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Everything posted by hislopsoffsideagain

  1. I did kinda already look at the Championship sides a month ago. What's changed? Not a lot. Hearts should stroll this. Even if their entire starting XI were ruled out with Covid the next eleven players up would still be stronger than everyone else. There has been a worrying hint of the same trait that dogged Robbie Neilson's Dundee United team last season - doing just enough to win and not a lot else, rather than blowing away opponents - but if that's the most negative thing I can come up with then you can tell they must be good. Craig Gordon at the back, Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett and Michael Smith in the defence, Peter Haring and Jamie Walker in the midfield, Liam Boyce up front; no-one else should even be in the same postcode by May. Simply going by budget, Dundee should be the best of the rest. Too often last season they looked limited by the tactics (or lack of) used by rookie manager James McPake. Either he has to improve, or new signings like marquee man Charlie Adam and the 150,000 (give or take a few) forwards they've brought in need to overcome his deficiencies. I got slaughtered on Twitter for claiming that the club had no obvious recruitment plan, but the fact remains that a team intent on playing a back three has only three centre-backs on the books, and whilst Adam, Graham Dorrans and Paul McGowan will make pretty passing patterns when they have the ball, who is going to do the running? As for the rest, I think it's anyone's guess. Inverness Caledonian Thistle were second when play stopped in March but they've lost lots of first choice players and now have a completely different back four from the one that they could deploy as recently as December. Players like Robbie Deas and Wallace Duffy are the sort of talented youngster and reclamation projects respectively that have done well under John Robertson in recent years, but for a team whose defence was a strength in recent years they don't half look vulnerable there now. At the other end it's not clear who will get the goals, or even who will start up top: Nikolay Todorov as the replacement for fellow target-man Jordan White, or pacey Miles Storey in a complete change of style? They'll hope on loan Rangers winger Kai Kennedy can be a wild card. This team could finish top three again, but there could also be a 'Peter Houston at Falkirk' sort of collapse. If ICT are weakened, so you could argue that most of the other full-time clubs are in the same situation. Dunfermline Athletic's new German investors haven't found them any players from the continent yet, but their finance is probably why things look a lot better than when they butchered the playing staff in May. Kevin Nisbet will be irreplaceable but Stevie Crawford has done his best to plug the gap with Ross County's Declan McManus and Kevin O'Hara who was super for Alloa last year. Tying up winger Dom Thomas on a permanent deal was a great move too. All in all, they've probably managed to come up with a squad close to the level of last year's, which is no mean feat in the circumstances. Ayr United's strategy has been to try and amass as much talent in their starting eleven at the possible expense of depth, So whilst newbies such as Patrick Reading and Jack Baird in defence, Joe Chalmers and Michael Miller in midfield, Tom Walsh and Dario Zanatta out wide and Bruce Anderson up front look like terrific signings there isn't a huge amount on the bench especially now Craig Moore is out long term. If everyone else stays fit I think they could do really well; if the injury bug bites they could be in a hell of a lot of trouble. Greenock Morton are very bullish about manager David Hopkin's ability to build a team, and they will need him to live up to that billing. They lost their most dangerous creator, Nicky Cadden, and too many players - Aiden Nesbitt, Robbie Muirhead, Craig McGuffie and Gary Oliver spring to mind - have yet to live up to their potential. This could however be the perfect place for loanee Josh McPake to kick on and watch out for left-back Lewis Strapp developing into one of this division's best players this season. If I was to pick a dark horse though it would be Raith Rovers. Newly promoted sides tend to have few problems making the step up and it's not long since Livingston managed back-to-back promotions. The additions that John McGlynn has made have been astute and focussed at the side's weaknesses. Manny Duku already looks impressive up front and if Lewis Vaughan can stay fit they should be really dangerous up top. Regan Hendry should establish himself as one of this level's pre-eminent midfield players and having the experienced Jamie MacDonald between the sticks will do them no harm too. I certainly don't see them in a relegation battle. Queen of the South, in contrast...their early League Cup results were far better than I anticipated but the fact remains that but a handful of players remain from last season, Stephen Dobbie will be 38 in December and they really will rely on Wullie Gibson, who is 36 and hasn't played at this level for five years, to contribute. On the positive side Joe McKee deserves one more crack at full-time footie and Aidan Fitzpatrick is an exciting loan signing from Norwich. But QOS were on the slide back in March and will need yet more Dobbie miracles to avoid a dogfight at the bottom. I've left the part-timers to last for good reason, and that's not because I think they'll be bottom. Arbroath in particular are an intriguing prospect. Dick Campbell has kept together his solid backbone and once more augmented it with loan players - what on earth is Miko Virtanen doing playing at this level for another season? If one of their strikers can score regularly - probably either Luke Donnelly or Michael Ruth - then they could spring many a surprise. As for Alloa Athletic, I'm tired of getting slagged off by @AlloaStats at the end of every season for having predicted they'll go down. The news that Iain Flannigan had retired might have tempted me to do so again - hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day - but incredibly they managed to replace him with Stefan Scougall. If Edin Lynch can fill the CB slot vacated by Robbie Deas, they'll do fine. So here's my inevitably wrong predicted table: 1. HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN 2. DUNDEE 3. AYR UNITED 4. RAITH ROVERS 5. DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC 6. INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE 7. ARBROATH 8. GREENOCK MORTON 9. ALLOA ATHLETIC 10. QUEEN OF THE SOUTH Feel free to bookmark this to use against me in May (I'm sure @AlloaStats will...) 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. To be blunt, League One should be a two horse race. That's not being harsh on the other eight clubs; there are plenty of dangerous teams and quality players elsewhere in this division. But Falkirk and Partick Thistle have so much more to throw at this league than any of the others. As Ray McKinnon discovered at the former last season, struggling to make the top two is not an option. David McCracken and Lee Miller have been the Bairns' co-management team since November 2019 and were unbeaten in the league between then and lockdown. That record surely won't last, but given they've been able to sign Blair Alston - Blair Alston! - Aidan Keena, Callumn Morrison and Scott Mercer to play in League One they have every right to fancy their chances. The problem for them is that like last year with Raith Rovers, they aren't the only big fish in this pond. Ian McCall has won at this level before with Ayr United and will feel he can repeat that feat with a Thistle squad that retained impressive strikers Zak Rudden and Brian Graham and quality midfielders Stuart Bannigan, Shea Gordon and Joe Cardle. A defence containing Thomas O'Ware, Darren Brownlie and newbie Ciaran McKenna should be solid enough and the arrival of Salim Kouider-Aissa and Blair Spittal on loan means depth shouldn't be a problem. Airdrie are the other full-time(ish) club which should mean they are the best bet for third spot. Griffin Sabatini (an Argentinian loaned from a Ukrainian club, as you do) and Thomas Robert (son of Laurent) are surely the most curious signings in the SPFL this summer but they have held onto most of the squad that had got into the playoff places last season. Manager Ian Murray has plenty of quality up front with Calum Gallagher, Dale Carrick, Ally Roy, Eoghan Stokes and Kyle Connell so how far they can go will depend on how well they defend. Montrose again did an amazing job of punching above their weight last season - apparently the reason that esteemed boss Stewart Petrie hasn't gone on to better things is that he has a plush day job - and have performed the remarkable feat of not losing a single senior player from last season (other than loanees going back to parent clubs). The return of Blair Lyons to Partick is somewhat offset by the homecoming of Martin Rennie, and this experienced, well-coached and well-drilled bunch will again look to put 'bigger' clubs to shame. Further north, Cove Rangers are not simply aiming to make up the numbers in the third tier after two consecutive promotions. Paul Hartley's side are ambitious, signing Motherwell duo Adam Livingstone and Jamie Semple (on loan) and bringing Leighton McIntosh back to Scotland. Of course, Fraser Fyvie, Mitch Megginson and Rory McAllister are still here too. It would surprise few people if they ended up closer to the top than the bottom. East Fife have finished between fifth and seventh in four straight seasons but it seems like Darren Young's job is getting harder every year. Highly-rated striker Anton Dowds has moved onto full-time football but that may be offset by the loan signing of Livingston's Jack Hamilton. Veteran Danny Swanson should have enough nous to shine in the third tier and joins an already experienced bunch that includes Chris Higgins and Stewart Murdoch at the back and blogger extraordinaire Danny Denholm on the wing. In contrast Clyde clearly aim to push on in their second season back in League One. Bringing back defender Tom Lang and midfielder Ross Cunningham permanently looks like a coup for a team that will always be dangerous as long as David Goodwillie is up front. He scored twenty league goals last season but no-one else managed more than two. Whilst there has been a lack of attacking reinforcements, Lang, Jamie Bain and Matthew Shiels should strengthen the backline. It was a tumultous offseason at Dumbarton, where Jim Duffy had a heart attack in June (he has thankfully recovered) and budget decisions were put off longer than most. That meant the exit of regulars like Joe McKee and Kyle Hutton, but they still have Ross Forbes pulling the strings and he now has Denny Johnstone leading the line in front of him. Getting Sam Wardrop back permanently at right-back was a boost and young Hearts defender Chris Hamilton could do very well on loan. Arguably Peterhead had the trickiest summer of the lot; a club that in the past offered better part-time wages than most found themselves being gazumped somewhat by others; a number of players left for League Two or ambitious Lowland League sides instead. Evergreen centre-back Gary McKenzie and forward Isaac Layne are the names that stand out amongst the new boys, while they have taken a chance on futsal star Derryn Kesson and will need big contributions from young loan players from the Dundee clubs. And finally Forfar Athletic have been super busy in the last few months as Stuart Malcolm looks to put his stamp on a squad he inherited in November. The pick of the twelve new signings are midfielder Mark Hill, ex-St Johnstone skipper Steven Anderson and attacking trio Jordan Allan, Archie Thomas and Scott Shepherd who step up from League Two. Malcolm will hope that he can prove his success in charge of East Kilbride was no fluke. So here's my (inevitably wrong) prediction of how the table will finish: 1. PARTICK THISTLE 2. FALKIRK 3. AIRDRIE 4. COVE RANGERS 5. MONTROSE 6. CLYDE 7. FORFAR ATHLETIC 8. DUMBARTON 9. EAST FIFE 10. PETERHEAD Make sure you take a screenshot so you can remind me of this in 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
  3. It's no secret that the Covid pandemic has hit football clubs hard. With fans unable to attend games, income is down and chairmen are having to be very frugal indeed. Except at Queen's Park. Having decided that they could no longer continue as amateurs, they have decided that, if they're going to have to pay players, then they're going to pay them. So the squad is filled with folk who were playing full-time last season, some of whom - Bob McHugh and Lee Kilday, for example - were regulars in the Championship. Most remarkably they've signed Simon Murray, the former Dundee United and Hibs forward who returns from two years in South Africa. Anything other than the title for the Spiders and manager Ray McKinnon would be a catastrophe. Their closest rivals are most likely to be forever-bridesmaids Edinburgh City, who were promotion challengers in each of the last two seasons and have kept together a squad that includes prolific striker Blair Henderson, fellow attackers Danny Handling and Alex Harris and seasoned defender Conrad Balatoni. Wideman Danny Jardine looks like a good signing from Stirling too. Expect them to be up there but they may yet again lose out to a side with even more megabucks than they do (Cove last year, Peterhead the year before). After that duo, it's hard to say who might be the third-best side in this division; however one would assume that as the side who have dropped down from League One, Stranraer will have aspirations of at least making the promotion playoffs. They stood behind boss Stevie Farrell despite relegation and shouldn't be short of goals with Joao Victoria and veteran Darryl Duffy up top and Andy Stirling providing ammunition. Certainly they should not emulate previous relegated clubs such as Cowdenbeath, Albion Rovers and Brechin by slumping straight to the bottom end of this tier too. Elgin City were third in the table when the action was halted in the Spring, and their manager Gavin Price has concentrated on keeping together as much of that squad as possible. But they lost star striker Shane Sutherland and winger Rabin Omar to Championship sides and have been remarkably quiet on the signings front so far. It will be hard for them to emulate last season's success, even though Conor O'Keefe, Kane Hester and Smart Osadolor provide plenty of quality. Cowdenbeath, who were fourth when play stopped, have also chosen to mostly stick rather than twist, but will miss the departed Jordan Allan and Archie Thomas. Like any Gary Bollan side they will be tough to break down - not least with the legendary Craig Mango Barr in the backline - but goals may prove tough to come by unless loan striker Olly Hamilton proves an astute signing. Amongst those with genuine promotion playoff aspirations are Stirling Albion, who stood by manager Kevin Rutkiewicz after a poor start to last season and whose 2020 form was pretty decent. They've backed their boss well with striker Andy Ryan joining from Dunfermline and midfielder Jack Leitch from Peterhead. Certainly the club will be expecting an improvement on last season's sixth spot. Stenhousemuir, who had a rough first half of 2019/20 but seemed to have finally turned the corner just before lockdown, look intriguing. Manager Davie Irons has been well backed and has essentially revamped the squad since his arrival early last season. Defender Creag Little and midfielder Callum Tapping look the pick of the bunch that have pitched up this summer, joining a squad that contains former Falkirk and Swansea City prospects Ryan Blair and Botti Biabi and seasoned strikers Mark McGuigan and Greig Spence. It seems like every season Annan Athletic lose most of their best players to other clubs, yet Peter Murphy still finds a way of putting out a competitive team. Can he do the same this year? Getting forward Aidan Smith back after a year away at Peterhead will give them a boost, while Jack Purdue and Aaron Splaine could improve their midfield. But it could be tough to keep those standards up. There was also considerable turnover at Albion Rovers, including in the dugout where Brian Reid has replaced Kevin Harper. Reid has a young squad aside from Paul Cairney, who has come out of retirement, and relying on youths such as Finn Ecrepont and Scott Glover at the back feels like a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Midfielder Callum Wilson was highly-rated a few years ago at Partick and has the chance to jumpstart his career. And lastly, Brechin City got to avoid an inevitable relegation playoff after the last campaign ended early. Can they avoid such a fate this time around? Two heavy League Cup beatings - albeit to top flight opponents - suggest that manager Mark Wilson still has his work cut out, even though new signings such as Rory Currie, Michael Paton and Connor Coupe should do very well at this level. At the time of writing Wilson has won 3 out of 26 matches in charge of Brechin and unless something changes there those iconic hedges may drop out of the SPFL. So my (inevitably wrong) prediction for how the season will finish: 1. QUEEN'S PARK 2. EDINBURGH CITY 3. STENHOUSEMUIR 4. STRANRAER 5. STIRLING ALBION 6. ELGIN CITY 7. COWDENBEATH 8. ALBION ROVERS 9. ANNAN ATHLETIC 10. BRECHIN CITY Feel free to bookmark this to point out my mistakes 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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!!!"
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. 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!!!)
  15. 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
  16. 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.
  17. 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...
  18. 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
  19. The phrase 'club statement' now fills one with almost as much dread as 'root canal surgery', or 'Andy Halliday at left-back'. There have been exceptions - Stenhousemuir and Kelty Hearts leading the way - but most cases have involved people who think they're cleverer than they are and who have too much time on their hands using the word 'dignity' whilst throwing it away spectacularly in a multi-paragraphed ranting word salad. It would be nice to think that the result of today's vote on having an independent inquiry might bring a break from these lunatic pronouncements. The number of clubs in favour of such an inquiry - thirteen - was higher than I expected but not high enough even to hint at a general lack of confidence in the league, let alone actually triumph. Whether it does so or not now depends on whether those who still have an axe to grind find other avenues of attack. A previous suggestion by Rangers of going to CAS sounds more like desperation from a slightly unhinged supporter on an internet forum than a real possibility. However Hearts may well feel the cost of relegation is high enough to justify risking a legal challenge. I've long wondered whether this might throw a spanner in the works not necessarily because the Jambos would win but by holding up the start of the 2020/21 season long enough that the other side has to back down. One shudders at the thought of what animosity would develop should this scenario occur. Whichever side of the divide you come down on - and, depressingly, it has been treated by too many as a case of being either pro-Rangers or anti-Rangers when there is so, so much more at stake here - there is a compelling argument here that letting things get so out of control is evidence that there is a total failure of leadership at the SPFL. A competent organization would have largely ignored the Rangers dossier and kept quiet until, as was always inevitable, they won the vote on an independent inquiry. Instead MacLennan, Neil Doncaster and other members of the board have come out all guns blazing, throwing allegations back at their accusers and keeping the pot boiling over instead of turning the heat off. They may feel that they are entitled to do so given the personal nature of some of the attacks but they've been impugned before and still managed to take it on the chin, After all, Doncaster earns his £350,000 salary as Chief Executive not because of outstanding business acumen but because he has proven willing, for that money, to be the face of the organization and therefore the target and lightning rod for criticism. He has had plenty of that over the years without resorting to an almost permanent slot on BBC Radio Scotland to defend himself; why change that now? The thing is, there's so much childish mud-slinging going around that it is becoming increasingly easy to forget the trigger for this whole palava - the farce over Dundee's vote on bringing the lower leagues to an end. I'm quite prepared to believe that one man's 'bullying' could be another's 'robust conversations', given emotions will have been running high. I'm also prepared to accept that getting 42 different clubs who are almost all entirely fixated only on their own short-term self-interests - I think putting that in bold was justified - to agree on something may well require a bit of harassing and harrying with strong-worded reminders about potential ramifications and with artificial deadlines. But whilst Doncaster and co. would no doubt argue that they have done nothing illegal that is not the same as doing nothing wrong. There was publishing the result of the April vote before everyone had voted. There was allowing (and effectively encouraging) Dundee to change their vote. There was openly offering the reconstruction carrot and then putting so many cooks into the working group that there was no way in hell the broth would be edible, all the while being quite aware that Premiership clubs would torpedo any plan regardless. But Doncaster survives because he is still, to enough clubs, a useful idiot. At any given time the status quo suits a large enough number that reform and progress is impossible. This has been the case for several years and there is no reason to expect this will change, especially because of the arcane decision-making system - what the league calls 'democracy' - where potentially three clubs in one division can shoot down a motion supported by the other thirty-nine. Whether reconstruction would have actually been a positive move in the short-term or the long-term is still open to debate - not least because it feels like it hasn't properly been debated. If it is true that this has just been a distraction from the much, much bigger problem - the fact that clubs can't play football currently, don't know when they will be able to play or under what conditions, and might go bust before that day comes - then the SPFL now should have no excuses for being fully focussed. But there will be considerable battles ahead here. There will be questions of closed-doors matches, player safety, supporter access and safety and probably plenty more. There will be a myriad of opinions, and a myriad of different needs. And ultimately the league will need to get the vast majority of the clubs to agree on a plan to tackle this enormous crisis. Good luck with that, lads. Still, it could be worse. Imagine if John Nelms was on the board: he'd have probably given away the TV rights for magic beans. 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
  20. Obviously it's a huge shame to let go a club captain and stalwart. In an ideal world we would hang onto him as a squad player, dressing room presence and possibly a future coach. But... - even before Covid we were not exactly rolling in it. It's hard to believe that our club captain wasn't one of our higher earners. If this helps us retain Doran and/or Walsh I would say it is worth it - We have a young left-back in Cameron Harper who the club seem to think highly of, and who will be much cheaper - Age is a bigger issue than it ever was in football. Given the pace of the modern game and fitness requirements too, it's not exactly common for players to keep going into their mid-to-late thirties even at this level. The only outfield players at full-time Championship clubs who are older than Tremarco: Mark Kerr, Christophe Berra, Brian McLean, John Sutton, Darian MacKinnon and the mighty Stephen Dobbie. Only MacKinnon plays a role that involves a lot of running up and down the pitch, and he's regressed rapidly in the last year or so. Tremarco has still put in great shifts this season but he's already a bit slower than at his peak I do wish the club could have kept this under wraps until they were ready to announce it, rather than it getting to the press first. Carl certainly deserves better.
  21. Part one of this, which counts down from 25 to 11, can be found here. As ever, the top ten is dominated by whichever club has drastically underachieved that season. No prizes for guessing which side occupies more spots than any other, though not the top one. And for the first time in four seasons, it isn't a Rangers player who 'leads' these standings. Onward... 10. SIMEON JACKSON (KILMARNOCK) The Canadian international hardly impressed at St. Mirren last season, but Kilmarnock were so desperate for strikers - and for numbers, given how threadbare their squad was - that they took a chance on the 32 year old on a short-term deal in October. Angelo Alessio claimed he was very similar to Eamonn Brophy, and he is...apart from the goals, and the pace, and the work-rate. One start and three sub appearances later he was off to Stevenage. 9. JOEL CASTRO PEREIRA (HEARTS) The funny thing is that a few years ago Joel Pereira was highly enough thought of that he was part of the Portugal squad at the 2016 Olympics and started a Premier League game for Manchester United in 2017. But that was then and this is now. And now the Swiss-born goalie has clearly not fulfilled his potential. I accept that there is a need these days for a keeper being able to use his feet, but not at the expense of using his hands. Pereira seemed allergic to making his saves; his poor positioning was found out frequently and when he did get his gloves to the ball it was only to parry it out directly in front of him, often straight to the nearest opponent. He was so rotten that he's made Zdenek Zlamal - Zdenek Zlamal! - look like a reliable alternative. 8. OAN DJORKAEFF (ST. MIRREN) Expectations were probably too high because of his famous father Youri, but the young midfielder was considered good enough to play all St. Mirren's League Cup group games. The problem is that these included a loss to Dunfermline and draws with East Kilbride and Albion Rovers, proving to Jim Goodwin that he needed to upgrade his team fast. Djorkaeff managed just five minutes of first team football after the first week of the league season, and spent so much time as an unused substitute - sixteen games - that he there is probably a Djorkaeff-shaped dent in the St. Mirren bench. He spent January training with Queen of the South but didn't win a contract...but apparently didn't leave Paisley either. At least we think he didn't, though he hasn't been seen since so it's hard to know. 7. LOIC DAMOUR (HEARTS) Craig Levein had wanted Loic Damour last January, and clearly wanted him badly given that the Frenchman was awarded a four year contract at Tynecastle. It's only two seasons since he was a useful part of the Cardiff team that got promoted to the Premier League but Jambos haven't seen any of that. Instead they've had to view a midfielder who has been ponderous in and out of possession and who has shown a remarkable talent only for giving the ball away. Hearts actually tried to move him on in January but he's still there with no signs that Daniel Stendel can redeem him. 6. JOSH VELA (HIBERNIAN) Vela's signing certainly looked good on paper. The versatile midfielder had been a constant for Bolton over several years in the Championship before coming north and Paul Heckingbottom had plans to use his energy in a box-to-box role. Unfortunately, said energy seemed to have been left behind in Lancashire. Heckingbottom's last match - a thumping by Celtic in the League Cup semi - was also Vela's, with his particularly turgid display summing up his time at Easter Road. He never played a game under Jack Ross and moved to Shrewsbury in January. 5. MORITZ BAUER (CELTIC) Bauer's deadline day signing on loan from Stoke was clearly aimed at improving Celtic's depth at right-back. One suspects there was a decent fee involved as part of it. But the Austrian has rarely been seen on the park. Part of that is because Celtic have done fine at the position with Jeremie Frimpong's rapid emergence and formation tinkering that has seen both Kristoffer Ajer and James Forrest on that side of the pitch, and part of that is because Bauer hasn't really been great when he has been in action. He's been a dud, and probably an expensive one, but it hasn't exactly impacted negatively on Celtic's season. 4. ANDY KING (RANGERS) Like Bauer, King's lack of impact hasn't really damaged Rangers in any way other than in the financial sense; the club will have paid a significant chunk of the Welshman's wages for the four months or so he was at Ibrox. The move didn't even make sense at the time given Steven Gerrard already had plenty of options in midfield. Five substitute appearances and a total of 70 minutes on the pitch later, he returned south. If (as I'm sure I saw somewhere, unless I dreamt it) he cost about £20,000/week, those twenty weeks he was in Scotland were very, very expensive. 3. GLENN WHELAN (HEARTS) There's a fine line between being 'experienced' and being 'past it'. Hearts were hoping that 35 year old Glenn Whelan was the former but he rather looked like the latter. Not that he would acknowledge it; the Irishman would later claim that "my form was good for the last few months" of Craig Levein's tenure. That's somewhat at odds with what everyone else thought. He complained that people said "that I didn't fancy it, that I was laying down the tools". That'll be because that's exactly what it looked like. Daniel Stendel, on being asked about the veteran's leadership qualities, responded with "a real leader in the centre of the pitch? Sorry, maybe I missed it." Ouch. The funny thing is he was still getting picked for Ireland during his time at Tynecastle and he's fitted in nicely at Fleetwood Town since signing for them in January. So chances are he was afflicted by the same malaise as everyone else at Hearts, rather than a cause of it. 2. CASPER SLOTH (MOTHERWELL) One unkind Twitter user suggested Sloth looked happier in the departure lounge of Edinburgh Airport, awaiting his flight to Copenhagen, than he did at any point of his spell at Fir Park. The Danish international midfielder's arrival on a two year deal looked like a coup for Motherwell, a player whose career had stalled in the last couple of seasons and who could really shine in the SPFL. Stephen Robinson championed "not only his ability on the park, but his desire (and) his hunger to be here". We'll have to take his word for it, as Sloth made just a single League Cup appearance. When he was mutually consented in January, Robinson was at least generous enough to credit him with "pushing on younger players in his position to excel". If you say so, Stephen... 1. MADIS VIHMANN (ST. JOHNSTONE) St. Johnstone's defence was hoaching in the first half of the season. So what does that say about a central defender who, even when they were dreadful and desperate, Tommy Wright could not bring himself to play? Lanky Estonian international Vihmann signed a season-long loan deal in July, but his debut saw the Perth Saints embarrassed by Forfar and his next appearance was a 7-0 humiliation at Celtic Park. Vihmann made just three more appearances. He left McDiarmid Park in January. We'll never see his like again - literally, as he announced his retirement "for personal reasons" just a few days later, at the age of just 24. Hopefully there'll be another edition of this next year...though that would require us having some football to actually watch first. Fingers crossed... 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
  22. This is the eighth season we've done this. Whilst football has come to a standstill I don't believe it entitles these players (or the clubs that signed them) a stay of execution. The halt to matches has probably spared some - particularly January arrivals) - from appearing on this list simply because there wasn't enough evidence of them being crap. But that didn't mean we were short of folk to choose from... As a reminder, here are the previous seven 'winners': 2012/13 - Rory Boulding (Kilmarnock) 2013/14 - Stephane Bahoken (St. Mirren) 2014/15 - Jim Fenlon (Ross County) 2015/16 - Rodney Sneijder (Dundee United) 2016/17 - Joey Barton (Rangers) 2017/18 - Eduardo Herrera (Rangers) 2018/19 - Umar Sadiq (Rangers) Let's start things off with a countdown from 25 to 11... 25. JAMES WILSON (ABERDEEN) The first player to appear on this list two years in a row, on the rather dubious grounds that he was only a rubbish loan signing last season for the Dons and was then inexplicably signed permanently last summer. Hey, I don't make the rules...well, actually, I do. Wilson, who will have been on a decent contract, failed to score in sixteen appearances this season and left in January for Salford City, where he scored twice on his debut - one more goal than he managed in the whole of 2019. 24. KOREDE ADEDOYIN (HAMILTON ACCIES) The traditional even-the-club's-own-fans-didn't-know-he-was-playing-for-them player. Signed on loan from Everton, the teenage forward played ninety minutes for Accies' Colts in the Challenge Cup, which was ninety more minutes than he played for the first team. When he returned south in January, Hamilton's website stated it was due to "tough competition for places", which given the quality of the club's attacking options, means he really can't have been very good. 23. GLENN MIDDLETON (HIBERNIAN) This looked like such a good move on paper; exciting young winger Middleton had looked the part in a few cameos at Rangers and would get plenty of playing time in an ascending Hibs side. Except Hibs were heading in the wrong direction and Middleton was dragged along with them. After Paul Heckingbottom's dismissal he never played again, with Jack Ross seemingly writing him off instantly. Half a season of a talented youngster's development wasted. 22. EWAN HENDERSON (ROSS COUNTY) Half a season of a talented youngster's development wasted, part deux. Why Celtic and Ross County thought stylish midfielder Henderson would be a good fit in County's somewhat agricultural midfield I have no idea. He made only six starts and was recalled to Glasgow in January. Worse, he had made a substitute appearance for Celtic in a Champions League qualifier - in the ninetieth minute - which meant Celtic couldn't loan him out to someone else for the second half of the season (not that, in hindsight, that would have meant much action). 21. RYAN SCHOFIELD (LIVINGSTON) When Matija Sarkic was unexpectedly recalled by his parent club during the winter break, Livi were suddenly left without a competent keeper (no, Ross Stewart doesn't count). By the end of the window they'd ended up with both Schofield and Robby McCrorie, with McCrorie as first choice. Schofield signed first, but a combination of a (short-term) injury in his first game and the unexpected availability of Rangers prospect McCrorie on loan led Gary Holt back into the market and left the Huddersfield keeper somewhat surplus to requirements. Schofield did get to play in the Scottish Cup (as McCrorie was cuptied), but was partly culpable for the only goal in a defeat at Inverness. 20. HARVEY ST. CLAIR (KILMARNOCK) You'd think an ex-Chelsea youth, Scottish under-21 forward who started matches for parent club Venezia in Serie B last year would make more than three appearances for Kilmarnock, wouldn't you? Your guess is as good as mine as to what's gone wrong here. There have been no reports of injuries and he has occasionally been an unused sub but the youngster, who was apparently wanted by Rangers last summer, has offered practically nothing to Killie's season. 19. CECE PEPE (LIVINGSTON) "Cece is an out and out defender and likes to defend, good on the ball, physical and has a bit of pace." Gary Holt was very bullish about the Frenchman on his arrival last June. But he made only two sub appearances in the league before picking up a calf injury in October that has hobbled him since. Livi are not exactly short of strength or depth in central defence now, especially after picking up Efe Ambrose, and it remains to be seen whether Pepe will see out the second season of his two year contract. 18. WALLACE DUFFY (ST. JOHNSTONE) Unlike many of the players on this list, Duffy has seen plenty of action; he has started 14 games for St. Johnstone. However, after ten league starts at right-back or centre-back in which Saints conceded 26 goals, his demotion to the bench at the start of December coincided with them racing up the table. Time will tell if Duffy, who has just turned 21, still has room for improvement or whether he just isn't up to Premiership standard. 17. BRANDON BARKER (RANGERS) With Jordan Jones, Jake Hastie and Sheyi Ojo all arriving last summer (and Ryan Kent soon to return) its not clear why Steven Gerrard wanted yet another wide player, or why he wanted Barker who had hardly set the heather alight in a year at Easter Road in the 2017/18 season. Curiously, two of his four starts for Rangers have been against Porto in the Europa League; however he has mainly been a substitute. The decision to give him a three year deal looks weirder and weirder as time goes on. 16. DONIS AVDIJAJ (HEARTS) There was plenty of hype about the impending arrival of the Kosovan international in January, but his previous issues at other clubs and his decision to wear the '99' shirt (players with daft numbers like that are always for the watching) were red flags. When he joined, the winger declared "there is no country, no city in the world where I don't score. I score everywhere." At Tynecastle, he could barely even get a game. 15. SIMON POWER (ROSS COUNTY) The Irish wideman joined Kings Lynn Town in England's sixth tier in January; this is apparently more his level than the Scottish Premiership. Power's loan from Norwich to Dingwall looked like a bit of coup given he played in the 2019 Toulon Tournament and had apparently impressed Lyon and Borussia Dortmund. He certainly didn't impress County fans, given he was trusted with just seven minutes of league action in his spell in the Highlands. 14. OSMAN SOW (KILMARNOCK) Remember when Sow was so awesome for Hearts that they sold him for a million quid? That feels like long ago. The Swedish striker has struggled for fitness ever since he returned to Scotland with Dundee United and spent the first half of this campaign on loan at goal-lite Killie. Sow started only two matches and failed to score, even missing a penalty against Ross County. He never looked on the pace at all there, but actually broke back into the United lineup on his return to Tannadice...only to rupture his achilles tendon at the start of February. 13. IBRAHIM SAVANE (LIVINGSTON) Two year deal. Two sub appearances. Thirty-one minutes of first team action. Away after three months. The Guinean left-back apparently struggled dreadfully with homesickness, though Livi rather unkindly noted on his departure that he "really struggled to adapt to Scottish football". 12. ADRIAN BECK (HAMILTON ACCIES) Powerful German midfielder Beck joined Hamilton on loan from a Belgium second division team with Brian Rice claiming "he's very sharp on the ball. I think he will settle well in Scotland." Apparently not, given Beck started only two games and had his deal cut short in January. He's now playing in the German regional leagues. Gloriously, Beck has recently whinged to the German press about Scottish football being rubbish, involving only "high and wide balls" which were "not my idea of football". He also claimed Rice didn't pick him because he wasn't British. Aye, sure... 11. JORDAN JONES (RANGERS) Jones was terrific at Kilmarnock but it always looked likely that Rangers would be too much of a step up for him. And so it has proved. Whilst he has made the odd start and a few sub appearances, Jones' first season at Rangers looks likely to be remembered only for getting himself stupidly sent off for hacking Moritz Bauer against Celtic in a match that was already lost, and injuring himself for the next three months in the process. It's hard to see him having a long-term future at Ibrox. The top ten will be with you soon enough... 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
  23. Thoughts: - the SPFL's priority seems to be to get the 2020/21 season starting as close to normal time as possible. This is because of the new Sky TV deal; presumably delaying the implementation of that would cost them more money than paying back Sky/BT for the remaining 2019/20 matches not going ahead. - there is no plan that is totally fair here - as stated above there are plenty of faults with each plan. Therefore the mostly likely outcome is the one that appeases the most clubs - relegated clubs - particularly Hearts - are likely to call in the lawyers. Whether they have a case or not, a legal challenge could hold up things for a long time, especially with a backlog in court cases as a result of the current situation. Not being able to start the league at all as a result of this would be a nightmare - therefore it would seem that the best way to prevent this would be to have promotion but not relegation, therefore expanding the top flight - the nugget about reconstruction in the SPFL statement suggests they know that reconstruction (at least for 2020/21) will be required to ultimately keep clubs sweet and avoid legal challenges - I suspect Rangers are bleating mainly to keep their fans happy (they have someone on the SPFL board that put together this plan, after all!) and may try and bargain for Colt teams in exchange for agreeing to this Or, you know, the SPFL could just be making it up as they go along. They do have a bit of a record of doing that...
  24. It's been, what, two weeks without football? The withdrawal is already so bad that I gave in to the Football Manager 2020 free trial; after 12 years on the wagon I'm now obsessing about how to get Weymouth out of the National League South. Either I pay full whack for the game or I face being locked in my childhood bedroom for a week being fed nothing but pea soup. Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose '4-2-4 wing play custom route one'. But my tremors and nightsweats are nothing compared to those of the people who actually run football clubs. Forget the crazy schemes like secluding Premier League squads in the midlands for a month to play matches behind closed doors in order to keep the nation from cracking each other's heads open to feast on the goo inside. It'll be fecking months before we're even allowed jumpers for goalposts again. That's if, in the post-covid 19 world, there's actually any football to go back to. Given that giants such as Barcelona and Juventus are having to agree wage cuts/deferrals with players, what hope is there for Scottish clubs? Will they all have gone bust by the time we return to a semblance of normality? The challenges they face are pretty similar: paying wages (and other outgoings like council tax) whilst having no income. The sums involved are of course a bit more modest than those regarding Leo Messi and co. At one extreme end of the SPFL scale there is Celtic, whose staff costs for 2018/19 were £56.4m. Only Rangers and Aberdeen also have staff costs above £10m/year. Hearts and Hibs are not far off that, while most of the other Premiership clubs are under £5m/year. The smallest full-time sides, in the Championship and at the top of League One, are at closer to £1m or even less. At the other end are the part-timers. Winger, teacher and blogger Danny Denholm, now plying his trade at East Fife, wrote in the December 2018 edition of Nutmeg Magazine that the average League One wage was between £100 and £300/week. There are some players *cough* Rory McAllister *cough* who will be on far more than that. There's also the awkward situation with player contracts, many of which will expire in May or June at a point that is still some way away from a return to football. It's likely that FIFA and/or UEFA will agree a blanket move to extend contracts a few months. If this doesn't happen there will be a few clubs disadvantaged, as some players will surely take the chance to jump ship and join another club as per usual. Those however will be dwarfed by the number of players who are released to save money and who will find it very difficult to find another team until the footie actually starts again. In one sense the smaller clubs might be better protected. The government's furlough scheme, which clubs should be eligible for, will pay 80% of wages up to a total of £2500/month. That should cover any player earning £3,100/month or less - which extrapolates to about £700/week, a figure that should be cover most players from the Championship (those not based in the City Of Discovery, anyway) down. Maybe that's how Caley Thistle - not exactly awash with cash - can pledge to pay staff who earn under £24,000/year - essentially those who would be covered by the government scheme - in full with higher paid staff taking a 20% cut, and Partick Thistle can guarantee all staff wages up till the end of May. Yet there's still Raith Rovers, one of League One's full-time clubs, starting a fundraising drive, while Peterhead, Montrose, Dumbarton and Elgin City are amongst the part-time teams whose players are taking wage cuts. The bottom line is that these clubs have very little cash in terms of cash reserves in the bank and are heavily dependent on gate money - even more so at this time of the season when season ticket cash has long been spent. At the other end of the scale are Hearts, whose players have been asked to take a 50% pay cut or terminate their contracts. Defender Clevid Dikamona, who took the chance to return to his family in France but holds out hope of returning next season, is so far the only player to take the latter option. I may be being harsh but I feel like a business with an annual turnover of £15m should be more resilient. Then again, the Jambos were supposedly paying some players a crazy £6,000/week. Most Premiership players will be on deals which, while not as daft as that, are more expensive than that covered by the government and therefore only a smaller percentage will be covered. So whilst no other top flight sides have yet commented publicly on wage cuts, it would be a surprise if it didn't happen sooner or later, possibly in agreement with PFA Scotland. After all, Aberdeen have admitted they'll lose £1.2m a month as it stands. We're also coming into the period of the year where season tickets for next season normally go on sale. Some clubs are already cracking on as per usual, hoping fans won't mind paying full whack even when it's not clear how many games they'll be watching and when they'll be. You'd think that sales will be markedly lower both for this reason and because plenty of fans have their own money worries right now. So which clubs should we be concerned about? All forty-two have at least cleared the first (admittedly, not very high) hurdle of paying March's wages, though some of the above-mentioned clubs may have implicated cuts as part of this. But we're only a fortnight into this. The situation will be far clearer in a month's time. It is a bit simplistic but not entirely unreasonable to assume clubs who have a rich sugar daddy - the Dundee clubs, Ross County and Hibernian come to mind - have more resilience. And if you have £39million just resting in your account, you'll be fine. By the end of this, Peter Lawwell may be sleeping on a smaller pile of money, mind. It might also be presumptuous to conclude Hearts are in trouble given their swift actions. Perhaps they're just the ones quickest off the mark. Or perhaps I'm being overly generous. There's also the red, white and blue elephant in the room. It's only a few months since Rangers stated that they required £10m to get them through the season. Their Europa League run will certainly have helped there but it seems that hopes of significant outside investment have evaporated. There are still some very wealthy people involved there though who have not been shy of providing interest-free loans that end up as equity further down the line. And there's also a huge fanbase who will surely not hold back when season ticket sales commence. So with a bit of common sense and a combination of prudence and government support, hopefully everyone will come out of this if not unscathed then only slightly wounded. Here's to hoping, anyway... 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
  25. In case you haven't noticed, Covid-19 (let's be a bit pedantic and call it that, since there are plenty of other coronaviruses of varying severity, including causes of the common cold) is coming. At the time of writing there are 27 cases in Scotland, but that number is going to increase impressively. For what it's worth it seems to me (from my day job perspective as a GP) that the powers that be are dealing with things pretty appropriately at the moment. I'm not an expert in virology or epidemiology (or anything, really) but the advice they're giving right now makes sense to me. And the fact that said advice will change in the next little while as the number of infected people increases also makes sense. It does now seems inevitable that some time soon the government will ban large public gatherings. Like, say, football crowds. After all, it's already happening in Ligue 1, La Liga and Primeira Liga. In Italy, where infection rates are higher than anywhere else in Europe, they've gone a step further; all Serie A matches have been postponed till the start of April. It's not just the crowds that are the issue. The Premier League has postponed tonight's Manchester City v Arsenal game because Arsenal players have been exposed to someone with Covid-19 and are self-isolating. This will surely become a common issue and matches will have to be called off either one by one or probably en masse. And if that's what the experts say should happen here, then so be it. Saving lives is rather more important than twenty-two men chasing a ball. If/when that happens, there will be significant knock-on effects for Scottish football. More than anywhere else in Europe, Scottish clubs are dependent on matchday income. Postponing matches means that they won't see that cash till further down the road. Playing them behind closed doors means no cash at all. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire gave this take on how it will play out for English League One and League Two clubs, which is pretty comparable. By this time of year season ticket proceeds have been spent and clubs are dependent on what they can get from walk-up fans and away supporters, as well as food, programme sales etc. Not many have a rainy day fund to get through this sort of situation. It's also possible that clubs will be obliged to refund season ticket holders for games they aren't allowed to attend. One would like to think that most supporters would take that on the chin, but you never know. Having to compensate them in any way would be extremely onerous. It's certainly possible that a number of clubs who are already living hand-to-mouth - I'm mainly thinking of full-time teams in the Championship and League One - will be in a right fix. Will someone go bust? I hope not. But it must be a possibility. The SPFL and SFA have already noted this. As it stands, their intent is to "endeavour to complete the season and fulfil their obligations under their broadcasting agreements". They said that a week ago. It seems wildly optimistic now. If matches are to be postponed, when will they be played? Will they be played at all? What on earth will the SPFL do with the rest of the season? Here are the options that seem to be available. None of them are especially palatable... SQUEEZE IN ALL THE POSTPONED GAMES BY THE END OF THE SEASON Any matches that are called off are fitted in to the remaining available midweek dates. Everything finishes on time and it's all good. The problems with this plan: the last day of the domestic season - the Championship playoff final - is 24 May, with the lower leagues finishing their 'regular season' on 2 May and the Premiership finishing on 17 May. If there is a significant fixture backlog, there aren't many dates available for catchup. And if call-offs start happening before the Premiership split, then that could cause a real headache for schedulers. Chances of it happening: this is of course the ideal solution for everyone, but it seems increasinly unlikely circumstances will allow it. FINISH THE SEASON EARLY Bring forward the end of the season, and declare champions, relegation etc depending on positions at this point. Hearts strongly disapprove of this plan. The problems with this plan: obviously there's an element of unfairness. It's also not clear how you would manage cup finals and playoffs in these circumstances. And clubs would miss out on income from their last few home matches. Chances of it happening: there would be a significant outcry about 'sporting integrity' which would probably derail this. And the financial knock-on would also be a big problem. It is however the simplest solution, if not necessarily the fairest. EXTEND THE SEASON INTO THE SUMMER If matches aren't finished by the end of May, just keep playing into June...and onwards, if necessary. The problems with this plan: for a start, plenty of clubs have players only contracted till the end of May or even a few weeks before that in the case of lower division teams. Broadcasting and sponsorship agreements also expire around that time. There's also Euro 2020 (if it goes ahead as planned) and the need for players to get an appropriate break before the start of next season which would normally be scheduled for mid-July. Chances of it happening: this would probably cause as many problems as it would solve. Perhaps an option if other countries were doing it, but it would require major changes in the calendar for next season. LOTS OF PLAYOFFS The Italians have mooted deciding the title and relegation via playoff matches. It would certainly make for good TV. The problems with this plan: Celtic are never going to agree to a playoff for the league, given their current points advantage. And how do you decide what teams should go into the relegation playoffs in any given league? Chances of it happening: can't see it. CALL THE SEASON OFF Declare the 2019/20 season null and void. Don't award the league title to anyone. Don't have promotion or relegation. Start over next season with clubs in the same divisions they are now. Hearts strongly approve of this plan. The problems with this plan: who wants to volunteer to tell Celtic fans that nine-in-a-row is cancelled? There are also repercussions for clubs such as Dundee United, who would be stuck in the second tier for yet another year having spent significantly to get up to the top flight. Chances of it happening: unlikely, unless the rest of Europe is doing the same thing. CANCEL RELEGATION BUT ALLOW PROMOTION Get around the idea of stopping the season early being unfair on clubs at the bottom of the table by announcing relegation would be scrapped, but allow promotion to take place anyway so no-one is disadvantaged (much). Obviously it would be sensible to promote the team currently second in the Championship since the playoffs wouldn't happen (wink, wink). The problems with this plan: you'd end up with having to deal with a 14 team top flight for at least a season, which would be a whole new issue. Chances of it happening: pretty much zero, since only a half-crazed Caley Thistle-supporting blogger would even think of it, let alone support it. In conclusion, this is going to be a real headache for Scottish football - and for football in general - to deal with. For us, it'll probably be a case of doing what England and other countries do. Normally I would grate at that, but in this case following everyone else's lead is probably the best way forward. That's assuming of course that everyone else agrees on a way to go forward. And most importantly, if this is the price to pay for helping the country and the world get through this crisis, then so be it. Remember that Bill Shankly quote - "Some people think football is a matter of life and death...I can assure them it is much more serious than that."? Bear in mind that he was joking. 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