IRLAM (Silver Street)

Had to stay close to home this weekend (due to an engagement party...not mine I hasten to add) and having scanned the local-ish fixtures, Irlam v Wigan Robin Park stood out like the proverbial.

However, once again an overnight cold snap was playing havoc with the pitches and there was a wee bit of doubt as to whether this game would be on. There were a couple of hard spots on the Silver Street pitch but after an inspection, they were nothing that concerned the officials too much, so the game was given the thumbs up.

Due to the cold weather and various 'away' cup draws, this was, unbelieveably, Irlam's first home game since October 31st 2009!! In fact, very little football has been played in the North West Counties League during December and January, so although the league positions show Irlam 4th and Wigan 6th, there are so many 'games in hand' that these positions will change drastically in the coming weeks.

This is both teams second season in the NWCL, both having been promoted from the Manchester Premier League in 2008. Irlam finished 8th last season, whilst Wigan finished in 5th postion.

On a bitterly cold afternoon, this was an entertaining game between two battling sides. Both teams created plenty of chances but finishing was woeful. Irlam probably had the better of the overall play, midfielder Paul Jones was running the show, and they carved out the better chances. I lost count of the one-on-ones they had but wasted. It was ultimately two one-on-ones that sealed the game Darren Green the first after 58 minutes, though his tame shot was palmed by 'keeper Jay Foulds and just about squirmed into the net. The second was in stoppage time at the end when substitute Matty Williams raced through and slotted through Foulds' legs.

Silver Street is a very basic set-up (see photos) but the welcome from the club officials was incredibly friendly. Another cracking day out and well worth the £4 entrance fee!




Saturday 30th January 2010
North West Counties League Division One
Irlam 2-0 Wigan Robin Park
Attendance: 80

SCOTTISH DOUBLE HEADER (Motherwell & Airdrie Utd)

After the thrills 'n' spills 'n' goals of last week, it was back to normal this week with two pretty average games...

12.30pm Saturday 23rd January 2010
Scottish Premier League
Motherwell 2-0 St Mirren
Attendamce: 3,261 
An early kick off due to live television coverage. This must be a "contractual obligation" match as even though it is 6th v 8th in the league table, both teams are struggling this season and it wasn't going to be a TV classic! In fact the Steelmen recently sacked manager Jim Gannon and replaced him with ex-Scotland boss Craig Brown until the end of the season. Well had only won 4 home games this season, whilst The Buddies have lost 8 of their 10 away games this season so it was a tough game to call. One thing for sure it wasn't going to be pretty!!

That is exactly how it proved to be. It was, quite frankly, dreadful. The playing surface didn't help matters and the pitch was cutting up quite badly. Motherwell were always in control of this game and St Mirren offered very little as an attacking force. The only highlight of the first half was Motherwell hitting the crossbar when John Sutton fired a volley in from 20 yards after 19 minutes. Their cause wasn't helped when (on loan from Everton) top scorer Lucas Jutkiewicz was stretchered off with a thigh injury that needed 12 stitches.

Motherwell scored two goals in the second half when Jutkiewicz's replacement Jamie Murphy fired home after 56 minutes, when Sutton headed down a free-kick into his path, and it was Sutton himself who wrapped up the points after 76 minutes with a neat turn and finish after a Keith Lasley pass. This allowed the majority of the 3,261 in attendance to breathe easy.

Fir Park is a mish-mash of stands, but an interesting ground to visit nontheless. If you look at the picture Main Stand you will notice that it does not run the length of the pitch but the framework does. According to Simon Inglis in his superb book "The Football Grounds Of Great Britain" this was because the club originally intended, in 1962, to build a full length stand but due to a dispute with an owner of a house in the corner of that ground, a dispute which the club lost, it was never completed as planned.

The Phil O'Donnell (Main) Stand

The Wheatfield Stand

The South Stand (away end)

The Davie Cooper Stand

The disputed corner!!

After the "excitement" at Fir Park, it was then a quick dart up the Carlisle Road to.............

3pm Saturday 23rd January 2010
Scottish Football League Division One
Airdrie United 0-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Attendance: 839
This time last season there was a Division between these sides as Inverness were battling for survival in the SPL, whilst Airdrie were fighting for promotion from the 2nd Division. Both teams subsequently lost their respective battles, but due to the problems of Livingston, Airdrie were eventually promoted to Division 1, once they'd assembled a side for an assault on Division 2. This season has been a struggle and the Diamonds are rooted firmly to the foot of the table. Inverness were expected to be challenging for the title and an automatic return, but they too have struggled, but they still find themselves in the hunt for a play-off spot, however being 15 points behind Dundee (at start of play) the title may be beyond them.

This game is what the bookies would class as an "away banker" an that tag was justified as Inverness took control of the first half. The only shock of the was that it took Inverness so long to score, a penalty from Adam Rooney on 42m, after creating the best chances. The post played a blinder for Airdrie as it saved them on three occasions, denying Richie Foran and Danni sanchez twice. The only decent chance Airdrie had was a header in the box from Diarmuid O'Carroll, which he put over when unmarked.

The second half was more even affair and Airdrie did have their moments, but a lack of composure in the box saw chances for O'Carroll and Scott Gemmill (not the one who played for Everton and Forest) wasted. There was a bit of a "Ronny Rosenthal" moment for Rooney too when he rounded the 'keeper and tried to break the net and blast into the open goal, he did neither as the ball went into (empty) row Z, much to the amusement of the crowd.

The New Broomfield is a pretty bland characterless stadium with very little atmosphere, not helped today by the 839 crowd all in one stand. To end on a postive note though, today was another two grounds "ticked off" in my quest to complete the Scottish Leagues, happy day indeed!!


42 mins and a penalty to Inverness.
Adam Rooney fires home what proved to be the winning goal.
I managed to write that match blog without refering to Airdrie United as the "Milton Keynes Dons"  of Scotland but for those who dont know it is a story worth reading...

DUNDEE (Dens Park)

After yesterdays excitement of a nine-goal thriller, and an evening sampling the wares in some GBG recommended Dundee pubs (Counting House, Phoenix), it was now time for part two of this weekends Scottish double as The Dark Blues of Dundee took on The Pars of Dunfermline in a (rare Sunday) first division clash.

After visiting Tannadice in November, it was a visit to very near neighbouring Dens Park, and I have to confess I much preferred this ground. It has a proper "old fashioned" feel to it and, maybe because of the surviving Archibald Leitch wooden Main stand, it reminded of my beloved Goodison Park, where of course Leitch designed the Bullens Road stand.

At the beginning of play Dundee were sitting top of the table, eight points clear of 2nd place Queen of the South, whilst Dunfermline were down in 6th spot. The Pars had been in the news recently after being expelled from the Scottish Cup for fielding a suspended player, Callum Woods, in their 7-1 thrashing of Stenhousemuir. They were already 4-0 up when he put in his appearance, but this made no odds to the SFA who booted them out. They also missed out on a big payday as Celtic were due in the next round. Their fans made their feelings known before the start of the game chanting "you can stick your Scottish Cup up your arse" and "Gordon Smith (SFA Chief Executive) is a W@nker" The Dundee fans responded with "7-1 and you fcuked it up" very childish, but very funny!

As for the game itself, well that was very a entertaining affair for the 5,201 in attendance.
Leigh Griffiths scored for Dundee with barely 2 minutes on the clock, tapping in an Eddie Malone cross. Dunfermline hit back after 10 minutes when David Graham fired home a stunning strike into the top corner from the edge of the box, giving ex-Celtic 'keeper Rab Douglas no chance. Both sides were very attack minded and had pacey front men to play on the counter. Dundee restored their lead after 16 minutes when Griffiths turned provider for Colin McMenamin to finish. Dunfermline wouldn't lay down and continued to push forward but couldn't find the equaliser.

However, just four minutes into the second half it finally arrived when Andy Kirk fired home, getting on the end of a David Graham header back across goal. Dunfermline dominated the play as Dundee seemed to go to pieces. A Nick Phinn effort crashed against the crossbar and it only seemed a matter of time before The Pars pressed home their advantage. In an all too familiar football story, it was Dundee who somehow grabbed a winner when Griffiths tapped home his second goal, after his initial effort was saved by 'keeper Greg Fleming. The result was incredibly harsh on Dunfermline, but, as Dundee will testify, when you are going for the title it is all about getting the win when you are not at your best. The Dark Blues are now 11 points clear at the top.

Another cracking game and another great weekend north of the border. Roll on, err, next week....

View of Dens Park...the wall left of photo is Tannadice Park

Dundee's most famous character, maybe!

Sunday 17th January 2010
Scottish Football League Division One
Dundee 3-2 Dunfermline Athletic
Attendance: 5,201

MONTROSE (Links Park)

After 13 days without a match and little prospect of much action south of the border (due to waterlogging as the snow thawed), it was a last minute decision to head north of the border. The frozen pitches of recent weeks still remained at some grounds in Scotland, and indeed there was little prospect of play at Stranraer's Stair Park, hence the fixture was reversed on Thursday. Montrose have a 3G pitch at their Links Park home, so the game would never be in doubt. It was a very early start for a 348 mile journey to Angus.

Links Park is a pretty basic, i'd say exposed, ground with a 1,300 seater stand on the half way line and a small covered terrace. On a cold, wet and windy day like today you are really open to the elements.

Montrose, as it stands, are the worst team in the Scottish League as they have yet to win a game this season and are rock bottom of the pile, 42nd out of 42. They currently have six points from six draws and, at the start of play, were 9 points adrift of second bottom Elgin City and 10 points adrift of third bottom Stranraer, who are todays opponents. Due to the adverse weather neither side had played since before Christmas, so both sides may have been a bit rusty.

Not a chance as both sides served up an absolutely fantastic goal fest of a match!!
(I'm led to believe Jeff Stelling was going mental on Soccer Saturday!)

Stranraer took the lead after just 3 minutes when Armand One tucked home a cross from the right. After 7 minutes Michael Moore was crudely hacked down in the box by John Maitland and he got up to fire home the resultant penalty. The homesters kept plugging away and took control of the game, playing some good football which belied their lowly position, however the chances they created rarely troubled David Mitchell in the Stranraer goal. They were eventually rewarded after 42 minutes when they got one back, A Chris Hegarty corner headed home by Maitland. Lo and behold they only went and repeated the trick and levellled right on Half Time, this time however it was Alan Campbell heading home the Hegarty corner. All square at the interval and it was Game On!

The Second half was end-to-end and both teams gave no quarter. The Gable Enders were the more dominant side, but The Blues (playing in red today) always looked a threat on the break. Montrose eventually went in front on 68 mins when Steven Nicholas was brought down in the box by Romuald Bouadji and Paul Tosh, on his 'proper' debut (he previously played as a triallist) scored the penalty kick. Montrose looked to have sealed their first win of the season just three minutes later when Tosh chased a long ball and lobbed it over the advancing Mitchell for what was assumed an unassailable 4-2 lead.

Stranraer got one back on 76 minutes when a mis-hit shot fell to Armand One three yards from goal and he bagged his second of the match. Both sides still created goal chances but it was Stranraer who levelled the game after 85 minutes when Scott Agnew fired home a stunning strike from 25 yards. The Blues piled forward in search of an unlikely winner and they only went and grabbbed it in the last minute, Bouadji rising highest to head home a Darren McGeough cross. Montrose did have a final chance to level in stoppage time, but Paul Tosh headed wide when it looked easier to score.

The score was harsh on Montrose, but their mistakes proved costly and when you score four at home and still lose it doesn't take a genius to work out why you are bottom. As I said earlier an absolutely fantastic game of football, it was just a shame Montrose's lowest crowd of the season (200) were here to witness the dramatic events but, on a personal level, the result made that long, long journey very worthwhile.


Michael Moore scores from the spot after 7 minutes to put Stranraer 2-0 up

Paul Tosh wheels away in celebration after putting Montrose 3-2 up from the penalty spot

Saturday 16th January 2010
Scottish Football League Division Three
Montrose 4-5 Stranraer
Attendance: 200