Saturday, 23 October 2010

Avoiding Rock bottom

Limbering up at Larbert
Well, OK, we are bottom. But not down and out yet - though it is very hard to 'take the positives' from Dumbarton's outing to Stenhousemuir this afternoon. Given that Sons' record this season is 10 played, eight lost, one won and one drawn, we are actually fairly fortunate to be only five points adrift at the foot of the Second Division. A couple of wins and a draw or two could yet take us out of the morass, provided others continue to struggle. The problem is that there are few signs that this is going to happen.

Looking at goals conceded (24) and the comedy errors for the first and final blows in Sons' 4-0 defeat at Larbert today, you would most naturally assume that the real problem is at the back. But I'm not so sure. The mistakes come partly from lack of confidence, and that in turn relates to the lack of prowess up front. With Derek Carcary out, Dumbarton look toothless in attack. Two penalties and two wonder-strikes from Del account for four of our five in League football so far this season. Where is the industry going to come from? Today no-one  came particularly close to scoring, save Martin McNiff (whose home shirt I sponsor, and who has put in some fair performances, though he lacks experience). Moreover, not holding onto the ball, or not showing signs of breaking through and doing something with it, puts a defence under more pressure, psychologically as well as physically.

To add to the chagrin of away supporters today, the Stenny 'Man of the Match' was (deservedly) awarded to Ross Clark, who previously wore a Dumbarton jersey. Arguably, Stevie Murray was even better. It's easy to ask why we let one or two of our more experienced players go last term, but bygones are bygones. The difficulty right now is that an effective looking playing structure is being established at the Club, the reserves and the youth are doing very well indeed, but the first team looks frozen by fear and rather confused and indecisive in its shape and communication. Unlike some, I think we have players who can do a job for us, but they're not performing to their potential and gelling on the pitch.

How to play Derek Carcary is another conundrum. Before his injury, he was often being used as an 'impact' substitute on the hour. Then he was given a couple of starts, against Brechin (where he scored) and Airdrie United. That choice could run and run. Derek appears to be a confidence player, but that can lean both ways in terms of when to deploy him. The main issue, it seems to me, is that, while highly skilled and dangerous to opposing defences, he is slight of stature and needs back-up against the hefty central defenders who populate this division.

Dumbarton fans stare into the fading light
Boss Jim Chapman is an able coach, of that there's little doubt. But at this stage in the season, something pretty substantial is needed to stem the decline. In the past, when difficulties have arisen, we have gone back to basics. That may be what's needed now.  At this level, 4-4-2, a more stable starting 11 and securing players' best positions can help restore the foundations and build morale. We will also need more experience come the New Year. The emphasis on cultivating youth is absolutely right. Highly desirable, in fact. But if the dividends don't start to come through at the top level in the next few matches, the project is in serious peril.

For supporters, it's also a testing time. This afternoon there was a half-time volley or two of complaint. But more worrying, at every level, is the sense of resignation. Giving up with less than a third of the season gone isn't what we want or need. But you know you're in trouble when the opposition's goals start to receive ironic applause. (The genuine kind for Ross when he was announced as MOM was more heartening). A huge effort to get behind the team is going to be needed at the Rock on 30 October. 

Talking of which: next up, it's East Fife at SHS. Our last encounter, at New Bayview, was that dreadful 6-0 thumping in August (though it feels more recent than that). A decent home result this time would do a lot to repair the lingering wounds. I'm not sure how it's going to happen, but 'mon Sons!

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