Striker (playing wide right)
v Raith Rovers (21.03.15)
It appeared that the fates were conspiring against me as I took my seat inside Stark’s Park for Saturday evening’s Championship fixture between Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic. It’s hard enough to understand what a Fifer is saying at the best of times, but through a PA system which made the announcer sound like he was whispering secrets whilst his head was trapped in a bread bin, the task became nigh-on impossible.
After attuning my eardrums to the correct frequency however, it soon transpired that the communicator was delivering, what was to me at least, bad news rather than team news.
I was already aware that my main target, Christian Nadé was suspended, which was a real shame as I’d longed to critique one of Scottish football’s genuine curios. After all, here is a man who was once more famous for being overweight, but is such prime beef these days he could easily slot in alongside Stallone and Lundgren in the Expendables franchise once his footballing whirligig comes to a stop.
With Christian set to the side, I was hoping to focus on Michael Chopra, a striker who’s just made that well trodden path from India to Clackmannanshire, a move which raised eyebrows and laughter in equal measure. Unfortunately, Alloa’s caretaker manager Paddy Connolly didn’t seem to care a jot about my plans, and named him on the bench in a selfish act of skullduggery that I’ll struggle to forgive him for.
I’d also considered Barrie McKay, a player who emerged on the scene at Ibrox a few years back to some remarkable hyperbole due to the fact he could dribble the ball past a couple of Annan Athletic players, but has seemingly got himself stuck in a rut ever since. He certainly seems to be dividing opinion at Stark’s Park if the conversation between the two septuagenarians next to me was anything to go by,
“Yon Barrie McKay’s no playin’ again.”
“That’s braw, he’s pish anyway.”
“He’s no that guid.”
So, with options A through to C all null and void, I do what I always do in these circumstances and filter the players using one simple measure, have any of the 22 players ever assaulted a drinks cooler? As ever, this failsafe policy presented me with an answer, in the guise of prickly speedster Philip Roberts.
For a player who is still so young, Roberts has already racked up a worryingly large amount of clubs. He’s already represented four teams at senior level despite being just 20, and at all of them the same story resonates: that Roberts doesn’t just have a chip on his shoulder, but an entire bag of Maris Piper’s.
Despite this, he clearly has some ability. He initially impressed on loan at Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2012, so much so that his initial loan spell was extended, but his time there will probably be remembered for missing the decisive penalty in the League Cup semi-final shoot-out against Hearts. His next move took him to Falkirk, where he once again started well, bagging all three goals in a 3-0 win over Livingston at the start of last season, but as his goals dried up he was shuttled out wide, replaced in the centre by the far more prolific Rory Loy. Just like the energy drinks that he blootered towards Gary Holt at Recreation Park last season, his career at Falkirk dribbled away.
As such, there was a fair smack of surprise when he rocked up at Dens Park as Paul Hartley unveiled him as one of the first of what felt like approximately 200 summer signings. The fact young Phiip started on the right-wing for Alloa on Saturday tells you all you need to know about how is Dundee career is coming along.
With Graeme Holmes and Kevin Cawley playing in front of the back-four and Ryan McCord in a more advanced position to supplement Liam Buchanan, Roberts job, along with Mark Docherty on the other side, would be to supply the prodigious Buchanan with as much ammunition as possible against a Raith side who have been known to struggle against pace, cross balls and opponents in general. Alas, it didn’t quite go to plan.
Roberts didn’t look like he wanted to be in Kirkcaldy on Saturday evening. In fairness, few people do, but when your team is attempting to extricate themselves from a relegation shaped hole, you pretty much need everyone on board.
In theory, this should have been an eminently winnable game for the visitors. Raith’s admirable devotion to hanging around sixth place in the table meant they’d nothing but pride to play for, and Roberts could have been key to how they fared. In essence he was, but not in a positive way. In direct competition to Ryan Conroy, a player who likes to cut inside, Roberts in reality only had left-back Rory McKeown to take on for large spells of the match, but he rarely troubled him.
In fact, the only thing that was troubled in the early stages was a loft window in Pratt Street, after an extraordinarily over hit switch of play from Liam Fox, which genuinely had to be seen to be believed. A cannon would have struggled to fire it further.
But what of Roberts I barely hear you ask, what was he up to? Well not much as it happened. His shiny citrus coloured boots were in little danger of being sullied by the Stark’s Park turf, as he almost steadfastly refused to join in with the hullaballoo. He occasionally linked up with his right-back Michael Doyle, but there was little evidence of his pace. In fact, it wasn’t until a McKeown challenge planted him on his bum midway through the half that he became involved at all.
Perhaps taking umbrage at the tumble, he started to show a bit more life about him, coming inside and starting to at least be a nuisance to Raith’s defensive quartet if nothing else.
He wasn’t involved in Alloa’s goal, which was an equaliser after some slip-shod defending from Doyle allowed Mark Stewart to open the scoring. Alloa’s parity restoring strike was provided by their brightest spark, Buchanan, who spun McKeown in the box and placed a clean strike past David McGurn. Other than a half-chance in the box which was sclaffed at and cleared, our main protagonist Roberts was struggling to make an impact.
His side badly needed him to make one in the second-half after a great cross from Grant Anderson and an excellent first-time finish from Lewis Vaughan put Rovers 2-1 up after 47 minutes.
It never came though, and although he did slip a good pass through to McCord at one point, the midfielder was offside. The subdued Roberts was eventually replaced by Michael Chopra after 65 minutes, and as soon as he arrived, it became clear that Gok Wan’s opinion that larger people shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes was bang on the money.
Chopra certainly contributed more than Roberts during his time on the park, but that wouldn’t be difficult. A few decent touches, a couple of shots over the bar and a mazy run that caused some concern in the Raith defence, but his service fizzled out, as Raith took control of midfield after Alloa reverted to two up top.
Raith Rovers saw the game out and triumphantly bedded themselves into sixth place yet further, while Alloa have a Petrofac Training Cup Final to prepare for on Sunday. Based on that performance though, Phil Roberts may spend the majority of it looking on from the sidelines.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
• The Football Critic: Craig Curran v Hamilton (14.03.15)
• The Football Critic: Conor Grant v Aberdeen (13.03.15)
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