1) Dunfermline are keeping up with Partick Thistle
EVERYONE connected with Greenock Morton will of course be disappointed with having ceded a match-winning position to finish with a 2-2 draw at East End Park. Archie Campbell has continued his early season promise and his two goals has left him sitting comfortably at the top of the goal-scorers table. Campbell and his strike partner Peter Weatherson – together with left-winger David O’Brien – gave Morton the kind of incision which Dunfermline could not produce, despite having “better” possession throughout the match. Nevertheless, this was a result which reflects more on Dunfermline’s ability to salvage something from nothing, as they scored two late goals to draw for the second league match in succession.
The Pars’ lack of senior cover in the full-back positions meant compromises were made elsewhere when the club’s only left-back Stephen Jordan was declared unfit for the match. Jordan McMillan had to switch to the left, but more importantly, Andy Geggan had to drop into McMillan’s right-back position. Geggan has recently struck a rapport with Josh Falkingham in central midfield and the ex-Ayr United midfielder has typically been the pivot to the Pars’ attacks. Stephen Husband was drafted into midfield and indeed scored the penalty which initiated his side’s comeback, but the balance among the midfield four seemed to be lost as a result of the reshuffle.
Despite their general imbalance earlier on, Jim Jeffries brought on forwards Andy Kirk and Craig Dargo, and the change worked – Ryan Wallace’s arcing header over Derek Gaston into the very top corner of the goal from a first-time Kirk cross gave Dunfermline the draw they probably deserved on the run of play.
Morton accrued another point, for their best total after quarter of a season since their last promotion to the First Division, while Dunfermline live to fight another day. JAM
2) Mental strength is Thistle’s “12th man”
You could have been forgiven for thinking that the wheels were about to fall off the Partick Thistle bandwagon after they fell to their first league defeat of the campaign at Cappielow a fortnight ago. In recent seasons, the Jags have proved to be one of the least consistent teams in the First Division – even the most optimistic of supporters would admit to having a few fears coming away from that particular game.
Yet two weeks later, Thistle have successfully negotiated their way into the Challenge Cup final and have run riot over a struggling Airdrie side, putting seven past old Thistle stalwart Kenny Arthur in the process. The current squad’s determination was epitomised by the fury expressed by Steven Lawless’s team-mates when, at 5-0, he blasted over the bar instead of squaring to Chris Erskine for his hat-trick. This was a display both of a hunger and a maturity which has been conspicuously absent from Firhill in recent years. To win so comfortably without older heads like Hugh “Shuggie” Murray or Alan Archibald on the park shows there is a winning mentality throughout the Thistle squad.
Jackie McNamara has done much to improve the mental strength of the side he inherited from Ian McCall nearly 18 months ago. This is particularly so after some less-than-impressive performances against lower-league opposition such as Culter and Berwick Rangers last season. While McNamara has brought in a few more senior heads to complement his young squad, it is, if anything, the transformation of these younger players and those already at Firhill which could make the difference this season. McNamara’s work with sports scientists in pre-season is something we suspect more teams at this level will begin to adopt. GC
3) Brechin’s season begins now
The King is dead – long live the King!
Brechin City ensured new manager Ray McKinnon’s reign got off to the best possible start following a thoroughly deserved 3-0 victory over Stranraer at Glebe Park. A brace from Andy Jackson and a neat drive from David McKenna midway through the second half secured the club’s third win of the season, which has allowed Brechin to keep pace with the teams immediately above them in the league.
Granted, Stranraer were modest opposition, and regardless of their manager, it was a match Brechin would have been expected to win, but McKinnon (who bears a striking resemblance to West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clark) deserves immense credit for Brechin’s overall level of performance. The victory was their best display of the season – his side were organised, solid and far more cohesive than at any point under Jim Weir. Stranraer looked reasonably capable in possession, but they were limited by their hosts and unable to create any substantial goal-scoring opportunities.
McKinnon should also be praised for coaxing strong performances from some of his underachieving players. Ewan Moyes and Alan Trouten, two talented players but whose influence this season has been fleeting, were both outstanding on Saturday – the former was imperious in the home side’s defence, while the latter’s direct play kept the opposition on the back foot for long periods.
Brechin host Stenhousemuir next week, a team who have comfortably beaten them on two occasions already this season (4-0 in the League Cup and then 3-1 a fortnight later). McKinnon must figure out a method of containing striker John Gemmell – the league’s leading scorer has been Brechin’s bête noir this term and bullied and dominated their defence on both occasions. Defender Gerry McLauchlan must steel himself for another difficult afternoon.
That said, if his side can secure a positive result on Saturday, then Ray McKinnon might just have an eye fixed on the play-off positions. CGT
4) Width is a commodity which Rangers are sorely missing
It is certainly not co-incidental that every one of Rangers’ opponents at home in the Third Division have opted for a compact three-man midfield – often moving away from their usual strategies – in order to counter the Light Blues’ main strengths. While Rangers have been pretty explosive in the majority of their matches at Ibrox, they have recently come unstuck due to the lack of flair and creativity about their attacking play.
On Saturday, Queen’s Park manager Gardner Spiers took a risk in converting from a familiar 4-3-3-cum-4-2-4 to a 4-5-1 formation with David Anderson, Michael Keenan and Guiseppe Capuano making the play tight in the middle of the Ibrox pitch. While many had hoped for an attacking display from the Spiders, Spiers’s team showed an impressive level of maturity to cram the middle-to-front areas and they contained their hosts for the best part of the match.
McCoist might have decided to fight fire with fire and start the match with Ian Black, Kyle Hutton and Lewis MacLeod in the middle of the park, but Rangers’ midfielders had nothing over their opponents – they were regularly exposed in wide-areas, in particular through the pace and movement of 18-year-old Andy Robertson and 17-year-old Lawrence Shankland.
When in possession and looking to attack, Rangers were astonishingly one-paced and only Andrew Little’s vibrant performance caused havoc in the Queen’s Park defence. The fact is, the Gers just did not open up the game enough to create the gaps against an opposition who were generally physically weaker than them. The only obvious options in wide areas for Rangers are Fraser Aird, Barrie McKay and the injured David Templeton. The return of the latter, of course, will be a significant boost for McCoist in overcoming some sturdy opposition in the Third Division. RD
5) Elgin have blown their chance to go top of the league
Looking at the Third Division from the eyes of a gambler betting “W/O Rangers”, there is very little to choose from among Peterhead, Queen’s Park and Elgin City. With Peterhead and QP both losing at the weekend, this was Elgin’s best opportunity to go to the top of the league again by beating Annan Athletic at home.
It wasn’t to be as David Hopkirk scored a couple of very good equalisers for the visitors. The first was a delightful wall pass played with Scott Chaplain from the left flank, with the return giving Hopkirk momentum into the penalty box. The Queen of the South loanee dinked the ball around on-rushing centre-back Jamie Duff and as Sean Crighton desperately slid in to prevent a shot, Hopkirk found the back of John Gibson’s goal. Hopkirk’s second equaliser was a tidy close-range half-volley which Gibson should have stood up to better.
Despite this, Elgin could and perhaps should have won the match with the number of chances created. With over 60% possession, the home team made the majority of goal-scoring opportunities. Daniel Moore’s immaculate crossing and eye for a through-ball was central to Elgin’s best chances and goals, but for one wicked backwards header by Annan’s Peter Watson which Stuart Leslie latched on to – Leslie was forced wide and his shot across goal was driven against the middle of the post. The rebound was cleared, and Annan held on for the 2-2 draw.
Despite Ally McCoist’s apparent lack of ability to manage a team with such resources at this level, it was inevitable that Rangers would go top before winter arrives. Elgin’s opportunity to keep the Ibrox side at arm’s length in the meantime has been and is probably now gone. JAM