Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hamilton: Bank On Relegation

Hamilton are relegated. Just as surely as Fred Goodwin is a banker* the Accies have reached the end of the SPL road.

Well, they haven't quite. But it seems to be getting closer and closer.

Billy Reid's side now languish at the foot of the table, seven points adrift of St Mirren who have a game in hand.

And it's St Mirren they must concentrate on catching if they are to escape their fate.

St Johnstone, Aberdeen, Hibs and one of Inverness and Motherwell are going to be too far ahead of bottom place by the time of the split to be dragged back into the mire.

Hamilton's next four games are against St Johnstone, St Mirren, Rangers and Hibs.

At least two of them would appear to be must win matches if they are to claw themselves to some kind of parity with St Mirren before the last five games of the season.

St Mirren, whose next five league games include Hearts, Aberdeen and Celtic, look to have the more difficult pre-split run in. But I would be fairly confident that Danny Lennon will just need to avoid defeat in the game against Hamilton to maintain a comfortable distance between the sides.

In recent games reporters and pundits have been falling over themselves to patronise Hamilton for their performances and insist that their "luck must change."

Which is, frankly, bollocks.

When you're the condemned team there is no guarantee that your luck must change. None at all.

When you're the condemned team being denied a possible penalty shout at 1-1 against United is what happens.

When you're the condemned team playing well against Hibs only to lose goals when you've been attacking is what happens.

It's shit. But that is the luck you get.

But it's not just bad luck that sees Hamilton where they are.

Last night in Dundee they welcomed back Alex Neil. Club captain, big presence and important part of the successful years Hamilton have had.

With the greatest of respect though, Hamilton need a lot of things right now. And, as big an influence as Alex Neil exerts, he's not going to be able to save them.

At the moment I'm reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis. And it's fascinating about the use of sabermetrics in baseball.

But Hamilton don't need Wall Street traders or Harvard economists to tell them why they're failing.

They're deep in the doodah because they don't score goals. And when they do they can't convert them into wins.

In 14 home games this season Hamilton have scored only nine goals and won no games.

In 15 away games they've managed eight goals and two wins.

That's relegation stuff.

It's true that, because proven goalscorers cost money, Hamilton are not the only SPL side to struggle.

St Johnstone have scored only 18, just one more than Hamilton, this season. But they've managed to clinch five home wins and three away wins with a goal difference of -16 compared to Hamilton's -33.

So St Johnstone with only one goal more are six wins, 17 goals and 17 points better off.

St Mirren have scored five more goals than Hamilton but won three more games and seven more points with a goal difference of -23.

With what appear to be not disimilar attacking resources, the two Saints are making more of an impact in the SPL.

In fact, throughout Scotland, only Ross County, eighth in the First Division, have scored as few goals as Hamilton this season.

If you're not going to score goals at least shut up shop at the back. But Hamilton have struggled with that as well. The Accies have shipped 50 goals this season, three more than even Aberdeen whose statistics are skewed by a 9-0 humping at Celtic.

In the Scottish leagues only Stirling Albion, bottom of the first, have a goal difference as bad.

If you can't score and you struggle to defend then suddenly a 1-0 loss or 2-1 loss becomes an OK result, an improvement. 0-0 or 1-1 becomes a stunning result. That's not enough for Hamilton right now.

So Hamilton are destined to go down because they are crap?

Possibly. But crap teams have survived before. And at one stage this season it looked like Hibs were so poor that Hamilton might have been able to watch the Leith side hurtle past them into the First Division.

There are also mitigating circumstances. Since Hamilton won promotion they've lost James McCarthy and James McCarthur to England. Neil has missed most of this season through injury.

And the money has simply not been there to provide even adequate replacements.

Nor has there been money to find a goalscorer. Mickael Antoine-Curier and Flavio Paixao lead the Hamilton scoring charts. They've got three league goals each.

A lack of goals scored and too many goals conceded are the traits of Hamilton's season.

The hard luck stories and the pundits plaudits are perhaps less a symbol of their continued fight as a confirmation of their reality.

The players are responding, are finding the spirit to battle on. And it's still not good enough.

Some fans are blaming the manager, others give him the benefit of the doubt because of what he's achieved in other seasons.

The media and pundits will probably lean towards the latter verdict because Billy Reid is a good bloke and they don't care that much about Hamilton anyway.

To constantly upset the odds on a tight budget is a hard job though. Perhaps Reid has just run out of ideas or luck. Either way the situation is now so bleak that there is little he can do except try to keep the players plugging away and hope, like the fans, that something, anything, changes.

I hate to see any team going down. Been there, done that, still feel the scars.

But someone (most seasons) has to. And this season that looks very like being Hamilton.

* Sir Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, has taken out an injunction banning the media from calling him a banker, an MP has claimed. (The Mirror)

Doesn't say anything about rhyming slang though...