Saturday, 9 July 2011

Getting set for the challenge

First published in Sons View, 09 July 2011, Dumbarton -v- Motherwell (Friendly)

The long weekends of ‘no football’ (other than relentless media speculation about multimillion pound transfer deals not involving Dumbarton FC) are over. So here we are at SHS once more, watching a reshaped Sons squad limber up for the 2011/12 season with a series of home friendlies against higher-level opposition – and then two away fixtures with Alloa (closed doors) and Clydebank.

Everyone says that you can’t read too much into a friendly. But that isn’t entirely true. While the result may not be a predictor, the coaching staff and players are always looking out for individual or tactical issues that need attention, and there are usually telltale signs of what is to come.

Last term, for example, Sons played good imaginative football against two of this year’s pre-season competitors. The 2-1 win versus Partick Thistle was a real morale booster, and in many respects the 2-2 draw against St Mirren was even more impressive. But then Dumbarton’s frailties were made manifest by English opponents Oxford United, and we also struggled with shape and fluency in the games against Annan and the Bankies.

The difference was between playing sides with a more open style that suited Sons’ best football instincts, in contrast to games where grit, grind and lack of space clamped our style. In retrospect, that pretty much summed up 2010/11. A dismal start and an uncertain ending (salvaged by an excellent display away to Second Division Champions Livingston) were clamped around a spell where Dumbarton suddenly started producing up-tempo, quality football. It was a strange mixture, but we were thoroughly relieved to stay up, and this time hope to build on the strengths and show rather more consistency.

In theory, playing against promotion aspirants the Jags, from the First Division, SPL survival-or-better hopefuls the Buddies, and Cup Finalists and regular dark horses Motherwell should really test our mettle – with the on-the-road fixtures providing a different type of challenge. It looks a good mix.

I last saw Motherwell live at Hampden, when they were well beaten by Celtic in a match that had moments of real quality but never quite took off. Like many I had been hoping for an upset. But since my seat was at the Hoops end, I decide to keep fairly quiet about that, and in the end had no cheers to suppress!

The ’Well are a side deserving the greatest respect for what they have been able to achieve on (for the top flight) relatively slender resources. But for a club like Dumbarton, what they, Partick and St Mirren have at their disposal in terms of players and budgets is something Sons can only dream of. That said, everyone in the Second Division will be in the same economically-straitened boat this time, and there is no reason why we should not be competitive. Starting right now.

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