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.