Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Breaking through

Half-time at Ibrox, Rangers are 1-0 up against Turkish champions Bursaspor, and according to Dutch analysts InfostradaLive, Steven Naismith is the first Scot for over three years to score a Champions League goal for the 'Gers at home. The last was current Blackpool captain Charlie Adam against VfB Stuttgart on 19 September 2007. Also, Lee McCulloch scored at Ibrox last season in the match against Unirea Urziceni. But unfortunately it was in the wrong net. Meanwhile, it's a 0-0 borefest in Spain between Valencia and Manchester United[Coda: Rangers won it with that single goal. MUFC found a get-out-of-jail car right at the end.]

Trauma counselling in Europe

Normally, I'd be backing whoever the Old Firm are up against in the SPL or Cup competitions. But the rules change a bit for a European night, so I hope Rangers can get a win against Bursaspor of Turkey in the Champions League this evening... though I might draw the line at cheering them, especially as I will be watching the game in a pub in Edinburgh, since STV are showing Valencia -v- Manchester United.

In theory this ought to be winnable, but that might mean coming out of defending mode (which the 'Gers did very well against United), and this has undoubtedly been the Blues' undoing: they haven't won any of their last six European home games. They've scored just twice, and have not tasted victory for 13 games.

As Roddy Forsyth put it in the Telegraph this morning: "There will, of course, be team talks before tonight's Champions League meeting of Rangers and Bursaspor, but there is a case for trauma counselling, too."

No Turkish side has ever won in Scotland, though Bursaspor will be giving it a real crack, I'm sure. And Rangers are the team "who conceded four goals in successive group stage matches last season against Sevilla and Unirea Urziceni at Ibrox and who finished with the worst home record of any side in the group stage with three defeats and 10 goals against."

Could be painful viewing, whichever way it goes. 'Mon you coefficient!

Scarf waving, not drowning

Flying the flag...
Domestic arrangements meant that it wasn't possible for me to travel across from Edinburgh to see Dumbarton's seconds progress in the Reserve League Cup yesterday evening, thanks to a gratifying 3-0 win over Annan Athletic. The goals came from Ryan McStay, Alan Cook and Ryan Metcalf after the break. Another regional tie against Partick Thistle follows.

Sons overcame the Jags 2-1 in a pre-season friendly, and their first team is doing fractionally worse in the First Division than we are in the Second at the moment. Meanwhile Annan, the SFL's newest outfit, are faring well in the Third Division, and good luck to them. They have always been very friendly towards the Sons, not least in their hospitality when we won the Championship the season before last. They've also done remarkably well on slender resources. An example to us all.

The sad thing for Dumbarton at the moment is that our youngsters are doing very well in 19s and reserve matches. It's the rigours of the League that are presenting the real problems - and that, of course, is the one arena where supporters particularly crave success... or at least survival. The youth policy bodes well for the future. But we're definitely going to need to be patient, persistent and patriotic this season, if we want to see things turn around.

Talking of turnaround, I see that the Stirlingshire Cup semi-final, now set for Tuesday 6 October 2010, has been switched from Ochilview to SHS because of scheduling problems. That will suit most Sons fans, but isn't such good news for me, because Stenhousemuir's ground is more like a home game if you live in Leith... even though we are playing East Stirling. Come to think of it, Falkirk is only an hour from Waverley, too. Ah well, I love the Rock and I'll still be there, sporting my new Sons scarf - as depicted in this photo, where I seem to be slightly on the miserable side of sanguine. Not for long, I hope. Victory over Airdrie United beckons on Saturday...  Please?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Professional foul?

When Dumbarton last won Scottish football’s top division title, in 1890/91 and 1891/92, we were an amateur team. Turning professional created the first traumas in our long history. Now we’re professional but part-time – and the debate about ‘professionalism’ in sport - however you define that - rumbles on. Last night there was an interesting BBC documentary about the issue (professionalism, not Dumbarton's stresses and strains!)  More information and links here, at my new blog on the SonsTrust site.

Football's crazy political economy

Seven years ago Dundee went into administration. It might happen again, sadly, as the Club's offer to pay £100,000 on account for the immediate £250,000 of a total £365,000 owed to the Inland Revenue has been rejected. Yet again the finance and governance of football clubs is in the spotlight for negative reasons. Meanwhile, south of the border, Liverpool fans have been protesting about the mess their debt-shifting owners have left them in, and as the Financial Times reports, "Clubs are [still] disappearing or getting into extreme financial troubles at an alarmingly rapid rate."

In early September 2010, non-league club Ilkeston Town went to the wall after HMRC demanded a tax bill of £47,000. Before the season began, Stockport also faced a Revenue winding-up order, while League One Bournemouth continue with a transfer embargo placed on them. English League One side Sheffield Wednesday have twice been to the High Court to battle against tax debts – their most recent stay of execution was a few weeks ago. And so it rumbles, on and on.

Two of the best sites for up-to-date information and independent commentary on all this are John Beech's Football Management (he heads up Sport and Tourism at Coventry University’s Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration) and Wyn Grant's Football Economy.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

It's a mugs game at SHS

The Surridge Sports selection of new Dumbarton accessories was available at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium this afternoon, though the Club seemed surprisingly reticent to let people know about what was on offer. Though Alan Findlay wielded his microphone to raise interest, there was no actual product on display inside the Community Suite, where in previous seasons goods have been available for inspection on the desk by the door. Did the other directors think we were all about to storm reception in an unseemly and uncontainable football retail frenzy? ("A shop with no shop-window wouldn't survive in the high street for too long", you might say.  But is that the kind of subversive, modish thinking we really need?)

The manufacturers are a bit coy about gauche displays of visual enticement, too, it seems. Their site has tiny pictures and no DFC masthead. Talk about hiding your light (or in this case scarf, cap, jacket, mugs and key-ring) under a bush. So in the interests of perspicacity, and to help Dumbarton fans forget our fifth defeat in seven games so far this term, I am delighted to unveil this shot of the latest mugs -- a rather stylish 'Sons of the Rock' one, and another dedicated to the home and third strips. The latter is a restyled version of the single black and gold stripe on white top that the lads wore in the early 70s - white also being the dominant colour in our only Premier Division season, 1984-5. Happy days.

As an inveterate tea drinker, I have to say that these new mugs are also rather effective caffeine delivery systems: slightly wider at the base for stability, holding a goodly half-pint of steaming chai, and with a decent, grippable handle. All that, and a good dose of moral and financial support for the Sons, too. Ideal.

To put these latest cylindrical drinking receptacles in their true historical context, I am pleased to be able to offer photographs of my entire collection so far. The earliest in my possession, I think, is the stylish thin coffee mug with gold and black logo, which I bought a good 25 years ago. Pretty venerable, also, are the orange and black logo on white tea mug, and the Boghead Park gold on black classic. That brings back the memories.

Then there's the yellow and black logo on white version, similar in style to the newest additions to the line, but smaller. This was available around 2004. Altogether, a very satisfactory little family. Out of respect, the older members have been decommissioned from routine beverage duty. Their successors will do just fine, I'm sure.

Should you want your own mugs, you can order them via the website. To save postage costs, get them at SHS next Saturday. They will, I presume, be available again as furtive under-the-counter items, carefully wrapped to avoid any inadvertent publicity, and best requested through a knowing glance to reception staff -- or a suitable eyebrow gesture between the rim of your trilby and your high collar. Ssshhh... you know who you are.

Don't go Brechin my heart (but they did)

First published on the Dumbarton FC website, Sons lose to Brechin.

Dumbarton press forward again
Dumbarton's gradual recovery from a frustrating start to the season took a blow at home against Brechin City this afternoon, as Sons went down 3-1, allowing a game they had begun by dominating to slip through their fingers.

Sons showed strong early intent, with some determined attacking play. Stirling Smith went close from a 30-yard free kick, and for 20 minutes the visitors struggled to get out of their own half.

Then Brechin began to regain control in the middle of the park, and on 38 minutes a mistake in midfield let the Hedgemen through for a well-struck goal by Callum Booth.

Within three minutes David Mackenna had added a second for the Glebe Park men, and all Dumbarton's early good work was undone.

In the second half Sons pushed back and an early header from Andy Geggan blazed over the bar.

After more pressure from Brechin, Dumbarton gaffer Jim Chapman made a bold triple substitution on the hour, bringing on Chaplain, Cook and Maxwell and bringing much-needed shape back to the team with 4-4-2.

It was Geggan who very nearly succeeded in getting Dumbarton back into the game, with his near post drive being well deflected by Brechin keeper Craig Nelson, before a Derek Carcary wonder strike on 72 minutes suddenly gave Sons fresh hope.

Dumbarton's second goal from open play this season injected new life into the game. Carcary came close once more, piling onto an acute through-ball from Scott Chaplain.

But the dream of a Sons recovery was finally killed on 88 minutes with a goal from Brechin front man Rory McAllister.

A beauty and a beast of a game

First published in Sons View, 25 September 2010, Dumbarton -v- Brechin City

When it comes to football as an aesthetic proposition, my heart is definitely on the side of those who value form over content. Much though I hate losing, I confess that I can rest reasonably content watching a driving, creative, elegant, topsy-turvy game, even if misfortune means that my side come out on the wrong side of it.

On the other hand, I’m definitely not going to complain if we win or draw a hummer: and let’s face it, that’s pretty much what happened at Recreation Park last week.

Thankfully, given what we were witnessing on the field of play, it was a beautiful day in Alloa. Curiously, when the sunlight caught our opponents’ synthetic turf at a certain angle, it also looked as if there was a sprinkling of snow on the pitch. By contrast, the game had very little light and shade about it. A distinctly lacklustre affair.

Indeed it was one of those matches of which the late, great Bill Shankly might have said, “both teams were rather lucky to score none”. That may have been so from the onlooker’s viewpoint, but it wasn’t quite true technically. The Wasps created a number of opportunities to snatch a result, and Dumbarton have ’keeper Michael White, in particular, to thank for their point. He pulled off five really fine saves. They were good to watch, too. So while I’ll never feel that the game I love can ever be safe in the hands of the “results above all else” merchants, I have to admit that realism has its consoling moments.

Of course, what realism is telling us this afternoon, as we square up to Brechin City at the Rock, is that walking away from our next few matches with something in the bag has to be a priority. Things are looking up in this respect. After four straight defeats, we now have four points from our previous two games, even though the performances were less than we believe we should be capable of. We’re off the foot of the table, too – if only by one point.

Unfortunately, looking at other results from a Sons perspective, two of our rivals for mid-table anonymity, Stenhousemuir and Ayr, both collected wins last Saturday. Stenny’s 3-0 victory over Forfar appeared particularly impressive. On the other hand, East Fife, Peterhead and Airdrie all did us a favour by dropping points.

That’s how it’s likely to be this season, from what we’ve seen so far. With no ‘stand out’ side in the Second Division apart from Livingston (whose table-topping position owes a considerable amount to their depth of resources), anyone who can put together a mini-run or two will do okay.

But the truth is that we are three points adrift of the pack right now, and do not want to let that position degrade further. This means that while Sons’ fuller recovery is still in its embryonic stage, we will sometimes have to be content with “grinding out results”, as the telly pundits love to put it.

This maybe not be how many associated with the Club want it, including those who run the dressing room. During Dumbarton’s turnaround and Third Division title-winning seasons, manager Jim Chapman revealed himself as a man who wants his teams to get out of the mire by playing with skill, not surviving by drudgery.

But when you’re down the challenge is to do what you have to do without losing your overall football ideals. You can’t be too choosy. Especially when the opposing team is galvanised by Jim Weir, who is just as committed to overcoming his disappointment last term with Arbroath.

Since arriving at Glebe Park, Weir has won the Second Division manager of the month award in August, on the back of five unbeaten matches and by impressively knocking First Division Dundee out of the Co-operative Insurance Cup.

A bit of momentum has been lost for the Hedgemen in the last two games, and they arrive at SHS following a tough midweek CIS fixture with SPLers Motherwell. But there will be no lack of determination from the men of Angus, we can be sure of that.

As for Dumbarton, a really gutsy display is called for. What we all want is three points, naturally. But in the longer run a more confident and fluent performance may prove to be of greater significance for the task of consolidating at this level and then seeking to improve upon it.

Football can be a beast as well as a beauty of a game. The trick is first to find a bit of elegance in the grit, and then to learn to turn that formula round the other way.

Once more unto the Brechin

I've had no real chance to write a match preview myself for Dumbarton's home game against Brechin City today, so here's what Alan Findlay has to say on the Sons' official site: "Manager Jim Chapman has, more or less, a full strength squad to choose from including goalkeeper Stephen Grindlay. With four points from the last two matches, the gaffer has defended his tactics.

He said : 'It was another step in the right direction last week at Alloa having addressed one or two things that hit us hard at the start of the season. We set our stall out to build everything from the beginning, which is sometimes necessary, and there was a bit more belief about us. We also got the basics right and did not let Alloa get in behind us.

'At the other end, we are confident that goals will come. We have always looked to score, but have been geting punished at the back, so hopefully things will click.'

Last season the Glebe Park side held the upper hand in all matches played against Dumbarton, taking 7 points from a possible 12. And this year, City are again on the promotion trail with 9 points from 6 matches and currently occupy 4th place in the division."

Played in Dagenham

Exeter depart after a 1-1 away draw
Exeter City took the lead within just five minutes in this League One encounterwith foot-of-the table Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday evening, only to find themselves day dreaming towards a draw. Unmarked Grecians' striker Richard Logan headed comfortably past Daggers 'keeper Tony Roberts - who enjoyed a good bit of banter with the south-west fans throughout the game. (The Welsh sticksman, who faced Exeter on several occasions during the two sides' Conference sojourn, combines his playing career with coaching for QPR and the Arsenal youth set-up.)

For part of the first half it looked as if City would extend their lead, but they didn't manage to create anything in the area, and in a game which was fast-paced and tough, with neither side allowing the other much space, the pendulum gradually swung back to home side. Finally and almost inevitably, as the second half progressed and Dagenham claimed more and more of the ball with their five-man midfield, a Danny Green corner to the Exeter near post was met by French midfielder Romain Vincelot, who headed in from six yards.

In the end it was a point, but a missed opportunity for the visitors. Still, I had a good time, using my brief stay in London to say hello some old Devon friends, including Pete Martin and Di Lee, both Grecians' stalwarts. As for Dagenham, they came off the bottom of the table - until Leyton Orient's home win over Brentford tonight. The best chant of the evening?  Exeter's jaunty taunt, "Have you ever see a beach?" In football quality terms this was better fare than lower league Scottish football. But my heart is happily with Dumbarton.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Close to the action

My midweek venture to Dagenham & Redbridge, to see old locals Exeter City the other night, meant a well-located seat in the Marcus James Stand at what used to be called the Glyn Hopkin Stadium, is now the even more prosaic London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium, and is still known by many East London fans as Victoria Road. In an unexpected act of generosity, the Daggers let the away support use the newest and best part of their ground, out of which the plastic and canvas players' tunnel is extended... ensuring that the home team arrive onto the pitch to a rousing chorus of boos. Curious. Still, you get a very good behind-the-goal view, hence my small snippet of video action. Sadly, it isn't possible to get a shot like this at Dumbarton. Thankfully, though, many second and third division Scottish grounds still have terraces you can wander around. My first choice is to be able to patrol the ground and view proceedings on the pitch from a number of angles during the course of the game. Failing that, pleasant modern facilities such as those at Dagenham are just fine. Mind you, they charged £22 for the privilege, Ouch! I know you need the money, but it's only League One you're in, fellas...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Wasps lose their sting

A goal-mouth scramble
It was a gorgeous sunny day at Recreation Park, but the beauty of the weather was hardly reflected on the pitch. Dumbarton's trip to Alloa Athletic turned out to be a disappointing and disjointed affair, save for the valuable point it accumulated for Sons, who remain perched perilously near the foot of SFL Division Two. 'Keeper Michael White was undoubtedly my man of the match, pulling off a number of good saves and handling well under pressure.

The Wasps had more of the chances, such as they were. But the home side will be disappointed that they never capitalised on a greater sense of purpose and direction. In the event, they floated like a bee and stung like a butterfly. As for Dumbarton,  we scraped barely more than a couple of half-hearted efforts, and Derek Carcary, who showed a couple of flashes of inspiration, came on too late to make much difference for Sons.

Still, having conceded eleven goals on our previous three away outings, that clean sheet can be taken as a significant boost. As the old football saying has it, grinding out results when you're not playing well is an important attribute in any winning (or in this case, surviving) season. Thankfully Alloa is a friendly ground to visit. So it was a good day out, even if the game itself never ignited. Let's hope the continued flourishing of Sons' youth set up is reflected in a more positive display from the first team against Brechin City at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium next Saturday.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Travelling in hope

Off to Alloa today, to see if the mighty Dumbarton can add to their goals and points tally after finally breaking the 'duck' at home against Stenhousemuir last weekend. As Alan Findlay points out in his match preview, Sons won three of the four clashes between the two teams last season, including both games at Recreation Park. It's likely to be tougher this time round, though. The Wasps have made a good start to their campaign, tucked in just one point behind leaders Livingston in the Second Division, and have nine points more than us.

Mind you, I have yet to see a team that has really impressed me in this division yet. Even full-timers Livi have looked less than overwhelming, despite the pre-season hype. Nonetheless, they will likely improve as the weeks march on, and their superior resources will probably see them claim promotion. As for the rest, no one has convinced yet.

Meanwhile, the priority for Dumbarton is to gain some momentum and move away from the danger zone at the foot of the table. In a ten-team league you can never rest on your laurels. At the moment we have no laurels at all. So the initial task is clear.

According to the BBC, Alloa boss Allan Maitland has more than 20 players to pick from for this encounter. Goalkeeper Jamie Ewings is fit again. Also back on duty are midfielder Jason Thomson and strikers Dougie Wilson and Andy Scott. It will be interesting to see which way Sons gaffer Jim Chapman goes this time. I hope we might get danger man Derek Carcary on at the beginning, but wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

"We're no' bottom anymore..."

A midfield tussle at the Rock
Well, it wasn't exactly pretty, but Dumbarton have at last broken their 2010/11 Second Division jinx, and a dismal run of four defeats, with a 1-0 win over Stenhousemuir at SHS yesterday afternoon. Match winner Derek Carcary was perhaps unlucky not to claim a brace, after the first of two bursting runs through the Warriors' defence in the last ten minutes of the game was wrongly flagged offside by referee Craig Charleston. The officials didn't have the best of days, especially if you were a home supporter. Ten bookings, a sending off and verbal warnings for both managers was excessive given the reality of the game.

In truth, Stenny had more of the chances overall, especially in the first half of a scrappy and uneven contest. The weather veered from sunny to cloudy, warm to wet. So did the match. Before the break Dumbarton central defender Stirling Smith, on an initial month's loan from Aberdeen, had a chance to put pressure on the visitors from a free kick, and Scott Chaplain was frustrated when his shot was blocked after a darting, skilful foray on the edge of the box. Among those denied at the other end was ex-Son Ross Clark, who helped the team to its 2008/9 Third Division championship.

Pre-match warm-up
After the break, Dumbarton applied more pressure on Stenhousemuir, but looked occasionally vulnerable to counter attacks and set plays. There were a couple of narrow escapes and scrambled clearances. Hard working Iain Chisolm denied another former Son, winger Stevie Murray, with a courageous, well-timed tackle. Michael White in goal made a pair of outstanding saves, and right at the death held firmly onto a low, swerving shot. In theory this should have been no great problem, but it occurred at a crucial moment when nerves were jangling, and could have lost Sons two points if there had been a spill in front of an oncoming Warriors' striker.

So there were certainly some anxiety-provoking moments. All told, however, this was a much more solid performance than the one that resulted in collapse away against East Fife two weeks ago. Hopefully the win will boost Sons' confidence, which seemed to ebb and flow throughout the game, and now needs to be rebuilt throughout a young squad recovering from a poor start and looking to move on to better things.

Meanwhile, Dumbarton now sit in ninth place, within reach of mid-table security with a couple more decent results.

Scenes from a day out at the Rock

Football is a social occasion as well as a sporting one. My home matches involve a 120-mile round car trip from East to West, Edinburgh to Dumbarton, courtesy of Sons View programme editor Graeme Robertson and golf pro Cliffe Jones (who I particularly have to thank for the crested shirt I'm wearing in the new profile pic). We like to call it 'the Optimist Express'. Or something like that...

The Embra Massive usually arrive around 12.30pm, which allows time to catch up with friends old and new. This Saturday that included a spot of impromptu photography for young Lewis McPhee and his uncle Iain, along with DFC mascot Pellie the Elephant - who has been on best behaviour since his return to action at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium. (Sorry, Caroline, the one with you in it didn't come out).

From time-to-time I've sold Sons View at both the home and away ends, as well as writing for it. But leading the dedicated regulars in the sales force is Denise Currie, the former Sonstrust chair, who rarely misses a customer. Here she is in action before the home game against Stenhousemuir - one we really had to win... and did.

As you can see, the back row in block N had a pretty tense time for most of the match. Minutes after this photograph was taken, however, we were celebrating in style, following Sons' super sub Derek Carcary's beautifully taken 77th minute winner. The last 13 minutes and the goodly chunk of time added on, largely occasioned by the nasty looking knock sustained by Jon McShane and his subsequent stretchering off, certainly took its toll. Best wishes to Jon, who was clearly in agony.

With Club historian and (more to the point of this anecdote) announcer Jim McAllister unusually elsewhere this afternoon, Trust director Alan Findlay leant his sonorous tones to the task of proclaiming some good news, for once. An away trip to high-flying Alloa is next up on the calendar. A result at Recreation Park would amount to a real turnaround for the Sons.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The legend of Stein

Stein c.1978, on the training ground
It's 25 years yesterday since the death of legendary manager Jock Stein. Though hardly a fan of the Old Firm, my earliest footballing memory (the first match that had me glued to the telly, the season before I saw Jimmy Sirrell's Brentford, my grandfather's team, take on his soon-to-be charges Notts County in my debut live game, at Griffin Park) was Celtic's 1967 European Cup triumph on 25 May.

The 'Lions of Lisbon' triumphed 2-1 over favourites Internazionale Milan in front of some 70,000 people at the Portuguese National Stadium in Lisbon, to become the first British club to take the ultimate European honour. It certainly helped to forge my love of Scottish football. Two years later, having dallied with Manchester United, tempted by the wizardry of my boyhood hero Denis Law, I cast my lot in with Dumbarton... and the rest is history - albeit of the obscure kind!

In terms of managerial giants, Stein is definitely up there with Brian Clough. Though an equally larger-than-life figure, he was far more considered and restrained. Writer and academic Bob Crampsey, also sadly no longer with us (and perhaps the leading historian and advocate of the Scottish game in recent times), once said of Jock that he was "the most powerful intelligence I ever met". In a strange way the difference between the two is encapsulated by the fact that they both managed an unruly Leeds United for 44 days. But whereas Clough's  was a reign that ended in ignominy, Stein left to take the reins of Scotland. Poignantly, his passing came at a moment of genuine triumph: under his tutelage, the Scots team had secured a 1-1 draw with Wales at Ninian Park to clinch a World Cup play-off place against Australia, with the prize at stake a place at the 1986 finals in Mexico.

"We went from one extreme of emotions to the other that night," former Dumbarton and Everton hero Graeme Sharp, who played that night, told The Scotsman. "On the pitch, when the final whistle went, we were delighted to have got to the World Cup play-offs, we were elated. We were unaware of what had happened with Jock until we got back to the dressing room. At first we thought it might not have been too bad but there were whispers that it was and then we were told he had passed away. There was such a sense of shock among the players and backroom staff. I was staying with Andy Gray that night and when we drove home we were still in a state of shock."

Appropriately,  Scotland held one minute of applause to mark the 25th anniversary of Stein's death, just before Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein at Hampden Park.  The display hardly fitted his memory, but at least a 2-1 victory was grasped, albeit in the 97th minute.

Undoubtedly the greatest encounter between Jock's Celtic and Dumbarton was in 1970, when the Sons took the Hoops to the edge in the replayed semi-final of the Scottish League Cup, 0-0 after extra time on 7 October, and 3-4 on 12 October. Stein was, of course, very willing to pay tribute to the endeavours of the minnows from Boghead. He represents a style, approach and set of football values that we very much need in the modern game.

When the going gets tough...

First published in Sons View, 11 September 2010, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir

This afternoon a rather large weight of expectation sits at the feet of Dumbarton’s chosen.

After four straight league defeats, including that hideous 6-0 hammering in our previous outing against East Fife, a win over Second Division fellow-strugglers Stenhousemuir will be seen as a “must” by most supporters.

But no matter how concerned we are to turn our blushes of embarrassment into the glow of pride, a single game doesn’t (and won’t) make a season. Not at this stage, anyway. Three points, a decent performance and some goals would produce a real difference in our morale and to our standing, to be sure. But that’s because, in spite of the disappointing start and crushing loss last week, we have not been cut adrift.

Remember this: our opponents today are only four points ahead of the Sons. Just one point separates us from Peterhead. And when the whistle blows at around ten to five today, there will be 31 matches left in the 2010/11 campaign. Everything is still there to play for. That’s the perspective we need.

The Warriors will come out fighting, and a determined effort is what we have a right to expect from the men in gold and black, too. No less than that, and hopefully a wee bit more. But the game you are witnessing under the shadow of the Rock isn’t an end; it’s part of what we all want to be a new beginning.

Nor should the quest for a positive response be construed as complacency. Dumbarton face an uphill climb. Basic things have been going wrong on the pitch, and at Methil it all fell apart after Sons conceded that second goal.  The sense of deflation was palpable. But one dreadful day in Fife should not be made into an epitaph. Rather, it needs to be re-scripted as a wake-up call.

Similarly, turning on the manager, the players, the staff and each other won’t help one bit in the struggle to regain our foothold and get the Sons moving forward. The truth is that we have a young side with a number of fresh faces and it’s important that they are backed solidly and given a chance to gel. In the pre-season games there were real signs of quality, but also examples of those momentary lapses, slips and confusions that cost us dearly in the last home match against Livingston and away at Ayr. This squad has potential. The challenge is to realise it by avoiding the pitfalls and developing the cutting edge. 

Predictably, gaffer Jim Chapman has taken some stick following the shame of New Bayview. His response has been to acknowledge frankly that what we saw there was unacceptable to all concerned, to recognise the feelings of his detractors (some of whom, sadly, allowed frustration to work itself out as personal abuse), to get out onto the training pitch with the players, to address what needs putting right – and to agree to answer supporters’ questions directly in a ‘fans forum’ before this afternoon’s match. (How many of us would fancy doing that in the circumstances?)

No one in the dressing room is running away from the current situation, in other words. Nor should we fans give way to fashionable pessimism. In the dark days immediately following our Third Division Championship triumph last year, everyone around Dumbarton united to demonstrate what this Club is about at its finest. Togetherness was the watchword. A good dose of that will be needed at SHS today – and over the coming weeks, as the evenings begin to draw in.

Of course, changes are needed straight away. I’m sure we will see that on the pitch this afternoon. Everyone knows that if the footballing slide does not start to be reversed soon, further rethinking will be required. But no team got out of a tough patch by giving way to panic. Patience doesn’t come easily in this game, but it is still a virtue that pays long-term dividends. At any rate, those who chop and change too much and too soon can hardly complain about inconsistency.

“This should test your powers of positive thinking,” said your long-suffering programme editor when reminding me about the deadline for this column - while we were all recovering from ‘six of the worst’ and wondering how Scotland would do against Lithuania. Well, they didn’t squeeze the hoped-for victory, but the shape, determination and glimpses of what is needed were there. It was a different display to the shocker against Sweden.

In similar vein, I’m going to predict a much-improved Sons performance against Stenhousemuir and more points heading our way in the coming weeks. With determination all round and some really strong support from the stand, we can do it!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Frustration for Scotland

Scotland's European Championship qualifying campaign began in Lithuania this evening with a pretty reasonable performance but a disappointing 0-0 result. The Scots dominated the game overall, but Kenny Miller looked lonely up front for for significant periods of the second half, and James McFadden, held back as an 'impact player', was unable to work a piece of magic for the visitors in his 22 minutes on the pitch.

The other decision that may surprise observers was the non-appearance of Kris Boyd, given that Scotland consistently lacked punch up front. the Scots looked solid at the back, albeit against lower level opposition, but failed to create and take chances, even when the Lithuanians visibly tired. Steven Naismith had two of the best chances on 59 and 77 minutes for the Scots, but the Rangers player hesitated at crucial moments. Lack of decisive quality and good first-touches in and around the box ended up being the crucial factor, indeed.

In his post-match interview, manager Craig Levein (a figure well known here in Edinburgh) complained about persistent niggling fouls from Lithuania. The referee certainly seemed too tolerant at times, but the the Scots, despite their good shape and structure, failed to capitalise on their superiority. It's as simple as that.

On a personal footnote: it was great to see a Scotland match on terrestrial television after many years living in England, where the other home nations are largely ignored. If it was not for a work trip out of the country I would certainly have been at Hampden next Tuesday (7 September) for the game against Liechtenstein, well beaten by Spain tonight. As to the outcome of the group, the Czech Republic could yet hold the key.