ball back as soon as possible. Whenever the side ceded possession, the players hunted in packs from midfield to attack

Grant Gallagher is the player controlling the tempo of Knox’s side. After Stephen Stirling’s defection to Morton in the summer, Gallagher has has slotted perfectly into the vacant role and perhaps looks a little more robust than his predecessor. Gallagher is prone to pushing forward into the “number eight” position in midfield, allowing Chris Aitken to sit in a defensive role in the event his teammates concede possession. Winter was in terrific form at the weekend and performed efficiently on the right of the midfield. The 25-year-old provided two assists for Malcolm and was a constant irritance to Ayr left-back Marc Twaddle.

Promotion is a fanciful notion at the moment, but if Stranraer can maintain this style and intensity, few teams will enjoy their trips down the coast this season. RD

 

4) Stirling Albion must stop feeling sorry for themselves after conceding

Despite dismantling a dire Annan Athletic side in the first league match of the season, it has been a dismal campaign so far for Stirling Albion with the club losing their last three matches.

Saturday’s curiously apathetic home surrender to Queen’s Park was notable for being the second time in those three games where Albion lost the match after scoring first. Josh Flood’s fine header was cancelled out by Jamie’s Brough’s close-range effort shortly afterwards, before Jamie Longworth’s cute finish ten minutes from full-time secured a thoroughly deserved three points for the visitors.

Manager Greig McDonald must be alarmed at the way his players’ confidence appears to evaporate after conceding. There are capable players at Stirling Albion, some of whom have First and Second Division experience, and he should be expecting far better of them than to surrender in such a meek fashion.

On paper at least, McDonald has assembled a squad with an outside shout of reaching the playoffs, and he must look to hardened players such as Mark Ferry and Gary Thom – both of whom have won promotion from the Third Division with Queen’s Park and Stenhousemuir respectively – to ensure the 2012-13 season is far more successful than the previous two campaigns. CGT

 

5) There is light at the end of the tunnel for Clyde

The last seven or eight years have been utterly horrible for Clyde. Severe financial difficulties and the resultant cost-cutting exercises at Broadwood have seen the perennial promotion challengers (the hugely talented vintage of 2003-04 missed out promotion to the SPL by a solitary point) plummet through the divisions. The nadir of their recent history was the conclusion to the 2010-11 season when the club propped up the entire football league.

This season, however, has seen something of a sea change at Broadwood, and the club have won three of their four league matches this season. Despite Annan Athletic providing stubborn opposition on Saturday, the positive result is adding to a body of evidence which suggests Jim Duffy has finally arrested the club’s inertia and can finally look to move them forward.

Granted, Annan are a poor side (and it must be said, it cannot be long until manager Harry Cairney is dismissed from his role after overseeing a series of poor displays), but after overcoming a stuffy opening 20 minutes, Clyde were entertaining and unified and deserved their victory. Brian Gilfillan has added class to midfield, while Kevin Watt’s instinctive forward play has yielded two goals in the previous two games – his understanding with Stuart McColm is blossoming into a fine partnership.

After years of turmoil and torpor, Jim Duffy may be looking to do more than consolidate Clyde’s standing in the Third Division. Whisper it, but the good times might just be on their way back to Cumbernauld. 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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