Spotting talent in the Scottish third division is never an easy task for a scout especially when a plague of crazed insects descends on Alloa vs Peterhead.
This week I am in Alloa – home of The Wasps and on all available evidence there has never been a truer nickname for a football club. On the pitch, Paul Hartley’s hoop-shirted team play like pests, niggling and bothering their opponents to distraction, while up in the terraces the crowd is constantly beseiged by swarms of the little black and yellow b*******.
Every August Scotland ‘enjoys’ this theme of eternal return. As the swifts and swallows migrate south, insects of every persuasion turn mental, wreaking their terrible revenge, for one week only, on the nation’s football fans.
Today Alloa’s Recreation Park is their Shea Stadium, their Spike Island. They are spilling out of litter bins, gorging themselves on soft drinks (a mouthful of angry wasp and an anaphylactic shock for the unsuspecting Irn-Bru fan) and whooping it up in the main stands like there is no tomorrow – which probably isn’t too far from the truth. For the drones who have successfully mated with a young queen time is running out and these vivid-hued little s**** want to burn out, not fade away.
Those wearing Alloa team shirts have the distinct advantage of looking like bigger, scarier insects, so they’re sitting pretty. Everyone else is petrified, including my cowering pal, Gary. I’m the one who who took two stings on the neck at Partick Thistle (aka The Jags, Scotland is packed with nippy-named teams) this time last season, and looked like I had the mumps for a week. It should be me, not Gary, that’s waving my scouting pad around like a lightsabre.
I am here for a second look at enigmatic Peterhead and their hosts Alloa – the joint pre-season title favourites. I am also killing two birds with one stone in compiling a future opponent report for Queens Park, who will face both sides in September.
Out on the pitch, Kevin Cawley, a one-time Celtic youngster, is defying my previous evaluations of him as a striker too lightweight to cut it in the hurly burly of Scotland’s lower leagues. Today, emboldened by the Indian Summer conditions, Cawley is the King Wasp, a constant irritant who never gives his creaking adversaries Rattray and Sellars a moment’s rest. His first goal is a fine piece of opportunism. His clinching second, is a solo effort, sparked by yet another tireless run down the inside left channel. Using the already-cautioned Alan Rattray as a shield to unsight the keeper, Cawley, a striker seemingly growing in stature before my very eyes, evades the defender’s limp challenge to cut inside with a step-over and sends a powerful finish arcing beyond Peterhead keeper Jellema, high into the net.
I’m the one who who took two stings on the neck at Partick Thistle
This reversal is no more than Peterhead deserve on a day when the frailties they exhibited at East Stirling seven days previously are once more to the fore. Once again, their midfield lies too deep, creating a disconnect with star striker Rory McAllister and the lack of willing runners in the Blue Toon midfield ensures that Peterhead’s transition from defence to attack is too predictable and too ponderous to ever really hurt opponents also set-up to counter attack in a 4-5-1 formation. McAllister tries his best as he generally does, but even he can’t wrestle the game from Alloa on his own (a stunning 20 yard free kick opener not withstanding).
It is not without precedent then for Peterhead when they lose their lead. In truth though the writing has been on the wall as early as the first half as the visitors failed to turn good quality possession into anything resembling clear-cut efforts on goal. With a 1-0 advantage, a second Peterhead goal would probably put the game beyond their listless hosts. Predictably again, with Peterhead falling behind, the game simply peters out to nothing.
Nervy Alloa are galvanised with a winning position to defend. The visitors from the North East simply run out of ideas leaving under pressure Peterhead boss John Sheran seething: "We asked them to get the ball up the park at the start of the second half, and they didn't. They went backwards. They're just not doing what they're told, it's as simple as that.”
Regardless of the result, I have no doubt both managers will go into this week’s international break knowing there is much work to be done before their sides’ on-paper potential can be transformed into consistent performances and results.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, on a day when the wasps dominated on and off the park, was that John Sheran’s post-match comments were as close as we’ve come to a sting in the tail.
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