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A Dreadful Year for Sons

2018 wasn’t a good year for Sons – Oswestry apart.

But I hadn’t realised how bad it was until I read this this statistical analysis of the playing year produced by a Sons fan on his “Tales From the Rock” blog and linked to on page 1610 of the “Sons Sorrow” thread on the Pie Shop, aka Pie and Bovril.

Played 55, Won 16,* Drawn 8, Lost 31, Goals for 60, Goals Against 104.

These stats show just why manager Stevie Aitken had to be binned.

There has been a small improvement under new manager Jim Duffy, but he is still labouring with the squad he inherited – a lot of whom seem to be injury prone.

*This count includes pre-season games against non-league opposition.

We’ll Always Have Oswestry

Sons have parted company with manager Stevie Aitken.

I can’t say it comes as a surprise. The fans forum site Pie and Bovril (aka the Pie Shop) has been alive for weeks with people clamouring either for him to resign or be sacked.

Results this season have been so disappointing, notwithstanding a long injury list, that it was almost inevitable he would have to go.

Many blamed his odd decisions for the loss in the play-off final in May and a perception that he was wedded to defensive football certainly didn’t help his cause.

He did keep us up in Tier 2 for an extra two seasons with quite a few notable wins against “big” teams and got us to the Challenge Cup final last term but again his negative approach to that game annoyed many fans.

The high point of his tenure though was the semi-final game against the New Saints at Oswestry. Being there for that was an incredible experience – even if for the first hour it felt like purgatory. Two great strikes more or less out of the blue saved us that day and rescued a poor season.

Now his tenure as manager ends even if he lasted longer than many at the Rock.

So long, Stevie, and thanks for (some of) the memories. It was time for you to go though.

Stenhousemuir 2-1 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 3, Ochilview, 1/9/18.

There was a dreadful inevitability about this.

Apart from a few minutes after they equalised – when it looked like the score might be something like six each so fragile did both defences appear – we seemed mostly in control, yet without managing to create clear chances, but not quite secure at the back.

New loanee Jack Aitchison put himself about a bit and had some neat touches, it was his control and pass that set up Iain Russell for the cross which Rory Loy flicked on for Bobby Barr to score, but I suspect he found the game an eye-opener – not least in not getting free-kicks against adult defenders who disguise the foul well. Also new at centre-half Scott Allardice seemed nervy at times while midfielder Brad Spencer could be careless with his passing.

That equaliser posed several questions as to positioning, both of the defence and goalkeeper Grant Adam, whose tendency to flap at balls in the air and to slice right-footed clearances thankfully wasn’t too prominent in this game. He doesn’t get much depth on his kicks though.

Edited to add:- I’d forgotten the great pass Aitchison laid across the box for Bobby Barr in the second half. Unfortunately Barr pulled it just wide.

The real game changer was the substitution of Ryan Thomson by Ross Forbes. Okay manager Stevie Aitken did it to try to win the game and Forbes made two great passes and had a shot on goal within minutes of coming on but while Thomson hadn’t looked entirely comfortable and was on a booking he made a fair fist of right back but Spencer looked like he’d never played there in his life. Twice he was got at and we survived the resultant cross. Not the third time.

And so after five games we sit second from bottom and only off the bottom spot by goal difference. The four teams we’ve not yet faced are above us – in some cases considerably.

I do hope that once the injuries clear up things will improve but at the moment it’s looking like the last time we dropped down into Tier 3.

A straight fall into Tier 4 (which was followed by total rock bottom of that division the next season.)

This time around there isn’t the safety net of no relegation out of there.

Dumbarton 0-1 Alloa Athletic

(aet 0-2.)

SPFL Tier 2 Play-off Final, Second Leg, The Rock, 13/5/18.

Well; we all knew that the good times wouldn’t last forever.

Yet for 93 minutes of this we were still a Tier 2 team.

Then all of a sudden no longer. That it was such a scruffy goal only put the knife in even more.

But after that I knew it was hopeless. Our defensive substitutions meant that there was no way we would be conjuring a goal in extra time. Our only hope was hanging on for penalties and that was unlikely given the momentum was against us and Alloa would be lifted and us deflated.

And the final nail in the coffin was driven in by an ex-Son in Jordan Kirkpatrick. Cracking goal though.

If only….

Kevin Nisbet had directed his header downwards more – or even to the near post rather than back across the keeper….

Andy Stirling had kept that rebound chance down instead of skying it….

Liam Burt had taken the ball for a walk to the corner flag instead of trying to score in injury time….

Alloa had scored from that double chance in the first, not the last minute. We’d have had to come out a bit and at least try to score. Froxy might even have been given a run-out….

We’d made the most of our breaks up the park in the second half last Wednesday….

Craig Barr hadn’t been suspended again. Dougie Hill looked much less comfortable than he did against Arbroath and Andy Dowie seemed affected too….

We actually had a striker….

Manager Stevie Aitken was not so wedded to defensive tactics….

It was a game too far really. We looked leggy and inhibited. All those catch-up games and the Challenge Cup run had taken their toll.

And so the great adventure comes to an end after six years.

Back to proper football grounds again next season. Ones where you can stand, not sit, that you can walk round to the other end at half-time, where you’re not stuck in a wee corner of the main stand. (New Broomfield, Stark’s Park and possibly Ochilview excepted.*)

We’ve had seven promotions in my lifetime. And now eight relegations.

I wonder how long it will be before we get promoted again.

And from which division.

*Edited to add:- and New Bayview. I’d forgotten it’s a one stand effort like ours at the Rock. Only the Angus grounds for the old-style experience, then. I can’t see me making it down to Stranraer.

Dumbarton 0-1 Inverness C T

Scottish Challenge Cup (Irn Bru Cup) Final, McDiarmid Park, 24/3/18.

I’m a bit deflated at the moment as I’m sure you can imagine. Football can be such a cruel game.

I made the fatal mistake of beginning to hope when Scott Gallacher made the penalty save with about seven minutes to go. But to lose it in the last gasp of injury time was harsh; especially on the players who’d worked so hard.

We had the better of the early exchanges, ranking up several corners (I can’t remember them getting even one in the whole game) and having a shot on target without really troubling the keeper. More worryingly they came into it towards half-time by which time the on target count had become 2-2.

They had more of the second half and did make Scott Gallacher handle the ball a few times. The nearest we came was with a Danny Handling shot which the keeper held. I noticed today that Handling has a terrible habit of turning back with the ball. Who was it back in the day who did that all the time. Paul Quinn? Robert Russell? Not Russell I think, much further back than him.

After his debut for Cyprus yesterday (the Sons’ first full international player since 1932) Froxy came on as a late sub but it was too late for him to affect the game much. The only free-kick he could attempt was from way too far out even for him.

Here’s a photo of my match ticket:-

Irn Bru Cup Final Ticket

Before entering the stand I took a few photos of the ground as it’s the first time I’ve been there. Through a frosted glass window I caught Sons’ manager Stevie Aitken in the dressing room probably trying to get a signal on his phone:-

Stevie Aitken

I’m proud of the lads, they did well. But I’m gutted – for them and for me.

They’ll need to raise themselves for Tuesday night’s game now. At least most of the players who were unavailable for today should be in the squad.

This cup run has probably ruined our league season what with all the postponements. We don’t have a midweek free now until the last week of the season.

But when will be the next time Sons are in a national Cup Final?

Falkirk 0-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Falkirk Football Stadium, 24/2/18.

Well it wasn’t a defeat, but it wasn’t a win and realistically, while for them it was a mustn’t lose, for us it was a must win.

And it could have been a lot worse. They hit the woodwork four times.

I’ve been resigned to the playoffs for weeks now. We’re not going to make up nine points, not to mention sixteen goals, in the twelve remaining games.

What’s really killed us though is that Brechin haven’t been taking points off the teams above us. The tenth placed side in our previous seasons in this division all managed that sometimes. Without that it’s a hard grind for a team like us.

Given the almost inevitability of us finishing ninth I’d have liked to see us play with a bit more ambition. When we did get forward in the last ten minutes or so we looked like we could have troubled them at the back. Still, I have to admire they way we defended. We might have ridden our luck a little but it was dogged.

Loanee Liam Burt certainly made a difference when he came on – as he did in Oswestry – and we looked sharper with Mark Stewart up front or in wide midfield. Sam Wardrop at right back also makes an enormous contribution. We badly missed him when he was out through injury.

Froxy didn’t make it on. I suppose Stevie Aitken thought that in a tight game his lack of defensive ability could have hurt us. I know he won the semi-final for us but he had a very poor clearance thereafter which almost gave them an equaliser. In a sense he’s a luxury player for us.

I still hope we have a more positive attitude on Tuesday night against Inverness though.

Dumbarton 0-1 Bonnyrigg Rose

Scottish Cup Third Round Replay, The Rock, 6/12/16.

This season I wasn’t going to blog about games I hadn’t been to but this result cannot pass without comment. It’s appalling.

It may not have been a surprise after the first game in Bonnyrigg but it is still quite simply the worst result in the club’s history. Period.

Stevie Aitken as manager has to take a serious look at himself.

Dunfermline Athletic 4-3 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, East End Park, 6/8/16.

The main positive about this is that the goal difference isn’t as bad as it might have been.

The writing was on the wall early as Dunfermline were awarded a penalty after a frankly ridiculous, totally unneccessary, challenge by Ryan Stevenson. Thankfully the boy hit it against the post and it screwed out of danger. Stevenson was employed as a defensive midfielder – an utterly bizarre decision by boss Stevie Aitken. His tackling is ineffective at best and his influence as a creator was muted there. It was his free-kick that led to our first though; well-hit, it looked to be going wide but it seems their keeper knocked it out to Robert Thomson who did the needful. We Sons fans were behind the goal up the other end so the view wasn’t the best.

Step up new goalkeeper Alan Martin who made a magnificent point blank save from a header. The inevitable was only delayed though and a passing move cut us wide open. Their second saw three defenders attempt to block the shot but it was delayed and as a result they weren’t in position to deal with the final effort. Their corners in the first half gave me constant frights. Martin seems very reluctant to control his penalty box in such situations, leaving the ball to defenders to deal with. One such resulted in a goal-line clearance having to be made by a header. His kicking could also be improved but overall he’s not in the Mark Brown class of potential calamity. Nevertheless we managed to survive till half-time.

Things were going okay second half with Dunfermline not making too much of their possession bar a header Martin had to save. Then came the fatal blow. Martin didn’t punt a pass-back but instead played it to Frazer Wright. Fraz was clearly not fully fit, limping his way through the game even in the first half. I had noticed this at the Dundee game.

Anyway his attempt to pass to Gregor Buchanan was scuffed straight to an attacker who didn’t fail to make the most of it. Ryan Stevenson was then subbed by Donald McCallum before Fraz made way for Mark Docherty who immediately showed he was not yet up to the pace of the game and lost out to an attacker with the result the game was over at 4-1.

Except curiously it wasn’t. Young Donald was a bright spark up front and was unlucky to have a neat flick blocked otherwise he’d have scored. We suddenly had a lot of possession and in injury time were awarded a penalty (which I’m convinced would not have been given if the score had still been close.) Mark Docherty put it away well. Then less than a couple of minutes later we had another when Robert Thomson – who’d been manhandled all game – was wrestled over in the area. Again Sparky beat the keeper.

So in the end a potentially bad defeat turned into a close defeat. But….. There’s an awful lot of work needed in defence (and defensively in midfield) to get us anywhere near where we need to be.

Summer Football

Way back in the dim mists of time the world was a simpler place and football did not dominate the calendar. World Cup finals were 16 teams large and the European Championship only had four qualifiers until it expanded to eight teams in 1980.

In Scotland the football season started on the second Saturday in August and finished on the last Saturday in April.

I thought it was pushing it when the season began edging into July to accommodate the Challenge Cup and altered League Cup format.

Today though is the 16th of July. The schools have barely broken up for the summer. Yet the Sons have a first game of the official season at Station Park, Forfar, in yet another alteration to the League Cup. It barely seemed the old season had ended when pre-season games began.

The squad manager Stevie Aitken has collected seems a little thin. The League Cup looks on paper to be not too daunting but I have no idea how we will fare against the three lower division sides in our group. (I expect to be beaten by Dundee.)

The league is a different matter. Already it looks tough. We’ll be relying on another full-time side to be rubbish (as Livingston were last season) to avoid the relegation play-offs and even then we’d have to finish above Ayr United, by no means a given.

How long we can continue to defy gravity I don’t know. This may be the season we don’t.

Hibernian 4-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Easter Road Stadium, 26/4/16.

Not a surprising outcome given the balance of incentives.

I wonder if manager Stevie Aitken would have “rested” those he did had we needed a result. As it is our outside chance of finishing in 7th place has vanished. But 8th was the target and we’re there.

It’s even more annoying that we didn’t get anything from Rangers this season now that Livingston have beaten them. Unfortunately we played them when they had something to play for.

Party time for the away fans at Alloa on Sunday I should think. (Its traditional for Sons fans to turn up in fancy dress gear for the last away game.)

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