Saturday, 23 April 2011

Time to get the job done

First published in Sons View, 23 April 2011, Dumbarton -v- Ayr United

OK, let’s be clear. Whatever the bookies now claim, Dumbarton can take points from this game against Ayr, as well as from champions Livingston and high-flyers Forfar. I say that, because the pessimistic view is that by getting tanked at Brechin, failing to win against two sides below us and losing out to Airdrie United last Saturday, Sons’ form over the past five weeks has not been sufficient to create any real hope for this run-in.

It’s others upon whom we are relying to ‘get the job done’ – that is, to secure a 2011-12 Second Division slot – so the cloud-laden argument goes. That’s dangerous nonsense. Sons can’t afford to take a back seat in the race to the finish line on 7 May. Nor should we need to.

For a start, with nine points to play for, Dumbarton have a six-point advantage over Stenny in the battle to avoid a relegation play-off place, even if the goal difference has to be watched. This constitutes a huge advantage. But we should think of it as a lever, not a cushion.

Second, the last few results do not recount the whole story – though they do tell one with an important, sting-in-the-tail moral, which gaffer Alan Adamson and his team will be only too aware of.

For the purposes at looking what we have to achieve over the next three matches, I’d contend that the 6-0 thumping by the Hedgemen is now well behind us and that the 5-2 Peterhead win is also a one-off. The more serious issue – as the newly confirmed manager made clear in his post-match interviews after losing 2-1 to the Diamonds – is that we are “failing to ‘close out’ games”.

On the upside, Sons have been averaging 2.5 goals a game (ten) over the last four outings. On the downside, eight have been conceded, and not in the ‘right’ matches – ones where we still took maximum points.

Last week wasn’t the best Sons performance, and in periods of the second half Airdrie United came at us in fast, ferocious fashion. They were a far cry from the lacklustre side Dumbarton outperformed by the same scoreline on a cold night back on 1 February (and also for much of the home match eleven days later, when two points were thrown away via an 87th minute Diamonds’ equaliser).

That said, Sons competed well in other portions of the game, took the lead through a bit of Jordan Halsman free-kick magic, and went in ahead at the break. It was the last 15 minutes where everything went wrong – not for the first time this term. Stenhousemuir’s last-gasp equaliser against East Fife didn’t help, either.

So what’s going wrong? Detail and particular player performances aside, getting trapped and flustered too deep exposes a tendency towards edginess at the back under pressure. Failing to clinch chances at the other end adds to the difficulty. Football can be a painfully simple game at times, as well as a gloriously complex one.

In honesty, a draw would have been an acceptable result against Airdrie, given the balance of the game. But in the end it was their greater determination and attacking commitment that won the day – deservedly. As soon as that equaliser went in, the winner looked not far behind… and that’s precisely how it turned out.

The lesson for today is surely, at least from this fan’s point-of-view, to take the game to Ayr and to try to build up the passing rhythm which, on several occasions this season, has made Dumbarton look like a top-half Second Division side, rather than one of the strugglers (such as our actual position would suggest).

All in all, the past few weeks may have been frustrating, but they have not been devoid of hope and decent football. Relying on others to fail is not the way to go – though Sons fans will undoubtedly be wanting the Wasps to beat Stenny, or as second best will be rooting for a draw, in the other match that we will all be keeping an eye on.

So it isn’t ‘squeaky bum time’ yet, but it could be at 5pm if Sons are not courageous – and careful. On the other hand, three points today would put our posteriors at rest, keep Sir Alex Ferguson’s odd phraseology out of our minds, and enable Dumbarton to enter the next two games for enjoyment more than results. ’Mon Sons!

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