Stirling boss Dave Mackay is pleased with his side’s BetFred Cup campaign. The Binos boss feels the 7 points achieved against Falkirk, Inverness, Forfar and Brechin can only stand his side in good stead heading into this weekend’s opening league fixture.
This was Mackay’s first pre-season as a manager and the former St Johnstone defender is happy with the Binos preparations ahead of the new campaign.
“I am happy with the way everything has went. The players have came back really fit but we have worked them fit in a relatively short space of time and I think you can see that in the performances, especially of the last three games in the BetFred Cup group. I am really pleased with the fitness levels and the performances overall, other than the Falkirk game, where we were extremely poor and Falkirk were extremely good, on the day, yo be fair – they carved us open on many occasions and we were lucky to get away with a 4-1 defeat. I was slightly surprised with our performance against Falkirk but I knew it was also just a one-off; I know the quality in our team and that was the most disappointing thing. We were poor with the ball but very poor without the ball – our organisation, for example, and that is unlike us but, I think, over the last three games, we have proven that we got them on a good day and they got us on a really bad day. Who knows, it may be the best thing to happen to us: an early wake-8p call to show us that you won’t get anything out of matches if you don’t work as hard as the opposition.”
Mackay continues: “The most pleasing thing for me, since then, is how organised we have looked and the way we have been playing the last three matches. Our pressing, for example, has been really good but it hasn’t just been for 30 or 40 minutes, it has been for whole game and again, I think that shows the level of fitness we have the boys at. We have had a cutting edge too, especially in the Forfar game where we could have scored a lot more goals than we did, so, I am just pleased that the guys are buying into what we want them to do and the way we want them to work which augurs well for the season.”
Looking at the BetFred Cup campaign overall, Mackay sums it up by stating:
“Lets be honest, the cup – while it is competitive – has no bearing on how the league at all. Teams can have a great cup campaign but they can’t reproduce that form in the cup and we can’t have that heading into the Stenhousemuir match next week. What I would take away from it though, is that I wanted to run with a small squad this season and we have currently got a group of 19 (albeit, Andy Little will still be missing for a while still, so we have 18 to work with). We have rotated the squad – we have made 4 or 5 changes each game and the pleasing thing for me is that, you wouldn’t see a major difference in the line-ups. People wouldn’t notice we have changed a couple of players because the quality is still there and that is what we lacked last term – if a couple were missing, through injury or whatever, then we really struggled to compete with the squad we had; this year, I wanted a smaller but much more competitive squad and I think the boys realise that as well – I don’t think there is one player in the squad who can currently say “I am definitely going to get picked against Stenhousemuir” and I think that is great as it gives me a headache and I would rather that than saying too myself “oh God, I only have these 11 guys to choose from and that is it” as there is nobody there to push them, so I am really pleased, also, with that aspect.”
When asked about the possible practise of penalties ahead of the new campaign – after failing to convert any in their BetFred Cup penalty-shoot-out defeat to Inverness – Mackay was calm about the situation.
“I think t was just one of they nights, to be honest. Players fancied themselves to step up and score and for whatever reason, they have missed. I have played in plenty penalty-shoot-out’s myself and I have scored in some and missed in some, it happens. Inverness missed a couple that night too and to be fair, the standard of penalties became laughable! The thing is, however, if we got put into that scenario again later on in the season, and some of the same guys put their hands up to take a penalty, I would let them. We got two penalties against Brechin, too, and we converted both of them; Liam Caddis, who didn’t get to take his versus Inverness as he was fifth, and Peter MacDonald – who wasn’t playing against Inverness – also scored so, there isn’t an issue with penalties and I would like to think it was just a one-off.”
After a third placed finish in Group A of the BetFred Cup, how does Mackay view the form of his side going into the the League Two season, which kicks off this Saturday.
“After the Falkirk game, if somebody told me you will finish on 7 points I would have been really pleased with that. Falkirk and Inverness we knew were a quality above – Falkirk played really well on the day compared to us whereas against Inverness, we competed really well and deserved something out of the tie. The real measure for us was, for me, the games against Forfar and Brechin – I know they are a Championship side now but they were in League One last season and I felt that would give us a more accurate view of where we are and I was delighted to come away with 6 points – neither win was a “smash and grab” type performance, it was two game we definitely deserved to win going into the league season, but, as I said earlier, sometimes teams can get carried away with things and others are too hard on themselves; our preparation has always been geared towards the league campaign but it was great to get a good cup campaign to go before it. Results are always skewed in the cups – Peterhead beating Hearts last week springs to mind. Clyde had a few good results too except their defeat to Ayr, so it shows it is going to be competitive league this season. Everybody has Peterhead as the favourites and understandably so, as well, as they have a bit of money to throw around; they have signed a few guys, who are of higher pedigree than this division but, in saying that, they are at the wrong end of their careers or they wouldn’t be playing here so it is up to these guys – McCracken, Cairney, Gibson – to go and show they are still good enough or if they have dropped slightly from where they were 5 or 10 years ago. It will be interesting to see how they fare with the pressure of being favourites. Nobody is really mentioning us; personally, I know how good we are in the dressing-room. I know what we can offer having saw them and worked with them on the training ground and I fully expect us to be up there challenging, there is no doubt about that. We played a game on Saturday with Queen’s Park. It was a closed-door’s game at Lesser Hampden as it was there free weekend too. I didn’t want the guys going 10 or so days without a match; we felt it was a chance to get some of the guys who didn’t play versus Brechin some minutes under their belts and that is something we have done well, I think – we have spread the team out over the matches and that has allowed us to get everyone on the park for a similar amount of time so all the guys are ready and raring to go if called upon, on Saturday. A big part of the rotation as well is trying to save the guys from picking up wee injuries: being part-time, they are out working all day and then they are training or playing games every 3 or 4 days which is quite intense for this time in the season, so that is a major facto, also, with us making so many changes for each game, too.”
Talking about how the squad is shaping up, the 36-year-old said:
“At the minute, I am happy with what we have got. We may add one more if I feel it is necessary but that may be dependant on another going out. If we go with what we got just now – and knowing Andy Little will be returning in a month or two, and he will make a difference as well – then, unless we get a few injuries or we move someone on, then I can’t see us bringing anyone else in.”
Talking specifically on the test Stenny will pose on Saturday, the Stirling gaffer said:
“It’ll be a tough one – and they have recruited really well over the summer. They have lost a lot of players from last season – whether that be through them getting released or moving on to other clubs -but they have brought in a lot of experience for this level, so, I expect them to be up there challenging. It is an exciting game for us – it is a derby match – and it’ll be a really good test for us. I am sure the fans, like the players and myself, are looking forward to the real stuff kicking off at the weekend.”
Does Stirling not being seen as one of the early favourites by the bookies make any difference?
“I don’t think where we were tipped as clear favourites or rank outsiders, that it’d make a difference to be honest. I know the quality I have in my dressing-room and I know where, in my mind, we are going to be and I think that is all that matters. If we meet the targets I think we are capable of then I think we are in for a very successful season.”