Manager previews AirdrieoniansThursday, 9th Feb 2023
09/02/23: JM - "They`ve got a set way, the way they play. We stopped that the day they came here and turned it into a different game.
In looking ahead to Saturday’s away match against Airdrieonians manager James McPake’s first thoughts were the Lanarkshire club’s impressive run of form that has seen them lose just one of their last twelve matches.
“They are on a really good run. They are a team that I really like. I like Rhys McCabe and his staff there, the way they move the ball about means that they are really good to watch. They can be really effective on their day, we saw that recently when they were really good against an Alloa team who cause other teams lots of problems. It’s against another young manager and somebody who is doing a good job in there. It will be a really tough game.”
The video of the match in August this season against Airdrie has been well dissected but James is still raw about referee Grant Irvine chalking off what should have been an added time winner. A long Edwards throw in from the right saw the ball was driven home by Breen. There was little, if any, contact on keeper Johnson and the decision was deemed to have been extremely harsh. He added:-
"I`ve watched that and I`m still raging with the goal that wasn`t given! It`s so long ago and it’s strange in Scottish football going that period of time in a league when you don`t play a team. We had the game called off but now we`ve got them back to back. We have seen them and we`ve watched a lot of video.
"They`ve got a set way, the way they play. We stopped that the day they came here and turned it into a different game. We had the better chances on that day, although they were very effective when they did get through us. They`ve got some good players in that team, they move the ball quickly. They take risks, but I mean that in the right way. They play and they try and outnumber you in certain areas and move the ball side to side on the pitch as well.
"Rhys has got them really well-drilled, for a team that aren`t full-time. I know they`ve got a hybrid model, but for one of the teams that aren`t full-time they`ve got a set way of playing. That`s credit to him and his staff. It`s his first job and he`s doing really well, it`ll be a tough game and we need to go down there - it`s a home game for me - and be ready for it.”
He drives past it four times a day but James has never managed a team at the Excelsior Stadium before, his only previous visits being with youth teams and it appears he had little luck there as a player. He was sent off in the 1-0 for Livingston and lost 3-1 the next time both in the 2006-2007 season and next season he broke his leg there.
The manager took in Tuesday’s 4-1 Reserve Cup win over Dundee that means they top the League Cup section and revealed that he sees great merit in reserve team football:-
"It`s not something we`ve got every week unfortunately. I`m a big believer in reserve football and how it can benefit you. As a player I was the same, if I didn`t play in the first team on the Saturday, I always wanted to play in the reserves.”
As well as performances, James was delighted with the attitudes of the first team squad players who played alongside the 16 and 17 year olds:-
"It was great for them to go and play with the young boys as well. It`s great for the development of the academy players and the attitudes were brilliant. It gives us another game as well. Depending on when it comes around, Paul Allan might be available. In terms of Nikolay Todorov, who`s not had a lot of football compared to what he had been getting, Kevin O`Hara was still coming back, Chris Mochrie - the same as Todorov. Max Little needed the game, Kane Ritchie-Hosler needed the game.
"It was a worthwhile game. You can do all the training you want, you still need exposed to the scenarios you face in a game. The downside was that Dundee maybe never had many first-team players out because they had their SPFL Trust Trophy game but it`s still getting them on the pitch and having to make those decisions against another team. It was a good game and a good result in the end to take us through. The important thing of that is the development of youth players and also it gives another game to use in whatever way we need."
Reflecting on the rest of the week James admitted that it was really good to be back to winning ways and that the feeling of winning a game again. Performances against Partick and Dundee were ‘relatively good’:-
“Partick was excellent, Dundee was good for 70 or 80 minutes against two good Championship teams. Then the Clyde one we were obviously disappointed so there was a wee worry in terms of how long does it linger but they answered that in how good they have been in training and they have trained really well this week again.”
After previous defeats this season at Ross County and then at Montrose in October James agreed that the team had bounced back effectively:-
“You never want to get beat but there was a positive result after losing to Montrose (a 2-1 win over Kelty Hearts). There was a question in our heads - ‘what will happen now?’
“The first example you get of that is the next day you train. You see how they react and all through that week they were bubbly, they were bright. That was a good way of looking at how they would react. They trained really well and then they took that into Saturday’s game against Montrose which I thought was a really good fighting, battling performance.
“It probably wasn’t our most slick footballing performance or anywhere close to that but you have to show different sides to your game and I thought we stood up to them well and showed that we will not shy away from a tough game when the weather is tough which it was for both teams. We were playing against a team that goes pretty direct but we dealt with that and we stood strong to get the three points in the end. It was pleasing.
“The three games against Montrose have been pretty similar. The one we lost up there was probably the most so in terms of chances that we have had in any of the three games. Their keeper Ross Sinclair, who has gone back to St Johnstone, was excellent on the day. At 0-0 he had three or four saves. I remember one from Chris Mochrie in particular. There could have been some fantastic goals but he was the difference in that game up until they scored the two goals.
“Even when the second goal went in we were chasing the game and just trying to keep the ball in play as much as we could. Aaron Comrie tried to keep it in when on an other day if things are going differently or if it was the opposite way about, that would have been in the stand or up the other end of the pitch.
“When I looked at that game back and the build up to that, I knew that it was coming and knew what we were going to face. It was a key message that we had that we had to stand up to them. We had to be physical in the game and we certainly did that. I think we won battles all over the pitch and were strong in the game.
“In terms of the stats, it is the least that we have run in a while. It is how you perceive these things and after a 2-0 result you watch the game. It was very similar to the last two games that we had against them in terms of the numbers that came out of it.
“They don’t win you games but you always use it as a reference and when we look back at that we knew what we were going to face. It was going to be a case of having to win second balls, we had to win headers and that’s a massive part of the game and the boys showed that they can do that.
“It was a really good performance in terms of that. You take away some of the footballing stuff but you need to make sure that you win the other side of it. We did that and that’s what won us the three points in my opinion.”
Saturday’s win did come with its bumps and bruises, Chris Hamilton had to be subbed and Rhys Breen was even stretchered off. Thankfully the gaffer reported everyone is fine:-
“Rhys has trained, it was a miraculous recovery from the big man. He has not a serious injury, he got a shock in the game and we are really pleased that he was okay come the start of the week. Hammy did recover fine but that’s the way he plays. He enjoys that side of the game and if there is someone that will stand up to that then it’s Chris Hamilton. In my opinion people look at the right way of playing football - you have got to get the ball down and build from the back and pass it - but people like Chris Hamilton doing that side of the game for me is equally important, if not as important. Even the top teams have all got that side to them.
“It gives me a lot of heart when we show that side. It is great when you look at some of the goals that we have scored. I will use Arbroath for an example where you build from the back, you cut through a team and you score fantastic goals but you also need to be willing and able to do the other side of it. We have shown all season we are but in terms of full performance, I think Saturday was that, it was just all hands to the pump and everybody fighting for each other backed by a really good support. We got our rewards in the end.”
There were no new injury problems for James who gave an update on his only absentee, Paul Allan:-
“Paul is now kicking the ball and he will start in training at the start of next week hopefully. He has spent the last couple of days with the Sport Science department and topping his fitness up while doing his footballing stuff on the pitch. He is doing individualised stuff but come next Monday or Tuesday we will hopefully get him back in with the group. That’s a massive positive for us, a new signing!”
Finally are there any movements on the signings front?
“No, we are still working in the background but nothing too far down the line either.”
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