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  • tm4tj
    tm4tj

    Inverness CT -V- Ross County - Preview

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    The Final installment

    GAME OFF!

     

    Another local derby coming up on Friday night with BBC Scotland getting in on the action from the Caledonian Stadium with Ross County the visitors for a 7:05pm kick off.

    It's the 6th and final Highland derby this season and every one of these games has been passionate, enthralling, dramatic and left the fans wanting more. Well, it's here, the next installment.

    Waterlogged.jpgThere has been a pitch inspection asked for ahead of this game at 12:30 today after a week of constant rain has left the pitch the worse for wear. Here you can see a touch of dampness around the goalmouth which has affected the bounce of the ball...... AND IT'S GAME OFF.

    Our last game was a rewarding away fixture at Dumfries where we held Queen of the South at bay in the second half after we had come out of the blocks flying before the interval. Goals from Aaron Doran and Brad Mckay gave us a platform to build on but that never happened so we consolidated and kept Queens out with Mark Ridgers performing heroics in a challenging second half. That win was only good enough to keep us in fifth place with Dunfermline also winning to hold onto fourth position. Our Championship form has been somewhat patchy and that is why we have dropped out of the top four with Pars on a run akin to County's surge.

    Ross County have all but won the Championship and the teams below them are all playing for either a play-off place or relegation avoidance. A 2-0 home win over Morton at the weekend put them further ahead of second place Dundee United. Second half goals from Josh Mullin and Brian Graham secured the points. County faced a resurgent Falkirk on Tuesday night and raced into a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes with Brian Graham and Keith Watson both scoring headers. A late Falkirk penalty and Grivosti sending off made for a tense finale but County held on for all three points.

    Table 27.jpgThat midweek victory over Falkirk gives County six wins on the bounce in the Championship. They have now opened up an eleven point gap to second placed Dundee United. Add to that, a win at Motherwell in the Scottish Cup and a couple of draws with us as well as a Challenge Cup win over East Fife, then it's easy to see why they are heading back to the Premiership. Their last league defeat was a 4-0 thrashing at Palmerston in mid-January. 

    Our squad has been at the thin edge of the wedge recently with injuries to Kevin McHattie, Tom Walsh and Anthony McDonald. That has meant moving players around within our first choice squad. Joe Chalmers is one player who has benefited from his latest role coming in from the right and on to his sweet left foot as displayed by his stunning strike against Dundee United in the cup.

    Billy Wristy.jpgCounty's depth of squad will not present them with any major issues as they sprint for the Championship tape. Billy Mckay is out for the rest of the season after breaking his arm whilst scoring a hat-trick against Ayr United recently. Mckay had scored 20 goals this season for County and was in fine form. He also won the Championship player of the month whilst wristing up with his stookie. Good luck with the recovery Billy.  Iain Vigurs has been out for a few weeks and Tom Grivosti will be suspended.

    Callum Semple is a good bet to be in the squad. His gambling activities have been brought to the attention of the governing bodies and he will face a disciplinary hearing on March 28th.

    Street fighting, gambling, managers banned, inappropriate dressing room behaviour............It's all going down in Dingwall. There'll be a Netflix documentary out soon!

     

    Here's Polly looking ahead to tonight's game

    Good news is on short supply from the club at the moment, but here's some. Daniel McKay has penned a new three year deal at Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Daniel is one of the hot properties in the Scotland youth set-up and as John Robertson acknowledged on the Official Site he is a tremendous prospect. 

    Daniel Mckay.jpgRobertson said: “Negotiations kicked in after he played his 25th game for the club. We’ve sat down with his agent and his parents to negotiate a new three year deal which will see Daniel continue to play his football in the Highlands.”

    “It’s another step which shows the youngsters are in our thoughts. It’s been an unlucky season for Dan, he’s picked up a lot of small injuries and he’s struggling a bit with a strain in his knee right now but hopefully this will give him a boost.”

    “He will be involved between now and the end of the season, and we hope he can kick on because we feel he is a tremendous prospect for the future.”
     

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  • Blog Entries

    • By tm4tj in Football adventures with James Rendall
         0
      Click to view slideshow. The first competitive home game of the season is always worthy of getting out the bunting, especially when the visitors are from relatively close by. This was the lure for my Italian friend Stefano from Ancona and I as it took us to Great Grimsby, or Cleethorpes if you want to get picky, as Grimsby Town play in the neighbours backyard so to speak! The town is prefixed by Great to distinguish itself from Little Grimsby a little further down the road, but as we were to discover it felt like an ironic title.   
      The “by” at the end of any town or city in this country signifies Viking involvement, and in Grimsby’s case it was allegedly named after a Danish fisherman called Grim in the 9th Century AD, not just yesterday! As to whether he was one of the brothers remains unclear! He certainly had the right occupation for a port famous to this day for its fishing. Sadly the unfortunately named Mr Grim might also be well named for modern day Grimsby as with its industries and fishing fleet diminished, the legacy has left a feeling of a down at heel town trying its best to improve itself, but “Great” Grimsby it is not for now!
      Checking into the town centre’s best hotel The Holiday Inn Express I enquired as to the proximity of the stadium, and was delighted to hear it was no more than ten minutes, but alas upon declaring we had plenty of time before walking, the receptionist changed her estimation to about an hour!! We aren’t that slow at walking I quipped, which she ultimately didn’t mean, merely that it was a more complicated route!  If only we’d heided her warning, but up in the room Google maps suggested a mere 45 minutes, and after a drive right across England from Liverpool to Grimsby, a stretch of the legs was needed!!
      Now I have done a few crazy things all in the name of a good photo for the FW magazine, mostly walking into open stadio in Italy uninvited, including getting locked in at Livorno! This expedition required a shot of the iconic Dock Tower, Grimsby’s tip of the hat to Firenze or Venezia, where it wouldn’t be out of place in either city! Having seen a game from Blundell Park on TV I was familiar with the idea that the ground was close to the sea, and one of the three Google map walking routes was taking us by the port, it couldn’t have been better…until we happened upon a security hut at the entry to the port! Understandably Grimsby is a large working port where access isn’t allowed, but in asking the chap what was the best way to the stadium, I showed him my phone with its suggested possible walk through the port. This apparently is the North Walk, and access is allowed if you are heading there!! He gave us way too detailed route information, and it got to the point where my brain shutdown thinking it’s all on the Google map anyway! While the Tower was still illusively in the distance, the start of the walk along the yacht harbour did afford the clearest view. Twenty minutes later having walked by one industrial unit after another we came to a gate in the fence, but it was locked, we had no option but to double back. The clock was ticking and if we tried to walk all the way we’d never make kick off and so an executive decision was taken when we arrived outside Grimsby Town’s sponsors HQ in the port, I called a cab! The taxi driver was shocked to learn the security man had let us into the docks as the North walk was dangerous in his opinion, but I suspect we never found that route, as we’d walked along nothing more dangerous than occasionally crumbling pavement!
      Less than ten minutes in the taxi and we were in the queue for tickets outside the ground. It was a glorious night and immediately the magnificent old style floodlight pylons caught my eye.  Entry through the turnstiles brought a wonderful old fashioned stadium. Blundell Park should be preserved forever as a reminder of how stadia were all different and quirky back in the day before the bland template for all seater arenas came along. The main stand is unusual and unique too with its slight forward lean. A seat on the upper tier would afford views of the port, that iconic tower and out to sea. Alas we’d opted for the lower tier, and our seats were right in the front row at pitch level! It was an unusual view, as well as a frustrating one with people shuffling by on a regular basis en route to the conveniences and the snack truck. The attendance was relatively poor at around 2,500 but it meant a good number of seats were free in the home stand behind the goal and so we took up a different vantage point for the second half. 
      Doncaster are my English team, a curiosity that started from news footage of fans carrying a coffin through the streets of the town at the point when the club were relegated from the football league in the late ‘90’s after a truly disastrous season, and the threat of the club going out of business. Well ahead of the troubles at Bury especially this season, a ruinous owner nearly brought Doncaster to its knees. I started following their Conference results, and gradually their saviour John Ryan brought the club back to life. Eventually the intrigue got too much and I headed down to Belle Vue to see them play Hereford United one early November Saturday in 2002 for a fifth tier joust. Belle Vue was another proper old ground with real character, and it afforded a cracking atmosphere. Another reason Rovers grew on me was the development of a new badge with a Viking, something the Viking settlement of Grimsby missed out on, but then they have got fish! In more recent years it became apparent via a historian that Doncaster had never been “officially” signed back to England after the plunderings of William Wallace, and “technically” was Scottish! A touristic quirk to trade off perhaps, a Scottish enclave in England, but not for a proud Yorkshire town! Indeed the chanting of their proud county’s name at Middlesbrough when Rovers were in the Championship caused particular angst amongst a contingent of the home support and it sadly lead to trouble outside the Riverside when I was there. 
      In my twelve visits to the old ground, the most curious scheduling afforded me three consecutive years of the August Bank Holiday Monday fixture against Huddersfield Town with a win, loss and a draw across two leagues between the clubs! The best day for me at Belle Vue was a fortuitous Easter Monday fixture against Cambridge United that saw the ground encountering a last ever lock out for many disappointed fans ahead a 2-0 win that brought Rovers promotion to the third tier in only the clubs second season back in the league. All the Good Friday results had all gone in Donny’s favour and it caught the club out in terms of when promotion would be clinched, and having a lack of time to issue tickets. I was in the stadium more than an hour before kick off and it was nearly full by then such was the excitement! Obviously in beating Leeds United to reach the Championship in the League One Play Off was a real high by which time the club were settled into the Keepmoat Stadium, and while I had to settle for watching this game on TV,  I journeyed down to Cardiff for the Johnstone Paint Pot final versus Bristol Rovers, where an extra time winner took the Cup to South Yorkshire after a thrilling 3-2 success.   
      The only time I had come across Grimsby had been at Wembley when they played FC Halifax Town in the FA Trophy Final in 2016. It was The Mariners second weekend on the trot at the National Stadium having beaten Forest Green 3-1 to regain the clubs league place after six years in the wilderness. The following Sunday in a close run match, the Shaymen won out 1-0 amid floods of tears, a first major honour for Halifax a week after the club had slipped into National League North amid fears the club would struggle to bounce back, but they were promoted immediately within the year, doubtlessly on the coattails of this success. Grimsby’s real cup final had been getting back into the league and they have consolidated in League Two. 
      Grimsby started life as Grimsby Pelham in 1878, an odd name, but a year later the taking of Pelham (as the film goes) was replaced by Town, a name you’ll hear more than Grimsby at Blundell Park, “We are Town”, “Come on Town” or “fish” seem the staple of the faithful as they encourage in a stadium that has been the clubs home for 121 years! Bill Shankly was once the Town boss, ahead of going on to greater things across the breadth of the country at Liverpool. Lawrie McMenemy won promotion to the third tier with the Mariners in 1972 before moving onto Southampton and an FA Cup success with them in 1976. Alan Buckley though is the most successful boss guiding them to three promotions amongst three separate spells in the hot seat. While Lincoln might be blazing a trail through the leagues for now, Grimsby can still claim bragging rights in Lincolnshire as the only one of the three league clubs from the county to have played in all four divisions, as well as a brace of FA Cup semi finals. With Scunthorpe slipping back into League Two and replacing Lincoln, a derby will still be on the fixture roster at Blundell this season. One unusual permission Grimsby and Hull held was the right to host home matches on Christmas Day to coincide with the fishing fleets being in harbour! Given how diminished these fleets are now, such an anomaly no longer exists, which is good news for the Town players as well as the opposition, not to mention all the staff involved in match days too.
      The visit of Doncaster wasn’t necessarily a derby, but a club from reasonable proximity gave it a local edge. Rovers having come within a penalty shoot out of Wembley for a place in the Championship for a third time in their recent history last term might have lost their boss and top striker in the close season, but they started off the more confident and capable side in this encounter. They were perhaps a touch too indulgent at times and a lack of a true cutting edge became apparent. That said, Town’s keeper was in inspired form early on with one quite brilliant save to keep the visitors out. Grimsby grew into the game and started looking more dangerous on the break. One such counter attack brought a tidy finish to the delight of the home crowd. In the second half Doncaster were never as threatening and it almost felt they were going to go out with a whimper, but a late rally, including a near header from their keeper in the Town box nearly forced extra time, but it was too little to late, and they were out. 
      The walk back to the hotel was needless to say attempted on the more sensible regular road route, initially a straight as an arrow road crossing the divide between Cleethorpes and Grimsby. We then came to the issue as to why ten minutes in the car becomes nearer an hour walking, with a flyover of no more than 500 metres in length in our way and it had no pavement! You have to turn left up a road that only relents with a walkway across industrial wastelands after more than a mile up a poorly light and disturbingly quiet road, complete with hookers on corners across the road! It wasn’t the most relaxed walk, but safety in number of not being alone was fine. It isn’t a walk I would ever wish to repeat! I know the good people of Grimsby are friendly, and those we chatted too were happy visitors had ventured from Italy and Scotland to see Town, but as a town, sadly grim sums it up!
      After four years without seeing Rovers play, this was a disappointing loss, meaning it is six years since I last saw them win a game, so I better get myself down to Doncaster this season and rectify this statistic! As for Grimsby, I wouldn’t be adverse to watching more games at cracking Blundell Park, but I would pincer in and out of the area on the day. 

      View the full article
    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: SEVENTH

      LAST SEASON: 3rd, 67pts

      NOTABLE INS: Mohamed El Makrini (Roda JC), Laurentiu Branescu (Juventus, loan)

      NOTABLE OUTS: Daniel Higgins (Cove Rangers), Jordan Jones (Rangers), Daniel Bachmann (Watford, end of loan), Conor McAleny (Fleetwood Town, end of loan), Liam Millar (Liverpool, end of loan), Youssouf Mulumbu (Celtic, end of loan), Mikael Ndjoli (Bournemouth, end of loan), Aaron Tshibola (Aston Villa, end of loan), Kris Boyd (retired), Scott Boyd (retired), Will Graham

      LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Bachmann, O'Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor, Dicker, Power, Mulumbu, Stewart, Jones, Brophy

      Steve Clarke, man. Sure, Jesus turned water into wine, but could he have guided Kilmarnock to third in the league? Dunno about that. I'm sure I wasn't the only neutral rooting for Killie last season. They weren't always pleasing on the eye but I've not seen a better organized team in Scotland. And whoever Clarke sent out onto the pitch would have jumped in front of a bullet if it meant getting a result. He was so damn magnificent that he was able to frequently (and publicly) criticize the SFA and still get the national team job.

      And so, midway through June, the club appointed Angelo Alessio as Clarke's successor.

      I was instantly on board with the move. Appointing another name from the ranks of Scottish football, a la Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Lee McCulloch et al would have inevitably meant regression back to where they were before the Clarke era. Taking a punt on Alessio obviously came with risk - his previous management posts were in Italy's lower divisions and he has never worked in Scotland before - but like his predecessor his coaching CV is impressive - he assisted Antonio Conte at Juventus, Chelsea and with Italy's national team. If Killie were to have any hope of kicking on, it would be by pulling off a high risk, high reward move like this.

      Then along came Connah's Quay Nomads. What's that noise that sounds like something going down a drain? Why, that's most of the goodwill and benefit-of-the-doubt the fans had given Alessio being flushed away.

      A (very, very) generous person would point out that the new man has had only a few weeks and made only two additions to a squad that lost a lot of players at the end of last season. Most however would point to the fact that the Welsh side needed a penalty shootout to see off League Two Edinburgh City at home in last year's Challenge Cup. All, I think, are worried that the reason no-one had really heard of Alessio is because he is actually just Gary Locke standing on Lee McCulloch's shoulders, surrounded by a ridiculously large overcoat and putting on an outrageous accent.

      And a couple of weeks later there have been no further additions to the squad. Alessio has said himself he needs at least another centre-back, two wingers and a striker. In truth he probably needs even more than that.

      As we said, 'high risk'. If the ceiling is a repeat of third place (a thought that now seems optimistic to the point of delusional), how low is the floor? Certainly bottom six, though the spine of the team is surely far too strong to prevent disaster. Assuming Kirk Broadfoot has enough left in the tank, a back four of him, Stuart Findlay, Stephen O'Donnell and Greg Taylor is stout and talented. The latter three may have been called up for Scotland by their former boss, but they all earned it on merit rather than favouritism.

      Taylor has flown under the radar a bit because left-back is a real (the only?) position of strength for the country, but he has played more than 100 league games and is still just 21. Findlay made a real breakthrough last season, and O'Donnell is one of the best right-backs in the country. The return of Alex Bruce provides centre-back cover, and Taylor's backup Calum Waters is highly thought of at Rugby Park. But more depth is essential now Scott Boyd has retired.

      Alessio can also hang his hat on central midfield duo Gary Dicker and Alan Power, both of whom blossomed under Clarke. Veteran Dutchman Mo El Makrini is probably more of a squad player. The problem, as the manager has identified, is out wide where 35 year old Chris Burke remains the best option. Dom Thomas found his level on loan at Dumbarton last year and Adam Frizzell's development has stalled. Greg Kiltie is best as a number ten, but needs a manager to give him a run of games to show what he can do. Of the club's youngsters, the powerful Innes Cameron is probably the best bet to succeed. He doesn't turn 19 till August though and it may be a bit too soon for him.

      And if you think the wing options look poor then take a peek at the attackers - or attacker, singular. The only striker on the books currently is Eamonn Brophy. Brophy was a hit under Clarke partly because of his workrate and willingness to do the defensive work. He did lead the club with 12 goals last season, but he can be really streaky and his 'shoot first, think later' policy really needs to be binned if he is to push on. At the moment he has no competition to push him.

      And at the other end of the pitch, Jamie MacDonald faces the possiblity of yet another season where he starts as first choice and finishes on the bench. It's safe to assume Laurentiu Branescu has been signed on loan to play, though he will do well to emulate the efforts of Daniel Bachmann last season.

      So a lot now depends on who Killie procure between now and August. The hope is that Alessio can use his contacts to find some gems, and that the players respond positively to another tactical manager. The fear is that Connah's Quay is a sign of what's to come, and that within a few months the dreaded 'safe pair of hands' will be required to dig them out of a hole.


      THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
      Goalkeepers: Laurentiu Branescu, Jamie MacDonald, Devlin Mackay
      Defenders: Kirk Broadfoot, Alex Bruce, Stuart Findlay, Ross Millen, Stephen O'Donnell, Greg Taylor, Calum Waters, Iain Wilson
      Midfielders: Chris Burke, Innes Cameron, Gary Dicker, Mohamed El Makrini, Adam Frizzell, Greg Kiltie, Rory McKenzie, Alan Power, Dom Thomas
      Forwards: Eamonn Brophy

      THE BEST XI?

       


      Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
      View the full article
    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: TWELFTH

      LAST SEASON: 11th, 32pts

      NOTABLE INS: Tony Andreu (Coventry City), Oan Djorkaeff (Nantes), Ilkay Durmus (Wacker Innsbruck), Sam Foley (Northampton Town), Dean Lyness (Raith Rovers), Sean McLoughlin (Hull City, loan)

      NOTABLE OUTS: Adam Eckersley (Airdrieonians), Mateo Muzek (Sheriff Tiraspol), Laurentiu Corbu (Dinamo Bucharest, end of loan), Anders Dreyer (Brighton & Hove Albion, end of loan), Lee Hodson (Rangers, end of loan), Jordan Holmes (Bournemouth, end of loan), Brad Lyons (Blackburn Rovers, end of loan), Kyle McAllister (Derby County, end of loan), Duckens Nazon (Sint-Truiden, end of loan), Mihai Popescu (Dinamo Bucharest, end of loan), Danny Rogers (Aberdeen, end of loan), Anton Ferdinand, Josh Heaton, Simeon Jackson, Sam Jamieson

      LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Hladky, Muzek, MacKenzie, Popescu, P. McGinn, S. McGinn, Lyons, Hodson, Magennis, McAllister, Mullen


      Just over a year ago, Jack Ross had guided a talented and entertaining St. Mirren side back to the Premiership. Such was the optimism about the place that when Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick claimed the club should be aiming for the top six eyebrows were only slightly raised.

      When Fitzpatrick said the same thing at the end of June it sounded like the ranting of a lunatic.

      Since that promotion, the Buddies have suffered the departure of Ross for Sunderland, 87 nightmare days under Alan Stubbs (who tried to replace the promotion-winning team with a bunch of duffers from down south), and then a proper rollercoaster ride with Oran Kearney in the dugout. The Northern Irishman had to wait ten matches for his first victory and won two of his first twenty-two league games in charge...and yet through a combination of against-the-odds squad unity and even-more-against-the-odds incompetence at Dundee the club managed to finish eleventh and then held their nerve in a penalty shootout against Dundee United to preserve their top flight status.

      At which point nearly all the gazillion short-term signings Kearney had made left...and then, in the last week of June, so did Kearney. Apparently he wanted to commute from Ulster and the club, not unreasonably, thought that was ridiculous.

      All in all, Jim Goodwin is not exactly being given the best chance to succeed in his first management post at a full-time club. When the signing of winger Ilkay Durmus was announced, the boss said "When I done my assessment on the team in my first couple of weeks I felt that we lacked a little bit of pace". He declined to mention that they lacked pretty much everything else, not least numbers. 

      He inherited just 12 players aged over 21, including defender Josh Heaton (the most notorious of Stubbs' duds - he cost £75,000 and played only two games before being released earlier this month), long-term casualty Greg Tansey and striker Cody Cooke who ruptured his ACL in the League Cup. 

      If anyone can pull this off though, it'll be Goodwin. An ultra-competitive and ruthless - to say the least - player who captained the club to the 2013 League Cup, he accomplished a miracle in keeping part-time Alloa in the Championship last season. He was the logical option to replace Kearney.

      But he's got a hell of a task on his hands. 

      Only in goal do they look sorted - Czech Vaclav Hladky made himself a hero with the fans with his shootout heroics in the playoff but he had already been excellent up to that point. There are however only three senior centre-backs. The third of those, Sean McLoughlin, pitched up on loan from Hull City just a day before the start of the new season. He should go straight into the lineup but expectations should be tempered by the fact that he only signed for Hull from the League of Ireland last week. 

      Alongside him will be either Jack Baird, who has never looked comfortable in the top flight, or Gary MacKenzie, who is 34 and missed most of last season with injury. His experience was crucial in the Spring, but the question is whether he was just rusty in the League Cup group games or if he is done.

      There is also no natural left-back, which is extraordinary. Paul McGinn can at least do a job on the other side, but has no natural backup. Hardly ideal. In the short-term talented youngster Ethan Erhahon will drop back from midfield but a better long-term solution is a huge priority.

      Up front, there's Danny Mullen, who scored only four times between the end of August and the end of last season. And, given that Cooke's injured, that's it. Incredible.

      At least there are options in the middle of the park, which have been augmented by the arrival of the experienced Sam Foley and Frenchmen Oan Djorkaeff - Youri's son - and Tony Andreu. Andreu wasn't great on his return to Hamilton last year and the fear is that his days as a goal threat from midfield are gone. Foley and captain Stephen McGinn will surely start, with veteran Ryan Flynn and youngster Cameron MacPherson also options.

      The arrival of Durmus will hopefully provide width that was sorely lacking in the League Cup games. Kyle Magennis will play on the opposite side. He could have a breakout season, but the 20 year old would really benefit from being in a stable team for a change.

      There will undoubtedly be new faces still to come. But it has a feeling of too little, too late about it. It feels like the Buddies are playing catch-up before the Premiership season has even started. Their best hope of survival is that someone else emulates Dundee's sheer awfulness. And that probably isn't going to happen.


      THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
      Goalkeepers: Vaclav Hladky, Dean Lyness
      Defenders: Jack Baird, Gary MacKenzie, Nicholas McAllister, Paul McGinn, Sean McLoughlin
      Midfielders: Tony Andreu, Oan Djorkaeff, Ilkay Durmus, Ethan Erhahon, Ryan Flynn, Sam Foley, James Kellermann, Cameron MacPherson, Kyle Magennis, Stephen McGinn, Greg Tansey
      Forwards: Cameron Breadner, Cody Cooke, Danny Mullen

      THE BEST XI?

       

      Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
      View the full article
    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: EIGHTH

      LAST SEASON: 7th, 52pts

      NOTABLE INS: Wallace Duffy (Celtic), Elliot Parish (Dundee), Max Johnstone (Sunderland), Madis Vihmann (Flora, loan)

      NOTABLE OUTS: Blair Alston (Hamilton Academical), Aaron Comrie (Dunfermline Athletic), Brian Easton (Hamilton Academical), Joe Shaughnessy (Southend United), Tony Watt (CSKA Sofia), Olly Hamilton (Brechin City, loan), John Robertson (Cove Rangers, loan), Cammy Bell (Partick Thistle, end of loan), Sean Goss (Queens Park Rangers, end of loan), Niall Keown (Partick Thistle, end of loan), Mark Hurst

      LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Clark, Foster, Shaughnessy, Kerr, Tanser, Craig, Davidson, O'Halloran, Kennedy, Wright, Watt


      As the saying goes, "all good things..." Are we reaching that point in Perth?

      Between 2011 and 2017 St Johnstone were fixtures in the top six, with a Scottish Cup triumph thrown in. They came seventh last year, and eighth the season before that. However it seemed like the club were going through a transition period with a lot of older players needing replaced. Unquestionably they deserved that benefit of the doubt. And manager Tommy Wright said all the right things about feeling reinvigorated and, more importantly, looked like he meant them.

      And yet for the first time since they returned to the top flight in 2009 there is concern at McDiarmid Park. Not a Blackadder "twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying 'This Is a Large Crisis'". But its certainly a wee bit of a crisis.

      St. Johnstone just don't lose League Cup games to the likes of Montrose. Nor do they collapse at home to the likes of Ross County as soon as they concede a goal. Worryingly this is an ongoing trend since January. They won just four of their last eighteen games of 2018-19, and three of those wins were against either St. Mirren or Dundee. At one end of the pitch they struggled to score, and at the other they conceded the sort of cheap, stupid goals that they never let in when they were a top six side.

      Let's deal with the attack - or lack of it - first. Tony Watt got a lot of plaudits at the start of last season - he was Player of the Month for August - but even when he was playing well he wasn't scoring, and his form dropped off a cliff. At the moment the options at centre forward are David McMillan (loaned to Hamilton last season and unwanted by the club), Callum Hendry (young and raw, if we're being generous) and Chris Kane (who finally got a run of games at the end of the season, and proved why he shouldn't get a run of games). That trio and Watt managed just ten league goals between them. The club's top league scorer was Matthew Kennedy, with just six.

      The return of prodigal son Stevie May would have given the place such an enormous lift. The shock last-minute collapse of the transfer threatens to do the exact opposite. There's still time to find a striker, but it is slowly running out and in the meantime the fugue could increase further.

      Even in the successful times Wright often needed the midfield to provide goals and that dependence isn't ending any time soon. Kennedy's superb wing play is cause for optimism at least. Michael O'Halloran looked rusty as heck after returning in January but improved by the split and will hopefully be back to his hard-running best after a full preseason. It's easy to forget Drey Wright was the club's best player early last season until he wrecked his knee, though it may be too much to expect him to return to that form in the near future when he returns imminently from that injury. And Danny Swanson will still provide a spark off the bench, since it turns out his upcoming move to the USA was apparently just a ruse to try and avoid a conviction for assault (!).

      Defensively, the problem at the moment is numbers. Whilst goalkeeper Zander Clark and central defender Jason Kerr are top-rate - and should both go onto better things soon enough - the rest of the backline looks dicey. Richard Foster still looked up to it last season but at 34 they'll do well to get a full season out of him; however new signing Wallace Duffy is young and inexperienced and one for the future rather than the present. Scott Tanser is good going forward but has some shockers defensively. With Brian Easton gone there is no competition for him though.

      As for centre-back, the departure of Joe Shaughnessy has left a big hole. Relying on Liam Gordon or the increasingly decrepid Steven Anderson to fill it looked very risky. Estonian behemoth Madis Vihmann has arrived on loan and will surely be first choice alongside Kerr, but he needs to bed in very quickly. To be honest they could probably do with another defender or two. 

      Not all is necessary well in midfield either. Liam Craig had a bit of an indian summer last year but he will be 33 in December. Murray Davidson's history of injuries makes him a very old 31. Ross Callachan works hard but isn't someone to build the midfield around. However, when Wright tried to introduce a playmaker, Sean Goss, to the team last January it was a spectacular failure. He basically needs to find younger versions of Craig and Davidson. The manager has talked up Kyle McClean and Ali McCann but it would be a surprise if they managed to make the step up.

      So the situation looks grimmer than it has done for sometime. Some folk have even talked of them as relegation candidates, which has been met with a guffaw from most. That's probably still the appropriate reaction, if only because there are still clubs in this division who look rather weaker and rather more of a shambles. At the very least though the concern is that this downward trend is becoming irreversible. And if the season starts badly, panic sets in and a centre-forward can't be procured, who knows what could happen?


      THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
      Goalkeepers: Zander Clark, Max Johnstone, Elliot Parish
      Defenders: Steven Anderson, Wallace Duffy, Richard Foster, Liam Gordon, Jason Kerr, Scott Tanser, Madis Vihmann
      Midfielders: Ross Callachan, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson, Matty Kennedy, Ali McCann, Kyle McClean, Danny Swanson, David Wotherspoon, Drey Wright
      Forwards: Callum Hendry, Chris Kane, David McMillan, Jordan Northcott, Michael O'Halloran


      THE BEST XI?

       

      Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
      View the full article
    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: THIRD

      LAST SEASON: 4th, 67pts

      NOTABLE INS: Funso Ojo (Scunthorpe United, £125k), Luc Bollan (Dundee United), Craig Bryson (Derby County), Ryan Hedges (Barnsley), Curtis Main (Motherwell), Michael Ruth (Queen's Park), Ash Taylor (Northampton Town), James Wilson (Manchester United, loan made permanent), Jon Gallagher (Atlanta United, loan), Greg Leigh (NAC Breda, loan)

      NOTABLE OUTS: Gary Mackay-Steven (New York City), Mark Reynolds (Dundee United, loan made permanent), Graeme Shinnie (Derby County), Dominic Ball (Rotherham United, end of loan), Tommie Hoban (Watford, end of loan), Max Lowe (Derby County, end of loan), Greg Stewart (Birmingham City, end of loan), Greg Halford

      LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Lewis, Logan, McKenna, Devlin, Lowe, Mackay-Steven, Shinnie, Ferguson, McGinn, May, Cosgrove



      How big a deal is it that Derek McInnes signed a new contract this summer? After all, it won't stop him leaving if another club offer sufficient compensation. But he could have hedged his bets and let it run down. But six years into his tenure, he has chosen to commit himself to the club going forward. 

      It's a huge boost to the club because the Dons' squad appears to be going through something of a rebuild. It feels like a long time since the 2017 Scottish Cup Final, where an Aberdeen side containing Graeme Shinnie, Ryan Jack, Jonny Hayes and Kenny McLean went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles. Club captain and Duracell bunny Shinnie became the last of that quartet to depart at the end of last season. Gary Mackay-Steven has decided to take his chances in the USA. Max Lowe has proven an all-to-brief answer to the club's longstanding question at left-back - if anything, Clive, he was too good, so Derby County wanted him back.

      After slipping to fourth last season, following four straight second place finishes, could it be that Aberdeen cracked their heads off the glass ceiling and are on their way down again? It seems McInnes thinks not. With the new stadium at Kingsford due to open in 2021, and the decision to become a PLC to attract further investment, perhaps he has reason to believe that the Dons are going places.

      In the meantime, he still has the third biggest wage budget in the country to work with, a budget that has allowed him to entice Craig Bryson back north and to keep James Wilson. The latter will have taken a massive wage cut from the thirty grand a week he was making at Manchester United but will still surely be on a decent wad. The thing is, he was an overwhelming disappointment during his loan spell last season, managing just four goals and often looking disinterested. Retaining him looks like a considerable leap of faith by McInnes, especially since Sam Cosgrove has proven himself a consistent goalscorer and a very capable loan striker.


      He has also ventured back into the left-back loan market and come up with former Manchester City youngster Greg Leigh, while out wide a lot he has taken three throws of the dice at replacing Mackay-Steven; Scott Wright returns from a loan at Dundee where he showed flashes, while Welsh international winger Ryan Hedges has arrived from Barnsley and most curiously Jon Gallagher, an Irishman playing in the USA, has arrived on loan. Gallagher looks raw as heck but has pace to burn. Signs from the European games are that two of these three will do fine interchanging with Niall McGinn as part of the '3' in a 4-2-3-1.

      At the other end they look pretty set. Joe Lewis seems to have decided to spend the rest of his career in the North-East after signing a new contract. Shay Logan was a bit below his usual high standards last season but remains one of the better right-backs in the country. It's only a matter of time till Scott McKenna goes on to bigger things but until then they have excellent quality and quantity at centre-back, especially if Michael Devlin can stay fit. Otherwise Ash Taylor has returned after two years back in England and Andrew Considine is reliable enough. 

      The loss of Shinnie is a blow but rather than try and find a like-for-like replacement. McInnes instead landed Funso Ojo, who is more of a typical holding player. This may be no bad thing as the large spaces between Aberdeen's defence and midfield have been an obvious weakness for years. And Lewis Ferguson looks more than ready to take on Shinnie's mantle. The ex-Accie doesn't turn 20 till August but the £240,000 fee the tribunal set for him last summer looks like robbery. There's also Bryson who will be on a decent wage but who may actually find it tough to break into this side.

      Ferguson isn't the only youngster who the Dons have high hopes for. Connor McLennan looked great on the flanks when given his chance last season, while Bruce Anderson showed signs that he could be a capable striker. Anderson will have to wait his turn though behind Cosgrove, Wilson and new signing Curtis Main and may go out on loan again. Stevie May, meanwhile, will be on his way.

      Time will tell if the Dons are weaker than they were last season but third place looks like a very achievable target. Frustratingly for the support, the gap to Rangers looks insurmountable, whereas the difference between the Dons and the likes of the Edinburgh clubs - and of course Kilmarnock if their new boss picks up where the old one left off - is not that great at all. McInnes' remit for now is surely to make them the third best club in the country for the next couple of years...and then hope the Kingsford move can spark something special.


      THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
      Goalkeepers: Tomas Cerny, Joe Lewis, Danny Rogers
      Defenders: Luc Bollan, Andrew Considine, Michael Devlin, Jon Gallagher, Greg Leigh, Shay Logan, Scott McKenna, Ash Taylor
      Midfielders: Craig Bryson, Dean Campbell, Lewis Ferguson, Stephen Gleeson, Ryan Hedges, Funso Ojo, Ethan Ross, Miko Virtanen
      Forwards: Bruce Anderson, Sam Cosgrove, Curtis Main, Stevie May, Niall McGinn, Connor McLennan, Michael Ruth, James Wilson, Scott Wright

      THE BEST XI?

       

      Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
      View the full article