Saturday, 25 September 2010

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.

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