Stevie Grubb has warned his Scottish Premiership-chasing Grange squad: “We need to start the second-half of the season the way we finished the first.”
Grange men are in cold storage outdoors until mid-February as the winter break in Scotland kicks-in. Crocked Robbie Croll and David Nairn, plus Cale Walsh, who tweaked a hamstring during their final game against The University of Edinburgh, one of their closest challengers for silverware, will all be available to come back in.
Grubb, however, believes his team is well-balanced currently and said: “We have to fit them in and retain that balance.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas. We’ve had tough games against the University, tough games against Western and tough games against Clydesdale and Inverleith, for example. All these teams will come out and give us a game (in the second-half of the season).”
In terms of the quality on the pitch, Grubb felt the fixture against Hamish Imrie’s students was the toughest of the season so far and he said: “They have shown that, given the opportunity, they can score goals.”
Grubb said they played the students at their own high pressing game and he felt his men dominated the first three quarters in a 3-1 victory at Peffermill, the students home pitch, over the hard-running opposition who, to their credit, refused to give up.
The Grange game plan was to play out of the back and a double from influential Dylan Bean was important, one coming from their first penalty corner of the game, which followed one of their first real attacks, and the other from open play before the break.
However, the killer goal came early in the second-half from emerging teenager Archie Stephen, prodding home from close range at the far post, heaping pressure on the students who responded by pinning Grange back for a spell.
Grubb said: “We got it back under control. When they (the students) took their keeper off they had the ball higher up the pitch, but we were still in control. For most of the game. we controlled possession so controlled the game.
“The students play a high pressing game and we definitely played them at their own game. We identified where we wanted to press and we identified the type of passes they would want to make. We set up to say it will be difficult (to play that pass) or you have to do something different. It made them think. Yes, they are a good side, but we dominated.”
Grange did not give player/coach Hamish Imrie, a Scottish international who has played club hockey abroad, any special treatment, and Grubb said: “It is not about individuals it is how they are going to play as a team.
“If the team do their job then the individual player can’t dictate a match. It is only a team which dominates a match, not one player.”
However, he homed in on one influential individual in his own squad. Walsh has evolved as Grubb’s on-field general and he came off with a hamstring problem in the first-half. Grubb confirmed it was not a tear and he was withdrawn as a precaution.
The coach said: “There is no point in losing eight to ten weeks so he (Cale) will rest up and be OK for the second half of the season. It is the right time for it to happen.
“He is experienced and has a voice on the pitch and him coming off the pitch impacted, but others had to step up.
“Our conversion rate from corners is much better than it was last year and we’ve been working on that to make it count. It has paid off.”
Grange have an unblemished record of 10 wins for 30 points with 45 goals scored – the third best in the 12-strong table – with Western second on 24 points (won eight, lost two, goals for 47, against 18) and The University of Edinburgh third also on 24 points (won eight, lost two, goals for 46, against 19).
Grubb added: “If we keep playing the way we are playing it is in our hands, but we have to keep working hard in training and then turn up and play the games.”
Experienced goalkeeper David Forrester has been another stand-out so far and he had a really good game, according to the coach, against Imrie’s men, and, in particular, one top save to his left side high up in the second half following a Sam Hunt shot from a penalty corner.
Grubb admitted that, in the first three or four games of the league campaign, Grange were in an around the D but connections were not coming. However, against the University, and in several fixtures games before that, they were clicking, which, he said, was really pleasing from a coaching perspective.
“However, looking forward, we just need to start the way we have finished here next year, in February, which is a long way away, but we have the intensity in training now and training is hard.
“We have a lot of players chasing positions. There are 24 players in the squad. We have Robbie Croll and David Nairn to come back (after injury) and the issue now is how do we fit them in and maintain the balance. It is a well balanced team right now.”
Something obviously to ponder over the Christmas festivities.