This season’s League 2 campaign is gradually evolving into a captivating contest. There is competition throughout the division, with mini-leagues forming at the top, in the middle and at the bottom and a variety of subplots therein.
Arbroath, Albion Rovers and Queen’s Park have all been capable of extended unbeaten and winning runs this year and we expect that trend to continue until the end. The Lichties are capable of some stunning counter-attacking football, while the Vers and QP can play through teams (and all three can do plenty of both). Arbroath have held the top spot for 17 of 19 rounds in the competition thus far and, with a four point lead, they must be considered favourites at the moment, but the other two candidates shouldn’t be discounted whatsoever.
East Fife and Clyde have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to pose a challenge for the expected remaining play-off place, which is more likely to go to Annan Athletic or Berwick Rangers. Annan have a decent mix of firepower up front while Berwick’s capacity to control matches at home should keep them in the top half of the division.
Elgin City’s atrocious first half to the season sees them bottom of the league, but East Stirlingshire and Montrose aren’t far away from last place. Elgin have already replaced their manager and it remains to be seen if the same will happen at Montrose and the Shire in due course. Whoever finds themselves bottom will face a treacherous time, with a play-off against either the Highland League or Lowland League champions looming in a contest that they might not even be favourites to win. Certainly, for all three clubs, there is merit in the argument of the prospective relegated team not returning to the professional leagues for some time, if at all, so the next half-season could be the most important in some clubs’ histories.
With the championship keenly contested among a trio of teams and the spectre of relegation hanging over at least another three, the second half to the season should be followed with some interest.
Albion Rovers (2nd)
It’s been a rather splendid few months for Albion Rovers. The Vers are currently on a fabulous run of form, taking 27 points from their last 12 matches, and have narrowed the gap on Arbroath at the top of the table to just four points. Darren Young deservedly won the SPFL League 2 Manager of the Month for November and the club are in good health off the park; there is plenty to be satisfied with here.
Back-to-back victories over Arbroath and Queen’s Park have been the high point of the season so far. Defeat to the Smokies would have opened up a nine point chasm at the summit of the league but goals from the irrepressible Marc McKenzie and John Gemmell handed them the win. The slender victory over QP, meanwhile, arrived courtesy of Scott Chaplain’s stunning header. The teams towards the bottom of the table have also been dispatched with little fuss – Elgin City were batted aside, and even Jamie Pollock’s 37th minute red card couldn’t knock their hustle in a 4-1 win at East Stirlingshire.
Albion Rovers are a handy offensive force and Young’s uncomplicated 4-4-2 system brings out the best in his attackers. Scott Chaplain has been their finest player this season (and arguably one of the best in the division), scoring nine league goals from central midfield. It might seem a crude comparison but his style of play – the swashbuckling passing, the late, profitable runs into the penalty area – is reminiscent of Frank Lampard. His opening strike in the 3-0 win over Elgin is a perfect example of his abilities.
As such, goals haven’t necessarily been a problem (only Arbroath have scored with greater frequency) but it would be helpful if their strikers pitched in on a more regular basis. Mark McGuigan and John Gemmell have netted just eight league goals between them and while there is more to their general game than simply scoring (the pair had an assist each in the weekend’s 2-0 victory over Annan Athletic), more is to be expected from them. Gemmell in particular looks a little forlorn and has found himself relegated to the bench in recent weeks. With Chris Dallas and TJ McCluskey returning to the club after worthwhile loan spells in the junior ranks, there is solid competition for places up front.
It is the defence that has excelled and Albion Rovers have lost just 12 league goals this season, the joint-second best record in the country. Young inherited a good group of players from James Ward and has been fortunate to be able to deploy a settled backline each week. Goalkeeper Neil Parry looked a little shaky at points last term but looks a far more dominant presence this year. Mick and Ross Dunlop – the Grant and Phil of League 2 – are a superb pairing at centre-back and the underrated Alan Reid continues to perform with quiet distinction at right-back. Left-back Kyle Turnbull has been missed but Josh Mullin is doing a reasonable job while he recovers from injury. Gary Fisher, a rampaging screening midfielder, also deserves credit for stopping opposition attacks before they even happen.
Albion Rovers have are more or less guaranteed a play-off place come the end of the season but they should be looking to go one better. They have proved themselves to be a match for Arbroath and their forthcoming game is shaping up to be the SPFL’s first real six-pointer. Should the Vers prevail on Saturday then winning the league will become a very tangible possibility. CGT
Annan Athletic (4th)
Sitting in the play-off places at the mid-point of the season was probably what Annan Athletic were expecting, but to find themselves 20 points from the division’s summit is not satisfactory. Jim Chapman’s side have recovered from a dreadful start to lift themselves to the front of the chasing pack, but fourth place looks like the best they can achieve this year.
Annan’s home form has been central to their shimmy up the division. Five wins and two draws from nine matches at the Galabank is a very decent return, with their recent victories all coming courtesy of one-goal margins. Albion Rovers and East Fife were vanquished courtesy of strikes in the dying minutes while Josh Todd, an increasingly important player, bulleted home a header to dispatch Clyde. Annan have never necessarily outplayed their opponents in these instances, but they’re doing enough to ease beyond them.
Results away from home, however, have been abysmal. There have been no hard-luck stories, no close encounters – they just haven’t been good enough on the road. Draws with East Fife, Elgin City and Queen’s Park have been scrappy affairs, while they barely landed a punch in the weekend’s 0-2 defeat at Albion Rovers (but for Marc McKenzie’s profligacy in front of goal, it could have been a far more brutal encounter). Sympathetic observers might point to the comeback against Arbroath but that was as much to do with the Lichties’ lack of motivation as it was with Annan’s spirit.
Injuries have played their part – against the Rovers, they were only able to list four substitutes – and key personnel such as Steven Swinglehurst, Peter Weatherson, Matt Flynn and Kenny Mackay have all missed out at points over the course of the season. Mackay’s absence in particular has been felt – Annan have netted just 23 league goals this term (they had 36 at the same stage last season). The striker is set to return at the end of the month and will go a long way to addressing their impotence.
Despite grievances over certain aspects of the season, a number of players are enjoying fine campaigns. Goalkeeper Alex Mitchell is one of the best in the division and has improved since his restoration to number 1. Ryan McStay has overcome an indifferent few months and is beginning to shine in the middle of the park while Weatherson and David Hopkirk have done well up front. Weatherson had missed the majority of last season through injury but has made an important contribution this time around.
Winning at home against the teams beneath them should just about keep Annan where they are until May but if they are to close the gap and challenge Queen’s Park or Albion Rovers then Chapman has to work on a formula to tackle their travails on the road. There has been a lot to be satisfied with over the last few months and improving on the upturn in form will be crucial to repeat last year’s play-off achievement. CGT
The second quarter of the campaign has not quite been as imperious as the first, but Arbroath are still in a very strong position.
At the last juncture, the Red Lichties enjoyed a five point advantage over both Albion Rovers and Queen’s Park; they are now four and seven points ahead respectively. They have lost 1-2 to both teams, however: losses away to the Spiders and at home to the Vers in successive weeks reduced their lead at the top from seven points to two, before another unbeaten run extended it once again. It doesn’t look as if any of the three clubs will lose many games between now and the end of the season, so Allan Moore will be hopeful that his side claims automatic promotion to avoid a wrought play-off process.
Moore’s team are certainly good enough to do so. Just as in the last report, Arbroath still have the best goal difference, boosted largely by the first-choice pairing of Paul McManus and Simon Murray. The forwards have 24 league goals between them, while Murray’s ongoing hot streak of nine in his last seven appearances doesn’t look like stopping. The 22-year-old just signed for Dundee United but has been immediately loaned back to the Lichties, so replacing him will only become a concern in the summer. McManus’s more rugged approach and prowling of the right-hand channel creates space for Murray’s superb off-the-ball running, but if Moore needs something different he has options in Jack Smith and Kevin Buchan, both of whom have contributed well with less time on the pitch than the others.
Just as with their fellow title contenders, Arbroath can be a joy to watch sometimes, with instinctive finishing in and around the box only bettered by some rapid counter attacking when they go ahead. Bobby Linn continues to have a fantastic season and there are few around at this level so capable of picking the ball up between the lines and punishing teams on a regular basis. The 4-0 home wins over East Stirlingshire and Clyde are good examples of Linn at his best, where he has danced the length of the pitch with the ball to break from set-pieces.
Dylan Carreiro was another player who enjoyed attacking space with the ball at his feet, but with the Canadian returning to Dundee, Moore moved decisively to bring in Dylan Easton on loan from St Johnstone. Easton was excellent for Berwick Rangers a couple of seasons ago and showed for Arbroath’s fifth goal at East Fife that he perfectly suits their current style of play, by dribbling the ball 50 yards before teeing up Jack Smith to score.
Moore’s biggest concern at the moment will be the dropping of points due to complacency late in games. Arbroath were 3-0 up against Annan Athletic and just about survived a late rally, but they surrendered points most recently in a similar manner to Montrose in a 2-2 draw. With their next two games being at home to Albion Rovers and away to Queen’s Park, they will need to be at their sharpest, but one can imagine that if they score first their counter attacks will be unassailable. JAM
Berwick Rangers (5th)
Colin Cameron’s side sit a point behind Annan Athletic in the league, but have a game in hand. Maybe Berwick Rangers ought to have been closer to the title challengers on pre-season expectations, but with the inconsistent form that they have shown through the first half of the season there is no chance of that happening this time. Instead, the realistic goal is to consolidate for fourth place, which is perfectly achievable in the circumstances.
A quick glance of the fixtures played out just highlights the inconsistency in the squad’s performance on the whole. The form for the two month period from 25 October through to Christmas reads L-W-L-W-L-W-L. Some fine wins against Annan and Clyde are punctuated by rotten losses to East Fife and Montrose.
There does appear to be a little consistency developing in the home form now, however. With what appears to be the beginning of a settled team, Berwick have kept four clean sheets in a row, while they have the best attacking record in the division at home. The defence looks much improved of late, with Jonny Fairbairn having overcome an error-prone start to the season and Ross Drummond coming in from Dunfermline Athletic to make an immediate impact at left-back at Dean Hoskins’s expense – Drummond scored a well-taken goal in the recent 3-0 home win over East Stirlingshire.
Berwick would be unbeaten at Shielfield since the opening day’s loss to Arbroath if it wasn’t for the mad 2-3 loss to East Fife in mid-November. That match showed the Black and Gold at their best and worst in one, with some ridiculous errors undermining some quality attacking play, with Paul Willis at the heart of the better aspects on the day.
If they want to earn and keep fourth place for themselves, however, then they will need less of the penalty-box stramashes that lead to conceded goals and more of the distinguished performances as against Annan, Clyde and latterly East Stirlingshire. They will also need to drastically improve their away form.
When Berwick are on top of their game, they are one of the best to watch in the division – Lee Currie’s caressing of the ball from central midfield, Willis’s tidy reverse passes and Darren Lavery’s early shooting are all easy on the eye. With Paul Currie and Scott Dalziel rather publicly transfer listed, Cameron might have some spare funds to make the team a little more difficult to beat, which will go a long way to them making the play-offs this year. JAM
It’s not been the greatest of seasons so far for Barry Ferguson’s first year in charge of Clyde, but it’s a fair bit better than the dire outlook at the point of our last review. With 19 points, Clyde sit sandwiched between Montrose and East Fife in the middle-lower order, with a comfortable margin on Elgin City (who have three games in hand on them) and East Stirlingshire. The Bully Wee are only five points off the play-offs at the moment, but current form dictates that they will still have to be concerned with plummeting down the table rather than catching up with the better teams.
The reason for that is that apart from a five-match unbeaten run in October through to November, Clyde haven’t been picking up many points at all. Since the 3-0 win at Montrose on 8 November, Clyde have picked up just four points in eight matches. When at the start of November they were sitting in fourth place and matching pre-season expectations, they are now once again at the foot of the form table over that particular period.
What is the reason for that? Firstly, they don’t score enough goals. Scott McManus looked like he would be the chief marksman from the start of the year but he is the top scorer having netted just five times. Kevin Watt and Scott Ferguson have three each; in Barry Ferguson’s often-used 4-3-3, 11 goals across arguably the first choice frontline won’t strike fear into the hearts of most teams in the division. Beyond the opening win against rivals Queen’s Park, Clyde have only beaten Montrose, Elgin City and East Fife (twice). They’ve not been picking points up against sides higher up in the league, which on its own suggests that the squad – extensively refurbished by Ferguson since their play-off finish last season – isn’t good enough on the whole to be competing in the top half of the table.
They are, however, pretty good when at their best. With Scott Durie overlapping Scott Ferguson (when the manager doesn’t stick the right-winger on the left), Clyde have a potent attacking right flank. McManus on his day looks dangerous and Michael Daly provides a good alternative foil. Euan Smith (who has since returned to Kilmarnock) appears to have some talent and Gerard Traynor’s thunderbolt free-kick against East Fife on his debut was delightful.
However, there are some glaring weaknesses in the side and they have been shown consistently though the season. The team misses Stuart McColm’s drive on the left flank, so it must be galling for Clyde fans to have seen the forward have a big part to play in both of Annan Athletic’s goals in the loss there just after Christmas. There is often an over-reliance on Scott Ferguson for creativity, and while the winger is an exciting prospect is still only in his second full season. There is also a repeating pattern of not dealing with set-piece crosses, particularly at the near post.
The biggest problem, though, appears to lie in the vulnerability to counter attacks, particularly behind the full-backs. Durie will overlap down the right hand side with abandon and that can hurt the team, but the number of different left-backs used have typically been exposed too high up the pitch too. It’s no surprise that Arbroath have beaten Clyde with handsome margins, for instance, when they’ve left so much space behind their defenders.
Are they likely to improve to move up the table? It shouldn’t be ruled out, because there are some good players in the squad and the recent signings of Steven McDougall, Hugh Murray and Ross Fisher (and the promise of more to follow) look to address some of the biggest failings in the team. Compared to last season, though, there has been a big drop-off in performance to date. JAM
East Fife (6th)
It’s been a pretty miserable campaign in Methil, all things considered. At the beginning of the season, East Fife were predicted to win the division – their recruitment drive over the summer looked sound and the first round Challenge Cup victory over a fancied Forfar Athletic side was a positive indicator – but on recent evidence, Gary Naysmith’s team look more likely to finish in mid-table than anything. Chuck in boardroom unrest, a protracted takeover and a gloomy financial outlook and there’s very little to get excited about.
That’s not to say the season hadn’t had its moments – the 3-2 win over Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park was arguably one of the games of the season so far. Darren Lavery’s 92nd minute strike appeared to have tied the game until Jonathan Page’s close-range finish two minutes secured a superlative victory. It was a remarkable, gutsy performance and out of step with the majority of their displays this year. The Fifers also enjoyed consecutive wins over Montrose and scored seven times without reply in their two meetings.
Their recent run of results, however, has been quite miserable. Naysmith’s side have fallen to three consecutive defeats, each more comprehensive than the last. East Fife competed reasonably well against Annan Athletic and were only undone by Scott Davidson’s late, late penalty, but they were second best in the 1-3 loss at Clyde. They were unable to build on Nathan “Fash” Austin’s early header and eventually succumbed to goals from Brian McQueen and Euan Smith and Gerard Traynor’s thumping free-kick. In both matches they lost goals on the counter – the transition between attack and defence has been a struggle all year.
The unutterable low point was the crushing home defeat to Arbroath. It was a balanced encounter until Ross Campbell’s 50th minute red card but from that point on, the Fifers capitulated. They defended dismally – Simon Murray will no score more straightforward hat-trick in his career – and were cut apart whenever the Lichties attacked. Even more galling, Scott McBride and Craig Johnstone, two players deemed not good enough by Naysmith, strolled through the match for the visitors. Allan Walker’s tweets after the game (some of which have been deleted) were nothing short of embarrassing.
Naysmith will shoulder most of the blame for the season so far. The player-manager comes across as an amiable chap and is working under difficult conditions but his side just haven’t been good enough. Having been in charge of the club since December 2013, he has overseen a relegation into the basement division, a comprehensive turnover in playing staff and a toilsome attempt to return to League 1. There has been the odd moment of tactical ingenuity but in all honesty, there has been no improvement in their situation. Can Naysmith rectify their position?
East Fife are still only four points from a play-off place but there is little indication they have the capabilities to challenge Annan or Berwick Rangers. Unless there is a drastic change in personnel in the transfer window – in terms playing staff or management – then mid-table seems the likeliest outcome, and a lot more was expected than that. CGT
East Stirlingshire (9th)
Since we last examined their progress, East Stirlingshire have trickled down the League 2 table and have now become detached from the clubs bidding for the final play-off place; they are looking increasingly likely to spend the remainder of the season battling to avoid last place. Ninth is probably just about right for a team of the Shire’s calibre but with Elgin City beneath them beginning to improve (and boasting two games in hand), it might only be a matter of time before they drop to the bottom.
Craig Tully’s young side have still yet to find any real level of consistency. Sometimes they’re good, but more often than not they’re out-thought and out-fought by their opponents. At their best, the Shire are a match for most League 2 sides – Montrose were comprehensively taken apart in a 4-0 victory, while league leaders Arbroath were given a bloody good scare in last month’s encounter – but recent defeats have been painful. Albion Rovers recorded a comfortable 4-1 win at Ochilview despite playing with ten men for almost an hour, and Berwick Rangers won’t have an easier 90 minutes all season than they did at the weekend.
The Shire are a callow side and learning curve has been a steep one but it is their experienced campaigners that have been found wanting at points. Richie Barnard is a decent goalkeeper but has a propensity for capitulation and was poor in the loss at Shielfield, while Michael Bolochoweckyj has not performed to expectation at centre-back and was directly responsible for the opening goal against Albion Rovers with an underhit back-pass; the concession of 42 goals is the worst in the division.
A number of players have stood out, however. David Greenhill continues to be a dynamic presence in the middle of the park, while David McKenna has made an important contribution with seven league goals. The on-loan Celtic attacker, Luke Donnelly, has also impressed in spells. The 18-year-old beanpole is full of pirouettes and drag-backs and Tully will be pleased to have extended his agreement until the end of the season.
East Stirlingshire are capable of playing some attractive football but the require a little more grit alongside the glamour. The transfer window will allow Tully to strengthen his squad, although a lack of resources might see him dip into the loan market once again. A handful of new, experienced additions and the returning Max Wright and Jamie Glasgow would go a long way to improving their current position but on current form, it will take a remarkable upturn to avoid finishing the season in tenth. CGT
Elgin City (10th)
It’s been a pretty terrible season for Elgin City so far. Having predicted them to be sitting somewhere safely in mid-table, the Black and Whites have been propping up the league since the middle of October with just one win since August.
At the beginning of the season, Barry Wilson seemed vindicated in pooling local, centralised talent with wins in the first two home fixtures, but it’s been a long, difficult campaign since then. Wilson seemed to have settled on what appeared to be a reasonably balanced team on paper, but in reality players were underperforming and a crisis in confidence became apparent. Calamitous defensive errors undermined the side’s potential attacking thrust, but for a while they were no longer scoring goals to make up for that. Wilson’s last game in charge was the resounding 1-4 loss at home to Queen’s Park, having gone nine league games without a win at that point (and also losing 8-9 on aggregate over two Scottish Cup ties to Bo’ness United).
Elgin’s output was much less than the sum of its parts. Marvin Andrews dominated in the air as expected, but while he initially looked safe in a reasonably tight defensive unit he became increasingly exposed to the turn in pace. Mark Nicolson was given the captain’s armband as one of the team’s senior players now but his spell as a centre-back was littered with a succession of ludicrous mistakes, and his form in central midfield hasn’t been near what it was a couple of years ago. Daniel Moore’s performance has fallen off to the point where he has spent a period on the bench; Bryan Cameron hasn’t been as effective as he was last season, while playing out of position; and Shane Sutherland hasn’t scored enough.
Jim Weir was probably the last person any Elgin fan imagined would be tasked with getting the club out of the relegation play-off spot and the appointment was met with incredulity, given his past record at Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin City. But while he saw his side thumped 0-3 at Albion Rovers, he managed a 3-2 win at Montrose that brings the team within two points of East Stirlingshire with a couple of home matches in hand. Weir brought in teenagers Ally Gilchrist and Craig Thomson on loan from St Johnstone, with Thomson having a very good impact on the right wing at Links Park. Gilchrist looks a little lean to dominate in the air at centre-back but on the whole, Elgin looked much more like the team that was expected of them at the start of the season in their last match, with Sutherland looking irrepressible until injured, Nicolson and Cameron looking a better pairing in the centre of midfield and Archie MacPhee resembling his previous self on the left flank.
The waterlogged pitch at Borough Briggs – never previously a problem until recent local flood alleviation works – has prevented any further progress and it will be interesting to see if Weir can keep getting results in the near future. The manager has a big job on his hands to get the club safe from the play-offs with such an underperforming squad, and many doubt his capability to do so, but the improvement in the team in the win at Montrose bodes well for the near future. JAM
With just under half a season still to play for Montrose, the prospect of the Gable Endies quietly drifting out of the SPFL becomes more real by the week. Montrose won four of their first six fixtures to guarantee them a top four place until November, but the season’s early promise has long since dissipated. They have now recorded just one win in their last 13 fixtures, a similar tale to Elgin City, while only Stirling Albion and Livingston in the SPFL currently have worse records over the equivalent time frame.
The Mo still have a five point gap over Elgin but, perhaps significantly, have played three games more than them. With Elgin initially improving under Jim Weir (although who can say for how long), it could be that Montrose are drawn into a two-way relegation battle at the very least.
They have the quality in their squad to stay up, but they need to be managed better to ensure they pick up enough points to stay ahead of Elgin and East Stirlingshire. For various reasons, there hasn’t been a consistency at all to the selection and strategy from George Shields this season. Shields has used 23 different players already in the campaign, which is the second most in the division only to Clyde. And it often shows too, with the shape of the back four sometimes disfigured, strikers wasted on the flanks and not enough chances being made from open play.
The draw at Arbroath last weekend, equalising from two goals down, was certainly spirited but on the whole confidence seems to be down. It’s no wonder, with some calamitous defending on show sometimes as well as some bad fortune. There can’t be many clubs in Britain’s professional leagues to have their goalkeepers sent off three times in a season. Stuart McKenzie – so often a mainstay and one of the team’s best players – has been ordered off twice, both times within the first five minutes, while Lucas Birnstingl was so ashamed of his performance before picking up a red card that he flew home to Canada and never returned.
Looking through the squad, there are some capable players but who need to hit some form again. Ross McCord scored a sumptuous last-minute free-kick in the recent home loss to Elgin and Shields needs to extract more of such quality that has been missing for most of the season. Terry Masson’s surges forward from right-back earlier in the season has seen him rewarded with a return a more advanced midfield role recently, but the team loses out the element of surprise from his overlaps when he’s not starting from deeper, even if his defending on his own byline has been shown to be a little weak on occasion.
Garry Wood had a disastrous spell at centre-back earlier in the season and is much more effective up front, top scoring for the club so far this campaign, but getting the right blend around him is difficult. Leighton McIntosh and Bryan Deasley are less effective on the flanks in a 4-5-1-cum-4-3-3 than as a direct strike partner, for instance, while Scott Johnstone hasn’t scored yet despite looking like one of the team’s chief attacking threats at the start of the season. McIntosh appears to have some of his zest back and his header to himself before chasing down the goalkeeper to draw at Annan Athletic shows what hard work can achieve.
Shields has managed to recruit Marvin Andrews from their rivals, but time will tell if that is a good or a bad thing. There is no doubting Andrews’s strengths but at Elgin he was becoming increasingly exposed and exploited due to his lack of nimbleness, something which Alan Campbell has suffered from this season. With various options used by the manager at the back recently, getting a settled and effective defensive combination in the near future will be very important to Montrose’s prospects.
More has to be done if Montrose are to be sure of their safety, and for the security of Shields’s job. The next match is at home to East Stirlingshire before a run of fixtures against teams from the top half of the division. If Montrose don’t beat the Shire, they could find themselves in trouble very quickly. JAM
Queen’s Park (3rd)
The rehabilitation and return to prominence of Queen’s Park shows no signs of abating. Gus MacPherson’s side have continued their good form into the second half of the season – they’ve lost just once in their last 15 matches – and have firmly fixed themselves within the play-off places. Three consecutive draws has seen the Spiders become a little detached from Arbroath at the summit of the table but everyone connected to the club should be delighted with the general effort so far.
Little has really changed since we last checked in on QP’s progress. At their best, they’re capable of playing attractive, eye-catching football, all gilded in steel. The 2-1 victory at Arbroath has probably been their finest result of the season so far, with Shaun Fraser and Kevin Fotheringham scoring identical goals to secure the win – they have the punch to go with the polish. East Fife, Elgin City and East Stirlingshire have all been beaten aside and only Albion Rovers have knocked their swagger (although on the balance of play, they probably deserved a point from November’s meeting).
A stable defence has been crucial to their success, and only Albion Rovers boast a stingier record. Goalkeeper Willie Muir has been a fine acquisition superlative reflexes belies his lack of stature (his save in the weekend’s 1-1 draw with Clyde was outstanding), while centre-backs Tony Quinn, David MacGregor and Bryan Wharton have all played well when called upon. Right-back Shaun Rooney, meanwhile, is developing into a fine prospect.
Midfielders Darren Miller and Paul Woods have enjoyed stellar campaigns – the former is powerhouse in the middle of the park, a box-to-box presence with a wicked dead-ball delivery (and a bit of a nasty streak to boot) and the latter, nominally a right winger, is a perpetual source of goals and creativity. Goals have been at a premium of late – Miller’s penalty against Clyde was their only strike in three matches – so MacPherson might be expected to exploit the loan market against in the coming weeks. The manager has particular success in this area, with Eamonn Brophy and more recently Chris Duggan enjoying fine spells at the club over the last 12 months.
After recent results, MacPherson might also wish to consider changing up his approach – some difficult fixtures lie ahead and both Arbroath and Albion Rovers must be negotiated by the end of January – and, having returned to Hampden after 13 months in Airdrie, the players might need a little time to adapt to their new surroundings. It’s been an excellent season so far – all that’s really required from them is to maintain their competitive spirit. CGT