Friday, April 12, 2013

Hibs: Returning to the scene of the crime

Do Hibs feel the hand of Scottish Cup history on their shoulder? Or does it have them by the throat, threatening to throttle them once again?

They head to Hampden as favourites to beat Falkirk in the semi final - 1.6 to win at Unibet to Falkirk's 5.5 - but demons lurk in every corner.

What do we chew on at the betting online feast? Back the SPL side against a team 20 points off the pace in the First Division?

But what if the SPL side haven't won this cup for 111 years, are attempting to reach back to back finals for the first time since 1924 and haven't played at Hampden since suffering their most traumatic defeat there last May?

What if the SPL team is Hibs?

A third Scottish Cup trip to Hampden for Pat Fenlon in less than two seasons in charge.

He might wish it was only the second but, as I said before last year's final "incident," his record in reaching finals in Ireland proved attractive to the Hibs board when they gave him the job. The limited evidence to hand suggests he might struggle to convert finals into trophies but, still, he got us there.

That Fenlon has brought Hibs to consecutive semi finals in the Scottish Cup belies his league record. While Fenlon inherited a mess from Colin Calderwood, just 15 wins from over 50 SPL games shows how difficult he's found it to wade through the rubbish.

The league form includes a run of just 16 points from the last 60 available, just one more than Dundee. A season of progress?

So Hibs, being Hibs, battle not just history this weekend but also fling a dollop of dreadful form into the mix.

What's gone wrong?

It seems a long time ago that they were topping the table in the autumn, putting together an early run of results that looked like making a top six place little more than a formality.

Players have lost form, an over reliance on Leigh Griffiths - who has so often sparkled on the pitch and covered a myriad of his team's sins - has been exacerbated by a roster of senior strikers that includes only the departing Eoin Doyle and the never-quite-here Shefki Kuqi.

Injuries and loss of form have highlighted a lack of cover in defence and if the signing of midfielders - extending beyond the transfer window with the reintroduction of Kevin Thomson - has become a fetish, it's not always led to satisfaction in the middle of the park.

At times inept, occasionally overly cautious and often just devoid of ideas, the promise of an Easter Road resurrection has been replaced by hints of insurrection.

Rod Petrie's towering 'tache might not yet be twitching but there are many in the support now convinced that a Petrie board has yet again picked the wrong manager.

Despite it all, just like they did last year, Hibs have carried on regardless in the Scottish Cup.

A mildly cathartic deflection in the Edinburgh derby, a hen's tooth of a stotter from Gary Deegan against Aberdeen, a Griffiths hat-trick at Kilmarnock.

And now just another 90 minutes away from a chance to laugh at 111 years of history while curing a little of the post traumatic stress suffered in Leith since last year.

Better to forget all that. Hibs have suffered at Hampden as underdogs and as favourites, Falkirk have upset the odds against better teams than this.

A semi final win is the only thing that can energise this comatose season at Easter Road.

Why wouldn't Falkirk revel in the chance to deny Hibs even an outside shot at redemption? Nothing sweetens an upset like the sight of suffering on the other side.

Hibs must find focus where too often they've looked detached, leaders must rediscover their qualities, players who have spent too many games coasting must find a spark.

Defeating 111 years of misery can wait, this semi final is about throwing off the pain of another wasted season.

What's gone before will show itself in empty terraces but there will be passion there.

Passion too from Falkirk. Will the Hibs players match it?

I'll troop loyally to Hampden once again, joining the rest of the victims returning to the scene of the crime.

All too often I've been mugged by own team.

Not this time, boys. Please, not this time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reconstruction: Yes? No? Who cares?

Another week closer to the reconstruction that will save Scottish football.

Or another week further away from the reconstruction that will save Scottish football.

On Monday St Mirren poked their head out from under Neil Doncaster's blanket of SPL unanimity to confirm that actually they wouldn't be voting "yes" to the 12+12+18 structure after all:

"The concept of playing 22 games prior to breaking into three leagues of eight, including the middle eight losing their points gained in the first series of games, is not a system we see as taking the game forward in the long term. You will be aware that other countries have tried this system and have since rejected such a set up.

"We also feel that this system is not fair to fans who buy into their club by way of a season ticket, who are then unsure of what they are purchasing. It is also against the basic wishes of the fans for larger leagues as highlighted in all recent fan surveys."

Ross County are rumoured to be planning to join St Mirren on the naughty step, which led East Fife chairman, Sid Collumbine, to warn County's Roy MacGregor about the pressure he'll face:

"It is bullying, there is no question about that."

The "aye" camp roared to the defence of the proposals.

Stewart Milne called them "absolutely vital" for Scottish football:

"We believe it’s the right thing for Scottish football. We’ve been working on this for nearly three years now.

"We worked on the initial option of a 10-12 [structure] which we believed delivered all the things that would help Scottish football move forward.

"Unfortunately we couldn’t get enough support for that. We worked on this revised proposal over the last eight month along with reviewing all the other options."

Neil Doncaster, fresh from making a hash of releasing the SPL's post-split fixtures, wasn't for mincing his words:

"It’s really important that 
we don’t decide against all the benefits that can be delivered with a positive vote. At the moment, we have a scenario where, every season, any number of teams are playing Russian roulette because we have one team relegated from 12 into the financial abyss. I do not see that is in the best interests of the game.

"The money that is distributed to clubs in the Premier League, you get a tiny fraction of that within the SFL First Division. We need to solve that."

Armageddon in an abyss?

Kenny Cameron spoke with forked tongue in Inverness:

"The numbers just don't add up, so a vote against 12-12-18 this time round would be a vote for the same again. That's also true as far as SFL clubs are concerned. This is not a 'pick and mix' offer that is on the table but one requiring a straight yes or no.”

"The majority of these requests are delivered by the new proposals, a larger top league being the only omission, he said

"Some 85 percent of what fans asked for is being offered. But defeat for the new proposals could mean defeat for all the elements of change, which is surely a step backwards.

"If the SPL gets its fingers burned this time, having come such a long way, then my fear is that it may be years before we come so close again."

Threats, half truths, a certain willingess to play fast and loose with what the fans think.

A new dawn indeed.

"85 percent of what fans asked for." Really?

Watching your team in a league structure that you want, a league structure that you actually understand, only accounts for 15 percent of what you want when you buy a ticket?

I must be doing it wrong.

We're five games from the end of the season. Can nobody find the handbrake and just ca' canny?

Why are the proposals not "pick and mix?"

Why not push ahead where there is consensus and take time to reflect on the one issue that is really not convincing the paying public?

Why can't we disband the SPL and the SFL, create a new organisation and agree on a model for redistribution within the current set up for just one more season?

Why can't we let that new organisation decide on the new structure, rather than lumbering it with a both a fix and a muddle bequeathed by the dying SPL?

This is Scotland, current world champions of the 'interminably long navel gazing over a simple yes/no question' division.

What's the rush?

"We’ve been working on this for nearly three years now," says Stewart Milne.

They've been talking about it, stalling and enraging fans for far longer.

It's never been suggested before that a "yes" vote is required weeks before the end of a season.

Is 12+12+18 going to persuade sponsors to fling money at the game, the irresistible lure of a failed Swiss model run by an organisation that doesn't yet exist?

Kenny Cameron indicates that if we don't do what the SPL wants right here, right now they're going to pick up their ball and go home.

Maybe that passes for constructive debate in the SPL, an organisation so addled it can still use Neil Doncaster as its spokesperson.

It's not healthy that St Mirren and Ross County can dictate the future to every Scottish club. It's not healthy for any two clubs to be able to do that.

St Mirren and Ross County didn't create that system.

It's a difficult decision though: stop 12+12+18 and everything is off the table and the SPL, perhaps after ushering in hand selected teams for SPL2, will raise the drawbridge.

A new start in a house divided by SPL's intransigence? Or the SPL going it alone and let them eat cake?

Bullying? It looks like it. Bullied by the SPL, the failed experiment that was going to "save" Scottish football in 1998.

What will happen on Monday?

I don't know. But whatever way the vote goes don't hold your breath for a brave new world.