|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.