Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hearts v Hibs: The Last New Year Derby

OK, so Hibs and Hearts have met close to the New Year recently. But this was the last of the New Year's Day fixtures.

A 2-2 all draw on the first day of 1998 that saved Jim Duffy's job long enough for him to complete his mission to relegate Hibs.

The neutral would probably take a four goal thriller today. The similarities with current plights might not be lost on Hibs fans.

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Guardian Top 100 Football Blogs

Nice article on The Guardian sports blog today listing the top 100 football blogs. Even nicer that they saw fit to include The Scottish Football Blog.

Cheers to them and a happy Hogmanay to all.

See you on the other side.


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Hearts v Hibs: For Whom The Bells Toll

Derby day and the form book goes out the window. It's a cliche to even quote that cliche now. But maybe it's true.

Hibs need it to be. Because right now Hearts look prohibitive favourites as the traditional New Year's Day derby returns to Edinburgh for the first time in 13 years tomorrow lunchtime.

The last time first footing the neighbours held this appeal you were probably living next door to a couple called Fred and Rose.

Colin Calderwood's reign at Easter Road has been far from comfortable with Hibs incapable of putting together a run of form and his constantly changing defence failing to deliver what the manager wants and what Hibs badly need. They always look like they're going to concede and that is draining the confidence of the whole side.

Not much sunshine in Leith at the moment.

Which, as always, is harder to stomach for Hibs fans when Gorgie seems to be positively aglow with the warmth of a team in form.

Hearts are undefeated since they brushed Hibs aside in the first derby of the season at the start of November. Suddenly Jim Jefferies side are looking up towards the Old Firm rather than over their shoulders.

Players like David Templeton will be relishing the chance to get at this Hibs team. It remains to be seen if the visitors will be able to cope.

Jim Jefferies will be on a mission to stamp out any complacency. But even old Jim might be looking forward to this one with just a frisson of anticipation.

But nobody would have expected this Hibs team to beat Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox. In coming back from two goals down on Wednesday night Calderwood will at least have seen some spirit from his side.

So Hibs are down but not yet out. Hearts are flying but not invincible.

Derby day in Edinburgh. Anything can happen. I've got to predict a home win. But when I head to the bookies I might just cover myself. Hibs could yet leave a few folk choking on their steak pie.

Elsewhere in the SPL

Aberdeen v Dundee United
Craig Brown gets his first taste of home comforts after two wins on the road. Is he turning Aberdeen round? Seems so. United impressed in the first half against Hibs but ultimately gave up a two goal lead. The New Firm, a new year and a new Aberdeen. Home win.

Hamilton v Motherwell
Everyone's getting in on this derby action. Hamilton haven't played for quite some time and have slumped to the foot of the table. New Motherwell manager Stuart McCall won't have been impressed with much of what he saw against Celtic on Tuesday. Could be a tight one but I'll go for a combination of McCall inspired boost and Hamilton's rustiness to deliver an away win.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Terry Butcher and Inverness

Football management is a strange beast. A good manager in the wrong job can be left looking foolish. A bad manager in the right job can be left looking like Midas.

Terry Butcher is a decent manager with both successes and failures in his career. At Inverness he has found a well run club that suits his style. The result has been a year of almost constant progress for the Scottish Football Blog's Manager and Team of 2010.

In November 2009 Inverness didn’t look like they had much hope of promotion. Butcher had been unable to prevent their relegation and together they seemed set to follow the established pattern of a relegated club failing to get straight back to the SPL.

Then something clicked. Inverness put together a 19 game unbeaten run that included seven straight wins. Dundee’s implosion helped, but Butcher clinched promotion with two matches to spare thanks to his side’s form as much as failures elsewhere.

And the return to the SPL has seen Inverness breathe fresh air into the top half of the table as well as extending their unbeaten away record to over a year.

That includes draws at Ibrox, Parkhead and Tynecastle, with a two goal deficit being clawed back against Celtic and the 1-1 draw at Ibrox repeated when Rangers headed north.

Snipers might say that many of those draws have been achieved by "parking the bus." But that overlooks the decent footballers Butcher has in the squad and some of the spectacular moments they've given the SPL this term.

Stirring stuff and, if two home defeats haven’t been a fitting end to an impressive year, there is a feeling of a young club coming of age. It's easy to forget that this is a club that has only existed in its current form for 16 years.

A top six finish looks more than achievable in 2011. Off the field the club appear to be in rude health and active at the heart of their Highland community.

The news that David Sutherland, the club’s largest shareholder, is now prepared to relinquish his 25 percent stake to suitable investors should help secure an even brighter future.

A debt free Scottish football club looking around for investment to move forward rather than to save their skins? Truly, Inverness Caledonian Thistle are at the rarest of things: a Scottish football success story.

Others might want to look and learn.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Well Tip McCall To Do Well

Rumours are rife that Stuart McCall has signed a one year rolling contract to take over as Motherwell manager.

Another left field choice for Motherwell, although John Boyle's judgement in such matters has been reasonably shrewd in recent years. It's not really Boyle's fault that he has to go through the recruitment process so often.

Eyebrows will be raised but McCall seems to tick the required boxes. He's affordable, he'll have shown a willingness to accept Motherwell's budget constraints and he has a working knowledge of the game down south.

His coaching experience includes promotion and a stint in the English Premier League with Sheffield United as assistant to Neil Warnock.

As a manager he had an iffy spell at Bradford City although it was a turbulent time for a club that had been relegated to League Two and were suffering a major financial breakdown. McCall couldn't lead them to promotion but it was never going to be an easy job for a managerial novice. Passion and hometown loyalty are rarely enough in football.

His record at Bradford disappointed - and he clearly felt the pain of not being able to secure a return up the leagues - but he also steadied the ship. A new manager taking over a club that has only a dozen players in the squad is not only being thrown in at the deep end but having their head held under the water.

So Motherwell offer McCall a fresh start. And he offers them something of the unknown. We don't know a huge amount about McCall the manager.

He'll not lack spirit. But he's got a hard act to follow in a league that remains competitively bunched together.

Like all managers he will need time. In his favour he's not inheriting a mess. He's got something to build on. It's going to be interesting to watch the latest Fir Park gamble.

* As I write Chick Young reports that Stuart McCall has actually signed a two and a half year deal with Tommy Craig joining him as assistant manager. The appointment of Craig immediately answers any questions over McCall's experience.

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The SPL's Wednesday Wonders

A famous five today, St Johnstone's clash with Rangers having already lost out to the weather. Hamilton have a pitch inspection scheduled for this morning. If New Douglas Park isn't fit to stage the match then the Accies will not have played a match this month.

Hamilton v Aberdeen
If this one goes ahead then it will be the only professional match in Britain kicking off this afternoon. This might be brave scheduling or foolhardy. Unfortunately temperature might have more to do with the size of the crowd than outside the box thinking from Hamilton. We'll see.

Mr Kipling's mince pies weren't even on the shelves of your local Co-op the last time Hamilton played while Aberdeen enjoyed a winning start to the Craig Brown era against Hibs on Sunday. That result sent Hamilton to the foot of the table. More misery today? I suspect their recent inactivity will count against them. Away win.

Celtic v Motherwell
Celtic's fifth home game in a row. Six points from the last four is not a great return but Sunday's late show against St Johnstone at least points to a certain spirit in the squad.

Motherwell have played only twice since Craig Brown's departure, a spirited showing as they lost to Hearts and a capitulation to Rangers at the weekend. It's been a December to forget at Fir Park. They might have another 90 minutes of suffering before they can move on though. Home win.

Hibs v Dundee United
Apparently Dundee United used to play football games. And Hibs used to be a football team. Having not played since 20 November, United will be worried about being caught cold this evening while Hibs look capable of being caught cold no matter how many games they play.

Looking at United's lack of games, I'll tentatively back the draw. For some reason this game kicks off at 7.15 this evening.

Inverness v Kilmarnock
Given their excellent 2010 Inverness will be smarting a bit after Sunday's defeat to St Mirren. Bit of a shock that one. And Kilmarnock are hardly the team you'd pick for an easy match to bid farewell to the old year.

A clash of two of this season's success stories, hopefully this one will warm a cold Highland evening. Draw.

St Mirren v Hearts
An away win at Inverness was the perfect Christmas result for St Mirren but they need a run of wins to get clear of the messy business at the foot of the table.

Tough test this evening though against a Hearts team undefeated since their Halloween horror show at home to Kilmarnock. Jim Jefferies will be looking for a win going into the Ne'er Day derby. Away win.

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Scottish Football Blog: Thanks Pop Pickers

Amazingly some people actually find the time to read the odd article on this blog. Thanks to everyone for dropping by. 2010's top 15 most read articles have been:

1. Scotland in 1958: Familiar Feelings, Familiar Failings: Who couldn't thrill to a draw and two defeats in Sweden? A Guardian blog link probably helped drive a bit of traffic my way.

2. Remembering Leeds United: Great Scots at Elland Road.

3. Scotland v Liechtenstein: My preview of Scotland versus the perennial qualifying minnows. I predicted we'd score three or four. Ha ha.

4. SPL 2010/2011 Fixtures: A quick chat about the fixture lists for the season. Later censored because the SPL basically hate anybody publicising their creaking product. Apparently. Idiots.

5. Scotland in 1974: Undefeated, Proud, Hame: The definitive Scottish World Cup hard luck story?

6. 2010 World Cup: Rain on Spain?: Remember Spain lost their opening match at the World Cup? The only champions ever to do so.

7. Scotland in 1986: Another Hard Luck Tale: 24 years ago Alex Ferguson was just another Scotland manager who couldn't quite get us to where we wanted to be.

8. SPL 2010/11: TV Times: Another fixture discussion post. More SPL sponsored censorship. Fools.

9. Alan Gordon, 1944-2010: The passing of a Hibs great.

10. Celtic 1 v 3 Rangers: Testing Times For Neil Lennon: Collum and controversy stole the headlines. But Celtic just weren't good enough in the season's first Old Firm clash.

11. Scottish Goalkeepers Are Rubbish: Craig Gordon. The lad's done good.

12. Scotland in 1978: What Just Happened?: We're on the march. The pain of nostalgia.

13. Dave, David, Hibs and Politics: Hands off Hibs, the tax exile millionaire and the Prime Minister.

14. Boyd Signs For Parmo: Kris Boyd and a magnificent culinary invention.

15. Partick Thistle Fans Boardroom Conspiracy: What's going on at Firhill?

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Match Of The Year

OK. So there was some Marx Brothers defending. And Hibs' underbelly was again exposed as being softer than a marshmallow.

But if the SPL could offer matches like this every week our game would be in much ruder health.

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