Saturday, August 06, 2011

SPL: Houston Channels Hannibal

Chelsea and Sunderland march proudly over the border to ensure that Rangers and Hibs are otherwise occupied as this stuttering SPL start continues.

Rangers are out of the Champions League, a result that also marked Madjid Bougherra's last game for the club.

Hearts lost Jim Jefferies, gained Paulo Sergio, gambolled through their European tie and landed a Europa League play-off with the Hotspurs of Tottenham. Quite a week at Tynecastle.

Europe and the SPL's early start opt out bonus means we're reduced to only two games today and two games tomorrow. Unsatisfactory.

Dundee United v St Mirren

And so Blackburn finally ended the protracted saga of David Goodwillie's transfer from United. The result - bafflingly enraged Rangers supporters aside - is a lessening of the Tannadice debt mountain but a team robbed of their greatest talent.

Some of what's left isn't too shoddy though as they proved with a Goodwillie-less win at Tynecastle last week.

In an ideal world Peter Houston would still have Goodwillie at his disposal. In a slightly less ideal world he would be allowed to splash the cash.

But this isn't an ideal world. It's not even close to an ideal world. It's the world of Scottish football.

Managers must adapt, make do and mend. An SPL boss is a one man footballing A-Team, locked in a fruit store in a one horse town and using only watermelons to build a weapon capable of stopping the US military police. You just need to hope your plan comes together.

While Houston will wheel and deal in the remainder of the transfer window, promotion from within has proved it's worth a couple of million times over this week.

So optimism abounds at Tannadice that another gem has been unvovered in Scott Allan who made his debut against Hearts last week.

As the door closes on one United career so the door opens on another? We'll see. It might be dictated by financial reality but it's hard to knock United's commitment to youth.

They still need to win games though and the most immediate challenge comes in the shape of Danny Lennon's St Mirren.

If Peter Houston is about to become the transfer window's John 'Hannibal' Smith, there were those last season who thought Lennon was the SPL's 'Howlin' Mad' Murdock. He seems determined to prove them wrong.

After missing a number of chances in their goalless curtain raiser with Dunfermline, St Mirren stayed true to team selection and brand of football to beat Aberdeen last weekend.

The season is but a babe in arms as yet but four points from two games will offer succour to those who felt that Lennon emerged from the summer as well as any SPL manager.

One of his new signings Nigel Hasselbank - one of the Scottish Football Blog's '12 to Watch' - scored the goal that dispatched Aberdeen in a win that had Lennon talking of a top six finish this season.

Tannadice is the perfect place to put such talk to the test, a sterner test than that offered by a disappointing Aberdeen last week.

St Mirren are unlikely to find United as bereft of ideas as Aberdeen were and while four points from two games is a fine start Danny Lennon might be concerned that they've scored only one goal despite dominating for long periods of those two games.

Maybe they're just waiting to score a barrel load one of these days. But I suspect not today. Home win.

Dunfermline v Inverness

As unsatisfactory as the SPL opt-out policies have been, last week at least offered Dunfermline the chance to see off Annan in the Ever Changing Moniker League Cup.

Annika Sorenstam during her days of glory on the women's golf tour used to spend hours and hours practicing putts of within just a couple of feet. The reason? To get used to the sound of the ball hitting hole. Dunfermline will hope that winning football matches is similarly habit forming.

How Inverness will have wished they had last weekend off. A home defeat is always unfortunate, it's made worse when it comes at the start of a season when people are wondering if your squad really does convince.

It's made even worse if it comes against a team who never prospered in the Highlands. It might have been a sclaffed late goal and dodgy goalkeeping that gave Hibs a last gasp victory but it's exactly the sort of game that Inverness would not have expected to lose last season.

Even this early in the season that will be a worry for Terry Butcher. Losing can become a habit as well. Chris Hogg has returned after being released last season to bolster a defence that has shipped four goals in two games. No goals scored means the pressure grows on players like Gregory Tade to fill the Adam Rooney shaped hole up front.

Dunfermline huffed and puffed their way to a scoreless draw against St Mirren, a lesson perhaps that there can be re-entry issues for teams returning to the SPL.

Two teams looking for a first win ending the afternoon with a stalemate? Possibly. But with Inverness struggling this is a big chance for Dunfermline to offer us a statement of intent. Home win.