This was long overdue. The latest pause in lower league Scottish football brought plenty of criticism, but it finally ended yesterday. Leagues One and Two returned, and with them Stirling Albion. They showed signs of rust, but the result was merely a continuation of the fine form they’d maintained prior to the break.
Substitute Kieran Moore scored the goal that sealed a 1-0 win, but what else did we learn from the game?
Stirling’s 3-5-2 formation didn’t really work
From the offset, it was clear what Stirling were trying to do. At every opportunity, they were thumping long balls into the channels for Andy Ryan and Declan Byrne to run on to. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off.
Ryan and Byrne looked much better whenever they received the ball into feet. This was exemplified in the second half when Ryan began to take control of proceedings, but the first half in particular was devoid of any real quality play.
Binos manager Kevin Rutkiewicz obviously thought that Brechin’s back line could be beaten for pace, but the experienced Gerry McLauchlan was able to mop up any through balls or lofted passes. The tactics were obvious, but the reasons behind them were confusing.
As the game progressed, with David Wilson entering the fray after an injury to Paul McLean, Stirling did grab control of the game. They were superior when passing along the deck, and should note that for future games.
This was a solid performance after an extended break
You could tell these teams hadn’t been playing for a number of weeks – particularly in the first half. There wasn’t a real chance of note until the 42nd minute when Brechin’s Chris McKee had a header tipped over the bar by Cammy Binnie, and the away side probably had the better of the first half.
Of course, we expected this. Such a long time away from competitive action naturally had an impact on the players, and the fact they managed to grind out a result is testament to Stirling’s character. This will stand them in good stead moving forward.
Passes were rusty, first touches were lacking, shooting was wayward. Things did improve as the game went on, with players re-acclimating to their surroundings.
Rutkiewicz’s side are back up to second place, and will harbour ambitions of staying there for the remainder of this shortened League Two season.
The balance in Rutkiewicz’s system is clear
At any time during this game, Stirling’s wingbacks looked to have clear roles. On the right, Ross McGeachie looked to provide solidarity at the back; he dropped back to form a lopsided back four whenever his side were out of possession, pushing up to meet opposition wingers when required.
The left wingback (Scott Roberts to begin with, and later match winner Moore) was charged with being a main source of attacking output.
For the most part, this imbalance did work. McGeachie did venture forward at times, but played safe passes and attempted a few crosses. Roberts and Moore ran at the Brechin defence, attempting to beat their man with speed and trickery; Moore’s darting run into the penalty box earned him his goal.
If Rutkiewicz can work out a way to get his strikers more involved in matches, then this system could be a successful one for Stirling. It wasn’t amazing on Saturday, but the potential is there.
It was good to be back
Things were certainly different, but it was good to be back watching lower league football. It wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t a glamorous occasion, and yet lower league football never is. The football is what matters, and it delivered.
Of course, it was strange to sit in a stadium devoid of any fans. Being able to hear every obscenity screamed by players was amusing, but a lack of celebrations upon Moore’s goal was rather saddening. It will be nice for these players to interact with fans again in the future.
The main thing is that these players are back competing again. Stirling have lots to play for, and this result will give them plenty of competition to go about the rest of their season in confident fashion.