Monday, 27 February 2012

Stenhousemuir 1 - 3 Arbroath

Paul Sheerin: going places.

If Stenhousemuir weren’t in a slump before Saturday’s 1-3 reverse at the hands of Arbroath at Ochilview, they’re certainly in one now. Their recent form has been miserable and the club have picked up a meagre ten points from as many games. Only Forfar, Albion Rovers and Stirling Albion, all cut adrift at the foot of the table, are in poorer form than the Warriors.

Goals from Steven Doris and Josh Falkingham gave the visitors a deserved lead before Stewart Kean’s strike midway through the second half reduced arrears. With the Warriors pressing for an equaliser, a calamitous piece of goalkeeping from Ally Brown allowed Falkingham to score his second of the game and secure his side's victory. Stenhousemuir may have been trailing by a single goal when Gary Smith’s cute header clipped the post but in truth, it didn’t matter. It’s an irrelevance. The only thing that matters is they were left faltering once again.

Arborath were well-drilled and highly motivated throughout and deserved their victory but they were aided by some tactical floundering on their hosts’ part. By the time Stenhousemuir reverted from an unorthodox formation to a more traditional system to combat their visitors’ enterprising play, they were already two goals behind and half of the match was already over.

It was difficult to tell how Davie Irons had set up his team to begin with. Ally Brown continued in goal behind a three-man defence of Kevin McKinlay, Ross McMillan and Michael Devlin. Sean Dickson started on the left wingback and Iain Thomson, having never played there before, took up the same position on the right. Paul McHale, Brown Ferguson and Andy Rodgers, making his first start in three games, began the game in midfield while Gary Smith and Stewart Kean continued in attack. Willie Lyle dropped to the bench and was joined by Stevie Murray, making his return to the first team since dislocating his shoulder against East Fife a month ago. Alan Lawson, meanwhile, watched from the stand after captaining Scotland Schoolboys to a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland the previous night.

Steven Doris: buxom.

Was it a 3-4-3? Or a 3-5-2? A 3-4-1-2, perhaps? Who knows. The players certainly didn’t and looked unsure and hesitant throughout the first half. Arbroath took full advantage of their uncertainity and opened the scoring after nine minutes. Brian Kerr’s incisive pass cut through the lopsided Stenhousemuir defence and played in Steven Doris. The forward needed only two touches - the first to bring the ball under control; the second to smash it into the net.

Stenhousemuir’s play throughout the half was slow and ponderous and other than 25-yard drive from Kevin McKinlay that sailed into Darren Hill’s arms, they attacked with little threat and fluency. The absence of Eric Paton was, once again, keenly felt.

In players like Kerr, Josh Falkingham and Paul Sheerin, Arbroath have some of the finest midfielders in the division and they passed the ball across the pitch with authority. Despite having an additional man in the middle of the park, the Stenhousemuir midfield were unsure of their roles and failed to stem the visitors' threat. Their pressure soon paid off when Iain Thomson sliced a poor clearance into the feet of Gavin Swankie, who in turn fed Falkingham. The diminutive midfielder cleverly feinted past McMillan and drilled a fine left-footed drive into the corner of the net.

Michael Devlin, injured on the cusp of half-time, was replaced by Willie Lyle at the interval as Irons reconfigured his side into a 4-4-2 formation for the second period. Thomson moved into central defence and Rodgers was pushed out to the right flank.

Stenhousemuir looked far more comfortable in a straightforward formation and kept possession well, moving the ball across the park and pressing Arbroath deep into their half. The visitors defence, marshalled superbly by former Gretna and Livingston stopper Chris Innes, blocked the Warriors' attacks with relative ease until the 70th minute when Kean converted at the second attempt after connecting with Rodgers' superb cross.

Arbroath put the game beyond doubt with two minutes remaining. Brown Ferguson conceded a soft freekick 25 yards from goal and the crowd watched in horror as Ally Brown allowed Falkingham's effort to slither through his hands and over the line. It was a rotten goal to lose.

After their victory over Stirling Albion, Dumbarton now lead Stenhousemuir by seven points. With six points now separating the Warriors in fourth place and Airdrie United in seventh, Stenhousemuir cannot afford anything other than a win against the Sons tomorrow night.

Stevie Murray: if it was the medieval times, he would have
been burned at the stake for his tricks and sorcery.

Saturday's result nothwithstanding, Stenhousemuir deserve some credit for a decent second half showing against the Lichties. Iain Thomson adpated reasonably well to an unfamiliar position and looked assured when moved into central defence after the interval and Stevie Murray looked energetic and dynamic on his return to action but beyond that, it's difficult to not feel frustrated with the outcome. Although few will dispute that Arbroath fully merited their win, had Stenhousemuir matched their opponents' 4-4-2 formation from the outset, they could have been more comptetitive and taken something from the game. Instead, they were hamstrung from the very start.

Davie Irons has been criticised in the past for a lack of tactical acumen and a quioxtic tendency to tamper with successful systems. Stenhousemuir have been found wanting when set up in anything other than a 4-4-2 formation. The simple fact is that, beyond a handful of players, the Warriors do not have the personnel to play in any other system. Having coached his side for over a year now, this should be clear to him. The players respond to it and are comfortable in it. Admirable as his experiments have been to assimilate his team into exotic formations such as 4-2-3-1, 3-1-4-1-1 and Saturday's perverse effort, they just haven't worked.

Want to drop the club captain? Fine, but don’t configure your team to an entirely new system because the club's only senior right fullback is sitting on the bench. Jack Hamilton, the 19-year-old defender, has looked very capable on the rare occasions he’s played. Like Alan Lawson, Hamilton surely deserves a run in the first team, especially given Lyle’s poor form. There is no logic in altering the entire formation just because one player has been dropped from the team.

Want to shunt your most combative midfilder out wide? Sure thing, but don't do it to the detriment of the balance of the team. Iain Thomson, arguably Stenhousemuir's most consistent midfielder over the season, was sorely missed in the middle of the park. Paul McHale has never been the most industrious of players and needs someone alongside him to chase and harry the opposition. Thomson would have provided this drive and energy.

Want to play all three of your strikers at the same time? By all means, but don’t shunt your top goalscorer into an unfamiliar midfield role just to accommodate him. There seemed little point for Andy Rodgers' inclusion on Saturday when Gary Smith and Stewart Kean had been playing well when paired together. It was hard to tell what he was supposed to be doing in midfield. Was he an advanced playmaker? A trequartista? Any other position from Football Manager you care to mention? He was wasted in the middle and out wide. Rodgers is a striker. He should be used in attack (his cross for Kean's goal, however, was quite delightful).

After the match, the assembled press waited for a comment or explanation from the manager, but there wasn’t one. He wasn’t there. Irons had left the ground within minutes of the final whistle.

Stenhousemuir: Brown; Devlin (Lyle 46), McMillan, McKinlay; Thomson, McHale, Ferguson, Dickson, Rodgers; Kean (Murray 80), Smith. Subs not used: Diamond, Campbell, Love.

Arbroath: Hill; Wedderburn, Malcolm, Innes, McAnespie; Gibson (Caddis 76), Falkingham, Kerr, Sheerin; Doris (Elfverson 84), Swankie (Sibanda 66). Subs not used: Burns, Busch.


  1. Good use of 'quioxtic' - had to look that one up!

    Seems strange about Lyle - was Iain Thomson captain in his absence?

    Hopefully the Warriors can hang in there for a play-off position - certainly a lot better than this time last year anyway.

  2. Iain Thomson was captain on Saturday. Willie Lyle has been dropped twice over the course of the season but twice he's had to be brought on because of injuries.

    We are a lot better than last season but we're in major trouble of throwing it all away - last night's result was awful but we were abbetted by the fact that both Brechin and East Fife were beaten.

    We've got Forfar, Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers in our next three games and anything other than nine points is unacceptable.

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