Saturday, 20 November 2010

Time to let go of the pressure

First published in Sons View, 20 November 2010, Dumbarton -v- Greenock Morton

There must be something about Morton. I’m not particularly thinking about the fact that this afternoon’s Scottish Cup Third Round clash with the men from Greenock is Dumbarton’s fifth trophy tie against them in two seasons, including two previous games in the same competition at the identical stage last term, and two Alba Challenge Cup encounters in July 2009 and July 2010 respectively.

Nor am I pondering on how close Sons have come to equalling the ’Ton in those ties – without quite managing it (yet). That Alba first round match earlier in the summer was concluded on penalties, remember; while the previous one was decided by just one goal. Meanwhile, Dumbarton held Morton to a 0-0 draw at Cappielow in the Scottish Cup last season, and only lost out to Brian Graham's header in the replay at SHS in the 74th minute. That’s two goals conceded in 344 minutes of open play and several opportunities that could have – but didn’t quite – head our way. This time we need to go one better.

But no, the “something about Morton” I have in mind is more personal. The thing is, whenever Sons play ’Ton, there always seems to be an important event preventing me from physically being at the match! Two work conferences, moving house, and – this time – a wedding, to be precise. So as you bite your nails through the game, I’ll be celebrating some friends’ happy nuptials down in London… while keeping one eye on the Twitter updates from Dumbarton via my mobile phone.

Today’s match is notable for another reason, too. It’s the third of four consecutive home games for the Sons, including last Tuesday night’s Stirlingshire Cup Final against Falkirk, and that thoroughly energising 3-2 Division Two win over Ayr United a week ago.

This ‘home run’ comes at an opportune moment in Dumbarton’s season. Some solid performances and results in front of your own fans is a good way to rebuild momentum following a dispiriting first third of the campaign. The statistics of woe remain plentiful for Sons, of course. But it’s far more advantageous to focus on the positive news. Which is that we have now reduced the gap at the foot of the table to one point, and in the last couple of SHS league outings have secured two victories and seven goals.

The break offered by a bit cup (distr)action carries other benefits, too. Against Falkirk, it provided some of our younger players with a chance to show their mettle. Here against Morton, it gives more of the first-team regulars the test of higher-level opposition (Sons often seem to do better when stretched) without that intense pressure to bag more crucial points. Because, whatever the attractions of a big, well-attended fixture like today’s, the Second Division remains our clear priority. Tilting our fortunes towards trophies is not to be sniffed at, of course. But it’s the pudding rather than the main course.

No doubt our local rivals will have been thinking much the same as they prepared for this Cup-tie. Because, as of 13 November, Morton were just one point above the drop zone in Division One themselves, and in the 2009/10 season they escaped relegation only through a last ditch win over Ayr. Like Sons, ’Ton know exactly what it means to struggle. In their past eight league games they have secured one win and two draws. So, for both sides, this afternoon’s match is all about reviving flagging fortunes.

In that task, “nothing succeeds like success”, as they say. For Dumbarton, you could detect elements of fortune as well as positive play and hard work in the last two home victories. By that I mean we got the breaks that just had not come earlier in the season, even when the performances might have merited more.

As far as the Ayr game is concerned, hopefully it will prove to be a fillip for players and staff alike. Hesitancy at the back and a lack of decisiveness in the final third have remained Sons’ principal weaknesses, especially on the road. But in last week’s game there were a number of flowing moves and touches of flair which indicate that our lads still have more to offer – with a Cup match providing precisely the stage needed to hone skills and build confidence.

Meanwhile, after the spice of the Scottish Cup, Sons have five important bread-and-butter league games ahead of the New Year, three of them here at the Rock. Eight points or more could put a significantly different slant on that all-important table. The target is clear. Let’s go for it.

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