Saturday, October 09, 2010

Season 2010/2011: Match 5: Montrose v Stranraer

Strange things are afoot in Angus.

Montrose, habitually the lowest of the low in the unparalleled lowness that is Scottish football, have picked up seven points from their last nine, scoring 13 goals and conceding only five.

Today's match was the second part of a double-header with Stranraer, the Gable Endies having returned from darkest Wigtownshire with all three points last week courtesy of a 2-1 win. This return fixture had originally been scheduled for Boxing Day, but the clubs clearly realised that the chances of getting anyone without a serious mental defect to come to Links Park (or, even more obviously, spend ten hours on the road from Stranraer) on Boxing Day to watch joiners and plumbers not playing football were pretty slim. So instead we got a grey October day.

Montrose, as is their more usual style, were honking in the first half, and Stranraer were 2-0 up going on 10-0 up by the break. The visitors had two key men - nippy wee midfielder Scott Agnew, a product of the same Rangers youth team that produced Alan Hutton and John Fleck, and 6'4" French battering ram Armand One.

The Links Park side struggled to cope with either of them, but it was Agnew who was most lively, his passing and shooting wasted at this level of the Scottish game.

Montrose were a goal down inside eight minutes, but the strike should never have counted, One having crashed into Chris Hegarty during the build up. But it did count, and this was the first indication that referee Brian Colvin should have stayed at home.

Stranraer's second came 10 minutes before the break, Scott Bennett failing to hold a low shot that squirmed under him and wriggled across the goal line.

So, Montrose were 2-0 down at the break and their key men were struggling to have any impact. Every time Montrose were in possession, they chose to lump the ball long, where it inevitably found a Stranraer player.

Worse was to come immediately after the restart, Stranraer moving 3-0 ahead when Montrose failed to clear a free kick.

At that stage, it was apparent to me what the weak link was - Steven Tweed. The player manager was making his first appearance since July, and I don't think he had a positive effect on his team mates. I fail to see the logic in breaking up a winning side just so that an ageing centre back with a Messiah complex can stretch his weary legs.

But somehow, Montrose fought back into the match. Paul Tosh scored the first with a delightful curled finish from the edge of the box, Ross McCord blasted a second into the top corner in the 65th minute and Tosh turned creator in the 75th minute, crossing into the box for McNally to head the equaliser.

It was almost like watching a completely different team in the second half. McNally was dreadful in the first half but commanding in the second, and others including Tosh, Hegarty and Sinclair also seemed to come into the game much more after the break.

So, Montrose remain in fifth place in Division Three, six points off the top. I'd have considered any such hope to be very slim even a month ago, but suddenly there seems to be life in the players once again.

It's still early days, but it's the most optimistic I've felt about the club for a long while.

Man of the Match: There were no candidates from the first half, but a few in the second. Stephen McNally, who has been transformed from a right back to a useful central midfielder, impressed in the last quarter, as did Chris Hegarty. Paul Tosh again led the line well and always looked a threat. But I'd go for Ross McCord, the wee ginger midfielder causing problems for Stranraer every time he moved forward with the ball.

Looking at both teams, the real man of the match was Scott Agnew, who commanded the midfield throughout and could easily have had a hat-trick. Far too good to be wasted at this level.

**Edit** - I just remembered the most interesting thing about today's match - former Scotland internationals Rab Douglas and Lee Wilkie were watching the match in the stand this afternoon. Nothing better to do on a Saturday lads?!

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