1) Hugh Murray is central to Partick Thistle’s football – for better or worse
DURING Partick Thistle’s 3-1 defeat to Greenock Morton at Cappielow, Jags midfielder Hugh Murray received his second red card of the season after two bookable offences – the second of which left Morton’s Stephen Stirling with a broken leg.
“Shuggie isn’t that sort of player,” said Paul Paton on Twitter in the aftermath of the game. It is unsurprising to see the former right-back defend his colleague so openly, given that the veteran’s arrival at Firhill has coincided with Paton’s permanent move into midfield (the change in position has seen Paton reach a new level of consistency in his performance). There is no doubt that Hugh Murray’s presence in the squad brings experience on and off the pitch, and Paton is just one of several Thistle players to have improved since Murray’s arrival.
That said, some sections of the Thistle support feel that Murray’s two dismissals show he is a “liability”, while others have indicated their disapproval at some of his infrequent slack passes. They have noticed he has given the ball away on several occasions in recent weeks, and claim that a fit David Rowson is a better player for the anchoring role. Rowson might well get his chance, having returned to action and turning out for the reserves in recent weeks.
Murray is central to McNamara’s plans. The fact that he is the focus of so many supporters’ praise and criticism shows how often he gets on the ball, but given he is also the last line in midfield, it is plausible that he could face further suspensions as the season progresses. VF
2) Pat Clarke’s stock has increased in his absence at Raith Rovers
Raith Rovers’ half-time 50/50 draw is almost always conducted by a former player. Depending on who it is, the reception from the crowd can be polite appaluse or enthusiastic cheering, and the draw is typically followed by a few generic questions on the individual’s time at the club. The unusual thing about Saturday’s draw was that it was a current player who plucked the winning ticket – injured striker Pat Clarke.
Clarke was asked afterwards as to how he could return to the team while Greig Spence is in fine scoring form; he replied in the polite manner one would expect. What could easily have been pointed out is that without him, Raith have not won a game. This is sometimes the problem with players like Clarke: supporters will only to acknowledge a their contribution to the team when they’re not playing.
Although statistics can be misleading, they do have the capacity to reveal trends. In the ten games where Brian Graham started up front with Clarke, he scored 11 goals; in the four without Clarke, he has scored only one. The standard of opposition must be taken into account from the samples considered but there can be no doubt that Graham cut a frustrated figure on Saturday, at one point in the second half punching turf repeatedly in a fit of pique. There could have been for a multitude of reasons, but Graham certainly seems to be missing Clarke, a forward whose close control and ability to hold the ball up brings the best out of Graham’s awareness of space and clever movement.
That is not to say Spence has not been good – individually, he has been as good as any in recent matches. However, the required understanding with Graham is not there for the moment. The international break has come at the right time for Rovers and Pat Clarke should be fully fit for the derby against Cowdenbeath in a fortnight. Brian Graham might just be hoping that manager Grant Murray can find a way to immediately include Clarke in the starting XI. SM
3) Mark McGuigan can ease Albion Rovers’ relegation worries
Albion Rovers went into the weekend’s match against Ayr United with seven points from seven games, a fine return for a team expected to struggle over the course of the season. At 4:45pm on Saturday, Todd Lumsden’s side really should have had eight points; they could even have had ten points. At Somerset Park, they created the better of the chances but were ultimately thwarted by two penalties from Michael Moffat, the second of which was virtually the last kick of the game.
Over the course of the afternoon, the Rovers support seemed remarkably stoic after watching their side concede within the opening 90 seconds and then lose the match in the 94th minute, particularly after Ally Brown’s fine block denied striker Jason Crooks moments earlier. There was much in their team’s performance to indicate Rovers might have a very decent chance of extending their stay in Scotland’s third tier.
Enigmatic forward Mark McGuigan has played a crucial role in Rovers’ recent run following his temporary transfer from Partick Thistle in September. The 23-year-old acts as the focal point in his side’s attack and alongside Steven Howorth, the pair formed a classic “little ‘n’ large” partnership in attack. For the the equalising goal, Ayr’s defence were unsettled by the 6’4” McGuigan at the back post, allowing the considerably shorter Howorth to steal in unmarked and head home.
McGuigan’s loan has been extended until mid-December. If he is able to spur the Rovers to victory against immediate rivals East Fife and Stranraer in November, then they will be in the driving seat to avoid relegation to Division Three. AG
4) Darren McCormack will not be a popular man in the East Fife dressing room
Given the furore surrounding Ashley Cole’s infamous tweet criticising the FA last Friday, Darren McCormack’s castigation of his East Fife teammates in the wake of their 3-0 aberration at Stenhousemuir was ill-advised. His tweet – replete with sloppy spelling and questionable grammar – criticised the side for their lack of effort and firmly advised them to “fuk off” (sic).
While McCormack’s condemnation of East Fife was ill-thought, few would disagree with him. Stenhousemuir were reduced to ten men midway through the first half after Ross McMillan’s dismissal for deliberate handball; East Fife’s numerical advantage should have offered the opportunity to secure a positive result, but after the introduction of substitute John Gemmell on the hour mark, the Fifers wilted and capitulated.
The irony is that McCormack himself played poorly throughout and was indirectly culpable for Stenhousemuir’s second and third goals. If he is indeed one of the players who “gives a fuck”, then East Fife can expect a long, troublesome season.
McCormack’s tweet notwithstanding, it is plain to see that all is not well at New Bayview. The club have won once in seven league matches and performances have veered from the abject to the shambolic. Perhaps Brechin’s recent travails have drawn attention away from the Fifers’ current plight, but the club are in danger of being drawn into a relegation battle.
Since taking ill in mid-August, manager Gordon Durie’s involvement with the club has been limited, but he must accept some responsibility for assembling such an uninspiring squad of players. There are certainly some capable individuals at East Fife – Paul McManus and Gareth Wardlaw are fine players at this level – but on the whole, the team is sparse on quality. Loan signings Bobby Barr and Calum Antell should considerably strengthen the squad but so far there has been little evidence of the team improving.
The international break will provide a welcome respite for Durie and his assistant Gordon Chisholm. The pair must use the time off to unite the squad – McCormack’s tweet highlights significant divisions at the club – and find the solution to reverse their alarming form. If not, they might have to find alternative employment before the New Year. CGT
5) The international break will be crucial for Ally McCoist
And finally, a show of hands, please – who imagined that Rangers would only manage three wins from their first seven matches following their demotion to the Third Division?
Many have enjoyed a wry snigger as Ally McCoist’s side drew with Peterhead, Berwick Rangers and Annan Athletic, but the club were expected to pick up their first away win of the league campaign against a beleaguered Stirling Albion. Before Saturday’s match, Albion were bottom of the league having lost their previous five matches and manager Grieg McDonald was absent due to his wedding commitments, arranged over a year ago.
The result, however, was entirely unexpected; Brian Allison – who also works as a nightclub bouncer – secured a famous win for the Binos in the ninth minute. Their game plan, using the industry of Mark Ferry and Dean McSorely to check any attacks from the flanks, thwarted their opponents on numerous occasions. Their compact, narrow style prevented Dean Shiels from roaming into space in the wider areas.
Indeed, Rangers may have had the majority of the possession, keeping the ball well through Ian Black and the impressive Lewis MacLeod, but there was an apparent lack of urgency, incision or desire to put any genuine pressure on the Albion back four. Time and again, full-backs Lee Wallace and Sebastian Faure hurled aimless balls into the penalty area, while McCoist’s 4-2-3-1 system does not have interchanging attackers nor a mobile front-man.
The clear-the-air talks at training last Monday appear to have had little effect; something is not right at Rangers. They are the division’s only full-time side, handsomely remunerated, training in state-of-the-art facilities, and yet their team often looks weaker, slower and far less inspired than their opponents.
Charles Green, Rangers’ Chief Executive, is in an awkward position. His forthcoming IPO share issue will require maximum interest and removing McCoist could potentially hamper the venture – many supporters still feel the manager is performing reasonably well.
With the international break looming, McCoist and Rangers have a fortnight to put things right, otherwise failure to clamber out of the Third Division might actually become an unthinkable possibility. RD