1) Falkirk are still struggling – but why?
FOLLOWING their 1-1 draw at home to Airdrie United, Falkirk have five points but only one victory in six league matches. This is somewhat short of the nine points they had this time last year; at that point, there were no obvious runaway leaders in 2011 before Ross County hit form through the autumn (as Partick Thistle seem to be now). Why is it Falkirk have only won one match this season and have rarely looked like winning since?
There are, of course, a number of reasons. Let us not forget that Falkirk’s first team squad has a clutch of young players who will naturally begin their careers with inconsistent form. Kristopher Faulds made his first start in the league against Airdrie at 18-years-old and Stephen Kingsley is around the same age. Both players must be given time to develop and learn their craft. And yet, there is still tangible experience in the team: Michael McGovern, Kieran Duffie, Darren Dods, Jonathan Flynn and Stewart Murdoch have all played enough senior football to carry the younger minority through.
Murdoch has not yet struck the same kind of midfield partnership as he had with Marc Millar last year. Under Stephen Pressley, Falkirk are typically a team which looks to play the ball on the ground and progress through the middle rather than play in a more direct manner. In that sense, an established midfield partnership is vital to the general balance of the team and on the whole, Pressley has a settled XI, but he has repeatedly changed the midfield personnel this term, both by necessity and design.
Pressley himself is coming under scrutiny for his recent tactics. For example, forward David Weatherston playing at right-back against Hamilton in the previous week might have been a Stephen O’Donnell-type experiment, but it was needless when a player as talented as Duffie spent half of the match on the bench. Pressley was criticised throughout Falkirk’s return to the SFL in 2010-11, but he has earned enough credit from the success of the first six months of last season to be allowed to persevere with his long-term strategy for now. JAM
2) Hamilton’s Alex Neil should stick to midfield
Alex Neil has been a perennial figure in the Hamilton side for seven years, and is a player whom manager Billy Reid holds in high regard. The 31-year-old started the match against Dumbarton by sitting in front of his defence and allowing fellow midfielders Gary Fisher and Ali Crawford to push into attack and support Stevie May and Louis Longridge.
Very quickly, things began to go terribly wrong for the Accies as Lee Kilday’s own goal gave the home side the lead. Reid described his side’s performance as “defensively shambolic” and it was difficult to argue with his assessment.
Sons forward Jim Lister was an unnerving presence throughout the match and completely dominated the Accies defence, and young Kilday in particular. It begged the question why a callow 20-year-old was expected to mark Lister ahead of an experienced defender like Martin Canning, but even Canning failed to read the striker’s flick-ons. As well as their inability to deal with Lister, their attempts to play the offside trap were laughable.
At half-time, Reid boobed by shunting Neil into a newly reconfigured back three alongside Canning and Michael Devlin (who had replaced the hapless Kilday). The manager initially intended for Neil to operate as an old-fashioned sweeper and clear any flicks or knockdowns that Lister might win against Canning or Devlin.
Neil, however, was erratic and did little to improve his side’s defensive solidity. Dumbarton’s Mark Lamont duly punished their uncertainty and provided two assists to give the home side a two-goal lead. Neil was quickly shifted back into midfield as Hamilton pushed forward to go for broke.
Despite James Keatings’ late brace salvaging a point for Hamilton, a vocal majority of the travelling support chanted “Reid Must Go” throughout the second half and jeered the manager at full-time. There were several factors which went in Billy Reid’s favour on Saturday – referee John McKendrick’s overall performance, the seven minutes of injury time, Keatings’ intervention – but on the whole, it was a horrid performance. His tactical manoeuvres, particularly the shuffling of Alex Neil, was his nadir. RD
3) We have seen the game of the season at Cliftonhill
The 4-4 draw between Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir was, without extending into the realms of hyperbole, one of the most astonishing spectacles in recent years. The match had everything: constant switches in the balance of play, calamitous goalkeeping displays and three goals – Stewart Kean’s gorgeously measured volley, Andy Rodgers’s di Canio-esque thump, and David Crawford’s jaw-dropping solo run and finish – which are legitimate contenders for Goal of the Season.
Having picked up seven points from the last three matches, it would appear that Albion Rovers have reawakened their “Crazy Gang” spirit and are ready to confound expectations once again. A defiant, rousing performance, Todd Lumsden’s team must do all they can to turn Cliftonhill into as miserable an experience for travelling sides as possible. Rovers should also ensure Mark McGuigan’s loan period is extended – the Partick Thistle forward was central to their strong play, and given his parent club’s outstanding start to the season, it is unlikely he will feature at Firhill any time soon.
As for Stenhousemuir, having controlled the match for the majority of the second half, to throw away three points in such a manner will be of some concern to manager Martyn Corrigan. Every goal could have been prevented and the erratic performance of goalkeeper Callum Reidford was constantly unsettling. His handling, kicking and decision making was wayward throughout and Rovers should have done more to capitalise on his uncertainty. Without credible back-up at the club, there is little competition to put pressure on his place in the starting XI.
However, Corrigan will have been impressed at how his side refused to panic as the match appeared to slip away from them at 4-3. Instead of shelling long balls at Rovers, they continued their patient measured approach; they were duly rewarded when after a series of short passes, Kean gathered the ball and turned it beyond goalkeeper Ryan McWilliams for the equaliser. CGT
4) Jim Weir is running out of time at Brechin
Something is rotten in the state of Brechin. Recent results have been poor; performances have been uninspiring; and crowds are falling to such an extent it appeared that the home support was outnumbered by Queen of the South fans on Saturday.
Four weeks ago, it had been noted that although the Jim Weir’s side were not winning matches, their general play was showing encouraging signs of improvement and they could kick-start their season. Yet since defeating East Fife on 25 August, the side have lost three consecutive matches and there is little indication their current form will subside.
The truth is, Weir has shown little aptitude as a manager throughout his career since first taking charge of Montrose in 2007. Despite facing difficult circumstances at Links Park which hindered his ability to perform his duties, he relegated Arbroath in 2009-10 and managed the first senior side to lose to Junior opposition in the Scottish Cup. It was a surprise, then, when he took charge of Brechin a year later. Under his management, it is not unfair to suggest that Brechin have regressed from one of the division’s most fearsome sides to meek also-rans.
The hangover of last season’s disappointment – their lowest league finish in 12 years – does not appear to have subsided. A change of manager is perhaps required to arrest the current malaise at Brechin and put the club back on an even keel, otherwise the Glebe Park side are in for a long, difficult year. Weir’s waistcoat is on a shoogly peg. CGT
5) In a competitive division, Queen’s Park might be “the best of the rest”
After Elgin comfortably won against Peterhead last week to overtake the Blue Toon at the top of the table, Queen’s Park stated their intentions by thrashing Elgin 4-0 at Borough Briggs.
Although Elgin could have had a couple of goals before Queen’s Park took the lead (most notably from Daniel Moore’s 25-yard free-kick which cannoned off the upright), the visiting team were very good value for their win. The Spiders are an accomplished attacking unit, with Jamie Longworth, Lawrence Shankland and Anthony Quinn all combining with each other for at the first couple of goals in the match. Longworth in particular looks to be in irrepressible form and could create as many goals as he scores this season.
With Peterhead losing their second match in a row, the top of the table has been split wide open for Rangers to inevitably threaten to reach the summit. Until then though, Queen’s Park remain the third best team in Glasgow. JAM