Albion Rovers travel to Queen of the South this afternoon with nothing to fear and all to gain according to manager Brian Kerr. The Coatbridge side sit top of Group G heading into the final match day of the section, with the League One side confident of causing an upset.
Looking back on preparations for this season’s tournament, Kerr – in his first season as Albion boss – said:
“Pre-Season for us went great; we recruited another few bodies since the last time I spoke with you and we feel they have good quality and can easily fit into our philosophies and the way we want to play. Young Mark Farrell, the Sports Scientist that we have brought in, has done great getting all the boys ready for the matches and that has helped us gain good results and performances over the past few weeks. From my point of view, I knew how I wanted us to play and go about things and it was up to me to try and get the right players in and that took a bit longer but they have fitted in really well. We didn’t get long to work with them before the games started but, due to us hand-picking them, it has allowed them to gel very quickly; because they are a whole new group, they have surprisingly but pleasantly, gelled very quickly and that can only be to the benefit of us.”
Albion kicked off their competitive campaign with a defeat at home to Stenhousemuir on penalties, after drawing 0-0 in 90 minutes.
“I think overall, the 90 minutes we were pretty pleased with in terms of our possession, our creativity, but it was just in the final area we didn’t get to where we wanted to be but with it being our first competitive match, that is understandable, and, like I say, we were really pleased with everything else. I think if you .look at the stats, it will back up what I am saying so it was frustrating not to score and win in the 90 minutes and not to do both in the penalty shoot-out was also disappointing but I would like to think we have put that half-right now.”
Youngster Connor Shields then came off the bench on match day two for the Wee Rovers to score a hat-trick in an emphatic win.
“Connor was one we looked at last year and he done well at times with the first-team but he wasn’t using his qualities in the right way. Often he was used as a right midfielder or on the right wing and that was mainly due to his pace but we felt with his pace and quality in a central area, we can utilise his attributes in a better way and I think he showed that in this [East Kilbride] match as well as the game versus Hamilton. He has done excellent and it is great to see the Under-20’s boys we have brought in to compliment they older guys are now staking a claim and pushing for their own starting spot. The East Kilbride game was very good for us, we got all our frustrations out of the way from the Stenhousemuir game pretty quickly but the most annoying thing was the scoreline. We conceded two despite scoring five, and to be honest, we could have converted a lot more too.”
The penalty-win against Premiership side Hamilton on Tuesday has saw the Coatbridge side top the table of Group G, after a crazy 90 minutes which saw the game finish 4-4.
“I think for ourselves, in the first half, we don’t do the things we want to do – in terms of, we had a solid defensive unit and we got a goal but we didn’t really get a grip of the game with possession, which we worked really hard on over the summer. Then, in the second half when we got to grips with things, we caused Hamilton real problems and pretty much every time we went forward, we looked dangerous but I am still a little disappointed in the way we are losing goals. When I looked back on them, every one of them could have been stopped pretty comfortably, and the man-marking stuff was a bit disappointing but we have looked to make that right – we have worked hard on Thursday and hopefully show it on Saturday in the game. A lot of credit goes to the guys on the Sports Science side that we brought in. I have spoken about it many times [the benefits of bringing them to the club] and I think that was justified on Tuesday: we were playing against a full-time, Premiership, club and we go behind in the match on three different occasions but we are still well in the match and fighting for everything. The players have that never say die attitude and that is how we want them to be. We had a few words at half-time with them and they accepted they weren’t to the standards we all know they can be at, and, in the second half I think they showed the real team we have built here. To keep going so late in the game and get the equaliser, one I think we deserved – and others have said we deserved too. It was a great finish and I think that comes down to many things: fitness, composure, determination, it is all these things and we speak to them about these things all the time so it is great to see them doing it on the pitch.”
One pleasing aspect for Kerr is the gradual increase each match, heading into the league campaign.
“It is great to see the boys are taking things on board There are always going to be wee things here and there but we accept that. They are a totally new group, it’ll take time as we can’t pass everything on to them in such a short space of time, but, as each game and training sessions passes, I hope they learn something new and carry that on. For example, after the first penalty-shoot-out, we just told them to hit the target; if the goalkeeper makes a save you can accerpt that, if it doesn’t hit the target, then no matter what happens with the keeper, if it doesn’t go on ta\rget then you ain’t going to score and again, it was great to see the improvements on Tuesday – 4 step up, 4 hit the target, 4 scored and that was enough for us to get the bonus point.”
With Albion travelling to Dumfries to play Queen of the South tomorrow, either side can still qualify out of Group G.
“First and foremost, we are delighted as a group to still have a chance of winning or qualifying from the section. We have put ourselves in this position, a position many wouldn’t have foreseen us being in, and it is all down to us – doing the same things and the right things that we have been speaking or practising on over the past few weeks; keeping the ball, keeping possession, creating chances. Now we are at this stage, of course we want to go and win and qualify but for us, to get to this stage is great but we will see how the game pans out from there; we aren’t going to put too much pressure on the boys as the expectation levels could then rise to a degree where we see this as an easier game than Hamilton and it won’t be. They are a division above us and a few weeks ago, if people had asked then most would have said an easy Queen of the South win, but, like I said, now there is a little bit more expectation but the players know it is about being totally ready for next Saturday with the opportunity to qualify giving the game that added little bit of spice. There is no doubt the pressure is on them than us; we have just put ourselves in a situation where people get a little bit more excited and get ahead of themselves because we’ve picked up a few good results: we need to go there positive and confidence but we ain’t going to put pressure on ourselves to say we must or will win. We will go into it with confidence and hopefully get something out of the match; I view it as the toughest match of the section due to the added pressures we now have.”
With 2 draws and a win so far, Albion are unbeaten under Kerr’s managerial reign so far.
“When the gorup was made – and even though I know the boys we have and the qualities they possess – I don’t think we have exceeded my expectations. Granted, I didn’t see us sitting top heading into the final game but I certainly saw us being up there challenging and being competitive. We are good enough to challenge anybody and we are proving that right now to everybody, including ourselves, right now. Throughout pre-season, with each session, we saw the players getting more and more excited as they recognised the quality we have got here. It is now all about us and making sure we reproduce the performances we have done; that we look after each other and battering away as if we do that, results will come. I certainly feel going through would send some messages out to some people. I read a couple of weeks ago that we were favourites to get relegated and the boys jnow that – they are well aware of the situation; they know what people at other clubs and in the press think of us and it just gives us that extra wee bit of motivation. I’ve seen it before, though, when teams get good results in the cups at the start of the season, then everything goes to pot in the league so we are grounded, our feet are certainly firmly on the ground. We know we have still got a long way to go to where we want to be to have a good season in the league; it is about picking up good early results and then seeing where it takes you. Winning tomorrow and qualifying would just give us added confidence going into the league campaign. I think looking at it, at the beginning, the clubs which were involved – a Premiership side, a Championship side, a League Two club and a team from the Lowland League – then third is probably where we would be expected to finish. If we had finished below third, people would’ve said we had underachieved whereas, if we win the group or qualify from second, then people will likely say we have overachieved. We have now cemented the expected scenario and now the boys are getting a bit excited to see if they can go through and they now have set themselves a wee challenge – can they handle the pressure; the expectation of picking up a result away from home and trying to get through. We have enough experience in our ranks of boys who have been there and done that to help us along and hopefully that can help us go on to the next level.”