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  1. To be fair, Aberdeen fans probably aren't alone in suffering from a kind of collective footballing dementia. On the one hand, their long-term memory is generally outstanding, especially when it comes to the 1980s and the word "Gothenburg" is mentioned. More Aberdonians claim to have been there than hippies at Woodstock. And you can hardly blame them for suppressing any recollection of the early part of the 21st century, the era of managers such as Ebbe Skovdahl, Steve Paterson, Jimmy Calderwood and Mark McGhee, of forwards like Leon Mike, Laurent D'Jaffo, Leigh Hinds, Bryan Prunty, David Zdrilic...I've only got as far as 2004 and already any Dons fans reading this have retreated to the corner of the room and curled up into a ball, whimpering softly. But when it comes to Derek McInnes, there's a definite feel of "what did he ever do for us?" going around right now. Well, apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, he managed: four consecutive second place finishes (the last time they had previously finished second was in 1993-94) six consecutive top four finishes (they had finished in the top four six times in the previous seventeen seasons before Deek arrived) a League Cup win (their first trophy for nineteen years) two other League Cup finals and a Scottish Cup final (they had made it to four finals in the previous twenty years) But that was then and this is now. And now Aberdeen go to Hamilton tonight on the back of a five match goalless streak. Their only goal in 2020 so far is a penalty...at home to League One Dumbarton. They are fourth in the league, only three points behind third placed Motherwell, but are eight points worse off than they were at this point of last season. You know it's bad when it comes to this: Oh, Deek. That's just desperate https://t.co/U6lwRzbrJi — Narey's Toepoker (@Nareystoepoker) February 8, 2020 That is the sort of guff that a manager starts saying when they are feeling the pressure. The truth is that Aberdeen look so stale that one expects to find a turquoise mould beginning to blossom on Andrew Considine's scalp. Perhaps there's an inevitability about that. McInnes is the second longest serving manager in the SPFL, just six weeks shy of seven years at Pittodrie. For comparison, Tommy Wright is the only Premiership manager who has been in his current post for more than three. And a few years ago the team hit a ceiling that was constructed out of shatterproof glass. The pinnacle was probably the 2017 Scottish Cup Final, where they scored first and went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers' invincibles until Tom Rogic's injury time winner. The lineup that day? Lewis, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, Shinnie, Jack, McLean, McGinn, Hayes, Stockley. Ryan Christie was ineligible to play against his parent club. Before he arrived in January, they had got half a season of James Maddison on loan. Two and a half years on, five of that starting eleven remain. Shay Logan, Andrew Considine and Niall McGinn are all the wrong side of thirty and trending downward, while Ash Taylor, who returned to the North-East last summer has been a shadow of the player who left the club after that match. That leaves only keeper Joe Lewis playing at anywhere near the same level. And just look at the quality of the players who have gone, particularly that midfield. Five years ago I'd have happily bet that playing for Aberdeen would have been the career pinnacle for Kenny McLean (now in the Premier League), Graeme Shinnie (in the English Championship), Ryan Jack (bossing it for Rangers) and Jonny Hayes (signed by Celtic for £1.5million). Hell, Jayden Stockley's career trajectory since moving on makes his failure to impress a bit of a weird one. The rebuild has been tough, and its hard to know whether McInnes captured lightning in a bottle with some of his signings in the first few years, or alternatively he has just been unlucky in the last couple. Again, take the midfield. Craig Bryson, Funso Ojo and Ryan Hedges certainly came with a decent pedigree but none have made a decent impact. Before that, Chris Forrester and Stephen Gleeson proved to be huge misses, but both looked like good purchases. Regardless, the remarkable form of striker Sam Cosgrove had papered over a lot of cracks. Now Cosgrove has hit the most spectacular funk in the Granite City since a James Brown-tribute act graced The Lemon Tree, the deficiencies are there for all to see. It doesn't help that McInnes has shown little taste for tactical evolution. His obsession with man-to-man marking in open play works when he has superior players but often goes terribly wrong against stronger teams or better coached ones. Not unreasonably he has been criticized for a poor head-to-head record against Rangers and Celtic. It did not go unnoticed amongst the support that the side who pipped the Dons to third last time out were an extraordinarily well-coached David who not only had a habit of beating Goliath but also took great pleasure in shouting "bye-bye, Rangers!" at them. To make matters harder still, a new chairman with American business links and an eye on trying to use the new stadium - which seemingly they now won't get into till 2023 - as a platform to push on will surely demand some on-pitch success to generate momentum and encourage investment. That at least means that, if it proves that seven years is long enough, a successor will have a far stronger platform to work from than McInnes did in 2013, or any of his predecessors did for a generation before that. But even if his time is up soon, Aberdeen fans should force themselves to remember the nightmare years beforehand, and realize that "we need to move on from Derek McInnes" and "Derek McInnes has been a successful Aberdeen manager" are not mutually exclusive positions. 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
  2. I was surprised that we'd had as many as 23 shots - it didn't feel like that, mainly because the Alloa keeper wasn't tested too often. It was a strange game where we had Alloa hemmed in almost from start to finish and yet they not only scored but missed at least three great chances (two of which were superb Ridgers stops. His block from Trouten near the end was as good a save as I'll see for a while). It's tough against a team like that who keep nine men back whenever we have the ball. We actually worked it into lots of good positions in the first half only for the finish or the final touch to let us down. Walsh looked really sharp in the no.10 position but ran out of legs after the break. We were so dominant out wide I wish we had moved Storey more central to offer another option in the box; Rooney had control of the right flank on his own. The biggest disappointment for me is that we ran out of ideas in the last 15 minutes and resorted to hoof ball when Alloa were tiring and struggling to keep their shape. I'd have liked us to keep doing what we were doing. It didn't help that MacGregor failed to have anywhere near the impact Walsh had and so we strugged to pick our way through. Glad to see Welsh back. We are infinitely better both going forward and defensively when he is on the pitch. I'd have him and Carson as the starters next week.
  3. That's a decent point. I had forgotten he was an option at CB. I remember he had an excellent game in that position against us for Livingston a couple of years back (and scored at a set piece too).
  4. Are you saying "I'd rather have White and Todorov than a striker who scored 20 goals at this level last season and who is an ICT legend because even he couldn't sort out the mess Foran got us in a few years back"? Okay. Yes. Promotion comes with more cash and its a damn sight easier to attract players here if we can offer better wages and Premiership football.
  5. I really think people need to take what any football manager tells the press with a pinch of salt. Often they'll be overtaken by events. Either St. Johnstone have offered us enough of a fee to make this worth our while or McCart has threatened to down tools to force a move (or both). It's a nightmare to lose two central defenders in this window but that's the way of it; if we can't get promoted from this league then its inevitable that our best players will leave for teams in the top flight. I would be surprised and concerned if we didn't bring in another defender by the end of the month. Even if we get Harper back from Elgin we're now a bit thin for defensive cover even if Tremarco can go to CB in an emergency. In an ideal world we would exploit the loan market but this is hard for us because of our location - we essentially have to pay for accomodation for players on top of any loan fees. That is of course unless we were to try and grab players from across the bridge. For example, they might loan us Tom Grivosti at centre-back - he did a decent job at this level last season - and at the other end of the pitch the arrival of Oli Shaw pushes Billy Mckay down the pecking order HINT HINT HINT.
  6. There's literally no chance that we're signing Osman Sow. He has already played for both Dundee United and Kilmarnock and therefore can't join another club this season.
  7. Sucks to be right. Good luck to him. I wish people would stop all this 'snake' and 'traitor' rubbish. In the real world no-one bats an eyelid if somebody switches job for a significant pay rise and a promotion. Why should it be any different in football? I'm intrigued as to what the fee was. Given the time remaining on his contract £75k would be crazy...but so would us letting him go for peanuts. It would be a very Roy MacGregor thing to do to pay us a decent fee to make sure County get Donaldson now and to offer us a bit of charity as well (how depressing though!). I've thoroughly enjoyed watching Coll rebuild his career with us. He came here for buttons for the first few months to try and turn things around and totally earned the contract he got after that. He's been one of our best players for the last 2 years. He's also earned the chance to play at a higher level again and there are certainly no guarantees he'd get to do that with us. I hope he does well at County, except when he plays us. And I hope to god that Lewis Toshney can fill the gap...
  8. Okay, so in terms of finances the headline is just an eensy weensy bit OTT. Inverness Caley Thistle should have enough cash to get through the season. And given that a club of the size of Queen of the South can still manage to stay full-time there's not really any likelihood of ICT having to go part-time in the near future. Still, they have suffered losses of £2m in the last three years - £400,000 in the 2016/17 relegation campaign and £800,000 in each of the last two seasons. That's really quite a lot of money. Worse, last season's figures did not improve despite a run to the Scottish Cup semi-finals, a league finish two places higher than in 2017/18 and a few high earners being moved on. Hence an EGM in September which was essentially a (successful) plea for directors and local businessmen and allies of the club to stump up some cash to cover any shortfall for the rest of the current campaign. On the pitch things are at least a bit rosier. ICT lie second in the Championship. The title and automatic promotion are now out of reach; Dundee United are approximately a gazillion points clear and would still win the division if they put Csaba Laszlo back in charge for the remaining matches. However the Highlanders have a juicy ten point cushion over fifth place and are in pole position to get the bye week for the promotion playoffs whilst the third- and fourth-placed sides joust. That in itself would improve their chances of going up. But now it's January, so clubs are sniffing around players whose contracts expire in the summer. As one of the Championship's better sides, it's no surprise that there is interest in Caley Thistle's players. And with the chances of going up still not especially high - four out of six playoff finals have been won by the Premiership side - it's also no surprise that the players are interested in moves to Premiership clubs. Central defender Coll Donaldson, a Dundee United dud rebuilt in Inverness, has talked to Ross County. St. Johnstone have been linked with his fellow defenders Jamie McCart and Shaun Rooney. McCart is still only 22 and has impressed since joining from Celtic. Rooney had underwhelmed at Queen of the South before signing but has improved exponentially over the last year into a powerful, athletic attacking right-back. According to reports, at least two more players have suitors. One is almost certainly winger Tom Walsh, whose season has been interrupted by hamstring problems but who is outstanding at getting half a yard on his man and whipping in a cross with either foot. The other may be Jordan White, the archetypal Big Man Up Front. He is apparently wanted by Motherwell, though I have no idea why. That's essentially half a team that are very likely to leave in the summer...or sooner than that. Inverness signed Falkirk defender Lewis Toshney last week in a move that could well be covering Donaldson joining County during this window. That's not to say the players left behind are all hopeless. Sean Welsh is one of the best midfielders in the league but is also made of glass. James Keatings is a good attacker for this level. Mark Ridgers offers a reliable pair of hands between the sticks. But rebuilding this team, and almost certainly with an even tighter budget, would be some undertaking. As Falkirk have recently shown, a big turnover of players can go spectacularly wrong. It is quite remarkable that, three years into their current stay in the Championship, Caley Thistle have their best chance to get out of it. If they can't take it, it would be even more remarkable if another one came around any time soon. 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
  9. Toshney was considered a real prospect when he was a Celtic youth, and Dundee United paid a transfer fee to sign him shortly after they were relegated. But his time there was wrecked by a serious knee injury. If his fitness is fine he should be an asset - a big centre-back who can also play right-back. I doubt we'd be signing him just for depth though. I think this is a sign that Coll-to-County is imminent.
  10. Given the weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning I thought the game would be in jeopardy. However I assumed the call off was in anticipation of this (and to save the QOS players from travelling up today as they'd planned). The weather in the last day or two has hardly been extreme. It does raise questions about the state of the pitch. I understand that there was one area during the Dunfermline game (which I wasn't at) which looked very dicey and perhaps this is the problem. That said, every time I've been to the ground this season I've been impressed by the surface which has looked the best it has for years and seemed to be holding up well after being relaid in the summer.
  11. The reaction to St. Johnstone's decision to give three McDiarmid Park stands to Rangers and Celtic fans was somewhat mixed. There was, for example, this piece from the Daily Record's Michael Gannon claiming that they were trying to 'make a quick buck' by exploiting the biggest supports in the country - because giving said supports more tickets is, apparently, 'exploitation'. Especially when said tickets are £28 a pop. Sure, we'd all like to pay less for football tickets, but criticizing the price is rich given it costs only a quid less for away supporters at Celtic Park to watch from the infamous 'restricted view' seats that, in addition to watching their team getting pumped, give the spectator the treasured bonus of an acute case of torticollis. However, plenty were pragmatic about it. Whilst few actually believed the Perth Saints' claim that temporarily shifting some fans so the home support was amalgamated in one area would help provide a 'partisan atmosphere' - there's no way that was written with a straight face - we're not talking small change here. Gannon claimed St. Johnstone would "trouser a couple of hundred grand which might fund a couple of players". A couple of hundred grand would equate to about 5% of St. Johnstone's annual turnover. It's more likely to pay for four players than for two. It might be loose change for Scotland's largest two clubs, but it is a significant amount of money for a club of their size...and for at least half the clubs in the Scottish Premiership. Gannon bizarrely suggested away fans should boycott Perth in protest. He did also briefly mention one of the reasons why St. Johnstone can, and need to, take this step - the fact that season ticket holders are dodging these matches. Those are generally the most loyal supporters, and ones who have actually paid for their seats already. And yet they are eschewing the chance to watch the biggest and most talented clubs in the country take on their own side. Imagine season ticket holders at Bournemouth and Watford deciding to skip the visit of Liverpool or Manchester City, or Getafe fans staying at home when Barcelona come to town. I attended a Middlesbrough-Manchester United match in 2008 where the visiting support took great joy in proclaiming "you're only here for United!" loudly. It was true too; my mate spent the whole game salivating over Paul Scholes and I over Wayne Rooney. But St. Johnstone's fans are not the only ones turned off by the Gruesome Twosome. Other clubs have also noted their season ticket holders staying away in similar circumstances. There are a few different factors at play here. One is that these games tend to have awkward kickoff times. Another is that no-one ever enjoys seeing their team get gubbed. After a few years where both Celtic and Rangers looked like potential scalps when you got them on your own patch, we've rewound to the days when, for example, Stephane Guivarc'h scored two in an 8-0 win for Dick Advocaat's Rangers...in Perth. But that was never quite enough to keep folk away. Perhaps the star power of Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson etc. was worth the ignominy. Alfredo Morelos and Odsonne Edouard are talents but hardly in the same stratosphere. And then of course there is the whole experience of having Rangers and Celtic fans in town. Sure, they aren't the only ones to sing unpleasant songs, to invade the pitch, to set off flares, to throw objects, to damage the stadium. But it only feels inevitable when it's one of those supports. At Inverness (a place that neither club are likely to be visiting again in the near future) I've seen fans of both clubs drinking in the streets - Strongbow for Celtic fans, Buckfast for Rangers fans - urinating outside the ground (as if they don't think indoor plumbing has reached the Highlands yet) and have endured loud aggressive chants about killing people which have no relation to the actual match or opponent. It is not a lot of fun. So we've now reached a strange denouement where fans of other Scottish clubs are turned off by Rangers and Celtic, and yet the big two and the SPFL will cite the impressive viewing figures for their derby clash at the end of December as further evidence that, outside Scotland at least, they're the only clubs that matter. Which is fair enough until they complain that no-one else wants to watch them... 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
  12. Harper looks a good prospect and at the moment I'd rather have him backing up Tremarco than McHattie. However Harper needs gametime for his development and will get it at Elgin. This is a calculated risk we're taking. If all goes well, Tremarco stays fit and Harper returns to the club in the summer a better, more experienced player. If Tremarco gets crocked and we have to play McHattie a lot, then, um...
  13. Outgoing Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne gave an interview a few weeks ago where he criticized the refusal of Rangers and Celtic to allow change in Scottish football. It was almost as ridiculous as the toupee he sported at the start of his 21 year reign at Pittodrie. Many, including former St. Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour, were more than willing to lay into Milne for his hypocrisy and his apparent attempts to rewrite history. It's no secret that other Premiership clubs were willing to use Rangers' absence from the top flight to rewrite voting rules that meant an 11-1 majority was required for significant change, which in turn allowed Rangers and Celtic to veto things they did not favour. Aberdeen, vainly believing they could take over as Scotland's second force, derailed this for their own perceived advantage. They enter the 2019-20 winter break back in fourth place. However Milne's comments lay plain the fact that at the start of 2020 Scottish football is once more in thrall to the blue and green cheeks of the Glasgow arse. Currently the gap between second and third is thirteen points (and the top two have games in hand). At the end of the 2010-11 season it was twenty-nine. So are we basically just back where we started? Some might argue that the 2010s was the decade of the diddy team. Dundee United, Hearts, St. Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hibernian - Hibernian, who seemed cursed to never win the competition again! - won the Scottish Cup in the last decade. Kilmarnock, St. Mirren, Aberdeen and Ross County all lifted the League Cup in the same period. The liquidation of Rangers in the summer of 2012 was in some ways the defining moment of the last ten years in Scottish football. Off the pitch, it doomed us all to an apparent eternity of tedious 'newco'/'Sevco'/'there is no Old Firm' arguments. On the pitch, Rangers' rise from League Two provided some welcome publicity and cash to lower league clubs and plenty of amusing moments for non-Bluenoses as the Gers made rather heavy weather of their rise up the leagues despite having the second highest wage bill in the country even when they were in the fourth tier. It also meant that in the top flight there was no real competition for Celtic for many years. Only two of their eight consecutive titles has been won by less than fifteen points; even those two, the last two, were won by nine. But in knockout competitions the door was flung wide open. The aforementioned trophy winners and their supporters were galvanized by their sudden ascendance into relevance. It rather helped that Celtic spent two years under incompetent Norwegian coach Ronny Deila; whilst their vastly superior squad depth ensured glory in the league they proved remarkably vulnerable in cup matches. Alas, this period was all too brief. Hibernian were the last club other than Celtic to win a cup (no, the Petrofac Training Cup doesn't count), in the summer of 2016. Since then the Bhoys have swept the board with a 'treble treble'. The combination of overwhelming financial muscle and an extremely talented coach in Brendan Rodgers made them literally unbeatable in 2016-17. Having Rodgers in the country did bring in some kudos but his extraordinary success once more left the league open to accusations of being a procession. Rangers were finally promoted to the Premiership in 2016, but took two further years to get themselves sorted out properly. Now under Steven Gerrard they look like Celtic's equals and could well win the title this season. The SPFL frequently trumpets rises in attendances, but these are mainly because of the large visiting supports the two Glasgow clubs bring. In fact many sides have noticed a reduction in the size of the home supports at these matches. The experience of hosting either club, with the dreadful, hateful songs and the strong likelihood of a heavy beating, is not a pleasant one. Fighting for a distant third place, whilst pretty much writing off three or four home matches per season, is no healthier a position than it was in the past. Thus Scottish football remains locked in the mindset that a strong, wealthy Rangers and Celtic, with cash trickling down to the other clubs, is the way to go. One thing that is different is the lack of relevance even the strongest Scottish clubs have on the European stage. Only twice in the last six years have Celtic made it to the Champions League and that ratio is unlikely to improve now that the path through qualifying has become harder. The Europa League, a distraction in the days of Deila, is now a major focus. Financially, it does seem as if the Champions end up selling a star player each year they don't make it to the Champions League. Rangers have spunked tens of millions away in the last seven years and still run a seven figure loss annually. This blogger's biggest concern is that other full-time clubs seem to be struggling to run within their means as well, especially the ones in the Championship. Whilst a repeat of the administration plague that hit Scottish football in the noughties is hardly imminent it is hard to see how as many 20 full-time clubs can be supported in the long term. It could be argued that none of them can break even without either significant success on the pitch or selling their best players. At international level the lone bright spot has been the breakthrough of Scotland's Women's team who not only qualified for a European Championship and World Cup but captured the hearts of many by doing so. As regards the men there has been precious little to crow about. The fact that the greatest moment of the decade for the Scotland mens' team was a Leigh Griffiths goal against England which ultimately didn't even win the match sums things up nicely. Even at the best of times we have no right to expect qualification for the World Cup. But a twenty-four team European Championship? Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania got to Euro 2016. Scotland did not. The same old SFA failings played a major part. After gross underachievement in the Euro 2012 qualifiers - 4-6-0, indeed - Craig Levein was kept on long enough to ruin our 2014 World Cup hopes. Gordon Strachan wasn't the worst appointment, though it showed an unwillingness to think outside the box. And when, after he was let go, the powers that be tried the outside-the-box thinking they be the farm on Michael O'Neill, only to find that Northern Ireland now had a bigger farm. The humilation forced the resignation of Chief Executive Stewart Regan and in the aftermath the organization went back to what it knows best - jobs for the boys. Hence the fourteen month fiasco that was Alex McLeish's second spell. Never has the morale of the Tartan Army been so low. Going into 2020, the national team feels like it is at a Sliding Doors moment. The Nations League has given us an extra shot at Euro 2020 qualification which depends on beating Israel at home and Norway or Serbia away. Pull it off and he and his side will be heroes. Blow it, missing out on a tournament which includes matches at Hampden itself, and that might finally be it for many fans. As for the youngsters, you tell me what's happening there. Mark Wotte was appointed as the first Performance Director in 2011 and was later succeeded by Brian McClair and then the rather controversial Malky Mackay. It seems to me that there have been plenty of decent results by Scottish youth teams in the 2010s but that will matter to no-one if senior results don't improve. All in all it feels like the 2010s produced plenty of opportunities both domestically and internationally that have been squandered in favour of the apparently safe status quo. It is often said that one has to run to stand still. Scottish football continues to stand still and wonder why the rest of the world is rushing off into the distance. 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
  14. As stinkers go, this was pretty epic. Ridgers made three excellent saves, two of which were late on to keep it 1-0. Aside from him, everyone else was absolutely awful. Apart from an effort that was disallowed for offside, I don't believe we created a single chance of note after we went behind. As Robbo said post-match, we were dreadful from the word go. We were slow, no-one wanted on the ball, and everyone's touch and passing was completely off. The swirling wind didn't help but it seemed like nobody was willing to take the ball down. Everything was headed or volleyed aimlessly away. If anything the subs made it worse; Curry and Todorov barely got into it whilst MacGregor followed everyone else's lead by repeatedly getting caught in possession. It's worth noting that following the substitutions our senior outfield player was...Charlie Trafford. When the going got tough there was a clear lack of leadership on the park. How much is Robbo to blame? One could argue that taking off Doran, who at least looked interested, was a terrible move. But to be honest, it felt like regardless of whom he played and what formation he used it would have been just as rank. I feel like I should be giving Arbroath credit, but for what? Keeping their shape properly and not making stupid errors? That should be the bare minimum. And the bare minimum was enough to beat us today.
  15. Aside from a game between Morton and Queen of the South that needs rescheduled, the Scottish Championship has reached its halfway point. Eighteen games down, eighteen to go. It would be a stretch to say there is a title race. Thirteen points clear with eighteen games left? Surely Dundee United can't blow this. United haven't been perfect (their three defeats include a loss to Alloa and a 4-0 trouncing in Dumfries) but they have been close enough. At the time of writing they've won nine straight. Obviously having Lawrence Shankland helps - he has nineteen league goals already and has broken into the Scotland setup - but this United team is miles ahead in every area compared to the ones that have stunk up this division for the last three years. Once they get in front they have enough backbone and street smarts to see out games and pick off opponents at will. Aside from Shankland, Mark Reynolds and Calum Butcher have been particularly outstanding. Therefore the teams immediately below are realistically battling for the three playoff spots; getting second place and a 'bye week' could make a significant difference to a club's chances of promotion via this route. It's Caley Thistle who currently have a little bit of breathing space here. Not that they have been overly impressive - three teams have scored more and three have conceded fewer - but they've been a little less inconsistent than the rest. Crucially their last three home games have been victories against the three clubs immediately below them in the table, and with clean sheets to boot. That suggests that the backline is returning to form after a shaky autumn. Their problem remains a lack of goals. They've scored more than two in a game only once and no individual has managed more than four in the league. Finding a reliable forward would cement that second spot. Certainly you would fancy them to reach the playoffs again though. Next up are Ayr United who started like greased lightning with six wins out of seven but have hit the skids dreadfully since Ian McCall upped and left for Partick Thistle. His rookie replacement Mark Kerr hasn't been helped by a small squad incapacitated by injuries but its remarkable they are currently third given they've won just one of the last six. Unless they can reinforce considerably in January they are unlikely to stay there, especially as Kerr himself intends to hang up his boots next month. With other veterans such as Michael Moffat, Steven Bell and Andy Geggan looking past their best it could be tough going forward. In contrast Dundee will feel they are in the ascendancy now - and about time too, given this team can boast Kane Hemmings and Danny Johnson up front and Graham Dorrans in midfield. If one was being generous it could be said that manager James McPake had to gel together several new players, but the bottom line is that the Dark Blues are performing remarkably like their neighbours in the last few years - playing down to the opposition, often relying on talent rather than tactics to do the business. Still, they've won their last two and got into the top four. Their next three matches are against the trio currently above them, starting with the Boxing Day derby. A positive result at Tannadice would do wonders for confidence, not least because the two derby defeats so far have wrecked confidence for weeks afterward. The bottom line though is that anything other than a top four finish would be an embarrassment. Dunfermline have dropped back to fifth after a recent purple patch had put them into the top four. But they'll take that given Stevie Crawford looked under a fair bit of pressure when they won only one of their first eight league games. The turnaround has been mostly down to the outrageous form of striker Kevin Nisbet, who before last weekend's loss in Inverness had scored twelve in seven league games. If he can keep finding the net and the Pars can get the best out of midfield loan trio Greg Kiltie, Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald then they will be playoff-bound. I was actually surprised when I looked at the table to find Queen of the South up in sixth. Whilst they've had some impressive wins (such as the aforementioned drubbing of the league leaders) they've only won back-to-back games once. Has Stephen Dobbie begun to fade at last? The 37 year old has only five league goals so far this season. However the club have just given him another new contract and his acumen still looks plenty sharp for this level. The Doonhamers are another team who have a relatively small squad that struggles to deal with any injuries. An optimist would say they are still in the playoff race but they are closer to ninth than fourth and an injury to Dobbie would cripple them. I was also taken aback to see Arbroath down in seventh. Only six weeks ago they were in a playoff spot after crushing ICT at home but that might have been their ceiling. Since then they are winless. That shouldn't distract from the remarkable job Dick Campbell and co have done this season with a squad of gnarly part-time veterans from the lower divisions. They have gone toe-to-toe with everyone. And yet they could still be pulled into a relegation battle. There's always a risk that the semi-pros will run out of batteries towards the end of a long season. But these guys have been around the block often enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Just above the bottom two are Morton who will have probably had higher expectations than this when they appointed David Hopkin as manager. Perhaps its true he wasn't the brains of the operation at Livingston? Morton's home form is the reason they are this high; only last weekend did they pick up their first away league win. There's plenty of experience in Greenock with Jim McAlister, Chris Millar, Brian McLean and John Sutton amongst those playing significant roles. But few of the youngsters have pushed on and their two most prestigious summer signings, Aidan Nesbitt and Robbie Muirhead, have struggled. They need top scorer Bob McHugh to bounce back from a hamstring injury asap. Whatever former boss Gary Caldwell claims about putting together a squad capable of promotion, pre-contract moves for Ayr's Ross Docherty and QOS's Darren Brownlie tell you that Partick Thistle have no aspirations for this season beyond getting the hell out of the basement and retaining their Championship status. Sixteen points from twelve games under McCall is certainly progress but expect Thistle to be very busy in January strengthening the squad and trying to move on some of Caldwell's duds. And finally we have Alloa. Staying up last season was a minor miracle for the Wasps but repeating the feat will be very tough. Peter Grant has done a solid job succeeding Jim Goodwin in charge and they've not been pushovers by any means. But four straight defeats has seen them plunge to the bottom. Grant was quite prudent in the summer and it will be interesting to see if there is much squad turnover in January. Certainly if Alloa are going to survive they need to bring in new players, though they will remain tough opponents regardless. So here are my predictions for how it'll finish...and how confident I am about said predictions: PROMOTED Dundee United (would bet my mortgage on it) PROMOTION PLAYOFFS Inverness CT (very confident) Dundee (very confident) Dunfermline (wouldn't put money on it) RELEGATION PLAYOFFS Morton (not confident at all - could see Arbroath, QOS, Partick all ending up here) RELEGATED Alloa (pretty confident but they've proven us wrong before!) 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