New county management team want ‘fluid football’ with a dual strike force
Two up front and passing football is how new Shetland coaches Allan Graham and John Scott Christie like to play.
The pair have taken over following a highly successful tenure from blues boss Niall Bristow – which included making the semi-finals of the NatWest Island Games and a 6-0 drubbing of rivals Orkney this summer.
Bristow’s team also won the Jock McKay Memorial Cup, one of the North Caledonian League’s knockout competitions, earlier this year.
Full of praise for their predecessor, Graham and Christie are excited to have taken over the reigns.
It is a partnership that stretches back to 1991 and their individual football interests much further.
“It’s been a long and winding road to get to 2015,” said Christie, looking back on more than 20 years working with each other.
Heavily involved in youth team football they are both very happy to be working with the senior county squad.
Graham hailed the “incredible bunch of players” he and Christie had inherited and the amount of pace in the Shetland side.
“Niall and his team have done a fantastic job. I think they got results.
I think they’ve done an excellent job developing the players,” said Christie.
“You have got a fantastic squad, you’ve got a fantastic group of players, you’re talking 18 or 19 players that could play in that team.”
Physios Geoffrey Hay and Ian Manning will remain part of the county set-up, the pair said, and the experienced Leighton Flaws will continue as captain.
“He’s going to be a massive help to us,” Graham said. “We’ve got to tap into Leighton’s knowledge and when it comes to playing in the North of Scotland league they’ve been there, seen it and done it.”
The new men in charge have faced professional sides such as Aberdeen and Dundee United when coaching younger players.
An under-21 team has also been talked about, and giving the boys in that team opposition to face, as well as looking to play under-20 professional teams from south in order for the county side to get more experience.
Both are keen to bridge the gap to senior football but Graham said: “You have to have a carrot there for them to train.”
They believe in the advantages of playing teams south and facing different opposition.
“All the young boys that have come into the squad, the James Aitkens and Connor Regans of this world, they have all got experience of playing elsewhere. They’re not fazed by playing opposition down the road,” Graham said.
When it came to future selections it was “a clean sheet”, Graham added.
“The best football players in Shetland will be playing for Shetland.”
Prolific Spurs striker Paul Molloy, who bagged 44 goals this season, has been training with the county team and is looking to feature under the new management.
Molloy was “desperate to play”, said Christie, as was Sam Ward.
He said: “We always play with two up and we’re always a passing team.”
Christie explained they had a way they liked to play and couldn’t pretend to be like any of the other managers.
“I love watching good football and it’s even better if you put a team on the park and enjoy watching it,” added Graham, noting their desire to play fluid football.
The Shetland team’s next competitive match will be against Halkirk on 21st November, starting their defence of the Jock MacKay Memorial Cup. If they are successful they will face another trip away on 5th December to play Invergordon in the semi-final.
Graham and Christie said they would continue to compete in the North Caledonian League knockout competitions, although the Island Games remained the main focus.
Looking ahead to the first encounter next month Graham said: “The first and foremost thing for us is ‘let’s go into the game and see if we can score against them and take it from there’.”