Saturday, January 15, 2011

SPL Preview: Strength Of The Wolf

Hibs v Celtic

The ESPN juggernaut rolls into town to enliven an otherwise dull - and rather damp - Saturday lunchtime in Leith. I’ve been banging on all week about how bad Hibs were against Ayr United but I really can’t stress enough the shortcomings of this squad.

Bill Belicheck, coach of Superbowl favorites New England Patriots, once said this about his philosophy:

"There's an old saying that the strength of the wolf is the pack. On our football team, it's not the strength of the individual player, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together."

Right now Hibs appear to be a side without either individual strength or strength as a unit. That is worrying.

So a visit from the league leaders is the last thing Colin Calderwood would want.

Yet Neil Lennon can’t be entirely happy with his players either. The win against Rangers was impressive but they continue to huff and puff in other games. Top of they league they might be, but this still doesn’t seem to be a convincing Celtic side.

Let’s leave aside the furore surrounding the game at Hamilton in midweek. The blunt truth about the game is that Celtic were found wanting against a well organised and determined opposition. It’s not the first time that’s happened this season.

The question today is if Hibs can replicate that organisation and determination to leave Celtic frustrated again.

Hibs fans will remember that this squad remains enough an enigma of Leith to have won 3-0 at Ibrox earlier in the season. That might have been a one off, a freak result. But it offers some hope in a beleaguered season.

I would expect Hibs to try and offer the kind of committed, defensive performance they gave against Hearts on New Years Day. They fell short that day but it has been a tactic that other teams have used with some success against Celtic this season.

From my exalted position in the Easter Road hospitality suites I will be expecting an away win. But you just never know. So, when the bookie comes round, I'll cover myself and back the draw.

Aberdeen v St Mirren

A city reborn, a club rejuvenated. Not quite, but Craig Brown’s impact at Pittodrie has been immediate and it has been impressive. St Mirren just can’t find the run of consistency that would ease their worries. Home win.

Dundee United v Hearts

Based purely on their last games this is a home win. United impressive in beating Motherwell and Hearts poor as St Johnstone knocked them out of the cup. But football isn’t as simple as that. Jim Jefferies will be looking for an immediate reaction from his players. I think he will get it. Away win.

Kilmarnock v St Johnstone

Kilmarnock will have spent this week feeling slightly bruised after their pleasant brand of football came up against a brutal dose of Realpolitik courtesy of Rangers on Monday. St Johnstone will be buoyant after their cup success at Tynecastle. Could be a good game this. Draw.

Motherwell v Inverness

Tom Hateley was in the paper yesterday talking about new boss Stuart McCall, a former colleague of his dad at Rangers. “Who would have thought that he’d end up being my manager” asked Tom. To which the answer must be “Nobody, Tom, nobody at all.”

McCall will have been unhappy with his side’s performance against United in midweek but these are early days in his tenure and consistency has been an issue at Fir Park all season.

Inverness manager Terry Butcher took what is often called a benny at the way his club is treated by the SPL this week. Can that anger translate to the the pitch? A mini SPL slump from Inverness of late. But I’m backing them to recover from that today. Away win.

Rangers v Hamilton

Bottom of the league and looking to be really struggling Hamilton have received few plaudits for their performance in the Battle of Little Big Horn New Douglas Park as the focus has been trained elsewhere.

As good and admirable as that result was the injuries and suspensions mount up for Billy Reid. A trip to Ibrox would probably not be his dream destination at the moment.

A Kenny Miller-less Rangers, a certain extravagant physicality aside, looked quite impressive in brushing aside Kilmarnock on Monday night. I can’t see them having too many problems today. Home win.

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