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    tm4tj

    Inverness CT -V- Falkirk - Preview

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    Gathering Pace

     

    The push for promotion gathers pace after three wins on the bounce and we will be looking for a fourth on Saturday when perennial spoilers Falkirk come North for a 3:00pm kick off at the Caledonian Stadium. I'm sure the players would appreciate a big backing to help get right behind the team and push them on.

    If you can't make the game, look out for a live audio feed which should appear on the twitter feed as a periscope link. If the gremlins stay away, this should work, fingers crossed................

    ps, Please don't be breaking any seats, it's a costly affair and something the club can do without. If you wouldn't do it at home, don't do it here. Read the joint club statement here

    Yes, three games on the bounce, who knew! Four if you include the cup win at Tannadice, or to put it another way, six out of seven in all competitions. The only defeat in that run was a 1-0 reverse at Tannadice when we were a bit light due to injury. 


    Table 29 4th.jpgWhat does it all mean I hear you say? Well it means that we now sit third fourth in the table going into today's game and five points clear of Dunfermline who are the ones most likely to make the push for promotion uncomfortable for us. Ayr have slithered in recent weeks but are not to be discounted yet. The Pars play Ayr on Friday night prior to our game. (Ayr beat Dunfermline 0-1 to go back into third place) There's the updated table above on the left. Other fixtures at the top end are Alloa -V- Ross County and Dundee United -V- Queen of the South. Final fixture is at the other end of the table where Morton play Partick Thistle, a game where Morton could get dragged into the relegation scrap.

    Aaron celebrating.jpgOur last game was a 3-2 home win over Alloa. Cruising at 3-0, our midfield dynamics changed when Sean Welsh went off injured and Joe Chalmers and Aaron Doran were exchanged. That let Alloa get a foothold and they plugged back a couple of goals through a Trouten penalty and a fortuitous Flannigan deflected shot that wrong footed Ridgers. Doran, Welsh (pen) and dainty feet Jordan White were our scorers. That's eleven for the season for a rejuvenated Aaron Doran who has scored in his last four outings. Great return from the wide midfielder. Dainty feet now has 14 goals in all competitions this season after a slow start to his ICTFC career.

    Falkirk's last outing was on the 16th of March when they drew with fellow relegation candidates Partick thistle. Ian McShane scored his third of the season to earn the point just before the interval. Previous to that, they went down narrowly at Dingwall (2-1) and beat Ayr United 2-0 at home. Those results show Falkirk sitting third bottom four points above Alloa and it looks as though they are starting to ease away from the dreaded drop. The Bairns are well used to this game of avoiding relegation and are battle hardened to it and will prove to be a tough nut to crack with Zak Rudden in particular a threat. Zak is fresh back from Cyprus where he scored a hat-trick for Scotland u19's. He has also scored three times against Inverness already this season.  Another one making an impact is Shayne Lavery. He has two goals in two games after he scored the winner for Northern Ireland U21’s against Mexico last week.

    As ever, our games against Falkirk have been tough. We started at Falkirk with a 1-0 win back in August thanks to an early George Oakley strike, but he can't help us now. Falkirk came North in December and went away with all three points in a 3-2 win. Walsh and Oakley scored for us but a Zak Rudden double pulled the Bairns level before a late sickener in the third minute of time added on saw Scott Harrison snatch the points. That was the game that ended our unbeaten league run of 25 matches and got the monkey off our back (too many draws). The third encounter was a 2-2 draw at Falkirk as the Bairns twice came from behind (Rudden, McShane) to earn a point after Rooney and Doran had scored for us.

    John Robertson will have concerns over the fitness of Sean Welsh who was injured against Alloa Athletic. Sean has been a mainstay in midfield recently and his contribution from the spot is reaping rewards after we had tried a series of penalty takers who sadly fell short of the required suitability for the post. Those concerns were justified as it looks like he has cracked a metatarsal. If so he will be out for the rest of the season. Anthony McDonald is not fit enough to return this weekend but could make the squad for the Ross County game.

    Robbo summed up Sean's contribution perfectly:- “It’s not been confirmed yet but it’s certainly looking that way, we’re just waiting on the scan coming back. That’ll be a blow as Sean has been terrific for us all season and has been one of the unsung heroes, he’s in the team every week and he’s there for a reason because of the job he does for us. Saying that, it’s time for other players to step up now.”

    Falkirk lineup.jpgRay McKinnon has no injury worries and had this squad out in the 1-1 draw with Partick. He said this about their current form: "We’ve lost once in our last nine games, our squad is looking good. We are strong and quick, the mentality is good and we’ve just got to go into every game to try and pick something up. We’re in decent form going into the business end of the season, but we’ll be taking absolutely nothing for granted".

     

    Don't forget your Scottish Cup semi-final tickets.

    semi jpeg1.jpgDon't forget to buy your tickets for the SemiFinal against Hearts at Hampden. This may appear to be an alien concept, but always remember this, in space, no one can hear you scream. If you are sitting in your living room passing round the werther's originals and watching on TV, the lads won't be able to hear you. They have been brilliant to get this far in the cup and it's a great day out at the National Stadium. Be there or be square!

    Tickets for our William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final will be available for season ticket holders and shareholders on Monday 25th March from 10:00am. General sale will commence on Wednesday 27th March at 9:00am. Tickets will be available from the Club Shop and online from ictfc.tickethour.co.uk. The singing section for this game will be East Stand section G5.

    South Stand: £30 Adult, Concession £15

    East Stand: £20 Adult, Concession £10

    Concessions are available for supporters aged over 65 and supporters aged under 16

     

    FansBet.jpg

    If you like a wee flutter, our partnership with FansBet can offer you something. Just click on FansBet to get started.  "Remember to select CaleyThistleOnline when you register and you’ll be helping us support ICT fan causes."

    FansBet are partners with Supporters Direct Scotland and already have many impressive stories of giving back to and empowering fans, ranging from funding away travel, share purchases, backing safe standing projects and many more. You can read some of FansBet’s Giving Back stories on their blog at https://blog.fansbet.com/fansbet-giving-back/partners/fan/

     

    FansBet have ICT @ 5/8 - Draw @ 11/4 and Falkirk @ 4/1.

    Always remember to adopt safe gambling and responsible policies.

     

     

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  • Blog Entries

    • By tm4tj in Football adventures with James Rendall
         1
      Click to view slideshow.
      If you have ever seen Roberto Benigni’s film, Life is Beautiful, the funny first half of the movie is set in Arezzo, a real gem of Southern Tuscany. It is a wonderful region of Italy, perhaps the most famous, and also the most visited in its entirety. Yes, Firenze and the Torre Pendiente in Pisa are the main attractions, but Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca as well as my destination for my last game of the season, Arezzo, they are all “classic” Tuscan towns.
      Three of the aforementioned towns were involved in the protracted, but increasingly popular 28 team Serie C promotion play offs, and one in the relegation play-out! Lucchese who featured earlier in the season, pleasingly, despite having a fraught season off the field have survived in the third tier. Siena who went all the way to the final of the 17/18 promotion edition only to lose to Cosenza, fell at the first hurdle this time around losing at home to Novara. The Piemonte side, who also featured in a recent FW’s then went across some Tuscan hills from Siena to Arezzo in Round 2 and having trailed 2-0 late on, Novara gave the home team a few last minute jitters when they level at 2-2. Now here is the interesting thing about the Italian play-offs where league position counts for something, and despite being held, having finished higher in the table, Arezzo moved onto Round 3. Viterbese were next in town from the “southern” third tier having won the Coppa Italia C, and despite finishing 12th the cup success gave them the advantage of any draw against Arezzo who had finished 4th. Each round now saw home and away affairs with the higher ranked granted home advantage in the second game, but while Viterbese might have done well in winning the cup, a confident Arezzo swept them away 5,0 on aggregate. At the same time Pisa were seeing off another Tuscan side Carrarese, one of those forever a third tier teams, and true to form Pisa nudged them out 4-3 before heading south to tackle Arezzo, which is where I got involved!
      Arezzo’s encouraging conclusion to the regular season, as well as their continued good form in the opening rounds of the play-offs, combined with a joust with Tuscan rivals Pisa, sparked a frenzy for tickets, the likes of which the town had rarely experienced in the modern era! It became increasingly fraught for anyone not actually staying in Arezzo as the online sales were withdrawn when it became apparent that Pisan fans were buying them up as fast as they could! In the end, these were largely tracked down and exchanged but the online element never became available again. Luckily I was arriving in Arezzo at lunch-time the day before the game, but upon checking into my hotel, I was greeted with the news from Enrico the receptionist that all the tickets were gone, which had been my worst fear travelling down from Bologna that morning. I could not have wished for a more helpful receptionist though, Enrico is a season ticket holder, and had ventured down to Viterbo for the second leg of the last round too. When he saw my Arezzo t-shirt, and that I had travelled from Edinburgh, he was immediately on the case trying to help my quest for a ticket. It became apparent that a few briefs were still available and getting myself along to the club for the ticket office re-opening would guarantee me access to the hottest ticket in town!
      Arezzo is an hour south of Firenze on the main rail route to Roma, a mere 80 kilometres. From the minute you step out of the railway station and look up, the street in front gradually opens up to the spires of old Arezzo town skyline. I have been in Arezzo many times, twice previously for football, and it is a town that will keep pulling me back, I love it. The centre piece is the seriously sloping Piazza Grande, complete with a wishing well, and a small fountain, but surrounded on all sides by a magnificent church and lavish period buildings, with a municipal building beside the Santa Maria Della Pieve church allowing you access to the roof, affording stunning views of the Piazza as well as the rooftops of Arezzo and the surrounding Tuscan hills. In the film “Life is Beautiful”, Roberto Benigni would run down one of the narrow streets that lead onto Piazza Grande to meet his wife and son with a warm embrace and “Buongiorno principessa! A little further up the hill from the Piazza, the sumptuous gardens at the back of the Cathedral are a wonderful place to chill out, as well as affording stunning views from the city wall ramparts.
      I have been to two games prior to this big occasion in Arezzo, and on both visits I was sitting in the main covered Tribuna stand, which runs the length of the pitch. For the Pisa game, what tickets were left were merely for the Curva Sud, a vast high terracing behind one goal. I was just happy to be in attendance, and while the forecast was for potential showers, I would have gladly got soaked if need be to witness this marvellous occasion. As it was, taking my umbrella warded away the rain, and the sky broke to add a little sunshine to the early exchanges. What I hadn’t legislated for was the view back over the ground towards Arezzo from the Curva, wow it is breathtaking, and for any subsequent matches here, it can only be the Curva for me from now on!
      A joust with Pisa is a very suitable term to use, as like Siena with it’s spectacularly dangerous bareback horse race, il Palio, and Firenze’s violent “ancient” football, Arezzo has it’s very own medieval pageantry il Giostra del Saracino, the Saracen Joust. This is essentially, a bi-annual jousting contest between the different areas of Arezzo in the Piazza Grande, and for the locals it’s serious business. I was once in Arezzo for dress rehearsal night, with each team parading in full pageant dress, complete with drummers and long horn players, but the centrepiece of each team was the lavishly dressed horse and the jouster! On the day of the Pisa match the build up to the next joust was just starting as all the emblems of the city had appeared on the buildings in the Piazza Grande overnight, and doubtlessly in the coming days the square wouldn’t be looking so spectacular as the scaffolding for seats, and the sand for the joust track would be arriving! As it was, the morning after the game I left town, but as I did, a note to self was made, try and witness il Giostra one day!
      The Citta di Arezzo stadio is on the edge of town, a 20/30 minute walk to the right from the road in front of the railway station if daytripping in for a game, but try and stay, you won’t be disappointed! It had an official registered capacity of 7,350, and while they easily packed more than that in for the Pisa game, it could have been even more if the Gradinata opposite the main stand wasn’t condemned and merely sits there acting as a large advertising billboard for the clubs main sponsors! On the night, the attendance was recorded as 8,500, Arezzo had gone football mad!
      It was like arriving in a different Arezzo from any previous visit, Racing Roma had been “low” key, and Lucchese, while another Tuscan derby, was midweek and too early in the season last term for anyone to be too excited! The 2017/18 season had in fact been a horror show for Arezzo, having games suspended for a couple of weeks and points being deducted but they even managed to avoid a play-out with Prato by managing to create an 8 point gap between the clubs by the very last day, thereby averting a two leg play off and sending Prato down automatically! Another fair curiosity of the Italian rule book! The fighting spirit that had saved them then was still apparent throughout the current campaign, and expectations were rising in the town, it was palpable and with good reason, they hadn’t lost even a goal to Pisa in the regular campaign! Shops were adorned with the clubs colours (another maroon team!) complete with the club badge with it’s rearing horse logo, the city emblem. An aggregate win over Pisa would set up a two legged “final” for a place in Serie B with sleeping giants Triestina as it transpired.
      In October 1983 when I bought my first edition of Guerin Sportivo, Arezzo were top of Serie B along with Campobasso, another where are they now club! Alas Arezzo fell agonisingly close to making the top flight for the first ever time that season, and it is still an ambition that eludes them, as ‘83/84 was about as good as it ever got. Four years later they were back in C, and they’ve never been higher since. The club had two previous spells in the second tier, the first was in 1966 which was celebrated with a friendly against unusual opposition from Rio de Janeiro in the form of Vasco de Gama, and in 1971 they had cult player Francesco Graziani leading the line. The clubs only honour came in 1980/81 when they defeated Ternana to win the Coppa Italia C. The obligatory bankruptcies came in 1993 and 2009/10. A few years ago, having finished runners up in Serie D, a very late in the day place in the third tier became available and the authorities “plucked” Arezzo out of D to the consternation of all the other second placed teams in the other eight groups! Aside from struggling financially off the pitch last season, the club had never looked back since that stroke of luck, and now it was getting ready for the biggest home game in more than a decade at least!
      I was in the ground around an hour ahead of kick off, along with at least two thirds of the crowd. The only bar, The Stadio Bar on the main street close by is small to say the least, with many spilled out in the street. Queues were forming by 19,00 for a 20,30 kick off, so getting a good vantage point for viewing and photos was paramount. The Pisa fans arrived with police escort and little by little they grew in number, but it was well past kick off before they unfurled their choreographic response to Arezzo’s stunning effort just ahead of kick off. As I was part of the army of tifosi participating on the Curva Sud, it wasn’t until I saw a photo from the Tribuna of the magnificent spectacle, it was breathtaking. The photo of the Curva choreography comes from Rob a fellow football weekender who travelled from Chianti the day before I arrived to get his ticket! Neither of us would leave the stadium disappointed by this pulsating match, but with my attachment to Arezzo, the feeling of “what if” took days to leave me.
      Pisa came out of the blocks stronger, perhaps the sense of occasion and the size of the crowd got to the home side, and it was no surprise when Marconi swept Pisa in front. Gradually Arezzo’s exciting forward thinking play was pushing the Pisans back, and ahead of the break they deservedly equalised through the excellent Cutolo. A minute into the second half saw a wonderful free flowing Arezzo move end in a goal leading to bedlam in the Curva. The atmosphere was amazing throughout, both sets of fans were brilliant, but at 2-1 it was spine tingling! Pisa are a well organised, gritty team, but the referee did seem to buy most of their antics, one of which brought a soft penalty to make it 2-2, and as Arezzo pressed on to try to regain the lead, Pisa picked them off to go in front again, and we still had half an hour to play! A late penalty award for Arezzo to level things up was well saved, and despite a lot of endeavour, Pisa held on to win 2,3. No one left in a hurry, the applause at both ends was warm. Arezzo would need to win by two clear goals in Pisa if they were going to progress, but I am sure the penalty miss weighed heavily.
      When the dust settled on the return leg, a late strike in Pisa for a 1,0 home win sent them through to play Triestina, and despite being held 2,2 at home, Pisa took full advantage of a late red card to beat Triestina 3,1 in front of 26,000 in Trieste to get promotion to Serie B and bring back their huge derby with Livorno. These play offs are tough, and exciting with crowds swarming in droves to cheer their clubs on, that largely ends in heartache, but for the lucky team and their fans, it’s one huge adrenaline rush party! Arezzo as a town came together, belief in the team has rarely been higher, and if the players and management can keep the momentum going, 2019/20 could be a truly memorable one.   
          
       
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    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      Aberdeen: how hard will this window hit them?
      Graeme Shinnie has gone. Gary Mackay-Steven has gone. Max Lowe's loan spell has finished. And Celtic are sniffing around Scott McKenna again. It felt like the Dons took a small step backwards last season, and the same could happen this time around unless Derek McInnes has some decent signings up his sleeve - Craig Bryson counts as one, though on last year's showing James Wilson wouldn't.


      Celtic: do they have a plan?
      There may well have been a bit of gamesmanship involved in the David Turnbull saga, but there's a danger of the whole "magnificent offer" malarkey becoming the club's Concomitant moment. More concerning was the leaking of the team's transfer plans for the summer, partly because it was leaked and partly because the names were either uninspiring or unrealistic.With Kieran Tierney being courted by Arsenal and ex-messiah Brendan Rodgers sniffing around Callum McGregor, there's a risk of significant upheaval - exactly what the Neil Lennon appointment was designed to minimize. As for loan signings, West Brom's criticism of how Lennon treated Oli Burke might put other clubs off sending their youngsters to Parkhead.


      Hamilton: does everyone really want to play for Brian Rice?
      The theme of Accies' offseason seems to be that every new signing waxes lyrical about the skills of the club's Head Coach. Rice had a strong reputation as an assistant manager but the way some of his players are talking seems to suggest he's Pep Guardiola. To be fair though Hamilton's results, performances and style improved after he took over in January - though that wasn't hard given the rut Martin Canning left them in. If he has a squad that buys into his ethos then Hamilton's chances of avoiding a relegation battle are far better.


      Hearts: what's their philosophy?
      Hearts were unfairly lambasted for being a physical, long ball team last season. The truth is that their best stuff came when they were a physical long ball team, but they didn't play like that enough. Their spirited cup final performance seems to have bought Craig Levein a bit of breathing space but he's got to do better than sixth in the league with the resources he has available. One option is to gamble on the talented youngsters he has available; there are 18 players on Hearts' books who are under 21 but have played for the first team already, and Aaron Hickey, Harry Cochrane, Callumn Morrison and Anthony McDonald look particularly special. But does Levein - and the Tynecastle support - have the patience to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that would come with throwing in the kids?


      Hibernian: is Heckingbottom a good recruiter?
      There's been a high turnover at Easter Road, which is out of necessity - they had a ton of loan players - rather than because Paul Heckingbottom specifically wanted to bring in his own squad. And apart from Stephane Omeonga and Marc McNulty Hibs have only lost fringe players. But there's a significant lack of depth, particularly up front which needs corrected. Basically if Hibs are to push on they need to either find a new McNulty (or retain the old one) or hope Flo Kamberi gets his mojo back.


      Kilmarnock: what does Alessio have in mind?
      The appointment of Angelo Alessio is exciting, but Killie have essentially lost a month's worth of recruitment time and currently have just one striker on the books. Given his experience and contacts it wouldn't be a surprise if the Italian manager looked to the continent for new players; Killie fans live in hope that Antonio Conte might offer up some of his Internazionale youngsters on loan! In the meantime there's only two weeks before the clash with the mighty Connah's Quay Nomads...


      Motherwell: how should they spend the Turnbull cash?
      The windfall that the 'Well will receive for David Turnbull - apparently £2.8million plus add-ons - is approximately half the club's annual turnover. It will be interesting to see how much gets put back into the playing squad budget. In recent times they have been financially prudent and they will doubtless know that splashing the cash on new players and big wages will come back to bite them. And Stephen Robinson has already made six signings in this window. On the flipside there is now a fifteen-goal-shaped-hole in the centre of midfield that needs filled.


      Rangers: can they get any return on their dead wood?
      Eros Grezda, Kyle Lafferty, Graeme Dorrans, Jason Holt, Eduardo Herrera, Joe Dodoo, plus surely one of the backup keepers...anyone else in Rangers' bloated squad that they are desperate to get rid of? (edit - Jordan Rossiter, it turns out) The trouble with everyone knowing the players are surplus to requirements is that getting any sort of fee for them is rather hard. But the Gers' early dealings seem to suggest that there won't be a repeat of the big spending of the last two summers unless they raise the money through sales. And flogging Alfredo Morelos and/or James Tavernier would come with significant risk.


      Ross County: are they actually getting stronger?
      County have shown loyalty to the squad that got them promoted by signing nearly all of them on for another year. When you have the support of someone like Roy McGregor, you can afford to do that even if it costs you later. But one would expect new signings to upgrade the starting eleven. Instead we have Joe Chalmers and Blair Spittal, neither of whom are better than what the Staggies already have in their positions, and two goalkeepers in Chelsea loanee Nathan Baxter and Hibs no.3 Ross Laidlaw, who are probably not an improvement on Scott Fox. Surely there will be more new faces, but they need quality, not depth.


      St. Johnstone: can they get a goalscorer?
      Only once in the last five years has a Saintee got into double figures for league goals. Whilst that wasn't such a huge factor when Steven Maclean was linking up play and helping set them up for teammates, Tommy Wright can't call on anyone of that calibre just now. Chris Kane is willing but hasn't developed as well as hoped, Callum Hendry is still raw and David McMillan is a bust. The trouble is, everyone wants a striker who can score goals; can Wright find one and convince him to come to Perth?

      St. Mirren: what the hell is going on?
      At the time of writing, Oran Kearney is on the brink of being punted, allegedly because he insists on commuting from Norn Iron. That would leave the Buddies looking for their eighth manager in five years just a few weeks before the League Cup games start. To make matters worse they have relatively few players under contract and this fiasco will hold up further signings; Mihai Popescu had turned up for training on Monday but doesn't know if he'll actually be kept on or not. This shambles will be very difficult for Kearney's successor to rectify.


      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
      Steve Clarke's first couple of games in charge will have given him an idea of what he has to work with. In some areas he is pretty well off, but in others he's either going to have to hope some players really improve or he's going to have to compensate for the deficiencies. Here's how his options look at each position, going from our strongest area to our weakest...


      LEFT-BACK
      Greg Taylor did himself proud in Brussels with a tenacious, committed performance. He's got a bright future ahead of him...as Scotland's third choice at the position. That's how spoilt we are for left-backs. Captain Andrew Robertson will of course be the starter whenever he has two working legs.

      MIDFIELD
      Against Cyprus, we could field John McGinn and Kenny McLean, both of whom will be first choices for Premier League clubs next season, and Callum McGregor, arguably the best player in Scotland over the last two years. For the Belgium match in came Manchester United's Scott McTominay and, in a more advanced role, Stuart Armstrong of Southampton. For future matches where an attacking playmaker is needed, Clarke will be able to call upon Tom Cairney - who, going by his willingness to come along just to be a sub, clearly had a beef with Alex McLeish - and Ryan Christie, who missed this double-header with injury. There's also John Fleck, promoted to the English top flight with Sheffield United and who understandably declined to postpone his wedding for this round of games. We may not have an absolute world class talent, but we are pretty stacked at this position.

      OUT WIDE
      The setup against Cyprus shows that Clarke is not wedded to the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 that worked so well for him at Kilmarnock - which is just as well as the pace and dribbling of Ryan Fraser and James Forrest are our two best attacking assets. The caveat is that there is not a lot of depth; Johnny Russell started wide against Belgium because of his fresh legs and willingness to do defensive work, while Robert Snodgrass and Matt Ritchie remain out of the international picture and Matt Phillips has disappeared from contention.

      GOALKEEPER
      David Marshall justified his recall and is probably an adequate option going forward. But I don't blame Clarke for trying to convince Jed Steer of Aston Villa and Angus Gunn of Southampton to join the fray. I also don't blame him for not rushing to anoint Scott Bain as first choice. The best case scenario is that Liam Kelly, still only 23, continues to blossom when he leaves Livingston this summer.

      RIGHT-BACK
      At the moment, the choice is between natural right-back Stephen O'Donnell (or Liam Palmer, though all I've seen of him was that Kazakhstan debacle), former right-back Callum Paterson who now plays his club football in midfield or up front, or shoehorning Kieran Tierney into this position. I personally don't mind the latter, but an awful lot of folk disagree. Regardless, none of the options are ideal.

      CENTRE-BACK
      The potential is there; Scott McKenna and John Souttar clearly have bright futures, while Stuart Findlay thoroughly deserved his call-up and David Bates hasn't disgraced himself when called upon. All four are 23 or under. What odds that two of them can step up and become the type of central defender Scotland used to have loads of in the eighties and nineties? In the meantime, Clarke has felt obliged to insert Charlie Mulgrew into the lineup as much for his experience as anything else, and will also fancy that he has the tactical nous to cover up some of the deficiencies in the backline. Oh, and this is another position I can see Tierney end up playing in...

      STRIKER
      Given the time constraints, it's so much easier to coach an international team to defend than to attack. And so having a centre forward who can do it on his own can make a middling side so much more dangerous - think Gareth Bale of Wales or Robert Lewandowski of Poland. In the last two matches Scotland played...Eamonn Brophy and Oli Burke. Brophy was a 'devil you know' option who knows exactly what Clarke wants from his front men, which is great in terms of defending from the front but he offered zilch in attacking threat. Burke gave us a microcosm of his career so far; twenty excellent minutes against Cyprus where he looked dangerous and showed his full array of physical attributes followed by a start against Belgium where he looked like a headless chicken and justified concerns about his football IQ with a series of bad decisions. He's still only 22; surely there's a player there?

      As for the others, the best long-term hope might be Oli McBurnie who scored 22 goals in the Championship last season, but in the immediate future Steven Fletcher's experience and quality link-up play may make him first choice. Alternatively, Leigh Griffiths may come back from his absence as sharp as he was two years ago. But sadly the most likely outcome is that Scotland are going to have to look to other areas of the team for goals.


      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
      We won
      This is the most important thing to take away. Realists would acknowledge that Steve Clarke has had barely any time at all to get the hang of this international management malarkey and has been denied the luxury of training camps and friendlies to get his ideas across before competitive action; therefore a lack of cohesion was inevitable.

      You don't find many realists in football crowds though, as the half-time jeers indicated. The Tartan Army's patience has long been exhausted and just because Clarke was a popular choice didn't mean that they would tolerate toiling against a country ranked 89th in the world by FIFA. The victory may not have been convincing but it's the same number of points as we'd have got by thumping them. And it largely shields Clarke and a squad low on morale and belief from further pressure and criticism. With the trip to Brussels on Tuesday something of a free hit - nobody expects a positive result there - the focus can now move onto the next round of matches in September and, realistically, building a team that can win the Nations League playoffs and qualify for Euro 2020 that way.


      A decent striker would make the world of difference
      Having a world-class striker that opponents need to plan for can make such a difference - just look at Poland (Robert Lewandowski) or Wales (Gareth Bale). Scotland simply don't have that; here they also missed Steven Fletcher, Leigh Griffiths and Oli McBurnie who all might have fancied themselves as the starting centre-forward had they been fit. The obvious logic to picking Eamonn Brophy was that Clarke likes his attackers to defend from the front and as a Kilmarnock player Brophy could do that job without a second thought. And he did it fine.

      The problem was that 'the wolf' offered no bite. Apologists will say he was starved of service but in truth Brophy struggled to get even half a yard of space on his markers in open play and when he did so he was generally offside. James Forrest and, in the second half, Ryan Fraser got into plenty of dangerous positions but Brophy was never in a position to feed off them. He was, sadly, out of his depth.

      Whilst he was up against tired legs, Oli Burke looked so much brighter, linking up play with intelligent headers and stretching the game with his pace. Even before his goal he looked like someone had hooked him up to an intravenous drip of confidence before coming on. This was the Burke we've been waiting for ever since RB Leipzig paid £15million for him, but he needs to do it for more than twenty minutes to become a viable first choice up front.


      At least there was a clear plan and shape
      Coming up with a plan of attack is so much harder for a coach than getting the defence organized - and even more so at international level because of the lack of time available to work with players. But even at this early stage the difference between McLeish's Scotland and Clarke's Scotland was night and day. The attackers and midfielders clearly knew their roles without the ball and once the first ten minutes had passed and they had adjusted to Cyprus' surprise decision to play a back three the home side completely controlled the game. Unlike during his predecessor's tenure, it was also clear that the boss had done his homework; I was perturbed by the lack of defensive midfielder in the lineup, but Clarke clearly anticipated that there would be few defensive responsibilities needed in that area and so deployed a more technical player, Kenny McLean, in that position.

      Clarke also made important changes at half-time, instructing Callum McGregor to get higher up the pitch and encouraging Ryan Fraser to carry the ball instead of crossing early. These contributed significantly to the improved second half performance.


      Cyprus never actually looked much like scoring
      Yes, I know that sounds daft given that they did score but David Marshall made one save in each half and could have spent long periods leaning on the post doing Su Doku puzzles. I was supremely confident that we'd see it out at 1-0 because the players looked like they knew exactly what they were doing and actually looked more likely to score than Cyprus did. And whilst they were let down by a rare lapse by Andrew Robertson, who blotted his copybook by losing his marker at a corner, the back four looked really comfortable in open play. Scott McKenna had arguably his best game in a Scotland shirt, undoubtedly helped by having an experienced partner in Charlie Mulgrew.


      What next?
      The next four qualifiers are Belgium away, Russia at home, Belgium at home, Russia away. Ooft. It's certainly not all that unlikely we won't win any of them - and even if we do the chances of finishing second in the group are minimal unless we can get four points or more off at least one of those two teams. Realistically the onus has to be performance rather than results, with next spring the priority. Rome wasn't built in a day.


      Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.
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    • By hislopsoffsideagain in Narey's Toepoker
         0
      At the end of April, as relegation - and the departure of Jim McIntyre - became increasingly certain, Dundee issued a statement on their website to reassure fans about the present and the future. Among the topics touched upon was the process used to appoint McIntyre.

      Following McIntyre's exit, Managing Director John Nelms confirmed that, essentially, the next manager would be recruited using similar criteria. That is presumably how the club came to the conclusion that John Robertson should be invited to interview; according to Caley Thistle they approached Robertson first - who turned them down then grassed them up to his employer - and then felt the need to phone Caley Thistle the next day anyway to ask for permission, which was of course declined.

      On the one hand that account should be taken with a pinch of salt, as ICT's new Chief Operating Officer has 'history' with Dundee. But their cackhanded attempt to recruit St. Mirren's Jack Ross two summers ago - having ignored the Buddies' objections, they flew out to Spain to meet him on holiday, and he rebuffed them - suggests that there may be a grain of truth in there.

      And so from that criteria and a huge number of applicants, the Dark Blues have appointed...Academy coach James McPake, who currently has one match under his belt as a manager (as caretaker for the last game of the season) and a win percentage of zero.

      Whether McPake was even the first choice is open to debate. It has been reported that Dundee had agreed compo with Alloa for Jim Goodwin, who did a frankly extraordinary job to keep the part-time Wasps in the Championship last season and who certainly deserves a crack at a full-time job. But rumour has it that Goodwin pulled out because the club were not happy that he wanted to keep his assistant from Alloa rather than appoint 'an experienced head' to work with him.

      Given that McIntyre undoubtedly suffered from not having his preferred number two Billy Dodds beside him due to a fan backlash over Dodds' history with the club, it would certainly be interesting if the board chose to interfere in this way. Regardless, McPake has ended up with Jimmy Nicholl. If you looked up 'experienced assistant manager' in the dictionary you'd probably find a picture of Nicholl.

      Gordon Strachan is also involved in an advisory capacity. One hopes that this will not include giving McPake lessons on dealing with the media.

      But there's no getting around it - Dundee drop into the Championship with a rookie manager and at the time of writing just nine players aged over 21. That number includes 39 year old Kenny Miller and 34 year old Andrew Davies (who has been injured since he arrived in January and who eschewed the chance to play in this division for Ross County) as well as club player of the year Nathan Ralph who is set to exploit a relegation clause in his contract to return to England.

      So McPake has some recruiting to do, and quickly. And there's no question that he is at high risk of experiencing the same problems that Dundee United, Inverness and Partick Thistle did in recent years following relegation: a huge squad turnover (with, in the case of the former two, a new boss as well) and a dicey start as an essentially new team takes time to gel and which is exacerbated by the pressure of poor early results. That is presumably one of the areas where Dundee hope Strachan can provide significant aid.

      The flip side is that he will not be left short on the budget front. Since Nelms and Tim Keyes, with their consortium FPS, took over the club in 2013 they have been generous financially - for the first five seasons losses have totalled £2.3m despite the sale of players like Kane Hemmings, Greg Stewart and Jack Hendry for decent fees. Expect a further financial hit following this nightmare season, and another for the upcoming Championship campaign with the massive costcutting and reduced income that it entails.

      They've also been remarkably patient despite a constant failure by Paul Hartley, Neil McCann and finally McIntyre to meet the targets (usually a top six finish) that have been set and budgeted for. Luckily for the fans these are not egotistic, unscrupulous owners who interfere above their station and are looking to make a quick buck. They simply appear to be honking at appointing managers.

      Maybe they've struck it lucky this time with McPake. And optimistic supporters can point to the success of Ross County's homegrown duo of Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell as a sign that appointing from within can work. But they got to work with the bulk of the squad that went down, and competed with a Dundee United side that took six months to sort themselves out. McPake faces a far harder task this coming season. Will he be up to it?


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