Saturday, July 23, 2016

Season 2016/2017 - Match 2: Montrose 0-2 Alloa Athletic (Betfred League Cup - Group D)

Three games played; five goals conceded; one goal scored; no League Cup points; two of the starting back four crippled.

On paper (or computer screen, whichever you prefer), Montrose's season has so far been a disappointment.

But as the matches are played on grass or the Links Park Brillo pad, those stats don't tell the full story.

Against Ross County they were unlucky to drop all three points to the Premier League team. By all accounts they were similarly unfortunate to lose to Kirkcaldy's finest when they played Raith midweek.

Today was a different story, the best team winning relatively comfortably without ever truly shifting into the higher gears.

Greig Spence opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, meeting a corner with a firm shot that bounced in off a Montrose defender.

They doubled their advantage in the 50th minute when the unmarked Izaac Lyle stooped to head home from Steven Hetherington's cross.

Having already lost their opening two matches, Montrose were unlikely to qualify from their inaugural League Cup group, giving Paul Hegarty the opportunity to experiment with a different line-up or formation.

He didn't, selecting almost the same side as in the previous two matches, albeit with Graham Webster replacing the suspended Chris Templeman, the lanky striker having been shown a straight red at Stark's Park for dissent.

Allan Fleming was given a chance in goals instead of Jordan Millar. He was comfortable enough and left largely helpless with both goals, where slack defending was the root cause.

As usually occurs, Hegarty ignored his bench for most of the match, only rousing them in the 75th minute, when he took the frequent shouts of "Get the fucking subs on, Hegarty" literally and made a completely out of character triple substitution.

The universe didn't take kindly to this bout of shenanigans and promptly invoked Murphy's Law. Two minutes after they used all three of their subs, Montrose's Bollowocky was clattered by Jon Robertson. He was carried off the park with an ankle injury, Robertson received a yellow card instead of the prison sentence his challenge merited and Montrose were down to ten men.

With two minutes to go, Chris Hegarty appeared to catch his studs in the turf plastic and twisted his knee. He was screaming before he hit the ground and waving for the bench before the physios could reach him. He left the pitch on a stretcher, Montrose playing the final few seconds with nine men.

Neither side was exceptional today. Alloa were deserving winners, but will need to be better against superior sides.

Montrose struggled to create chances and still lack punch up front. Campbell works hard for little reward, while Fraser needs a faster strike partner to complement his industrious performances.

How Montrose cope without the Bollowocky and Hegarty Jr in the coming weeks will be interesting, as both have become integral parts of the defence in the opening weeks.

Next up, Cove Rangers at Forfar in the final League Cup match - time for a little experimentation.

Man of the match: Montrose didn't create much of note and didn't defend especially well. There were no real stand-out performances for the home side, but Paul Watson continued as a commanding presence in the middle of the park.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Season 2016/2017 - Match 1: Montrose 0-1 Ross County (Betfred League Cup - Group D)

Less than a week since Euro 2016 limped to its 'climax', Montrose were back in competitive action.

Helping to break the monotony of the school holidays were League Cup holders Ross County, beginning their defence of the trophy at the Basinside Bernabeu.

Montrose welcomed Chris Hegarty back, the full back now having the nerve-wracking job of playing for his old man. For the first time, their starting line-up also included the Bollowocky, a creature invented by Lewis Carroll in 1871, famous for its consumption of white rabbits, March hares and Arbroath strikers.

Michael Bolochoweckyj

The Bollowocky

Montrose's notoriously sieve-like defence of last season looked much more robust than it did even a few weeks ago, the central pairing of Pascazio and the Bollowocky managing to keep fairly tight control over the visiting strikers. Between the sticks, Jordan Millar was in inspirational form.

At the other end, County centre backs Eric Cikos and Jay McEveley spent the afternoon trying to reach the summit of Chris Templeman, usually by clambering up his shirt but occasionally utilising unorthodox kangaroo-inspired, head-first leaps.

In the normal scheme of things, pishy Serie Z4 side Montrose would have been pumped by Premier League silverware holders Ross County, but today didn't pan out as planned.

The match was all square until the 86th minute, when referee Craig Charleston awoke from his afternoon nap to award County a penalty, Brian Graham having flung himself over the Bollowocky's tail and earned a penalty. Graham stepped up to the spot and fired his kick low to Millar's left.

The goal proved to be the winner, Montrose unlucky not to take at least a point from the holders. Had they managed to keep the scores level until full time we'd have been treated to a penalty shoot-out for a bonus point - such is the wacky inventiveness of the SPFL nowadays.

Anyway, there were a few positives from this first competitive foray of the season. The previously porous defence looked much stronger - a back five of Millar-Steeves-Hegarty-Pascazio-the Bollowocky should be a meaner proposition than last season, if Hegarty can avoid too many suspensions.

Templeman and Fraser lacked match sharpness - another week or two into the season and Fraser would probably have buried the chance he was given when sent clear through in the fifth minute. Templeman had a hard shift but lacked nothing in effort.

Paul Watson was back to his demonstrative best in the middle of the park, and Kieran McWalter's  exciting two-tone hairdo was matched only by his penetrating runs down the right.

Early verdict - cautiously optimistic, even in defeat...

Man of the match: Had it not been for the heroics of Jordan Millar in the Montrose goal, Ross County would probably have won this one by at least a couple. Now a permanent member of the Montrose squad, the former St Johnstone man should instil confidence in his defence as the season goes on.