Thursday, 9 February 2012

Fortunate Sons.

From the vaults: this must have been from the 2008-2009
season. It was one of the few photos that came up in a Google
search for "Stenny Dumbarton". BJO's just decked someone.

Before I begin today’s analysis of the forthcoming match between Stenhousemuir and Dumbarton, I feel as though I should prefix it with a warning. There’s something that isn’t quite right here. I generally pride myself on my knowledge of the teams and the players in the lower echelons on the SFL but on this occasion, I have a confession to make:

I don’t know much about Dumbarton.

Yes. I sound like Alan Shearer or Mark Lawrenson as they lazily sit astride the Match of the Day sofa, casting ignorant aspersions over players and teams I have little more than a base knowledge of, throwing around dunderheaded clich├ęs and poorly thought-out, poorly constructed trivia and offering nothing more than hot air, arrogance and awful, awful shirts.

Yes. The reason I feel unqualified to discuss the current Dumbarton team is because I haven’t seen them in action since October. In the last meeting between Stenhousemuir and the Sons at Ochilview, the Warriors prevailed 3-1 with relative ease. A fine strike from Andy Rodgers and a Ross McMillan brace secured the victory. Dumbarton played poorly throughout the match, only flickering to life in the final minutes when Scott Agnew’s sweet freekick reduced arrears. They seemed unable to cope with the pace of the home side and failed to deal with even the most rudimentary set-pieces. Even early on in the season, it looked as though Dumbarton would spend the rest of the campaign gently bobbing around the bottom of the table and trying to stave off relegation.

Since the match however, the Sons have crept up the table and without anyone really noticing, they’ve snuck into the playoff spots. Alan Adamson’s side have quietly blindsided everyone and over the last eight weeks, they have transformed themselves from also-rans into genuine playoff contenders. Dumbarton have won their last three consecutive matches, beating Arbroath, Brechin and Airdrie and have amassed 28 points after 19 games. They’ve played one less game than Stenhousemuir and sit three points behind them.

Despite their lofty league position, their side looks, on paper at least, to be a workmanlike and functional one. Alan Lithgow is a solid, burly defender and Scott Agnew is a tricky player, offering guile and incision from central midfield but other than that, their squad is a mish-mash of unremarkable players cast-off from other SFL clubs and graduates from their U-19 squad. Other than the leggy midfielder Kevin Nicoll who misses out through suspension, Dumbarton have a full squad to call upon.

Des McKeown: a trendsetter.

As for Stenhousemuir, meanwhile, I can only say for certain that Martyn Corrigan (currently on crutches with a ruptured Achilles) and Stevie Murray (last seen leaving Ochilview in an ambulance with a dislocated elbow) will be absent from Saturday’s game. I speak with authority on this subject because I had to ask one of our players via Twitter. While the club’s official website readily provides information about the U-19s and their community programmes, there is never any news about first team's selection and availability.

When I first started following Stenhousemuir in 2004, access to this sort of information was readily available. Then-manager Des McKeown was always open and accessible about injuries and communicated through fans via his Dialogue with Des column on the club's website. Since McKeown’s departure, the fans have rarely been given the same level of communication with the machinations of the first team. Davie Irons is rarely available, regularly handing media commitments to his assistant, Kevin McGoldrick, while the otherwise excellent Warriors TV no longer provides post-match interviews.

Several months ago, I suggested the club introduce something similar to the old Dialogue with Des, something along the lines of Intimate with Irons (alliteration is always important in these instances) but the idea was met with indifference (some people bizarrely claimed that opposition managers would use these interviews as a base on which to set up their teams to beat Stenhousemuir). Fans are instead left to through pick through second-hand reports for information about the first team. “I was playing fives up at Ochilview last night and I saw...” or “I was speaking to one of the coaches and they told me...” is often how I regularly keep abreast of news coming from the club. While I appreciate the process of attending the Thursday night training session and writing and filing this information takes time and can only come from the work of dedicated volunteers, it’s frustrating to have to wait until 2.45pm on a Saturday afternoon to learn whether or not Eric Paton’s starting the match.

Alan Lawson: I have the feeling this picture may
have been Photoshopped at some point.

As for the way the team will line-up on Saturday, it’s pure speculation on my part. In an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, Irons will need to reconfigure his defence once again. Ross McMillan is set to return having missed the match against East Fife and will likely partner Kevin McKinlay in central defence while Iain Thomson, who deputised at the back in the win against the Fifers, is perhaps the obvious candidate to drop to the bench. Alan Lawson, the standout player from last fortnight’s win, and captain Willie Lyle should continue in the fullback positions. Ally Brown will probably retain his place in goal.

Meanwhile in midfield, Sean Dickson may replace Murray on the left flank, Brown Ferguson will play on the on the right, and Paul McHale and Eric Paton should keep their places in the middle of the park. Stewart Kean and Andy Rodgers will continue in attack. Loan signings Jamie Campbell and Gary Smith will probably make an appearance from the bench at some point.

Stenhousemuir have enjoyed reasonable success over Dumbarton at Ochilview over the last few years but Saturday’s game will be one of the Warriors’ biggest challenges this season. A win would re-establish the team’s playoff credentials and shrug off concerns about their current form; a defeat will allow could Dumbarton and potentially Airdrie and East Fife close the narrowing gap between the sides and ultimately put Cowdenbeath and Arbroath beyond Stenhousemuir’s reach.

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