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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Season 2014/2015: Match 6: Montrose 2 Elgin City 3 (The Scottish Professional Football League Two)

Freezing cold in the final minutes of today's match, my bollocks furiously burrowing their way into my lower intestines as they sought the tiny bit of warmth remaining in my body, my brain became so cold that I momentarily thought that Montrose were going to stage an unexpected fightback.

Ross McCord had just curled a sublime free kick over the Elgin City wall and into the top corner, pulling the score back to 3-2 in the visitors' favour.

But not even five minutes of injury time could re-inject life into Montrose's fight against relegation, and the slide towards a life of away trips to Brora, Wick and Nairn continues.

Elgin should have gone in at half time with a five or six goal lead, but had to settle for two. Shane Sutherland, having noticed that Alan Campbell is slower than the movement of the tectonic plates, took it upon himself to tear Montrose's arthritic centre back a new rectal opening.

The visitors' first goal came in the 16th minute, Sutherland bursting almost straight through Campbell and curling a shot onto Stuart McKenzie's post. The rebound dropped into the centre of the box, where Dennis Wyness was on hand to stab the ball into the net.

They were two ahead in the 23rd minute, Sutherland again firing down the left  and sending a cross into the box. The ball bobbled up and into the path of Montrose's Ross Graham, the defender unable to do anything other than watch the ball bounce off his chest and into the net.

Sutherland and Wyness could each have had another brace, and Montrose could count themselves incredibly lucky still to be involved in the match at the end of the first 45 minutes.

When the half time whistle blew, I was ready to add my voice to the chorus asking that George Shields find something else to do with his Saturday afternoons.

But Montrose, presumably fresh from a severe half time bollocking, came out for the second half with a new-found intensity and purpose to their play. Paul Watson had a free kick tipped wide four minutes into the second half, and it took them only another minute to pull a goal back.

Trialist Michael Travis headed the ball down from a corner and Garry Wood pounced, lashing a half volley into the net.

Having pulled a goal back, Montrose's chances were further enhanced when Terry Masson rearranged Sutherland's skeleton for him, the best player on the park departing on a stretcher after an hour.

Montrose continued to have the best of the match as the second half went on, even having a Jonathan Crawford equaliser ruled out for shirt-pulling that was invisible to everyone except the far side linesman.

With two minutes of regulation time left, Sutherland's replacement Craig Gunn controlled the ball and rolled it straight through Campbell into the bottom corner.

That was all the encouragement many of Montrose's fans needed to stage a mass exodus, but those who walked out missed Montrose's too-little-too-late final effort from McCord.

Based on their second half performance, Montrose could well have been worth a point. Based on their first half showing, they were barely worth none.

I'm not usually a believer in changing managers mid-season, but something at Montrose needs to change, and rapidly. The side could be bottom of the league if the results of Elgin's and East Stirlingshire's games in hand go against them.

I've also been saying for the last wee while that Montrose have a good squad on paper, but now the tears in that paper can't be ignored. No-one in the defence looks particularly confident, and on days like today Campbell's lack of pace is a liability.

McCord and Deasley aren't the players they were a couple of years ago. Johnston continues to work hard but rarely produces much of note. Garry Wood's workrate is exemplary, but he's given so little to work with that he's continually left stranded.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining - it'll be nice to visit Golspie next February...

Man of the Match: Counting Elgin as well as Montrose players, Shane Sutherland was miles ahead of everyone else up until he was Massoned. Hopefully the injury isn't serious.

From Montrose's point of view, Leighton McIntosh looked bright up until he went off injured. But I'll go for Stuart McKenzie, without whom Montrose would have been dead and buried by half time.