Welsh Premier League Champions, The New Saints are just one game away from a first-ever Irn-Bru Cup final, but standing in their way are Scottish Championship side Dumbarton.
Fraser Clarke of the Lennox Herald, who also runs Tales From The Rock, a website focusing on Dumbarton, gives us an insight into The New Saints opponents.
The history of Dumbarton Football Club
Formed in 1872, Dumbarton are one of Scottish football’s oldest sides – and are currently enjoying somewhat of a renascence in Scotland’s second-tier.
After being one of the most dominant clubs in the early years of Scottish football (winning the first two league titles and the Scottish Cup), the Sons saw their fortunes decline. After years bobbing about the lower reaches of the Scottish Football League, Dumbarton re-entered the top tier in 1972 and stayed up (albeit only by a point) the following season. Three years of top-tier football ended under restructuring, and it would take Dumbarton more than a decade to recover.
Their return to the rebranded Scottish Premier Division in 1984 lasted just a season – as the Sons were relegated having finished ninth. More than 30 years on they still haven’t returned.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been anything to cheer about. Sons won promotion in dramatic fashion in 1994-95, to return to the second tier after a lengthy spell in the lower leagues. It wasn’t to last, as the club’s fortunes took a serious turn for the worse.
Two consecutive relegations under the disastrous management of Jim Fallon (P50, W2) followed, and by the mid-90s the club was unsuccessful on the pitch – and playing in a stadium that was fast becoming unsuitable to host football at any level.
At the turn of the millennium a deal was struck with house builders to buy Boghead Park, on the premise a new ground was built at the foot of the club’s historic Castle.
Dumbarton moved into the (catchily named) Strathclyde Homes Stadium in December 2000, and since then it’s had plenty of names – almost all of which have been equally as catchy! Whether it’s the Bet Butler Stadium, Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium or (as is currently the case) The YOUR Radio 103FM Stadium, fans tend to just call it the Rock.
In its short life, The Rock has seen plenty of action and hosted football in all three lower divisions.
The club’s rise over the last decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Having finished ninth in the 2007-08 Third Division (Scotland’s fourth tier) Dumbarton were crowned champions a year later, before going on to win promotion to the second-tier via the playoffs in 2012.
Since then they have been the only part-time club in recent years to establish themselves as a Championship team – and even recorded two home victories against Hibernian in the season they lifted the Scottish Cup.
Why the Sons, and why an Elephant?
The two questions all Dumbarton fans have been asked!
Sons comes from ‘Sons (or daughters) of the Rock’. The name given to people from the area in tribute to the massive volcanic plug that dominates the town’s skyline.
The elephant on the badge also comes from the Rock which, apparently, resembles an elephant if viewed from the right angle, at the right time of day, in the right light…
Stevie Aitken is currently the man at the helm, having taken over from the hugely successful Ian Murray in May 2015.
The former Stranraer manager has built his reputation on succeeding as the underdog, and his sides, whilst not always high on quality, have always fought for their manager.
The THREE To Watch
Andy Dowie – Defender – Sons’ captain is the vastly experienced Andy Dowie, a close-season signing from Queen of the South. Having scored an own-goal within half-an-hour of his debut for the club, Dowie took time to adapt to part-time football. Since November, however, he’s been a rock in the heart of the defence and is arguably the club’s most important player.
Dimitris Froxylias – Midfielder – Connah’s Quay Nomads’ fans will know the danger the little Cypriot poses, having scored a last-minute free-kick against them on his debut. After an explosive start to life in Scottish football, injuries have restricted his game time in recent months, however, when on form he’s one of the league’s most naturally entertaining players.
Iain Russell – Striker – The most experienced player in the squad, Russell has scored almost 200 goals in Scottish football. Having initially retired in the summer of 2017, he got his boots back on to help out the club who kick-started his career last month. Despite being 35 he’s still as fit as ever too.
Story of the Season
A strong run in the Irn-Bru Cup aside, it’s not been a season to remember for Dumbarton so far. In the Championship Sons sit in ninth position – 16 points clear of Brechin City, but some six behind Falkirk.
That should come as little surprise given the heart of the team was ripped out over the summer. Player of the Year Alan Martin moved to Queen of the South, where he was joined by leading creative influence Andy Stirling (who has since returned). Wide-forward Robert Thomson, who was a key component in Sons’ tactics, left to join Greenock Morton, and his 12 goals have proved impossible to replace.
Also leaving over the summer was first choice centre-half pairing Darren Barr and Gregor Buchanan, whilst left-back Daniel Harvie and star midfielder Sam Stanton also left on the expiration of their loan deals.
That left Aitken with a massive rebuilding job, and it’s one that has been very hit or miss. Some players (like Dowie, Froxylias, Tom Walsh and Mark Stewart) have enjoyed life at the Rock, whilst others (such as Chris Johnston and David Wilson) have struggled to make an impact.
How Will They Lineup?
The game comes at an unfortunate time for the Sons, with both first-choice full-backs (Chris McLaughlin and Sam Wardrop) missing through injury. McLaughlin suffered serious ligament damage against Falkirk before Christmas, having cemented his place as a firm fans’ favourite.
Celtic U20s captain Wardrop meanwhile has been missing since the start of the year, having suffered an injury that, at first, wasn’t considered serious. He may be fit enough for a seat on the bench on Saturday evening, having been scheduled to return to light training this week.
In McLaughlin’s absence, Stevie Aitken signed left-back Liam Dick from Stranraer. He’s cup-tied, however, and so right-back David Smith will likely start on the left.
Ironically that leaves the right-back position unoccupied, and with Dougie Hill (injured), Grant Gallagher (only just back in training following a year and a half out injured) and Aidan Wilson (cup-tied) all unable to play, striker Calum Gallagher could well start in defence.
All told Dumbarton look like they’ll be without nine first-team players. Forwards Kevin Nisbet and Mark Stewart (potentially fit enough for the bench) will be a big loss to a side already struggling going forward – whilst Sons will also seriously miss cup-tied winger Andy Stirling.
Based on the current injury situation, I’d expect Dumbarton’s lineup to look something like this:
Calum Gallagher Craig Barr Andy Dowie © David Smith
Stuart Carswell Kyle Hutton
Tom Walsh Danny Handling Dimitris Froxylias
Dumbarton under Stevie Aitken have historically been a counter-attacking side. Although at the moment they don’t seem to be having much luck in the ‘attacking’ part!
Expect some fairly resolute defending, and both deep central-midfielders to only cross the halfway line on very rare occasions. Much of the onus will be on Tom Walsh and Dimitris Froxylias to create something from nothing, whilst Iain Russell will likely face a thankless task feeding off scraps and chasing lost causes.
Sons also have an alarming habit of conceding from set-pieces. In fact, 22 of the 46 goals they’ve conceded so far this season have come from free-kicks, corners or penalties. That will likely be a weakness that TNS will be keen to expose.
Reasons to be Cheerful (if you’re a TNS fan…)
- Dumbarton are the second lowest scorers in the whole of Scottish football – having hit just 15 league goals all season. Only League Two basement dwellers Cowdenbeath have a poorer record.
- Sons have only found the net in one game so far in 2018 – and that came against League Two Peterhead.
- Dumbarton has only scored once in their last seven (SEVEN!) league games.
- The club’s two top scorers (Mark Stewart and Dimitris Froxylias) are both only just returning from lengthy spells out injured.
- The club has never reached a Challenge Cup final before – in fact, this is their first ever semi-final in the tournament.
- Dumbarton’s last league goal scored by a player currently in the squad was way back on December 2nd! That was also the same day as they last won a game.
(Featured Image: John Ferguson)