While most eyes were understandably on Tynecastle yesterday to see a stylish Celtic claim the league title without losing a single match, a much more significant fixture took place the day before at the opposite end of the SPFL in the dark depths of League Two, writes Craig Cairns.
Clyde, with a lousy one win in 17 league matches going into this encounter, were the visitors to Central Park to take on a somewhat resurgent Cowdenbeath. After two successive relegations, the Blue Brazil have threatened to make it third by propping up the division for most of the season. Since Gary Locke was confirmed as manager until the end of the campaign, however, Cowdenbeath have won three and drawn one from six.
After Saturday’s 1-0 win, this now includes two victories over Clyde, closing the gap between the sides to a solitary point as the pair battle to avoid a relegation play-off at the season’s end. It was the busy Dale Carrick’s second-half strike that settled it after he pounced upon a Kerr Waddell fresh air swipe to slide the ball past the on-rushing Kyle Gourlay.
Despite relying on an individual error to take the three points, Locke was happy with the overall performance of his side.
“I thought we played reasonably well in the game,” said Locke. “It’s probably the best we’ve played here [at home since I became manager].
“But it was hard to play because Clyde did make it difficult for us. They did go back to front an awful lot, so it was a hard-fought, battling performance.”
One particularly pleasing aspect of Cowdenbeath’s efforts was that of their central defenders, who dealt diligently with every high ball within their vicinity. And with Clyde in opposition, that meant a lot of long balls.
Latterly, this also included dealing with the threat of David Goodwillie when he emerged from the bench in the 67th minute. The former Dundee United striker showed some clever touches and found a few decent passes, displaying his undoubted quality at this level, but his team-mates didn’t reciprocate often enough and he struggled to affect the game.
This was partly down partly to Gerry McLaughlin, who paid close attention to Goodwillie, so close that he got involved in a light skirmish with the player which ended in both being yellow carded.
Besides that, McLaughlin had dealt aerially with anything the opposition could through at him and was involved in a number of key challenges, including denying David Gormley early in the game as he set to shoot.
“I thought Gerry [McLaughlin] did really well today. Unfortunately Scott [Rumsby] is suspended for next week. We’ll miss him, but we got big David Syme and we’ve got a couple of options that can go and play there.
“They’ve done great, the boys, since I’ve come in. They are as honest as the day is long and they give everything they’ve got. And they had to be on their mettle today because Clyde did put a lot of balls into the box. But I thought we defended really well.”
Locke has, of course, made the switch to management in part-time football for the first time after stints at Hearts, Kilmarnock and Raith Rovers. Though he doesn’t feel he’s done anything special behind the scenes to turn the club around from a run of seven straight defeats to a run of three wins in six.
“All we’ve done is tried to do what we think is right. We’ve got a certain way of working and we’ve worked hard with the shape of the team and tried to make us a wee bit more compact,” continued Locke.
“And when we’re going forward we’ve just tried to get the boys to go and express themselves.
“We’ve not got a huge squad and the boys that have been playing for the last few weeks, they’ve played well. Although we got beat last week [1-0 against Annan] I thought the performance was really good.
“On another day, we take our chances and we would have got something out of that game as well. It was a difficult game today but we’re delighted to get the win.”
What Locke is alluding to here is that he has set his side up in a basic defensive 4-4-2 in which everyone has and understands clearly defined roles. On top of that he has them motivated. This allows them to stay competitive in matches for as long as possible and rely on the likes of Carrick to take their chances at the other end.
Now some may interject here and say that this is an archaic way of approaching football, devoid of a modern formation or high-risk/high-reward strategy, but for the situation Locke and Cowdenbeath currently find themselves in, it’s perfect… and it’s working.
The scorer of the game’s only goal, and man of the match, Carrick confirmed this when speaking during his post-match interview.
“Everyone gets lifted because they all want to impress, because they all want to play for him on a Saturday,” said Carrick.
“It’s all because of that. You give that wee bit more just so the manager can see that you want to play and you want to dedicate yourself to the team.”
Highlights courtesy of Blue Brazil TV