Sunday, January 30, 2011

SPL Today: Can't See The Calderwood For The Tears

Dundee United v Hibs

A Sunday kick off allows me to use today's match preview to sneak in what is now becoming a far too regular rant about the many deficiencies that currently haunt Hibs.

This one is slightly different though. It's the "sticking up for Colin Calderwood and finding hope for the future" post.

"Wait," my regular reader(s) scream. "Have your faculties departed, your senses taken their leave?"

No, what little sense I ever had is pretty much still intact, my essentially minimal knowledge of soccerball has not deserted me.

But…

Firstly I have to say that I don't think Colin Calderwood is blameless in the current despondency at Easter Road. This is by far the most sustained run of bad form that I've seen because there is so little sign of the team offering anything at all.

Calderwood has failed to inspire the players at his disposal and the chopping and changing of the team hasn't had a positive affect.

But…

Anybody who doesn't think Hibs would be in this mess if they hadn't sacked John Hughes is wrong. They would be. Hughes has a fairly major role to play as one of the villains of this whole sorry tale, he's at the very least a joint architect of Hibs' downfall.

And that's me being kind to him.

"But," you cry. "Hibs were only 8 points off third when Yogi left, now they're second bottom and 32 points off third."

True. But by third you mean Hearts and now is not really the time to measure Hibs against their city rivals. The truth is Hibs started the season poorly under Hughes, just as they finished last season poorly under Hughes.

But the fag-end of Hughes' reign coincided with every team outside the Old Firm starting the season slowly. It took time for Hearts, Kilmarnock, Inverness and others to find their feet. Various teams have improved as it was clear they would.

Just as predictably Hibs haven't improved. Wouldn't have improved under Hughes and haven't improved under Calderwood.

"So," my now somewhat annoying imaginary friend counters, "sacking Hughes hasn't made any difference because Calderwood is just as bad."

Possibly. You might be right. But you might be wrong. It's too early to judge.

I don't know how much Calderwood saw of Hibs before he took the job. But I don't think he was expecting the squad to be as bad as he found it to be.

When he admits after a couple of months in the job that he does not have what he considers a starting eleven that is not a manager dodging responsibility or excusing his constant shuffling.

That's an honest opinion from a professional, it's an opinion that must frustrate, baffle and annoy him.

"Ah, but as manager is he not responsible for making them better."

Yes, to an extent.

But could Alex Ferguson turn a genuinely bad footballer into the inspirational force Hibs need right now?

Could Jose Mourinho exhort Derek Riordan to try when he clearly has no intention of trying?

Could Pep Guardiola increase Kevin McBride's pace or cure Ian Murray's aching limbs?

I honestly feel they would struggle.

There are still more than a dozen players in the Hibs squad who are out of contract in the summer. The result is a squad that mixes inexperience with experienced players who don't care enough to try and a number who are, through little fault of their own, just not very good at football.

Is that Colin Calderwood's fault?

Sack him. Go on I dare you. But, if you could find anyone to take the job, I suspect they would struggle just as badly.

So where now?

Look at two of Calderwood's first signings. In come Matt Thornhill who he managed at Nottingham Forest. And in too comes Martin Scott who assistant manager Derek Adams managed at Ross County.

I don't think it is any coincidence at all that the first two signings are midfielders known to Calderwood and Adams.

This is Calderwood exerting control, putting two of "his men" in the dressing room, allies that he will hope he can rely on where the players he has inherited have let him down.

Look too at Richie Towell coming in from Celtic at full back. And Callum Booth's appearance on the opposite flank in the last couple of games.

Suddenly we can see Calderwood formulating a plan. Rebuilding his defence and his midfield. Players he thinks he can trust and young players who are hungry to impress replacing the old crowd.

We can see that in the increased role Danny Galbraith has played since Calderwood arrived, a player that John Hughes was quick to praise but who he then left to the bench, amid rumours of a manager who would barely talk to the player.

Young with something to prove, just like the latest signing Victor Palsson from Liverpool. And therefore with something to offer Calderwood that he doesn't see in more established "stars."

And look at the players who are going out of the door. A rumoured departure for Derek Riordan and Merouane Zemamma off to Middlesbrough to frustrate and delight. Chris Hogg and Sol Bamba already gone.

Is Calderwood clueless? Or is he actually using this transfer window to quietly bring about nothing short of a revolution within the budgetary constraints the board imposes?

Is he actually wriggling out of the straitjacket that he found himself in when he took the job?

The late addition of a goalkeeper and a striker could yet see Calderwood field a team that does not contain one player who would have considered himself a starter under John Hughes.

Hardly the work of a manager who doesn't recognise there is a problem, of a manager overawed by the size of the job.

Obviously there is a chance that Calderwood's new Hibs will be just as hopeless. In which case Rod Petrie has followed a diddy manager with a diddy manager.

But at least with his own team there can a far more measured analysis of Calderwood's ability. And, as painful as it is to watch Hibs right now, some of the abuse Calderwood has taken has been above and beyond what a manager so new to the job should have to put with.

Phew, out of the system.

Today

So today's game. Too soon for my rantish theory above to have played out. Hibs will struggle on again.

Dundee United are the Scotland's draw specialists right now, a run that includes throwing away a two goal lead at Easter Road. At times this season it has looked almost impossible for a visiting team to throw away a lead at Easter Road, that United managed it suggests their own form is not all it could be.

But not as bad as Hibs who will go a calendar month without scoring if they draw another blank today. Without scoring Hibs won't win games and they look equally incapable at the back. Blunt and porous. It's a hell of a combination for a professional football team to suffer from.

So United must be favourites today. If Hibs can stop them scoring then there is hope for at least point. But can they?

Home win.

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