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So, the big (non Old Firm soap opera) news in Scottish football is that, after much speculation, St Johnstone’s highly regarded manager Derek McInnes and his assistant Tony Docherty have agreed to take over at Championship side Bristol City. As St Johnstone supporters we are sad to see them both go but wish them both luck. With McInnes having guided Saints to the SFL1 title and re-established the club in the SPL after a 7 year absence, as well as regular strong cup runs, on one of the tightest budgets in the league, it was only a matter of time before he would move on to the next challenge.

Today’s events leave Saints at somewhat of a crossroads. When a manager is sacked, a complete change in approach is usually desirable to help cut out the rot. However when a manager moves on during a successful spell, some level of consistency must be desirable to maintain the momentum. With Docherty having followed McInnes south, the option of appointing the apprentice is removed.

There’s a case to be made that this season’s squad may be Saints’ strongest since that which finised 3rd in the SPL in 1998/99 and went on a European adventure the following season, all achieved under the watch of Sandy Clark who came to the job in similar circumstances to the present after Paul Sturrock was lured away to Dundee United. While I usually give little heed to superstition, it would be nice to experience a similar situation again!

Sturrock, McInnes and his predecessor Owen Coyle all shared in common a number of attributes: little or no managerial experience, but plenty of drive and ambition. Much has been made of chairman Geoff Brown’s success in bringing through young, inexperienced managers with good contact books (a necessity at Saints!), the popular expectation is that this will be the route taken again – though I have fears that this luck may run out eventually. That said, experience is no guarantee of success, and an untried or unkown quantity seems more exciting than the usual names that will be in the mix now that we’re a managerless SPL club rather than a managerless First Division club.

So, while names like Jim Jeffries, Jimmy Calderwood and John Hughes are being thrown into the mix, it’s the more “left-field” (and sometimes fanciful) names that are more interesting; current players Jody Morris and Callum Davidson, club legend and current Arbroath manager Paul “Peanut” Sheerin, Cowdenbeath player-assistant Colin Cameron, Brechin boss Jim Weir, Wigan assistant Graeme Jones …all the way to Rangers veteran Davie Weir (mates with McInnes? likely to want to go into coaching?) and Gary McAllister. Frankly, the media lists look like a combination of usual suspects, wishful thinking and a scan of the We are Perth forum.

Interesting times, but there’s still regular business to deal with. Saints travel to local rivals Dundee United on Saturday, with the Tannadice side on a dip of form and questions hanging over the future of manager Peter Houston. Hopefully the current situation at Saints won’t impact on an excellent chance to register a first league win over the Arabs since our return to the SPL – Saints late collapse in the two teams last encounter, surrendering a 3-1 lead to draw 3-3, is still a sore memory. Jody Morris and youth coach Alec Clelland are reported to be in temporary charge for the fixture.

Goodbye and good luck, Del and Doc. Thanks for everything!

Downfield JFC vs Broughty Athletic
East Region Premier League
FT: 2 (Scott 71 pen; Cox 82) – 3 (Dailly 5, 60; Tweed 30)
Attendance: 70 (est.)
Saturday 3rd September 2011

1. The Clubs

With no senior league football in England or Scotland in the first weekend of September due to international fixtures, the Non League Day campaign was started in 2010 to encourage football fans to take the opportunity to visit a local semi-pro club. Though primarily an English phenomenon, we here at No Train to Brechin see no reason not to take part in Scotland too!

My original choice was to see Scone Thistle, the club based in my childhood home village, but they were not scheduled to play at home and there’s now some question over whether or not the club has gone into abeyance. Instead I opted for Downfield JFC, based a five minute walk from my flat.

Downfield Junior Football Club was formed in 1906, but much more biographic information than that is hard to come by! The Spiders have been reasonably successful in local cup competitions over the years. In recent years the club had been playing in the East Region North Division, emerging as last season’s champions and gaining promotion to the Premier League.

The opposition on the day came from local rivals Broughty Athletic (another derby!), themselves North Division champions in season 2009/10. Though Ferry dwellers may not like it, I’ve decided Broughty Ferry counts as Dundee for the purpose of this blog, so we’ll be visiting them at a later date.

Both sides were going into the game having lost their opening league matches, and both fell at the sword of finalists Lochee United in the recent DJ Laing Cup.

2. The Ground

Downfield Park is not, as it’s name misleadingly suggests, a public park. I never thought that it was, not for one minute. Honest.

The ground is a decent set up, there’s a social club running about half the length of the pitch on one side with cover for standing under, a good sized pigeon stand on the opposite site and “grassy” verges behind each goal. I’m pleased to report there was an additional two-on-one kickabout on the go for the full duration on a bit of grass in the opposite corner to us. Catering is provided from a portakabin near the entrance to the ground, offering a selection of pies, sausage rolls, burgers and soft drinks.

Entry was £5 for an adult, I assume this is standard for a league game. To get there by bus take the no. 22 (Downfield/Craigowl) from the City Centre, get off at the Downfield Hotel and follow the roundabout to the right down Balgowan Avenue. By car the directions are fairly similar, follow the Strathmartine Road beyond the Kingsway up to the Downfield Hotel.

3. The Game

Somewhat amazingly I was actually in the ground prior to kick off, an otherwise unheard of feat in our (admittedly short) history of covering Junior games. This meant that, for once, I saw the opening goal. Broughty’s Graeme Dailly lobbed Downfield keeper Gary Thain from 20-25 yards out. It looked like Thain got his fingertips to the ball, but it wasn’t enought to stop the ball going into the net.

Broughty looked marginally the stronger of the two sides in the opening stages, forcing a good save from Thain and generally hassling the Downfield defence – unfortunately for Broughty, they were regularly caught offside throughout the game.

The visitors scored their second after the half-hour mark when former Hibernian, Stoke, Dundee and Montrose defender Steven Tweed headed home from a corner. Downfield started to come into the game more before the break, putting a shot wide, while Thain managed to save a second lobbed shot.

The second half saw a much stronger performance from Downfield, though they did fall another goal behind on the hour, with Dailly slotting home into an empty net after a neat one-two and only the keeper to beat – the Downfield defence were caught well short.

Downfield’s fortunes started to change when they were were awarded a penalty ten minutes later when Kevin Scott was brought down in the box, the striker sending Broughty keeper Alan Cormack the wrong way to start the fightback.

The home side’s second came when defender Callum Cox fired in from a poorly defended corner during a period of strong pressure from Downfield.

The hosts, however, had the bar to thank when a Broughty shot into an open goal battered off the underside and back out, keeping the scoreline as it finished at 3-2.

While a draw would have been a fair result, Broughty couldn’t be grudged their win. Downfield were ultimately punished for a slow start and some weak defending. That said, they do look like a decent side and should be able to cope at the higher level if they can tighten up collectively at the back. Broughty seemed a well organised side, containing Downfield for much of the first half and showing some threat in front of goal.

For me, Spiders defender Chris McKaig was a standout player in the second half, making tireless runs down the right wing.

4. The Banter

Mike was otherwise engaged so I was joined by our associate correspondent Johnny for his second NTtB outing. Though a smaller crowd than at Lochee Harp, they made up for it by seeming quite a bit more vocal. A contentious second half decision by the ref even provoked a bit of bustle on the touchline from the visiting coaches and fans.

We are delighted to (exclusively?) report that internationally renowned recording artiste Kenny Rogers is a fan of the mighty Spiders, joining the crowd quietly late in the first half.

Good to see a big name out in support of Non League Day, though he’s no Francis Duku.

The only hostility encountered in an otherwise enjoyable visit came from a local Bee that had snuch under my jacket and stung my finger just as the second half kicked off. It’s still sore now. Big thanks to the staff at the food hole who managed not to laugh at me pulling the stinger out.

5. The Verdict

Another entertaining game, with goals for both sides in what was a relatively even match. Downfield Park is a nice little ground in decent shape, and although on the outskirts of the city shouldn’t be too tricky for interested parties to get to. Given that Downfield are my local team I will be looking to get along again in the future.

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All images copyright Michael Lambert, 2011.

Michael Lambert

Downfield JFC website: downfieldjfc.webs.com
Broughty Athletic website: www.sportstation.co.uk/clubs/BroughtyAthletic

St Johnstone vs Livingston
Scottish Communities League Cup Round 2
FT: 3 (Wright 13; Sandaza 18, 25) – 0
Attendance: 2,439
Wednesday 24th August 2011

I’m just in from Saints second-round League Cup tie against Livingston, and although not wanting to write a full blog post on the game I thought I’d try to note down some quick thoughts.

Having been to all three home games so far this season, I think this is the most confident I’ve seen Saints in a while. Although you could argue that Livi are “only” a First Division side, I had expected them to present a serious challenge to Saints – they’ve had a great start to the season, scoring 23 goals in six competitive matches, with ex-Saint Kenny Deuchar in particularly fine form. By contrast, until Sunday’s win over Celtic Saints had continued to struggle in front of goal. The poor show in our last home game against Dunfermline hardly gave me confidence that we’d turn over a side that would be well fired up to take an SPL scalp. As you may have guessed, I do rate Livi pretty highly, so despite some nagging fears thought it would be a good game so headed along on my own (for the first time ever!).

Turned out my fears were misplaced – Saints started strong, with Murray Davidson firing over the bar after a matter of minutes, soon followed by an opening goal attributed to Fraser Wright in a goal-mouth scramble. Cillian Sheridan shot just wide in a repeat of his near-miss at Parkhead on Sunday before Fran Sandaza scored his first two Saints goals, the first of which was a screamer from 20 yards, to complete the scoring well before half an hour had passed.

For once, the chances didn’t stop there. Even though I’m delighted with the result, there’s a little part of me that was disappointed it didn’t end up four or five. According to the BBC match report Saints had 6 shots on target and 11 off. I remember Davidson putting another one over the bar then injuring himself in a later collision with the keeper, Jody Morris put a couple of shots in the second half, and in the dying minutes new loan signing Willie Gibson put another just over. A great bit of build up play from Gibson and Sandaza found substitute Marcus Haber in front of the box with a clear chance on goal, however the ball had gone between his legs and his attempt to backheel it in went awry – just one of those things I guess, if he’d pulled it off it would have been a cracker.

To give Livi their due, despite going three down they came back into the game (sense a theme?), made a few chances of their own and saw quite a bit of possession in the second half, though ultimately struggled to make the break through. The Good Doctor himself Kenny Deuchar was taken off at half time, presumably due to an injury, but seemed fairly anonymous while he was on the pitch.

I don’t know if it was just because I’d switched ends at half time and was closer to the moaners so it became more obvious, but Saints did fall back into frustrating spells where they continued to pass the ball back rather than pushing forward when in Livi’s half – there were a couple of occasions on particular where there appeared to be good opportunities to get the ball towards the box that weren’t taken. I’ve read elsewhere (but didn’t spot myself) that McInnes was raging about it.

A really good team performance tonight, with everyone on the park doing themselves proud over the full 90 minutes. Sandaza lived up to a lot of the early promising, showing the imagination that’s maybe been lacking in the final third for a while. Gibson made a strong debut, looking like he could team up well with Sandaza and Sheridan. The defence was solid, Enckelman looks like he’s got his confidence back, Jamie Adams looked like a player that should be on the pitch regularly and Dave Mackay had another great game.

It’s still early days in the season, but the last two games have definitely given me a more positive outlook – I’m now looking forward to Dundee United’s visit on Saturday!

Michael Lambert

Lochee Harp vs Lochee United
DJ Laing Cup (Group Section)
FT: 2 (Peters 46 pen; Fotheringham 61) – 6 (Grant 15, 21, 50; Gallacher 58, 87; Blackwood 34)
Attendance: 150 (est.)
Saturday 6th August 2011

[PREFACE: I’ve been meaning to write some form of summary of the “structure” of Scottish football and the distinction between Senior, Junior and Amateur levels, but just haven’t had time. I will do at some point, but in the meantime the curious may need to hit Google.]

1. The Clubs

When it came to choosing a fixture for our first foray into Junior football, it has to be said that one stood out over the others in the group stage of the prestigious DJ Laing Cup – the Lochee derby. With the clubs currently sitting two divisions apart in the SJFA East Region (hosts Harp finished 10th in the North Division last season, while Utd finished fifth in the top-tier Super League), the fixture wouldn’t be coming up in the course of the league season.

Lochee Harp FC was formed in 1904 by members of the Irish Catholic community in the Lochee area of Dundee, playing in the Dundee Junior League (champions in their inaugral season, and twenty-time winners between 1904 and 1963!) and subsequently the Tayside Junior League. The Harp were Scottish Junior Cup runners-up in season 1953/54, losing out to Sunnybank FC in front of a crowd of 22,600 at Hampden.

Following a purple patch in the mid 1980’s (two consecutive Tayside Premier Division titles and a couple of cups), silverware has proven harder to come by for the Harp – the club claimed both the Tayside Division One title and the Downfield Cup in 1997/98, but apparently nothing since. The Harp were relegated to the East Region North Division at the end of 2006/07, where they have remained. Historical alumni include Scotland striker Jackie Mudie and 1953 FA Cup Winner (with Blackpool) Ewan Fenton.

We intend to take in a home fixture at Lochee United’s Thomson Park, so will discuss the visitors another day.

2. The Ground

The Harp’s ground Beechwood Park, reported capacity 1,800, is in the North West of the city, located on the edge of Lochee itself and near the Kingsway (West).

As illustrated above, facilities are basic; a small building combining changing rooms, catering concession and pigeon stand on your right upon entry and grassy verges around the pitch for viewing. The peak-roofed building in the background is St Francis Amateur Boxing & Sporting Club. A fairly healthy crowd of (by our estimate) 150 was scattered around the verges. Entry was £5 for adults. The catering was out of my favoured fizzy drink, so can’t comment there.

3. The Game

In what may become a recurring theme, we both missed the start of the game as Mr Lennie managed to get himself lost on the way to the ground by taking a “shortcut” through some kind of dubious industrial estate based “woodland walk”. I headed in first, having just missed United’s first goal, but just in time to see a disallowed goal followed by United’s second, a beautifully taken chip over the keeper that I just didn’t have time to get the camera out for. The run of play was mostly in United’s favour for the rest of the half, with a third goal coming ten minutes before the break. It has to be said, however, that even at that point the Harp kept their heads up and pushed to get back into the game.

Shortly after break Harp pulled one back through a penalty, though within minutes United’s Ross Grant had claimed his hat-trick. A brace from Ross Gallacher completed the scoring for United (one of them trundling in slowly after beating the ‘keeper 20 yards or so out), though Harp did pull another goal back from a poorly defended free kick.

Over the 90 minutes I would say the balance of play was in the favour of United, indeed I’m not surprised that they went on to win their other two group-stage games (4-0 and 4-1) to face Broughty Athletic in the semi-final this week. United didn’t have it all their own way, though; Harp kept at them and had some decent spells in the second half but I don’t recall them making too many chances in front of goal.

Standout player for me was Lochee United’s #21, Ross Browne. Plays in defence, but always keen to push down the right and like Midfielder Ross Grant was involved in a decent chunk of United’s forward play.

4. The Banter

Other than Mike’s poor sense of direction/dubious sense of adventure this was a fairly quiet game, probably to be expected.

5. The Verdict

Certainly an enjoyable game with plenty of goals (something we are a little unaccustomed to at the moment…), though I think it may be useful to see both sides against more closely matched opposition to make any worthwhile comment on their relative strengths. Beechwood Park is basic, but adequate for the task at hand. Given the size and condition of the pigeon stand, however, it may not be the best venue to take in a game in less pleasant weather.

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All images copyright Michael Lambert, 2011.

Michael Lambert

Lochee Harp website: www.locheeharp.co.uk
Lochee United website: www.locheeunited.co.uk

Arbroath FC vs St Johnstone FC
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 0 – 2 (Craig 46, Moon 89)
Attendance: c. 750
Monday 4th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Although we don’t see ourselves purely as a St Johnstone blog, we would have been hard pressed to pick a more Saints-centric tie to kick off our adventures – no less than seven of those lining up for tonight’s hosts have also previously turned out for the Saints, with Josh Falkingham even continuing to train full-time with the Perth side.

Although St Johnstone achieved a second consecutive eight-place SPL finish and an appearance in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup (albeit making a painfully limp exit) last season, the club also picked up the dubious distinction of being the lowest-scoring league side in the country. A mass clear-out of strikers followed, along with the loss of out-of-contract defenders Danny Grainger (off to Hearts) and fans-favourite Michael Duberry (Oxford United).

Season 2010/11 saw Arbroath player/manager (and former Saintee) Paul Sheerin guide the club to an instant return to SFL2, winning the SFL3 title and in turn securing the club its first senior honours in its 123-year history. The club will now be looking to consolidate in the second division and possibly push on further.

2. The Ground

Gayfield (no sniggering at the back) is located on the outskirts of Arbroath, next to amusement arcade/living 1970s time-capsule Pleasureland and backing onto the North Sea. It is this latter feature that I imagine makes the ground a tough place for opposition teams to visit during the winter months (i.e. pretty much the whole of the Scottish football season). [EDIT: I’ve been reliably informed on twitter by my friend James, of the exellent Tales From the Pigeon Stands, that Gayfield holds the honour of being the closest league ground to the sea in the UK!]

Arbroath vs St Johnstone, Gayfield Park, 4th July 2011

The ground has a single seated main stand, facing out towards the sea, and terracing running around the remainder of the pitch with a ‘pigeon stand‘ on each side offering some protection from the elements. We were free to move around on the terraces to try out a number of vantage points, or just stare wistfully out to sea.

We drove from Dundee and found the ground easy to locate. Parking was on the waterfront. Entry was £8, however this was for a friendly – the Arbroath FC website states that 2011/12 league games will be £12 for adults. Being an evening match we had both dined before leaving, so didn’t join the lengthy queue for the catering concession located round the back of the main stand.

3. The Game

The game itself, I think it is fair to say in my limited experience, was relatively typical pre-season fare. Although Scottish football has seen the shortest close-season in recent memory, both sides looked rusty in the early stages. Saints started with new signing Carl Finnigan (ex-Falkirk) and a trialist (one of six listed on the team sheet) upfront and only one of last seasons regular defensive line-up (Dave Mackay) in place.  All the same, the game was competitive (if scrappy) with Saints’ Kevin Moon coming closest to breaking the deadlock late in the first half, his chip over Arbroath keeper Darren Hill unfortunately rebounding off the bar.

The second half started brighter for Saints with substitutes Sean Higgins (ex-Dundee) and Stevie May combining to set up Liam Craig for the opening goal. Arbroath continued to exact pressure, with a mazy run from Sheerin and a number of saves forced from St Johnstone keeper Peter Enckelman, though ultimately it was Kevin Moon who got a second and final goal for Saints in the dying minutes of the game.

4. The Banter

Both sets of fans were quiet on the night. Mike got plenty of amusement out of the fact that the linesman on our side of the ground looked no older than 14. My personal highlight came late in the second half when your humble correspondent got a touch of the ball – a stray clearance looked to be heading out into the terraces until I brought it nonchalantly back under control with a beautiful first touch … though unfortunately the following poorly taken short pass back may have invoked the disdain of Saints’ young midfielder Liam Caddis. That or he was confused why the ballboy was bigger than him and on the wrong side of the fence.

5. The Verdict

Ultimately it’s a little unfair to make judgements on either side in a pre-season friendly, especially the first one. I’m a little haunted by our excitement about Cleveland Taylor on his Saints debut at Forfar last pre-season, and with so many new faces and trialists a cohesive team performance is not always likely. That said, it was good to see Callum Davidson back in a Saints shirt. He looked lively, covering the length of the pitch from left back and at one point making an opportune run up the left after switching places with Craig, who had been driven back but ultimately couldn’t get the ball to Davidson. Trialist striker Danijel Subotić looked promising and was subsequently invited to participate in St Johnstone’s subsequent friendlies in Ireland  against Drogheda and UCD.

Arbroath look like a strong, physical, side who are comfortable playing together and more than capable of holding their own against full-time opposition. Sheerin has brought in some new faces, including former Scotland midfielder Brian Kerr, but appears to have been able to keep the core of last season’s succesful side together. I look forward to returning to Gayfield once the season is underway to see Arbroath in league action.

Michael Lambert

Arbroath website: www.arbroathfc.co.uk
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk

Hello, and welcome!

No Train to Brechin is yet another in the crowded field of football blogs, brought to you by the Michaels Lambert and Lennie. Just as the 2010/11 season has come to an end we are already looking ahead to season 2011/12, with a half-formed notion of fulfilling three aims:

  • To visit as many of the senior Angus grounds as we can.
  • To visit as many of the junior grounds in Dundee as we can.
  • To report on our travels supporting our beloved St Johnstone FC (though this is not intended to be a Saints blog!).

Though it may seem perverse to kick off at the end of a season, it gives us an opportunity to write about some of the post-season fallout, as well as to cover the pre-season friendlies. If recent history has taught us anything, there’s a good chance the Saints pre-season will let us tick off a few Angus grounds early doors!

I don’t think either of us would claim to be experts on football, but we will give it a go. Hopefully we will provide some entertainment along the way.

Michael (Lambert).