Saturday, 5 March 2011

There's everything to play for

First published in Sons View, 05 March 2011, Dumbarton -v- Livingston

The defeat against Forfar last Saturday, followed rapidly by a tough midweek game at Brechin, has acted as something of a reality-check for the rejuvenated Dumbarton side and their buoyant fans.

But the fact that we are in the midst of a tough run of fixtures with the best sides in the Second Division, not least today’s top-of-the-table visitors Livingston, should not be allowed to detract from the remarkable overall turnaround achieved by Alan Adamson and the players in the course of the last eight matches.

Not only have Sons gained a significant number of points, won games, scored some great goals, picked up a first clean sheet, and dragged themselves off the foot of the table – they have also been playing a good deal of attractive, entertaining football. This has generated an air of positivity in the course of a season that, not so long ago, was looking like a complete write-off.

After the first few matches of 2011 it seemed as if Sons were being dragged inexorably into the relegation mire. There was almost an air of resignation around the Rock, matched only by the winter freeze that physically stalled our progress.

Now, however, the Sons have a realistic prospect of a decent mid-table finish, and our young team has been demonstrating its genuine football credentials – as a number of us always believed it was capable of doing.

This does not mean Dumbarton can afford to take the foot off the pedal, however. Far from it. The opening 25 minutes at Station Park showed that other teams in this division are sitting up and taking notice of the Dumbarton up-turn – perhaps especially those in the promotion play-off zone who cannot afford too many slip-ups if they are to realise their aspirations.

Dick Campbell’s Forfar side had clearly been sent out onto the pitch with instructions to harry the Sons, to knock them off their stride, to close down spaces for the fluid passing game they have developed up front, and to prevent them from gaining possession. For a time it worked. Ironically, we came out of a first half we had failed to grasp level pegging at 1-1; and a second half that we dominated, beaten 2-1. That, as they say, is football.

Livingston will be determined similarly to thwart Dumbarton this afternoon, and the challenge will be tough. Hopefully the darkest days of this campaign are behind us, but with ten matches left (including today’s game) we have to face the fact that there are likely to be setbacks as well as successes. The important thing is not to get too down about the former or too carried away with the latter.

The raw facts of Sons’ run-in to the last league game of the season (an opportunity for revenge against the Loons at SHS on 7 May) is that the opportunities and threats are evenly balanced. Six out of those ten encounters are on home turf. That’s in our favour. On the other hand, six of them are also against sides pushing for promotion with the wind behind their sails.

History suggests that at least one or two teams who have started strongly or who have moved into an advantageous position are liable to struggle to maintain momentum towards the end of the campaign. Similarly, some of those lower down will bounce back – as Dumbarton have already begun to do through our six-game unbeaten run.

The job now is to steady the ship, keep progressing, try to make sure we don’t drop games in the final minutes, and aim to collect – as soon as possible – those precious 41 points (another 12 out of a possible 30) that have been proved necessary to staying up over the last six terms.

Meanwhile, there are important battles off the pitch, too. Winning back the home support that ebbed away during the tough winter months is important. Bad news tends to travel faster than good. But now we can all do our bit in spreading the word that this is definitely a team worth watching.

Similarly, Dumbarton fans have the opportunity, through the Sonstrust website, of exercising their voice alongside others about the future of the game in Scotland – rather than allowing the richest clubs and interests to make all the running.

With the days and weeks moving quickly towards the 2010-11 season finale, there’s all to play for, in other words – both now and for the years to come. There’s never been a more important time to stand up for the Dumbarton. Starting this afternoon. ‘Mon Sons!

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