East Fife (9th)
THESE are testing times for East Fife, both on and off the pitch. At the beginning of August, manager Gordon Durie was hospitalised following his side’s goalless draw with Queen of the South. While his convalescence continued, assistant manager Gordon Chisholm took charge in his absence and oversaw a run of five defeats from six matches. Chisholm resigned, citing work commitments, but not before knuckle-headed centre-back Darren McCormack took to Twitter to castigate the application of his teammates in the wake of a 0-3 defeat to ten-man Stenhousemuir.
Managerial responsibilities have been passed over to Bob Maclcolm and Brian McNaughton for the immediate future, and the pair guided the Fifers to their second victory of the season against Forfar Athletic on Saturday. The team’s first win of the season came prior to Chisholm’s departure, a sumptuous 6-2 thrashing of Stranraer at Stair Park.
Six points taken from their last three games have narrowly moved East Fife away from the bottom of the table. Recent form has largely been galvanised by Livingston loanee Bobby Barr, with the winger adding pace and creativity to a largely uninspiring squad. Experienced players like Paul McManus and Gareth Wardlaw must improve their recent performances if the club are to avoid finishing the season in one of the bottom two positions. AG
The 2012-13 season was always going to be a struggle for Stranraer. Their promotion to the division was confirmed in mid-July after Rangers’ plummeted into the fourth tier, and the simple truth is their current team looks like an ordinary Third Division side playing in a league they are ill-equipped for. As expected, they sit propping up the table with five points, three adrift of East Fife in ninth place.
Twenty-two goals conceded in nine league matches, as well as the eight hammered past them by Livingston in the League Cup, clearly illustrates the problem. Last term, the Blues’ quick, expansive brand of football saw them finish the season as the Third Division’s top scorers, but the step-up in opposition has seen the goals all but disappear. Heavy defeats are commonplace.
Stranraer’s best result of the season came in a 2-0 win over Ayr United at Stair Park, their only victory and their solitary clean sheet of the season. The performance demonstrated Stranraer’s game plan at its very best, but they have been unable to match the same level of intensity as an attacking force.
The Blues subsequently lost five matches in a row, including a 2-6 reverse to their immediate rivals East Fife. The 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. AG
Ayr United (7th)
Three consecutive (albeit unconvincing) victories prior to October’s international hiatus have ensured that Mark Roberts’ short tenure as Ayr United manager has only been dismal, rather than disastrous. There is no doubt the Honest men – currently seventh in the league and 13 points behind leaders Queen of the South – are grossly underachieveing.
A promising pre-season has perhaps hoodwinked many, bookmakers included, into thinking that Ayr could challenge for the title and make an immediate return to the First Division, but performances have done little to justify the side’s tag as favourites.
A reality check came after a sobering 1-3 defeat to East Stirlingshire in the Ramsdens Cup – sloppy individual errors, an inability to maintain possession and unconvincing goalkeeping were all evident as the club capitulated to a modest Shire side. While Ally Brown’s performances have improved after a short spell on the sidelines, Ayr have rarely looked like a team capable of making their mark on any fixture. A failure to defend set-pieces has been a hallmark of the current campaign, but more alarming is their tendency to concede moments before half-time – they have lost four goals before the interval over the course of the season.
Roberts retains the backing of all but the most rancorous of the Somerset Park crowd, but his promise of playing an attractive brand of attacking football and a greater emphasis on youth simply hasn’t materialised. The club must ensure they finish the campaign in the play-off positions, but this cannot be taken for granted. AG