Saturday, January 15, 2011

Would You Adam And Eve It?

Defeat for Blackpool at West Brom today. Which isn't a great result. But I did want to share a link about Charlie Adam with you.

Adam's English Premier League progress has been well documented. His travails at Rangers seem stranger by the minute. The much lauded, and apparently much in demand, Blackpool player used to inspire comments like this:

"I thought Adam was nothing short of rubbish. IMO he was the same last year. Every time he gets into good positions he wastes the ball."

And now he's inspiring blogs like this from Jasveer Singh Gill at Dexy's Den:

"He plays with a class and style that embody the club he is currently captaining; all hail Blackpool’s newest legend: Charlie Adam."

"...with even Sir Alex Ferguson declaring his admiration for Charlie Adam, calling him “one of the best players in the league.”

Well worth a read of the whole article. It might raise other questions about youth players getting a chance at Ibrox. But for the moment we should just be admiring everything that Charlie is achieving.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

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.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Video: Kenny Dalglish

Friday afternoon and I've not done the Friday videos for a wee while. So here's a couple featuring Kenny Dalgish.

I read a comment on Twitter the other day with someone saying that they'd heard a lot about Dalglish the player but didn't see as many clips of him as they did other great players of the past. Hopefully the goals below will redress the balance.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Kenny Miller To Turn Down Italian Job

Kenny Miller's eventual destination this January is still undecided at the time of writing.

But rumours suggest he'll be picking Birmingham City over Fiorentina.

It might be too late for Kenny but this article by Alan Temple on Gib Football Show is well worth reading if you despair of our increasing footballing insularity:

"However, if there proves to be substance behind these links then it would be foolhardy for the two players to cast aside moves which could potentially shape and enhance the rest of their playing days, and their potential coaching careers beyond that, simply because they could earn more money in the sickeningly wealthy Barclay’s Premier League."

More at

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hamilton v Celtic: Another Refereeing Stramash

Jings, crivvens, help ma boab. Oor Wullie's been at it again.

Collum that is.

Scotland's most famous religious education teacher inspired yet another biblical fury in Neil Lennon at New Douglas Park last night.

Three red cards, one penalty awarded and another turned down, an offside goal allowed for Hamilton, a goal for Celtic disallowed. This was a 1-1 draw with attitude.

Big calls all night. Sympathy with the referee for the red cards for James Forrest and Jim McCallister. Watching the highlights of the game made me wince when I saw the challenges going in. Late challenges both. The ref only gets one look and I think Collum got both calls right.

I've seen a lot of these sliding, late challenges lately. Seems to me players are asking for trouble.

And, yes, sometimes players do "get away with it." Doesn't make it right.

Martin Canning was offside for Hamilton's goal and his run in front of Fraser Foster meant he was interfering with play. Collum could probably not tell that from his position and his assistant seemed to be standing on the wrong side of the line of players in the box rather than in line with them. Maybe this is the norm for free kicks but it meant his view of Canning was impeded.

The penalty Celtic got was right and the red card that followed for Simon Mensing was justified. Celtic's disallowed goal was the right call by the assistant, the ball going out of play from the corner. On that occasion the assistant was in line with the goal line, perfectly placed to see the ball.

Which leaves us with two things to ponder. Should Celtic have had another penalty? I know not, as I've not seen it and it is not included on the BBC website package.

The second issue: Hamilton are bottom of the league and haven't won at home all season, Celtic are top of the league and were looking to open up a seven point gap on Rangers. Collum had a difficult evening. But Celtic's continual struggles in games like this point to problems far closer to home than a concerted campaign of action against them. Neil Lennon is seeing refereeing incompetence every week? Yes he is, we all are, whoever we manage, play for or support. But he's also seeing incompetence from his team far too often. And that buck stops with him, nobody else.

> Celtic are to appeal the James Forrest red card. More appeals than Blue Peter.

We'll Meet Again

Hibs v Celtic on Saturday. Fourth official: Mr William Collum. Maybe it will give him and Neil Lennon a chance to put their heads together and sort out their differences. Or, you know, knock each other out.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

14 Is The Magic Number?

Time to sit up and take notice folks. The Daily Record has launched a campaign.

Fed up with Neil Doncaster's increasingly forlorn mission to build a brave new, decagonal Jerusalem in our green and pleasant land, the Record is calling for a 14 team SPL. It is, ladies and gentleman, the future of Scottish football as imagined by Jim Traynor.

It's not actually a new idea but the Record have decided to claim it.

The proposal is a 14 team league with each club playing twice. Then a split, right down the middle, into two sections of seven. Another two rounds of fixtures. 38 games a season. But the seven-seven split gives each club two free weekends after the split. Relegation will remain automatic for the bottom club with the 12th and 13th placed sides joining the runners up and third placed teams from the First Division in a play-off for the remaining spot.

Obviously this retains the split which has hardly been embraced by supporters since it was introduced. It also means, depending on the fixtures, clubs might be sitting out the final weekend of the season when their title hopes, European dreams or relegation fears are decided.

Not too long ago it looked like we might be about to adopt a 14 team league and a lot of clubs seemed in favour. That was before the SPL sent out their ten teams good, any other possible configuration of teams mentioned by anyone bad edict.

At least the Record are re-airing the 14 team debate. It seems unlikely that Doncaster, Ralph Topping or the SPL working group would get round to it without a kick up the backside.

It's not perfect. But maybe it is a compromise to work towards. A minority, albeit a powerful minority, want 10 teams, most fans want an expansion. But it seems unlikely the clubs will go for 16 or 18 teams.

Maybe this imperfect compromise is a workable solution.

But will it be any better? Too often in Doncaster's attempts to sell his ten team utopia I felt he was relying too much on assumptions about revenue and that his underlying argument was "well, it can't be any worse than what we've got."

Even if that were true it is not a persuasive argument. Does the same apply to a 14 team league?

I'm still undecided. I'd appreciate your views.

If it was me I'd argue for two up, two down and an extra place to be decided in a play off between the third bottom side and third and fourth in the SPL. That would be a way of ensuring a certain freshness every season.

But, as I say, undecided. Over to you.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kenny Dalglish Looks To Turn Back Time

Football seems to have a hold on those involved that many of us don't experience in our working lives. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that I've been daydreaming about my retirement since about second year at school.

Football managers are different. They just keep going and going. Sir Alex Ferguson. Our very own Craig Brown.

And now, as he approaches his 60th birthday, Kenny Dalglish. The king is back, long live the king.

More than ten years since he left Celtic Park on the back of the John Barnes pantomime, for which he was at least partly responsible, Dalglish has been granted his wish and is back as Liverpool manager on an initially temporary basis until the end of the season.

He had wanted the job before Roy Hodgson was appointed. When that didn't happen the presence of Dalglish, as revered as any of the Kop's heroes, hung over the club. No matter how dignified and respectful Dalglish was in his ambassodorial role, just by being there he offered a rallying point for increasingly disgruntled Liverpool fans.

Some of those fans seem to think that Dalglish offers a quick fix, that his appointment will return immediate dividends. It would dangerous to put your faith in that.

Liverpool's problems did not begin when Hodgson became manager. Nor will they end now that he has left. If Dalglish's methods, even his legend, can stir a reaction in the squad then they can improve. But from what I've seen of Liverpool this season their failings are too deep to be healed by nothing more than motivation.

And if any club should realise the importance of steady, measured empire building it is Liverpool. Bill Shankly transformed the club. But European dominance wasn't delivered until after Shankly had retired. Their journey to pre-eminence in the 1970s and 1980s was about building a dynasty. No matter how messiah-like the new manager is depicted as being, he can't replicate that sort of success overnight.

Emotional attachments, past achievements and a nostalgic longing for him to do well aside, what can we say for Dalglish the manager? His achievements at Liverpool and at Blackburn are on record and remain as impressive as they ever were.

A good start at Newcastle drifted in his second season. Those Liverpool fans expecting their club to turn their back on Hodgson's defensiveness might have forgotten that the Newcastle fans came to deride Dalglish's negativity.

At Celtic he steadied a ship that John Barnes had left steaming for the rocks. A league cup win followed but there was little evidence that anyone at Celtic wanted to retain Dalglish's services when the season ended.

And let's not forget that Dalglish was in place to mentor and support Barnes. He failed in that role and, in prickly, facetious press conferences often conducted from a pub, he showed little desire or even aptitude for the day to day business involved in running a modern football club.

A modern football club. Crucial that. The Liverpool Dalglish led to three league titles was closer to the Liverpool of Shankly than to the English Premier League side of today. 20 years away from the club and ten years out of football is a long time. For all that we're assured he's still watched the game passionately, that is not preparation for running a club like Liverpool. Nor, for example, do we know how Dalglish the manager will react to working with a Director of Football - a role he himself never appeared particularly comfortable with.

So King Kenny is destined to failure, proof that you should never go back?

No. The appointment of Steve Clarke is a clever one and offers Dalglish Mark II a firmer foundation than earlier rumours of Ian Rush becoming assistant would have. And Liverpool still have quality players. Maybe not enough and maybe some of them are experiencing commitment issues, but they remain good footballers.

If anyone can unleash their potential surely it is Dalglish, a walking embodiment of both the glory days and the emotional pull of the club. His previous spell at Liverpool proved him to be a manager adept at knowing almost instinctively how to pick 11 players who could go out and do the jobs expected of them. Maybe the players will react to that more positively than they did to Hodgson's more lecturing style and system based methods.

The truth is none of us know how Dalglish will fare. I don't know, the Liverpool fans don't know, the ex-Liverpool players lauding his appointment don't know and the press don't know. Maybe he himself doesn’t know.

Some managers click at certain clubs and some don't. Dalglish has worked his magic at Liverpool before. It's a very different club now but he might well repeat the trick.

I'm finding it hard to get over my initial scepticism though. We don't like to see our heroes fail. Dalglish is maybe the greatest Scottish football hero of them all, blessed with more ability in just his backside than most of us could dream of. And there is a chance that he's about to fail.

And surely Liverpool's owners, New England Sports Ventures, realise is this is the simplest move they could make to establish their power at the club.

For as long as he remained on the peripherary, active but not fully involved Dalglish offered the fans a figurehead to acclaim as they aired their grievances.

That's now changed. If he succeeds then the new owners can bask in his reflected glory and acclaim themselves as visionaries for going back to the future. If he fails they can jettison him in the summer and free themselves of his influence, however benign he himself saw that influence as being. The past will be shown to have failed and the owners will be free to dictate their own future.

I wish him luck and I'll be watching with interest. But my misgivings remain.

Liverpool play Blackpool tonight.

A Dalglish Anecdote

Some years ago a retired Dalglish played for Hibs in a testimonial at Easter Road (I think for Alan Sneddon against Aston Villa) and made a cameo man-of-the-match appearance. Before driving home Dalglish was asked if there was anything he wanted. There was. A fish supper and a can of cream soda. The groundsman of the time was dispatched to the chippy to pick it up. Dalglish left a happy man. Old school.

Wicked Webb

I only saw about the last ten minutes of Manchester United v Liverpool. And I haven't seen either the penalty or red card decisions. I've enjoyed the discussions over the past few days though. I don't actually believe Howard Webb is biased towards Manchester United through any skullduggery. Rather I think he is suspect in his handling of big games, swayed by both the crowd and how his decisions will be played in the media. That makes his career trajectory odd. What I've really been enjoying is the lists of Webb's failings produced by Liverpool fans, dossiers of evidence you might say. Bad refeereeing and the conspiracy theories that go with it recognise no borders.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

SFA Hit Neil Lennon For Six

Dearie me. Just when you thought we'd all recovered our equilibrium along comes another furore, threatening to turn into a Scottish football civil war.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been hit with a six match ban for losing the rag at Tynecastle after his team were denied what appeared to be a fairly blatant penalty and Joe Ledley was sent off in a 2-0 defeat to Hearts.

Lennon was given an automatic two match ban. He subsequently appealed and it was at yesterday's appeal hearing that the SFA's Disciplinary Committee took the decision to treble that original punishment citing excessive misconduct.

That this news has not received a particularly warm welcome in certain quarters would be an understatement.

Clearly this story is going to run and run. Here are some initial thoughts:

An "unprecedented" punishment? It's not. Derek Adams, then manager of Ross County, had an 18 match ban earlier this season. The circumstances were different but the idea that the SFA have quietly introduced something akin to capital punishment to deal with Lennon and Lennon alone is misleading.

It was a first offence. That makes no difference. I spent longer than anyone would want to yesterday reading the SFA's Disciplinary Procedures for Club Officials’ Misconduct. The number of offences is only relevant to the initial automatic suspension, at the appeals stage each case is treated as a one-off.

For once, and unfortunately for Lennon, the SFA have been as good as their word. After the referee's strike SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said:

"There is a process in place already for dealing with anybody from any club that steps out of line and those individuals are dealt with through the various committees who operate within the SFA and that will continue.

"But obviously we'll take a much tougher stance going forward."

It's Neil Lennon's bad luck - or depending on your viewpoint the SFA's good fortune - that this was the first such case to be considered since then.

My own view is that the punishment was harsh. We don't know the exact nature of what Lennon said to the fourth official although we can tell he was rather miffed.

Nor do we know how the appeals hearing unfolded.

So we are not in possession of the full facts. What we can say for certain is that the SFA have acted within the limits of the rules. They've been severe, I think overly severe, but they've done it by the book.

Excessive misconduct, incidentally, is defined as:

“Excessive Misconduct” shall include, but not be limited to, prolonged incidents of misconduct, the
continued use of offensive, abusive and insulting language, calling a match official a cheat, failure to comply with a referee’s requests, the adoption of threatening and aggressive behaviour towards a
match official.

Celtic's reaction?

Predictably they've decided against rolling over and accepting the punishment:

“Celtic and Neil Lennon confirmed today that they will be appealing today's decision by the SFA Disciplinary Committee to impose a six-match touchline ban.

“The matter is in the hands of the club's lawyers.

“We are very surprised and extremely disappointed at today's decision - we believe the punishment imposed was excessive in the circumstances and to our knowledge unprecedented for a first offence.

“We have maintained for some time that a range of SFA's processes and structures needed to be reviewed and updated. This view was supported recently by Henry McLeish in his review of the SFA.

“Today's events only underline and reinforce our opinion. Without question Celtic will be supporting its manager Neil Lennon in his appeal .

“As well as challenging the severity of the punishment imposed, our appeal will also focus on issues of procedural fairness and the manner in which such hearings are conducted.”

A bit of naughtiness in there. Celtic should be aware of the rules. As I've noted the first offence makes no difference once the appeal process begins.

And a broadening out of the case. The involvement of lawyers, we can imagine this to be Paul McBride QC, and an attack on the whole disciplinary procedure at the SFA.

An attack vindicated by the findings of the McLeish Report. I'm betting that George Peat is happy he didn't get a hard cover put on that report because he's about to be hit about the heid with it.

So where are we now? The SFA will claim that they've acted honourably and delivered on the get tough promises they gave to referees.

Celtic claim, with some justification, that the punishment is overly stringent and that the very method of deciding that punishment is flawed beyond repair.

We've got, in essence, another sorry mess.

There are faults on both sides. We all know the SFA is in need of urgent repair. Most of us could see that Lennon's behaviour towards the fourth official, however justified he felt at the time, could not go unpunished.

We can only wait and see what happens next. I dislike the idea that Celtic taking a sledgehammer to the SFA is the best way to bring about the change we all want.

I've also been of the opinion for some time that, for whatever reason, these are fights Celtic want to have. It seems the SFA and their Disciplinary Committee are now ready to go toe to toe with them.

Once again I fear that Scottish football, its reputation and the campaign for real modernisation are going to be the major casualties.

Aye, its a joy to be a fitba' fan in 2011.

> Celtic statement via STV

> The SFA's rules document. Thrilling read that it is.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scottish Football On The Web

I'm searching for answers. Maybe you can help.

Hopefully this will be the basis for a longer article.

How does your club handle its online affairs? Is their website rubbish or great? Are they Facebook failures or Twitter triumphs.

I want to know about websites, Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds. Anything as long it's an official club online presence.

I do, of course, have ideas of my own about how Scottish football is coping with "new" media. But for now I'd just like to get as many opinions as possible. If I'm seeing themes or similar opinions emerging then I might even set up some kind of survey to get a better idea of "The State of Scottish Football Online."

I'm particularly interested in how clubs use the internet to interact and get club news to the fans but if you've got strong views on online club shops or anything else then let me know. And it doesn't just have to be SPL sides, any league, any level. I'm looking for as many examples of best, worst and mediocre practice as possible.

Focus is on Scotland but interested to hear your views of any clubs handling the online stuff well or badly from elsewhere.

Thanks in advance and I look forward to hearing your views.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Update: Between writing and posting this the English FA seem to have announced that a 2013 home international tournament would be a one off to celebrate their 150th anniversary. Ah, well. Still think I'm right.

And so the home internationals might be on the verge of a return thanks to the money of Vauxhall. I'm tempted to run naked down Sauchiehall Street carrying a banner proclaiming this as nothing less than the second coming of British football.

Not because I have a particular emotional attachment to the home internationals. I don't. But the news has once again allowed Henry Winter to unleash the righteous indignation that he so enjoys. And Henry's indignation is a guaranteed way of awakening my inner contrariness.

Henry's argument is that the home internationals will send English football back to the dark ages. He's like the lady of the manor refusing to let her son play with the servant's children lest their bad manners rub off on him.

England won the World Cup when the home internationals were in full flow. English clubs - their team's stuffed full of English players - dominated the European Cup when the home internationals were played.

Indeed England's World Cup record is probably pretty much the same with or without the home internationals, that glorious Wembley day in 19-whatever aside. Whatever problems English footballers have in international competitions, the quality of their friendly opponents is not to blame.

The aesthetics of Ghana might appeal to Henry Winter, as if by some miracle of footballing osmosis the skill of the opposition will rub off on England, but does it thrill the fan? With Vauxhall leading the marketing charge, with Sky on board, I would imagine a home international tournament in 2013 sparking quite a bit of interest. When money talks, the FA listen.

Still, if the tournament is to be resurrected the arrogance of people like Henry will at least crank up the atmosphere.

And how should we Scots feel about these developments?

Can I admit to a certain ambivalence? I'm too young to remember the home internationals. What I think I have is a collective memory, a shared nostalgia, that we all have about a time when our football was, simply, better. The black and white footage, moving to colour in the age of Dalglish, of Scotland beating England fuels that memory.

It might also be misleading. Scottish football's miraculous purple patch in international football, five tournaments in 12 years from 1986, came after the home internationals had fallen by the wayside. If we are to accept Henry Winter's spurious argument then Vauxhall's idea is likely to harm Scotland more than our illustrious neighbours down south.

And maybe that is the case. Our habit, our curse perhaps, is to define ourselves too often not by our own achievements but by how we compare to our neighbours. A ruinous attitude, as many a little brother will tell you. Will the return of the home internationals not simply pander to that insularity, give rise to the feeling that it's alright to lose in the Czech Republic without playing a striker as long as we beat England at Hampden?

I don't think so. Football has changed. The home internationals will not return as an annual slogfest, I would imagine they will be played every two years at most. They'll offer the fans something that normal friendlies don't. Crucially, and this point seems to have not been lost on the English FA even as it sailed over Henry Winter's beautifully coiffured head, they will offer a decent simulation of a competitive tournament.

What have England got to gain from playing against Wales? Let's accept the snobbish premise of that question and look at how England often huff and puff against "lesser" nations in competitive internationals. Will they not learn more about coping with those situations against Wales in Cardiff than they would in a friendly against Ghana where a half empty Wembley is treated to the farcial sight of both managers making half a dozen changes?

I was at Hampden in 1999 when Paul Scholes proved too much for Scotland in the first-leg of the Euro 2000 qualifier play-off. The result was a disappointment but the day, from standing outside an off-licence drinking a can of lager and realising that the besuited man with the carry out next to me was Alex Totten to the atmosphere in the stadium, was memorable. There was a tangible reward at stake that day but I'm guessing these are games that don't need much to give them an edge.

Let's not kid ourselves that the reawakening of the home internationals is about anything other than money, cooked up in a marketing department and likely to make the already well-healed even richer.

But I can see benefits for all four home nations and their players that go beyond the spoils of a lucrative TV deal. A semi-regular home international tournament could also help kindle more interest in international football in Britain, something we badly need. Reimagined for the modern era this most traditional of football tournaments might just be a force for good in our game. Bring it on.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Scottish Cup Week: The Saga Continues

Rangers 3 v Kilmarnock 0
Some wag (me) suggested on Twitter last night that this would have been a more effective Beattie to play up front for Rangers.

Not that it mattered as the home side - who were more than happy to dish out a few brutal challenges - overpowered a fairly ineffective Kilmarnock. Two cracking first half finishes from Lee McCulloch and Kyle Lafferty had all but finished the game off before Steven Whittaker's emphatic penalty removed any doubt.

Not a great game, Kilmarnock looked capable but not hugely threatening. Challenges from Lafferty, Steven Davis and Steven Naismith were rather agricultural, with Alexei Eremenko the particular target of a couple of Ron Atkinson's "early doors reducers."

Is it frightfully old fashioned and Corinthian of me to expect better of Rangers? Or of any team? Possibly.

But a deserved win for Rangers who become the sixth team to guarantee their spot in the fifth round.

Biffy Who

The draw for the fifth round will be made today and rumours abound that Biffy Clyro are to be rummaging around George Peat's balls to decide the fixtures. This seems to have caused consternation and amusement in equal measure. Unfortunately I'm not really sure who or what Biffy Clyro are so it's all gone above my ahead.

Weather Permitting

And as if that wasn't enough this Scottish Cup week stretches to an eighth day with a number of fixtures to be played this evening.

Amazingly Threave Rovers v Stenhousemuir, the much delayed third round replay, has been postponed again. They'll now try and play it on Wednesday. If that game doesn't end up a nine goal thriller we're all going to be hugely disappointed.

The scheduled (subject to weather, pitch inspections and alien invasions) fixtures tonight are:

Round 4
Hearts v St Johnstone
Falkirk v Partick Thistle
Queen of South v Brechin

My previews of the ties are here.

Round 4 Replay
Dunfermline v Montrose (Pitch inspection at 9.30 this morning)

I had Dunfermline down to win this one on Saturday. They didn't but I'll back them to finish the job tonight. Home win.

Scottish Cup Fifth Round Draw

Update: The draw has been made. And we've an Old Firm clash to look forward to. Who'd have thought? That's the only finalised tie of the round so far.

Aberdeen v Montrose or Dunfermline
Inverness CT v Morton or Airdrie
Hamilton v Dundee United or Ross County
Stenhousemuir/Threave Rovers or Stranraer v Motherwell
East Stirlingshire or Buckie v Queen of the South or Brechin
Rangers v Celtic
Hibernian or Ayr v St Mirren or Peterhead
Hearts or St Johnstone v Falkirk or Partick Thistle

To be played on 5/6 February.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Monday, January 10, 2011

SPL Takes Spain By Storm

Finally the SPL enjoys some time in the European spotlight.

The picture above is apparently of a banner unveiled by the Deportivo La Coruna fans on Saturday night as their team lost 4-0 at home to Barcelona.

A protest against the unfair distribution of TV revenues and the dominance of two clubs, the message is simple:

"We do not want another Scottish league."

Fame at last.

Thanks to @Jambizzle for sending me this.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

The SPL: Twelve Does Not Become Ten. For Now

“Scottish Premier League officials have been forced into a tactical retreat in their campaign to cut the number of clubs in the top flight from 12 to ten. That reduction was due to be the subject of a vote at a meeting of SPL clubs next Monday, but the vote has now been postponed in the face of mounting opposition.”

It seems that the SPL, self declared saviours of the Scottish game, can’t even push through a gerrymandered vote on a ten team league.

Despite assurances from SPL chief executive and chairman, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, that ten teams was the only way to save the game the clubs have so far proved themselves unwilling to be saved.

Dundee United had already voiced their reservations while Hearts have seemed consistently unmoved by the plans. Inverness, Motherwell and Kilmarnock were also uncertain.

Now it seems that St Mirren and Motherwell have joined the list of doubters. All the more remarkable when we remember that they were both represented on the SPL working group that formulated the ten team plan in the first place.

That would appear to leave five teams in favour or undeclared with Hamilton joining the other four members of the working group: Aberdeen, Celtic, Hibs and Rangers. It’s those four clubs, or their representatives, that we must now presume to be the movers and shakers in one of the most universally unpopular ideas to hit Scottish football for years.

The ten team SPL isn’t dead. But nor is it as close as Topping and Doncaster had hoped.

Let’s not celebrate this too much. There has been no, or at least not a very big, victory for fan power. Rather the SPL have displayed the kind of incompetence and cack handedness that we tend to expect from our football administrators.

There does seem some hope though that not all the chairmen were taken in by a plan that, from this distance, seemed flimsy and so full of supposition as to be no more than a shot in the dark.

Our problems remain and a solution still needs to be found. The ten team SPL will be back. For now it’s up to someone to come up with a more attractive plan. Our breath is bated.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Hibs v Ayr United: A Season In 90 Minutes

When Ayr United took to the field dressed in black on Saturday, pessimistic Hibs fans might have felt that here was the Grim Reaper ready to finish off what was left of their miserable season.

Certainly Hibs started the game at a funereal pace that never threatened to enliven the 5000 or so home fans who had turned out.

Given their dismal league form a cup game against lower league opposition might have been expected to release the Hibs players from their day to day worries. Yet confidence seems in such short supply at Easter Road these days that the players appear almost paralysed by fear.

Even when they enjoyed stretches of possession there seemed little intent in their attacks, every pass a trial with little willingness to move off the ball. These are the basics that, when they appear beyond the majority of your players, hint at more testing times to come.

It would be churlish to focus only on Hibs failings. Ayr came with a game plan that they executed well and offered more of a sustained threat in a game starved of chances.

Andy Rodgers might still be asking himself how Mark Brown kept out his chance in the dying minutes of the match, a late effort that suggested manager Brian Reid could have asked his player to show more ambition as the clock ticked down.

Certainly a replay at Somerset Park was the least the visitors deserved. It will be another night of trepidation for Hibs.

The newspapers have suggested that there was a cacophony of boos at the final whistle. In truth Easter Road wasn’t busy enough on Saturday to produce a cacophony of anything.

The new East Stand, a monument to Hibs’ financial acumen and off the field success, served only to accentuate the wide open spaces. The fans had voted with their feet. Hardly surprising. The trick Rod Petrie has pulled off is to build a grand opera house and then book Des O’Connor for the opening season.

With modern football littered with financial suicides at great clubs it seems strange to castigate Hibs for an austere approach that has delivered a completed stadium and a training ground without racking up huge debts. But Rod Petrie remains chairman of a football club and for some time now he has lost sight of the balance between running a property company and a football side capable of performing at the highest level.

And that means the board’s nightmare scenario is moving ever closer. The empty stands on Saturday are part one of that story. The very real threat of relegation is the worrying outcome of part two.

Not that the directors can shoulder all the blame. Colin Calderwood inherited a mess from John Hughes. He deserves time to sort that mess out. But he has not shown himself as the sort of manager who can come in and make a sudden impact at a club.

Often these “quick fix” managers burn out and it is debatable whether that is the kind of man Hibs either wanted or needed. But if Calderwood is plotting long term success he needs to articulate that plan to the fans. At the moment they see a manager who has changed little and is unable to even decide on his best starting 11 or his preferred formation.

A signing or two in the January window might offer some idea of his intent, as would the quick introduction of some of the younger players brought back from loan deals. If he feels that any of the 15 first squad players reaching the end of their contract are no longer committed to the club then he needs to either ship them out now or drop them for the rest of the season. Hibs are too far in the mire for passengers.

And the players themselves? There were few success stories on Saturday. Paul Hanlon continues to show promise and will be a key player between now and the end of the season. David Wotherspoon showed enough when he came on to suggest that dropping him to the bench was a bad decision. It’s a sign of the rancour around the club that Wotherspoon’s demotion immediately sparked unconfirmed rumours of a bust up between player and manager.

In truth though Hibs have too many players playing badly at the moment. Even basic communication seems beyond them. Danny Galbraith, given a rare start, spent too much of the first half standing in acres of space with his arms aloft. He must know that Hibs have few players capable of the kind of Hollywood pass he was demanding. When he began to link up with his full back and fight to get himself involved in the second half he looked more threatening. It’s simple stuff but too many of this Hibs squad have either forgotten the simple things or are taking too long to learn them.

Derek Riordan, captain in the second half when Ian Murray was substituted, offered his normal frustrating performance. He missed the sort of chance he would often score in the first half, played a pass to Zemmama in the second that showed what he’s capbable of, diverted a possibly goal bound Liam Miller shot onto the bar and then got hurt contorting himself to hit a shot that at least two players behind him were better placed to convert.

For me his most telling contribution came when he tried to beat Ayr defender Martyn Campbell. Faced with Campbell’s superior physical presence Riordan simply gave up the fight. He could argue that there was no way he could have won the ball.

Yet Colin Calderwood might feel that the sort of player prepared to fight for lost causes is exactly what he needs right now. It might not be universally popular with the fans but that brief snapshot perhaps explains Calderwood’s reticence at opening contract talks with his most naturally gifted player.

Liam Miller has become something of a target for the discontented masses of late, the strong rumours of a freedom of contract switch to Tynecastle hardly helping his cause. But for a player who has proved he has both the vision and ability to play a telling pass to so often look up and seen no movement ahead of him must be a dispiriting experience. Miller is often accused of hiding. Perhaps that’s true. But only a fool would believe he’s the only one in a green shirt guilty of that at the moment.

Elsewhere players like Francis Dickoh, Steven Thicot and Jonathon Grounds never really convince. In truth they are probably squad players who, thanks to the mismanagement of Hibs’ transfer policy, are being asked to build the nucleus of a team.

The result of all this was seen on a Saturday. Colin Calderwood statuesque on the touchline, the players switching between honest but futile endeavour and schoolboy errors. All against the splendid backdrop of the three quarters empty stadium 'what Rod built'.

2011 might be a long year in Leith.

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