Saturday, March 30, 2013

Season 2012/2013: Match 17: Montrose 0 Rangers 0 (Irn-Bru Scottish Football League Division Three)

The tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may be more than 100 years old, but the idea of one person having two distinct personalities remains valid today.

Take Montrose Football Club as an example. The last time I saw them, they were thoroughly walloped by a rampant Peterhead side, capitulating with barely even a whimper.

Today they went toe-to-toe with (then) champions elect Rangers, a side wilfully spunking thousands of pounds a week on strikers and the barbaric midfield partnership of Ian Black and Lee McCulloch as they look to steamroller all before them en route back to the top of the Scottish game.

On paper, this should have been no contest. But as I've said before, matches at Links Park aren't played on paper, they're played on a Brillo pad, and anything can happen.

Rangers, missing a few players through injury, started with only one up front, Kane Hemmings given the task of breaking down a creaky Montrose defence.

Montrose, missing Mary Shelley's Paul Lunan through suspension, played trialist Cammy McDonald alongside Alan Campbell at centre back. I actually played with McDonald, formerly at Livingston and Airdrie, in amateur football almost a decade ago, and I can safely say he is the only player who played today that I have nutmegged.*

Anyway, Rangers could have been out of sight early on, David Templeton, once again their best player, coming close on a number of occasions but kept at bay by goalkeeper John Gibson and right back Stephen McNally.

But the longer the match went on, the better Montrose looked. For being a full-time side spending more each week in wages than most SPL sides, Rangers looked distinctly average, and it wouldn't have been easy at first glance to tell which side did football for a living and which did bricklaying, accountancy and office work.

I grew up idolising the Rangers team of Gascoigne, Laudrup, Durrant and McCoist. Not one of the Rangers players today would have got near that squad. It's painful to see Ian Black wearing what used to be Gazza's shirt, an absolutely heartbreaking gulf in class hammered home every time he shanked a pass into touch then blamed someone else. The only miracle was that both he and Terry Masson avoided bookings today.

In fact, the most interesting thing Black did all day was fly into the Montrose dugout headfirst after a challenge. He took a while to emerge, and I feared for a moment or two that he'd been eaten by Big Mad Lee Wilkie and George 'The Animal' Shields.

They may be champions, but this has not been a vintage year for Rangers. They should have romped to the Division Three title, but they aren't even Scotland's first champions of the season, beaten to the punch by Queen of the South in the division above.

Nonetheless, Queen's Park's defeat later in the day meant that Rangers were confirmed as champions in unspectacular fashion. It'll be good to see the back of their travelling pantomime in Division Three, and we can get back to enjoying football for football's sake. The overzealous policing and stewarding at Links Park for both of Rangers' visits this season has been a joke, and the media circus that has followed them has been excruciating to be a part of.

Take today's overheard conversation:

Media Wanker Talking Loudly Into Mobile Phone: "Yeah, so the Rangers team is: [reads out Rangers team into mobile phone. Discusses Rangers formation for five minutes, including players who aren't even in the squad]. Do you want the Montrose teams? I doubt anyone cares. You can get them off ESPN if you want them."

[Person on other end speaks for a few seconds]

MWTLIMP: "Haw haw haw, Montrose are playing a trialist at centre back! This is fucking ridiculous!"

[Person on other end speaks for a few seconds]

MWTLIMP: "No, no idea what his name is, sorry. No-one will care."

Well, I'm guessing that Rangers will care a bit more than that massive bellend did, given that McDonald was probably the most comfortable player on the park, giving an assured and confident performance in the face of the most expensively-assembled squad in SFL history.

The travelling support might have cared a bit more about Martin Boyle as well if his second half goal hadn't been disallowed for a foul on Neil Alexander.

As I was leaving the ground, I heard two Rangers fans in discussion, the gist of which was: "Montrose's number seven should have been sent off. Did you see him celebrating at the end? Obviously a bitter Celtic fan."

Which smacks of the sour grapes more often associated with the green half of Glasgow. A part time player castigated for celebrating a result against the biggest club in Scotland? Get a grip. And for the record, I believe Masson is a Rangers fan.

Montrose looked the better team in the second half, Winter coming close with a couple of long-range efforts, while Lloyd Young and Paul Watson also went close. Rangers could have snatched the win with efforts from Templeton or Hemmings, the latter having a shot well saved by Gibson.

From a Montrose perspective, today was a strong performance, and they didn't look cowed by their more illustrious visitors. Stephen McNally was given a torrid time by Templeton, but persevered, and the defence in general coped well.

From a Rangers perspective, today raises further doubts about the mental toughness of the Rangers squad and the tactical capabilities of its manager. I'm most certainly in the pro-McCoist camp, but when you're held to goalless draws two weeks in a row in Division Three, there are clearly big problems.

If I was in charge at Rangers, I'd be rebuilding that horror show of a defence, keeping only Wallace. Ian Black would be first out of the door - there can rarely have been such a disparity between talent and earnings in the Scottish Football League.

Rangers definitely missed Andy Little, and with him in the team it would probably have been a different story. But the lack of depth in the Rangers squad should definitely be ringing alarm bells.

Man of the Match: For Rangers, it was Templeton, their most creative player by a country mile, shaming his elders Black and McCulloch (again played too deep to make use of his [searches for euphemism for hammer-throwing] combative skills. Templeton's an exciting talent, and learning to cope with the rugged defending at this level will stand him in good stead in future.

For Montrose, all of the players performed. Terry Masson was disciplined on the right in the first half, before moving inside to shackle Black in the second. David Gray kept Montrose's attacking momentum going throughout the match. But for me, Cammy McDonald excelled on his one and only appearance for the Gable Endies, marshalling the defence and keeping Kane Hemmings under wraps throughout, while also seeking the ball at every opportunity and passing with authority.

*Disclaimer: I nutmegged him in training. He emptied me immediately afterwards by way of warning not to do it again.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Season 2012/2013: Match 16: Montrose 0 Peterhead 6 (Irn-Bru Scottish Football League Division Three)

A snapshot of Montrose's results over the past few weeks:

Montrose 2-2 East Stirlingshire
Stirling Albion 3-1 Montrose
Montrose 4-1 Elgin City
Montrose 5-1 Annan Athletic
Queen's Park 1-2 Montrose
Berwick Rangers 4-0 Montrose

Making Montrose one of the most erratic teams in Scotland. Today they 'welcomed' Peterhead to the North Sea Nou Camp, letting the Balmoor side experience a slightly different style of driving horizontal rain than they're used to in the shadow of the sex offenders' prison.

Montrose knew a win would see them push even further ahead of their visitors in the quest for a playoff place, both sides seeking to win an imaginary berth in the non-existent playoffs to a division that won't exist next season.

Napoleon Dynamite lookalike Jonathan Crawford was suspended today, while Alan Campbell and his auld manny's knees were joined on the injured list by Alan Campbell's auld manny's back, giving Stuart Garden what the Daily Record would refer to as a selection headache. Rather than attend his headache with paracetamol, Mr Garden instead opted to shuffle his pack in an unfathomable manner, pushing Terry Masson to right back and selecting Stephen McNally alongside Mary Shelley's Paul Lunan at centre back.

The Montrose selection was, quite frankly, a fucking disaster. Peterhead ripped Montrose a new arsehole down the left, so much so that they'd scored three in the first half hour. Enough was enough for Garden, Big Mad Lee Wilkie and George Shields, so they performed a swapsie with their McIntoshes, Leighton coming on for Ricky, Garry Wood moving to centre half, Masson pushing up into midfield and McNally restored to right back.

Montrose's best chance in the first half came immediately after Rory McAllister had scored Peterhead's second. The home side launched an attack immediately from the restart, an attack that ended when Scott Ross flattened Garry Wood in the box.

Jamie Winter, having one of his girnier days, stepped up and dinked a weak shot to visiting keeper Graeme Smith's right. The keeper didn't have to be at his best to make the save, and recovered quickly enough to save Winter's volley from the rebound as well.

That essentially summed up Montrose's half, when hand-delivered gilt-edged chances were spurned.

They started the second half in a brighter frame of mind, Winter coming close with a 40(!) yard free kick, while Leighton McIntosh had the ball in the net, only for the goal to be disallowed due to a foul on Smith.

It looked as though the match was heading for a 3-0 home defeat when McAllister, looking to complete his hat-trick, was taken out in the box by hapless home goalkeeper John Gibson. He was shown a straight red card, and Montrose had used all three substitutes. Striker/centre back Garry Wood  donned Gibson's jersey and gloves and immediately faced Grade A wanker Rory McAllister from the penalty spot.

The massive walloper looked to have missed his hat-trick opportunity when he battered his kick off the post, but Montrose had one final and spectacular collapse left in them, shipping three more goals in the final three minutes. McAllister completed his hat-trick and Andy Rodgers knocked in two to give Montrose their heaviest defeat of the season.

By the end, they were taking the piss so much that they introduced one of the Jedward twins as a substitute.

This was a miserable afternoon for Montrose, who were poor in every position and never looked up for the match at all. Masson's performance at right back was shaky, gifting Peterhead their opener with a weak clearance. The Montrose left was ripped raw by McAllister and David Cox, and Paul Lunan had an abominable match at centre back, giving the ball away frequently and too often opting for long balls that didn't suit the strikers playing in front of him.

Recent results have shown that Montrose's play-off push isn't as robust as might have been hoped, and that most of the teams in the division are much of a muchness (Montrose beat Annan 4-1. Annan then won at Ibrox...)

They can still do it, there's no doubt about that. But the last two weeks have sown significant seeds of doubt.

Man of the Match: Almost no contenders. All of the players struggled, and some of them were simply very poor. McNally showed a bit of drive in the second half, trying hard to push Montrose back into the match. But Garry Wood, shifted to centre back in the first half, succeeded in shackling the previously rampant McAllister, before turning makeshift goalkeeper after Gibson's red card.