First published in Sons View, 17 January 2009, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir
These are testing times on and off the field for Dumbarton. Do we have the character and resources to pull through a difficult patch and claim at least a play-off spot in Division Three? There are those who will doubt it. But what we need right now is a dose of renewed commitment and togetherness, not more fashionable pessimism.
The combination of bad weather, postponed matches, post-holiday blues, loss of momentum, disappointing performances and two consecutive defeats either side of 1st January has put a dampener on what we all hoped would be a bright start to the second half of the season.
Even so, Sons are still holding onto fourth place and have games in hand over our biggest rivals. So things are far from calamitous, provided the team can gel again and claim some more points and places in what is bound to be a demanding programme heading out of winter towards spring. Everyone knows that an advantage in the ‘games played’ column counts for little unless it can be translated into results.
Having just lost a gear, two goals and three points away to Cowdenbeath, who are pushing hard at that crucial league-topping automatic promotion place, we now welcome recent leaders Stenhousemuir to the Rock.
Given recent woes, it could be said that the timing for this encounter is not great. With fewer points lost from late slips, this could even have been a contest for the New Year summit. But football is about taking opportunities, not craving comfort. A win today would change the mood at the Rock and heighten the Sons’ chances of strengthening our position.
Stenny pose a tough obstacle, for sure. But we claimed a point at Ochilview at the beginning of November last year, and the Warriors have suffered from uncertain form of late too – with a Cup defeat last Saturday, a draw against Annan and a defeat at Forfar framing their 3-0 victory over the Shire. This, incidentally, did Dumbarton a favour, maintaining our league position when we were in danger of slipping further.
Equally, when Stenhousemuir snatched an agonising victory with a 90th minute goal at SHS in August 2008, that result was part of a run of eight games unbeaten and five wins on the trot for them. They hit us when they were on the up. This afternoon there’s a chance to repay that defeat and repair some of our own recent damage at the same time.
Meanwhile, there’s the transfer window to attend to. Jim Chapman was incredibly busy last summer and the overall improvement has been present for all to see – in spite of setbacks. Not a bad achievement when you’re talking about the turnover of a significant part of the squad and the need to bed in a host of new arrivals in just half a season.
Fans and pundits alike are conditioned to expect instant results and solutions these days. But with a team game there are many more factors at work than the individual performances and stats we can all chew on. Sides with massive resources and stars galore struggle for form (Chelsea and Spurs in the English Premier League come to mind at present), let alone those of us with far less to spend in a season than the giants’ hospitality budgets for one home game.
There’s little doubt that the current structure of the transfer market benefits the already powerful. When wee clubs nurture talent, the chequebook wavers come hunting, determined to wring as much blood out of a small stone as possible. The credit crunch isn’t likely to change those realities, though it may even things out a bit in the higher echelons.
The counter-strategy for the ‘financially challenged’ is to look for promising prospects on the way up, players wanting to settle down later in their careers after a spell in bigger leagues, and loan deals that offer affordable value. Dumbarton have a manager who knows how to play this tricky market and we remain a club with both history and ambition.
Sons fans obviously lament the departure of Craig Brittain, an outstanding servant to the club. But we also welcome those who want to be part of making DFC mighty once more, including Keiran McAnespie, who brings us a wealth of experience. That’s a key part of what we need to make this a successful season.