Saturday, 11 September 2010

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!

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