Saturday, May 21, 2011

Scottish Cup Final Live

Motherwell v Celtic

Today's Scottish Cup final kicks off at 3pm. Follow the build up and the match action live on Twitter. I'll be pitching in my tuppence worth throughout the afternoon.

Hashtaggery: #scottishcup #scottishcupfinal

Follow me: @ScotFootBlog

Who's gonna win? Vote here

Scottish Cup Final: Motherwell v Celtic

Scottish Cup final day. Nothing beats it.

It takes a bit of a battering, the old trophy. Sponsorless and struggling in a footballing world where other competitions hold sway.

Tell you what though, still means a hell of a lot to any side lucky enough to win it.

Today Hampden hosts the Scottish Cup's most successful team, Celtic, and Motherwell.

Now Motherwell are far from our least successful exponents of cup football. But today they chase their third win in their eighth final.

Celtic are on the hunt for win number 35 in their 54th final.

In a one off game that lack of parity in historic achievement means very little. Well, actually that isn't quite true. Since Jock Stein's Dunfermline shocked them in a 1961 replay Aberdeen are the only team apart from Rangers to beat Celtic on Scottish football's grand day out.

So Stuart McCall's side must wear their knowledge of our footballing history lightly today. Fear it and they'll be cowed underdogs without a chance.

Of course success like Celtic's brings its own obstacles. A lost League Cup final and being pipped to the SPL title mean has allowed Rangers to take the baubles and bragging rights in a long, emotional season.

The 2008/09 League Cup was Celtic's last trophy. In this Scottish footballing landscape when the Old Firm duopoly has rarely been so pronounced that must be both a frustration and a concern.

Today offers the chance to avoid a second straight trophyless season.

And a first managerial trophy for Neil Lennon. It takes very little understanding of human emotions to know how much that will mean to Lennon, perhaps more than a lot of the other honours he collected in a well garlanded playing career.

This might not be the trophy they desperately want at the start of each season, but today still carries a weighty significance for Celtic.

Motherwell? Well, can the cynic in me suggest that they are likely to be the more refreshed team having essentially gone awol for the last five games of the season?

Can they shut out that bad run of results, convince themselves that their focus has always been on 3pm at Hampden this afternoon? And how will their defeat at an emotional Celtic Park last Sunday affect them?

Will they see it as an opportunity, a chance to raise their game and surprise a complacent opposition? Or will it convince them they are playing against a team that can pummel them at will?

Stuart McCall, no stranger to trophies in his own playing career, will have had a strange week with his players, building them into giants when their most recent experience is of being blown away by today's opponents.

Celtic will have been disappointed last week but not shocked. Rangers won the league on the last day but it was the expected outcome. The damage was done in Celtic's defeat to Inverness. It's that game that Lennon will be using to guard against the crime of complacency today.

As Inverness proved - and as Motherwell proved earlier in the season - Celtic are from invincible. At their exhilarating best they can put to the sword any team in the country. Get them on an off day and they can be beaten.

Surely though the Scottish Cup final is no place for an off day. You would think not. But footballing fate tends not to respect such things.

League form, squad quality and history. Everything points to this being Celtic's cup for the taking.

And I expect that to be outcome.

In football you never know what will happen? Well, in Scottish football you often do have a fair idea of what's going to happen.

Motherwell can win today. They have impressive performers who can cause Celtic problems and take advantage of any weaknesses Celtic show.

Realistically though Celtic are big favourites for a reason and I don't expect to shatter the earth by predicting a Celtic win.

Who'll win the Scottish Cup - leave your vote here

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scottish Cup: Celtic Ten Years On

Sigh heaped upon sigh.

After Wednesday's post celebrating Motherwell's 1991 Scottish Cup win I knew I had to redress the balance.

Fast forward ten years.

Celtic win the Scottish Cup, complete the treble, with a comprehensive 3-0 win over my Hibernian.

A cracking Celtic team it was. Lubo Moravcik was forced off after only 18 minutes. But Martin O'Neill, oft criticised for the functionality of his tactics, began the game with Moravcik, Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton in his team.

That posed a functionally attacking threat.

Neil Lennon, Johan Mjällby and Alan Thompson all started for Celtic. They'll feature again this weekend in very different roles.

Paul Lambert too. Now off to the English Premier League. Jackie McNamara replaced Moravcik and opened the scoring, little did he know that one day he would inherit the Jags.

The day before this game I had a massively important exam. It lasted all day. When it finished I got barnstormingly drunk.

It was with a whopping hangover that I began my cup final day in Edinburgh's Penny Black pub.

It's before 9am, you can still taste last night's dirty pint, your friend of a friend's dad has just told you he won't accept swearing in his company.

And somebody's put a dark rum and coke with a pint of lager chaser in front of you.

You know it's going to be a day of days.

Unfortunately for Hibernians of my ilk, a wayward genius had departed. Russell Latapy, the defence probing magician, had spent the week knocking my post exam shenanigans into a cocked hat.

Possibly last seen chasing down Princes Street in a Mini Cooper stuffed full of Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke and a bevy of lovely ladies, Russell had been given the chop by Hibs manager Alex McLeish.

A fine Hibs team that had spent the new year going off the boil were at the mercy of an exceptional Celtic team with a fine manager.

Celtic duly delivered.

Celtic's starting XI looked like this:

Robert Douglas, Johan Mjällby, Ramon Vega, Joos Valgaeren, Didier Agathe, Neil Lennon, Paul Lambert, Ľubomír Moravčík, Alan Thompson, Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton

Tommy Johnson and Tom Boyd joined McNamara in coming off the bench. Jonathan Gould and Alan Stubbs were the unused subs.

Hibs, it's perhaps forgotten, started with the briefly shining light that was Marc Libbra up front. The veteran Ian Westwater was the reserve goalkeeper.

In Motherwell's cup win a decade before only three of the starting 22 were foreigners.

Only six of the starting 22 in this final were Scottish.

Two Henrik Larsson goals finished off a 3-0 win for Celtic.

> Was it Spurs that always won stuff in years ending in one?

So do Celtic.

1910-11, 1930-31, 1950-51, 1970-71 and 2000-01 - Celtic were Scottish Cup winners.

Not that coincidence means anything.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

SPL: Dubai Or Not Dubai

News filters through - from The Sun of all places - that the SPL's proposed winter break could be used to play a glamour cup competition in sunnier climes. Dubai and Flordia are mentioned.

Now it would be imprudent to discount the possibility that this is little more than a careless whisper leading a journalist to take a flight of fancy.

But with the SPL's ideas factory seemingly as bankrupt as Scottish Labour's election team who can tell?

I'm beginning to develop a complex, I'm so agin every idea coming from the SPL that I do wonder if it's me that is the problem.

Seriously though?

A glamour cup competition in Dubai? What's that all about.

A few things immediately spring to mind.

The nature of the winter break itself. The benefits of a break for the players will surely be lost if we bring them back earlier in the summer only to jet them off to play additional games during a period of rest and relaxation.

And if January in Scotland is too cold for "glamour" then why, instead of wintering elsewhere, does Scottish football not consider "summering" in Scotland?

Neil "Donkey" Doncaster the SPL's man with a dozen berated plans likes to talk of increased TV revenues. This is his default reply to almost any question.

He promises the moon. Alas he never convinces that he's got anything more than a papier-mâché space ship to get us there.

So the idea that a glamour tournament abroad would be timed to appeal to domestic TV audiences lacks cognisance of the broadcasting reality.

There's a reason Scottish football is designated TV football's graveyard shifts. We don't have audience appeal. We're the shabby looking Wimpy to English football's Fat Duck.

So we get Sky or ESPN on board. In return for 20 shillings and a loaf of mouldy bread they say "we'll show your groundbreaking, glamour cup competition in the footballing stronghold of Dubai or Florida. But we'll only show it in your normal TV slots."

That would lead to some odd kick off times. Kick off times hardly designed to allow players to return to these shores refreshed and raring to go.

And where would the fans fit into all this?

Fans who are railing against too many televised and too many games between the same sides are being told they can watch more televised games between the same teams.

It will be more glamorous though because it won't be in Scotland and you, the fans, the lumpen proletariat dragging the game down with your demands for quality, fair prices and consultation, won't be there.

I suppose this might just be the English Premier League's 39th game idea given a tartan spin. The SPL are blinded by what they see as the glamour and big bucks of England.

They consistently ignore English football's bloated, debt ridden underbelly, all of it underpinned by a very "old media" revenue model.

What we need are bold ideas. Bold ideas that the fans can relate to and that the fans want to be a part of.

In an odd interview during BBC Scotland's rather unsatisfying Bigotry, Bombs and Football documentary last night, Neil Doncaster was at pains to point out that the SPL sees clubs and their supporters as seperate entities.

Actually he doesn't see the fans at all. Or he sees them as nothing more as a hindrance to his brave new world.

What possible benefit does this latest plan have for fans? Where in this radical strategy for changing Scottish football are the ideas to give the fans more representation? Or the policies for ensuring fans pay a fair price for games?

They're absolutely nowhere. Because the SPL doesn't care. Scottish football doesn't care. Just ask the Kilmarnock fans how letdown they felt by their own board on Sunday.

There is, in Dubai, a monument to sporting hubris. An incomplete reminder of what happens when greed, arrogance and a failure to care about your core support lead you to chase ill conceived dreams.

The desert is in the process of reclaiming the only ten holes of a Tiger Woods designed golf course that were ever built.

Neil Doncaster might like to take a look round. And muse on how lonely failure can be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Scottish Cup: Motherwell's Twenty Year Itch

Motherwell fans who give credence to such things as fate and coincidence will be taking strength ahead of Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final.

It was 20 years ago that Tommy McLean’s side brought the trophy back to Fir Park after that crackerjack of a game with brother Jim’s Dundee United.

An Old Firm free, Hampden belter of a game.

Twenty years ago today in fact.

The 13 Motherwell players who featured were:

Ally Maxwell, Luc Nijholt, Chris McCart, Craig Paterson, Tom Boyd, Ian Angus, Jim Griffin, Phil O'Donnell, Davie Cooper, Iain Ferguson, Dougie Arnott, Colin O'Neill, Stevie Kirk

Angus, Ferguson, O’Donnell and Kirk, from the bench, scored the goals that delivered Motherwell to the promised land after 120 minutes of drama.

More of the same on Saturday?

On Football Boots

Often times these days I find myself ruminating on the past. In days of yore and of my youth, when Edinburgh's trams were of the distant past rather than of the distant future, football boots were a different beast altogether.

Like Henry Ford's motor vehicles you could have any colour you wanted as long as it was black. Trainers too came from another world. You had a pair of trainers. And you wore them whatever you were doing. From the tennis court to the tarmac playground to the basketball court.

These days a glance at Football Trainers and Boots from JD Sports offers a kaleidescope of colours and variety.

Take the Nike Mercurial Victory Firm Ground. The plum red colour is eye catching. More than that though these are boots made to play football in. The start of each new season of my boyhood career was marked by grimacing and odd running styles as players tried to “break in” their new boots.

Not these days, when boots like the Mercurial Victory slip on like, well, like a slipper. Boots that won’t make a bad player Wayne Rooney but will at least allow you to make the most of whatever skills you have been blessed with. And allow you to move from first to last without feeling like you’ve got ill fitting concrete blocks on your feet.

Your artificial surface needs are covered too. Shoes like the Adidas F10 TRX Astro Turf take away the need for the multi-purpose stinky trainers of my childhood. No more blaming your footwear on your lack of control in the weekly fives, the best football trainers now offer the same advantages of the best boots.

There is an important point here. Anyone and everyone can these days get reasonably priced boots that will enhance their performance on the firm pitches of summer or the artificial pitches that are good enough for our clubs to train on but not compete on.

The footwear technology is in place to free us from our stubborn insistence on playing football at the worst possible time of the year.

> Sponsored post

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ernie Walker 1928-2011

When Ernie Walker was in charge of the SFA everything in the world was perfect.

Obviously it wasn't.

But when I were a lad and Ernie ruled the roost Scotland qualified for World Cups. All the time. Five qualifications in a row he presided over.

Ah, to be back in the day for just one shining moment of optimism.

Was Ernie, who died at the weekend, perfect? Who is?

But he was a visible character who gave the SFA a public face that garnered respect. How we long for that now.

I hadn't realised he had a role in appointing Matt Busby as Scotland coach. That means he was instrumental in securing the services of Busby, Jock Stein and Alex Ferguson. Not bad going.

His relationship with Stein probably defined his reign. His relationship with Ferguson was perhaps less affectionate.

"I warned you about that shit, Johnston," Walker told Fergie following some MoJo high jinx during Scotland's 1986 World Cup play off trip to Australia.

He was a Scotland fan too. It was as a fan that he met Graeme Souness in the depths of the stand the night Jock Stein died. Unable to watch the tense end to the game they found each other and repaired to a hospitality bar. The news that eventually reached them was worse than any result.

He was also a fan when he summed up the 1986 game against Uruguay:

“There was no game of football here today. We found ourselves on the field with cheats and cowards and we were associated with the scum of world football.”

He got a bit of a carpeting for that. Survived it though. And he was obviously a bit of player to survive the intricacies of international football governance for so long.

Walker's death drew this reaction from Lennart Johansson, former president of UEFA:

"Some days the sun is shining bright, but then all of a sudden clouds and rain disturb us. This is what happened when I discovered that my old friend, Ernie Walker, has passed away."

Younger readers might also be surprised to learn that before the McLeish Report, Scottish football had other blueprints for revolution that it chose to ignore.

That was the fate of Ernie's much lauded think tank - an initiative that also involved Rinus Michels - on Scottish football.

Some of what Walker recommended back in 1995 is now being implemented. The slow turning world of Scottish football is no place for visionaries.

Ernie was also instrumental in formalising the training of coaches in Scotland. That we have spent too long at the mercy of the Largs Mafia is not to underestimate the positives that the coaching scheme has delivered or the graduates that have gone on to greatness.

In truth Ernie's SFA reign should have been treated in much the same way as "post-Queen" republicans would treat the monarchy.

Walker, as the incumbent, linked the age of Busby with the age of Andy Roxburgh. He held back the tide of TV football for as long as he could.

By the time he retired in 1990 the world had changed and football had changed with it. The moment should have been seized for revolution. Maybe he realised that himself when using that think tank to recommend changes that the SFA had no stomach to implement.

Five World Cups though. And a certain bonhomie that seemed to win him friends across the game.

Maybe we could do with a dose of the Ayatollah right now.

SPL: Controversy As Walter Smith Says Nothing New

A broadside to mark his departure.

As I wrote earlier it would be wrong to paint Walter Smith as having lived out his final days as Rangers manager above the fray of Scottish football's navel gazing bickering.

Today's papers would seem to confirm that opinion. The Telegraph reports Smith as saying:

“The season got off to a bad start, in that respect, when Celtic put up a challenge to referees and to everybody else. That got the season off to a bad start and it went downhill after that.

“From my own point of view, I hope everybody would realise that people who work in Scottish football - referees included - are always under terrific scrutiny. It was an unfair circumstance they were placed in this season and I just hope that now everybody gets on with it.

“And I hope Celtic realise that, if their team is good enough, they will win. If they're not good enough, they'll not win - and they can't look at anybody else, whether it's referees or any other influence.

“I don't say that in a smug way. I just felt that it set the tone for what it has been a poor season for our country, in terms of publicity overall.”

And so our futile game of "he said, he said" continues.

Celtic to blame for all the troubles of this rancourous season? No.

Was this blog alone in raising some concerns about the way Celtic conducted themselves earlier in their season? No.

But football is a game of opinions. We've seen the horrible consequences when people don't accept the rights of others to express themselves.

What is of more interest is the media process. A process that will no doubt stir no little comment across Scottish football's internet sphere of influence in the hours and days to come.

But here's the thing. This is a regurgitated story. New quotes do not maketh a new story.

Sadly over hype will mean we're all covered in the cold vomit of this poisonous season for a few days longer. Goodo.

Here's Walter in October:

"I felt there was an unfair pressure on Willie Collum. I thought he handled the game extremely well today. We will always have arguments about certain decisions.

"But that is two Old Firm derbies out of three where the match referee has been put under unfair pressure before the start of the game.

"During all the time I have been involved in Rangers v Celtic matches, in the majority of these games, it has been the better side on the day that has won.

"There is too much focus being placed upon referees. And there’s no doubt Willie Collum was placed under an unfair burden today.

"There comes a time when we must stop blaming officials. We have to have a look at what happened (in the game).’

"We all have our ideas about decisions that did or didn’t go against us. We have to look deeper than that for the reasons games are won and lost." (Daily Mail)

Wattie again. This time in February.

"Everyone has to remember that Celtic have won three of the last five SPL championships. So, if people are conspiring against them, I wouldn't like to see what they'll do once they (referees) stop.

"I think Celtic have tried to use that to their own advantage - I don't believe there's any doubt about that - but Gordon Strachan's comments have led everyone to the actual truth.

"It would have been very hard for Gordon to agree with it, given he led them to three championships." (Daily Mail)

And March.

"It would have been nice if whoever complained, or wanted to complain, had come out of the closet to do it, rather than in an anonymous manner."

"I thought the referee handled the game very well today. It was always going to be awkward for him. It was a totally unfair circumstance he was placed in this week and I thought he coped with it really well." (Scotsman)

Heaven help us. He was at it again in April.

"Celtic started this season with a campaign about never getting decisions.

"Well, they got one today. I don't think anybody can say that that was a penalty out there." (BBC)

And what's this from August 2008:

"I don't feel a degree of sympathy. But I think a lot of stuff that's been going on in the early part of the season has been exaggerated. Referees and linesmen make mistakes the same way as players and managers make mistakes.

"We are certainly getting them highlighted in a manner that is far greater than anything I can remember, but if referees do make an error it is because it is an error, not because they support clubs or have a bias towards this, that or the next thing. If we stop accepting that factor then we start to have real problems." (Telegraph)

If Walter Smith blew the lid off his silence yesterday then we must conclude that he's shite at keeping secrets.

Still. Shame to let that spoil another round of good old vitriol and mud slinging.

Monday, May 16, 2011

SPL: Walter Smith Says Goodbye To Winning Rangers

13 years ago today Walter Smith took his leave of Rangers. After season upon season of success his reign fizzled out.

Wim Jansen led Celtic to the league title, stalling Smith's Rangers on nine championships in a row.

In Smith's final game Hearts took the Scottish Cup with a 2-1 victory. Rangers consolation that day came from Ally McCoist.

That McCoist was prevailed upon from the bench to try and save the game was evidence of an ageing squad finally losing the winning habit.

Having pre-announced his departure, Smith was unable to engineer a glorious farewell.

But Smith seemed to have few regrets. As he got to terms with surviving in the Premiership on a restrictive budget at Everton and as he brought a new belief to Scotland he seemed content.

Doubters still sniped at the scale of his achievements at Rangers but he gradually settled into the role of one of Scottish football's sagely father figures.

And then Rangers felt themselves hitting the skids. Suddenly Ibrox needed a sagely father figure.

The call went out. And, to the dismay of the Tartan Army, Smith responded.

Maybe he did feel there was unfinished business. Maybe a distress call from his first was love was too much to resist.

Whatever his reasons Smith took the job.

And when he raised the SPL trophy yesterday he provided a winning final sentence to the valedictory chapter of his SPL career.

The trophy collection has grown. Three more championships, two Scottish Cups and another three League Cups. And a UEFA Cup final appearance thrown in for good measure.

And he's done it against an ever changing backdrop of uncertainty. From the riots in Manchester before that European final to the ongoing controversy over an unreconstructed songbook, Smith's own supporters have given the manager more than just football to contend with.

His board have been often divided, the financial repercussions of mismanagement have bitten hard and this season's league win came after one of football's more protracted - at times farcical - takeover sagas.

This year, of course, a lunatic fringe has added a whole new level of rancour to life in the Old Firm bubble.

If nothing else Smith is presumably content that his hair already given up the battle and turned resolutely silver before he wandered back to Govan.

He's persevered through all this with his sense of humour and his dignity intact. It would however be wrong to depict him as Saint Walter, forever above the fray.

Smith's passion has remained strong, his desire to win has never left him. He's not been above mind games or of a little bit of media manipulation. Experience has made him a master of keeping his powder dry when it's sensible to do so, making his occasional strikes against his own board, the opposition or the authorities more effective.

Most importantly he's kept delivering on the pitch. At times this season Rangers have looked lacklustre, the squad lacking depth, some ageing limbs creaking, some important performers haunted by a loss of form.

They lost the season's top goalscorer in January, Kenny Miller's departure coming just months after Kris Boyd moved south. Rangers, Scottish football's very own Bank of Govan, had built their house on the same sand as Fred Goodwin.

It is important to raise the counterpoint that even in penury Ibrox had a financial clout that only Celtic could match. Rangers accounts may have crashed back to earth but there was no levelling of our mountainous playing field.

But there was a rising in the east to contend with. Neil Lennon had a new squad at Celtic, one which brimmed with quality and which drew from it's manager a very clear understanding of exactly what this two horse title race means.

Worringly for Rangers it also began to look like Celtic had built a side that could ruthlessly exploit their opponents weaknesses.

Smith kept calm and carried on. The League Cup was won at the expense of Celtic. The final Old Firm league clash was billed as a must win. Rangers snaffled a point that now looks priceless.

When Celtic, as teams with little experience of closing out a title are wont to do, were tripped up by an obstacle delivered straight from the cool Highland night sky, Rangers were poised to take ruthless advantage.

Noting the size of the points target Celtic had set, Neil Lennon paid tribute to Smith's achievement.

And how.

Not since 2004/05 when Alex McLeish and Rangers pipped Martin O'Neill's Celtic by a single point have the SPL champions amassed the 93 points that Smith won this year.

That, of course, stands as an indictment of the other ten teams. But it's still a hell of goodbye from Smith. Somehow he's cajoled and demanded better of his team when they looked like they were down and out.

Crucially he's also never let them lose that winning habit - an annoying habit if you're sat in the SPL's cheap seats - of not losing too many points when they are playing badly.

Do the hardships make the final triumph sweeter? Maybe they were always going to be sweet enough.

Smith broke the rule about never going back. And still he came out on top. Not for the first time he broke another rule by announcing his intended departure. This time fate did not leave him without a trophy.

Rangers now take a step into the unknown reign of Craig Whyte and Ally McCoist. It's Smith's legacy that they do so as champions.

Smith's future is uncertain. We won't see him in the SPL again. Will an English club come calling? Will there be an effort to build bridges with the SFA to pave the way for a role with the governing body?

Yesterday Neil Lennon said: "If I was to lose to anyone, it would be Walter Smith."

That spoke volumes for their relationship and for the enduring bonds that can be forged in the centre of Glaswegian footballing madness.

You do wonder, however, if Smith glances across the city and sees the evil insanity that has surrounded Lennon this season and thinks that the golf course rather than the football pitch is now more deserving of his attention.

If this is the end, then it's a triumphant end. An unlikely return topped with what had looked an unlikely championship.

Frank Sinatra never said goodbye quite as well as this.

> An encore? Various members of the fourth estate are hinting at tomorrow's newspapers carrying some choice words about Celtic from Walter Smith.

As I mentioned. He keeps his powder dry before launching a broadside. And the rumours are at this one has been brewing. It could be an interesting day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

SPL Today: Celtic Hope As Rangers Eye Prize

So a desperate season comes down to this.

It is, after all, just football. A game where championships can still turn on the final day, a game where the drama should be confined to the pitch.

Today has already been dubbed Helicopter Sunday.

It says much for the bankruptcy of the SPL's ideas departments that they think using a six year old marketing device will still engender excitment. A costly, meaningless gimmick.

Celtic v Motherwell

A dress rehearsal for the cup final. Celtic must win. Win and hope. An interesting game for Motherwell though.

Is the temptation to simply keep their powder dry?

Will a heavy defeat, even for an understrength side, have a harmful psychological impact on their chances next week?

Stuart McCall faces some big decisions.

But this game is all about Neil Lennon and his Celtic team. Without the inexplicable hate campaign Lennon would still have offered Scottish football it's most compelling narrative.

Here is the novice manager, with an abrasive footballing persona that has always been divisive among the majority of fans who can accept that character without using it is an excuse to display centuries old stupidity, going head to head with the experienced Walter Smith.

And for great swathes of the season Lennon has come out on top. In a season where many of us might already have walked away from a land where too many are apparently gripped by a illogical rage fuelled madness, Lennon has somehow risen above it all to arrive at the doorstep of a debut season championship.

Yet he might still come up short. What frustration he must feel, this most hyperactive of touchline coaches, to know that he is essentially unable to influence events today.

Celtic can win, can win handsomely, and still it might not be enough.

To have come so close, come so far, and realise that the destiny of the league is out of your hands must be an agonising pain.

I expect Celtic to win today. I expect them to win well. Their fate will be decided elsewhere.

But lets hope that this isn't the last the SPL will see of Lennon. Let's hope he's back next season, planning, coaching and kicking every ball.

Managers fail, managers succeed. Managers are loved. Managers are loathed.

Let Lennon be all that of more. And let him leave, when the time comes, on his terms or on Celtic's terms.

Not because he's being hounded out by a mindless terror campaign.

Where does Scottish football go from here? Treating Neil Lennon like it would any other manager would be a hell of a start.

Home win.

Dundee United v Hearts

The rather flimsy filling between two great chunks of tasty bread this. Third visit fourth. Over the season those league spots are probably just about right.

There's likely to be a demob happy feel about this one. Likely also to be chance for the SPL to see some of these players turn out for their current clubs. Who can say how squads will look when the great kaleidoscope of the summer transfer window has been shaken?

I'll go for the home win but I really don't know what to expect.

Kilmarnock v Rangers

Ninety minutes for Rangers to deliver Walter Smith a valedictory title that has, at times, looked unlikely.

For chunks of the season it's seemed that Smith was persuaded to stay only to wisely apply the band aids needed to hold Rangers together as the club lurched from crisis to crisis.

We should have known that would never be enough for a man with so trophy laden a career, nor for a group of players who, even as the creaked and groaned, have never lost the habit of winning.

And so all Rangers need to do is win.

But how Kilmarnock and Kenny Shiels would love this scalp to end a season that has exceeded most expectations.

Stranger things have happened. Helicopters have been told to change route before as unlikely results have turned the title tide.

Not today though. I just can't see it.

Rangers to get the away win. And Walter Smith to go out on a high.