Friday, August 10, 2012

SPL: Hibs v Hearts

Bliss it was that dawn to be alive.

19th May 2012.

They were happy coaches that travelled from Leith to the Scottish Cup final that day in May, fuelled by hope and expectation. Songs filled the air. This was Hibs' time.

They delivered fans not to a green and pleasant land but a dystopian nightmare.

From Wordsworth to Orwell, the Scottish Cup final as imagined by a hungover Danny Boyle with Pa Kujabi and Pat Fenlon auditioning to play Mr Bean.

That was then. This is now.

Even a club as unresponsive as Hibs realised something had to change.

A number of players who trudged off the pitch at Hampden were quickly shipped out.

A new team would be built, a team with "bottle," ready to make a fresh start. Ready to restore the reputation of a club that had invented new ways to fail in the past couple of season.

Fast forward to the competitive debut of this "new" Hibs.

A 3-0 defeat to Dundee United in which Hibs were variously clueless in defence, weak in midfield and toothless in attack.

You'll have had your summer of change.

And now another test.

Hearts at Easter Road. Just the second game of the season. Hearts fresh from a comfortable 2-0 win over St Johnstone, Hearts fans set on another party to mark that Scottish Cup win, this one in their neighbour's backyard.

Things don't get much easier for Hibs. But that's what happens when a club gets so much wrong.

There are those on the board at Easter Road who like to extol the virtues of their budget driven management of the club while looking haughtily across the city.

It's not that simple.

Hibs youth policy has been stuttery since the last of the impressive - and profitable - "golden generation" left.

Last weekend Hearts trumped them for the number of youth graduates in the squad and in the starting line up.

And Hibs, whose miserliness some like to present as a masterful, are brassic.

Maybe not as skint as some clubs but too many seasons of paying off managers, making bad signings whose contracts need to be bought out and not producing any saleable assets has taken its toll.

They have a fine stadium. But no money. Some clubs buy success, Hibs wouldn't do that so ended up spending a fortune on failure. That makes rebuilding a team very hard.

It's a rum do indeed in Leith.

All of which is ground I've covered before and will again. But it's important to give Sunday's game context.

The first derby of the season - and it's an early season clash - always had to be targetted as a big step on the road to recovery.

The cup final is gone, history can't be changed, the jokes and jubiliation in Gorgie will never end.

But a sound performance against Hearts - a much, much overdue win in this fixture - would be evidence of progress, a measure of the rebuilding job.

Yet Hibs appear to be entering the game as the SPL's Benidorm hotel.

They might one day be fine. But right now the work has stalled, the owner has stopped paying the builder, the windows haven't been fitted and the swimming pool isn't tiled.

Hearts have had changes themselves. John McGlynn has been given the tricky job of taking over from the cup winning Paulo Sergio and remoulding the team with a focus on youth.

But the players were already at the club, ready to take the step up, immersed in the ethos of the club. An ethos that very much includes winning derby games.

What hope for Hibs?

Last week's showing could have been a bad day at the office, United had already played a European tie and their early goal might just have caught Hibs off guard.

The arrival of Gary Deegan might bolster that powder puff midfield.

Fenlon's promise of a new look and a new attitude might have blossomed on the lush green grass of that expensive training centre this week.

A young Hearts side might fall victim to inconsistency, their lack of striking options might become a problem.

But you'd struggle to find a Hibs fan to bet on any of that.

Losing the first two games of the season needn't be disastrous but losing this game would be a problem for Hibs.

In the battle for hearts and minds losing another battle to Hearts will make up more minds about the direction the club is taking.

Hibs v Hearts: the odds

Ladbrokes Game On!

Ladbrokes offer 11/5 for a Hibs win, 5/4 for a Hearts win and 9/4 for the draw.

The optimistic Hibs fan might be interested to see that 2-1 win with Leigh Griffiths as first scorer comes in at 40/1.

James McPake - scorer of the cup final consolation goal - is a 12/1 anytime scorer.

And perhaps some of those Hearts fans for whom confidence is not a problem will fancy a John Sutton hat trick at 33/1.

Football, Olympics and stuff

Somewhat sporadic blogging of late.

Events, dear boy, events.

Including the Olympics.

Strange that something greedy corporations try to make so sterile, an event run by an organisation that is no stranger to corruption, should be prove so cathartic.

But it's really been quite involving, pleasant August escapism after a grubby summer for Scottish football.

Maybe it's simply because the Olympics showcase genuine world class talent while the return of the SPL showcased the Hibs defence and Terry Butcher trying to batter Danny Lennon.

And quite remarkably in Neil Doncaster the SPL have found a sports administrator more objectionable than Seb Coe. They should win some sort of medal for that.

With so many agog at so many sports our footballers are not emerging unscathed.

A précis: "Olympians are polite, gracious and pleasant. Footballers are ungrateful louts."


Hard to say. Such generalisations tend not to be very fair.

We don't see many of these athletes from one Olympic Games to the next and most of us - and the press - are only interested in them for the duration.

If they drown puppies and give their granny cheek for 206 weeks of a four year cycle then they at least have the sense to remove their Dr Dre headphones, take out their chewing gum and smile sweetly when faced with the tedium of appearing on a show hosted by Gary Lineker.

They grab their moment in the limelight as footballers appear to increasingly resent it.

Education, given some of the stats appearing about the percentage of privately schooled athletes in the British team, might also be involved.

A double standard too: tales of Olympian feats of nocturnal high jinx in the athletes' village are treated by the press as benignly as a Carry On film.

The same tales coming from footballers in Malaga would be treated as a threat to the moral wellbeing of our children.

And what of the viewers?

Which of us dreamed of snatching the Olympic gold medal in dressage?

Which of us really knew what dressage was?

More of us wanted to be footballers. So professional footballers live our dreams for us - we in turn demand perfection from the lucky few and take it as a personal slight when they do the human thing and fall short.

Fair or not it does seem that footballers are right up there with politicians, journalists and estate agents in the public's affections.

And when people begin to think like that it doesn't take many bad apples for the whole ruddy barrel to be written off.

Anyway, I digress.

I've not been completely idle during this barren blogging run.

Hibs-shaped season previews have been crafted for STV, the SPL Podcast and FourFourTwo (which you'll probably need to buy to read unless you can sit beside someone reading it on the train and surreptitiously glance at their copy.)

And all the usual stuff is going on at what they call the Facebook and the Twitter - or if you prefer a more Scottish social network check out the Scottish football group on Kiltr.

I also contributed (very minimally) to issue one of a new football magazine devoted to the 30 SFL teams.

You can download Ultimate Scottish Football here.

It's more than likely that coverage of the SFL, or of certain SFL clubs, is going to rocket in the months and seasons ahead.

But the chaps behind the mag - like the guys across at new blog Tell Him He's Pele - are not band wagon jumpers. Both sites are well worth keeping track of.

On the subject of new blogs the indefitagable Gary Linton is now sharing his love for Spanish men on Alba España, just in case you're already getting withdrawal symptoms about leagues featuring a two horse race.

If match day programmes float your boat then has a new look for the new season and hunners of clubs covered.

And finally Scott Johnston ( and Andrew Gibney (French Football Weekly) are going on a pilgrimage from Sheffield to Lille. On foot to raise money for the MS Society.

You can find out why and how to lend your support right here.

And with that, normal service can be resumed.

Just as soon as the taekwondo finishes.

Monday, August 06, 2012

SPL: One horse, week one

The SPL is back. Games have been played, points have been won. Hibs fans have been depressed all over again.

Robbie Devine takes a look at the weekend:

Saturday August 4 2012 saw the start of a new experiment in world football, the kick off for a top tier championship in which the race for the runner-up spot is the main aim for the majority of sides rather than the mounting of a championship challenge.

Surely there cannot be another league where a team is declared definite champions before a ball is kicked by managers, players, pundits and fans alike.

Celtic will surely stroll to a second successive title as, with no Rangers on the scene, no club will be in a position to launch a proper challenge.

It is a sad indictment of the game in Scotland that the Old Firm will always be champions, indeed Aberdeen were the last club outside Glasgow to become top dogs way back in the dim and distant days of 1985.

The Dons were the first team to take on the prospective champions as Celtic Park was filled fans witnessing the spectacle of legendary former Celtic assistant manager Sean Fallon unfurling the League flag before the match started.

Now there is a prevalent sense of optimism amongst SPL supporters that this will be a good season as the Rangers saga has now abated but without wanting to put a damp squib on top of that positivity I feel I simply must embrace my Victor Meldrew and admit that I do not share that view, especially on the viewing of the game at Celtic Park.

For those of you who did not have the misfortune to witness it you must have enjoyed a better weekend than I.

It was a poor, poor spectacle.

The home side failed to break down a resolute Dons defence until the 79th minute when Kris Commons' low shot somehow managed to hit the back of the net evading the clutches of Aberdeen keeper Jamie Langfield whose woeful attempt to stop it leads us back to the days when the fumblings of Scottish goalkeepers were considered a long running joke amongst the English press.

Langfield’s nickname is ‘clangers’ so his latest blunder should not have surprised anyone.

What may surprise people though was Neil Lennon’s assertion that one of the main reasons for Celtic’s lethargic showing was because his players were ‘leggy’ following their midweek match against HJK Helsinki.

Surely, after a summer of recharging their collective batteries, the last thing any professional footballer should feel is ‘leggy’ on the opening day of the season.

That aside it is abundantly obvious that Lennon will have to freshen up his squad as there was a real lack of flair on show from his troops whilst Craig Brown’s main concern will be what do with Langfield.

Elsewhere St Mirren Park was the place to go for excitement as the 4104 spectators were treated to an old fashioned rip snorter of a match in which the Buddies rescued a point in injury time against Inverness Caley Thistle but did lose new signing Lewis Guy, who had opened the scoring, to a red card.

There was also a good atmosphere generated at Tynecastle as goals from Sutton and Templeton secured the three points for Hearts with St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas later bemoaning the ordering off of new signing Gregory Tade.

The First Division flag was raised at the newly named New Energy Stadium, Dingwall as last season’s First Division champions Ross County held Motherwell to a 0-0 draw with the same result signalling the return to top flight football for Dundee who took a large travelling support down to Kilmarnock.

And Sunday saw the final match of the opening SPL campaign taking place at a sun drenched Tannadice where Dundee United shook off the hangover of losing a last minute equiliser in their Europa League tie against big spending Dinamo Moscow to humble hapless Hibernian 3-0.

On this showing United will indeed, along with Hearts, be the most serious challengers for that much coveted second spot while the odds on Hibs making a managerial change yet again before Christmas have shortened considerably.

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