Sunday, March 08, 2015

Season 2014/2015: Match 10: Montrose 3 Arbroath 0 (The Scottish Professional Football League Two)

And so the fightback begins.

Yesterday's big Scottish coupon-buster (unless Rangers drawing 0-0 at Cowdenbeath is still considered unusual) saw Montrose trounce their fish-filleting inbred cousins from down the coast with an assured 3-0 win.

This was a top-notch team performance. There were no weak links, even in areas of the park where one might consider such weak links to exist.

There was a thunderous commitment to the cause that brought five yellow cards for the home side.

There was assured possession of the ball, and a desire to push forward and pressure Arbroath at every opportunity.

This was the first time I'd seen Montrose under Paul Hegarty and John Holt. Previous results under the new regime had suggested all was not well at Links Park, but the derby performance went a long way to instilling a smidgin of faith.

Montrose took the lead in the 28th minute, Ross Campbell squaring the ball across the box for Graham Webster to take a touch a power the ball across Marc McCallum and into the top corner.

They doubled their lead three minutes after the break, Garry Wood laying the ball off to Campbell for the former Forfar man to shoot into the bottom corner.

And they completed the scoring four minutes later, Webster crossing to the far post for Scott Johnston to knock the ball down to Campbell for the finish.

Arbroath had chances, but Stuart McKenzie was at his best to keep a series of long-range shots and free kicks at bay.

Marvin Andrews marshalled the defence magnificently, Andrew Steeves had a solid debut and the midfield kept up the momentum for the duration of the match. The wingers in particular gave Arbroath a torrid time.

There's still a long way to go - Montrose are four points and 32 goals behind Berwick Rangers at the bottom of Serie Z4, having played two games more. Elgin are five points ahead of Montrose with a goal difference 23 better than Montrose's, and have played three fewer games.

Only East Stirlingshire are in the same ballpark when it comes to goal difference - they are six points ahead of Montrose having played one fewer match.

It's going to be a hard slog for Montrose to drag themselves clear of the relegation playoff and potential oblivion. With eight games to go, every point and every goal is precious.

Man of the Match: Ross Campbell has a decent shout, with two goals and an assist. While his touch may occasionally desert him, he never gives up and kept the Arbroath defence busy today.

Graham Webster was equally tireless, keeping Arbroath pinned back in their own defensive third of the pitch and contributing a goal and a key role in Montrose's third.

But for me, the key man yesterday was Stuart McKenzie, the goalkeeper keeping Montrose ahead with a string of saves and a magnificent command of his own area.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Season 2014/2015: Match 9: Hertha Berlin 0 SC Freiburg 2 (Bundesliga)

The impending marriage of a good friend took me to Berlin last weekend, a trip that included my first live Bundesliga match.

As stadiums go, the Olympiastadion is amongst the best I've ever visited. An imposing concrete facade hides a football cauldron that keeps the atmosphere inside the ground. Even the Olympic-standard running track doesn't hinder the view. The stadium is everything that Hampden should have been, instead of the not-fit-for-purpose mess that is our national stadium.

A stroll around the ground took us past the track where Jesse Owens gave Hitler the finger at the 1936 Olympics, and there's a strong feeling that history has been well preserved in and around the ground.

If the ground could teach Scottish football a thing or two, the quality of the play on the park suggested the opposite could be true. There was one Champions League winner on the park, in the shape of Salomon Kalou, but the quality of football was atrocious.

Despite the noisy backing of a huge crowd of Ultras at the opposite end from us, Hertha Berlin had no shape, struggled to keep the ball and looked well off the pace. A better team than Freiburg would have destroyed them (Bayern Munich had recorded an 8-0 win over  Hamburg the previous day).

But luckily for the home side, the visitors were nearly as bad, which led to the sides playing out what looked like a Raith Rovers vs Falkirk match in a stadium fit for a World Cup final.

Jens Hegeler, apparently a former Germany U21 international, is one of the worst players I've ever seen play topflight football - with every touch he either found the opposition keeper or hoofed the ball out of play.

Both Freiburg goals came from scrappy Berlin mistakes, and the home crowd was justifiably pissed off at the final whistle.

Still, at least they had massive bratwursts and litre-sized cups of beer to dull the pain.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Season 2014/2015: Match 8: Montrose 3 Albion Rovers 4 (The Scottish Professional Football League Two)

I'm sorry.

It was my fault.

With the stopwatch showing 92:30, I turned round to my press corps colleague and said: "This is the first time I've seen Montrose pick up a point this season."

Thirty seconds later Albion Rovers scored their winner.

I should know better.

(So should my press corps colleague, who celebrated Montrose taking a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes as if Montrose had just won the Champions League.)

As performances go, this was almost as good as I've seen Montrose in a long while. They were ahead after six minutes when Stephen O'Neil skipped through two challenges and curled a shot in off the post.

O'Neil turned creator nine minutes later, sending the ball into the box for new signing David Banjo to turn and volley into the net.

So far, so good.

But Albion Rovers pulled a goal back in the 19th minute when a Montrose corner broke down. The visitors launched a quick counter attack, Ross Davidson feeding a pass to Mark McGuigan, the striker firing past home goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie.

Marvin Andrews, potentially the religious saviour Montrose need to drag them clear of relegation and oblivion, was the furthest forward Montrose player when the goal was scored. An attacking threat he may be at corners, but the team needs to defend better, and in numbers, when Andrews is acting as auxiliary striker.

Rovers equalised in the 31st minute when McGuigan sent Gary Fisher's cross over McKenzie's head and in off the underside of the crossbar.

Six minutes into the second half, Montrose fell behind for the first time. McGuigan's cross to the back post was met on the volley by Davidson, the ball flying back across goal and into the far corner.

But Montrose refused to surrender, and found a way back into the match in the 59th minute. Ross McCord controlled a bouncing ball on the edge of the box, powered through a challenge and flicked the ball up for Banjo. The midfielder controlled the ball on his chest before turning and lashing a shot low past Neil Parry in the Albion Rovers goal.

Although they looked to have done enough to secure at least a draw, Montrose were denied a share of the points in the cruellest of fashions.

Three minutes into second half stoppage time, substitute Thomas McCluskey, who appeared to be offside, beat Marvin Andrews deep in the Montrose half. McKenzie managed to get a touch on the shot, but it wasn't enough to prevent the ball rolling over the goal line to give Albion all three points.

For a Montrose team missing Paul Watson, Terry Masson (is he injured?), Stephen Day and Leighton McIntosh, this was an astonishingly coherent performance, and one that deserved at least a point.

New signing Banjo was a revelation, and O'Neil showed great flashes of ability and creativity, begging the question why he hasn't been given more opportunities.

But on the negative side, Adam Harwood looks well short of the required quality at centre back. While he's young and mobile enough to be a useful foil for the elderly and cumbersome Andrews. But where Andrews tends to exude a modicum of calm thanks to a masterful reading of the game and great positioning, Harwood frequently looks panicked and error-prone.

The problem is that, when he was substituted, his replacement was Alan Campbell, which immediately reduced the pace of the centre backs to dangerous levels.

While it's never going to happen, if Andrews is deemed a serious goal threat, I'd swap him and Garry Wood, putting the skipper at centre back and Andrews up front as a designated target man.

Montrose were definitely worthy of a point yesterday. But the blunt fact is that they've only won five times in 22 league matches this season - only once since September - and if the teams below them win their games in hand, they're rock bottom of League Two.

From what I can see on the park, it's not a case of if Montrose are relegated, it's a case of when. If they somehow survive this season, I don't anticipate them being able to compete with whatever team comes up from the Highland League or Lowland League.

Without urgent and significant changes to the way Montrose Football Club is run and plays, I fear for its existence.

Man of the Match: Stephen O'Neil had a strong claim, scoring one and creating another in a lively attacking performance.

But David Banjo had a barnstorming debut, scoring twice with a pair of great strikes, and generally making a nuisance of himself throughout.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Season 2014/2015: Match 7: Montrose 0 East Stirlingshire 1 (The Scottish Professional Football League Two)

At half time today, the lights across Links Park were off.

Although I'm talking literally, we may also soon be talking figuratively as well.

I doubt that I was the only person who was hoping that today's match would fall foul of the weather - Arbroath's clash with Albion Rovers succumbed to the wind, and around lunchtime we experienced gale force gusts and a mini blizzard.

But by kick-off, the sun was at least having a go and the sky was blue, allowing Marvin Andrews to make the 14th home debut of his long and winding football career.

Andrews, 39, started in place of Alan Campbell, although the latter is nine years his junior. What Andrews lacks in pace, he makes up with a great positional sense and determination.

If only the same could be said for the rest of the team. This was another abject performance against one of the teams fighting alongside Montrose to avoid relegation from the senior game.

George Shields' sole tactic of having the defenders bypass the midfield and launch the ball beyond the static Garry Wood paid its usual dividend. The midfield, missing the injured Paul Watson and Stephen Day, struggled to gain a foothold, with only Terry Masson succeeding in keeping the ball for more than one touch at a time.

But even the best manager wouldn't be able to legislate for the way Montrose conceded in the 59th minute. Under little pressure, centre back Adam Harwood gave the ball away to Shire's Ross Gilmour. He ran to the edge of the box and squared the ball to David Greenhill, who fired his low shot into the net.

Nonetheless, I'm sick and tired of saying the same things every week. There's no progression; the players don't seem to learn from their mistakes; the coaching staff seem powerless to change anything; when they finally do resort to substitutions, it's too little and too late.

If Montrose are to have any hope of staying in the Scottish Professional Football League, something needs to change, and very fast.

Assuming that there is little to no budget for new players, it would seem that the change needs to made on the bench.

Shields lost the backing of the fans weeks ago. He seems to be losing the players as well.

Soon, Montrose could lose its team completely. If crowds are anything to go by, there's barely any appetite in the town for football as it is.

If the club is getting horsed by Buckie, Cove, Golspie and Brora, I would think what little support there is would vanish completely.

Man of the Match: This was another honking performance from Montrose. Only three players looked like something approaching the standard required - goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie, Terry Masson in midfield and Marvin Andrews at the back.

I'd say Andrews was the best of the bunch, exuding calm at the back, his experience keeping him in the right place at the right time and his authority and determination at least trying to drive his teammates forwards. He was a threat at set pieces (the only occasions on which Montrose looked dangerous), and by the end he was effectively playing up front as the home side desperately sought a late equaliser.

I hope Big Marvin is praying for Montrose - we're in dire need of some divine intervention now.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Top 10 albums of the year:

1. Radio Moscow - Magical Dirt
2. Swans - To Be Kind
3. Kasabian - 48:13
4. Jimi Goodwin - Odludek
5. Pink Floyd - Endless River
6. The Horrors - Luminous
7. Jack White - Lazaretto
8. Johnny Marr - Playland
9. Aphex Twin - Spyro
10. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream