May 2 2012 by David Ogilvie, Stirling Observer Wednesday
STIRLING Albion bring down the curtain on their season when they travel to Coatbridge to play Albion Rovers on Saturday but they know that Third Division football awaits next term.
The Binos needed a win against Dumbarton on Saturday to take the issue to the final day and were on course for a vital victory when Scott Davidson opened the scoring but a Devon Jacobs own goal and a last-minute winner from Craig Dargo condemned them to a 2-1 defeat and the drop.
This was a second successive demotion for Stirling Albion, who dropped out of the First Division 12 months ago. They were again tipped to struggle and the outcome, while not a huge surprise, is a massive disappointment for everyone connected with the club.
There is little between most of the teams in Division Two – only 14 points separate Airdrie in the final promotion play-off berth and Albion Rovers, who are currently second bottom – but Stirling could not bridge the gap. Close, but ultimately not close enough.
A point per game was a probable requirement and when Greig McDonald’s team thumped Albion Rovers 3-0 at the beginning of March it looked as if the worst they would do would be the play-offs.
But the Binos managed just one more win – away to Brechin – and lost five of their last six matches. A tally of 31 points from 35 matches was never likely to be enough and so it has proved.
Saturday’s game is of huge significance to Rovers, who need to beat Stirling for the first time this season and hope Forfar lose at Stenhousemuir if they are to climb to the safety of eighth spot.
Stirling fans had always hoped this fixture would, at worst, be a nerve-shredding 90 minutes that offered an escape route but that has now gone and they must rebuild in Division Three, where the aim will surely be a top-four finish and a play-off place that goes with it.
So what went wrong? Jocky Scott was forced to almost entirely rebuild his squad after the miserable Division One campaign but two wins in the opening two matches had Albion top of the league. Things were looking good but it proved to be a false dawn.
McDonald made some good signings and there were some improved performances when he replaced Scott as Britain’s youngest manager in December, although he had to wait until the following month to start his reign with morale-boosting back-to-back wins due to the winter weather.
For a time it appeared as if Stirling might retain their place in the third tier of Scottish football but they were plagued by an inability to hold on to a lead and have managed only two clean sheets since October, both of them against Albion Rovers. Grinding out 1-0 wins just was not the Stirling way and it cost them big time, as did an almost unbelievable habit of conceding late goals.
Arbroath both won and drew a match in the final minute at the Doubletree Dunblane Stadium, Stirling twice lost to East Fife in virtually the last seconds at New Bayview and they allowed Brechin to net twice in the closing stages of a hugely damaging 3-2 defeat in February.
The low point came at Forfar in March when Mark Ferry made it 3-3 in the last minute, only for Dick Campbell’s side to grab an injury-time winner. It was fitting, in a perverse way, that when the end came on Saturday it was sealed by a stoppage-time goal by Dumbarton.
Failure to win any of the four meetings with fellow strugglers Forfar was a serious blow and Albion have also lacked a consistent goalscorer. Scott Davidson, initially on loan from Falkirk, has weighed in with a decent haul of nine league goals but Darren Smith has managed just four and January signing Graham Weir has done his best work linking the play and has yet to find the net.
The lack of loan activity has also frustrated some fans. Forfar benefited from the addition of midfielder Nicky Low and defender Joe Shaughnessy from Aberdeen, Brechin took U19 striker Rory McKenzie from Kilmarnock in January and were rewarded with seven goals.
The most galling of all was Alloa’s loan swoop for Stevie May of St Johnstone, who contributed 18 goals to their Third Division title charge.
The away form of the bottom three clubs was predictably poor – four wins apiece – but, while Rovers and Forfar have both managed six successes on home soil, Stirling’s tally is a meagre four. They also drew only seven times home and away, when being able to chisel out an extra point when things were going against them could have made all the difference.
It was little comfort that they barely deserved to lose on Saturday. “Stirling were the better team and we got the breaks big time,” was the verdict of Dumbarton boss Alan Adamson, who saw his side survive what looked a cast-iron penalty appeal minutes before they scored the winner.
McDonald, who celebrates his 30th birthday on May 12, admits his squad ultimately came up short when it mattered but is desperate to lead the team back to Division Two at the first attempt.
He said: “I’m a great believer in the saying that league tables don’t lie. I can never doubt the guys for their effort but maybe quality wise we have come up a bit short. Box to box, I think we have shown we can compete with anyone but we have given away too many goals at one end and not scored enough.
“I’d like to apologise to the supporters and I can guarantee we will be better next year. I’d like to thank the players for their efforts since we took over in January – some won’t be here next year and some will and we’ll sort that out over the next couple of weeks.”
Stirling Albion operations director Stuart Brown added: “While a second successive relegation is obviously a bitter pill to swallow, everyone at the club is determined to ensure that we make a swift return to Division Two.
“Alan Christie, our finance director, has been busy preparing budget forecasts and I’m confident that not only can we deliver against these projections financially. We will have a playing budget that will ensure we can be competitive on the park as well as off it.
“With regards to next season, Greig McDonald has been in negotiation with a number of the current squad to offer them new contracts and I anticipate we will be in a position to make an official announcement in the very near future.
“The Third Division will present its own particular brand of challenges – not least of which is the travel – but, along with my executive board colleagues, I’m looking forward to tackling them, safe in the knowledge that we have a solid foundation in place.
“I would like to publicly thank everyone who has helped behind the scenes over the course of the season but, most of all, I would like to thank the supporters for their loyal and continued backing.”
Stirling have only twice previously played in the basement since the four-league system was introduced in 1994-95, finishing fifth in Allan Moore’s first season in 2002-03 and going up as runners-up to Stranraer the following year.
The 2012-13 fixtures will be published on June 18 and the travelling will be a challenge in itself, with trips to Annan, Berwick, Montrose and Peterhead all in store.
At least one of Elgin and Stranraer, possibly both, will also be in Division Three and the only guaranteed local trips are meetings with Clyde and East Stirling.