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.