Saturday, November 23, 2013

Season 2013/2014: Match 4: Montrose 3 Elgin City 3 (Scottish Professional Football League Two)

Montrose were bereft of their lucky charm this week, Little Jocklette deciding to eschew the North Sea Nou Camp in favour of a nap and baking cookies with her mummy.

It therefore fell upon me to make the trek alone, in the knowledge that a Montrose win coupled with results going their way elsewhere could see them move up to second in the table, and the wisdom that that almost certainly would not happen.

Montrose's team looked strong on paper, although Gareth Roger's absence through injury left a gaping chasm in the centre of defence that neither Jonathan Crawford nor Colin Wilson could adequately fill.

With neither centre back entirely comfortable with the art of defending, they instead resorted to a comedy hair competition, Wilson emerging as the unanimous winner with fetching side parting/hideous moustache combination, presumably but hopefully not in aid of Movember - that bad boy has long-term potential.

Bryan Deasley - somehow having missed the cut for Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad despite his single-handed destruction of Albion Rovers a week earlier - lined up alongside Garry Wood in attack, while Terry Masson turned winger in the absence of anyone better qualified.

The Wood-Masson-Watson-Deasley axis of awesomeness looked likely to put Montrose ahead early on, but some magnificent saves from Raymond Jellema kept the scoresheet clear for the first 20 minutes.

It was former Aberdeen and Heart 'star' Dennis Wyness - a man whose wife one is not advised to dance with in an Aberdeen nightclub -  who opened the scoring at that point, backheeling Ross McKinnon's shot into the net.

Their lead lasted 10 minutes, at which point Montrose's answer to Jorg Albertz, Paul Watson, slammed a long-range shot into the bottom corner.

But as is the way of things down Wellington Street way, Montrose thereafter began to play like a bunch of hungover Sunday league players meeting for the first time. They could scarcely string two passes together, and found themselves camped in their own box for most of the time between their goal and half time.

Had it not been for some excellent saves from Stuart McKenzie, Montrose could have found themselves five or six goals down by the hour mark, rather than just two.

Elgin's second goal came on the stroke of half time, David Niven crossing for Wyness to tap home his second goal of the afternoon, the Montrose defence having left the park early to get a head start on the half time Hobnobs.

Their third came seven minutes after the break, Craig Gunn reacting quickest when Ross McKinnon's 30-yard free kick clattered off McKenzie's post. It was no surprise that Gunn was first to the ball, given that he was five yards offside when the free kick was taken.

It was at that point that I considered packing up my notepad and stopwatch, and heading home for a nap and some cookies.

Thankfully I chose to sit it out, and was rewarded with one of the least likely comebacks I've seen in a while.

I questioned Stuart Garden's sanity when he withdrew Garry Wood and Terry Masson on the hour mark, replacing them with Scott Johnston and Kieran Sturrock.

So there's a reason why he's the professional football manager and I'm just a smartass who watches football and occasionally gets paid to write about it.

Johnston scored Montrose's second goal after great play from Deasley. The on-loan Forfar man powered down the left, burst into the box and squared for Johnston to tap into the empty net - but with just three minutes remaining, it looked to be too little, too late.

With the clock ticking into its final seconds, a corner fell for Watson, and he slammed his shot into the roof of the net, before racing off to silence his detractors in the ranks of the Montrose faithful.

So, while in the cold light of day this was two points dropped to the team sitting second bottom of the table, in the end it almost felt like a win, so unlikely had it seemed even five minutes before the end.

Montrose remain outside the playoff spots for the meantime, but with just nine points separating first and ninth in the table, there's a long way to go.

Man of the Match: Bryan Deasley left it late to emerge from his shell, creating Johnston's goal with a surging run and composed pass. Paul Watson's finishing made the difference between a draw and a defeat.

But for me, today's key performer was Stuart McKenzie in goals, without whom Montrose really would have been dead and buried by half time. His saves kept the scoreline more respectable than it might have been, laying the foundation for the late recovery.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Season 2013/2014: Match 3: Montrose 2 Albion Rovers 1 (Scottish Professional Football League Two)

Attempting to leave Dungroanin' for the sub-Arctic environs of Links Park this afternoon, I was accosted by Little Jocklette, who at the age of two and a half is now chief overseer of everything that happens in our lives.

Little Jocklette: "Where are you going Daddy?"

Groanin' Jock: "To the football."

LJ: "My coming too" (this was phrased as a statement, not a question).

GJ: "I don't think so. It's cold outside, and I'll be there a long time, and you can stay here and watch Dumbo."

LJ: "No, my going to the football" (Jocklette considers the conversation finished, and begins searching for welly boots, jacket and gloves).

GJ: "No, I think you should stay here with Mummy."

LJ: (Voice coming from inside a practical if unorthodox hat/hood combo) "No, my going to the football. Come on Daddy, let's go."

Five further minutes of attempting to convince Obergruppenfuhrer Jocklette that she'd be much happier at home later (whilst also trying not to convince myself), the two of us were en route to the Basinside Bernabeu.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have been glad to take her with me - in three visits to watch Montrose in action, she has never seen them lose. Her previous matches were a 3-1 win over East Stirlingshire (when she memorably shouted "Oh No!" when Jonathan Crawford received the ball in central midfield) and a 5-1 destruction of Annan Athletic last season.

It looked like she was on a hat-trick from early in today's match, the superb Bryan Deasley controlling on the edge of the box and firing over visiting goalkeeper Neil Parry.

But, as is so often the case when watching Stuart Garden's men in action, they seemed to hit the self-destruct button from the midpoint of the first half, frequently losing possession, defending with wild desperation, and becoming incapable of stringing more than two passes together.

It therefore came as no surprise when Mark McGuigan bundled the ball over the line in the 24th minute, the Montrose defence having fallen asleep in their own box.

From that point onwards, the home side rode their luck for the best part of an hour, only truly stepping up their level of play in the final half hour of the match. Paul Watson came close with a series of long range efforts, while Gareth Roger had a 30-yard strike tipped over.

When the Montrose winner came, it was Beasley who struck again, beating Parry with an audacious lob from 25 yards.

This was a curious match, in that Montrose were ultimately deserving winners, but could also have been on the end of a major hiding.

There are still a number of problems in the side - a lack of extensive strength in depth being one, alongside an over-reliance on Garry Wood and Bryan Deasley.

In defence, Stephen McNally continues to provide cause for concern - two seasons ago he was one of the strongest and most reliable players on the park, week-in, week-out - but now his performances are frequently erratic, with poor distribution and positioning haunting his game.

Montrose need to be better at holding onto leads, and to improve their concentration. The quality is there, and they have players who can keep the ball and pass - they just need to be reminded they can do so.

Anyway, it looks as though I will need to continue bringing Little Jocklette to Links Park - at a cost each week of a bottle of juice, a packet of Rainbow Drops and a running commentary throughout the match: "Look Daddy, a ball" "Daddy, where's the mole gone?" "Look Daddy, a bus" "My go down the stairs and play on the grass".

Still, few Montrose fans can boast a record as impressive as P3 W3 D0 L0 F10 A3 Pts 9...

Man of the Match: There were two outstanding players today. On any other day, Gareth Roger would have been my man of the match, keeping his head when all those around him were losing theirs in the 40 minutes spanning half time.

But Bryan Deasley was the best player on the park by a comfortable margin today. Not only did he score twice with majestic finishes each time, but he maintained a ferocious work rate, constantly seeking the ball and finding space to keep the Melchester Albion Rovers defence on its toes.