Sunday, 27 November 2011

Stenhousemuir 3 - 0 Albion Rovers

Stewart Kean: hairy.

The statistics make for wonderful reading. In their last three home matches, Stenhousemuir have scored 11 goals, conceded none, and still remain unbeaten. Albion Rovers were the latest side to come undone at Ochilview.

Last time the sides met, Larry Acqua’s late header secured a point at Cliftonhill. There would be no such dramatics this time around. In a strong second-half showing, Stenhousemuir were clinical and efficient.

In atrocious conditions, Stewart Kean opened the scoring before the hour-mark before Andy Rodgers’ brace put the game beyond Rovers. Rovers, who had generally competed well throughout the game, were undone by three outstanding examples of ruthless finishing.

Without extending into the realms of hyperbole, the weather was perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen at a football game. The wind swirled and fluttered across the pitch, blowing rain into the stand and the terracing behind the goals. When kicked against the gale, the ball would hold up and gave no indication as to which direction it would drop.

At one point, the nets billowed like the sails of a galleon on a storm-tossed ocean.

Throughout the first half, the Warriors tried (and ultimately failed) to take advantage of playing with the wind behind them. Stevie Murray, Eric Paton and Kevin McKinlay all tested Derek Gaston in the Rovers’ goal but he dealt with their efforts with little fuss. Despite these drives from distance, Stenhousemuir’s general play was laboured and unimaginative.

All too often, Kean and Rodgers were forced to scrap for long balls punted from the defence against the lumbering Todd Lumsden and Mick O’Byrne, while Paton and Murray, normally so influential, were on the periphery and were rarely involved.

Rovers, meanwhile, adapted far better to the conditions. John Gemmell performed with diligence as a loan striker and linked well with his teammate. Scott Chaplain and Ryan McStay sat deep and patrolled the small pockets of space in front of their defence, preventing their hosts from shooting from distance.

Gaston did his best to waste as much time as possible, taking his time over his goal kicks. At one point, he even stopped to tie his laces, much to hackles of the home support. It was frustrating to watch but, in the circumstances, entirely understandable.

Before the referee drew the first half to a close, Rovers looked the most likely to take the lead. O’Byrne came close to scoring following a corner and Gemmell flashed a low drive wide from the edge of the area. The Warriors seemed the more grateful of the two sides for the interval.

I remember in the wake of a defeat at Dumbarton several years ago in similarly blustery conditions, John Coughlin commented, In these conditions, people will think the wind will blow the ball into the net for you. It won’t.

Was it arrogant to expect Stenhousemuir to have taken a lead into the second half? Should we have expected them to have approached the game with more intent?

My friend sitting next to me remarked that the Warriors will have no option other than to play football in the conditions. We can’t play those long balls anymore, he said. We’ll have to go out and knock it around a bit when we come out.

Soon after the restart, Stenhousemuir flexed their attacking muscle. Iain Thomson shuttled the ball out to Murray on the flank and the winger’s clipped cross bounced in the area but beyond Kean and Rodgers. Shortly after, the pair combined, but the former Morton forward failed to test Gaston. The passages of play were the best they had mustered in the whole game so far.

Rovers, like Stenhousemuir in the first half, could not use the wind to their advantage. Their long balls behind the Warriors’ defence often drifted beyond their attackers and out of play while McKinlay, dropping deep to sweep behind his defence, performed his task with relish. Despite this, Rovers seemed the more likely of the sides to take the lead.

It was of some surprise then, that the home side struck first. With the hour mark approaching, Andy Rodgers beat Mick O’Byrne to a high ball and slid a cute pass into the path of Stewart Kean. The striker’s low shot was drilled beyond Derek Gaston, clipped the inside of the post and bounced over the line. The forward was smothered by his team-mates in celebration.

Stenhousemuir extended their lead 20 minutes later. Paton’s corner swirled into the area and Rodgers rose above O’Byrne and clipped the ball into the net. There may be some debate if O’Byrne actually had the final touch, but Rodgers spun away with his arms aloft.

Rodgers’ second put the game beyond doubt. The ball was chipped forward and hung up in the wind and unsure of its direction, Lumsden, O’Byrne and Kean all challenged for it. The ball hit Kean’s back before dropping into the path of Rodgers. The forward steadied himself and thrashed in a shot from 20 yards. It was utterly sensational.

John Gemmell thought he had reduced the deficit in stoppage time with a header but his goal was disallowed by the stand-side linesman for some apparent infringement.

The referee’s final whistle brought a palpable sigh of relief around Ochilview and arguably the hardest-won three points so far this season. Were Stenhousemuir good? Were Albion Rovers bad? Who knows? The weather rendered any such discussions an irrelevance. Some players adapted well to the conditions, some didn’t. Nothing more.

Stenhousemuir will be pleased with the performances of Ally Brown, Kevin McKinlay and Martyn Corrigan. The goalkeeper performed admirably in horrid conditions and kicked well into a strong wind while his central defenders dealt admirably with the majority of the Rovers attacks.

The return of Paul McHale is another cause for celebration. McHale last played in the 3-1 victory over Cowdenbeath and until his injury, the midfielder was arguably the club’s best player. He replaced Brown Ferguson in the closing stages of the match and moved the ball around with his usual intelligence and composure. His return is greatly welcomed.

Most impressive of all is the burgeoning strike partnership between Andy Rodgers and Stewart Kean. In previous articles, I had written that there was a genuine hope that the pair would develop a strong understanding but now, they have blossomed into two of the most lethal strikers in the league. Their movement and positioning is the best I’ve seen at the club since Paul McGrillen and Colin Cramb.

Rodgers in particular is arguably being the most clinical striker the club have signed since Des McKeown brought in the well-travelled Cramb from Hamilton. His second goal, in keeping with his hat-trick against Annan last week, was quite sublime.

Stenhousemuir now travel to East Fife next week. The Methil club currently sit five points behind them in the league in fourth place and the Warriors haven’t beaten them at New Bayview side since Scott Dalziel’s strike secured a 1-0 win in early 2008.

The Warriors have performed poorly on their travels, winning once. East Fife’s home record is unremarkable and with the returning McHale and Rodgers arguably in the finest form of his career, Stenhousemuir can be quietly confident of a positive result in Fife next week.

Stenhousemuir: Brown; Lyle, Corrigan, McKinlay, Dickson; Ferguson (McHale 86), Paton, Thomson, Murray (Hamilton 88); Kean (Quinn 90), Rodgers. Subs Not Used: McCluskey, McCafferty.

Albion Rovers: Gaston; Reid, Lumsden, O'Byrne, Donnelly; Love (Reilly 79), McStay, Stevenson, Lawless, Chaplain; Gemmell. Subs Not Used: Travers, Marriott, Gilmartin, Scott.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Overhead over heels.

Andy Rodgers: he looks like a wee lad wearing his dad's
shirt in this photo.

When Andy Rodgers scored an overhead kick in the 88th minute in the 2-1 victory over East Fife just under a month ago, many supporters (myself included) were quick to label the goal the finest ever scored at Ochilview. It is rare to see moments of extraordinary beauty in Scottish football, but to see a strike of such graceful splendour in the Second Division is an exquisite rarity. So impressive was Rodgers' winning goal, it even made it onto the Guardian Sports' YouTube section the following week.

Several days later, after the dust began to settle on the victory, I started thinking about the strike and how it compares to other great goals scored by Warriors. In my seven years watching the club, there have only been a few that rank on that same lofty pantheon: Tommy Sinclair's volley from twenty-five yards against East Fife, perhaps? Maybe John Paul McBride's last minute lob against Elgin in 2007? Or what about Andy Stirling's header from the edge of the penalty area against Threave Rovers in the Scottish Cup last year? Rodgers' goal is better than all of those. While the other three have their merits, I just don't think they can compare. The overhead kick is inarguably better than all three - I can't think of a more difficult technique to master than the bicycle kick. When successful, there is simply nothing as graceful in football.

The only goal that can possibly compare to Rodgers' is Colin Cramb's fabled volley against East Stirlingshire in the Scottish Cup in 2005. It's almost six years to the day since his goal decided the tie and until Rodgers' bicycle kick, I had never seen anything like it at Ochilview. After the East Fife game, I sat in the Wee Bar with my friends and we talked about the performance and the goal. Do you think that goal was better than Cramby's?, I asked them. Last minute winner, eh. Overhead kick in the last minute, ken, one of them told me. He may have had a point.

Had Rodgers scored in, say, a meaningless friendly, would his goal still have carried the same impact? Had it been a late consolation in a 5-1 thrashing, would it have still be as lauded? Perhaps not. The context of the goal is almost as important as the goal itself. In the context of the East Fife game, it was spectacular. Rodgers had played poorly throughout and had passed up a series of very presentable chances before he arched his body and connected sublimely with Willie Lyle's cross. It must have taken an outrageous amount of daring to have even attempted such a strike. I've watched the goal about twenty times during the writing of this article and I'm still astounded by his technique and audacity.

Colin Cramb: between July-December 2005, the man was a God.

The context of the goal is also crucial in understanding the importance and significance of Cramb's strike. The game at Ochilview between the Warriors and the Shire had been postponed four or five times because of a frozen pitch. When the tie eventually took place on that cold November night, expectations between both fans were high.

Stenhousemuir led by two goals after eight minutes through Jim Mercer and Tommy Sinclair before Paul McGrillen was red carded for violent conduct. Adam Owen reduced the deficit with a twenty-five yard freekick and on the stroke of half-time, the home side were reduced to nine men after Denham was dismissed after receiving a second yellow card for apparently calling the referee a "cunt".

Using their two-man advantage, East Stirlingshire began to stretch their hosts and poured men forward to attack. After a period of sustained pressure, Steven Dymock's volley hit both posts before narrowly crossing the line to tie the score (I remember Willie McCulloch rushing from his goal to remonstrate with the officials and claim the goal should not have stood).

By this point, many expected the Shire to prevail. With around twenty minutes remaining, a wild clearance from the Warriors' defence deflected out of play somewhere around the halfway line. John Paul McBride's throw-in fell in front of Joe McAlpine and the fullback motored down the flank, stopped, and swung in a cross. I cannot overstate just how perfect his cross was. Pacey and deceptive, it was utterly flawless. As the ball dropped, Cramb peeled away from his marker and shaped to shoot. His connection was pure and he sent a glorious volley crashing over the head of Derek Jackson and into the net.

Looking at both goals, it's hard to separate them and decide which is the "better" of the two. Both goals were spectacular and proved to be the winners in crucial matches (Cramb's more so given the competition and the opposition) but in terms of technique and timing, Rodgers' was perhaps better.

That said, my favourite goal (and ultimately my favourite goal of all time) is Cramb's. I don't think I could give you a proper answer as to why that is, even if I was to sit and think about it for the rest of the year. Perhaps my senses are dulled by nostalgia and an unconscious refusal to move on. Maybe I can't quite shift my romantic notions of Des McKeown's 2005-2006 side. I can't even remember just how far out Cramb was when he struck the ball. I can't remember if he was eight yards, ten yards or eighteen yards from the goal. I can't even really remember the strike itself, just the ball slamming beyond Derek Jackson and the celebrations that followed.

Rodgers' goal has the benefit of Warriors TV and we can watch it again and again and revel in Murray's cute backheel, Lyle's wayward cross and the stunning execution. Cramb's goal doesn't have that. Without a replay, it will always become more and more mythical. The distance, the ferocity of the strike, the task the team faced, will be greater and greater each time the story's told. My friends and I still talk about it. On long bus journeys to away matches, we still describe the strike and talk about how astonishing it was. A goal will always be eulogised when a striker cries OHYA FUCKER, YOU'SE ARE OUT! before attempting to score.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Jurassic Park!

Alan Partridge: a God amongst men.


Once again, this is quite embarrassing.

There's nothing quite as shameful as having reneged on a promise. I feel completely ashamed. I feel ashen-faced, like I'm barely able to make eye contact with you. After a long and lonesome delay in adding anything of note to Who The Hell is Akabusi?, I've come slinking in through the back door with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, pleading with you for some sort of forgiveness, like a pathetic philanderer begging to be let back into the marital bed.

Once is a misfortune; twice is careless. I promised in my very first post that when it came to the showdown, I'd be there for you. I'd be there with you fighting in the last garrison. I'd be there with you as we waded through the shit and the sick in a Venice sewer trying to locate the Holy Grail. I said I'd be there... Then nothing. And this is not the first time it's happened.

But, let's put that to one side. I'll offer up another explanation, another fruitless pledge, and then we'll get on with it like the last two months were some sort of bad dream.

I've rediscovered my mojo. I feel like Bob Dylan writing and recording Oh Mercy, like Rocky Bilboa finding the strength to floor Ivan Drago. If you're not listening to Eminem's Without Me while you're reading this, then I suggest you remove that Toploader album from the CD tray and put that in instead.

There were mitigating circumstances when I ceased writing Who The Hell is Akabusi?. Sometime before the Arbroath game back in mid-August, my laptop charger packed in. I won't go into the technical details (mainly because I have no idea what happened myself), but the whole seedy debacle was recorded in my last post on this blog. I had used my step-father's charger intermittently but the whole situation was hopeless. I had to wait about three weeks to buy a universal adaptor of my own. The most robust model I could find cost £60 from PC World. It's the best deal you're going to get, the teenager at the counter told me. This one's the business. This is the one I use at home. Imagine my consternation when, after telling my workmates about my travails, one of them piped up and told me that she could have got me one for £10. I was appalled.

By this point, to me anyway, it seemed almost pointless to continue with the blog. I had failed to write reports on several games (the matches against Forfar, Falkirk and Cowdenbeath, I think) and rather than write apologetic, half-hearted articles, I abandoned the project altogether and turned my attention to preparing for post-graduate diploma in Multimedia Journalism.

Shorthand: fucking complicated.

The workload for the course is quite astonishing. I fully expected to face an avalanche of work, but it certainly wasn't with this ferocity. I could list you everything I'm expected to work on over the next few weeks but that would be tedious and unnecessary. All you need to know is that I'm expected to learn to write shorthand at the rate of fifty words per minute before Christmas. It looks like hieroglyphics.

There's a combination of factors that have encouraged me to start writing again. My PDP advisor (I'm not entirely sure what PDP stands for) warned me that no one's likely to employ a journalist who isn't writing anything current. He cautioned that editors will want to see something fresh and up-to-date - a blog post from July about the best Stenhousemuir players in the last seven years is unlikely to tempt them to hire me, no matter how good it is.

Secondly, a number of people have asked me why I'm not writing anymore. I don't think I can fathom a reasonable explanation - despite my increased workload, there's still time I can find to write articles - the spare moments in bed on a Wednesday night could be better spent writing and reporting than watching videos of sleeping cats on YouTube, no matter how sugary they are. When people like John Maxwell of the excellent Ross County Tactics website are offering their encouragement, it's exceptionally flattering. It might be a chore, but you can look back at pride in your work, he told me.

Finally - I miss it. I miss writing about Stenhousemuir FC. I miss writing about the Second Division, the smell of the muck and mire of the basement leagues of Scottish football, the kick and the rush, Eric Paton's gorgeous fifty yard switches, wretched Dumbarton teams, Stewart Kean "working the channels", Forfar Athletic's astonishing physical presence... I miss all that. Why on earth would you want to read a thirty-word column in the Scotland on Sunday about Saturday's match when you can write a 2000 one of your own instead?

Before things ground to a halt, a friend and fellow Stenhousemuir supporter told me that there was no need for match reports to be included on the blog. I've been at the games, he said to me. I've seen the same things you've seen. I don't want to read about things I've already seen, I want to read something different. He may have had a point but despite this, I will still attempt to write up succinct and analytical match reports of no more than a thousand words from the games. The last time I tried to write a match report was in the aftermath of the 2-0 victory over Arbroath and it took almost a week to have the report typed up onto the blog. That sort of thing will not happen again.

I won't be able to attend as many away matches as I would like to anymore. I don't really think I can afford the time or the money for jaunts in Angus or out into the West of Scotland. Instead I'll have to make do with Jeff Stelling and a bag of crisps every second Saturday afternoon. I can't promise that I'm going to be able to update this every week, but I'll do my best. I'm fed up seeing the Second and Third Divisions ignored in the quality papers, relegated to a footnote on the middle pages like some sort of dirty secret. The club and the leagues deserve better. You deserve better.

So let's put on our stockings, baby, because the night's getting cold. Let's sit back and let's try and enjoy some quality insight about Stenhousemuir Football Club.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A laptop charger, a laptop charger, my kingdom for a laptop charger!

A laptop charger: you have no idea what I would do for one of these right now.

Having fielded a small number of text messages, e-mails and "tweets" over the last few days asking why there had been a lack of updates and articles on Who the hell is Akabusi?, I feel as though I should offer up some form of explanation. Rumours have circled as to why the last post was written nearly a fortnight ago before the victory over Forfat Athletic - rumours that I had lost interest, that I had more pressing things to do with my time, that I had spiralled into a depression after my girlfriend announced she was six weeks pregnant to a man named AJ - all of which are simply untrue. No. The reason that I have been unable to provide any updates or articles on Stenhousemuir FC and their odyssey in the Scottish Second Division is because the charger for my laptop computer has broken and my laptop now lies drained and useless.

The whole thing is thoroughly upsetting. I've discovered that there is nothing more depressing than fiddling with a plug for several hours only to stick it back into the laptop, watch the screen briefly flicker into life, and then fail, splutter and return to its dull, shiny screen. My stepfather, generally resourceful when it comes to electrical appliances, couldn't fix it and said a wire had been broken internally and the whole unit was beyond repair. Cursing like a docker, I threw the bloody thing into the bin. Apparently it will cost around £30 to buy a universal adaptor from somewhere like Maplin. Humph.

Being without my laptop and, by proxy, internet access, has proved to be incredibly frustrating and has left me completely hamstrung. I cannot complete my registration for my forthcoming University course; I cannot apply for a loan or for funding for the academic year; I cannot surf YouTube and watch videos of cats sleeping; I cannot play Football Manager (as of writing, I am about to begin the 2039-2040 season with Arsenal); I no longer have any decent material to masturbate to and have to content myself that Frankie Osbourne's dress might accidentally fall down during an episode of Hollyoaks; and most crucially of all, I cannot update Who the hell is Akabusi? Before it died completely, the battery lasted for barely over an hour and given that these articles and reports can take two or three hours to draft, it was almost impossible to provide any sort of insight or analysis on the blog over the last fortnight. You have no idea how irksome the whole affair has been. This update has been written during the quiet periods at my work.

Do not despair, friend. This evening after my work, I plan to purchase a new charger from my local branch of PC World or, failing that, Maplin and put the whole tiresome business to bed. There's plenty to write about, plenty to tell you, plenty to discuss. I have several articles and features in the pipeline, including brief match reports from the games against Forfar, Falkirk and Cowdenbeath. Before I return to University, I have arranged a week long break beginning the 5th of September and, God willing, I should be able to find the time to have these added onto the blog. That is my priority.

Well, that and seeing what's new on Tube Galore, of course.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Shaun Fraser joins on loan.

Shaun Fraser: an option.

Yesterday, Stenhousemuir FC announced that they have secured the services of Partick Thistle's Shaun Fraser on loan until the end of the year. Fraser, 18, plays as a striker and made sixteen first team appearances for his parent club last year, scoring twice. The club website does not indicate if this is until the end of the calander year or the end of the football season in May, but the player is well regarded by the coaching staff at Thistle and should make a very decent addition to the squad.

According to opinions from various Thistle supporters, the player is raw and unpolished, but can offer a physical and bustling style of play (perhaps due to his background as a rugby player in his early teenage years). What he lacks in technique and natural ability, he makes up for in enthusiasm and energy and should provide an interesting alternative in attack.

While Stewart Kean and Andy Rodgers perform with diligence and zeal, Fraser's addition will add another dynamic to Stenhousemuir's attack. From the descriptions of his style of play, he draws strong comparisons  to Scott Dalziel. Dalziel was physical and direct and, at times, we have missed a player with these attributes (the game against Brechin City immediately springs to mind). Fraser is expected to form part of the squad that plays against Forfar Athletic later today.

In the same article, the club also announced the signing of Joseph McCafferty, a young midfielder released from Falkirk. Having seen him play in the recent Stirlingshire Cup match again Stirling Albion, he looks an impressive addition to the squad. Composed and intelligent on the ball, he showed a fine range of passing and good technique and was one of game's standout performers. Given the wealth of options that the Warriors have in the middle of the park, McCafferty's first team chances may be limited, but should injuries and suspensions hit the club hard, I would be confident if he was to step up to the senior squad.

Later today, I will making the equivalent of Gulliver's voyage to Brobdingnag as Stenhousemuir battle with Dick Campbell's leery assortment of strapping ex-professionals at Forfar Athletic. Forfar fans may object to their team being described as "hammerthrowers", but with players like Chris Templeman, Chris Hegarty and Marc McCulloch in their ranks, the description is probably entirely justified. Having taken two points from our last four visits to Station Park, I am approaching the match with caution, but given Forfar's poor start to the season and their supporters' indfifference to Campbell's tactics and new signings (Kevin Motion has been described as a "waste of a jersey" by one fan), the Warriors can approach the match with a sense of quiet confidence.

I might buy a bridie today. I'll tell you on Twitter if it's any good or not.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Stenhousemuir 2 - 0 Arbroath

Arbroath's famous smokies: defensively naive, like the Africans.

Stenhousemuir recorded their first league win of the season following an entirely deseverved 2-0 victory over a poor Arbroath side at Ochilview on Saturday afternoon. Goals from Brown Ferguson and Andy Rodgers secured a fine victory and capped a fine performance from the Warriors. Energic and industrious throughout, Stenhousemuir were far superior in almost every department to their sluggish visitors.

Manager Davie Irons made a series of changes to the team that lost at Brechin the previous week. The most remarkable was his decision to dispense with his ambitious 4-2-3-1 project and adapt a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. Chris McCluskey continued in goals. Ross McMillan missed out through injury and so Kevin McKinlay shunted into central defence alongside Martyn Corrigan while Sean Dickson and Willie Lyle started at left and right fullback respectively. Stevie Murray and Brown Ferguson adopted the wide midfield positions with Eric Paton joining Paul McHale in the middle of the park. Andy Rodgers partnered Stewart Kean in attack. Paul Quinn, Iain Thomson, Jack Hamilton, Sean Diamond and a trialist goalkeeper featured on the bench.

Before kick-off, the club paid tribute to the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Norway by observing a minute's silence while the Norwegian flag flying at half-mast on the gantry between the dugouts opposite the stand. Stenhousemuir started the match well and passed the ball around the park with guile and purpose. In the 4-4-2 system, the players seemed far more comfortable and at ease in their natural positions. Rodgers in particular looked more accustomed as a traditional striker and was heavily involved in the home side's best moves.

After thirteen minutes played, Stenhousemuir took a deserved lead. Paton and Kean swapped passes in midfield and the latter found Paul McHale who lofted an incisive pass over Arbroath's lumbering defence and into the path of Ferguson. Striding into the penalty area, the midfielder deftly headed goalwards, completely wrong-footing Darren Hill and sending the ball trundling into the net. It was an extraordinary goal. Ferguson sheepishly wheeled away to celebrate with his teammates as Hill looked on ruefully - he was entirely culpable.

Stenhousemuir continued to dominate the play and looked the more imposing of the two teams but slack play almost allowed the visitors back into the game after twenty minutes. Lee Sibanda switched the ball from the left to the right flank and as Josh Falkingham chipped the ball into the penalty area, Dickson complacently allowed the cross to bounce beyond him, but Gavin Swankie failed to take advantage of his lapse and flashed a diving header wide of goal. It was their only significant effort of the half.

Rodgers had an excellent chance to extend the Warriors' lead on the half hour mark. Poor defending from Arbroath saw them fail to clear the ball and Stewart Malcolm's weak header landed on the edge of the box and Rodgers, charging in from the right, crashed a superb half-volley that Hill did well to beat away from goal. The home side continued to have the better of possession without offering a significant threat as the referee brought the first half to a close.

The Warriors started the first half with the same flair and aggression they ended the first. After five minutes of the restart, Rodgers had an excellent chance to score, controlling McHale's fine pass and spinning away from his marker inside the penalty area, but his shot was tame and Hill was quick to gather it. The forward did not have to wait long for his first Stenhousemuir goal and after a combination of Kean's doggedness and Arbroath's failure to perform simple defensive tasks, he bundled the ball over the line from six yards. It was nothing less than what his performance deserved.

With a two goal advantage, the Warriors dropped their tempo and were less insistent with on pressing their opposition and slowly allowed Arbroath to back into the game. Paul Sheerin's looping corner swung out towards Sibanda at the back post but the forward's shot was hacked from the line by Willie Lyle. Lyle was on hand to block another shot on the goaline minutes later as substitue Lee Bryce rounded McCluskey and fired in a low shot. Swankie forced McCluskey into a fine save after a cumbersome run through Stenhousemuir's defence. Unable to breach a resolute Warriors defence, Sheerin was even booked for punching the ball into the net.

Arbroath's attacking intent was quelled as the Warriors regained control of the game. Paton and Murray exchanged passes on the halfway line and the former's curling pass found Dickson haring down the left flank. The fullback fired in a delicious cross but Rodgers, unmarked, contrived to send a weak header straight at Hill. In the final minute of the match, the striker forced Hill into another excellent save after cutting in from the right flank and crashing a left-footed shot goalwards.

By and large, Stenhousemuir should be proud of their performance. From back to front, every player impressed. One of the most eye-catching aspects of the game was how the players responded to playing in a traitional 4-4-2 system. Eric Paton excelled as he dropped to collect the ball from his defenders and dictated the play from a deeper role and Arbroath's midfield were unable to cope with his passing and movement. The Big Easy was superbly complimented by Paul McHale who passe with confidence and pressed the opposition with diligence. Despite a series of questionable performances in his first few games at the club, McHale delivered his finest performance since he joined the club and looks far more impressive when played further forward ias a conventional central midfielder

Most encouraging of all was the performance of Andy Rodgers. Full of energy and invention, the forward linked well with Kean and looked far more potent when deployed in his natural position instead of a wide forward. He was confident and could have scored four goals had it not been for a combination of good goalkeeping and wayward finishing. Having seen Rodgers play against Stenhousemuir in the past for Montrose, East Stirlingshire and Ayr United, my opinion of him was an average forward with an unimpressive petulant streak but his performance against Arbroath was excellent and by far and away the best I'd seen from him.

As good as Stenhousemuir were, however, they were aided and abetted by a very poor Arbroath side. Despite a decent twenty minute spell in the second half where they looked reasonably threatening (although this was perhaps due to complacent defending rather than genuine craft and guile), from back to front, they were generally ineffective and unable to compete. Darren Hill may have produced a string of fine saves to deny Andy Rodgers but he was hopelessly out of position for Ferguson's goal. Watching the replays, only Hill will know what he was doing so far from his six yard box. Further forward, Arbroath's central defensive partnership line played poorly throughout. Beau Busch seemed overawed by the physicality and pace of Stenhousemuir's attack, while it seemed alarming that a player of Stewart Malcolm's size was easily beaten in aerial duels with Kean. Fullbacks Mark Baxter and Graham Girvan offered little support on the flanks and Lee Sibanda contributed virtually nothing in attack. Gavin Swankie looked reasonably potent in spells in the second half but the former St Johnstone player seems more suited to creating rather than finishing moves. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of their game was the performance of midfielder Brian Kerr. Given that he had spent the majority of his career playing in the SPL and won a handful of international caps,  it was distressing to see a player of his pedigree overrun and chasing shadows. There was little on show to even suggest that he once played in Newcastle United's first team.

It will be interesting to see how Davie Irons will approach Saturday's game against Forfar Athletic at Station Park. Given that Forfar boast a team full of tall, physical players, there may be a temptation to rush Ross McMillan back into central defence and shunt Kevin McKinlay back into left fullback solely to offer additional height in Stenhousemuir's backline but this would be harsh on Sean Dickson, who arguably had his finest performance for the Warriors at the weekend. Regardless of personnel, I would hope that Irons continues to utilise the 4-4-2 formation. To quote that old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I wish there was something more insightful I could add here but there really seems no need to make any adjustments to a winning side. Forfar drew with Cowdenbeath in their opening fixture then conceded a last minute goal to lose at Albion Rovers at the weekend, and some of their fans have shown disillusion with manager Dick Campbell's tactics and team selection. While I approach the match with a sense of caution, if Stenhousemuir can perform to the same standard that they did against Arbroath, I would be quietly confident of our chances against Forfar.

STENHOUSEMUIR: McCluskey; Lyle, McKinlay, Corrigan, Dickson; Ferguson (Thomson), McHale, Paton, Murray; Kean, Rodgers (Quinn).

ARBROATH: Hill; Girvan, Malcolm, Busch (Wedderburn), Baxter; Falkingham, Gibson (Mair), Kerr, Sheerin; Sibanda (Bryce), Swankie.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Brechin City 2 - 0 Stenhousemuir

Paul "Shagger" McManus: having sex with someone near you very soon.

In their inaugural game of the league campaign, Stenhousemuir slumped to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brechin City at Glebe Park on Saturday afternoon. Despite there being little to separate the sides in the first half, the Warrior's limp performance in the second period was compounded by goals from David McKenna and Paul McManus. Stenhousemuir competed well with Brechin in the opening period but after a series of tactical changes from their opposition, they looked toothless and unable to cope with their attacking play. Supporters will be approaching this weekend's game against Arbroath with a sense of caution and trepidation.

Stenhousemuir made several changes to the team the defeated Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Communities League Cup last weekend. Chris McCluskey replaced the injured Ally Brown in goals while Kevin McKinlay slotted into left fullback alongside Ross McMillan, Martyn Corrigan and Willie Lyle in defence. The hardworking Iain Thomson lined up alongside Brown Ferguson in deep positions with Sean Dickson, Eric Paton and Stevie Murray adopting the more advanced midfield roles. Stewart Kean started as the lone striker. Andy Rodgers and Paul McHale dropped to the bench alongside Paul Quinn, Grant Plenderlieth and trialist goalkeeper Kyle Allison.

The home side were the first to threaten. After strong play from David McKenna deep on the right flank, Paul McManus rose to meet his cross, only to watch the ball crash off the crossbar. Moments later, Stenhousemuir pressed forward and Kean pounced on a poor clearance from Craig Nelson. Looking to round the goalkeeper, his touch took the ball a little too wide and with his angled narrowed, he had little choice than to cut the ball back to Murray, but the winger's shot was easily saved.

Both sides passed up chances to open the scoring. Buist cleared a Kean header off the line while at the other end, McKenna forced McCluskey into a close range save, the goalkeeper pushing his header away after the forward stole in front of McMillan. As the half wore on, Stenhousemuir began to look the more potent. With Paton dictating the play, his balls into vacant channels for Kean caused alarm in the Brechin defence but the Warriors were unable to capitalise on these promising moves. The remainder of the half ebbed and flowed with Stenhousemuir perhaps finishing as the stronger of the two sides, albeit without forcing Nelson into anything taxing.

Jim Weir's response to the visitor's relative dominance was to man-mark Eric Paton for the second half. Former St Mirren midfielder Garry Brady was tasked with the role and performed with aplomb, sitting on Stenhousemuir's talisman and minimalising any impact he may have had on the game. As the second half started, Brechin slowly began to exert pressure and grew into the game. After fifty-five minutes, McManus should have opened the scoring but missed an open goal. Stenhousemuir were sloppy and failed to clear their lines before allowing Craig Molloy to gain possession in the penalty arear. The midfielder passed the ball across the face of goal but somehow, from less than six yards out, McManus contrived to steer the ball wide. It was an astonishing miss. Brechin continued to attack and McCluskey was alert to push away a strong effort from Molloy on the hour mark. The Warriors had no answer as Brechin pressed forward. Any time a defender found themself in possession, they were pressured into punting long, hopeful balls in the general direction of Stewart Kean. Up against Scott Buist and Gerry McLaughlin, the forward stood no chance. The home side had effectively marked Paton out of the game and with Molloy and Neil Jancyzk pressing high up the pitch, the defenders often had little option other than to play long balls.

Weir made his second masterstroke of the afternoon by substituting the hard-working but ineffective Weir for Derek Carcary. Changing to a 4-4-1-1 formation, the forward's impact was immediate. Playing off McManus, Carcary began to drop deep to collect the ball from the midfield, dragging the central defenders out of position and allowing Molloy to probe forward. Carcary's introduction opened up the game and Stenhousemuir were unable to cope with his movement through the midfield and on the flanks. The Warriors surrendered possession cheaply in the middle of the park and after a flurry of impotent clearances, the ball somehow broke to an unmarked David McKennna who curled a sublime effort from the edge of the penalty area beyond McCluskey and into the net.

By this point, anytime Brechin - and in particular, Carcary - attacked, Stenhousemuir looked vulnerable. Irons removed Ferguson and Sean Dickson and replaced them with Paul McHale and Grant Plenderlieth in the hope of regaining control in the middle of the park but it was of little consequence. Once again, Carcary hared down the left flank and skipped beyond Lyle. McMillan's dived in rashly but mistimed his tackle and allowed the forward to stride into the area. McCluskey parried Carcary's shot but it fell straight at the feet of McManus. He couldn't miss.

Andy Rodgers was brought on in place of Ross McMillan and with Iain Thomson dropping into central defence, Stenhousemuir played the remainder of the game in a conventional 4-4-2 but were unable to breach a resolute Brechin defence. It was an untidy and scrappy affair with players losing their patience and sniping at one another and the referee. Both Kean and McKinlay were booked for dissent and in the final minutes, they looked like a beaten side.

Although Brechin were expected to win the match, Stenhousemuir's second half showing was disappointing. Irons had no answer to Weir's tactical changes and his efforts to alter his side proved fruitless. Given that Brechin prevented Stenhousemuir from passing the ball through the middle of the park by pressing Paton and Ferguson, more should have been expected from the wide players. All too often however, when McKinlay or Murray gathered the ball on the left flank, they opted to float deft, hanging crosses into the area and their efforts were easily dealt with. When Stenhousemuir changed into a 4-4-2 formation and attempted to press the flanks, Murray was unable deliver a threatening cross while Plenderlieth worked hard but was often crowded out and blocked. Irons had stated at his Meet the Manager session that his 4-2-3-1 system would make it more difficult for the opposition to attack on the break but even with the extra midfielder, Stenhousemuir were unable to cope. Furthermore, the Warriors looked a little impotent going forward and while Kean is hardworking and determined, I still have my doubts as to his suitability to function as a lone forward. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the 4-2-3-1 formation has shown signs of potential, but Kean seems as though he would function far better with a taller, more physical striking partner to play off. It seems, however, that this is our lot. Saturday's game was a dispiriting experience.

There were few positives to take from the game, with any encouraging signs overshadowed by the second half performance. Stenhousemuir host an Arbroath on Saturday flushed with success after a rousing 6-2 victory over Albion Rovers and the Third Division champions will approach the match with confidence (it should be pointed out that there were mitigating circumstances behind the win - Albion Rovers had both goalkeepers sent off and played the final half hour with nine men). After last week's game, however, I will approach the match with a sense of slight apprehension. Irons seemed unable to adjust his side's tactics to curtail Brechin's influence on the game and it was disheartening to see him leaning on his dugout, arms folded, watching his team incapable of turning things around. Stenhousemuir can win the match, they have the capabilities, but a defeat on Saturday would be hugely disappointing. It is unlikely, but not outwith the realms of possibility.

BRECHIN CITY: Nelson; McLean, Dunlop, Buist, McLaughlin; Molloy, Brady, Janczyk, McKenna (King); McManus (Lister), Weir (Carcary).

STENHOUSEMUIR: McCluskey; Lyle, McKinlay, Corrigan, McMillan (Rodgers); Thomson, Ferguson (McHale); Murray, Paton, Dickson (Plenderlieth); Kean.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The year's '94 and my trunk is raw.

Jay-Z: not appropriate for a Saturday night in Falkirk.

Before we go any further, I feel as though I owe you some sort of apology. I want to take the opportunity to tell you I'm sorry. In the very first entry of Who the hell is Akabusi?, I finished the closing paragraph by promising you that I would be there when it comes to the showdown. I promised that if you stuck with me throughout the season, I would be there for you. I made a promise. And I have failed on my pledge. I've failed you. And I'm sorry. Despite my best intentions, I failed to even draft a decent report of Saturday's game against Cowdenbeath. I was at the game, I paid my £14 entrance fee, I sat in the stand with my notebook and spent the game making a series of observations, but I utterly failed to commit anything to paper. There are mitigating circumstances, you understand. There's always mitigating circumstances. Let me explain.

Upon returning home from Central Park, I had a quick meal and a shower and dressed myself for the evening ahead - I was going out in Falkirk. I invited my friend round to the house. He poached a "hauf boattie" of vodka while I drank a foolish amount of cheap American lager (around two or three bottles) before we piled into a taxi that took us into the town centre. Without question, Falkirk is one of the most dismal conurbations in Central Scotland and appears even grimmer on a Saturday night. Full of brutes and louts dressed in Lyle and Scott polo shirts and Timberland boots, it's a thoroughly dire affair. After sinking a few pints of domestic ale, however, the whole scene becomes more blurry, more essential, more vital and, at times, bloody good fun. We were in one of the town's more salubrious watering holes and started chatting with these girls. They were lesbians, it transpired. It was either the truth or an ingenious rouse to discourage us from talking to them. One of them was tall, pirced and boasted a vulgar sleeve of tattoos down one arm. My friend told her she looked like the Undertaker. He also tried to dance with another one, but she rejected his advances and tried to return to her seat. Are you not dancing with me because you're gay?, he demanded. She didn't reply and shuffled away from him nervously.

A girl was playing some acoustic covers and midway through her set asked the audience if anyone fancied trying their hand at some songs of their own. I raised my hand and approached her. And what are you going to play?, she asked. 99 Problems by Jay-Z. She shot me a look of suspicion and incredulity, like I was some vulgar hooligan intent on taking the microphone and making a complete show of myself. No, I assured her. I know all the words and I've played this before! In front of real people too! The girl shrugged and stepped to one side. I slung the guitar over my shoulder and took the stage. Like a veteran of pantomime, I tried to get the audience onside by asking them for their help to sing the chorus. Does everyone know 99 Problems? 99 Problems? No? Well. Here goes... I've got the rap patrol on the gat patrol, foes who wanna make sure my casket's closed... My friend joined in with me, offering backing vocals and taking split-lead on that tricky second verse. You crazy for this one, Rick! S'ha boi! I finished on a triumphant, crashing chord and surveyed the crowd: complete indifference. One or two people clapped nervously. Pockets of the audience booed at me. If you've ever seen the episode of Father Ted where they play My Lovely Horse in the preliminary rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest, then you'll know just how badly the song went down. Falkirk's not ready for rap music just yet. In ten years time, I'll probablly be worshipped as some sort of visionary.

There was nothing else for it other than getting roaringly drunk. I spent the evening leering and looking at the women dotted around the bar. Not that I ever had any intention of talking to them, you understand. Just stare at them longingly. By this point, my friend had agreed to meet with a girl he'd been texting all evening and, by all accounts, was "in there" with her. Instead of following him onto City night club to watch him make lewd manoeuvres while I spent the rest of the night dancing next to pockets of women in the hope that one of them approached me, I decided to walk back home. Remarkably, I magaed to engage with acclaimed football writer Jonathan Wilson over Twitter about the state of football in Africa (I remained, for the best part, lucid and intelligent with my responses) as I walked through Bainsford and Stenhousemuir. Coming home, I devoured a family-size bag of Walker's Sensations then fell asleep. I woke up on the Sunday morning with a hangover the size of Ireland and could barely lift the lid of my laptop computer, nevermind draft a report from Saturday's game. With the blinds drawn, I spent the day in my bed eating rolls and square sausage and playing Football Manager. An utter waste of a day.

I fully intended to complete the match report after my work on Monday evening but talked to my girlfriend on Skype for an hour or so instead. I hadn't spoken with her in a while and she was curt and short with my questions, but I just put this down to the fact that there's a three hour time difference and she was probably tired or something. She's still having a pretty good time in Mauritius though, I think. I wasn't exactly sure why the conversation was terminated but a low drone of masculine voices suddenly rumbled from the speakers. He can't speak a word of English, but he knows where to stick it, came my girlfriend's voice, before a sharp click and quiet hiss, then silence. I don't know what she was talking about. Maybe about how to use a thermometer. I don't know. Plenty has happened since the Cowdenbeath match but let's try and focus on condensing the last few days into an easy-to-swallow, digestible essay.

Cowdenbeath's Central Park: £14 entrance fee. That's right, £14.

Well... Stenhousemuir progressed to the second round of the Scottish Communities League Cup after defeating a resolute Cowdenbeath side at Central Park on Saturday afternoon. Despite the game ending 2-2, the Warriors prevailed after a penalty shootout, winning 4-3. Stewart Kean's header gave Stenhousemuir an early lead before Mark Ramsay's brace put the home side into the lead before half-time. Eric Paton equalised midway through the second half and despite the Blue Brazil having the better chances, they were unable to breach  the Stenhousemuir defence. With penalty kicks deciding the outcome of the game, Cowdenbeath's Greg Stewart's sent a poor effort wide of the post and the Warriors advanced to the next round.

In the opening exchanges, Irons' exotic 4-2-3-1 formation worked well and showed glimpses of its potential. Kean, Stevie Murray and Andy Rodgers pushed high up the pitch, pressing their opponents well and their refusal to allow Cowden time on the ball indirectly led to the opening goal. Fullback Dean Brett was forced into conceding a throw-in deep in his own half, then allowed Murray to beat him and send a looping cross to the back post. Beajoui should have done far better in dealing with the ball, but Kean showed good movement to sneak behind him and stooped to header home. As the half wore on, however, Stenhousemuir dropped their pressing game and sat deeper, inviting Cowden to attack them. On the half hour mark, Lewis Coult made a decent run down the left flank and slipped a pass into Ramsay. The forward easily shrugged off Martyn Corrigan and fired home the equaliser.

After their good opening spell, Stenhousemuir began to aim hopeful punts towards the Cowdenbeath goal. Corrigan in particular seemed content to shell raking passes deep into the left channel for Dickson or Rodgers to run onto. This was fine in theory as Brett looked vulnerable, but given that the majority of his passes were overhit, the chances to press and attack the fullback were wasted. As Stenhousemuir slacked off, Cowden grew in confidence and exerted themselves further on the game. Once again, Coult broke down the left and squared the ball to Ramsay. Unmarked, the forward controlled the ball then steered a shot beyond Ally Brown. It was an appalling goal to lose. From the highlights on the Stenhousemuir website, it appears as though McHale switched off and allowed Ramsay to waltz beyond him and into the penalty area. Given that he's included in the side to provide cover in front of the defence, far better should be expected of the midfielder. The first half ended shortly afterwards.

With almost an hour of the game played, Eric Paton's strike restored parity. Rodgers collected the ball in the middle of the park and sent a cute pass straight through the Cowden defence before the on-rushing Paton lashed a fine shot over Beajoui and high into the net. After the goal, however, Stenhousemuir offered little attacking threat and the game descended into an untidy affair with both sides offering plenty of bluster but little by way of guile and ingenuity. Chris McCluskey (who had replaced the injured Ally Brown at half time) performed superbly to push a Joe Mbu header wide of the post and later blocked decent efforts from Scott Linton and Kenny Adamson.

With both teams deadlocked, extra time followed. Stenhousemuir made several substitutions and shifted into an attacking 4-4-2 formation, but were still unable to breach a resolute Cowden defence. Mark Ramsay should have won the game for the home side in the first half of extra time after Corrigan utterly failed to deal with a long ball and fell over as he tried to usher it out of play for a goal kick. Greg Stewart stole in front of him and squared the ball to Ramsay but with an open goal beckoning, the striker somehow contrived to shoot wide. Extra time drew to a close and Stenhousemuir prevailed on penalties.

It was a mixed performance from Stenhousemuir. As mentioned previously, there were flashes of promise that the 4-2-3-1 system is beginning to take shape. In the opening twenty minutes especially, Stenhousemuir appeared to overwhelm their opposition - with players like Brett and Mbu appearing awkward when in possession, the pressure from Murray, Kean and Rodgers forced them into a succession of errors that led to the opening goal. Paton appears to be adapting to his advanced role and took his goal with aplomb while Ferguson and McHale appeared resolute from their deeper positions. Ross McMillan was superb once again and is beginning to look like one of the finest defenders I've seen at the club since Greig Denham. Strong, aggressive and commanding, he's the finest signing that Davie Irons has brought into the club this summer. Regardless of Ally Brown's injury, Chris McCluskey's second half performance should have convinced the manager that he's his first choice goalkeeper. If he had any doubts, all he needs to do is refer to the save from Mbu's header - utterly sensational.

On a negative note however, there were elements of the Warriors performance that were a source of concern. Despite impressing on his debut against Partick Thistle last weekend, Martyn Corrigan was poor throughout. His distribution was wayward and his punts "into the mixer" bore resemblance to the fare we've seen from Scott Gibb, Gary Thom or Chris McLeod in previous seasons. He was also directly culpable for Cowden's first goal - the way that Ramsay turned away from him was alarming. Although his superb pass set up Paton's equaliser, Andy Rodgers had another quiet performance. While he may still be trying to adapt to his role as a wide forward, he drifted in and out of the game once again and struggled to exert any influence. On several occasions, his touch let him down and he often reacted with petulance when decisions failed to go his way. For example, as Cowden celebrated their first goal, Rodgers was protesting with the referee over an imaginary foul as they broke forward with the ball. These criticisms may seem harsh given that Stenhousemuir progressed to the next round of the cup and most teams will be satisfied to leave Central Park with a point this season, but the Warriors can and will play better throughout the season.

Steven Pressley: popular with the locals.

The victory sets up a rather tasty second round tie with local rivals Falkirk at Westfield with the game is scheduled for Wednesday the 24th of August. Having only ever seen the Warriors play the Grangemouth-based side in friendlies and Stirlingshire Cup matches over the last few years, I'm reasonably excited about the match. Given the other teams we could have potentially faced in the competition (Hibernian and Aberdeen being the better of the seeded teams), we've probably been handed one of the more favourable draws. Falkirk are obviously the favourites for the tie but if I'm being honest, I have absolutely no idea if they're a good side or not. They've performed well in the cup competitions so far and have shown good form against lower league opposition, dispatching Brechin City and Albion Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup and the Scottish Communities League Cup respectively. Having looked at their squad for the forthcoming season, there are few names I recognise. Tam Scobbie and Mark Millar have been retained while manager Steven "Brown Shoes" Pressley managed somewhat of a coup by bringing in experienced defender Darren Dods from Dundee United. Having canvassed opinion from a number of their fans, they're also unsure if their team is any good or not or if they're equipped to push for the First Division title. We'll have a far better idea of the calibre of opposition we'll be facing over the coming weeks.

At this point, I feel as though I should confess something. A dark secret, the kind that can tear families apart and ruin friendships - I used to support Falkirk. Yes. Falkirk FC. Looking back, it's something I feel quite ashamed of. Standing on the terracing down by the cage on a Saturday afternoon, cheering on John Hughes and Owen Coyle... I feel so sullied. Back in 2002, my father enjoyed a working relationship with one of the Falkirk directors and arranged that we both attended their hospitality for a game against St Johnstone. I think Falkirk won the game 1-0 through a last minute Kevin James header, but I can't be quite sure. I remember Paul Hartley playing for the visitors and the chunks of onion in their sandwiches being outrageous. It was easy to be swept up in the euphoric rush of a late winner and I remember being quite taken by the whole thing. I began to attend their home games on a semi-regular basis and was even present at the last game at Brockville, a 3-2 defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle (I had to leave the celebrations early because I had a shift to cover at Argees). After the club failed to gain promotion to the SPL and relocated to Ochilview in 2003, I lost interest. I can't quite explain my reasons, but I just stopping going. The desire to watch them and the interest in following their results vanished. Several years later, a friend encouraged me to attend the matches at Ochilview and that was that... Where once there was a tender curiosity for Falkirk FC, there is now disdain and loathing.

It's hard to describe from where my animosity towards Falkirk FC stems. Stenhousemuir haven't played against them in a competitive fixture since around 2002, long before I started supporting them. When I attended Brockville, the locals always seemed a pleasant enough bunch. Harmless. I have several friends and workmates that support Falkirk and on the whole, they're mostly decent people. A little myopic and with an inflated sense of self-entitlement perhaps, but they're generally alright. Although their locality should play a factor, I've always considered East Stirlingshire as our more traditional rivals. The only rational explanation I can give for my dislike of Falkirk came from a source of great consternation. Before games at Ochilview on a Saturday, my friends and I used to meet at the Crown in Stenhousemuir's town centre for a few beers and vodkas. We would talk about the latest pop videos, Bret Hart and dancing at the Maniqui, we would eat crisps and play the quiz machine (I remember winning £4 on Deal or No Deal). Most of all, however, we loved playing pool. We laughed, conversed and bonded over that table... And without fail, every afternoon was ruined by two loutish Falkirk fans. Two brothers, probably twins, beer-bellied and bearing a striking resemblance to the Chuckle Brothers, terrible spiked hair with a matted back and sides, grizzled moustaches, a deep-seated misery fixed behind their smiles, their arms coloured by greenblue tattoos like Stilton cheese... They were arguably two of the worst people I've ever met. Their patter was cliched, loud and boorish and relied on the crudest of innuendos, like a pub bore muscling his way into your conversation and shouting in your face until you relent. Their wrists were draped in cheap, shiny jewellery, and the pair prowled around the pool table, heckling one another and jabbing the butt of their cues in our faces without apology as they took their shots. They sucked the fun out of drinking in the Crown. I cringe as I think about their Beezer Homes replica shirts and their cagoules... Thinking hard about it, I can pinpoint my dislike of Falkirk FC solely on those two men. Picture me, if you will, wearing large headphones with a microphone pushed into my face, my eyes wild and incensed, jabbing my finger at you - I would love it if we beat them.

Craig Charleston: ruining football since birth.

On Tuesday night, meanwhile, Stenhousemuir's U-19s defeated Stirling Albion's U-19s 4-0 at Ochilview in the opening round of the Stirlingshire Cup tie. A Jordan Burns penalty, a Paul Quinn lob and a brace from Stewart Love secured victory for the Warriors, but the game was marred in the first minute after referee Craig Charleston saw fit to send off Albion goalkeeper Gary Booth for a last man foul on Stewart Love. Despite the scoreline, the Albion youngsters can be proud of their general performance. Stenhousemuir, meanwhile, have been rewarded with a trip to face Dumbarton in the semi-final. As of writing, there is no indication as to when the tie will be played.

After barely a minute of the game played, Love burst onto a fine through ball but as she shaped to shoot, he appeared to be tripped by the on-rushing Booth. From my vantage point, it was difficult to tell if Love's touch was heavy and he collided with Booth or if the goalkeeper had actually fouled him, but Charleston's decision to send the goalkeeper off was astonishing. Substitute goalkeeper Neil Desmond replaced forward Jordan Mailey and his first action of the game was to pick the ball from his net after Burns crashed home the resultant penalty kick. Paul Quinn doubled Stenhousemuir's lead a minute later, collecting the ball outside the penalty area and lofting a fine chip over Desmond and into the goal. Love added a third after racing onto Jack Hamilton's fine throughball and drilling a neat shot into the net and in the final minutes of the second half, he added his second goal, sweeping home from close range after Desmond parried a shot into his path.

With their opposition playing virtually the whole match with ten men, it was difficult to gauge just how good Stenhousemuir's performance was. Fullbacks Jack Hamilton and Alan Lawson, both on the fringes of the first team, impressed. Both showed drive and indusrty down the flanks and their deep, whipped crosses were a threat. Joseph McCaffery, playing in midfield, looks a fine prospect. From a deep position, he was composed and skilful and displayed a cunning range of passing. Paul Quinn, meanwhile, had a mixed game. Given that game was purely for U-19 players, it was surprising to see him playing. He prospered when he dropped into a deeper position in the trequartista role behind the frontline and threaded some glorious passes between defenders, but at other times he looked lethargic and unwilling to track or block his opponents. He looks a little chubbier now than he did last season. If Andy Rodgers or Stewart Kean are ever injured or suspended, it would difficult to imagine just where Quinn would fit into Davie Irons' current system.

I plan to return later in the week, possibly tomorrow, and provide my own in-depth and cultured preview on the forthcoming 2011-2012 Scottish Second Division. Having read some of the guff printed in the mainstream media, it beggars belief at the inaccurancies and ignorance shown towards the lower divisions of the Scottish Football League (remarkably, last week's edition of the Scotland on Sunday offered previews on the First and the Third Division but utterly neglected to provide any sort of commentary on the Second) and I cannot fathom why journalists and commentators are unwilling or unprepared to research their subject before committing anything to paper. Instead, I will give you my well-rounded and expert analysis on the upcoming league campaign. I must offer you this disclaimer, however - it will be based on nothing more than the games I took in last year, where the teams finished in last season's league table and which players they've signed up. This is the best I can offer you. If you can't accept these terms or just plain don't like it, tough. Because it's probably the best you're going to get anywhere else.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Me and Davie Irons down by the schoolyard.

Davie Irons: vogue.

Stenhousemuir's annual Meet the Manager sessions often provide an interesting spectacle. Having attended the meetings since 2006, I've witnessed some fascinating showdowns, apathy and indifference, and dull pragmatism. At my first meeting, Des McKeown aired his dirty laundry for over two and half hours in front of astonished supporters, his kitchen sink melodrama trumping even the most ludicrous episode of EastEnders. From the Colin Cramb saga to Greig Denham's ill-advised rant in a national tabloid, his revelations were outrageous. He went on to reveal his plans for the season ahead and how he planned to construct his side around the "Berwick 5". Like a slick car salesman or an evangelical preacher, McKeown transfixed me. I remember leaving the meeting, wide-eyed and delirious... We can win the league! The Scottish Cup! The Champions League! That season, the manager resigned before November and we finished in seventh place.

The next year at Campbell Money's first assembly, the mood was far darker. I can only compare it to sitting through a detention with a particularly ill-tempered school headmaster. Why are you not playing Craig Menzies at right fullback?, somone asked him. Rolling his eyes and grinding his teeth, he hissed that Zee was actually a midfielder and would not play at fullback again, despite the youngster having played his entire career at the club there. Money lowered the bar so low that if the club had been relegated to a regional league then liquidated, it would have felt as though we performed above expectation. John Coughlin's three meetings from 2008 to 2010, meanwhile, were fairly dry affairs, with the arch pragmatist laying out his expectations for the seasons ahead. Other than the season he won promotion to the Second Division, he failed on almost all of his pledges.

Having met Davie Irons at the Player of the Year night in May, I was impressed with his ambition and aspirations. In a brief encounter, I thanked him for keeping the club in the division and bringing an entertaining brand of football back to Stenhousemuir (if I remember correctly, I spoke to him after several pints of strong lager and came across as fairly lucid - later on that evening, I became roaringly drunk and accosted Scott Dalziel, sandbagged him and ruined his night. I genuinely think that my behaviour that evening was a major factor in his decision to move to East Fife).

Last night, I was looking to forward to hearing his plans and objectives for his first full season in charge of the club. Fielding questions in front of over fifty supporters in the club's Ormond Suite, the manager remained polite, gracious and candid throughout. Touching on his career with the police force, the players he's brought into the club, his ambitions for the season ahead and his opinions on Simon Lynch's pop career, he talked openly and honestly for an hour and a half.

One of the first, and probably one of the most pretinent questions, was how Irons would combine his work with the police force with his role as manager of Stenhousemuir. It was an issue that most supporters felt required clarification. He explained that he applied to join the police two years ago but due to a recruitment freeze, was only offered a position with them around March or April of this year. His application was made clear to the Board of Directors during his interview process and he was keen to offer supporters the same assurances he offered them: it will not affect his ability to manage the club. His Chief Constable has stated that his job will not be detrimental to his role at Stenhousemuir and that the police force consider having professional sportsmen in their ranks as a "feather in their cap", particlularly one that manages in the SFL. He also pointed to another police officer - referee Iain Brines - as an example of a similar professional afforded the same time off.

What will happen, one supporter asked him, If you're successful with Stenhousemuir and a full-time club approaches you? Irons sighed. Full-time management has passed him by and it's something he no longer considers a viable career move. He acknowledged that he's never likley to manage the likes of Barcelona or Manchester United and now his aim is to combine a full-time job with his role at Stenhousemuir. When he managed Gretna and Greenock Morton, he found he had little time to think about anything else other than football. Managing a part-time side, Irons admitted, gives a good balance between his personal life and his professional comittments. In the unlikely event that there are any changes to his circumstances, the board will be the first people to know.

Thoughts turned to the squad for the season ahead and the squad of players assembled. Several questions were asked about the manager's transfers in and out of the club and special attention was paid to the strikers. Irons expressed frustration that Scott Dalziel chose to leave the club after he was close to agreeing terms for the season ahead. When pressed on Simon Lynch's retirement, meanwhile, the manager was more candid. After the season had finished, Lynch failed to return any of his phonecalls. When he eventually got back to him, the striker revealed his plans to retire from football. Giving his reasons for retiring, the manager realised there was no point in trying to convince him to stay and wished him well. Although he was unprepared to explain the reasons behind Lynch's decision, he expressed his disappointment, especially after the board made substantial financial outlay on the player's wages and his surgery at the start of last season. Did you like his pop video? It's a catchy tune. Goalkeeper Chris McLuskey, a close friend of Lynch, has a firm belief that he's the next Paolo Nutini in the making.

There seemed to be a misunderstanding about the re-signing to Paul Quinn. In May, the club website listed the players that had firm offers for the new season, the players that were released and four players that were offered training facilities. Quinn was listed as having been offerd facilities. Why was he not offered terms in the first place? He was offered a contract in May, Irons affirmed. During his tenure at Threave Rovers, he had watched the player when scouting the team for their Scottish Cup tie and was impressed by his determination and attitude. When he watched him playing, he felt that Quinn suffered becuse he ploughed a lone furrow in attack while but added that since he's worked with him, he's grown to admire his enthusiasm and application in training. Irons believes that if the player can improve his fitness over the season, then there's a fine footballer in there somwhere.

The manager went on to reveal his frustrations in his attempts to being in players for the forthcoming season. After Dalziel announced that he was leaving the club, Gareth Wardlaw was very close to joining and taking his place. Wardlaw failed to negotiate a contract at Falkirk and was about to join Stenhousemuir before Ayr United offered him terms. The manager seemed rueful. There were other players that he was in advanced negotiations with that moved elsewhere. No names were mentioned, but Irons quipped that even Sir Alex Ferguson can't always sign the players he wants.

When pressed as to who he sees as his Number One goalkeeper for the season ahead, Irons couldn't give an answer. While Chris McLuskey started the game against Partick Thistle, Ally Brown will play at Cowdenbeath and the manager will make his decision after that. He believes he has two of the best goalkeepers in the league and cannot choose between them. The decision as to who starts against Brechin in the club's opening league fixture will be a difficult one. If Ally Brown throws a few into the net on Saturday then it'll make the decision easier, but at the moment, there's nothing between them. He then went on to reveal that in the summer, he was given the option to let one of the goalkeepers leave and use their wage to bring in another outfield player. The proposal was rejected.

He admitted that he's gambled with the size of the squad for the season. Irons wanted to bring in a smaller pool of quality players on larger saleries and augment the squad with youngsters. With new SFL initiatives to reward clubs for playing U-21 players, Irons is keen to mix a small pool of quality senior players on good wages with youngsters from the U-19s side. The manager has high hopes for Sean Dickson (already an established member of the first team), Jack Hamilton, Jordan Burns and, in particular, Stewart Love. Love has an excellent chance of making it, he said, and will feature throughout the season.

Special praise, however, was reserved for Grant Plenderlieth and Irons paid tribute to his performances from last season. The manager claimed that the young forward won six points for the team after providing the assists for the winning goals in games against Dumbarton and Airdrie and reckons that while he may not get ninety minutes every week, he sees him as an important player for the club and someone that can make an impact throughout the season.

At this point chairman Martin McNairney joined in with the discussion and commented how much he enjoys Irons' willingness to integrate youth players into the team. Under John Coughlin, the youth players barely featured and often cut frustrated figures in the stands on matchday. He made reference to Ally Love and Mark McLennan, two youngsters that Coughlin signed on loan from St Mirren and how they were no better than the players starring in the U-19s. From his point of view, it was frustrating to see the club spend thousands of pounds on developing their own youth players for none of them to come close to getting a game. If any players were to come in on loan, Irons added, it would only be done towards the end of August. By this point, SPL managers have a better idea of which players feature in their plans and which ones don't. If anyone else joins the club, the manager will strengthen his attack.

Irons seemed indifferent about the club's disappointing pre-season results. The results are unimportant, he said. A team can win all their friendly matches then go on to have a terrible season, and vice-versa. While he was disappointed with the team's performance on Saturday at Partick Thistle, he was happy enough with the way they approached the second half. Asked if the improvement was due to the change from the 4-2-3-1 formation to a traditional 4-4-2, the manager seemed to aquiesce. Eric Paton spent the first half frustrated and unable to influence the game in his usual manner, so the decision was taken to play him in a more withdrawn role where he would see more of the ball and dictate the team's play. Is the 4-2-3-1 something that you're going to persue? Irons nodded and explained how he wants the formation to work.

In a 4-4-2 system, he feels that the team is exposed when they're hit on the break. With two midfielders sitting in front of the defence, it gives the team more ballast and stability. When Stenhousemuir attack and the ball is shuttled into the middle of the park, the wide forwards (Stevie Murray and Andy Rodgers in Saturday's case) are expected to come inside and involve themselves in the play while the fullbacks overlap into offensive positions. Irons felt that while McKinlay and Murray linked up well on the left flank, Willie Lyle and Rodgers were less impressive on the right. Rodgers failed to come inside and link with the likes of Paton and clung to the touchline instead. As a result, Lyle was unable to attack and provide an option on the right. It is something that the players will take their time to adapt to, he admitted. Stenhousemuir will line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation against Cowdenbeath on Saturday.

Continuing the discussion about his tactics and formations, another audience member noted how previous manager John Coughlin would scout the opposition then arrange his team to nulify their strengths instead of playing to their own. Irons would not be adopting a similar strategy. He declared that each week he will be playing his strongest eleven players and try to win every match. His formations can be adapted if needbe. The team are comfortable with a 4-4-2 and the system can be adjusted and altered if and when appropriate. If you've seen a team play once, you have a fair idea as to how they'll line up for the rest of the season. I asked him about Eric Paton's role within the 4-2-3-1 system. I mentioned that the Big Easy functions more effectively when playing in a deeper role but Irons dismissed any concerns. When he joined the club, the manager felt that we didn't have anyone that could sit in front of the defence and act as a screening midfielder, but now that Paul McHale and Brown Ferguson are playing alongside him, Paton can be utilised further forward. Irons has known Paton for a few years and feels he's the player that can unlock teams from an advanced role and he'll continue to be played there for the forseeable future.

With all major concerns addressed, the last half hour of the meeting petered out and became a dull affair. Someone raised a question about refereeing performances and with that, people began to chat amongst themselves and bicker and exchange opinions on SFL officials. It began to get a little unruly. One cantankerous old lout in particular reacted poorly to Martin McNairney's claims that the council had denied his request to erect a billboard at the bottom of Tryst Road to advertise the club's forthcoming fixtures, insisting that he knew better. I had lost interest by this point and started doodling a man dressed wearing goggles and holding a lightsaber or a harpoon in my notebook. Each time the meeting seemed to be drawing to its natural conclusion, someone make some sort of remark and comment and the affair was strung out that little bit longer than necessary. When the final comment was met with a lingering silence and people anxiously glancing at one another, the chairman drew the session to a close.

Irons thanked everyone for coming and reaffirmed his ambitions for the season ahead. With Livingston's promotion, there's now a far more level field of competition and he believes that Stenhousemuir should be challenging for a playoff position at the very least. He said that he expects East Fife and Brechin to be two of the strongest teams in the league but that his side have the quality to compete alongside them. The players want to win promotion. I want to win promotion. It can be done.

He stood to a round of applause. The fans left the suite and the meeting closed.

As I drove home, I thought about how the evening had gone and just how Stenhousemuir's season will unfold. Irons was as open and direct as anyone could have expcted but I don't think he really revealed anything unexpected. After Des McKeown's extraordinary assembly in 2006, every other session just seems prosaic. Irons' explanations about the transfers he's made, his justifications about his approach to the season ahead and his aspirations for where his team should be challenging were both predictable and understandable. It was nothing that I haven't heard from other managers before, that same spiel. I left feeling slightly disappointed about his plans to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation and Paton's advanced role within the system. Having seen the players trying to adapt within its framework against Clyde and Partick Thistle, I'm unconvinced about it's merits at this level. For example, on Central Park's narrow pitch or at Cliftonhill, a straightforward formation is perhaps more suited. There are few teams at this level that play anything more complex than a basic 4-4-2 system. My concerns about the formation and and the Big Easy's quality from a deeper position have been raised in previous posts so there's no point in covering old ground again.

That said, after last night's meeting, I am now approaching Saturday's game with a sense of nervous excitement. A victory against Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Communities League Cup will be the perfect preparation for the league campaign and act a clear indication as to how we're equipped - both in personnel and tactically - for the year ahead. As for Irons, I have high hopes for him. While McKeown was a salesman and Money was a miserable boor, he came across as quietly passionate and ambitious in his aims for the season. I'll be there with him at the showdown.

The Irons Age is upon us!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Partick Thistle 2 - 1 Stenhousemuir

Partick Thistle: charging you £1.50 for a tin of Diet Coke.

Stenhousemuir dropped out of the Ramsdens Cup after losing their first round tie 2-1 to Partick Thistle at Firhill on Saturday. Goals from David Rowson and Tommy Stewart secured the win for the First Division side who will now face Hamilton at New Douglas Park in the second round. Stewart Kean's late strike proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the Warriors but despite the result, they performed admirably and showed little difference between themselves and their full-time opposition. It was a decent showing from Stenhousemuir and augers well for the Scottish Communities League Cup looming on Saturday.

Stepping through the heavy double doors of the main entrance, I was taken by the dismal grandeur of Firhill's Aitken Suite. Its tattered carpets and faded wallpaper reminded me of a dilapidated ballroom or a downmarket social club. Thirsty, I approached the bar and requested a tin of Diet Coke. That'll be £1.50, she said. £1.50? For a can of Coke? Incredulous, I remarked that I could purchase at least two in if I bought them from a newsagents, or from a supermarket. The barmaid looked at me and shrugged indifferently. I handed over the money. With the kick-off looming, I made my way to the Jackie Husband stand. Signs outside the ground warned that none of the turnstyles had cash and that all tickets must be purchased at the booth beforehand. Needless to say when I asked at the booth for a ticket, I was told that I had to pay at the turnstyle. But of course. Avoiding the seats lavished in dirt and bird shirt, I sat with the rest of the travelling support tucked away in the corner of the stand and watched the game unfold.

As expected, Stenhousemuir began the match with the same 4-2-3-1 system they showcased against Clyde the previous weekend. Chris McLuskey started in goals while Kevin McKinlay and Willie Lyle slotted into the fullback positions. Martyn Corrigan, making his debut for the club, partnered Ross McMillan in central defence. Brown Ferguson and Paul McHale took up deep positions in midfield while Stevie Murray, Eric Paton and Andy Rodgers were pushed into more advanced roles. Stewart Kean started the match as a loan striker. Sean Dickson was relegated to the bench and sat alongside Iain Thomson, Paul Quinn, Grant Plenderlieth and Ally Brown.

Both teams started the game well and moved the ball across the Firhill pitch in an ecomomic fashion. Stenhousemuir looked relatively solid in the opening exchanges but looked susceptible when Thistle attacked on the break. With ten minutes gone, Stewart Bannigan exchanged passes with Aaron Sinclair and drilled an incisive pass between McMillan and McKinlay and into the stride of Kris Doolan, but an alert McLuskey did well to race from his line and beat his shot away. Thistle began to exert their dominance and opened the scoring eleven minutes later. After some neat short passing following a throw-in, midfielder David Rowson collected the ball twenty yards from goal and his shot deflcted off Corrigan's shins and wrong-footed McLuskey. The goalkeeper stood stranded as the ball bounded into the net.

The Warriors played some tidy football but were unable to break through a resolute Thistle defence. When the visitors were in possession, the home side sat deep, often with ten men behind the ball, and seemed content to allow their opposition to pass the ball in front of them but Stenhousemuir lacked the guile and penetration and failed to threaten Scott Fox's goal. It wasn't until after the half hour mark Paul McHale found space and fired a dipping shot over the crossbar from twenty-five yards. Both Doolan and Tommy Stewart passed up decent opportunities to increase the home side's advantage before the half was brought to a close.

With the the players failing to adjust to the 4-2-3-1 formation, Davie Irons reorganised his team for the second half accordingly and Stenhousemuir began the second period with a more traditional 4-4-2 system. McKinlay moved into midfield while Ferguson dropped into the left fullback postion. Murray moved over to the right and Rodgers joined Kean in attack. After the tactical shift, Stenhousemuir looked far more threatening.  Paton was afforded more space and was able to play balls into the channels and although Willie Kinniburgh and Stuart Bannigan coped with Stenhousemuir's high balls, Rodgers forced them to compete a little harder.

The game was beginning to resemble a pre-season friendly rather than a competitive fixture with both sides looking a little tentative. Stenhousemuir started to probe and attack the space between Thistle's defence and midfield and after fine play through the middle of the park, Murray slipped a cute pass through the defence and into the path of Kean. His touch was heavy and offered Scott Fox the chance to narrow the angle. His shot eventually hit the goalkeeper and bounced out for a corner. Kean really should have done better.

As the Warriors committed men forward, Partick Thistle put the game beyond doubt in the eighty second minute. With players out of position, Tom Stewart, unmarked, pulled into space and drilled a superb first-time shot past McLuskey. The goal was well-taken but McLuskey's positioning was slightly suspect, the goalkeeper offering a little too much of his goal for the forward to aim at. Kean reduced the deficit minutes later after he connected with a McHale cross and sent a looping half-volley over Scott Fox and into the net, but it was of little consequence. Despite a rousing finish from the Warriors, the referee brought the match to an end moments later.

Despie losing the match, Stenhousemuir have every reason to be pleased with their general performance. Partick Thistle may have looked a little lethargic and rarely showed the drive and industry expected from full-time opposition, but Davie Irons and the travelling support can take several positives from the game. One of the most encouraging aspects was the perfomance of Ross McMillan and Martyn Corrigan in central defence. The pair look strong and assured and handled the majority of Thistle's attacks with relative ease with McMillan in particular the game's outstanding performer. Dominant in the air and quick and assertive in dealing with more direct opponents on the ground, the defender reads the game well and appears to be a very good aquisition. Corrigan, meanwhile, made an impressive debut. He organised the backline with authority and attacked the ball with agression and conviction. There is little doubt that the pair will develop a strong partnership as the season progresses. With Lyle and McKinlay at fullback, the defence looks steadfast, imposing and one of the strongest in the Second Division.

Grant Plenderlieth also deserves praise for his cameo performance. Replacing Rodgers with fifteen minutes remaining, the young forward made several incisive runs down the right flank and caused problems for fullback Aaron Sinclair. Plenderlieth may lack technique and skill when in possession but he could prove invaluable as an impact substitute as the season progresses. Against tiring defenders, his pace and direct running will be a useful asset.

Most strikingly of all, the players looked far more suited to an orthodox 4-4-2 system. As stated in last week's Walk on the wild side post, the 4-4-2 formation is far more suited to the player's strengths than the 4-2-3-1 and it's little coincidence that the team's performance improved with the change of system. In the opening skirmishes, Eric Paton failed to exert any influence and cut a forlorn figure in a crowded midfield but, when paired alongside Paul McHale in the second half, he began drop into deeper positions and able to see the game playing out in front of him, began to switch delicious thrusting passes into space on the flanks. With Paton playing in front of the defence, McHale starred in the middle of the park and passed and moved the ball with a skill and economy and looked far more commanding than at any point throughout pre-season. The 4-4-2 system also brought out the best in Stewart Kean and Andy Rodgers. In the first half, the former looked isolated and shorn of support while the latter drifted around on the flanks without asserting himself on the game. Paired together up front, they looked a lot more comfortable. Kean functioned better without being forced to play with his back to goal and Rodgers offered a greater challenge for high balls and linked well with his teammates. Their striking partnership is still in its infancy but, like McMillan and Corrigan, there is hope that an understanding will develop between them.

After a dour pre-season campaign, the past week has been the perfect tonic. The signing of Kevin McKinlay and Saturday's fine display at Firhill have instilled a sense of optimism ahead of the weekend's trip to Cowdenbeath and both players and supporters should approach the game with an element of confidence. Against Second Division opposition, the match should act as a barometer as to how the season ahead will progress and how the Warriors will compete against the stronger teams from their league. Having retained the majority of the squad that battled admirably against relegation last term, Cowden are argubaly one of the favourites to secure a playoff position and should go into the game as favourites, but if Stenhousemuir are to persist with their 4-4-2 formation and attack with the same drive and energy they displayed in the second half of Saturday's match, I am quietly confident that they can progress to the next round of the cup.

PARTICK THISTLE: Fox; Paton, Balatoni, Kinniburgh, Sinclair; Stewart, Rowson, Bannigan, Flannigan; Doolan (Grehan), Erskine (Campbell)

STENHOUSEMUIR: McCluskey; Lyle, McMillan, Corrigan, McKinlay; McHale (Dickson), Ferguson (Thomson), Rodgers (Plenderlieth), Paton, Murray; Kean