Name: Scott Ferguson
Match: Elgin City 1-0 Clyde (30/8/2014)
It was about this time last year when Clyde’s precocious winger Scott Ferguson made his debut for Jim Duffy’s side and left an immediate impression, scoring in a 3-0 derby victory against Queen’s Park. Ferguson had a sudden impact, cutting infield to slalom past three players and dart a left-footed shot into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
I then witnessed his second and third starts for the senior side, which were narrow (and arguably) unfortunate losses to Elgin City and East Stirlingshire respectively. Against Elgin, it was clear how much Duffy was willing to talk the then 18-year-old through the game, like an enthusiastic P.E. teacher encouraging his brightest pupil to make the right decisions and become his player to brag about on a Friday night down at the local for decades to come.
From the outset, the indications were there from that Ferguson has the potential to play at a much higher level than League 2, maybe in a similar manner to which teenage graduates from the Queen’s Park’s academy have recently starred in the SPFL’s top flight and beyond. Ferguson is predominantly a right winger, right-footed with a modest 5ft 7in stature and with a zest not unlike Pat Nevin in his directness.
Against Elgin last year, Ferguson’s most obvious attribute was his leap. The Bully Wee could play flighted balls down the channel, or long diagonal passes toward his head, and he could win the majority of his aerial duels against the opposing left-back. When competing with a full-back – who might typically only range between two-to-four inches taller than the winger – his is a deceptive weapon when used occasionally. When used in combination with the much taller and more physically imposing prospect in Stuart McColm on the left flank – who could also win the majority of his headers – Ferguson could play with an element of surprise, helped in part perhaps by a lack of a reputation preceding him.
I paid particular interest to him in the 1-2 loss at home to East Stirlingshire. The week before, Duffy had used an orthodox 4-4-2 with dual wingers, but altered the system slightly against the Shire to match in midfield with a 4-2-3-1. With the central attacking midfielder John Sweeney occupied in the midfield tussle against Iain Thomson, there was space infield for Ferguson and McColm to attack into and that is what Duffy intended them to do.
Indeed, Ferguson was actively encouraged to drift along to the edge of the box when McColm and/or full-back Kieran MacDonald attacked down the left. This was evident early on in the Elgin match but against the Shire, Duffy was actively gesturing to Ferguson to loiter 20 yards out, instead of taking the orthodox approach of waiting for the cross at the back post to fall to him. In the 12th minute against East Stirling, for instance, Ferguson missed the cross-pitch instruction from his manager to be in the place where the ball eventually dropped, short of the penalty area, which was exactly the spot where Michael Bolocheweckyj was able to step out of the defence and clear with comfort. It was a mistake that was quickly learned, however, with the teenager becoming more aware of the effect of his off the ball movement.
Ferguson is a keen dribbler. His low centre of gravity helps him shuffle the ball out from his feet at pace and a quarter of the way into last year’s match saw him display an impressive piece of skill, jinking of the ball with both feet past a couple of players, reminiscent of Yoann Gourcuff. Ferguson was fouled before he could release the shot from 20 yards and his free-kick curled just beyond the top corner of the goal, but the talent was evident. Ferguson drew a few more fouls in the match as Michel McGowan grew frustrated at having to keep up with him.
Later in the match, Stefan McCluskey was introduced as Sweeney retreated deeper into midfield, with Duffy seemingly opting for a more rigid 4-4-1-1 formation. However, McCluskey’s role as the trequartista brought Ferguson back into the match, just as he was beginning to fade out of it. McCluskey’s selflessness in his positioning has been championed on this site in the past, but it was a particularly good thing for McColm and especially Ferguson, with the wingers enticed to attack the central areas of space where McCluskey would drift out of. There was one moment, 67 minutes in, where Ferguson and McCluskey found themselves wastefully occupying the same space, but it didn’t happen again and their rapport became the basis of Clyde’s surprise success in finishing in the play-off positions last season.
It was the variety in Ferguson’s play, from being able to beat his man down the line, to dribbling infield to shoot, to drifting into vacant areas to get into goal-scoring positions, and of the effervescence in the way he jumped for the ball that made him stand out. Yet the fact that he was only just another part of the attacking unit in the team, and the least senior indeed, afforded him the chance to catch the opposition off guard, and that made him such an immediately important part of the team. There were lessons to be learned in his decision making, but with a couple of seasons in the first team he would be controlling games as much as a winger can and would be ready for a move to a full-time club.
Having watched him at Borough Briggs again this year, it was surprising just how quickly the incoming manager Barry Ferguson has come to rely upon him.
From the first moments, the onus was on releasing Ferguson down the right flank, to get behind Elgin’s inexperienced right-footed left-back Gordon Finlayson. The first minute of the match had Ferguson goal-side after a ball was played behind the full-back, but the winger’s cross was met by Elgin’s dominant centre-back Marvin Andrews. By the second minute, he had crossed to the back post for David Sinclair to tamely head into the goalkeeper’s hands, and then Ferguson had also just about got goal-side of his marker but was dubiously tackled without repercussion. Within a minute of that, Ferguson’s trickery bamboozled Finlayson, but once again his cross was read and boomed away by Andrews, who picked up the sponsors’ man of the match that afternoon. In spite of Andrews’s performance, it was an electric start and the intention was there for Ferguson to have an influential role.
The problem was that, after the stunning start, Clyde became far too predicable. With Stuart McColm not getting a chance to start a match under Barry Ferguson – the left-winger was arguably the division’s most improved player last season but has now been released – the attacking bias was funnelled almost exclusively down the right hand side. Kevin Watt, the skillful but diminutive forward, was tasked with the left-wing role in a 4-3-3, presumably for Scott Ferguson’s wingplay to set up chances Michael Daly and Watt respectively.
However, unless Clyde’s right-back Scott Durie got involved in attacks, Daniel Moore was able to tag team with Finlayson on Ferguson, often leaving Clyde’s increasingly indispensable winger with too much to do by himself. Clyde’s goalkeeper Jamie Barclay would kick to his right from dead balls, and there were two consecutive goal kicks around 16 minutes into the game that were indicative of the pattern of the match. When Ferguson was able to chest the ball down, he was double marked and and had to pass the ball backwards. When he outjumped Finlayson at the next kick out, Andrews would claim the second ball before Daly.
If Clyde were to repeatedly search for Ferguson to create something out of nothing, they would have been better served getting the ball into his feet or into his stride. Their holding midfielder David Gray was the best hope for that and his ability to spray early, accurate passes allowed Ferguson to quickly collect the ball and put the defence on the back foot. The best example of that was on the 27th minute, when an early switch in play got Ferguson one-on-one against Finlayson – the winger knocked the ball around the defender and was bearing down on Elgin goalkeeper Michael Fraser for what seemed certain to be the opening goal, before Andrews threw his body into a last-ditch sliding challenge that averted the danger.
Elgin scored from the counter-attack with Clyde’s full-backs out of position, with the Bully Wee losing their shape a little thereafter. The distribution was being diverted away from the right and toward Daly in the centre, which played into Andrews’s stengths. With Watt on the left side offering no discernible wing play and a shell-shocked Clyde defence hitting straight balls forward, Ferguson had to adapt and tried to play off Daly’s flicks behind the defence, but they were either overcooked or underhit.
With Barry Ferguson screaming at Sweeney to help collect the ball from the defence, Clyde regained some of their composure to an extent but never to the heights of the first quarter of the match. Yet Scott Ferguson was impeccable in almost all that he did. He was not given the service to attack the left-back as before, but he knew when to hug the touch-line to offer up space for others, or to play simply with his back to goal to invite the overlap from Durie. There was an attack on the 38th minute when he took the ball into his feet 45 yards out, with Finlayson shadowing him, but in one touch managed to swivel and play in Durie behind the defence. A poor final ball by Durie allowed Elgin to counter-attack and Moore sprinted down the left flank in a similar manner to how he set up the opening goal, but Ferguson tracked him all the way to check Moore 30 yards from Barclay’s goal, winning the ball back with Durie a further 30 yards upfield.
Ferguson was not having a direct impact on the scoresheet in this match, but the smaller details were just as impressive. Not long before half-time, he collected the ball in a central position 40 yards from Elgin’s goal, when both Andrews and Mark Nicolson stepped in to try to dispossess him – Ferguson bounced against the former and skipped past the latter, still with the ball at his feet to play in a team-mate. With a misleading amount of strength and the composure to shield the ball under heavy pressure, there is little doubt about Ferguson’s capacity to keep possession in tight spaces at a higher level than this. There were only two instances in the first half where Finlayson dispossessed the winger in an otherwise uncluttered performance from Ferguson. With last season’s attacking unit of McCluskey and McColm still together, who were always able to distract the opposition, maybe he could have played even better.
Or maybe focusing the team’s attacks almost solely on him will increase his development exponentially, with more active touches of the ball giving him a more intensive course in mastering the wide forward position. But then it’s not Barry Ferguson’s job to focus on the development of one player to such an uncompromising extent, even if his namesake could yield a handsome transfer fee after signing a new two-year contract this summer.
It was telling that Clyde’s only clear cut goal-scoring opportunity came from a rare attack down the opposite flank, just five minutes into the match, away from double marking and out of Andrews’s reach. Watt’s only meaningful contribution in the match – in an unnatural position for him – was an inswinging cross which found Daly, who could only head the ball straight at Michael Fraser.
The manager did alter the strategy in the second half with McColm coming on, not in place of Watt but for Sweeney. Clyde changed to a 4-4-2 with McColm and Ferguson typically so high up the pitch that it resembled an old-fashioned 4-2-4. The theory might have been to get the wingers supplying the centre-forwards, but without the midfield advantage Clyde lost control of the central territory and ended up mostly having to lump the ball straight at the strikers. Had McColm come on to play in the existing system, Ferguson might have had licence to drift off the flank unnoticed to get on to McColm’s cut-backs, but instead both wingers were marginalised in a pattern of football that only ended up benefiting Marvin Andrews.
That Scott Ferguson didn’t create any meaningful chances himself, despite the tactics – at least, in Barry Ferguson’s view – being set up to maximise his ability, is not an accurate method on which to judge his performance. Between being double-marked and then covered by the most experienced player on the pitch, Ferguson did everything he could in trying circumstances to create opportunities for his team, and if not to bring others into play. More often than not he at least did the latter with aplomb and he was rewarded in the team’s next match, winning a penalty after dribbling past two defenders (his contribution to Clyde’s five league goals scored thus far has been drawing fouls for two penalties scored). The only criticism would be that he does not always track his his marking full-back when the latter overlaps, but his covering for Durie in the first half against Elgin shows his potential for development to that aspect of his game.
Nevertheless, he is a League 2 winger in his teenage years, and if he continues to improve at the same rate as he has in the last 12 months then it won’t be long until we see him star in the Championship or above.