Paul McMullan will shine for St Mirren
Rangers’ apparent revival and the overall quality of their performance against St Mirren was the most salient aspects of Friday night’s match, but it would be wrong to overlook Paul McMullan’s contribution. The Buddies’ 19-year-old attacker, signed on a season-long loan from Celtic, set up Cameron Howieson’s fine strike and won his side a penalty after a forceful run through the Rangers defence. St Mirren were second best against the Ibrox club but McMullan’s input certainly caught the eye.
It is not surprising. McMullan had been loaned to Stenhousemuir for the latter half of last season and, in this author’s opinion, was the most exciting player to star for the Warriors in over a decade. McMullan quickly became a talisman for the beleaguered team – while he could not stop them from finishing in ninth place, he was certainly a huge factor in their League 1 survival. His industry, dynamism, speed of thought and bewitching ability on the ball galvanised a mediocre side and carried them through the play-off contest.
Yes, he failed to track Lee Wallace’s run for Rangers’ second goal, there were two or three occasions where his passing was askew, and he ceded possession in silly areas, but the player will learn and develop from this and get better as the campaign goes on. A lack of physicality might prevent him from progressing to the Celtic first team in the long-term, but he will dazzle and delight the St Mirren support this season.
Willie Gibson’s fine form continues
Dumbarton’s 2-1 home win over Hibernian was their first victory over the Edinburgh club since September 1984. Goals from Gregor Buchanan and Willie Gibson secured the Sons the three points and enhanced the team’s billing as the darkest of dark horses for a promotion play-off place. The win was a supreme team effort but Gibson’s decisive strike – a swirling free-kick from 25 yards – was the contest’s sublime moment.
Gibson’s talent has never been in doubt but his capriciousness and single-mindedness has perhaps prevented him from showcasing his ability at a higher level for longer. The player’s career looked to be in a tailspin after leaving Queen of the South in 2013 but after linking up with Stevie Aitken’s Stranraer 12 months ago, he looks rejuvenated. Aitken seems to bring out the best in Gibson – the winger was one of the best players in League 1 last term – and it was no surprise to see the manager take him with him to Dumbarton. Gibson can go onto have another fine campaign this time around.
Dunfermline Athletic have exorcised the demons
Be afraid… Be very afraid! Dunfermline Athletic are back on the scene and boy, do they mean business. The Pars have played three games, won them all, and scored 15 goals in the process. They look like a thrilling prospect – if these results can be used as a significant barometer for the season ahead, then Allan Johnston’s team should win League 1 by a comfortable margin.
Saturday’s victory over Brechin City was not unexpected – Darren Dods’s side have started the season poorly and look greatly diminished after the defection of key players – but the 6-1 score-line almost certainly was. This was more than a comprehensive bodying, this was more than a statement of intent: Dunfermline Athletic are exorcising the demons of last year.
In 2014-15, the Pars took just two points from Brechin. They struggled against City all season and the final meeting between the teams, a 3-0 shellacking at Glebe Park in the home side’s favour, was one of many humiliations. For years, Dunfermline and Brechin have operated in different footballing echelons and for supporters to watch their team faltering so badly against the country’s more unexceptional opposition must have been shocking. Saturday’s result appears to have restored some sense of equilibrium.
And while a 5-1 League Cup victory over Cowdenbeath will never fully eviscerate the memories of the fateful May afternoon at East End Park in 2013, it does show who’s boss, for now at least.
A-R! A-R-F! A-R-F-C! Okay!
Perhaps the biggest upset of the weekend was Albion Rovers’ sterling 3-0 victory over Ayr United. Going into the game, there was a feeling the teams were a little mismatched – the Vers, whose squad is still perhaps two-thirds from completion, are predicted to spend the season brawling towards the foot of the table, while the Honest Men will likely compete for second or third place – but the outcome was entirely unexpected. Darren Young’s players knocked the ball around with brio and pomp and merited their win.
The sides had met a fortnight ago in the Challenge Cup with Ayr running out comfortable victors, but Ian McCall’s team were unable to reprise their performance. Admittedly they were missing key players like Nicky Devlin, Gerry McLauchlan and Craig Moore through suspension but it is difficult to mitigate for their capitulation. Fielding Ross Docherty – one of League 1’s finest screening midfielders – at right full-back was a misstep from McCall.
But Ayr’s deficiencies should not detract from Albion Rovers’ display. Josh Mullin excelled on the right flank and set up the first and second goals (his left-footed cross to tee up Ally Love was delightful) while John Gemmell, underused and apparently unloved by the current regime, was uncharacteristically selfless when he adroitly squared for Love to finish the scoring. Between 2010 and 2012, Gemmell and Love’s brother, Robert, formed a profitable partnership at the Rovers – could the big striker find a similar success this year with Ally?
The result won’t change anything: Albion Rovers will still probably struggle to consolidate their League 1 status and Ayr will still probably challenge for promotion but the three points will be hugely welcomed by the Coatbridge side. It is a little clichéd but the Rovers must stockpile as many as possible for the long season ahead.
Stuart Malcolm has let down Stenhousemuir
Stenhousemuir’s 2-2 draw at Peterhead would, under most circumstances, be seen as a positive result. The Warriors have a poor record at Balmoor and with many expecting a season of toil, to emerge from Aberdeenshire with a point is surely something to be satisfied with. But to take a two-goal lead after ten minutes and then carelessly toss it away is both disappointing and frustrating.
Stuart Malcolm will inevitably shoulder the blame for the team’s collapse. The veteran centre-back, signed from Forfar Athletic, is the only defender at the club with any real experience and, marshaling a young backline, he should be seen to set an example. Malcolm had already been cautioned when he needlessly chopped down Nicky Riley on the halfway line on 54 minutes; he was already trudging towards the tunnel when referee George Salmond flashed his red card.
From a comfortable position, Stenhousemuir capitulated. Minutes later, Jamie McCormack conceded a daft penalty to allow Peterhead back into the match and shortly afterwards, Jordan Brown took advantage of more defensive uncertainty to equalise. Would they have wilted with Malcolm on the park? The defender’s aggression is key to his game, but he needs to channel it appropriately The 35-year-old is likely to be suspended for the weekend’s match with Airdrieonians and with no obvious replacement in their ranks, it’ll be interesting to observe how the Warriors contain Jordan Morton, David Cox and the awkward Taylor Morgan.
Barry Ferguson has an striking conundrum to solve
League 2’s most fancied sides met at Forthbank as Stirling Albion entertained Clyde. Both clubs have assembled impressive-looking squads for the season ahead and both will likely spend the year battling for the championship, but they played out a dull match, high on industry but low on quality. The Binos’ Chris Smith made a stunning save to beat away Michael Bolochoweckyj’s thumping header and Clyde’s Chris Smith acrobatically hooked away Sean Dickson’s goal-bound effort, but that was as good as it got. Scott Linton’s penalty kick midway through the second half was the only thing to separate the sides.
Barry Ferguson began the match by fielding three strikers in Archie Campbell, David Gormley and Sean Higgins. Each player bring something different to the party: Campbell is a fine finisher who’ll do most of his best work inside the penalty; Gormley is a rugged performer and will probably create more than he scores; and Higgins is a hard-working attacker who is capable of occasional technical wizardry. Chuck in the burly Brian McQueen, the centre-back-cum-striker who began the match on the bench, and the Bully Wee have the most versatile forward line in the division.
Against Stirling, however, the front men were unable to make an impact on the game (Gormley winning the penalty notwithstanding). With Campbell and Gormley playing wide to accommodate Higgins as an orthodox number 9, the combination did not seem to play to the strengths of each man and there appeared to be a lack of chemistry between them. Of course, the players have only worked alongside each other since June and it will take more than a handful of matches for them to build a genuine rapport with one another, but better was expected.
It is an interesting conundrum for Ferguson – persist with the same frontline in the hope it will gel and develop into something truly fearsome? Or abandon it and attempt something else?