Saturday, 19 March 2011

Not just weather, but a series of 'ifs'

First published in Sons View, 29 January 2011, Dumbarton -v- East Fife.

Ah, the good old Scottish weather, eh? Having spent a good deal of February negotiating a welter of games, including re-arrangements brought about by the earlier ‘cold snap’ (more prosaically known as ‘winter’), Dumbarton found themselves twiddling their thumbs rather than thumping in the shots and crosses last Saturday.

Despite the synthetic pitch at Larbert, the game against fellow-strugglers Stenhousemuir was called off due to the sudden burst of bad weather in the central belt. Snow and freezing waterlogged conditions are not unprecedented in mid-March, or even later.

I remember a midweek postponement against Forfar in Dumbarton’s 2007-8 Third Division campaign… on 2 April. That was a bit of a personal blow, given that I’d travelled up from Exeter, where I was living at the time. Thankfully, the game against Stranraer the previous Saturday, which I’d sponsored jointly with the Sonstrust to mark my 50th birthday, went ahead – just. Even if we did lose 1-0.That morning, the pitchforks had been out in force at SHS to assist the drainage, and it was a close call.

So nothing is entirely predictable in the latter part of the season, and that includes this afternoon’s important clash against East Fife at the Rock. A few weeks ago the Fifers were below a resurgent Dumbarton, but with games in hand. They’ve taken good advantage of those catch-up matches, and now sit just on the edge of the play-off zone in the Second Division – their precise points tally depending on the outcome of a midweek visit to Brechin on Tuesday night.

That is both a challenge and a spur to the Sons today. We’ve been a little unfortunate to come away with only one point from the last three games. The performances have certainly merited more than that, but we’ve also been up against a series of determined promotion contenders.

The loss at Forfar on 26 February came against the run of play in the 78th minute. On 5 March, the boys looked tired against polished League leaders Livingston. And in between there was a titanic struggle leading to a 3-3 draw in the mud against Brechin City, on a cold night at Glebe Park. Both teams deserved three points for sheer effort and skill-against-the-odds alone. But fitba doesn’t quite work like that.

Talking of Brechin, we hope that they will take points off Alloa Athletic this afternoon, in order to boost Sons’ position further. If Ayr United had defeated the Wasps by two goals rather than one on 12 March, Dumbarton would now be sitting in seventh rather than eighth position in the League table, on account of respective goal differences. This is the time of year when it isn’t just the weather we have to watch, but a series of ‘ifs’.

Better still, Sons need to take destiny back into their own hands by continuing the good form, attacking prowess and defensive strengthening we have seen in the impressive run that started with a solid 2-1 win away at Airdrie United on 1 February. It can be done. By my calculation, based on form in the past five or six seasons, we need another 11 or 12 points from the remaining 9 games to be safe in the Second Division for next term.

All these matches will be important, but perhaps it is the ones against today’s opponents, Stenhousemuir away (to be re-arranged) and Alloa (home) where there will be greatest expectation of goals and results in our favour. That’s because the infamous football cliché about ‘six pointers’ comes into play when taking on the sides immediately around us.

This does not mean, however, that the Sons squad is unable, in principle, to pick up points against the high-flyers. At our best we’ve been up with them in performances, if not always in results. No-one should be given a free ride on the basis that we are looking down the table rather than up.

Meanwhile, before we turn our full attention to this afternoon’s clash on the park at the Rock, it’s appropriate to send out a hearty word of congratulation to Brechin City for their impressive Scottish Cup quarter-final performance against SPL visitors St Johnstone last Saturday.

The 2-2 draw was a tremendous result, and a credit to the Second Division as well as to the Hedgemen. It reminds onlookers that there is so much more to the game in Scotland than the Old Firm soap opera and the top flight.  It also shows what sheer determination and hard work from a smaller side can achieve.

We certainly need that kind of gutsy spirit from the chosen of Dumbarton at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium come 3 o’clock today.

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