The IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of January. After much debate, a judging panel consisting of respresentatives from the Scottish media decided upon the winners.
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Ian Murray (Dumbarton)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Allan Johnston (Queen of the South)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Gardner Speirs (Queen’s Park)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month - Jesus Garcia Tena (Livingston)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Stuart Bannigan (Partick Thistle)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Ginger Boot Winner – Nicky Clark (Queen of the South)
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month: Ian Murray (Dumbarton)
Dumbarton’s resurgence from being the long term occupiers of bottom place in the First Division to the in-form team of January, 2013 was recognised with Manager Ian Murray being awarded the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month for that division.
Murray, who was only appointed to the Sons hot seat in November and then had to wait over five weeks to take charge of them in a League game, has made a fantastic start to his first managerial post and the former Hibernian man reckons that instilling confidence has been the key to what he describes as ‘the most dramatic turnaround I have seen in my career.’
The 31-year-old said: “When I first came in, it was like the players felt that they did not deserve to be in the First Division but we have just had a great January where we won four games out of five. Up until losing to Livingston at home at the beginning of February, it was actually 15 points from 18 which is top of the League table form.”
It was a very different picture when Murray watched a wretched Dumbarton go down 4-0 to Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park just two days before he officially took on the reins at the Bet Butler Stadium as he explained: “We were really struggling then and were seven points adrift. The players’ confidence had been knocked and not just by losing games but by the manner of the defeats.
“They were losing lots of goals and there was just no belief there. Dunfermline had been in the SPL last season and Dumbarton were in the Second Division and the players’ only objective was damage limitation.”
The weather stepped in to give Murray a helping hand as his debut as a Manager was delayed until the week before Christmas when his side unsuccessfully faced Hamilton Academical in a Scottish Cup tie with League points not being fought for until the last Saturday in December at Falkirk.
Murray used the break much more wisely than a rookie boss would have been expected to as he explained: “I was not sure how that period was going to pan out because whilst we were not playing, Airdrie who were second bottom, were getting games on. I started getting my ideas over and worked on building up the confidence in the squad.
“Fortunately, Airdrie never increased their advantage over us and when we got back to playing, the players were excited as the gap had not widened. We had something to aim for and we beat Falkirk and then Morton in away games but then lost to Dunfermline at home.”
Despite that set-back, the confidence grew with Murray saying: “The gap was three points by that stage but we were in control of things for the first time and that got everyone buzzing. We saw off Partick to show that we could win at home but Airdrie saw off Dunfermline on the same day so we remained bottom.”
“We then came from behind to defeat Airdrie with a great team performance to draw level with them. We finally came off the bottom by beating Hamilton to round off a great month.”
Murray issued a note of caution saying: “Keeping Dumbarton up was a big ask when I came in and there is still a long way to go. I know very well that there is only five points between us and Airdrie but I do sometimes get greedy and think Hamilton are only one point ahead and Raith are only five so we can go further.
“It would be great to end the season safe a week earlier and be able to relax for the first time since I started.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month: Allan Johnston (Queen of the South)
Queen of the South Player/Manager Allan Johnston turned up at Hampden for the fourth time this season to pick up the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month Award for the Second Division however, his assistant, Sandy Clark, ensured that he was not getting complacent.
Clark, who was asked to come along by Johnston to acknowledge his role at the runaway leaders, said: “I don’t know about monthly awards but I won the Manager of the Year Award with Hamilton Accies a long, long time ago in the days of the Bell’s sponsorship when you were rewarded with a huge bottle of whisky.
“Allan has still to achieve that!” joked Clark.
The former Heart of Midlothian, St. Johnstone and Berwick Rangers boss added: “It won’t be long until he does if he keeps on developing at the rate that he is. I have known Allan a long time and I am delighted that he chose me to jump into management with him.
“There are a lot of good young Managers about like Paul Hartley at Alloa and Ray McKinnon who has started well at Brechin, but Allan has deserved all his awards. I knew him when he was 16 and even then he had tremendous awareness of what could happen in a game and he still has that on the touchline.”
Johnston’s Doonhamers now sit 18 points clear and their perfect record of played four and won four in January has been added to with wins over Stenhousemuir and Stranraer in February as well as a draw with second placed Alloa Athletic.
Johnston added: “In our last eleven games, we have had nine wins and two draws. You cannot ask for much better than that. The players have been fantastic but there are still a lot of games to be won and lost.”
The 39-year-old said: “We have a lot of confidence in the camp and getting good results. It is my job over the coming months to ensure everyone is still up for every game.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month: Gardner Speirs (Queen’s Park)
Queen’s Park’s Head Coach, Gardner Speirs, was awarded the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month for the Third Division after an unbeaten start to 2013 during January.
Speirs’ Spiders bounced back from their 29th December injury time defeat to Rangers to win three times last month and move from fifth place and into second spot. They have stayed there with a win, a draw and a defeat in February and a fifth extended season through the Play-Offs looks on for Queen’s.
The Spiders' boss said: “The players deserve great credit for picking things up so quickly after the last game of last year ending so disappointingly for them. It is great to be recognised in this way and it is a great boost for the remainder of the season.
“The Clyde game on 2nd January was a key game for us as we could have gone out to play it a bit down after losing to Rangers so late in the game but we went and played in a totally different way. We scored two goals early on and played some of our best football of the season.”
Queen’s Park then won 3-2 at Stirling Albion with Speirs saying: “That was a really hard game to win as Stirling fought very hard throughout. We were ahead and then they levelled before we went 3-1 up but they still refused to lie down and scored again which made for a tense finish.
“We then played Peterhead at Hampden and had a goalless draw in a game where we should have been ahead at half time. The second half was a lot tighter but the point kept us second.”
The month was rounded off with a 2-0 win over East Stirling with Speirs adding: “They are the most improved side in our division so winning against them was great. We scored a good goal through Tony Quinn and then got a bit of a break when a shot was deflected in by Ricky Miller.”
The award is Speirs’ second of the season and he said: “It is a sign of the progress that we are making in that I normally get my first award around this time in a season. We have been more consistent in this campaign rather than our usual approach of coming alive after Christmas and going on a great run until the end of the season.
“Hopefully, we can keep that consistency going until the end of the season.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month: Jesus Garcia Tena (Livingston)
Livingston defender, Jesus Garcia Tena, will be able to add another line to an already impressive CV that includes spells at Spanish side Espanyol and Italian giants Juventus after being awarded the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month for January.
The 22-year-old was recognised for his solid ball playing displays at the heart of the Livi defence and he was delighted to be chosen saying: “This is my first award anywhere. It was unbelievable when our Head Coach, Gareth Evans, called me and said I had to come to Hampden.
“I think I have been playing well and it is nice to be recognised especially at Hampden. I remember Espanyol playing here in the UEFA Cup Final back in 2007. I was in their second team then.”
Espanyol were Tena’s first club and he also played for Sabadell and Terrassa in his native Spain before moving to Turin for a spell at Juventus in 2011. He never made a first team breakthrough in a black and white striped shirt however, he did play in Italy for AC Cuneo.
His time in Italy came about when he was signed alongside his younger brother Pol Garcia Tena, who is also a centre half, with the older sibling saying: “I played for Espanyol and so did Pol. He then went to Barcelona but the two of us were signed by Juventus. I played in their second team, the Primavera, and he was with the youths.
“Pol is now playing regularly for the Juventus second team and he was on the bench twice recently for the first team. He is only 17 and whilst we went together to Turin, we did not play in the same team.
“My younger brother was on the bench for two games recently against Lazio in the Italian Cup Semi-Final and then Udinese.”
Tena played in pre-season friendly games against Craigroyston and Kilmarnock before agreeing a one year deal with the Lions and he was asked how he ended up being a West Lothian player.
“My agent is a friend of John Hughes and John Collins and he asked me, ‘Do you want to go to Scotland to play in the second tier?’ and I said ‘yes, definitely,’” said Tena.
He continued: “In Italy, it’s too difficult for young players to break through. There is a rule there that if you move team, and if you play young Italian players, then the Italian Football Federation will give money to the club. But if you are from another country, then they don’t pay for you. So it’s difficult for a Spanish guy, or a British player, to play in Italy. So whilst I was a Juventus player, I had to play for Cuneo last season.”
Last season Tena played with the Serie C side and he is well placed to talk about differences in footballing styles as he said: “It was different in Italy and Spain. In Scotland, the game is much quicker and the ball is played much faster than in the other countries I played in but I enjoy it. It took time to adjust but that is not a surprise.
“When you go to another country, you always need time to adapt your game to the way it is played in the country you are playing in. I knew Livi had Oscar Rubio playing for them in the past and he was a good footballer. When I spoke with John Collins he told me he wants us to play football and to pass the ball and that is what I can do.”
Tena added: “I enjoyed living in Turin but it was really cold for me after Barcelona. But I enjoy Scotland, I really like Scotland but the weather is cold like it was in Italy. I need the sun but this is not as difficult as Turin last year where it was minus 10.”
Italy is known as a good school for defenders and Tena was glad to be a pupil as he said: “Yes, being at Juventus was really good for learning. In the current Juventus team, all the centre-backs are Italian and lay the foundations for the national team – Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. Of course, it was good to learn from these guys.
“I don’t have a really good bond with any of the first team players but they were good with me when I was there especially Andrea Pirlo, Alesandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon.”
As for being taught tricks of the trade, Tena said: “Let’s just say Chiellini is a typical Italian defender. He is injured just now but when he plays, he influences the defenders around him but to be fair, they also have a lot of experience without him. Bonucci and Barzagli are internationals with Italy and Martin Caceres is with Uruguay. So they are strong.
“Training with them was really good because you learn a lot of things. They are top players and you can learn a lot of things from them. If I didn’t know what to do in a situation, I would ask Giorgio Chiellini. I ask him and he would give me the best advice because he is one of the best defenders anywhere.”
Tena saw his former club mates in action recently when Celtic hosted the Italian giants in the first leg of a Round of 16 Champions League tie with the Livi defender saying: “Yes, I went to that game along with my Livingston team-mate, Toni Andreu. We wanted Juventus to win for my brother as he got us the tickets even though he was not with them in Glasgow.”
His Livingston team-mates were quick to tell Tena before the game, which Juventus won 3-0, that he would be making a wasted journey to Parkhead as he explained: “There are a few Celtic fans in the team but I always said that Juventus would win. They just told me that I am a crazy Spaniard but I am obviously a Juventus fan for these games.”
“I thought the first leg would be a draw and then in Turin, Juve will win especially in the new stadium which helps the atmosphere. I went to four or five times to see games there and it was a really good atmosphere. The previous stadium, Delle Alpi, was too big.”
Celtic, of course, reached this stage through their qualification group that included a win over Tena’s home city of Barcelona where they defended stoically and Tena said: “I do not like that kind of football but against Barcelona sometimes, you have to play this way. But it was a really good game and a really good win for Celtic.”
Tena added: “Espanyol and Juventus were great places to start but now I am really happy at Livingston with my teammates and with the fans. I am really happy in Scotland and really happy to pick up this award.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month: Stuart Bannigan (Partick Thistle)
The early stages of 2013 became even better for Partick Thistle midfielder Stuart Bannigan when he added the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month Award to the recent 90 minutes he played for Scotland’s Under-21 side.
Bannigan was the subject of an in-depth focus in last week’s SFL Newsletter and he was delighted to add some more words saying: “It is great to get the IRN-BRU SFL Young Player of the Month Award as it is a good reflection on me and the team. It is nice to be recognised as an individual but it is really a team effort here at Thistle. Everyone looks on me getting this award positively as it shows that we are all doing well.”
Winning, Bannigan and the SFL have all been close bed fellows in the past with Bannigan adding: “I have been a SFL winner before with the Under-19s back in 2010 when Ian Cameron was our coach and we beat Livingston 3-2 in the SFL Youth League Cup Final. We were the underdogs going into it as they had a few players with first team experience, including some of the Jacobs brothers, so winning it was great.
“As well as me from that team, Ryan Scully is still a Thistle player as is Jamie Campbell but they are both out on loan with Albion Rovers and Stranraer respectively just now. A few boys got games in the first team like Kieran Burns and Kyle Lochhead however, it is only Ryan, Jamie and I that are still involved in the first team here.”
Bannigan added: “2013 has started very positively for me and for Thistle and I have to hope the rest of the season is like this.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Ginger Boot Winner: Nicky Clark (Queen of the South)
Four goals in three League games was enough for Queen of the South striker, Nicky Clark, to pick up January’s Ginger Boots. However, he has still to get his feet into them as the size ordered did not fit.
Clark netted a double in the 5-1 demolition of Arbroath before hitting singles in the Doonhamer’s wins over Albion Rovers and Forfar Athletic.
Clark said: “It is always good to pick up awards and be recognised for what you have done. I have to thank my team-mates as I only scored in every game last month as they created the chances that allowed me to put the ball in the net.
“We have lots of players in our team that create and take chances so it is good to be heading the list of goalscorers there. I have 27 now in all competitions for the season and whilst I have not set myself any targets, I do want to score more.”
Clark’s philosophy on scoring is a simple one as he said: “Goals lead to confidence and my confidence is high at the moment. I got back on the score-sheet at the weekend against Stranraer after a couple of weeks of not scoring.
“I was away to score when their goalkeeper brought me down and Ryan McGuffie took the penalty. I thought my chance was gone but I got one later on.”
As for his bright footwear, Clark added: “I am waiting for my new boots to arrive as the first pair were not in my size. I will certainly give them a try and if they feel good, I will be wearing them in a game.”