hislopsoffsideagain

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  1. The Scottish Premiership has been back in full flow for sometime, but we're now just a month from the Championship, League One and League Two restarting (though the League Cup begins a week and a half before that). These clubs last played a competitive game in early March, and a lot has happened since then. Here's where the ten Championship clubs are currently at. With the transfer window still open till 5th October and loan restrictions eased there will be plenty of signings at each club in the coming weeks. For more details on transfer moves so far check out the SPFL transfers page. ALLOA ATHLETIC STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Parry, Taggart, Graham, Deas, Dick, Cawley, Flannigan, Hetherington, Banks, Trouten, O'Hara Peter Grant looks set to follow the template that has previously worked well for both him and predecessor Jim Goodwin: keep the core of the squad together and supplement it with clever loan moves and one or two permanent signings. The snag is that his two best players have left - Kevin O'Hara returns to full-time football with Dunfermline, while the delightful playmaker Iain Flannigan surprisingly chose to retire at age 32. Of the players retained, that ever-reliable backbone is another year older; Andy Graham (36), Liam Buchanan (35) and Alan Trouten (34) cannot go on forever. So far Grant has brought in Hibs winger Innes Murray on loan, along with Nicky Jamieson (who played in League Two last season) and his own son Ray. Expect more new faces, with a further centre-back and striker a must. ARBROATH STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Gaston, Thomson, O'Brien, Little, Hamilton, Stewart, Virtanen, Whatley, Linn, Wighton, Donnelly See Alloa's plan for success...except Dick Campbell has held onto everyone he wanted to keep, convinced the outstanding Tam O'Brien to sign a new contract, and got the impressive Finn Miko Virtanen back for a second season on loan from Aberdeen with another Don, forward Michael Ruth, in tow. Clearly Premiership managers trust Dick Campbell to develop their players. With a very solid back four, Campbell can concentrate what remaining resources he has on bolstering his midfield and attack. Though Luke Donnelly and Dale Hilson are busy and Kris Doolan and Bobby Linn offer veteran nous, a prolific goalscorer would be a gamechanger. AYR UNITED STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Doohan, Houston, Bell, Muirhead, Harvie, Malley, Kelly, Kerr, Forrest, Drinan, Moffat This looked likely to be a transitional summer at Somerset Park, given that most of the remaining Ian McCall All-Stars moved on. But instead Mark Kerr has been pretty bold so far, and I'd say that procuring wingers Tom Walsh and Dario Zanatta, defenders Jack Baird and Patrick Reading (who you haven't heard of but has a Scotland under-21 cap) and midfielder Joe Chalmers counts as a statement of intent. The big question marks remain up front - where they'll be looking for a better option than Craig Moore or 35 year old Michael Moffat - and between the sticks, with perennial backup Ellis Hare-Reid the only goalie under contract at the time of writing. Kerr made excellent use of the English loan market in January and expect more of that in the coming weeks. DUNDEE STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Hazard, Kerr, Berra, McGhee, Marshall, Elliott, Byrne, McGowan, Dorrans, McDaid, Hemmings It's been an eventful few months at Dens Park. First there was the bizarre no-then-yes vote to ending the season (for motives that remain unclear). That was followed by staff redundancies and player wage-cuts, with striker Kane Hemmings refusing the pay cut...then agreeing to it...then cancelling his contract after all. And now we have Charlie Adam rocking up at the club he left seventeen years ago for a last hurrah. With Graham Dorrans and Paul McGowan already at the club they will not be short of midfield creativity, but it'll be interesting to see how McPake fits them all into the team, and who will do the leg work for the trio of veterans. We'll also find out if the manager has learned from his difficult rookie year in the dugout and can at least make his lineup equal to the sum of its parts on a consistent basis. Even though Hemmings and Andrew Nelson have left, replacements Alex Jakubiak and Danny Mullen should offer more than enough quality up top (then again, we said the same about Hemmings, Nelson and Danny Johnson last year). And the defence and midfield should be good enough on paper - though the thought of Jack Hamilton being first choice goalkeeper will give Dundee fans the boak. DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Fon Williams, Comrie, Ashcroft, Martin, Murray, Dow, Ross, Paton, Thomas, Nisbet, Afolabi The summer began with a lot of pessimistic noises coming out of East End Park about budget cuts and player releases, segued into a nice windfall from selling Kevin Nisbet to Hibs, and finished up with significant investment in the club from Germany. The club has stressed that there won't be significant cash-splashing but one would assume the new investors have plans for bringing in players (and at least stretching the club's scouting network beyond Kirkcaldy). Meanwhile Stevie Crawford has already tied up goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams and winger Dom Thomas after brief but impressive loan spells pre-Covid, and with Nisbet gone he'll be looking to Declan McManus (returning for his second spell at the club) and Kevin O'Hara (a rather controversial signing given his ban a few years ago for taunting Dean Shiels about his eyesight) for goals. I also have high hopes for ex-Killie midfielder Iain Wilson. However the Pars' squad may look quite different come the end of the window... GREENOCK MORTON STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Rogers, Tumilty, McGinty, Baird, Strapp, Nesbitt, Jacobs, McAlister, Cadden, Orsi, McHugh Morton have been very bullish publicly about how they feel things are going under David Hopkin, but unless there's a lot of business still to come the current window feels like a costcutting one. It was no surprise to see Nicky Cadden leave but he was excellent last season and it's still a massive blow. One suspects Hopkin might have wanted to keep John Baird and Reghan Tumilty for this season, while Bob McHugh chose to leave for Ray McKinnon's Queen's Park project. So far the only signings are the returning Gary Oliver and Elgin wideman Rabin Omar. So that means currently the club have no senior goalkeeper, no right-back and just one out-and-out centre forward. Not ideal. HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Zlamal, Clare, M. Smith, Halkett, Souttar, Hickey, Bozanic, Haring, Walker, Naismith, Boyce Hearts' hopes of a relegation reprieve came to nothing in the end but it would be a shock if their absence from the Premiership lasted beyond this campaign. New boss Robbie Neilson certainly has an affinity for this division, having won it twice before (including last season with Dundee United). And even though they have moved on about a gazillion players - some of whom they probably wished they could keep - this squad was already probably strong enough to walk this league before Neilson started adding to it. Craig Gordon will surely be an upgrade in goal, while he's brought in three wide players - Jordan Roberts, Josh Ginnelly and Elliott Frear - to improve a real area of weakness. Aaron Hickey's imminent exit and John Souttar's injury hurt the defence but - if Christophe Berra is still up to it - the Jambos should have plenty of cover there. And that strike force of Liam Boyce and Steven Naismith should score for fun. INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Ridgers, Rooney, Toshney, McKay, Tremarco, Vincent, Welsh, Walsh, Keatings, Doran, White John Robertson recently lamented that every year seemed to be a rebuilding year. With four first choice players and midfielder Charlie Trafford away, along with the two centre-backs he lost in January, it'll be hard to keep Caley Thistle 'best of the rest'. Whether they have the cash to find replacements is unclear - last year there were concerns re their finances and they kept their players on furlough longer than most but the club have spoken positively about where they are going forward. That said, Robbo's claim that ex-Elgin forward Shane Sutherland could score 15 goals seems very optimistic indeed. The club have high hopes than youngster Cameron Harper can fill the Carl Tremarco-shaped hole at left-back and Robbie Deas could be the next Jamie McCart, but the other defensive options (Lewis Toshney, Brad McKay, Danny Devine) look dicey and they still don't have a natural right-back. Robertson has previously plucked players from the English lower leagues and I'd expect a few signings from that market in the coming weeks. QUEEN OF THE SOUTH STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Stewart, Mercer, Kilday, Ledger, Holt, Murray, Pybus, Osman, Wilson, Oliver, Dobbie As of May, the Doonhamers had just three players under contract - Stephen Dobbie (who will be 38 in December), Kevin Holt and backup goalie Jack Leighfield. Dan Pybus has subsequently signed on again but Holt has left for Cyprus so Allan Johnston has a huge task on his hands. It's got to the point that 36 year old reserve coach Wullie Gibson - who hasn't played at this level in five years or at all since November 2019 - has signed a playing contract. Loan signing Aidan Fitzpatrick looks like a good addition and Joe McKee deserves another shot at the Championship, but one feels it'll take a lot of work to get QOS up to standard. And bear in mind that last season was halted with them only two points above bottom spot, having played a game more than Partick Thistle and having picked up three points out of thirty. RAITH ROVERS STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Munro, Miller, Anderson, Davidson, Benedictus, MacDonald, Matthews, Hendry, Spencer, MacLean, Bowie Newly promoted sides are always competitive in this league and Raith will be no exception. John McGlynn has been quick to strengthen his weak areas with Jamie MacDonald joining in goal and Reghan Tumilty at right-back. His other signings so far are from down south with Gozie Ugwu, who scored 15 goals in the National League last season, an intriguing addition up front. If Lewis Vaughan can successfully return from a third ACL rupture then Rovers will be very dangerous. If you were to ask me to predict the outcome of the season right now I'd say...there's no chance I'm going to fall for that. The shortened season makes things far less clear-cut and as stated above squads may look very different come early October. Then I'd say "Oh, and Hearts are going to walk it..." 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. Devine was never anywhere near the level of Warren or Meekings in his first spell with us, and has been lousy at Partick and then Dunfermline for the last few years. I wouldn't trust him as a starter at this level at all. We now have three players - McKay, Devine and Toshney - competing to start alongside Deas in central-defence, but I wouldn't trust any of the three of them (in Toshney's case, because he is made of glass). We didn't need another centre-back. We need a right-back. Really badly.
  3. That said, Robbie Deas was great for Alloa last season, and he's only 20. Really pleased with that move. If we're handing out three year contracts we can't be too short of cash...right?
  4. Me yesterday: "It's fine that we're not signing anyone because there's still two months left in the transfer window, there's going to be lots of players available at cheaper rates come October so we'll be in a strong position". Me today after hearing Tom Walsh has signed for Ayr United: "IT'S THE END OF THE F*****G WORLD!!!"
  5. In years gone by, I've knocked off individual previews for each top flight club and published them in the days leading up to the new campaign. Obviously, this hasn't happened this time around. There are reasons for that. These include personal circumstances, a lack of a League Cup group stage to give pointers on how clubs are doing, the fact that the extended transfer window is likely to mean big changes between now and October, and definitely an element of 'I just can't be a***d'. However I am honour-bound to make some sort of prediction for how the Premiership is going to go, because I know from past experience that people take great joy from pointing out several months later how completely and gloriously wrong I was. So let's take a rather briefer look at the twelve sides, and how I think they'll finish in May, FIRST - CELTIC This time last year I said Celtic were 100% certain to win the title. By January I was wavering considerably, but I shouldn't have. Providing their new Greek keeper isn't a total haddy they still have the strongest starting lineup and squad in the league by some distance (as they should; their wage budget is still about twice that of Rangers). I'm not the only one who expects Mohamed Elyounoussi to set the heather alight, and holding onto Odsonne Edouard - at least so far - is a massive boost. Their biggest weak spot will be in defence if Kristoffer Ajer goes, but that shouldn't hold them back enough. The bottom line is that missing ten-in-a-row would be a shock and a catastrophe. SECOND - RANGERS Bear in mind that at lockdown Rangers were still acquitting themselves well in Europe but had won just two of their last six games against domestic opposition. Have they improved much this summer? The back line should be capable but what they really need is the attackers to turn it on. Ianis Hagi showed flashes but will need to perform far more consistently to be worth the faith shown in him. Ditto Ryan Kent who wasn't nearly as good last season as the year before. And if/when Alfredo Morelos leaves, it will leave an enormous hole up front that 37 year old Jermain Defoe can't fill on his own. I just can't see how they can make up the gap to Celtic. Even if they are closer to their rivals, it will be very hard for Steven Gerrard to carry on if he can't win a trophy this season. THIRD - MOTHERWELL I'm sure Stephen Robinson is a very good coach, but it's recruitment where I think he really excels. Motherwell seem to come into every transfer window with a plan; whilst they lost outstanding keeper Mark Gillespie, they have improved the central defence and lured Jake Hastie back on loan. David Turnbull will be practically a new signing too, given he has barely played in a year. Up front, Tony Watt and Chris Long were forming a fine partnership before Covid and it would be great if this was the year that the former finally lived up to his potential. This is a super squad given the budget they operate on and a repeat of last season's third is perfectly possible. FOURTH - HIBERNIAN Hibernian have plenty of attacking options now they've added Kevin Nisbet up front and Drey Wright out wide, but they haven't done much about a defence that looked flimsy last season. Keeping Ryan Porteous fit for more than five minutes will help, as will new sitting midfielder Alex Gogic. With Scott Allan and Martin Boyle also providing ammunition and Christian Doidge to take advantage of it, the Hibees should at least be fun to watch, though one suspects consistency will be an issue. FIFTH - ABERDEEN The lack of transfer activity may be down to financial prudence, or may be because the Dons think there will be bargains to be had in the coming weeks. But at this time an Aberdeen side that seemed to be stagnating last season haven't been freshened up. The loss of Sam Cosgrove to injury is a big blow for a forward line which is otherwise pretty goalshy. Derek McInnes also needs the rest of his midfielders to step up like Lewis Ferguson has, and for other creative players to share Niall McGinn's workload. I'd expect a few new faces in the coming weeks, especially if there is a slow start to the season. SIXTH - DUNDEE UNITED Micky Mellon has been around the block and should prove a shrewd appointment as manager; even as they strolled to last season's Championship United often looked like they were less than the sum of their parts and there was plenty room for improvement. I'm anxious about their defence, with Mark Reynolds' lack of pace likely to be exposed, and aside from Calum Butcher I'm not hugely convinced by the midfield. But up front Louis Appere is a real prospect, Paul McMullan's pace will worry any full-back and I can't wait to see how Lawrence Shankland does at this level. The momentum from their promotion should take them a long way. SEVENTH - ST JOHNSTONE I think it's okay to be a bit sceptical about any rookie manager, but to be fair Callum Davidson ticks a lot of boxes and was a logical successor to Tommy Wright. St. Johnstone were a lot better in 2020 than 2019 with their defence decidedly sturdier following the acquisition of Jamie McCart and the emergence of midfielder Ali McCann and striker Callum Hendry. Hendry has the tools to be one of the Premiership's top scorers this season. Other than McCann the midfield is a bit too 'experienced' for my liking and it could all fall apart very quickly if Davidson isn't up to the job but I think they are more likely to be top six than relegated. EIGHTH - KILMARNOCK Alex Dyer is very much following the Steve Clarke playbook, which is probably a smart move. Killie were still inconsistent even after he replaced Angelo Alessio though and it's no surprise that they have been busy in the transfer market given how thin the squad was. The spine of this side - Stuart Findlay at the back, Gary Dicker and Alan Power in midfield, Eamonn Brophy up top - remains good and the partnership between Brophy and Nicke Kamamba looks promising. It would be great if Greg Kiltie - so good on loan at various Championship clubs - finally got the chance to show what he can do this season. NINTH - LIVINGSTON It seems inevitable that Lyndon Dykes will go and for that reason alone Livi will find it hard to repeat last year's top six finish. Losing Ricki Lamie and Steven Lawless is also far from ideal but they have still have a decent defence marshalled by Jon Guthrie and Efe Ambrose, and Robby McCrorie will excel in goal. They'll need new boy Matej Poplatnik to fill Dykes' shoes though. Like pretty much everyone else over the last three years, I'm probably underestimating them. TENTH - ST. MIRREN I actually feel like Jim Goodwin is doing a good job and the Buddies are on an upward trajectory. Goodwin was very successful in the loan market last season and I expect more moves like that in the coming weeks. But they badly need to reduce their dependence on Jonathan Obika up front and they're essentially putting together a brand new defence containing one proven newcomer (Joe Shaughnessy), one on the decline (Richard Tait) and one who has rarely looked up to this level (Marcus Fraser). Hopefully Ryan Flynn and Kyle Magennis will return from injury soon and this should be a breakout year for Cammy MacPherson. ELEVENTH - ROSS COUNTY County have surely improved their dreadful defence with the signings of Alex Iacovitti and Connor Randall and the arrivals on loan of Stephen Kelly and (in the next few days) Ross Doohan are coups. If one of their strikers can score consistently then this should be a decent squad. The trouble is that left-back still looks like a dodgy position - Carl Tremarco, 35 in a few months, is not the answer - and they have a million midfielders but none who look like sure things at this level. I also remain unconvinced by Stuart Kettlewell as a manager and that alone makes the Staggies look vulnerable. TWELFTH - HAMILTON ACADEMICAL It's been a few years since I last tipped Accies for the drop, but at the time of writing this does not look like a squad with much quality. They've essentially lost their best keeper (Luke Southwood), best defender (Aaron McGowan), best midfielder (Alex Gogic) and best forward (George Oakley) and are putting their hopes on a player who scored goals in England's seventh tier, a player who wasn't always first choice at Inverness and cast-offs from Livingston, St. Johnstone and Dunfermline. Brian Rice will get the best out of them but I don't believe their best will be sufficient. As ever, feel free to point out my spectacular errors come May... 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
  6. I would be disappointed if a modern football team still relied on one individual to be the team leader on the pitch. I would be expecting several experienced individuals to take leadership roles as and when required. Outside the UK it's very common for the captain to either be the star player or the longest serving player at the club, because it's more of a ceremonial role. Doran fits the latter and I'd happily give him the armband on the assumption that plenty of his teammates would also provide leadership on the pitch.
  7. Indeed. By my reckoning, Dunfermline still have fewer players aged over 21 (12) than us (13). And yes, Queen of the South have just three players. Ayr, Morton and Raith are still furloughing their squads but I expect a lot of players to leave the former two clubs at the end of July. We are starting from a pretty okay position, at least in terms of numbers. This is definitely going to be a buyers market. There will be a lot of free agents who will have to accept much cheaper contracts this season than they normally would have done. The loan market is also going to be important, especially if they cancel the reserve league this year and Premiership clubs need to find somewhere for their youngsters to play.
  8. It is not fair that Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer were relegated from their respective divisions without having played out the full season, nor that as a consequence they face significant financial pressures going forward. They are quite right to legally challenge this decision. It is outrageous that there is any question of Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers being denied promotion. It is also outrageous that these clubs are having to fund legal teams of their own to defend this, at considerable cost to them. The above statements are both true. And that is the problem for Scottish football right now. These clubs can all reasonably claim that they are in the right, yet it is impossible to see how an SFA arbitration panel can come up with a solution that isn't catastrophic for either the M8 Alliance (as some papers have dubbed Hearts and Partick) or the East Of Scotland Massive (which absolutely nobody except me is calling Dundee United, Raith and Cove). Unless reconstruction is resurrected, of course. But that train has left the station. Arguably, it never arrived. Which brings us onto another important point. Reconstruction did not fail because the other clubs were determined to screw Hearts, Partick and Stranraer, or to deny Kelty Hearts and Brora Rangers their shot in the SPFL. It failed because too few clubs were convinced the risk of change was worth taking. I'm not even sure what Ann Budge's plan was in the end - 14-10-10-10? 14-14-14? 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34? (I knew I should have made a bet with someone that I could fit the Fibonacci sequence in a blog) Then there's the uncertainty of promotion and relegation places, whether it was permanent or temporary, plus the sneaky suspicion that if Hamilton Accies or St. Mirren had been bottom nobody would have given the tiniest of s**** about expanding the top flight to save them. Clubs acted not out of cruelty, as some blinkered fans suggest. They act, of course, in their own self-interest. That has brought just as much criticism, but what do you expect? They are all businesses, and almost none of them are profitable at the best of times. They can barely deal with certainty; no wonder most ran a mile at the thought of the Budge Plan and the clear unknowns that came with it. Ultimately the issue is not the behaviour of the clubs. It is the system that they operate in. For example, for reconstruction to pass, the plan needed the support of thirty-two clubs including eleven Premiership ones (out of twelve!), six Championship ones and fifteen from League One and Two. Agreeing to end the season early - a far less debatable decision, whatever some say - required the same level of support and only went through because of the infamous Dundee vote. Carrying a resolution that might upset more than a quarter of clubs is pretty much impossible. Compromise is but a pipe dream. As for the Dundee vote, the one boon of this arbitration is that the details of this grisly saga should finally see the light of day. It seems very possible that they and other clubs were offered certain carrots in order to vote for 2019/20 to end early. Were the Dark Blues given assurances of a future friendly in the USA with Celtic? Were they, Hearts and others duped into believing a 14 team top flight was well supported when it was anything but? We'll find out soon enough. What I suspect we'll discover is what we already suspect; that the governance of the SPFL is dodgy to say the least, that Doncaster and others relied on unkept promises and/or threats to force things through. Unfortunately for Hearts and Partick, 'ethically dubious' and 'illegal' are not the same thing. In the same vein the Dundee vote stinks like a pile of dog poo but it is an oddity of law that in these situations 'no' votes can be changed whereas 'yes' ones cannot. At this point, I think they will most likely lose their case. A close friend who is a solicitor - though not an expert in company law, I might add - suspects the same. Instead it will be laid plain for all to see that this is how the SPFL board operates, and has to operate, to get anything actually done. Until this setup changes, we are essentially stuck. But in order to change the setup, the SPFL would have to get thirty-two clubs to agree to it. Good fecking luck with that... 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. For one thing, I believe the club is very, very big on Cameron Harper. If they fancy him as the starting LB next season then it's not good value for us to hold on Tremarco even on a reduced wage, when that could be used on another part of the squad (the rest of the defence, for example!!!) Whilst Carl is very bullish about his own ability - and to be fair he was very good last season - he is nearly 35 and is already clearly a bit slower than he was at his peak. He's only going to slow down further and he's at an age where the legs can go very quickly...and plays a position where athleticism is vital.
  10. Yes, I know, it's all a bit half-assed this year. Here's the midfield and forwards. And I explained last week why I don't consider Mohamed Elyounoussi a candidate for this. CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: CALLUM MCGREGOR (CELTIC), ALI MCCANN (ST. JOHNSTONE) Honourable mentions: Alex Gogic (Hamilton Academical), Liam Donnelly (Motherwell), Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen), Marvin Bartley (Livingston) McGregor is the easy pick, of course. His form seemed to dip a little when Neil Lennon returned, but this season he was consistently outstanding. I could have picked any of the other five names to play alongside him. Gogic was moved forward from central defence and looks like he's been a holding midfielder forever. Donnelly, previously a left-back, went on a crazy goal streak at the start of the season and whilst the scoring tailed off the performances didn't. Tackling machine Bartley fits in perfectly at the Spaghettihad. And Ferguson was one of Aberdeen's top performers again, though his Young Player Of The Year award should have gone to McCann. The St. Johnstone player just about came out of nowhere to star for them this season, shining even when they struggled early on and then thriving as they turned the season around. It's just a shame the 20 year old seems to have decided his international future lies with Northern Ireland. ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS: JAMES FORREST (CELTIC), NIALL MCGINN (ABERDEEN) Honourable mentions: Chris Burke (Kilmarnock), Steven Lawless (Livingston), Ryan Christie (Celtic), Liam Polworth (Motherwell) Again, one choice was straightforward; Forrest continued being a goal and assist machine for the Champions this season. The other pick was trickier. I ultimately plumped for McGinn, who I thought had lost a yard but instead wound the clock back to 2016 with the quality of his play. It was tempting to go for Burke though, given that the 36 year old was consistently excellent for Kilmarnock. Lawless suffers somewhat for being more of a wing-back which makes it hard for me to shoehorn him in, but he arguably had the best campaign of his career and looks likely to make a decent move this summer. Ryan Christie played well but seemed to be the odd one out whenever Celtic tried to play with two up top. Polworth took his astonishing assist record from the Championship up to the top flight. STRIKERS: ODSONNE EDOUARD (CELTIC), ALFREDO MORELOS (RANGERS) Honourable mentions: Lyndon Dykes (Livingston), Christian Doidge (Hibernian), Ross Stewart (Ross County), Jermain Defoe (Rangers) No surprises here given Edouard was the league's outstanding player and Morelos (at least until January) scored for fun. Dykes proved a nightmare for any defender with his physical yet intelligent play and has plenty of suitors. Doidge made a slow start but improved drastically after Paul Heckingbottom left Hibs. Ross Stewart was a bit of a surprise success for Ross County with his pace and ability in the air. And Jermain Defoe deserves a thought given he hit double figures even though he is ultimately Morelos' backup. 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
  11. The 7-3 against Ayr and 4-0 against Airdrie are two of the most memorable matches I've ever been to.Thank you so much for putting these up. The Ayr game was just absolutely mental. David Bagan scored two worldies in the second half. I think Dennis Wyness had only started scoring regularly a month or so beforehand, but he was on fire. That turn and shot for goal number six is, frankly, a bit sexy. It's not in the highlights but I swear Davide Xausa missed a sitter for an eighth goal. It was also so cold that my hands were blue despite thick gloves. Totally worth it though. As for the Airdrie match, their team of Spaniards really weren't up for the Highland winter. Javier Sanchez Broto (who 2 and a half years late would keep goal for Celtic when we beat them in the cup) spent the whole game being taunted by our fans for looking like a porn star and then gave away a penalty by trying to amputate Mike Teasdale's leg at the knee. Charlie Christie's dinked finish was the pick of the bunch. Ah, the good old days (I'm only 36!!!)
  12. Better late than never, I suppose. Usually my Team Of The Year goes up in April, but with everything else that's going on it had fallen by the wayside. But I was spurred into action by the SPFL's own 'voted for by fans' effort. 🗳️ With over 500,000 votes being cast over the last 2 weeks, we can now reveal your @Ladbrokes Premiership Team of the Season. 🤔 Who would make your #TOTS? Drop your teams in the replies!#SPFL | #PremTOTS pic.twitter.com/IJfiFEUVTp — SPFL (@spfl) June 12, 2020 Sake. I mean, Mohamed Elyounoussi made all of seven starts and three sub appearances in the league this season. Jeremie Frimpong played twelve games. I know the season was cut short, but I'm not having that...nor a vote that ends up with players from only the two cheeks of the Glasgow arse. So here's mine. But first, for old time's sake (and to make me cringe), the twelve previous Teams Of The Year... 2007/08: Allan McGregor (Rangers), Alan Hutton (Rangers), Carlos Cuellar (Rangers), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Lee Naylor (Celtic), Barry Robson (Celtic), Stephen Hughes (Motherwell), Barry Ferguson (Rangers), Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Steven Fletcher (Hibernian) 2008/09: Lukasz Zaluska (Dundee United), Andreas Hinkel (Celtic), Gary Caldwell (Celtic), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Scott Brown (Celtic), Bruno Aguiar (Hearts), Pedro Mendes (Rangers), Andrew Driver (Hearts), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Rangers) 2009/10: John Ruddy (Motherwell), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), David Weir (Rangers), Andy Webster (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Steven Davis (Rangers), Morgaro Gomis (Dundee United), James McArthur (Hamilton), Anthony Stokes (Hibernian), Kris Boyd (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United) 2010/11: Marian Kello (Hearts), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Daniel Majstorovic (Celtic), Michael Duberry (St. Johnstone), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Steven Naismith (Rangers), Beram Kayal (Celtic), Alexei Eremenko (Kilmarnock), David Templeton (Hearts), Nikica Jelavic (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United) 2011/12: Cammy Bell (Kilmarnock), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Paul Dixon (Dundee United), James Forrest (Celtic), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Ian Black (Hearts), Dean Shiels (Kilmarnock), Jon Daly (Dundee United), Gary Hooper (Celtic) 2012/13: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Mihael Kovacevic (Ross County), Gary Warren (Inverness CT), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Stevie Hammell (Motherwell), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Nicky Law (Motherwell), Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone), Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian), Michael Higdon (Motherwell), Billy Mckay (Inverness CT) 2013/14: Jamie MacDonald (Hearts), Dave Mackay (St. Johnstone), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United), Scott Brown (Celtic), Stuart Armstrong (Dundee United), Peter Pawlett (Aberdeen), Kris Commons (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock), Stevie May (St. Johnstone) 2014/15: Craig Gordon (Celtic), Shay Logan (Aberdeen), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Jason Denayer (Celtic), Graeme Shinnie (Inverness CT), Ryan Jack (Aberdeen), Greg Tansey (Inverness CT), Greg Stewart (Dundee), Stefan Johansen (Celtic), Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United/Celtic), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen) 2015/16: Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Igor Rossi (Hearts), Andrew Davies (Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen), Nir Bitton (Celtic), Jackson Irvine (Ross County), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Kenny McLean (Aberdeen), Marvin Johnson (Motherwell), Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) 2016/17: Joe Lewis (Aberdeen), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Jozo Simunovic (Celtic), Joe Shaughnessy (St. Johnstone), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Stuart Armstrong (Celtic), Adam Barton (Partick Thistle), Scott Sinclair (Celtic), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Liam Boyce (Ross County) 2017/18: Jon McLaughlin (Hearts), James Tavernier (Rangers), Scott McKenna (Aberdeen), Christophe Berra (Hearts), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Scott Brown (Celtic), Dylan McGeouch (Hibernian), John McGinn (Hibernian), James Forrest (Celtic), Daniel Candeias (Rangers), Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock) 2018/19: Allan McGregor (Rangers), James Tavernier (Rangers), Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic), Craig Halkett (Livingston), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Callum McGregor (Celtic), David Turnbull (Motherwell), James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Christie (Celtic), Ryan Kent (Rangers), Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) And here's this year's goalkeeper and back four. GOALKEEPER: MARK GILLESPIE (MOTHERWELL) Honourable mentions: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Vaclav Hladky (St. Mirren) It's quite possible that none of this trio will be in the SPFL next season. Gillespie was so impressive this season that he might actually end up signing for Newcastle United. He is a cracking shot-stopper and, just as crucially, he was reliable and mistake-free. Forster has certainly looked more like the keeper who shone in his first spell in Scotland than the one who lost confidence at Southampton, but at domestic level he really isn't tested very much. Hladky has been terrific since arriving in Paisley and he will be an extremely difficult act to follow. RIGHT-BACK: JAMES TAVERNIER (RANGERS) Honourable mentions: Aaron McGowan (Hamilton Academical), Stephen O'Donnell (Kilmarnock) No, I don't love this pick either. After all, Tav hasn't been anywhere near as good as he was in the last two campaigns (both of which ended up with him in my Team Of The Year as well).But my rules are that players are considered only if they play half of their club's league games, so that means no Frimpong. And even an under-par Tavernier was still better than the alternatives. Speaking of which, McGowan's tenacity made him a favourite at Hamilton, and he has now joined Killie as a replacement for O'Donnell after the Scotland cap chose to leave for pastures new. LEFT-BACK: BORNA BARISIC (RANGERS) Honourable mentions: Jake Carroll (Motherwell), Aaron Hickey (Heart of Midlothian) In contrast to the other flank, this was an easy pick. After a mediocre first season at Ibrox Barisic lifted his game considerably, offering an attacking threat comparable with that of Tavernier on the other side and proving far more solid defensively. It's a question of when, not if, he moves on to a bigger league. Carroll was the obvious second choice after a good campaign at Fir Park, but otherwise left-back was not a position of strength in the Premiership this season; I've plumped for Hickey as the third name mentioned because at his best he is such a talent, but he still has a lot to learn and had his share of poor games. CENTRE-BACKS: KRISTOFFER AJER (CELTIC), JON GUTHRIE (LIVINGSTON) Honourable mentions: Christophe Jullien (Celtic), Stuart Findlay (Kilmarnock), Declan Gallagher (Motherwell), Andrew Considine (Aberdeen) Ajer continues to develop into a terrific ball-playing centre-back and this may be the summer that he moves down south for big money. Every time I saw Livingston Guthrie was terrific, to the point that they didn't miss Craig Halkett or Declan Gallagher at all. He's a proper body-on-the-line defender, and chipped in with five goals too. After a slow start, Jullien was great as long as he wasn't playing against Lyndon Dykes. Findlay had another good season in the Kilmarnock backline, Gallagher continued his Livi form at Motherwell. And Considine, who has just turned 33, might well have had the best season of his career. He played more games at centre-back than left-back (according to transfermarkt, anyway), which is why he is in with this bunch. The rest of the lineup will be up in a few days. 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
  13. I'm not sure exactly what folk expect Robbo to accomplish. His first season back was a write-off because he inherited an absolute clusterf*** of a club and its remarkable that we came so close to a playoff spot. Last season we finished third, behind two teams who had enormous budgets in comparison to us. And this season we finished second, behind one team with an enormous budget (United) and ahead of another (Dundee). He's also managed to turn Chalmers, Donaldson, McCart, Rooney and White (and possibly Walsh and Trafford) into Premiership players. Ig you'd said that when these guys signed for us you'd have been laughed out of town. He's doing all right, I think. Certainly I think that, were he to leave, we'd be far more likely to end up with someone inferior than someone superior.
  14. Our starting XI as it stands is probably Ridgers, McKay, Toshney, McHattie, Harper, Vincent, Welsh, Storey, Keatings, Doran, Todorov. Obviously there's plenty of room for improvement there, particularly in defence. But I reckon that puts us in far better shape than any other Championship side bar Hearts and Dundee at this point. Scot Gardiner's interview on The Wyness Shuffle was pretty bullish, given the circumstances. He pointed out that getting seasoned pros in their late 20s up to the Highlands was tough and so we're more likely to be targeting youngsters with potential (like Walsh and Rooney two years ago), or players from the English non-leagues like David Carson. But it does sound like we have some irons in the fire...and like our budget hasn't been cut too drastically. Robbo was very positive about Curry when he left and I can understand why. You can't teach that sort of pace. Curry's spell here was dogged by injury and he never got a run of games. Like Storey, he's probably also better as a striker than a winger. I wouldn't be surprised if we went for him again. Frank Ross has basically been injured for 2 years and would be awfully high-risk. If we were to take a gamble on a player coming back from long-term injury, I'd try for Calvin Miller of Celtic. Other youngsters I'd like us to have a punt at signing: Adam Frizzell - little winger released by Kilmarnock who shone on loan in League One Kevin O'Hara - has left Alloa to try and get a full-time contract. Was sensational last season Anton Dowds - has scored a lot of goals for East Fife and is trying to find a full-time team Dario Zanatta - wasn't that great for Partick last season but was amazing for Alloa the year before I expect we'll end up signing lots of players we've never heard of...but that's worked for the club plenty of times in the last decade or so...
  15. As you will all be acutely aware, in a Covid-free universe the Scotland National Team would have marched inexorably through the spring playoffs and into Euro 2020. Israel at home? Pah. We managed to beat Israel at home with Alex McLeish in charge. Israel are so cack that James Forrest scored a hat-trick against them. And then Norway away, probably. Sure, Erling Haaland looks like a bit of a player, but he looks to be the perfect size and shape for Charlie Mulgrew's back pocket. Besides, Norway are under as much pressure as us over not qualifying for tournaments for practically forever. They'd have definitely wilted under the pressure of satisfying an anxious Oslo support, just as Haaland would have wilted once he'd stared into Scott McKenna's cold, dead eyes. And therefore we should be awaiting, around this point, the announcement of the squad - the twenty-three players (including three goalkeepers) that would take us to glory...or at least a fighting shot at being one of the best third-placed sides in a group with England, Croatia and the Czech Republic. So I thought it might be fun to pick my own Scotland squad. Which it was, right up until the point I had to whittle it down to twenty-three from an original list of thirty-five. Then it stopped being fun and started being a case of typing with one hand whilst putting the other on my stressed forehead. I don't buy the idea of two players for every position - at least, certainly not when it comes to attackers. Different types of players are needed for different situations. Some injury cover is definitely required but so too are guys who you'd bring off the bench if you were chasing a goal...or hanging onto a slender lead. But striking the balance is decidedly easier said than done. So here's my pop at it. I suspect many of you will have your own thoughts - constructive ones, I hope! - and I look forward to hearing them. Anyone who has previously retired from international football wasn't getting back in, no matter how much Allan McGregor and Scott Brown begged... GOALKEEPERS: DAVID MARSHALL (WIGAN ATHLETIC), JON MCLAUGHLIN (SUNDERLAND), ROBBY MCCRORIE (RANGERS) When I was a boy, I swear goalkeeper felt like a position of strength for Scotland. Not so now. Marshall is the only stonewall-certain pick here and would start between the sticks. With Allan McGregor out of the picture and Craig Gordon having not played a league game since December 2018 the other two slots are wide open. I initially listed Scott Bain because he would be my number two if he played as well as he did for Celtic in early 2019 but that was a long time ago. In contrast McLaughlin has been a regular in squads and so I imagine he'd be on the plane though being a starter in League One doesn't give him or Portsmouth's Craig MacGillivray much kudos in my eyes. I know very little about MacGillivray, which perhaps unfairly counts against him. The third keeper is never going to play, so is it really worth taking a veteran? Instead I plump for the guy who I think will be Marshall's long-term successor, Robby McCrorie, for the experience. He gets the nod just ahead of QPR's Liam Kelly. That also means - spoiler alert - that Rangers fans won't moan that I haven't picked any of their players... FULL-BACKS: ANDREW ROBERTSON (LIVERPOOL), KIERAN TIERNEY (ARSENAL), GREG TAYLOR (CELTIC), STEPHEN O'DONNELL (KILMARNOCK) How many left-backs can we pick? Captain Robbo is obviously going to start, while I maintain that a fully-fit and committed Tierney would potentially be our best option at right-back and possibly even in central-defence (you laugh, but wait till you see the list of centre-backs). Taking Greg Taylor can be justified if he was considered as Robertson's backup (since I'm playing Tierney somewhere else in the backline). If not, he would surely be the highest-quality player left behind. Callum Paterson, who is named later, would also be an acceptable right-back option so you can probably get away with picking one natural right-back. I suppose it would be helpful to take someone who actually plays the position naturally, so I'll plump for Stephen O'Donnell over Liam Palmer. I'd like to think O'Donnell wouldn't play but he's a known quantity to Clarke and his banter (and baking ability) won't do squad morale any harm. CENTRE-BACKS: SCOTT MCKENNA (ABERDEEN), LIAM COOPER (LEEDS UNITED), CHARLIE MULGREW (BLACKBURN ROVERS) This is where I should probably dig out the Frasier "Dear God!" gif. Would I be confident with any of the available centre-backs playing in a major tournament? Hell, no. What a bunch. I'm certain Clarke would pick Mulgrew because of his experience but I still have nightmares about how Artem Dzyuba benchpressed him in Moscow. McKenna is a cert too, even if he hasn't kicked on enough in the last year or so for my liking; at least his forehead remains a ball magnet. I probably rate Liam Cooper too highly but I'd rather have him facing Harry Kane than Declan Gallagher and Stuart Findlay, good as they have been in the Premiership this season. If I'm gambling on Tierney as a central defender (please don't @ me) then I reckon I can leave Gallagher, Findlay and Grant Hanley behind, so I can pick more midfielders and forwards. It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off. CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: JOHN MCGINN (ASTON VILLA), CALLUM MCGREGOR (CELTIC), KENNY MCLEAN (NORWICH CITY), JOHN FLECK (SHEFFIELD UNITED), SCOTT MCTOMINAY (MANCHESTER UNITED) From a position where we have no quality to one where we have it in spades. Clarke will probably start with a central midfield trio, and if they're fit I'd guess McTominay, McGregor and McGinn would be those three picks. That would also give a decent balance of qualities in and out of possession. McLean has looked decent as part of a deep double pivot and could play there at times when parking the bus is required. Fleck would be a perfectly decent backup for both McGregor and McGinn. The romantic in me wants Billy Gilmour as a bit of an X-factor, but I just couldn't find space for him. I couldn't see a situation where he or Ryan Jack would start or likely come off the bench, so they stay at home. ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS/WIDE PLAYERS: RYAN CHRISTIE (CELTIC), JAMES FORREST (CELTIC), RYAN FRASER (BOURNEMOUTH), CALLUM PATERSON (CARDIFF CITY), STUART ARMSTRONG (SOUTHAMPTON) I've already pencilled in Paterson because of his versatility - he could do a job at right-back, as an attacking midfielder and up front. Two of Christie, Forrest and Fraser should be in the starting XI. I very nearly left Stuart Armstrong out but I just love his hair too much. That, and his box-to-box engine offers something a bit different. But mostly it's because of the hair. STRIKERS: OLI MCBURNIE (SHEFFIELD UNITED), LEIGH GRIFFITHS (CELTIC), LAWRENCE SHANKLAND (DUNDEE UNITED) And that leaves me with space for all of three centre-forwards. Griffiths has to be one going by his apparent return to form. I think McBurnie has to be the other as he is best placed to play as a target man. And I have to have Shankland because he's the bloke coming on when we're 1-0 down with ten minutes left. I'm not confident the declining Steven Naismith offers enough to make the cut. Oli Burke misses out too. So that's the twenty-three then. The players I considered but who didn't pick were Liam Kelly, Craig MacGillivray, Liam Palmer, Stuart Findlay, Declan Gallagher, Grant Hanley, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Jack, Mikey Johnston, Johnny Russell, Oli Burke and Steven Naismith There's bound to be someone I've forgotten, isn't there? Anyway, it's all academical because, by the time Euro 2021 comes around, a lot will have changed. Billy Gilmour will have become the British Xavi, Leigh Griffiths will be back to his 2017 level and finally we'll have a competent central defender. Well, maybe not the last one... 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