Saturday, January 28, 2012

Falkirk: Bairns Learn History?

Falkirk face Celtic in a semi-final knowing that Kilmarnock lie in wait in the final.

It's the 1997 Scottish Cup all over again. History doesn't repeat itself, does it?

Mind you, Falkirk don't have the best of records in the league cup. They qualified for the second final back in 1947/48 and promptly lost 4-1 in a replay against Second Division East Fife.

Celtic, meanwhile, have won the trophy 14 times and played in 28 finals.

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Ayr v Kilmarnock

"No, we're the underdogs."

Ayr v Kilmarnock. An Ayrshire derby in a league cup semi final and nobody wants to be favourites.

No surprise there. Derby games are different. Derby games in cups carry an extra weight. Make it a semi final and you've got a hell of a game on your hands.

Best then to try and reduce expectations, relieve some of the pressure on your players.

Even if it is bollocks. Yes, Ayr have seen off SPL opposition on their march to Glasgow giving Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels the inspiration to mimic the underdog. But it's an unconvincing act.

Top flight football and full time players make this Kilmarnock's to lose.

The problem for them, and the reason behind Shiels' cack-handed mind games, is that these games are actually quite easy to lose.

There's evidence of that in both Ayr's cup run and recent meetings between the two sides.

Add to that the odd inconsistency that often hampers Kilmarnock's progress - illustrated once again in a 3-0 skelping at home to Dunfermline last week - and you've got the potential for unease in the dressing room.

That must be pleasing for an Ayr side who will surely need to play with a battle hardened stubbornness and sniff out any Kilmarnock weaknesses to prosper today.

Does this derby, as some suggest, mean more to lower division Ayr than their opponents?

Not for the fans. That's something the Kilmarnock players would do to well to remember.

Local rivalry does, of course, add interest today. Hampden might not be full but the passion - some of it perhaps a touch politically incorrect - should serve as a timely reminder that Scottish football's heart still beats with old feuds, past grievances and dreams of getting one over on timeless enemies.

Kilmarnock should win. They should. But Ayr shouldn't be at Hampden. Dunfermline shouldn't have beaten Kilmarnock 3-0.

Prediction? At least one red card and Kilmarnock to win 2-1 after being somewhat rocked by a strong Ayr start. A cup tie worthy of the occasion if not chock full of exceptional football.

All of which makes it a bit of shame that the game will be played in Hampden's 1pm graveyard shift, without the exposure of live television.

Not that the winners will care. Losing a semi final derby? Been there, done that. Suffered it.

You wouldn't wish it on anyone. Except, perhaps, your worst enemy.

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Ayr United: Devine Right

A few drinks this evening and the chat got round to the Ayrshire derby being played out at Hampden tomorrow.

Ayr United v Kilmarnock.

An outing of Ayrshire's dirty linen at the national stadium. The Jerry Springer "I Married A Horse" episode writ large. An incestuous family feud settled in a national competition.

I find myself asking what Ayr means to me.


It means Sydney Devine and not a spare seat in the Gaiety Theatre. Can still get them flocking, can Sydney. And, I'm told, he's significantly superior to Daniel O'Donnell.


It means an overrated national bard and ridiculous politicians of all stripes trying to grab a womanising chancer as their own. Surely, if there really was anything about Burns, he'd have written them all off as rogues.


It means a dark night of football. I've watched Scotland fail at many a sport. I've watched Hibs fail in many a game.

But few come close to the misery of watching Ayr United win a Scottish league cup semi final. Franck Sauzee, a hero of heroes, becoming a dead man walking.

Ayr know misery, they know how to heap misery on.

Kilmarnock be warned.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Leigh Griffiths: A Sorry Saga

"Sheer stupidity."

Maybe Leigh Griffiths had been fed that line in the bizarre public apology issued by Hibs today.

But it's pretty much bang on the money as a description of his behaviour in the past few weeks.

Gesturing Griffiths, the daftest laddie in the whole of Leith.

That might be unfair. But he got away with a gesture to the St Johnstone fans in Hibs' 3-2 win earlier in the season. He got a one game ban for a gesture in the defeat to Rangers. He got a one game ban for a gesture - to his own fans - in the win at Cowdenbeath.

Few are the occasions when it's a good idea to flick your own fans the "middles" but it seems even more foolhardy to do it when you're developing a reputation for a lack of gesticular subtlety.

So it's another two game ban. And the donning of his best hoodie for the kind of bizarre public apology championed by Tiger Woods, a move that hardly dispels the idea of Hibs as a footballing soap opera of late.

Bizarre might be a good thing though. Stupidity is the last thing Pat Fenlon needs as he plots Hibs' survival. Whatever the coaching staff said to Griffiths failed. Using YouTube like modern-day stocks, delivering public humiliation, might work.

Hibs will hope so.

Griffiths is only a loan player. His disciplinary record might not make him worth the hassle in other circumstances.

But Hibs are in a dark place. They need players with talent and they need players with confidence.

Griffiths has both. The former might be sporadic and the latter buttressed by bouts of petulance but he delivers something that Hibs lack.

One point ahead of bottom placed Dunfermline, and with transfer window business neither quick nor revolutionary, Hibs need all the help they can get.

The rub is that Leigh Griffiths is of no use sat in the stand.

Nor is being seen to indulge his player the sort of message Fenlon - who is surely aware of the murmurs of disciplinary disapproval that have swirled round Easter Road for a few seasons - will want to send out, particularly when public warnings have previously been issued for exactly the same transgressions.

As Griffiths correctly points out he's become a player that opposing fans make much merriment out of disliking. But every reaction will only make the abuse louder, every tabloid splash on domestic disharmony will only encourage supporters to goad him into a reaction before screaming blue murder at what an offensive, rude little man he is.

That's the footballer's life. Maybe more so for a player with a reliance on a certain cockiness.

Griffiths needs to learn. He's quick to say how happy he is at Hibs, his childhood club. But he's a Wolves player, he's already won his lucrative move to the land of opportunity.

There's talent and potential there that deserves a bigger stage than the 11th best club in the SPL can offer.

If his career progresses - which might depend on him sorting his head out as much as anything else - he'll face bigger matches, bigger crowds, bigger volleys of vitriol from the stands.

He's made an idiot of himself in recent weeks, he's taken the piss out of his manager and he's damaged the club he professes to love.

That's very far from being ideal.

Now it's up to Griffiths to prove that it's also very far from being a period of career defining foolhardiness.

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