Sunday, 22 April 2012

Stenhousemuir 2 - 1 Brechin City

Prince: if there's anything to do with 1999, expect a lazy
reference to Prince. I apologise profusely.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999,” sang Prince. And he had good reason to: for the first time in 13 years, Stenhousemuir have beaten Brechin City in a league tie. Until yesterday’s 2-1 victory, the last time Stenhousemuir had defeated the Glebe Park side was on the 8th May 1999 when a solitary strike from Ross “Slippers” Hamilton was enough to secure the win. It is also perhaps worth noting that the last time Stenhousemuir beat Brechin, they won promotion.

Goals from Iain Thomson and Grant Anderson secured a deserved victory for the Warriors. Jim Lister’s late consolation provided a nervy finish but the result was rarely in doubt. Stenhousemuir have consolidated fifth place and sit tied on 48 points with Airdrie United in fourth and East Fife in sixth with only goal difference separating the sides. The match was also the first time the club have won back-to-back matches since November.

Stenhousemuir began the game brightly and comfortably moved the ball around the park. Eric Paton and Brown Ferguson were heavily involved in the team's fluid passing but the Warriors were at their most dangerous down the right flank through Nicky Devlin. His willingness to attack Brechin's left fullback Mick Dunlop was central to his team's impressive start and directly led to the game's opening goal.

Iain Thomson: the catalyst.

On 17 minutes, Devlin crashed down the right flank beyond Dunlop and zipped a low ball across the face of the goal. Despite Ewan Moyes’ best efforts to clear, the ball landed at Iain Thomson at the edge of the area and the midfielder drilled a fine first-time drive low into the net. Later in the half, Thomson and Grant Anderson both had excellent chances to increase the lead moments later but Gary Fusco produced two astonishing goalline clearances to block their shots.

Brechin, meanwhile, offered little throughout the first half. Craig Molloy drove a decent shot wide of goal but apart from that, they looked bereft of craft and invention, particularly in attack. There appeared to be little understanding between strikers David McKenna and Rory McKenzie and the pair were arguably the visitors poorest performers. Ross McMillan and Michael Devlin are unlikely to have an easier afternoon.

Stenhousemuir’s performance throughout the second half lacked the urgency of the first but they were still able to contain Brechin well and on the hour mark, they doubled their advantage. Thomson’s pass should have been cut out by Buist but the defender contrived to allow it to run underneath him and into the path of Grant Anderson. Anderson needed three touches: the first brought the ball under control; the second took it beyond Nelson; the third prodded it into the net.

The Warriors seemed content to sit on their two-goal cushion and see the game out but Jim Lister's goal in the 82nd minute ensured a nervy finish. Carcary gathered the ball on the right flank and hurtled towards the penalty box. Ally Brown’s decision to sprint from his line to block him appeared ill-judged as Carcary’s cross spun underneath his body and into the path of substitute Jim Lister. The hulking forward hooked the ball into the corner of the net.

In the closing minutes of the match, Anderson’s afternoon was abruptly ended when he was knocked unconscious after challenging a high ball with Fusco. The winger collapsed in a heap on the ground, prostrate, his eyes rolling back in his head. A hush fell over the ground as St John’s Ambulance prepared a stretcher but the player regained full consciousness a minute later. Referee Des Roache, who had been excellent throughout, brought the game to its conclusion moments later.

Nicky Devlin: great expectations.

The victory was entirely deserved. Stenhousemuir’s performance throughout spells of the first half were impressive and reminiscent of the high standards set at the beginning of the season. Eric Paton appears to have shaken off his lurgy and looks fitter and more dynamic now than at any point this calendar year. Iain Thomson, surely the outstanding candidate for the club's Player of the Year, hassled and harried Brechin's Craig Molloy and nulified his impact on the game. Stewart Kean also deserves credit for his performance. His doggedness and tenacity constantly unsettled Moyes and Buist and it may have even been his finest game for Stenhousemuir.

By some distance, however, Stenhousemuir’s most eye-catching player was Nicky Devlin. The 18-year-old Motherwell loanee was direct, energetic and physical and his run and cross for Thomson’s opening goal was the highlight of the match. Devlin is unarguably one of the most exciting loan players I’ve seen at Stenhousemuir and undoubtedly has a very bright future ahead of him. It is difficult to imagine Willie Lyle playing again this season while Devlin is at the club.

Jim Weir: in happier times.

While the Warriors fully merited their victory, this was the most disappointing Brechin side I had seen since the club won promotion to the Second Division in 2009. Traditionally, the Glebe Park side are replete with footballers who combine physicality with technique and ability, but this year’s vintage are vastly inferior to anything Stenhousemuir have faced in the past. In the build up to the match the phrase "we've never been a better chance to beat them" had been banded around in some quarters. Brechin were dominated across the pitch.

Predictions at the start of the season that Brechin would finish the league in a strong position appear to have been grossly misjudged. Manager Jim Weir, who has remarkably been offered terms for next season, has made a number of poor signings over the couse of the year and failed to take a promising set of players forward. While Paul McManus and Garry Brady can be considered successes, players like Derek Carcary (a peripheral figure throughout his spell with Dumbarton) and Graham Weir (a notoriously hardworking but accutely limited striker) have failed. Coupled with the additions of David McClune, Mick Dunlop and Jim Lister, all relegated with Alloa Athletic last season, and Weir has flooded his squad with average players. In hindsight, it’s little surprise Brechin that are treading water in mid-table. The loss of Rory McAllister has perhaps been more keenly felt than many would care to admit.

Brechin are widely considered to be one of the best-run clubs in the SFL but according to reports on Pie and Bovril, there is unrest and disharmony between senior staff and supporters. The thread, simply entitled WTF, claims that Chairman Ken Ferguson allegedly grabbed a young fan by the throat during a heated exchange last week. The 20-odd Brechin fans in the Tryst Road end made an impressive racket throughout the match and surely deserved better than the performance their team put out in front of them.

John Coughlin: win the playoffs and you will be treated like Jesus.

Warriors supporters can now approach next weekend’s game against Arbroath with a sense of cautious optimism. There have been encouraging signs in the last fortnight that Stenhousemuir have the capabilities to return to the playoff places, while Arbroath are left with nothing to play for, having guaranteed a second place finish. Stenhousemuir have a reasonably poor record against Arbroath and even if manager Paul Sheerin does decide to play his fringe players in a bid to keep his squad fresh for the playoffs, they cannot be taken lightly.

Most eyes, however, will be on the game between Airdrie United and East Fife at New Broomfield. Without a doubt, this is the most crucial game in determining who finishes in the playoff places. From a Stenhousemuir perspective, the game would ideally finish as a draw but the Warriors must win their remaining fixtures to ensure they they finish in fourth place. Then who knows? Maybe we can party like it's 1999, or maybe even 2009 again.

STENHOUSEMUIR: Brown; Nicky Devlin, Michael Devlin, McMillan, McKinlay; Ferguson, Paton, Thomson, Anderson (Dickson 89), Kean, Rodgers. Subs not used: Shaw, Deuchar, Campbell, Murray.

BRECHIN CITY: Nelson; Fusco, Buist, Moyes, Dunlop; Crawford (Lister 58), Molloy, Brady, Hodge; McKenna (Carcary 69), McKenzie (King 89). Subs not used: Scott, Lindsay.

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