WHILE last season’s fifth-place finish was ultimately disappointing (particularly given the fact that the club had spent a large majority of the season occupying the play-off positions), Davie Irons deserved credit for transforming Stenhousemuir from mediocre also-rans into a genuinely good Second Division side. At present, the Warriors are probably in their strongest position since Terry Christie’s famous side of 1995.
Since Irons’ sudden resignation from the club in July, Martyn Corrigan has done a creditable job of preserving last season’s strong foundations. Three wins, four draws and a single defeat – the same statistics recorded at this juncture last year – is a very decent return, while the 2-1 victory over holders Kilmarnock in the League Cup second round will be remembered as one of the best results in the club’s history.
It is the summer recruitments which have been central to Stenhousemuir’s impressive displays thus far. John Gemmell, a hulking bully of a centre-forward, has scored ten times in all competitions and has looked like one of the most fearsome strikers in the SFL. Midfielder Craig Anderson, signed from Civil Service Strollers, has adapted well to the division and has formed a very capable partnership with Bryan Hodge – the former Brechin playmaker’s ability to maintain and recycle possession has, for the best part, been wonderful to watch. It is difficult to imagine where the returning Eric Paton will find a role within the starting XI.
However, there are concerns about some aspects of the team. Callum Reidford has yet to convince in goal, and Corrigan will hoping to extend the temporary transfer of the outstanding Robbie Thomson beyond November. Injury and suspension have precluded Scot Buist and Ross McMillan from playing together at centre-back since early September, and a number of players have been forced to deputise in their absence. McMillan in particular must curb his tempestuous streak – the player has been dismissed twice this season already and is currently serving a three-match ban. The over-reliance on Gemmell must also be addressed. While the contribution of Andy Rodgers was always likely to diminish as he was shunted into a more withdrawn role to accommodate Gemmell, it seems as though he is likely to be a scorer of great goals than a great goal-scorer.
Corrigan has a good squad at his disposal, arguably one of the better in the division. There is little between them and the sides immediately beneath Queen of the South, and the Warriors should be looking to go one step further than fifth this term. CGT
Albion Rovers (6th)
For all intents and purposes, Albion Rovers really shouldn’t have finished the first quarter in sixth place. After avoiding relegation on the final day of last season by winning the Second Division play-offs, inspirational manager Paul Martin announced his resignation from the club. This was followed by the departure of their better players – Derek Gaston, John Gemmell, Ryan McStay, Robert Love and Scott Chaplain all defected, leaving Todd Lumsden, Martin’s successor, with an unenviable task of repeating last season’s feat.
After the opening handful of matches, it was difficult to imagine anything other than the season culminating in relegation. The side lost their first three games and barely came close to scoring. However, an own-goal in the match against East Fife instigated the comeback which secured their first victory of the season, before a late strike from Partick Thistle’s on-loan forward Mark McGuigan ensured a 2-1 win against Stranraer the following week. Results since have been indifferent, but Saturday’s 4-0 demolition of Arbroath at Cliftonhill was the season’s highlight.
Tony Stevenson and Simon Marriot have impressed in the midfield, where Lumsden has placed a greater emphasis on passes the ball rather than simply lumping it forward. After a mediocre start, winger David Crawford is proving to be one of the division’s most exciting players – if he is able to maintain his current form, a return to full-time football seems highly likely. A deal to secure McGuigan until the end of the season should also be seen as a priority.
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. CGT
The astonishing result from their opening match of the season – a 7-5 victory at Elgin City in the Ramsdens Cup – perhaps neatly encapsulates what has been an inconsistent, yet ultimately perfunctory start to the season for Paul Sheerin’s Arbroath.
The Red Lichties remain undefeated at home, but two thumping defeats on the road – a 0-6 thrashing from Queen of the South and a 0-4 aberration at Albion Rovers – have been chief contributors to an already suspect defensive record. The club have only recorded one clean sheet all season; only Stranraer having conceded more goals. While the team are well served in advanced positions, defenders like Colin Hamilton and Stuart Malcolm appear to lack the requisite quality for a club with lofty ambitions.
One thing Paul Sheerin will look for Arbroath to improve on is their first half performances. His side are slow starters in most matches and have conceded the first goal in seven of their nine league fixtures. They also found the net only once before the 25-minute mark. While their ability to recover from losing positions is admirable (the club have salvaged nine points despite conceding first), Arbroath will have to make things easier for themselves if they are to maintain their play-off position.
Steven Doris recapturing last season’s form would assist his side greatly. The striker scored 21 goals last term, but appears to have suffered from the departure of partner Gavin Swankie. In nine league games, Doris has scored just twice. AG
Brechin City (8th)
Following last season’s dismal eighth-place finish, Jim Weir was issued an ultimatum by Brechin’s committee: improvement was required immediately. After earning a miserable six points from their opening eight league fixtures, Weir’s position became untenable and he was rightly dismissed. His rotten management of the club, and Brechin’s general play so far this season, means their lowly D ranking is fully merited.
And yet, the current optimism enveloping Glebe Park is something normally associated with the beginning of a new campaign. Ray McKinnon’s first match in charge of the club, a strong 3-0 home victory over lowly Stranraer, was Brechin’s most convincing performance of the season and the perfect tonic to the Weir’s unimpressive reign.
Andy Jackson scored twice in that fixture, taking his tally to eight goals for the season. Until David McKenna’s consolation in the defeat to Arbroath on 6 October, Jackson had been the only Brechin player to have scored for the club this season. McKinnon has resolved to improve Brechin’s porous defence, but he must ensure other players can relieve Jackson of the goal-scoring burden. More will be expected from McKenna and Scott Dalziel.
If McKinnon can instil a greater resolve away from home (they have lost their four matches on the road), a play-off position may be a distant, yet not unlikely possibility. AG