Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Back on the road again

First published in Sons View, 06 March 2010, Dumbarton -v- Brechin, and -v-Alloa on 09 March 2010 (double issue)

With eight games to be negotiated this month and at least six in April, ahead of that season-concluding trip to Clyde on May Day, the deflating ‘big freeze’ we have had to endure in the first two months of 2010 is now rapidly giving way to Dumbarton’s nine-week ‘long March’.

Forget those past few weeks – as we’d probably all wish to do anyway – this third segment of the year in the Gregorian Calendar, appropriately named after Mars, the Roman god of war, is the one which will determine whether we are smiling, grimacing or merely blinking numbly come the end of this odd footballing campaign.

Prior to the Peterhead trip on Tuesday night, Sons were pretty much as near ‘dead centre’ in Division Two as you could plan to get. In spite of two desperately disappointing recent home and away results against sides from the top and bottom end of the table, Stirling Albion and Arbroath respectively, we had still managed to cling onto fifth spot – six points away from the play-off zone and another five away from the relegation area.

Where we find ourselves right now is an adequate reflection of an incredibly up-and-down seven months. It began with six winless games that saw Dumbarton rooted to the foot of the table. Then that first, precious 2-1 victory was secured at Balmoor on 26 September, thanks to goals from crowd favourites Stevie Murray and Derek Carcary.

After once more grasping defeat from the jaws of possible victory against the Binos at Strathclyde Homes Stadium the following week, Sons engineered a general upturn in form and results from mid-October 2009 through to early February this year. Now we have a chance to bury a difficult past couple weeks with strong performances at the Rock against promotion contenders Brechin and Alloa. At least, that’s what everyone at the Club is hoping and looking for.

So what are the prospects for a merry (if mad) March? Well, following the shut-down over Christmas and the New Year, Sons showed considerable resilience in securing a 2-1 home win over a better prepared Cowdenbeath on 23 January. That was followed by a 3-2 victory against East Fife at Methil on 6 February, after yet another enforced weekend off.

The warning signs were apparent, however: bursts of energy and high performance giving way to the same symptoms that Jim Chapman called “implosion” at Gayfield last Saturday. It’s almost as if the infuriating ‘stop-start’ in the fixture list had replicated itself in terms of ‘on-off’ on the pitch.

Without a doubt, the unpredictability and frustration brought about by the kind of weather disruptions we have had to put up with recently makes the consistency required at this level of the game difficult to achieve – though the gaffer has made it clear that he will be accepting no more excuses for throwing games away.

From now on, moreover, the problem is not going to be heel-kicking layoffs, but a continuous, mounting pressure to perform. The difficulties in facing two competitive matches a week should not be understated, but viewed and prepared for in the right way, there’s an upside to our situation, too.

If you start to find winning ways when one match follows another in rapid succession, the momentum and adrenalin can help you along even when your limbs start to ache. Likewise, if you fall in one game, there are thankfully only a few days before you have the opportunity to pick yourself up again. For the brave, it’s an opportunity more than a trial.

I’ll certainly be cheering the lads on with an extra dose of enthusiasm in these matches against the Hedgemen and the Wasps if – as I hope – I find myself in attendance for both games. I hesitate to mention this, since on the past three occasions I’ve attempted to get to SHS from down south, the match has duly been called off!

The upshot is that, after many miles of travel and even more pounds invested in the rail companies, I still haven’t seen the Sons kick a ball in anger since the pre-season friendlies against Partick and St Mirren.

But my winter woes, yours and those of the staff and players will all be consigned to the “c’est la vie” of memory if Dumbarton can get back on form over the next four days. Then it’s a further three away trips in seven days before we can even stop to take breath. As they say, “game on!”

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