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Everything posted by hislopsoffsideagain

  1. Steve Clarke has till 6 June to name his Euro 2024 squad. We had a go at predicting it all the way back in November; since then UEFA have confirmed that 26 players can be named - just like at the last Euros - and we have lost Lewis Ferguson to an ACL injury. Here's who I think Clarke will pick, with my thoughts. I'm not expecting any 'October surprises' so there's no Harvey Barnes or Tino Livramento here, sadly... GOALKEEPERS On the plane: Angus Gunn, Craig Gordon, Zander Clark Missing out: Liam Kelly Notes: Gunn is obviously first choice. In November I thought Kelly was ahead of Gordon in the queue but subsequent selections have suggested it's the other way around. In fact, if anything happens to Gunn I'd imagine the Hearts veteran would get the nod ahead of teammate Clark, even though the latter has started more often at club level this season. Clark looked very uncomfortable in relief of Gunn for a f few games in 2023, which may count against him. CENTRAL DEFENDERS On the plane: Kieran Tierney, Jack Hendry, Ryan Porteous, Scott McKenna, John Souttar, Liam Cooper Missing out: Grant Hanley Notes: All being well, I'd expect Tierney, Hendry and either McKenna or Porteous to start against Germany. Cooper goes because Clarke will want another left-footed centre-back to cover for Tierney. Souttar has been consistently good for Rangers this season. Hanley has played only eight minutes of first-team football since March and hasn't stayed consistently fit since his achilles rupture a year ago, which makes it hard to justify picking him even for his leadership and ability in the air. FULL-BACKS On the plane: Andrew Robertson, Nathan Patterson, Aaron Hickey, Greg Taylor, Ross McCrorie Missing out: Anthony Ralston, Josh Doig, Max Johnston Notes: Right wing-back is the main area of worry for Clarke and everyone else, as Hickey hasn't played since November because of injury and Patterson recently picked up a significant hamstring injury. Clarke will give both as much time as possible - there's a big drop off from Hickey to Patterson and another big drop to whoever the next man up is - probably McCrorie, whose background was in central defence and central midfield but who has played on the right for Bristol City most of this season. Ralston is only a backup at Celtic but has played well for the national team previously and it wouldn't be a surprise if he was named ahead of McCrorie; certainly if neither Hickey nor Patterson can go he will be in. On the left, Robertson is undisputed first choice; whilst Tierney is the best alternative at the position, Clarke will take Taylor as Robertson's deputy so Tierney can remain in central defence. But there's enough options here that there isn't a place for Doig, who has done well in Italy, or Johnston. CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS On the plane: John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Christie, Kenny McLean, Connor Barron Missing out: Lewis Ferguson, Elliot Anderson, Ryan Jack, David Turnbull Notes: The loss of Ferguson is a blow; he had been so good for Bologna that he might have forced himself into the lineup, or at least would have been an excellent option off the bench. The most likely starters are McGregor and Gilmour deep, with McGinn and McTominay more advanced. Christie has been brilliant in a deeper position for Bournemouth and could be used in any of the midfield roles too. McLean will be along as much for his experience as anything else, and is always a good player to come off the bench late in a match. It sounds like Aberdeen prodigy Barron might take advantage of the extra squad slots, though he's unlikely to get minutes. Sadly, Jack just can't stay fit, which is a pity because he and McGregor have always worked well together in front of the defence, Turnbull fell off the radar even before he joined Cardiff, and no-one is sure if Anderson even wants to play for Scotland after he withdrew from a squad last September. ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS On the plane: Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest Missing out: Ryan Fraser, Danny Armstrong, Ben Doak, Ryan Gauld Notes: I've separated these guys from the other midfielders because they are essentially attackers who won't be playing at centre-forward, but Clarke's usual tactics don't involve out-and-out wingers and McGinn and McTominay will probably be the more attack-minded midfielders. These guys will probably come off the bench if/when we are chasing games. S. Armstrong seems likely to get over a late-season injury scare. Forrest wasn't even in my mind in November but he has been absolutely fantastic in recent weeks. There has been talk of Doak getting a nod (like Barron above) but he hasn't played since December. Fraser has been in Clarke's bad books for calling off too easily in the past and hasn't done enough this season to compensate for that. D. Armstrong has been sensational for Kilmarnock this season and could be an option as right wing-back too but it would be a hell of a step up. Gauld continues to impress in the States but the folks back home never seem to notice. STRIKERS On the plane: Lyndon Dykes, Che Adams, Lawrence Shankland Missing out: Jacob Brown, Kevin Nisbet, Ross Stewart, Oli McBurnie, Lewis Morgan Notes: The question here is if three strikers is enough, but it's hard to justify any of the others with the exception of Morgan who is scoring goals like mad in the U.S. and would be the sort of in-form wild card option that Clarke should consider. As for the other rejects here, Brown has been injured for months, Nisbet and Stewart are only just back from long-term layoffs, while McBurnie is a favourite of mine who has shown flashes for Sheffield United this season and is outstanding in the air, but is probably more trouble than he is worth. Dykes, Adams and Shankland are all capable of being the front man against Germany, and all capable of contributing off the bench. None, unfortunately, is the world-class forward we desperately lack, but they are unquestionably the best three we have. If it were me, I'd find a place for Morgan, as a striker who is in form is always worth having, and possibly Doak - I think the latter has at least a little potential to contribute compared to Barron. 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. Feels like this tie is a Sliding Doors moment for the club. Win it and there is hope that, with a decent summer's recruitment and resolution of the club's financial crisis, we might start heading in the right direction again. The potential consequences of losing don't bear thinking about. I don't see us bouncing back quickly like Dunfermline or Partick did after recent relegations, and I can't see us surviving several years in League One like Falkirk have.
  3. Here's part 1, the countdown from 25 to 11. And here's the top 10. Who will succeed Anthony Stewart as the 'winner'? 10. RILEY HARBOTTLE (HIBERNIAN)According to Harbottle, he was so strongly encouraged to join Hibs by then-Forest teammate Scott McKenna that McKenna "seemed more excited about it than I was". I wouldn't take advice from him in the future, Riley. Harbottle joined Hibs on a three year deal for "an undisclosed fee", made one league appearance (a defeat at home to Livingston) and didn't get on the pitch for them again. He joined League Two Colchester on loan in January. 9. KYOSUKE TAGAWA (HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN) If I were feeling generous, I'd say that it may have been difficult for Tagawa to acclimatise following his move from his native Japan, and that his minutes have been limited by Lawrence Shankland's outstanding form. However the fact remains that Hearts paid a fee for him, his only goal was in a League Cup game against Championship opposition and expectations for a twice-capped international should be higher than that. Tagawa has already been linked with an exit this summer. 8. JOSE CIFUENTES (RANGERS) Michael Beale pursued Cifuentes for months, spent £1.2m on him and boasted that he would take Rangers "to the next level". Within five months he was away on loan to Cruzeiro, having chosen a move to Brazil because "I didn't experience the sun for the six months I was with Rangers. It was always cold". The Ecuadorian playmaker just wasn't very good at, erm, making the play - he had just two assists in twenty appearances and missed out on a League Cup medal because he was suspended for a straight red in a league game a few days before. Rangers will hope Cruzeiro take up their option to sign him, given he still has three years on his Ibrox contract. 7. LUKE JEPHCOTT (ST. JOHNSTONE) The Welsh under-21 forward looked like a pretty good signing, just two years removed from scoring 16 goals in League One. That's 16 more than he scored in Scotland. Jephcott made eleven appearances for St. Johnstone but had drifted out of favour even before Craig Levein took charge. Levein's description of the striker as "a luxury" was not unreasonable; he is by all accounts a predator but his link-up play was so poor that his equally mediocre teammates couldn't get up the pitch to create chances for him. Jephcott completed a quarter of his two year contract before moving to Newport County in January...where he still isn't scoring. 6. NAT PHILLIPS (CELTIC) Phillips' last appearance in the Hoops will define his forgettable spell at the club - a 2-1 defeat at Kilmarnock where he scored an own goal and was just a general shambles. This was another loan move that looked decent on paper and proved anything but; Phillips was always talked of highly by Liverpool and was frequently linked with £10m moves to the likes of Burnley and Bournemouth, but you'd be lucky to get ten bob for him on the back of his performances in Scotland. Four starts and as many sub appearances later, he returned south and has had a better second half of the season at Cardiff City. 5. RHYS WILLIAMS (ABERDEEN) Career Premier League starts: seven (for Liverpool!). Career Premiership starts, or sub appearances: zero. The signing of Williams seemed to be a coup at the time, Aberdeen taking advantage of the success Leighton Clarkson had on loan last season to attract another talented youngster from Anfield. And yet Williams didn't play a competitive game for the Dons' first team, though he did appear as part of a Colts' defence that shipped five against Peterhead in the Challenge Cup, and also by all accounts had a shocker in an Aberdeenshire Shield game against Fraserburgh. He struggled with injury initially and then couldn't crack the starting lineup even with Aberdeen's poor results and hectic schedule. He was rarely even on the bench except on Conference League nights, when Barry Robson was allowed to name half the city as substitutes. Having left Scotland in January, it didn't get any better for Williams, whose subsequent loan at Port Vale lasted just sixteen days because of another injury. 4. GUSTAF LAGERBIELKE (CELTIC) Strange but true: Lagerbielke is a Baron - the eleventh Baron Lagerbielke - and is actually 254th in line to the Swedish throne, putting him closer to the crown than he is to Celtic's starting lineup. Had Cameron Carter-Vickers not picked up a knock, Lagerbielke would have been loaned to Lecce, but Brendan Rodgers insisted on keeping him for defensive cover. Even some moaning to the Italian press couldn't get the Swede the escape he desired. He'll always have that winning goal against Feyenoord in a Champions League dead rubber, but that was in one of just three appearances (all off the bench) that he's made since the end of September. This guy cost £3.5m. 3. OLI SHAW (MOTHERWELL) Shaw's loan spell was so underwhelming that it was no surprise that in January Motherwell sent him back to Barnsley. It was a surprise when, two weeks later, he returned. Rumour has it that Well tried to exercise a clause allowing them to end the loan early if there was an injury, but Shaw wasn't injured enough. And having played for his parent club earlier in the season, Shaw couldn't sign for anyone else and Barnsley didn't want him back. So Shaw is still a Steelman, one who has made eighteen appearances (all but two as a sub) and scored zero goals. Stuart Kettlewell was so confident in him that he has since signed yet another forward, Moses Ebiye. Shaw has played six minutes of first team football since his return, with his main contribution being to miss a sitter that would have beaten Hibs and put the Steelmen in the top six. 2. PAPE HABIB GUEYE (ABERDEEN) If someone other than Rangers and Celtic spends half a million quid on a striker, then he had better be good. Aberdeen splashed that sum on Gueye, who doesn't appear to be the next Han Gillhaus; heck, he's not even going to be the next Robbie Winters (you're showing your age now - Ed). Robson trusted him to start only one match (a Conference League game where he was hooked at half time). In his six other games, all sub appearances, the Dons failed to score a goal with him on the pitch. Gueye was loaned to Norwegian club Kristansund in January, and he scored his first league goal for them last weekend. It remains to be seen if his Aberdeen career will be salvageable under Jimmy Thelin. 1. SAM LAMMERS (RANGERS) Lammers has been a goal machine in recent weeks...for Utrecht, who he joined on loan in January. The Dutchman has claimed his miserable spell and lack of goals at Rangers was down to being played as a number ten rather than as a striker. That doesn't really explain the fact that he had plenty of goalscoring opportunities in games and consistently failed to take them. Two goals in thirty-one games is some return for a £3.5m striker. Rangers can only hope that his Utrecht form cons someone into paying them a decent fee to take him off their hands. A worthy victor indeed. 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. Given he was chairman at Clach for so long, when the club had significant links with Orion, is Chisholm an ally of Alan Savage by any chance?
  5. Absolute sickener. We had enough chances to win three games. As ever, our lack of a reliable goalscorer is killing us. Samuel works like a demon and does so much in the build up but he has only scored in two of his eleven league appearances for us. Mckay has only scored from open play in one of his last 15 games (and frankly looks like a 35 year old striker whose game was based around movement and pace that he no longer has). And Pepple will never score. If you're going to struggle for goals, you need to at least keep a clean sheet. That must be the millionth time this season that we've dominated possession but not got a goal from it, and then been hit by a sucker punch...usually involving one of the three big centre backs missing a header at some point in the build up. McAllister was absolutely terrific - apart from his finishing - especially given he hasn't played in 7 weeks and had only trained for a few days. If we are somehow going to salvage this season, we need him to stay fit.
  6. Ah, it's that time of year again. I don't have much time for blogging these days, but I will always try and make an exception for this. The eleven previous 'winners' of our Worst Signing award: 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) 2019/20: Madis Vihmann (St. Johnstone) 2020/21: Shane Duffy (Celtic) 2021/22: Matty Longstaff (Aberdeen) 2022/23: Anthony Stewart (Aberdeen) Yes, Mark Birighitti should have won last year, not least because if one of those eleven was a keeper then we could have had a proper starting XI of crap. So as is tradition, the list is split in two. This is the appetiser, if you like; a countdown of the players I ranked from 11 to 25. The main course is still to come, but folk will at least be able to work out the ten names based on who hasn't been mentioned so far. Given they have stunk up the place this season, I am surprised as anyone by the lack of Livingston players. Seems like they just signed an awful lot of 'not very good' rather than 'awful beyond belief' but I'm happy to be corrected on this... Enjoy! 25= OWEN BEVAN (HIBERNIAN), MARCEL LEWIS (DUNDEE) Hooray for loan players who never actually play! Bevan's move from Bournemouth to Hibs lasted about 30 seconds before it was cancelled due to aggravation of an existing injury. Lewis, meanwhile, remained at Dundee for the entire first half of the season without playing a single competitive first team game. He did however get a run out in Cammy Kerr's testimonial where after 70 minutes he was replaced (kind of) by Ivano Bonetti... 24. JILI BUYABU (MOTHERWELL)Signed on loan from Sheffield United on deadline day at the end of the winter window. Played 33 minutes as a sub in the defeat to Morton in the cup. Left 20 days after signing for 'personal reasons'. Maybe one day he can come back, possibly in a coaching role? 23. APHELELE TETO (LIVINGSTON)Is Teto still a Livingston player? Heck, was he ever a Livingston player? The young South African midfielder was signed even though he was denied a work permit, because it was thought he'd be eligible for one once he'd been called up for the next international U-23 squad. The only problem was that South Africa U-23s haven't played since March 2023 and don't have any fixtures scheduled...in the meantime the club announced a plan for him to go out on loan, which never happened, and by January he had to return to South Africa as his visa had expired. The plot thickens still further, as he has three years left on his contract but Livi claim that his wages are paid by his former club TS Galaxy. No, I have no idea why that would be the case either. 22. SCOTT HIGH (ROSS COUNTY) A former Scotland under-21 international (no, I'd not heard of him either) the 22 year old Huddersfield loanee managed 24 minutes of first team action across two sub appearances for County before returning south in January, meaning that he played more first team minutes for his parent club this season (45 in the English League Cup). High has subsequently moved to Dundalk where he is doing rather better. 21. DARA COSTELLOE (ST. JOHNSTONE) Costelloe has done rather better after he switched loan clubs from St. Johnstone to Dundee in January, but Saints fans are unanimous in their derision for his performances in the first half of the season. Costelloe notched up as many red cards as goals for St. Johnstone. Charlie Adam, who is Burnley's loan manager, insisted in October that Costelloe was "loving it" in Perth; Costelloe later admitted it reached the point that he received 'hate mail' from supporters. 20. CALLAN ELLIOT (MOTHERWELL) The 24 year old New Zealand international signed in January after ten months without a club; Stuart Kettlewell boasted that he could "add a lot to the team". So far that consists of five occasions as an unused substitute. Still, I like the picture there that the club used to announce his arrival, which has massive 'cover of former nineties boyband member's debut single' vibes. 19. SAM MCCLELLAND (ST. JOHNSTONE) McClelland seems to have improved Dundee United's defence since moving there on loan, but it seems unlikely that he has a future at McDiarmid Park. The Northern Irishman was one of a number of Steven MacLean signings who were quickly sidelined by Craig Levein. The Saints were winless in his seven appearances for them and his last Premiership game was at the end of September. 18. KEVIN VAN VEEN (KILMARNOCK) Van Veen's incredible 2022-23 season for Motherwell feels like it was a long time ago now. The veteran Dutch striker had lots of loan suitors in January but chose Kilmarnock where a combination of the excellent form of Kyle Vassell and Marley Watkins and some lacklustre showings off the bench have meant nothing but sub appearances (apart from a single cup start). Maybe he just needs a run of games, but he's not done enough to deserve it. And one suspects Killie are paying a decent proportion of a decent wage. Van Veen also gets marked down for his squad number; '99' is an ice cream with a flake, not a number on a football shirt, and no-one will ever convince me otherwise. 17. JAY TURNER-COOKE (ST. JOHNSTONE) Turner-Cooke's season-long loan from Newcastle was cut short in January after just six appearances, ostensibly because of a hernia. However he'd barely played since Craig Levein became manager and has not been missed. The club's record whilst he was on the pitch? Scored zero, conceded six. 16. ANDREW DALLAS (KILMARNOCK) Kilmarnock are lucky that Kyle Vassell and Marley Watkins have stayed fit as well as in form all season. Dallas came off the bench fifteen times and scored zero goals before returning to parent club Barnsley in January. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Oldham, where he hasn't scored either. Curiously, there is an ongoing EFL investigation into the paperwork (at Barnsley's end) regarding the loan move to Killie. 15. MARCO TILIO (CELTIC) Celtic fancy that they can afford seven figure sums on 'developmental players' - see also Kwon Hyeok-kyu - but they really can't. A £1.5m winger needs to be challenging for first team action from the get-go, but Tilio - whose fee was the highest ever for an A-League player - was so far away from that level that he was loaned back to Melbourne City in the January transfer window. His manager in Oz claimed Tilio "hadn't had much fun at Celtic". I imagine the feeling is mutual. The Australian's two sub appearances may ultimately be his only ones for the club. 14. CAMERON BORTHWICK-JACKSON (ROSS COUNTY) It's less than eight years since a teenage Borthwick-Jackson was starting games for Manchester United in the Premier League. The left-back said he moved on loan to Dingwall from Slask Wroclaw because he "felt wanted" by them; that feeling won't have lasted long, as Borthwick-Jackson's only four starts came in his first four games at the club and he's been stuck on the bench ever since a 5-0 pasting at Motherwell ended Derek Adams' tenure.. 13. MICHAEL NOTTINGHAM (LIVINGSTON) Unlike most names on this list, Nottingham has been a first choice for his club this season when fit, but Livi fans are unanimous in their derision for his performances, to the point that I feared a lynching if I didn't put him on this list. The 34 year old was supposed to add experience and leadership to the defence but instead has been one of the factors in their slide towards the Championship. 12. OR DADIA (ABERDEEN) Nine months before signing for Aberdeen, Dadia made his international debut for Israel, meaning that he has played once more for his country than he ever did for the Dons. Dadia rarely made the bench unless it was a Conference League game where each team is allowed a million subs and even when Nicky Devlin wasn't playing he still couldn't get in the team. Terminating his loan in January was a blessing for everyone. And as for that moustache in his signing photo...I can't get the thought of him saying "I have come to fix ze fridge" in a Dutch accent out of my head. 11. MAIK NAWROCKI (CELTIC) Nawrocki avoids the top ten on the grounds that there still seems to be a small chance that his Celtic career can be salvaged. He's also had ongoing issues with a hamstring injury and hasn't completed 90 minutes since August. Nevertheless, one would have expected a £4m centre-back to start more than six league games (at the time of writing) and certainly not to be left out at times in favour of Liam Scales and Stephen Welsh. The top ten will be up in the coming 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
  7. So the folk who actually own a significant chunk of the club are the same old names from the good old days - Sutherland, McGilvray, Savage, the Muirfield Mills folk. Should they be either sticking their heads above the parapet or forcing change behind the scenes, before it all goes completely to hell?
  8. From the last info available on Companies House, I believe these are the people/groups with 50,000 shares or more: No. shares Inverness Caledonian Thistle Trust Limited 729500 Caledonian Football Club 600000 Graham Rae 382400 Former Chairman (Muirfield Mills) Inverness Thistle Football Club 300000 Orion Engineering Services Limited 275189 (Alan Savage - Former Director) Dugald McGilvray 275167 Former Chairman Iain McGilvray 191816 Orion Group UK Limited 191317 (Alan Savage - Former Director) David Cameron 175000 Director Roderick Ross 170000 Club President Richard Hillier 164900 (Muirfield Mills) Russell Cameron 102150 (Muirfield Mills) Dornoch Developments Ltd 100000 (Directors include Caroline Clayton, George Fraser, David Sutherland) Paul MacInnes 89150 (Muirfield Mills) Alan McPhee 77150 Former Director (Muirfield Mills) Emeric Innes 57750 (Muirfield Mills) George Fraser 51600 Former Director David Sutherland 50250 Former Director Gordon Allan Munro 50000 Director Caroline Clayton 50000 Anne Sutherland 50000 Catriona Ramsay 50000
  9. This is a fun and welcome thread. I was sure Glancy was a loan signing that was made permanent as well... Here's a pretty good loan XI: Dean Brill Kevin McCann Stuart McCaffrey Nauris Bulvitis Roman Golobart Scott Allan David Davis Logan Chalmers Aaron Doran Miles Storey Dennis Wyness And some not so good ones: Zbigniew Malkowski Andre Blackman Matthew Elsdon Steven Watt Tom Aldred Billy King Aiden Chippendale Larnell Cole Mitch Curry Tobi Sho-Silva
  10. So our total business in the window: IN: Remi Savage (Newcastle United), James Carragher (Wigan Athletic, loan), Jeremiah Chilokoa-Mullen (Leeds United, loan), Cammy Kerr (Dundee, loan), Sean McAllister (Everton, loan), Aribim Pepple (Luton Town, loan), Alex Samuel (Ross County, loan) OUT: David Carson (Livingston), Zak Delaney (Arbroath), Sean Welsh (Queen's Park), David Wotherspoon (Dundee United), Keith Bray (Elgin City, loan), Ethan Cairns (Banks o' Dee, loan), Jake Davidson (Hamilton Academical, loan), Lewis Hyde (Brora Rangers, loan), Robbie Thompson (The Spartans, loan), Cillian Sheridan Regarding the players who have left, obviously we'd have all loved to keep hold of Wotherspoon. Welsh was a great player for us but his fitness has always been an issue and it seems that Dunc prefers Gilmour and Anderson as his starting central midfielders. Moving Welsh on will have freed a significant wage, and he was surely going to leave in the summer anyway. Ditto Carson, who has probably been usurped at right wing-back by Kerr but would have been another option in the middle od the park. Again, Dunc seems happy with his options there, with McAllister brought in as another alternative to the current starting trio of Gilmour, Anderson and Shaw (hopefully Roddy MacGregor stays fit as another option here). Meanwhile Delaney and Davidson have rarely looked of Championship standard and have shown precious little signs of progressing towards that level so we've done well to move them on (Davidson only temporarily, mind - Dodds gave him a two year deal!). It's nice to see us coming up with SPFL loans for youngsters rather than Highland League ones for a change. As for the newbies, McAllister and Pepple are obviously unknowns, but the three centre-backs all look like they have something about them and Kerr and Samuel should do very well for us. In the short-term we seem to have enough quality and depth to stay up (famous last words) though we'll need a pretty decent run to get to the promotion playoffs. The long-term picture is murkier. That's eight loan players we have now. We don't have many folk under contract for next year - Davidson, Nicolson, Savage, Ujdur, Gilmour, Longstaff, Brooks and Mckay plus a few youngsters I think? Ideally we need to get ourselves safe quickly so there is plenty of time to decide who to try and keep and to try and convince them to stay...
  11. It's still more than six months until Euro 2024, and the draw hasn't even been made yet. So of course it's far, far too early to think about who will be in Steve Clarke's squad for the finals. But I'm not going to let that stop me. Rather than just list twenty-three names (current info suggests that the squad size will be cut back to what it was before Covid and Euro 2020), I'm going to break things down by position and look at what options there are, as well as who is most likely to be on the plane to Germany. GOALKEEPERS Certain to be in the squad: Angus Gunn Probably going to be in the squad: Liam Kelly, Zander Clark Outside chance: Craig Gordon, Robby McCrorie, Ross Laidlaw A left-field option: Jason Steele Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? Yes, in that Angus Gunn looks more capable and more reliable than David Marshall was at that tournament. Notes: One of the lessons learned from the Georgia-Norway doubleheader - and an awful lot of Zander Clark flapping - is that we really don't have any depth at the position unless Craig Gordon manages to get himself back to the level he was playing at prior to his broken leg. Liam Kelly and Robby McCrorie emit massive "in the squad because there aren't any other Scottish keepers" vibes. Ross Laidlaw was mentioned by John Carver as someone the management team are aware of. Rumour has it that Brighton's Jason Steele has declined a call-up before, and I doubt he'd enter the fray just to back up Gunn. CENTRAL DEFENDERS Certain to be in the squad: Kieran Tierney, Jack Hendry, Ryan Porteous Probably going to be in the squad: Scott McKenna, Grant Hanley, John Souttar Outside chance: Liam Cooper, Dominic Hyam, Liam Lindsay, Ross McCrorie A left-field option: Liam Morrison Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? Probably, if only because the players now look very well versed in playing a back three (the other lesson learned from the Georgia-Norway doubleheader is we don't seem to be strong enough defensively to get away with a back four). Notes: Kieran Tierney remains key because of his quality in possession and his ability to overlap/underlap Andy Robertson, as well as the fact that there is a big drop off to the next best left-footed centre-back, Liam Cooper. Jack Hendry generally seems the best option on the right, also offering good distribution to go with his height, while Ryan Porteous is the current incumbent in the centre position. Scott McKenna is the next man up if any of that first choice trio are absent, though he hasn't been getting gametime at Nottingham Forest recently. John Souttar finished last season really well for Rangers, but has been injured again recently. If fit, he would have a good chance of getting in. Meanwhile Grant Hanley has been out since the spring with an achilles injury but he was a first choice prior to that so if he gets back to fitness and form he'd be expected to make the squad. Dominic Hyam has been injured recently too but is normally a first choice for Blackburn. The uncapped Liam Lindsay is playing regularly and well for Preston, who are flying just now. Ross McCrorie has yet to play for Bristol City because of illness so he's probably well down the pecking order now; however his versatility might work in his favour. And apparently Liam Morrison has shone on loan for Wigan Athletic; the 20 year old Bayern Munich player is probably one for the future though. FULL-BACKS Certain to be in the squad: Andrew Robertson, Nathan Patterson, Aaron Hickey Probably going to be in the squad: Outside chance: Greg Taylor, Anthony Ralston, Calvin Ramsay, Josh Doig, Max Johnston A left-field option: Tino Livramento Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? Yes, because we've significantly upgraded from Stephen O'Donnell on the right. Notes: Captain Andy Robertson will start at left wing-back and Aaron Hickey on the right; Nathan Patterson will back up the latter unless Tino Livramento declares for Scotland, in which case the Newcastle United player would be in a direct battle with Hickey for a start. Hickey and Tierney would both be more than capable stand-ins for Robertson which means Clarke could potentially skimp on the position. Greg Taylor seems more comfortable in a back four - and didn't look comfortable at all in the Georgia and Norway games. Anthony Ralston is probably too far down the queue just now, while Calvin Ramsay's progress has stalled because of injuries; he hasn't even played yet this season. Josh Doig and Max Johnston have both had call-ups recently to the seniors but are unlikely to be in the reckoning for this tournament. CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS Certain to be in the squad: John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, Billy Gilmour, Lewis Ferguson Probably going to be in the squad: Kenny McLean, Ryan Jack Outside chance: Elliot Anderson A left-field option: Hayden Hackney Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? Yes, not because personnel have changed much but because we've finally found a role that works for Scott McTominay. Notes: Clarke will either play four central midfielders, with McTominay and John McGinn pushed further forward of Callum McGregor and probably Billy Gilmour, or just go for the former trio with a more attack-minded player inserted instead. Gilmour is most effective in games where we dominate possession, which may not be plentiful in the finals. Lewis Ferguson has been terrific at club level in more of a number ten role and it wouldn't be hard to imagine Clarke deploying him there if he continues his current trajectory. Ryan Jack missed Euro 2020 because of injury and is a polarising figure, but I'm not sure anyone in the squad is better as a purely defensive midfielder. However it may be hard to fit in both Jack and Kenny McLean because of the numbers game. McLean got a lot of praise for Clarke after the Norway match and the manager particuarly likes his reliability and tactical discipline. It's not clear if Elliot Anderson, who was called up for one squad and then pulled out through injury, still wants to play for us or hang fire in the hope of a future England call; he is a real prospect though and is talented enough to be in the 23 if he wants to be. Hackney has shone for Middlesbrough but, having played for Scotland under-21s, he has appeared in recent England squads at that age level and also seems to have thrown his lot in with the Three Lions for now. ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS Certain to be in the squad: Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie Probably going to be in the squad: Outside chance: Ryan Fraser, Ben Doak, Siriki Dembele A left-field option: Harvey Barnes Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? Not sure we're much different, really. Notes: The industrious Stuart Armstrong remains a guy who either squeezes into the starting XI or is one of the first options off the bench. Ryan Christie is probably the best player we have for carrying the ball up the pitch though his recent international performances have not been as good as his efforts for Bournemouth. Given that Clarke may not start any of the listed players and doesn't use a system with wingers, it's hard to justify taking any others unless someone hits form or is felt to offer a spark as a substitute. Ben Doak is clearly going to be special but isn't getting enough game time to confirm whether he's ready yet. Ryan Fraser has done well since joining Southampton but Clarke has been suspicious about his commitment in the past. Siriki Dembele has impressed for Birmingham this season but probably not enough to get on the radar yet. But it does sound like Harvey Barnes is tempted to join up, though recent injuries have made sure we couldn't find out if he would have accepted a call for the last few squads. Barnes would be a huge upgrade on what we have, though squeezing him in on the left might require some tactical tweaking. STRIKERS Certain to be in the squad: Lyndon Dykes, Che Adams Probably going to be in the squad: Outside chance: Jacob Brown, Kevin Nisbet, Lawrence Shankland, Ryan Hardie A left-field option: Oli McBurnie Are we stronger than at Euro 2020? No. It's mostly the same names. Notes: An elite forward would elevate this team so much, in the way Robert Lewandowski and Gareth Bale did for Poland and Wales respectively. Instead we have Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams as our best two options. Dykes' industry and attitude are first-rate and he's better at link-up play than Adams, but the latter is a far superior finisher. Neither can be relied on for more than the odd goal though. The other options are quite the motley crew though, and one would think Clarke would pick a third striker based entirely on form in April and May. At the moment Jacob Brown seems to be that option but he struggled against Norway. Lawrence Shankland did score against Georgia as a sub and has more goals than any of the other candidates this season. Kevin Nisbet hasn't really got going since joining Millwall in the summer. Ryan Hardie of Plymouth has six Championship goals and is as good an option as anyone. And then there's Oli McBurnie, out of the picture for nearly three years but playing regularly (when fit) in the Premier League. He'll win lots of headers, but does he offer much else? That's 16 certainties and 7 probables, which of course fits nicely with the numbers. But I bet that a lot will change in a few months time. So shall we look at it again then? We shall. 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. He became manager there five days before the transfer window closed. Not that easy to sign an entire squad in that time. And the few signings he did make included Onyango from Everton (who has been on the bench several times for the first team) and Robbie Savage's son from Man Utd, who had been considered good enough to play once for the first team there. Given our previous managers include Baltacha (first managerial job), Paterson (only managed in the Highland League), Robertson (first managerial job), Brewster (first managerial job), Christie (first managerial job), Brewster again (had been a disaster at Dundee United), Butcher (did great at Motherwell but rotten in Australia and at Brentford before coming to us), Hughes (hadn't been great at Hibs), Foran (first managerial job), Robertson (hadn't managed anyone in forever) and Dodds (first managerial job) I don't particularly see why Ferguson should be considered less qualified than so many of his predecessors.
  13. Well I for one am hugely up for this, probably because it's the first time I've been starstruck by a managerial appointment; Dunc was one of my favourite players to watch when he was at Everton and Newcastle, one of the great target men. As for his coaching credentials, as stated previously his Forest Green stint can be taken with a pinch of salt because they were a shambles that anyone would have struggled to fix. I'm more interested in the fact that so many Everton managers thought he was worth keeping around as a coach. This is a guy who has worked for Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti, amongst others. Surely he will have picked up a few tips? And like Butcher when he was here, Ferguson should have plenty of contacts for finding players and the charisma to convince them to come here. Fingers (and toes) crossed.
  14. I'd take Brown in a heartbeat. He did pretty well in his first season at Fleetwood - they were expected to go down from League One but finished comfortably mid-table. A year and a bit is an above average length of tenure in the English Football League these days. I imagine he got a decent pay-off from them (which may be dependent on him not finding a new job immediately) so I'd be impressed if he was willing to take a big step down (and English League One to Scottish Championship really is a big step down) to join us. Having an ex-Celtic and Scotland captain as manager has the potential to be a decent pull for players (like when we had an ex-Rangers and England captain as manager). I assume he has some pretty decent contacts out there for recruiting players as well. He would be a far more ambitious appointment than I would have believed we could pull off a fortnight ago.
  15. Maybe it was the realisation that Billy Dodds couldn't even beat Raith Rovers that was the end of him. For what it's worth, Caley Thistle only lost to a late goal away from home to a club who went top of the Championship as a result of their victory. And by all accounts the visitors put on their best performance of the season and squandered numerous chances of their own. But Inverness had this absolutely mental record against Rovers where in twenty-three years and thirty-four competitive matches their only defeats had come in penalty shootouts. However bad it got, Raith Rovers was at least a guaranteed point. But not any more. Of course, if that was the actual reason for Dodds' dismissal on Sunday night then that would raise significant questions about the people running the club. But then choosing to sack him after the Raith defeat - rather than after one of the many worse performances and results in recent months - raises enough questions. As does the fact that he is only three months into a new two year contract that he was given after ICT's Scottish Cup Final defeat to Celtic. Oh, and don't forget how the decision on Dodds' future was left all the way until after that match in early June, which was not exactly a show of confidence in the manager and which can hardly have aided preparations for the new season. Or how, despite the club making somewhere between £1million and £1.5million from the aforementioned cup run, the squad actually seems, on paper and in reality, drastically weaker than it was last season. That's not to suggest that Dodds is some sort of victim here. The cup exploits distracted neatly from a lacklustre league campaign as Caley Thistle finished sixth, their lowest finish in twenty-three years (though had they won their last match they would have come third). Whilst some of the criticism of his tactics by supporters was over-the-top, the slow-tempo, possession-based style was exposed by teams that pressed high up the pitch - after all the Scottish Championship is often short of quality but rarely short of energy - and was ineffective when chasing games against defensive-minded teams. But Dodds' first season in charge ended with a playoff final where, at half-time in the second leg in Perth, Caley Thistle fancied their chances of promotion before a second-half capitulation to St. Johnstone. He was not the next Sir Alex Ferguson, but nor was he the next Richie Foran. Sometimes things just go stale; his tenure of more than two seasons is well above the current average shelflife of an SPFL manager. The biggest concerns stretch back to his appointment in the first place. In March 2021 Dodds was brought in as a coach by Neil McCann, who had taken over temporarily after John Robertson stepped out of the dugout for mental health reasons. When it became clear Robertson was 'moving upstairs' to become sporting director, it was McCann's job if he wanted it...but he didn't want it. A few weeks later Dodds was appointed, to the surprise of nobody even though he had never held such a role at a club before. There was certainly nothing in the public domain to suggest the club had conducted an active search for a replacement or even interviewed outside candidates. This left the feeling that Dodds, who already lived locally, was the cheap and easy option. This turn of events felt very reminiscent of Robertson's appointment as Richie Foran's replacement back in 2017. It also leads to understandable suspicion amongst the support that Robertson - whose relationship with the fans has taken a hit recently with his media work for the BBC (or to give out man of the match awards at Brora Rangers) when his club are away from home - will simply be parachuted back in to his old job. That would be the cheap and easy move again, but then we come to the fear that this is the way the board have to go. The aforementioned cup windfall seems to have been used to save the directors from paying the bills this season; that is not all that unreasonable given the club made a loss of more than £800,000 in 2021-22. There are lots of rumours flying around suggesting that things are even worse than that, though to be fair such tales have done the rounds since relegation from the Premiership in 2017. There is no sign of a wealthy benefactor coming over the horizon any time soon, and when one looks at the list of current shareholders the same old names from two decades ago are still there. Directors come and go but there is no sign that newcomers bring about any meaningful change; the most curious one in recent times is Panos Thomas, a retired orthopaedic surgeon whose only notable role in football previously was as the frontman for an attempted takeover of Watford more than a decade ago by the disgraced businessman Laurence Bassini. However in his nine months at the club there has been no sign of anything so exciting happening in the Highlands...except for claims in the last set of accounts that the club is heavily involved in a hydro pump scheme and a battery farm plan, as well as being in position to be part of Inverness' upcoming freeport. If these ideas already sound pie-in-the-sky, the fact they are being touted by CEO Scot Gardiner - who is not exactly well loved amongst Dundee and Hearts supporters for his spells in a similar role at each of these clubs - does not lend them significant credibility. And in football financial prudence is rarely rewarded. One has to run just to stand still. Amongst their Championship opponents are Dundee United, Dunfermline, Ayr United, Queen's Park and Raith, all of whom have significant backing from their ownership. And if Caley Thistle go any further backward it means relegation. That would surely put their full-time status at risk. If the club goes part-time then, given their location, that would in turn surely mean competing for players in the same sort of pool that the likes of Elgin City fish. There would be no realistic way back to even the Championship under those circumstances. In October 2016, St. Mirren pulled the plug on Alex Rae after a nightmare start to their Championship campaign and replaced him with Jack Ross. They still nearly went down that year, but it was the wakeup call they needed. In 2017-18 they were promoted and they have been Premiership stalwarts ever since, a small club punching above their weight in a way rather reminiscent of Caley Thistle a decade ago. Maybe - hopefully - this will be Caley Thistle's St. Mirren moment. Those in charge of the club need to make sure it is, or football in the city may never be the same again. 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. Whilst there are plenty here that are dubious that the board would change manager so soon after giving him a two year deal, I think that the next three games are a real time of danger for Dodds. Raith away and Dundee United at home are two games which it is easy to see us lose. The third is Arbroath away; a defeat there to a club seen as a likely relegation candidate - which would leave us adrift at the bottom with a just a single point from seven league games - would surely induce panic. Also, after the Arbroath match there is just one more game before a two-week international break in October - that three week period (with a caretaker in charge of that game, against Partick Thistle) would give ample time to find a new manager...or to muck around for a while before just reappointing Robbo...
  17. My current take on the squad, by position: Goalkeepers Fine. A good solid number one and a cheap number two who we can just about get by with if Ridgers is injured/suspended/gets dropped for having a hissy fit with the manager. That's about as good as anyone in this division can afford at the position. Right-back There's been nothing so far from Davidson to suggest he is a better option than either Duffy (who Dodds seems to want to play at CB), Carson (who Dodds seems to want to play in midfield) or Hyde (who has struggled badly when deployed here in the past) Left-back Last season Harper looked better in a midfield role, and he is still more defensively suspect than I would like. Nicolson could have made a real push for this position before his injury, which is a blow. Delaney can cover here in an emergency, I guess. Not the biggest priority (see below) but I would love another LB so Harper can play higher up the pitch. Centre-back If we go through the season playing two of Devine (who has clearly lost confidence from not having a reliable partner beside him), Duffy and Delaney here then we could well be relegated. We need at least one and possibly two new central defenders in. Central midfield Welsh and Gilmour might be a decent first choice pairing. But if/when Welsh is out there seems to be a real drop-off. MacGregor might be a capable replacement but he's always injured too! The Carson-Gilmour combination doesn't seem to be working though. Hyde hasn't impressed when given the chance previously. Attacking midfield/wide players Obviously we are very lucky to have Shaw, but we don't seem to have adequately replaced Henderson or Daniel Mackay. It doesn't seem like Doran is up to two games a week (or even much more than cameos off the bench) any more. Longstaff is this season's Steven Boyd - a cheap option with potential (if we're lucky) to be a rough diamond. Attack We don't seem to have a team with the quality to bring the best out of Mckay right now, so hard to know if he's in decline or just being let down. Dodds' tactics mean that Samuels and Brooks are almost always deployed wide, where it is clear neither are especially comfortable. Lodovica is the big target man you throw on when you're desperate and doesn't seem to offer enough to justify a bigger role. For me, the priorities for new signings this week are: 1) Central defence - a new defence rather than a new defender please! 2) Another wide player 3) At least one starting quality full-back
  18. "No defence I see, I have a hunch that he won't replace Deas, Everyone's morale is dropping, we'll never catch County, He's Billy Dodds and he's not okay, We're s**** all night and we're s**** all day"
  19. The Premiership increasingly feels like three separate leagues due to the vast financial disparities...so that's how I'm going to treat it for this season's preview... THE OLD FIRM/GLASGOW DERBY (delete as applicable) TIER (Finishing outwith the top two, or even less than ten points ahead of third should result in manager and entire squad being hanged, drawn and quartered) CELTIC: they say you should never go back, but for Brendan Rodgers I think an exception can be made. Celtic can be pretty pleased with how they've replaced Ange. The loss of Jota was a surprise and you'd think they will bring in a replacement at some point. Rodgers says they aren't going to spend £15m-plus on any players, but if that's the case - even when you have the Jota cash and the Champions League moolah - then how do you ever realistically expect it to get any better than just sweeping the domestic scene and getting pumped in the Champions League groups? Should still be stronger than Rangers, I think. RANGERS: a lot depends on just how good this new forward line of Danilo, Sam Lammers and Cyriel Dessers is. And a lot depends on whether they can find a consistent partner for Connor Goldson in terms of either form or availability (*cough* John Souttar *cough*). Left-back is also a potential issue with Borna Barisic beginning to regress and Ridvan Yilmaz yet to look like a viable long-term replacement. Jack Butland looks like an upgrade in goal at least. There's too many unknowns here to tip them to win the title but if those front three turn out to be gems then it could be pretty close. THE CONSIDERABLY POORER THAN THE GRUESOME TWOSOME AND CONSIDERABLY RICHER THAN THE REST TIER (finishing second should result in a statue for the manager; finishing sixth or lower, or looking at risk of doing so, will result in the sack) ABERDEEN: Barry Robson looks like a good coach. The recruitment team give the impression they know what they are doing. Now can Aberdeen crack the final part of the code - managing the fixture congestion that will come with a European run? Hearts couldn't pull that off last season and it's not clear the Dons have the numbers yet...especially if Ylber Ramadani leaves. If he stays or is adequately replaced the Ramadani-Clarkson-Shinnie midfield looks like dynamite. Rhys Williams and Slobodan Rubezic (think that first name tells you where his family's political views lay) should adequately replace Ross McCrorie and Liam Scales at the back. and either Or Dadia or Nicky Devlin will at last give them a competent right-wingback. I'm still not sure what the plan on the left is (Jonny Hayes?) but this a starting XI that should fire them to third spot...if they aren't all knackered or injured by Christmas. HEARTS: The dugout situation - seemingly pretending Frankie McAvoy is in charge until they're knocked out of Europe and they can reveal that Steven Naismith was pulling the strings all along - is a bit farcical. If that doesn't extend to the pitch though Hearts should be stronger than last year, especially if the impending signings of Kenneth Vargas and Kayosuke Tagawa give them enough attacking pace to make up for Josh Ginnelly buggering off. A double pivot of Beni Baningime (back at last from long-term injury) and new signing Calum Nieuwenhof should make their midfield stronger, and you've got Cammy Devlin to snap at heels there too. If McAvaismith can get Kye Rowles and Stephen Kingsley back to their best form and Frankie Kent fills in for long term crock Craig Halkett the defence should be formidable too. And Lawrence Shankland is always going to give you a chance. HIBERNIAN: Every time you think Hibs might have got it sussed, they do something so utterly Hibsy to embarrass themselves and the nation, such as getting beaten in Andorra. The big story here though should be them paying £700,000 for Dutch striker Dylan Vente, which is the most money they've spent since they signed a dude who is now a member of the Ecuadorian parliament back in 2001. He had better be good. Elie Youan and Martin Boyle should give them crazy pace up top and Dylan Levitt is a good addition in midfield. Heck, they've even got (very necessary) insurance against David Marshall's form falling off a cliff in new keeper JoJo Wallacott. Like the above duo, Hibs have a very good looking first XI, but their bench isn't too shabby either. The question is whether the players - and the manager - can put it together week in, week out, or whether they will just, well, Hibs it up again. THE DIDDY TIER (Realistic target is sixth, anything higher is a massive success, but first priority has to always be avoiding relegation) DUNDEE: No idea what we're going to get here. Newly promoted, with a new manager in Tony Docherty who is a rookie as a boss but who has huge experience as a coach. He's correctly recognised that the squad was nowhere near good enough for the top flight so he's been busy at both ends, bringing in Trevor Carson in goal and Joe Shaughnessy in defence to provide experience, and using loans from down south to bolster numbers (including getting top scorer Zach Robinson back for another year). There are a couple of Mexicans too to add intrigue. The midfield is very young and inexperienced though. If Docherty can mould a solid lineup quickly and get goals from one of his forwards, they should be okay. But if they start slowly I suspect they'll be near the bottom all season. KILMARNOCK: Were effective but not exactly pretty last season...except for the many occasions where they weren't effective or pretty. Derek McInnes has sensibly looked to revamp the defence - what's his deal with signing loanee defenders? He used loads last season and he's doing it again - with Robbie Deas ready to make the step up and Stuart Findlay's return to Rugby Park a huge boost. It feels like it'll be another season of grinding out results though; of the forwards only Kyle Vassell looks likely to score semi-regularly and McInnes' effusive praise recently for the likes of Marley Watkins and the "really talented" Liam Donnelly says a lot. We can still dream that David Watson continues to develop as the Prestwick Pirlo and helps add a touch of flair but we'll see. LIVINGSTON: Finished last season really poorly and I just wonder if they are beginning a bit of a downward spiral. As ever David Martindale operates in a different way from everyone else and he's entitled to plenty benefit of the doubt but of their new signings only Mikey Devlin and maybe Mo Sangare improve the team. It feels like they will be in a fair bit of bother if/when Joel Nouble leaves as he will be so difficult to replace. Martindale is also stuck with several players (waves at Esmael Goncalves) that he needs rid of to bring in reinforcements. Could this be the year they stop punching above their weight? MOTHERWELL: I didn't expect such a resurgence under Stuart Kettlewell, but the Steelmen were terrific in the second half of the season...fuelled by the extraordinary exploits of Kevin Van Veen who is of course now gone. Away too are Max Johnston, Sean Goss and Mikael Mandron, all starters. And now Calum Butcher is out long term. Frankly that defence looks dicey now, though Macedonian Davor Zdravkovski is an intriguing addition to the midfield. Up top, bringing in Theo Bair looks like the weirdest signing of the summer so far but I imagine he's going to be a backup for Jon Obika (good when fit, which isn't often) and fellow new signings Conor Wilkinson and Mika Biereth. I thought the Van Veen money would have allowed Kettlewell to strengthen, but it seems that it's simply paid off the mistakes his predecessors have made. And so there's a risk they may fall behind simply because they seem to be standing still. ROSS COUNTY: Having been within seconds of being relegated last season it seems reaasonable to assume they will be closer to the bottom than the top. To be honest I expected Uncle Roy to dip into his childrens' inheritance a bit more this summer to bring the squad up to scratch but whilst Alex Iacovitti is the only stalwart to depart they are dependent on Championship stalwarts Scott Allardice and Kyle Turner (and Jay Henderson, so good on loan at ICT last season) stepping up to the top flight. Their midfield, also encompassing Yan Dhanda and Ross Callachan, should be decent. Up front they have lots of options but just how confident are you in a combination of two of Eamonn Brophy, Simon Murray, Alex Samuel and Jordan White? ST JOHNSTONE: Already in panic mode after a hideous League Cup campaign. Steven MacLean - whose media comments are too reminiscent of Richie Foran for my liking - gutted the squad, which ws the right thing to do, but has struggled badly to bring in new players so far. He'd have probably liked to get rid of more players but inherited a load of jobbers and has-beens inexplicably given long-term deals by Callum Davidson. That is likely to be restricting what he can do just now, but whatever he puts out on the pitch has to be better than the lot that got shellacked 4-0 by Stirling Albion. Dimitar Mitov might be a good goalkeeper. Luke Jephcott might be an okay forward. But even if they live up to those expectations it would be a huge surprise if St Johnstone aren't in another relegation battle. They're certainly my favourites to go down at the time of writing. ST MIRREN: Were best of this bunch last season and are a reasonable bet to do the same even though the surprisingly decent forward Curtis Main has left and outstanding keeper Trevor Carson has moved on to after some sort of weird fallout with the club. Whether they've replaced Carson adequately with Zach Hemming is another matter, but there are high hopes for attackers Conor McMenamin - the club's most expensive signing for more than 30 years - Mikael Mandron and Stav Nahmani. New centre-back James Bolton seems pretty highly thought of too. And so far they've retained the outstanding Aussie duo of Ryan Strain and Keanu Baccus, as well as all-action midfielder Mark O'Hara. So my predicted table: 1 CELTIC 2 RANGERS 3 ABERDEEN 4 HIBERNIAN 5 HEARTS 6 ST MIRREN 7 DUNDEE 8 KILMARNOCK 9 ROSS COUNTY 10 MOTHERWELL 11 LIVINGSTON 12 ST JOHNSTONE And Twitter's take: View the full article
  20. God, I hate the Scottish Championship. My club have been stuck in this particular circle of hell since 2017 and I'm desperate for us to get out of it. And the more time that passes the more likely it is that my wish will be granted...but with a move downward rather than up. After all there's always someone worse off than you...and it's Falkirk. The usual script for this league is as follows; one club has a decent financial advantage over all the others, and that club gets promoted. The last couple of seasons, said club has completely failed to run away with the league, eventually grinding out just about enough results to take the title on the last day or the week before that. But still, they've managed promotion and that's all that matters. So...Dundee United, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Dundee...DUNDEE UNITED? Let's put it bluntly; anything other than a canter back to the Premiership will be an underachievement. Louis Moult and Tony Watt up front. Craig Sibbald and Glenn Middleton (though Goodwin seems unable to get a tune from him) in midfield. Three signings who were amongst the best players in this division last season in Kevin Holt, Liam Grimshaw and Ross Docherty. Declan Gallagher leading the defence. And crucially, anyone but Mark Birighitti in goal. In truth I expect United to grind it out rather than destroy everyone (possibly with a midseason managerial change like when Killie binned Tommy Wright), but they'll definitely go up. Definitely. Won't they? As for who else could challenge, I think you could make an argument for many - if not all - the other clubs in the division. I'm going to stick my neck out though and tip DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC to follow the example of Queen's Park last year and be a newly promoted side challenging at the top. James McPake - to my surprise after his lousy spell as Dundee manager - has put together a really good side that walked League One last year. So far he has focused on keeping them together, and so they should be very well drilled from the off. The defence should be plenty good enough now that Sam Fisher has been brought back, and I love Chris Hamilton at the base of midfield. A year in the third tier has rejuvenated Craig Wighton - who seemed doomed to be yet another case of unfulfilled potential in Scottish football - and it'll be interesting to see how dangerous he is. I also expect the Pars to be active in the loan market in the next few weeks for further reinforcements that will cement them as a top half side. There could also be a challenge from the other side of Fife. RAITH ROVERS did a heck of a lot of business early, which has the advantage of getting your new signings lots of time to get up to speed but does mean not having any space left for players that become available late in the window. I do particularly like new keeper Kevin Dabrowski, who certainly won't be a downgrade on the departed Jamie MacDonald. Striker Jack Hamilton has done it at this level before. Josh Mullin still has plenty in the tank (though a 3 year deal for a 31 year old winger seems optimistic) and Euan Murray and Keith Watson will strengthen the defence. As it stands, they certainly have a stronger squad than most. The million dollar (or the £200,000) question for AYR UNITED is how they will fare without talismanic striker Dipo Akinyemi after he signed for York City. United will hope veteran wide players Aiden McGeady and Jamie Murphy will provide whoever plays up front with lots of ammunition but Lee Bullen needs either new signing Akeem Rose or youngster Fraser Bryden to step up and score regularly...or to use the Akinyemi cash on another striker. Otherwise Bullen has again made some intriguing signings from the English non-leagues - Olly Pendlebury captained England at under 16 level and is still only 21 - and they will hope they can kick on from last season's third place. As for the rest - well, your guess is as good as mine. QUEEN'S PARK seem a good place to start as they came second last year, but it's all change at Lesser Hampden with Owen Coyle having left and being replaced by Dutchman Robin Veldman. I do like the Spiders' focus on bringing in young players let go from the likes of Southampton (defender Will Tizzard, midfielder Jack Turner) and Brighton (midfielder Jack Spong). At the time of writing though they are still short at right-back and are up front are heavily dependent on Ruari Paton making the step up from lighting up League One with Queen of the South. Again, I'd expect plenty more new faces to come here. A sensational cup run shouldn't distract from the fact that INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE had their lowest league finish in more than twenty years and they come into this season having lost their best defender, Robbie Deas, and their best midfielder, Scott Allardice, along with their two loanee wingers Jay Henderson and Daniel Mackay. That cup cash is either being saved for a splurge at the end of the window or is being saved to pay bills - either way, signings like Luis Longstaff and Jake Davidson feel like little more than cheap depth. Charlie Gilmour might be a good addition to midfield, mind. The biggest worry is the hole left by Deas that does not look in any way to be adequately filled yet. GREENOCK MORTON somehow got by last season with the smallest squad in the history of the world (in terms of numbers, not height!) and seem determined to do the same again; I presume it's a budget thing? They will be busy in the next few weeks if only because they need another four bodies just to have a full bench (and only have one keeper). Dougie Imrie is as good a coach as anyone in this league and that is crucial given their financial constraints. Continuing to get performances and goals out of forwards Robbie Muirhead and George Oakley is crucial, while Jack Baird and Robbie Crawford are two of the best players in their positions in the Championship. The big concern at the moment is at right-back, in that they don't actually have one. AIRDRIE are as intriguing as anyone in this league, given their unusual model where the manager, the assistant manager and one of the coaches are also players. It didn't exactly do them any harm last season, where they were League One's great entertainers, either doing the scudding or being scudded most weeks. Adding Nikolay Todorov and Josh O'Connor to a forward line of Calum Gallagher and Gabby McGill means they should still score plenty of goals, and sticking with the same defence as last season means they should still concede plenty too. So whatever happens, it should be fun. There may be less of that at PARTICK THISTLE, who came within seconds of an extraordinary promotion via the playoffs and then shortly after admitted huge costcutting was required at a club where wages might not have been paid but for a cup tie against Rangers. They've lost four of their best players - Kevin Holt, Ross Docherty, Kyle Turner and Scott Tiffoney - and even if the immortal Brian Graham continues to s**thouse his way to 15 goals every season it's tough to see them repeating last season's success. It'll be interesting to see how Kris Doolan fills those gaping holes in his lineup; if he can recruit in the summer as well as he coached and motivated in the spring they'll be okay. And the fact I have left ARBROATH to last is surely a clue as to how I think their season is going to pan out. The group that nearly got them promoted in 2021/22 is ageing and dissipating, and finding good part-time replacements is hard going. Last season's recruitment wasn't great and it's not clear that Dick Campbell has done any better this summer. He really needs to do well in the loan market again if this isn't to be the end of the Red Lichties' glorious run at this level. Of course, it would be typical Campbell and typical Arbroath if they didn't make the naysayers eat their words. So the inevitably wrong predicted table looks like this: 1 DUNDEE UNITED 2 DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC 3 RAITH ROVERS 4 AYR UNITED 5 QUEEN'S PARK 6 GREENOCK MORTON 7 INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE 8 PARTICK THISTLE 9 AIRDRIE 10 ARBROATH And the Twitter view: View the full article
  21. Whereas in League Two the difference in budget between richest and poorest is pretty minimal, League One has four clubs who are full time - Cove Rangers, Falkirk, Hamilton Accies and Queen of the South - and six clubs who savour bloodying their noses regularly. So while I make no apology for my choice of the top four it is quite easy to see it going spectacularly wrong for each of them. Take FALKIRK, for example. It's like the Bairns have been given a special demotivational plaque by Mr Burns. Surely their fifth straight season in League One will be their last? We shall see. John McGlynn brought in Tom Lang and Brad Spencer from his former club Raith Rovers and they should be more than capable, and given they already boast the likes of Coll Donaldson, Stephen McGinn, Callumn Morrison and Gary Oliver there are no excuses. But then we've said that before... COVE RANGERS won this division in 2021-22 before stinking up the second half of last season in the Championship. So they've responded by going full-time and giving Paul Hartley - whose record in recruitment at previous clubs was not exactly stellar - the chance to practically sign a new team. Paul McGowan and Connor Scully are probably the best centre midfield pairing in the league and Mitch Megginson can be relied on for goals, but the jury is out on a backline that will mostly be made up of newbies. Having been a Premiership side as recently as 2021, HAMILTON ACCIES need to arrest the slide...and they might do so after new ownership was followed by an influx of new blood that leaves them with a far stronger team than the one that got relegated from the Championship last season. They've stuck by manager John Rankin despite the drop, but he'll be expected to get a tune out of the likes of Dylan Tait, Euan Henderson and Kevin O'Hara; signing an entirely new defence is not a bad move either but they may take time to gel. Still, it feels like things can't get any worse (famous last words). QUEEN OF THE SOUTH showed some signs of life after Marvin Bartley became manager and they look to have recruited wisely - particularly getting keeper Murray Johnson and central defender Kyle McClelland on loan from Hibs. Dumfries is the latest stop for Efe Ambrose, who is heading inexorably towards a career climax in 2026 where he becomes a cult hero for an Angus club by scoring a crucial goal with a bullet header in a relegation playoff that saves his club's SPFL status before walking off into the sunset (niche Marvin Andrews reference there). If Bartley can coax Lee Connelly and Gavin Reilly back to their best then they will be dangerous. Of the part-time clubs, ALLOA ATHLETIC look the strongest, not least because they made the promotion playoffs last season. Brian Rice is an astute coach and continues to get plenty out of veterans Andy Graham (40 in September!) and Conor Sammon (37 in November). Sammon and Luke Donnelly give them a potent threat up top. They have had to replace most of last season's starting backline though and they had a pretty lousy League Cup campaign, so a regression is not that unlikely. EDINBURGH CITY looked like playoff candidates for most of the season but hit the skids, winning only three of their last sixteen games. Now they've lost all four League Cup group games too. John Robertson and Steven Warnock, arguably their two greatest attacking threats, have moved on, and while a summer takeover by a fan-led consortium has been blamed for Alan Maybury's failure to reinforce much, the bottom line is it is hard to give them the benefit of the doubt right now. Still, the combined creativity of Danny Handling and Innes Murray makes them worth a watch. It's mental that MONTROSE are in their sixth straight season at this level, and frankly its all down to the awesome management of Stewart Petrie. Last year felt like a step backward though, with a feeling that they had hit their ceiling and Petrie was finding it hard to refresh a settled squad that had done so well for so long. And that feeling has caused them to splash out - with a transfer fee and everything! - to sign League Two goal machine Kane Hester to give them a spark. How far can he and the evergreen Rory MacAllister fire them? We'll see. By the far the biggest turnover has been at KELTY HEARTS, where Michael Tidser replaced John Potter at the end of last season and set about basically gutting the entire squad; only eight players plus the player-boss himself remain. I'm always wary about how long it takes a team to gel and a lot of the newbies are guys who have blown hot-and-cold at this level in the past. The dream is that Tiwi Daramola, who scored an insane number of goals for Bo'ness Athletic last season, can do it at this level; four in four League Cup games is a good start. And lastly we come on to the promoted teams, both of whom have largely stuck with the group that got them up. STIRLING ALBION looked like a League One team last season and only needed to tinker; getting Dale Hilson in up front to partner Dale Carrick looks like an astute move. A couple of decent loan signings could make Darren Young's side very competitive very quickly in a division where former League Two champions have a recent history of back-to-back promotions. It's likely to be a lot harder for ANNAN ATHLETIC. Peter Murphy's side have punched above their weight for years but going up via the playoffs was astonishing. They have a close-knit bunch and crucially, a talented striker in Tommy Goss. But it's a sign of where they are at that they lost one of their starting defenders, Cammy Williamson, to Stranraer. It's hard to look at them and fancy them for anything other than a long campaign. So here's my inevitably wrong predicted table: 1 FALKIRK 2 HAMILTON ACADEMICAL 3 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 4 STIRLING ALBION 5 COVE RANGERS 6 ALLOA ATHLETIC 7 MONTROSE 8 EDINBURGH CITY 9 KELTY HEARTS 10 ANNAN ATHLETIC And the Twitter view: View the full article
  22. With no moneybags team in League Two right now it's decidedly harder to predict who is going to win it. Last season I suggested Forfar Athletic, who ended up looking like relegation candidates until they changed manager. Having a good (or terrible) boss, or being the team with the striker that scores twenty goals are the sort of factors that can have an exponential effect at this level. And so we segue rather clumsily straight onto ELGIN CITY, who nearly finished bottom last season and have made Ross Draper player-manager after he oversaw the last few matches of the previous campaign. And they have lost their 'striker that scores twenty goals', Kane Hester. More than ever their relative remoteness geographically makes bringing in players tough; so far they have made three loan signings and their only permanent newcomer is from the Highland League. I was right about Albion Rovers coming tenth last season and I feel pretty confident about condemning Elgin this time around. If someone is going to 'outdo' Elgin in the stinker stakes it might be CLYDE, relegated from League One via the playoffs last season but who appear more likely to be in danger of back-to-back relegations than yo-yoing back to League One. They are another side with a rookie in the dugout - Brian McLean - and they will have a heavy dependence on Martin Rennie for goals and they will need veteran midfielders Stuart Carswell and Ross Forbes to wind the clock back a fair bit. Sticking by the same backline that got them relegated last season also seems like a bold move, Cotton. Of course PETERHEAD were even worse than Clyde last season but they pivoted to their (also inexperienced) co-player managers Jordan Brown and Ryan Strachan sooner and have signed forward Kieran Shanks permanently from Arbroath; he showed enough in a loan spell last season to suggest he might do very well for them. Scott Ross and Joe McKee add experience to the backline and midfield and guys like Andy McCarthy and Conor O'Keefe should shine at this level. Whether this is enough to get them into the promotion fight is another matter. As the side newly promoted from the fifth tier (after only just overcoming Albion Rovers) THE SPARTANS should probably be more likely to finish in the bottom half but in truth they are a bit of an unknown to those of us who only looked ever at the Lowland League table to see if the B teams were struggling. They'll obviously be no mugs, and they've augmented last year's team with SPFL experience in Ayrton Sonkur, James Craigen and Danny Denholm. And they have Blair Henderson up front, who could well end up being League Two's top scorer, so I'd be surprised if they didn't establish themselves in the big leagues. BONNYRIGG ROSE ATHLETIC only clinched survival on the last day of 2022/23, but Robbie Horn's side looked more comfortable and astute as they gained more experience in their first SPFL season. Whether they have improved the squad much - beyond goalkeeper Paddy Martin - is another matter. As with so many of their peers, the form of the first choice number nine - Kieran McGachie in the Rosey Posey's case - could well be worth several positions in the table. STRANRAER were only marginally better than Bonnyrigg Rose, pulling away from danger after putting Scott Agnew in the dugout for the last few games. Agnew was an intelligent creative player and there is optimism that this will translate to his team. Ben Armour and Tam Orr should provide a goal threat, while they did well to poach full-back Cammy Williamson from promoted Annan. But how good - or not - their campaign is probably depends on how competent the manager is. Ditto DUMBARTON, whose boss Stevie Farrell has had two full seasons in charge; the first resulted in relegation from League One and the second saw a massive lead blown to Stirling in the title race. Most of their other concerns are off the pitch: filing their accounts late recently is a wee bit of a red flag, whilst the decision to share their pitch again (this time with Broomhill instead of Rangers B) has gone down like a lead balloon. The flip side is that this is a very good squad. Goalkeeper Brett Long, a backline with Aron Lynas, Mark Durnan, Sean Crighton and Carlo Pignatiello, Ryan Blair and Ross MacLean in midfield and Ryan Wallace up front should give them more than enough quality to win the title. Perhaps it is theirs to lose, but it's easy to see how they'll lose it. Again. FORFAR ATHLETIC arguably have the manager with the most impressive CV in the division, but only because Ray MacKinnon's move to coach under Duncan Ferguson at Forest Green fell through when Ferguson got the sack. MacKinnon came back with his tail between his legs and continued his rebuild of a side that were relegation candidates till he arrived in November. The permanent signings of Dundee United trio Adam Hutchinson, Finn Robson and Darren Watson, all of whom were on loan here last season, look good but Forfar seem desperately short up front with only Josh Skelly, plucked from Broughty Athletic, a recognised centre forward. If they can recruit well in that area in the next few weeks they should be there or thereabouts. STENHOUSEMUIR look rather more settled these days than when Stephen Swift was wheeler-dealing like a poundshop Harry Redknapp; just the nine signings so far this summer with keeper Darren Jamieson, defenders Gregor Buchanan and Ross Meechan and midfielder Jordan Kirkpatrick looking like the standouts. Stenny's obvious weakness right now is numbers, but one can imagine this squad being augmented by a few loanees in the coming weeks and Gary Naysmith leading them in a promotion challenge. Generally though the bookies seem to fancy EAST FIFE to do the business. Greig MacDonald seemed an unusual choice as coach last season but generally did well; it helps that they got Nathan Austin back to add to what was already a pretty overpowered front line. Brian Easton adds experience in defence (though he didn't half look past it at Hamilton last year) and with the experience of Allan Fleming and Stewart Murdoch among others they look pretty well set to compete at the top. So here's my predicted table, though my caveat would be that I think the top four are all potential title challengers, Elgin look hot favourites for the drop and you could probably put the other five clubs in any order you like. 1 EAST FIFE 2 DUMBARTON 3 FORFAR ATHLETIC 4 STENHOUSEMUIR 5 PETERHEAD 6 STRANRAER 7 THE SPARTANS 8 BONNYRIGG ROSE ATHLETIC 9 CLYDE 10 ELGIN CITY Remember to bookmark this and use it against me in the coming months. PS Here's the Twitterati view... View the full article
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