Saturday, October 23, 2010

Celtic v Rangers Preview

Eight games each, eight wins each. Nobody else is coming between Celtic and Rangers so it’s left to them to sort out the little local matter that is the Scottish championship. Us mere mortals can only watch with wonder as the Glasgow Premier League title is decided over the course of four Old Firm games.

Of course it might not work out like that. But that’s how it feels just now.

People like to say Old Firm games are never meaningless. They can be for the neutral observer but tomorrow offers the chance for someone to edge clear in the race for the SPL. No wars will be won but the battle provides the opportunity for a psychological victory.

It must be tiring being a certain type of Old Firm fan. There can be little time for sleep given the devotion to checking for opponents under the bed. Makes Joseph McCarthy look unenthusiastic about finding the enemy within.

Today I’ve read on a Celtic blog a scathing attack on The Scotsman for mentioning - in context - that today’s referee Willie Collum is a Religious Education teacher. I’ve read a Rangers blog attacking the video clips that Reporting Scotland used on their preview on Friday night. Tiresome.

But cut away the layers of nonsense and paranoia and we’re left with the intriguing prospect of a football match between two sides who just keep winning. Admittedly they might not be vintage teams for either club but when two 100% records come up against each other we might be entitled to expect something interesting to watch.

Such prospects have a nagging habit of disappointing and the thought lurks at the back of the mind that Celtic and Rangers could cancel each other out.

Rangers ability to shut up shop and play with a certain stubborness and caginess is by now well established while Neil Lennon has sought to bring back Celtic’s renown for expansive football.

Yet the script might not be as simple as that. Rangers caginess has seen them score 22 goals to Celtic’s 18 this season. Celtic’s attacking has seen them concede four goals to Rangers’ seven.

Despite that we can expect Rangers to employ their more “European” style and carry, through Wiess, Miller and Naismith (if they are selected), a threat on the counter. Celtic will be tasked with breaking them down and staying alert to the counter.

The result should be enough to keep even this cynical neutral engaged, we might even have some entertainment.

And, I suspect, that both teams will relinquish their 100% record.


The Celtic view and the Rangers view over on Left Back In The Changing Room.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The SPL Weekend

A few weeks since the last prediction post. Maybe the lay-off will have improved my performance. Although recent experience at the bookies would suggest not.

This weekend’s SPL feast boasts a relatively intriguing starter, a rather stodgy main course and then, with a suitable break to aid digestion, one of those showpiece desserts that always fascinate but often leave a bitter aftertaste.

Enough, though, of the contrived culinary claptrap.

Aberdeen v Hibs
Does John Hughes removal from Easter Road leave Mark McGhee the SPL’s most beleaguered boss? Nothing that a wee run of results couldn’t fix. Not easy though in a league where, Old Firm aside, everyone else is locked together in a muddle of mediocrity.

And what of Hibernian? A new man in the dugout. Again. A fresh boss promising to turn Hibs into the third force. Again.

A win at home last week will have boosted the confidence and Colin Calderwood will no doubt be leaning on last week’s caretakers Alistair Stevenson and Gareth Evans going into this one.

The outcome? Away win.

Hamilton v St Johnstone
Hamilton haven’t won at home this season, St Johnstone haven’t won away. Something to give tomorrow?

Nah, draw.

Hearts v St Mirren
The mystery of Hearts home form seems to be causing some scratching of heads at Tynecastle. So we can see the visit of St Mirren as a chance to put that record straight or as an opportunity for the bottom club to pick up points on the road.

Which will it be? A home win.

Kilmarnock v Inverness
Solid starts to the season for both these teams despite being relatively unfancied in August. But holding their own in the league within a league that has produced 10 contenders for Europe. Or ten relegation candidates.

I’m backing a home win though.

Motherwell v Dundee United
The SPL game of the day? Craig Brown’s predicting a “cracker” and apparently never gets fed up of seeing Peter Houston. Sweet.

So we want a goal laden thriller. And we’ll end up with a nil-nil. Hopefully not. A close one though.

Score draw.

Celtic v Rangers
Big game this. So I’ll return to it later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SPL Restructuring: Numbers Game

Another day, another meeting.

Another debate on the structure of the Scottish Premier League.

And still no conclusions. It seems now that we’re not going to get any kind of vote on the issue until the end of the year. This being Scottish football we can probably add at least two months to that.

The upshot, in my opinion, is that we’re unlikely to see anything new for a while yet. Even that’s dependent on any proposal carrying 11 of the 12 votes on the SPL – a voting system that might work well if you want to ensure that Kim Jong-un becomes Supreme Leader but ain’t any way to run a league that is collapsing under the weight of its own mediocrity.

The Scotsman reports:

An SPL spokeswoman said today: "It's one in a very long, long line of meetings on this subject.

"There have been many meetings on potential changes over the past year or so.

"In terms of decisions being made, we are still quite a bit off anything being brought in front of the clubs to vote on.

"Neil has said previously that he hopes a decision can be made by the end of the calendar year and that's still the timeframe."

Rangers chief executive Martin Bain issued a stark warning to his SPL colleagues this week that Scottish football is in dire need of change.

He told shareholders at the club's annual general meeting: "I do believe that change will come, but we are probably only at the start of the process.

"For the overall growth of our national game, there really has to be radical change but the complexities of numerous clubs, stakeholders, governing bodies and our footballing structure make this extremely difficult and challenging.

"In saying that, there have been many constructive and balanced discussions of late and I fervently hope these will ultimately produce findings and recommendations for radical solutions rather than a tinkering around the edges."

Bain added: "In the past, the footballing authorities in Scotland have perhaps taken too much of a parochial attitude to such initiatives as domestic league and competition structures, but we cannot afford to do that now.

So is a change gonna come?

I think there will be a restructuring now. Probably some sort of compromise around a 14 team league with a split in place rather than an immediate leap to 16 teams.

I don’t know when it will happen though and I won’t be holding my breath.

Colin Calderwood Joins Hibs

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen a tweet I sent a week past Sunday:

“Hearing Steve Clarke has got Hibs job.”

So, if nothing else, I need an ear trumpet.

How close did Clarke come to getting the job?

I don’t know. Living in Leith when Rod Petrie is on the hunt for a new manager is like picking up the phone and finding you’ve got a cross line with Dot Cotton and Hilda Ogden. Rumour, counter-rumour and gossip abound. Nobody knows anything so they fill the vacuum with something they’ve made up.

But only Rod Petrie knows.

And so it was, a week after my failed scoop, that Colin Calderwood was introduced to the media as the manager of Hibs.

The chairman was quick to call the appointment a “coup.” The fans seemed to disagree slightly.

Talk of Steve Clarke might have turned some heads. A friend of Zola or Mourinho is maybe more attractive than a friend of Chris Hughton who has previously managed Northampton Town and Nottingham Forrest.

That he apparently confirmed he’d been overlooked in favour of John Hughes 15 months ago raised some eyebrows. Let’s just interpret that as Rod Petrie now admitting he made a mistake that time around.

But Calderwood has enjoyed promotion as a boss with Town and Forrest and again as assistant with Newcastle (are Hibs lucky that the Norwich job didn’t come up at the same time? Is this an “N” fetish?).

That experience at Newcastle gives him experience of dealing with dressing rooms filled with the towering egos of giant man-children who are every bit as petulant, if richer, than some of the players who have allegedly been exerting a malign influence on the Hibs squad.

And he has the advantage of being Scottish without being “Scottish football.” It’s a brave decision by Petrie to get off the SPL merry-go-round but I think it’s one that should be applauded, and the break with the pattern of appointing former Hibs players must be welcomed given the prompt departures of Collins, Mixu and Hughes.

It’s impossible to say how Calderwood will do. Decent managers struggle at clubs that don’t suit them, bad managers thrive at clubs where the players and supporters respond to them. There are no guarantees – and plenty of risks – with any appointment.

So we wait and see. He’ll not be short of advice about how to improve things. But he’ll need to figure that out on his own.

As for those underwhelmed fans. Well, the Easter Road derby in the first week of November would be a good place to start winning over hearts and minds.

That Was The Week That Was

Apologies for the lack of blogging of late. Laziness combined with actually – and most unusually – being quite busy has got in the way. I need to rediscover my motivation. Maybe I should take inspiration from the prolific genius who created the best TV series ever made about a group of Vietnam vets surviving as soldiers of fortune.

So what have I missed? Wins at the weekend for Rangers and Celtic and, more shockingly, a home win for Hibs. Dundee’s administration confirmed but the club’s future not really any clearer. Gordon Strachan’s experiment at Middlesbrough ended in predictable failure around the same time that Colin Calderwood’s reign at Hibs began.

Wayne Rooney has discovered a cure for cancer.

No he's not actually. But given the amount I’ve read, heard and seen about his decision to leave Manchester United it is obviously an event of similarly global significance. Still, an amusingly hurt performance from a vintage Sir Alex Ferguson at his press conference yesterday as he attempted to redirect the story in favour of club and manager. His luck in that endeavour is that painting Rooney as a greedy ingrate was never likely to be too difficult a task to pull off.

Rangers entertain Valencia tonight. Another “park the bus” performance? Gib Football Show blogger Andrew Gibney has a few pointers for Walter Smith in an orgy of tactics porn over at STV.

And another big game for the champions on Sunday when the Old Firm clash for the first time this season and with barely a cigarette paper separating them in their race for the title.

Plenty to be getting on with, then. Unless we discover in the next hour or two that this blog is going to be sacrificed in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

* I made an appearance on the podcast last week. Unfortunately technical issues make my brief appearance sound as if it was relayed from the bottom of a Chilean mine. Thanks to the guys for inviting me on though and I look forward to doing it again.