The festive period has ended, and the busy run of fixtures has calmed down. For top flight teams that means a winter break, while for smaller teams it means going back to one game a week, as a general rule.
The new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. People make resolutions, a promise to change an aspect of their life, only to break them a few days later.
On the train down I started to wonder what resolutions clubs or figures related to Scottish football could have made. Perhaps a certain head coach could resolve to spend less time on his laptop or a particular club could resolve not to hit an almost trademark dip in form and throw away a promotion from a strong position…
In the case of Stirling Albion, their resolution has to be to survive. The Binos have been struggling at the bottom of League Two.
If recent years have taught us anything in Scottish football, it’s that the phrase “they’re too big to…” is a dangerous, and often inaccurate one. However, in the case of Stirling Albion, it certainly feels like they are too big to be relegated from the league. A few seasons ago the very prospect of the Binos finishing at the very bottom of the league structure would be unthinkable. This season it is very much in their thoughts.
Exactly half way through the season, they started today in ninth position, level on points with tenth placed Berwick Rangers. The lower half of the league is, admittedly, tight but it certainly isn’t where the club would hope to be.
There are five teams within three points of each other at the bottom of the league, with some having improved of late, and some heading in the other direction.
This is the beauty of the new playoff at the bottom of League Two. Three seasons ago, this portion of the league wouldn’t have mattered. There would be nothing to play for and no real consequences for poor performance. A team at the bottom of the league could realistically coast to the end of the season without fear. That’s not the case anymore. There’s drama every week, with teams fighting for every single point.
Perhaps it is that fear of relegation which has played a part in a lot of the big decisions which have been made at Forthbank so far this season.
After close to two seasons in charge, Stuart McLaren’s time in charge of the club wasended when they dropped to the bottom of the league. The board clearly felt that action had to be taken. The consequences of relegation could be disastrous.
He was replaced by the well liked Dave Mackay. The former St Johnstone captain was somewhat of a legend at McDiarmid Park, and while inexperienced as a first team manager, he had experience of coaching St Johnstone’s under 20 side. Along with his knowledge gathered from working with one of Scottish football’s better managers, in Tommy Wright, and a significant contact book, it seemed like a forward thinking appointment at the time.
Results have not picked up by much in recent times though. Defeats to three of their closest rivals in the league this season in December served as a hammer blow to the club’s survival hopes. Where positive results could have pulled them away from trouble, defeats pushed them further in to it.
Mackay has been open in criticising his side’s performances, and with the transfer window now open, he has started to make big changes to the squad, helped by the aforementioned contact book.
In what was surely one of the busiest signing weeks in Binos history, they announced the arrival of five new players over the course of the last three days. Among them were three players with a clear St Johnstone connection.
The pick of the bunch was surely the former Saints defender Frazer Wright. He is definitely a veteran of the game, and his experience and ability to read a game make him a shrewd addition to the team.
Today’s game was against Clyde. I have seen a lot of the Bully Wee this season, more by accident than design. At one point they were very much in the race for the title, but they have fallen away in recent weeks. Despite this, on paper it looked like they were favourites today.
Forthbank is yet another great ground. There are two large stands at either side of the pitch, and two terraced areas behind the goals. It’s a familiar story in that those areas are closed off, presumably for bigger games. As with near rivals Alloa, it’s the setting that makes it. The view of the hills is great, and the stadium is in a very peaceful area. In quiet moments during the game, there is complete silence. It’s a ground simultaneously close to the city centre yet far from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Clyde had the first chance of the match. It had been a slow, plodding game, until a corner led to header going just wide of the home goal.
While the Bully Wee might have had the best chance in the early running, The Binos soon started to dominate the game.
Very few managers would have the confidence to start five players signed just days before a match, but that’s exactly what Dave Mackay did. The fans around me didn’t know who half the players were, but it didn’t take long for them to warm to them.
The opening goal came from a familiar face, with an assist from one of the signings. Left back Conor Quigley put in a great cross, which was deftly headed home by Ross Kavanagh. The crowd reaction made it obvious just how important this goal was. They roared and punched the air. The delight was obvious.
It would be unfair to ignore the many brilliant performances from those in red, but in many ways, the second half was the ‘Dylan Bikey Show’.
The 21 year old French striker showed the quality he possesses, with two exceptional second half goals.
The first had all the quality of a goal you would typically see at a higher level. He got the ball at the left edge of the box, cut inside and curled a ball in to the far corner with his right foot. The keeper had absolutely no chance.
His second goal made it 3-0 and confirmed a well deserved three points for the home side.
I honestly don’t remember leaving a game and feeling genuinely excited about a player so far this season. Bikey was that player today. I gather there may be some issues which could get in the way, but it would be tremendous if The Binos could secure his future at the club. Either way, he is a player that looks destined for big things in the game, and I’m sure the Albion fans will enjoy every brilliant moment he produces with the club.
On today’s showing the Binos looked like a side in a false position in the league. The challenge now is to play like they did today on a regular basis.
The new signings appeared to make a big difference, and if the manager can continue to use his contacts to take players of a similar calibre to the club, they may well find themselves climbing up the league, rather than nervously looking down.
There’s plenty of work to be done to get to that point, but today showed that they have the potential to become a very good side.
Stirling Albion 3 Clyde 0