The Half-Term Report Card

Stranraer (9th)

D+

What we said:

The [poor] run of form cost popular manager Keith Knox his job, even if his previous three-and-a-half years at the club had been relatively successful. His replacement has a difficult task to ensure Second Division survival – correcting the team’s defensive deficiencies is their highest priority.

 

D-

An emphatic 4-1 home victory over Forfar Athletic at the end of October was an impressive manner for Steve Aitken to begin his managerial career. The 36-year-old, who made over 200 appearances for the Blues, had served as assistant to deposed manager Keith Knock since 2009 and his promotion has given his side a very decent chance of avoiding relegation.

Following the win over Forfar, Stranraer contrived to lose to away to Ayr and Arbroath – both defeats were by 1-2 score-lines and both defeats came from the concession of last-minute goals – and the club were marooned at the bottom of the table. However, a 1-1 draw with Albion Rovers was followed by back-to-back victories over Alloa Athletic and East Fife, and the results lifted Stranraer into ninth place before Christmas. A 3-2 win at Cliftonhill at the beginning of 2013 has now increased their advantage to four points over the Vers in tenth place.

Like any side unexpectedly promoted, Stranraer have been a fairly limited team. Their tactics rely heavily on the physical approach of striker Michael Moore. Like a crude amalgam of a belligerent octopus and a newborn foal, the veteran is the focal point of the side’s attack. Moore is pure pantomime villain, but his aptitude for winning freekicks relieves the pressure on a oft-troubled defence. The experience of Moore alongside midfielders Chris Aitken and Ryan Borris, could give Stranraer the edge over Albion Rovers in the duel to avoid relegation. The fourth and final fixture between the sides at Stair Park on 9 March could be their most important game of the season. AG

 

 

Albion Rovers (10th)

D

What we said:

For all intents and purposes, Albion Rovers really shouldn’t have finished the first quarter in sixth place…  If Lumsden can maintain the club’s Second Division status this term, it is not outrageous to suggest it will be the greatest achievement in the club’s history.

 

B-

Sitting at the foot of the table, Albion Rovers are meeting pre-season expectations. After a hugely decent opening round of matches, the Vers form markedly declined – since beating Arbroath 4-0 in October, the club have won once in ten games. The New Year defeat to Stranraer and subsequent loss at East Fifth has opened up a four-point deficit between ninth and tenth; with games against Queen of the South and Brechin City to come, that gap is likely to increase.

Despite the results, Todd Lumsden’s side have rarely been outclassed by their opponents, and performances have certainly been commendable with the margins of defeat often being nothing more than a single goal. Simon Marriott and Tony Stevenson are competent midfielders, while David Crawford has the ability to dazzle on the flank. Steve Haworth is a capable forward, despite his injury concerns.

There are a number of issues to vex Lumsden. His side have a nasty habit of conceding in the final minute of matches – on five occasions this term, they have lost goals in the 90th minute, suggesting a lack of mental and physical resolve. The defence has been disrupted by injuries, with Kevin Green and Mick O’Byrne unavailable for long spells, but the recruitment of Marvin Andrews (a man who enjoys his chuck) should temper the problem in the short-term. The squad also lack a cutting edge in attack, something which has dogged them throughout the season. The problem was briefly alleviated by the loan signing of Partick Thistle’s outstanding forward Mark McGuigan who brought physicality and flair to the frontline, but his return to his parent club has coincided with the Rovers’ decline. Jason Crooks, a popular target for supporters’ vitriol, is simply not capable of replacing him, while Chris Dallas is unproven in the third tier.

With limited funds available, Lumsden must use his contacts to acquire personnel on loan in a bid to reverse Albion Rovers’ current form. There is a genuine danger that the side could become cut adrift in tenth place by the end of the month. CGT

 

 

Ayr United (8th)

E

What we said:

There is no doubt the Honest men – currently seventh in the league and 13 points behind leaders Queen of the South – are grossly underachieveing…  The club must ensure they finish the campaign in the play-off positions, but this cannot be taken for granted.

 

E

Two-thousand and twelve was Ayr United’s annus horribilis. The club might have reached the semi-finals of the League Cup (an achievement which was ultimately overshadowed by the manner of the defeat), but they were relegated from the First Division in inglorious fashion, crashing out of the play-off semi-finals after losing at home to Airdrie United. The demotion marked the conclusion of Brian Reid’s four-and-a-half year tenure as manager and saw veteran striker Mark Roberts appointed as his successor. Roberts was given a mandate of playing a more attractive brand of football while bringing through a greater number youth players into the first team squad.

Roberts certainly talked a good game and initial pre-season performances were hugely encouraging, so much so that some bookmakers installed Ayr as favourites to win the championship. Six months later however, and all title aspirations have disappeared: Ayr United are in a scrap to avoid relegation. A 1-0 victory over Stranraer (only their second away win all season) has given them a seven-point lead over Albion Rovers in tenth place, but they are only three points ahead of Stranraer in ninth. Despite sitting five points and a game in hand from a play-off position, they have done little to suggest that climbing the table it is an achievable goal.

Roberts might have lambasted the quality of the Second Division and criticised other sides for the tendency to play direct football, but he is culpable for assembling a squad lacking the necessary attributes to compete. “In a football sense, I think we’re excellent and some of my players are too good for this league,” he said in a recent interview. “However, we don’t have that dirty, horrible side to us.” Senior recruits have let down the side: Austin McCann, Marc Twaddle and Ryan McStay in particular have all disappointed. A tendency to squander winning positions suggests a lack of resolve runs throughout the team – 19 points have been ceded in this manner.

The only bright spot of the season has been the emergence of midfielder Robbie Crawford. The 18-year-old has demonstrated dynamism and energy, qualities lacking from his teammate – a number of Championship clubs are reportedly interested. Unless the squad is significantly improved over January, a mid-table finish is the only realistic conclusion to Ayr’s season. AG

Tell Him He's Pelé

Tell Him He's Pelé

If Tell Him He's Pelé were a boy band, they would probably be the much-missed One True Voice, both in terms of appearance and musical output.

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