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Scottish Football

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!

Arbroath FC vs Cowdenbeath FC
Scottish Football League Second Division
FT: 1 (Falkingham 57) – 1 (O’Brien 19)
Attendance: 857
Saturday 1st October 2011

1. The Clubs

This is the first second division match I’ve been to in my eighteen years of regular football attendance and we’d have struggled to pick a more exciting prospect to mark the occasion. Newly promoted Arbroath were sitting two points ahead of newly relegated Cowdenbeath at the top of the table, both teams only having lost once so far this season.

I always find it hard to take in a game without at least half heartedly picking a team to back but this one was a tough choice. Cowdenbeath are one of the perennial underdogs of Scottish football. They have possibly the dodgiest home ground in British, if not World, football and are essentially financed by the stock car racing events they share said dodgy home with. This sort of thing appeals to me massively and, being from Fife, I tend to look out for their results.

The Red Lichties on the other hand are managed by one of the best players ever to put on a St Johnstone shirt and although the man himself, Paul Sheerin, was ruled out of this game through injury there were no fewer than six ex-Saintees (Josh Falkingham, Stuart Malcolm, Mark Baxter, Steven Doris, Kieran McAnespie and Gavin Swankie) in the starting eleven.

I ended up remaining neutral and the fact I thoroughly enjoyed the game despite a lack of vested interest is testament to it’s quality. Mike on the other hand made no secret of his pro-Arbroath stance.

For further reading on all things Cowdenbeath FC I heartily recommend Ronald Ferguson’s excellent book, Black Diamonds and The Blue Brazil.

2. The Ground

The trip was our second to Gayfield since we started this blog although visiting the place for a competitive match was an experience far removed from the pre-season friendly we attended earlier in the year. A healthy crowd just shy of 900 attended providing an atmosphere that, while not totally electric, was better than the typical ‘Morrissey’s stag-night’ experience of watching St Johnstone at home.

Having endured the North Sea chill at Gayfield on our last venture up (in the height of Summer no less) we were relieved that a bizarre little Autumn heatwave took the sting out of this one. I still shudder to think what this place must be like in January.

We opted to stand with the 80 or so travelling Blue Brazil (or, as they were in their away kits for this game, Brazil) fans for the first half before switching to behind the Cowden’ goal with the home support for the second.

We’d read about the traditional half time exodus to Tutties Neuk (a pub just across the road from Gayfield) in Doug Johnstone’s novel, ‘Tombstoning’ and it turns out that this actually happens. Being respectable and dignified young men however (ahem) we shunned this tradition in favour of a leading brand of carbonated orange soft drink served warm in paper cups. When the ground filled up again for the second half the symmetry had completely changed. The previously packed North terrace now home to the away fans with the Arbroath support mostly relocating to the ‘Pleash End’
The lack of segregation seems alien after becoming accustomed to the over-stewarding of the SPL, especially since these fans are as vocal and passionate about their teams as any other support, and goes to show that people will for the most part generally behave themselves when left to their own devices.

The overall consensus of Gayfield from two visits is that it’s a tidy little ground with decent facilities.
Adult entry this season is 12 pounds.

3. The Game

To use the oldest cliché in the big book of footballing clichés, this was a game of two halves. Cowden’ were all over Arbroath in the first forty-five, keeping the ball on the ground the away side looked sharp and came forward with pace. Their link up play and off the ball movement were excellent and this pressure was almost rewarded with an early goal, Greg Stewart sending a header wide in the 7th minute. A bizarre Groundhog Day style period followed where Cowdenbeath managed to completely waste about six corners in a row, only to somehow win another.

The Fife team eventually did get a corner to pay off when in the 19th minute Marc McKenzie’s inswinger from the left wasn’t dealt with properly and, after a bit of a stramash in the box, Thomas O’Brien turned to steer the ball low into the right hand corner from close range.
Arbroath came into the game a bit more after the goal but failed to give Cowdenbeath keeper Thomas Flynn a real test. Steven Doris had their best chance but shot wide from the edge of the box after springing the offside trap.

Arbroath set up for the free kick leading to the equaliser.

Arbroath set up for the free kick leading to the equaliser.

The Red Lichties came out all guns blazing after the break and the crowd started getting behind them. The equaliser came 12 minutes after the restart courtesy of two former St Johnstone men. Gavin Swankie’s free kick from twenty yards rattled off the post, the goalkeeper’s back and the post again before falling for the onrushing Josh Falkingham to stab home from about 3 yards.
Despite a number of chances neither side managed to get a winner, Arbroath came closest nine minutes from time but Stuart Malcolm headed weakly straight at Flynn.

4. The Banter

A ‘Vuvuzelas are banned from this stadium’ sign above the turnstiles on the way in set the tone for what was a pretty fun wee trip. Spotting Cowdenbeath chairman Donald Finlay QC (we weren’t close enough to tell whether he was singing…) enjoying a half time cigar with a fan added a surreal twist while the icing on the cake was Cowdenbeath player-manager Colin Cameron losing his rag in the second half. His suggestive hand gestures in response to his parentage being called into question causing a fair amount of delight amongst the home support.

Enjoyment of the match was enhanced by both sets of fans making a noise disproportionate to their numbers and the Arbroath fans have some pretty funny songs. A version of Gary Glitter’s ‘Hello, Hello, It’s Good to be Back’ reworked in homage to a famous local fish delicacy was my personal favourite. Also worth noting is a Montrose-baiting version of the ‘Noone Likes Us We Don’t Care’ song.

The overall atmosphere was really convivial and aggro free with supporters getting behind their teams rather than on their backs.

5. The Verdict

I’m slightly ashamed to say that my expectations were far surpassed in terms of footballing quality and atmosphere. I’ve never seen a competitive match at this level before but it’s something I will be investigating a lot more in future. For pretty much half of what we usually pay to watch Saints we got an end to end game of football in front of a healthy, noisy crowd. And we got to stand up while watching it, can’t argue with that!

The always tight first division is about as closely run as a league can be so far this season but if this game was a fair reflection on how Arbroath and Cowdenbeath play on a weekly basis it’s not too far fetched to foresee them holding their own with the likes of Dundee, Hamilton et al.

Michael Lennie

Arbroath website: www.arbroathfc.co.uk
Cowdenbeath website: www.cowdenbeathfc.com

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

Newburgh Juniors FC vs St Johnstone XI
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 1-3
Attendance: 100 (est.)
Monday 25th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Newburgh Juniors are my hometown club and the team other than St Johnstone I’ve gone to watch the most. Formed in 1909 as Newburgh West End, they dropped the ‘West End’ suffix in 1935 (possibly because it misleadingly suggests the existence of a discernible west end in the town). They’ve reached the semi-final stage of the Scottish Junior Cup twice, in 1962 and 1971; the former of these cup runs saw 3,960 people cram into East Shore Park to watch the home side defeat Irvine Meadow. Sadly Saints can’t even guarantee crowds of this size these days.

Newburgh’s fortunes have changed of late and the last few seasons have seen them scrape around the lower reaches of the succinctly named Scottish Junior Football Association East Region Central Division. This is the 3rd year in a row that this fixture has made up part of St Johnstone’s pre-season calendar, it’s usually the under 19’s team with the odd recovering-from-injury first-teamer thrown in. Tonight’s line-up is no exception, the appearance of first team fringe player Stevie May the only real surprise.

2. The Ground

East Shore Park is a tidy little village ground with no lack of rustic charm. An enclosure with a handful of benches runs along the East side of the pitch with a similar, but smaller, pigeon stand facing. Behind the north goal sits a clubhouse containing dressing rooms and a small shop with the usual pie and bovril fayre. Next to this is a grassy embankment which offers a beautiful view of the Ochil Hills. All in all an extremely picturesque setting to watch a game in.

Newburgh (entrance)

A dedicated group of local volunteers have been tirelessly working away at refurbishing the ground over the last couple of years and the results are fantastic – so much so that St Johnstone actually approached Newburgh recently with a view to hiring East Shore Park for their under-19 matches. Unfortunately, however, the pitch is narrower than SFA regulations allow. Entry to league and cup matches for season 2011/12 is £3.

3. The Game

We missed the first half hour due to a late finish at work (Michael) and generally poor timekeeping skills (me). The friendly chap on the gate let us in for a pound each because of this which was very nice of him. We arrived to find St Johnstone a goal up, Newburgh boy Stevie May on the score sheet. This lead was doubled shortly before half time when the ‘Burgh defence went to sleep and were punished with a cut back and a tap in. Infuriatingly I haven’t been able to source any team information for this game so all goals bar the first will have to be credited to anonymous scorers.

Newburgh Juniors (1) - St Johnstone XI (3)

Newburgh made some changes at half-time and came out all guns blazing, piling on pressure and generally keeping Saints under the kosh for the opening third. Their efforts were rewarded with a nicely taken goal, a long ball from a half time sub finding its way into the box where an attacker stooped to head neatly into the corner.Unfortunately for the home side they couldn’t find an equaliser and the scoring was completed midway through the half, Saints breaking quickly to put the game to bed. The goal itself was somewhat strange, both an onrushing Saints striker and the Newburgh goalkeeper failing to properly connect with a low through ball which trundled over the line. There wasn’t much in the way of action in the last 10 minutes and the match as a whole can be accurately summed up as standard issue pre-season stuff.

4. The Banter

It was never gonna rival Barcelona v Real Madrid in terms of atmosphere and was a pleasant evening out rather than a thrilling one. Michael getting asked by a boy of about 5 to take his photo with Stevie May and then trying to let the young lad down gently by subtly implying that a bearded man in his late 20’s asking for the contact details of a child might look a bit strange to the casual observer was a highlight! We took in the match with my Dad and my Uncle Ronnie who, although a season ticket holder, was unable to give us much team information owing to the many new faces and trialists that made up the Newburgh squad.

5. The Verdict

Newburgh look like they could be a force to reckoned with this season and were hugely improved from the team I saw competing this fixture in 2009 and 2010. One of the half-time substitutes, a central midfielder, stood out in particular; strong in the tackle and with bags of pace and passing ability he was at the heart of every Newburgh move in the second half. Stevie May was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch and his SPL experience last season shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a household name, at least in Scotland, over the next 5 years. A couple of other new faces amongst the Saints youngsters looked pretty handy too, a valid reason to be quietly hopeful for the future as a Saints supporter.

Mike Lennie

Newburgh Juniors FC: Facebook | Wikipedia
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk

Dundee FC vs St Johnstone FC
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 0-2 (May 19, Mackay 50)
Attendance: 2,172
Wednesday 13th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Firstly, I must confess to being guilty of the number one sin possible for a Saints fan to commit – I have a soft spot for Dundee FC. There, I said it. I’ve always enjoyed the rivalry between the teams and see the Dark Blues as pantomime villains as opposed to genuine hate figures, preferring to save any actual bile I might have for things like landlords and the bank. Or at least the Old Firm. I miss the derby matches when they aren’t there and look forward to them more than any other fixture when they are, games against Dundee Utd just don’t have the same appeal.

Saints and Dundee are clubs of similar size and support, run in completely contrasting ways as businesses but both seemingly destined to bounce between the top 2 divisions indefinitely. The rivalry between them stems, in part, from the closing game of the 1961/62 season when Dundee came to Muirton Park and won 3-0, a result which secured the league title for the away side whilst relegating Saints. Since then many memorable encounters have played out in both Perth and Dundee, including a 2-2 draw at McDiarmid in the mid 90’s where the visitors turned out in Saints’ away strips due to both their own kits that season being blue (d’oh!), the famous 7-2 victory for Saints on New Year’s day 1997 and the last meeting of the sides, when former (and now current) Dundee striker Steven Milne struck to all but secure the first division title for the Perth team in 2009.

St Johnstone brought a more recognisable looking squad up the A90 on this evening than the one that we saw in Arbroath, trialist Marcus Haber the only non-numbered player to start. Danijel ‘Subo’ Subotic was in attendance but didn’t feature and there was no sign of ‘Trialist Jimmy’ or the mystery winger from last week. More worrying was the absence of Murray Davidson, fuelling rumours of a possible move to Rangers.

Enough has been said about Dundee’s recent financial issues and I’m not going to bother chipping in with my ten cents here. The last time I saw them play was in November against Partick Thistle. A hard-fought 2-1 victory with Jamie Adams scoring Dundee’s late winner in one of his last loan appearances for the club before returning to Perth. The siege mentality at Dens at the time, just after their 25 point deduction, was fascinating. The atmosphere was electric though, with the fans supporting their team like champs from start to finish. The home side fielded tonight was a million miles away in terms of both personnel and spirit but with key figures Rhys Weston, Craig McKeown, Nicky Riley, Ross Chisholm and Graham Bayne all missing, it’s perhaps harsh to judge them off the back of a one-off match.

2. The Ground

Dens Park falls into the category of ‘cut ‘n’ shut’ grounds that are, sadly, becoming increasingly rare creatures these days as teams like St Mirren, Falkirk et al move off to pastures new and identikit. Refurbishment in the 90’s has left Dens with a strange blend of the old and the new. Behind each goal sits a modern all seater stand in the style found at countless stadiums around the country. A  seated covered enclosure, affectionately known as The Derry, runs along half of the South side of the pitch. The most vocal supporters are usually found there, although tonight only the Bobby Cox and Main stands are in use. The latter, a bizarre dog-leg shaped structure where the Saints fans are housed this evening, is a relic from a bygone age and a lovely, if completely impractical, example of form over function.

Dens Park, Dundee

Our view was almost comically poor, with the roof of the stand and a couple of pillars teaming up to make an ordeal of enjoying the game. The leg room allowance was ridiculous too but we managed to relocate to seats at the top of one of the staircases where this wasn’t a problem before it got too busy. Entry was ten pounds with a half price concession for kids and OAPs. Gate prices for Season 2011/12 will be £19 for adults, £10 concessions.

3. The Game

The match kicked off in very clement atmospheric conditions, which have made me seriously reconsider my anti-summer football stance, although there wasn’t an awful lot to write home about in the first half. The Saints midfield knocked the ball about nicely and carved out a couple of half-chances early on while Dundee’s attacking threat came in the form of Steven Milne. The former Saint almost pounced on a couple of moments of defensive shakiness but failed to get a shot off either time. The deadlock was broken midway through the first half when Stevie May turned in a towering Marcus Haber header at the back post following a Sean Higgins corner from the right. A Jorg Albertz-esque free kick effort from Saints’ Callum Davidson was the only other first half event to get the Perth fans out of their seats.

St Johnstone almost added a second right at the start of the second but Marcus Haber saw his square ball turned behind by a defender before Sean Higgins could get a touch. Minutes later, however, the lead was doubled and the game effectively killed off as Morris and Higgins teamed up beautifully to set up right back Dave Mackay who took a touch before finishing tidily from inside the box. I’m pretty confident it’s in no way biased to call it a goal Barcelona would be proud of!

St Johnstone goalkeeper Peter Enckelman wasn’t tested until midway through the second half, the Finn holding well from a powerful header by Dundee’s trialist centre half. Multiple substitutions by both sides followed and the game petered out, Dundee worked hard to carve out opportunities but lacked the killer instinct they’ve shown in recent years. Saints came close to adding a third when substitute Jamie Adams lost his marker to get on the end of a free kick but sent his first touch of the match a yard wide. The only other real talking point was, what looked to us like, a blatant handling of the ball outside the box by Enckelman which riled the Dundee fans behind the goal.

4. The Banter

As mentioned in article 1, St Johnstone v Dundee is a fixture I love, thanks in no small part to the heated and entertaining exchanges between supporters – although as this was the first time I’ve attended it as a friendly it was an odd experience, like in Back to the Future Pt II when Marty goes to the parallel 1985 and everything looks familiar but is all wrong. The large St Johnstone support was great to see, especially given the ‘boycott 6p in the pound FC’ attitude of a lot of our number. The home turn out was disappointing by comparison and the two empty stands and relative positioning of the home and away supports killed any chance of an atmosphere.

As Mssr Lambert was unable to make it on the night I was accompanied by our mutual pal, Johnny, who is a great guy to watch a game with and a good time was had despite the lack of atmosphere and terrible view. Attempted chants of traditional away-end-at-McDiarmid-Park anthem ‘What a Shitey Home Support’ from the Saints fans raised a smile, as did Derek McIness’ stint as a stand in ballboy. There was a definite ‘still got it!’ twinkle in his eye as he raced after a stray ball in his traditional matchday attire of shorts and boots!

5. The Verdict

An enjoyable evening in the Summer sun. From the display on offer Dundee supporters might have a lot to worry about for the coming season, and will have their work cut out if they want to be title contenders in the notoriously competitive first division. St Johnstone look a lot more creative in the final third than they did last term which is heartening, although the team fielded tonight is unlikely to be the first choice 11. If Marcus Haber signs he looks like he will be an important part of the team this year. Our biggest problem last season was a lack of goals, hopefully Haber and/or Subojtic could be an answer to this.

McIness opted to start Haber out wide on the right, in a similar fashion to that which striker Colin Samuel was often utilised last season, before shuffling the formation a bit and playing him as a more out-and-out centre forward for the last 20 minutes or so. Seventeen year-old St Johnstone substitute Liam Caddis looks pretty handy and I hope to see some more appearances off the bench from him this year.

Not a classic game of football by anyone’s standards but following season 2010/11 I will happily accept anything that features a St Johnstone goal!

Mike Lennie

Dundee website: www.dundeefc.co.uk
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk