As the rain begins to fall on Forthbank, Stuart McLaren makes his way toward the home dressing room with barely a cursory glance up to the fans, having failed to secure what would have been only his sixth league win of his 11 month spell in charge of Stirling Albion. Goals from John Carter and Anthony Ralston condemned the Binos to their fifth defeat of the season, this time a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Glasgow amateurs Queens Park. An inability to defend set pieces coupled with a lack of fire power in front of goal have contributed to the Albion’s disastrous slide toward the relegation trapdoor of Scottish Professional football.
McLaren, affectionately known as Skippy, left his job as Head Coach at Loughborough University in November 2014 to take the reigns at Forthbank. The former Queensland Roar striker, who had a spell with Stirling Albion in the mid nineties, succeeded Greg McDonald with the Binos sitting bottom of League One. Some attractive passing football and fluid forward play provided welcome relief from the ugly long ball tactics often reverted to under McDonald, but ultimately did not halt Stirling’s descent into the bottom tier of Scottish football.
Despite relegation from League One, and the concession of an eye-watering 84 goals en route, the consensus seemed to be that McLaren should be given the opportunity to build his own team and have them playing the way he wants against the lesser opposition in League Two before final judgement is passed. A summer that saw the inevitable departure of top scorer Gordon Smith, whether that be a negative thing or not depends on which Albion supporters you speak to, and the addition of former Scotland international Craig Beattie seemed, on the face of it, to be a good piece of business.
Despite the signing of Beattie, a player who was unable to hold down a starting berth for Ayr United who finished only two places above Stirling last season, it was two other transfers that may come to define McLaren’s time in charge. The first was the ‘marquee’ signing of Ayr United captain Jon-Paul McGovern. Despite Ayr’s lowly league position, the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder was widely recognised as one of the better players in League One, and his signing was acknowledged as quite the coup for Stirling Albion. McGovern’s season in the red and white of the Albion began with him leading out the team as captain for their pre-season friendlies in the summer, only to end before the autumnal leaves had fallen from the trees around Forthbank. A change of captain and a post-training “discussion” lead to McGovern’s emission from the match day squads for the ties against Berwick Rangers and Elgin City. Jon-Paul McGovern was eventually released on the 1st of September. McGovern turned out for Clyde a week later, helping his new side to a 1-1 draw against Annan Athletic.
The McGovern episode may have been accepted, maybe even forgiven if it hadn’t followed a similar debacle involving one of McLaren’s other summer signings, Mark Staunton. The central defender’s Albion career began in June and ended in August. The former Irvine Meadow man’s first, and last, league game for the Albion saw him concede a penalty and be shown a straight red card for the concession of the spot kick that settled the game in the opposition’s favour. What followed was another “discussion” with McLaren, Staunton’s non-appearance at training and an advert on Pie and Bovril, apparently posted by Mark Staunton, offering his services to any interested Junior football teams before his release from Stirling Albion had been announced. Mark Staunton officially left Stirling Albion 11 weeks after signing, having played only 254 competitive minutes.
These two incidents cast doubt at the very least on McLaren’s signing policy, but perhaps more gravely on his man management style. McLaren has always been amenable, meeting supporters in the stadium bar after games and replying with dignity to his critics on Twitter. However, none of that holds much weight while the team continues to under-perform on the pitch. Injuries to Craig Beattie and other key players, as well as three red cards in their opening eight league games has seen Stirling amass a paltry seven points so far this campaign.
McLaren’s predecessor, Greg McDonald, was given time to try to turn things around after his team’s poor start to the season. McDonald’s men managed only a solitary victory in the league in the 2014/15 campaign before the Board were eventually forced to act in November following a 0-4 humbling at the hands of Stenhousemuir. With the relegation play-off now in place for the side that finishes bottom of League Two, there’s more than just the indignity of finishing bottom of the pile at stake for those in the lower echelons of Scottish football. For Stirling Albion, a team in relatively rude financial health, finishing in the promotion play-off places should be a minimum target. However, for the team who are in their 70th anniversary year, to continue playing as they are, or to decline even further, does not bear thinking about for the Forthbank faithful.
By Allan McCabe – @