This season Rangers Report will run a series of Match Previews entitled, the Big Three, prior to each match. Rather then write in generalities about teams I rarely see – we will ask people who follow the opponent on a daily basis to provide some insight on their club. Their task is to identify a Big Three — three aspects of their club that Rangers supporters should keep an eye on.
Alloa Athletic: The Big Three
1. Spine of the team
When it comes to individuals, Alloa’s most consistent and impressive performers of the season have come from the core, or spine of the team. At centre half, Alloa’s captain Ben Gordon has had very few bad games in his entire tenure at the club, and his form has shown no sign of dipping this season. Solid and resilient at the back, Ben is a defender of the no nonsense variety, who has really shone and come out on top so far in this campaign against strikers such as Jason Cummings, Kris Boyd and Osman Sow. Ben has a good job outside of football, for which Alloa count themselves very fortunate as I have no doubts whatsoever he could easily play full time at a very good level. Deserves his status as Alloa’s star man.
Experienced ex-Hearts and Dunfermline man Stephen Simmons is Alloa’s “enforcer” in the middle of the park. He provides a cool head at all times, breaking up play, then introducing and dictating from deeper positions once possession is turned over. Although he doesn’t score too regularly, each time he finds the net it always seems to be spectacular – as his volley in the League Cup against Arbroath (already in pole position for goal of the season) indicates. Having joined Alloa after a bad season at Queen of the South, Simmons has revelled in the responsibility of his role at the club, and the 32 year old is a massive favourite with the Alloa supporters.
Finally, striker Liam Buchanan has proved to be something of a revelation this season after being signed by manager Barry Smith in summer. There were fairly low expectations following Liam’s arrival at the club – he was snapped up from East Fife, who had just been relegated to League 2. The striker had a decent pedigree in the past at Cowdenbeath, Partick Thistle and Dunfermline. However, after a spell in Ireland he had become something of a nomad, playing for three lower league clubs in 18 months and there were fears that his best days were behind him. He has certainly proved any doubters wrong in his time so far at the club. Liam has shown intelligence in his touch and the positions he finds on the pitch. Most importantly, he has found the net consistently and regularly for the club – recently having scored in six of the last seven matches. A really classy little player and an inspired signing by the manager.
2. Established unit
In May 2011, Alloa were in the midst of a real low point in their history. The club were relegated to the then Third Division following defeat to Annan Athletic in the play-offs – having just sacked their manager of six years Allan Maitland. The doom and gloom wasn’t to last too long however, as chairman Mike Mulraney moved quickly to appoint Paul Hartley into his first managerial role. Hartley cleared the decks, releasing every player bar one, and began the process of putting together an entirely new squad of players.
The team he put together were certainly successful and effective, as the good times have just kept coming along ever since. Alloa won the Third Division Championship in his first season, and promotion through the play-offs the following year meant that Alloa took their place in the First Division (renamed the Championship of course) for the first time in a decade. Paul Hartley was to resign midway through last season, but the newly appointed Barry Smith managed to steer them towards safety in the most dramatic of circumstances when an injury time goal cemented Alloa’s place in the Championship for this term.
From that team Hartley built from nothing back in 2011, six of those players remain at the club still playing week in week out as they did back in the Third Division. six more still here joined the next season for the successful Second Division campaign. Part time football can become a bit of a revolving door at times, but the constant provided by the established unit of players at the club has created a terrific team spirit. Compared to other teams in the league, the players at the club are on relatively little wages . But as Rangers supporters who were present at the Indodrill Stadium for the 1-1 draw earlier in the season can probably attest to, the players leave nothing on the pitch and work ever so hard for each other. Alloa may come up short in terms of results from time to time, but the commitment and effort of the players is never in question.
Although as mentioned we are the midst of a very successful era at Alloa, one of the clubs rare low points occurred on their previous trip to Ibrox two years ago, where they were on the receiving end of a disastrous 7-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup. There was little question that Rangers played well on the day, but it was an occasion where the Alloa players simply froze and didn’t do themselves justice. Nine of the players who took part that day at Ibrox are likely to be in contention for Saturdays game. I doubt very much that manager Barry Smith will use that day as a motivation tool. After all, it was before his time at the club and the last thing he’ll probably want some of his players to recall is being on the receiving end of an absolute hammering. However, I think that perhaps, in their own private moments, some of the guys who played that day will be determined to ensure that they perform to their capabilities and make a real game of it this Saturday.
You can follow Brian Roach on Twitter at @Alloa1878SC