Sunday, August 21, 2011

SPL: Welcome Home

After the party, the hangover. The fear. The self loathing.

Rangers thought they'd pulled the good looking girl only to see her disappear into the bedroom with a handsome stranger.

Celtic were ignored most of the night, left to stand in the kitchen nursing a lukewarm can of Skol.

And Hearts? Well, poor Hearts, they lost their invite and got kicked up and down by the bouncer when they tried to get in.

Never has a banging Euro hardcore soundtrack delivered such a poignant reminder of Scotland's footballing frailty.

But what did we learn from this week of European misadventure?

We learnt that within every Scottish football fan lurks a doomladen Private Frazer.

Other than that we learnt nowt. Not a thing.

Rangers and Celtic endured their own frustrations but the results are not yet fatal to their chances of progressing.

And few of us would have argued that either half of the Old Firm were without flaws going into Thursday night.

We should also have accepted that a clash between the best of the rest in England and the best of the rest in Scotland was going to highlight a glaring gulf in quality.

We might have hoped that Tynecastle wouldn't witness quite such a massacre but nor should we have been surprised at what happened.

The disparity in skill reflects the disparity in available resources. The apparent disparity in fitness - "who's the little fat man chasing Gareth Bale?" asked one tweet - and basic technical ability raises different questions but, again, should be no surprise to those who watch both Scottish and English football.

It's also important to note that this Spurs team have won big in their own league before. The inequality that afflicts football has not chosen Scotland as its sole victim.

Depressing. For sure. Surprising. Not so much.

Maybe the truth is we should disregard our European results for the next few years. While they can provide a valuable yardstick they also lead to kneejerk reactions.

From the recriminations and the phonecalls to The Samaritans comes only the window dressing of the inconsequential quick fix.

The sort of reaction that left us with the early SPL kick off, an ineffectual gimmick so confused and mishandled it delivered resentment without any benefits.

The work has to be done in getting our own house in order. Without that the SPL's international forays will forever be doomed to play out like latter day Darien schemes, bringing our once great footballing reputation to its knees.

Don't tell me that we're doing something that will help "save the co-efficient" next season. I won't believe you.

Show me the five year plan that will allow SPL footballers to convince that they are actually "footballers" in the modern, world game sense of the word. Then I'll have something to buy into.

Anyways, our remaining Euro representatives are concentrating on domestic duties today:

Motherwell v Rangers

A top of the table clash to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Are Motherwell the team to take the challenge to the might of the Old Firm this season?

Is Alistair Murdoch McCoist trapped in an Ibrox nightmare, pining for the days of witty banter with Sue Barker as the realisation dawns that he is the worst manager in the history of Rangers?

Asking either of those questions this early in the season is an act of total muppetry.

Motherwell have impressed, Ally has toiled.

Such is the way of the early season. Anything else is wild conjecture, premature hysteria or the construct of a media that has to find something to talk about even when nothing is happening.

It would be nice if we could leave all that to one side and just enjoy the game. A game against a Motherwell side who have started strongly and a Rangers team still searching for its rhythm. That could make for an appealing spectacle.

Score draw.

Celtic v St Johnstone

Frustrated by drawing a blank against Sion on Thursday night, Celtic return to the SPL and give St Johnstone a right old spanking?

We've seen it happen before.

Or St Johnstone set out to frustrate the hosts, ride their luck but don't concede and an increasingly desperate Celtic can't find a way through?

Perhaps.

But I'd lean towards the first outcome.

Home win.

Kilmarnock v Hearts

How do a chastened Hearts side recover from Thursday night?

By hitting Ayrshire and proving that they very much intend to remain the third force in Scotland, whatever ills beset them in Europe.

Kilmarnock, of course, will be pure buzzing after essentially doing unto the Hibs defence what Spurs did to Hearts last week.

There was much to be impressed by in a flowing, clinical Killie performance. But we must also concede that this is a Hibs side very much there for the taking.

So Hearts will be wary of a Kilmarnock side with the ability to take emphatic advantage of failings in the opposition.

Any lingering flatness or tiredness in the Hearts team is likely to be punished.

Much will depend on how well Paulo Sergio has rallied his troops.

Home win.