|John Beaton: gamechanger.|
BEATON BY THE BETTER SIDE: the headlines in the morning papers will record Stenhousemuir's fifth loss in six matches after their defeat to Dumbarton, but they won't explain how great an impact referee John Beaton had on the game. While blaming the match officials in the wake of a defeat is the last refuge of a scoundrel, in this instance, I am prepared to lay a significant portion of blame with Beaton.
The referee sent off Ross McMillan and Kevin McKinlay within 30 first half minutes before goals from Alan Lithgow and Bryan Prunty secured victory for the Sons. Gary Smith's fine strike proved to be little more than a consolation of the hosts. Dumbarton ran-out worthy winners but they were aided and abetted by Beaton's atrocious performance. Along with the dismissals, the official made a number of highly contentious decisions and infuriated the home support throughout the match.
Stenhousemuir made a number of changes to the side that defeated East Fife a fortnight ago. Ross McMillan and Michael Devlin, making his second debut for the club, were drafted into central defence while Sean Dickson started on the left of midfield. Paul McHale and Alan Lawson dropped to the bench and Stevie Murray missed out through injury.
The opening skirmishes between the teams were tentative as both sides struggled to gain an advantage. After ten minutes, Pat Walker scuttled onto Bryan Prunty’s flick but as he moved in on goal, he made slight contact with McMillan and fell to the ground. Beaton could barely wait to pull the red card from his pocket. With both Devlin and McKinlay covering, it seemed an appalling decision - a yellow card would have sufficed. At half-time, a tracksuited McMillan returned to the pitch, not to confront the referee, but to review the incident with Warriors TV.
Irons, furious with the decision, was also dismissed by Beaton. He spent the remainder of the game prowling along the front row of the Norway Stand, barking orders at his depleted side.
Fans may recall a 1-1 draw between the two sides in November 2008 where Stenhousemuir's Kevin Motion and then Dumbarton's Gary Wilson were dismissed with ten first half minutes for reckless tackles. Many expected Beaton to follow suite and send off James Creaney after the wingback thrashed his forearm across Brown Ferguson’s face as the pair challenged for a high ball but remarkably, the Dumbarton player escaped censure. Andy Rodgers and Martin McNiff received bookings for their remonstrations while Ferguson, completely star-spangled, left the pitch with the aid of the physiotherapist. He was replaced by Paul McHale.
Stenhousemuir were reduced to nine men after 30 minutes. Kevin McKinlay had already been cautioned for a cynical trip on Walker several minutes earlier when he conceded a contentious corner kick. McKinlay was unhappy with the decision. McKinlay was angry. McKinlay threw the ball away in disgust. Beaton had little choice but to dismiss the fullback. It was nothing more than an act of mindless stupidity.
With two players missing, the Stenhousemuir side reconfigured themselves into a quasi-3-4-1 formation. Dickson was shunted into the left-hand side of defence while Rodgers was withdrawn to the right of midfield, but a goal was inevitable. It arrived six minutes later when Alan Lithgow rose the highest to direct Mark Gilhaney’s corner into the net.
|Bryan Prunty: advantage.|
Prunty should have increased the lead moments later after Walker’s fine centre found him in space, but Ally Brown blocked the striker’s shot. The former Airdrie United forward made amends in first half stoppage time, sending a crude shot spinning off Devlin’s shins and beyond the goalkeeper.
Beaton brought the half to a close and left the pitch to a volley of abuse from the home support. Fearing a rout, a number of Warriors fans left the ground during the interval.
The rout never materialised. Dumbarton, as would have been expected from any team with such an advantage, were content to keep possession and moved the ball around the pitch with relative ease, but only a combination of outrageous profligacy and marvellous goalkeeping prevented them from scoring. It is no exaggeration to say Dumbarton could have score eight or nine goals had it not been for Ally Brown. Once again, he was tremendous.
Stenhousemuir did their best to contain the visitors but understandably, offered little potency in attack. Rodgers tested Grindlay twice, the first with a low drive after galloping past two defenders, the second with an audacious chip from 40 yards, but the goalkeeper saved both efforts with ease.
It wasn’t until the introduction of Gary Smith that Stenhousemuir began to threaten. Replacing the tiring Eric Paton with little over 20 minutes remaining, the Motherwell loanee immediately brought physicality and strength to the Warriors attack. Playing predominantly with his back to goal, the young striker linked well with Thomson, McHale and Kean, who dropped into a deeper position.
On 76 minutes, Smith collected Thomson’s pass and showing excellent technique, touched the ball beyond his marker and smashed a superb shot into the corner of the net. Smith was outstanding during his brief spell on the pitch. Although the player must improve his aerial ability (he failed to offer a significant challenge to any high ball slung in his direction), his supporters may be correct – when the ball’s played into his feet, he looks "the real deal".
Smith’s goal roused the home support but Stenhousemuir were unable to find an equaliser and failed to trouble Grindlay's goal again.
Beaton left the pitch accompanied by several stewards as the home support converged on the tunnel. In eight years supporting the Warriors, I have never seen the same level of rancour and resentment directed at a referee. His performance throughout the match was quite extraordinary. Petty, pernickety, and myopic, it was one of the worst pieces of officiating I’ve ever seen and one of the very few times I’ve believed a referee to have some sort of genuine grievance against the club and its players. At one point during the first half, he even booked Willie Lyle for kicking the goalpost.
|Davie Irons: belligerent.|
Although Beaton rankled throughout, both Kevin McKinlay and Davie Irons should take long, hard looks at themselves. McKinlay’s show of petulance was utterly pathetic, especially when his team were already handicapped. I hope he is disciplined by the club.
However: how can anyone expect the players to maintain a high level of discipline when the manager cannot be trusted to do the same? In almost every game this season, Irons has bickered and argued with officials. This was the first time he’s been sent to the stand this year and, to be honest, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. I was astonished by those that applauded him as he left the pitch. His consolatory pat-on-the-back for McKinlay as he trudged off the field of play was also quite incredible. The player deserved censure, not relief.
Despite the defeat, Stenhousemuir should be proud of their performance. Ally Brown, Iain Thomson and Stewart Kean in particular can take spirit from their industrious and tenacious showing, especially during a trying second half. That said, any doubt that the league was anything other than a two-horse race can surely now be eradicated. With both Cowdenbeath and Arbroath winning, the gap between the sides is surely too great to overcome, barring some form of major collapse. Stenhousemuir must ensure they finish the season in a playoff place.
A more pressing concern is the fact Dumbarton are now level on points with Stenhousemuir having played a game less. They travel to ninth-place Forfar tomorrow night and, should they avoid defeat, will overtake the Warriors. Given the level of support they have from Scotland's referees, nothing less would be expected from them. As one Dumbarton supporter joked on Pie and Bovril: “Our player of the year award must be heading the way of the referees, by far our most consistent performer all season.”
Stenhousemuir: Brown; Lyle, McMillan, Devlin, McKinlay; Ferguson (McHale 16), Paton (Smith 67), Thomson, Dickson; Kean, Rodgers (Campbell 72). Subs not used: Diamond, Lawson.
Dumbarton: Grindlay; Finnie, Nugent, Lithgow; Creaney (Graham 62), McNiff, Gilhaney, Agnew; Walker (Lamont 62), Prunty. Subs not used: Gastal, Borris, Kennedy.