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hislopsoffsideagain

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Blog Entries posted by hislopsoffsideagain

  1. hislopsoffsideagain
    The initial countdown from 25 to 11 can be found here.  
    This is the ninth time we've done this. The eight previous '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)
    2019/20: Madis Vihmann (St. Johnstone)


    You'll note that we've never previously named a Celtic player at the top of this list. It won't surprise anyone that this is about to change...


    10. MICHAEL O'CONNOR (ROSS COUNTY)

    County took a flier on talented but troubled Irish striker O'Connor, whose gambling problems had scuppered big moves previously. He signed a two year deal in September and lasted less than three months, making a single sub appearance in the League Cup. What was particularly curious was the club's statement regarding his exit, where they stated he had "resigned". I mean, since when has a player resigned? This raises more questions than answers...



    9. DREY WRIGHT (HIBERNIAN)

    When I put out feelers on Twitter for potential candidates for this list, about a million (approximately) Hibs fans named Wright, signed from St. Johnstone last summer where he had impressed on the wing. Perhaps Jack Ross' tendency to use wing-backs rather than wingers has limited Wright's opportunities, but he's played just a single minute of league football in the last three months as he has become increasingly distanced from first team opportunities.



    8. JORDAN WHITE (MOTHERWELL)

    White has markedly improved since joining Ross County in January...which wouldn't be hard. Many (including myself) were dubious as to whether he could make the step up from the Championship, and by the end of August he had gone from ineffective starter to being an impact sub who made no impact. He failed to score or assist in any matches for the Steelmen and discounting the first half of his first start, they went onto score only one goal - a late consolation in a 5-1 defeat - with him on the pitch. In Dingwall he has at least come up with a winning goal against Celtic.



    7. REGAN CHARLES-COOK (ROSS COUNTY)

    Wideman Charles-Cook was seen as an exciting acquisition from Gillingham, and clearly he has something in his locker as both Stuart Kettlewell and John Hughes have given him more opportunities than other wingers in the County squad. But he's managed zero goals and zero assists in the league and the website WhoScored.com rates him as the worst outfield player in the Premiership this season. Many County fans are bemused that Jermaine Hylton in particular has had far fewer chances to impress.



    6. JAKE HASTIE (MOTHERWELL)

    That golden four months at the end of the 2018/19 season seem long ago now. Motherwell got £350,000 in compensation from Rangers for him that summer and got the player back - on loan - a year later. Still only 22, Hastie looks a shadow of the starlet he once was, starting just four games and carving out a role only as an unused sub. He still has two years left on his Ibrox deal, but it's clear he is in danger of not fulfilling his potential.



    5. COLLIN QUANER (ST MIRREN)

    It's only three seasons since Quaner was playing regularly in the Premier League with Huddersfield Town, and his arrival at St. Mirren looked like a potential coup. But the German forward had been without a club for six months before joining the Buddies in January and was subbed off with an injury on his debut only 20 minutes after coming on. He managed two more appearances, winning a very, very, very, very etc. soft penalty against Ross County before a fruitless start at Ibrox, and then got injured again with Jim Goodwin confirming that his season - and probably his career in Paisley - are over. 



    4. AARON CHAPMAN (MOTHERWELL)

    Motherwell signed Chapman as "experienced cover and competition for Trevor Carson" - their words. Well had so much confidence in him that when Carson got hurt they went out and signed another keeper, Jordan Archer. When Archer left at the end of December and Carson got injured yet again Chapman had to start a derby at Hamilton where in a 3-0 defeat he frankly looked like an outfielder playing in goal. He had actually started three other league games prior to that where he looked confident, but that Accies match will be all that Motherwell fans remember of him.



    3. ANTHONY STOKES (LIVINGSTON)

    This one can be filed under 'farce'. The veteran forward joined Livi in August, only to leave within a few weeks because he couldn't cope with training on astroturf. You'd think that would be the sort of thing you'd check out before you signed the player? He never played a game for the club. Since then, Stokes has been charged with headbutting a man, put on an anti-domestic abuse course and been accused of stalking his ex-partner, so perhaps Livingston dodged a bullet here.



    2. VASILIS BARKAS (CELTIC)

    Is Barkas salvageable? That'll be one of the big early questions for Celtic's new permanent manager, but recent reports suggest he will probably leave this summer. It's true that it can sometimes take foreign keepers a bit of time to adjust to British football, but for £4.5m Neil Lennon was entitled to expect the Greek to get the hang of it much quickly. Instead by December he was ditched for the Scottish Cup Final in favour of Conor Hazard (!), and every time he was recalled he seemed to quickly blot his copybook. Lennon hardly helped, seemingly scapegoating him when results are bad; after one disappointing performance he told the press of the need to build Barkas' confidence up with a run of more straightforward matches...and promptly dropped him for the next game, at home to Hamilton. It has been a complete and utter disaster for club and player.



    1. SHANE DUFFY (CELTIC)

    Until he came north, Shane Duffy was not a bad footballer - you don't play a hundred Premier League games and win forty caps for Ireland by being crap. But he was an old-fashioned big, strong, no-nonsense centre-back with not much pace, which made him an abysmal fit for a Celtic team that plays a high line and passes the ball out from the back. After he scored in his first two games one journalist quipped that Duffy might end up with a superior goal difference on his own to the teams he played against; as it stands that record is currently minus-30. His confidence is shot and his stock has fallen so far that he has been replaced by Stephen Welsh for the last couple of months as he awaits the end of his nightmare loan spell. He has cost Celtic more than £3m in loan fees and wages.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  2. hislopsoffsideagain
    We already tried this in January, but it seems reasonable to update it after the recent international break. Not that there are many changes - the number of 'certainties' has gone up from twelve to sixteen, mind - but the emergence of Che Adams was the big talking point.


    It will be interesting to see what strategy Clarke uses when putting together his twenty-three man squad. Many international coaches have in the past just picked two players for every position, but a more progressive plan would be to call up versatile players in order to free up squad positions for players - particularly attackers - that could offer different sorts of threats. Most likely the manager will stick with the core that has got him this far. The only outfield squad members not to even get off the bench in those three matches were Declan Gallagher, Andrew Considine and Greg Taylor.


    So here's how I see the current state of play...


    GOALKEEPERS
    CERTAINTIES: David Marshall, Craig Gordon
    PROBABLES: Jon McLaughlin
    MAYBES:
    LONG SHOTS: Liam Kelly, Scott Bain


    Given there's little reason for Clarke to ditch McLaughlin as the third choice keeper - there isn't an exciting youth project to take along for the ride instead - I could have put him as a certainty as well, but where would be the fun in that? Marshall could be blamed for goals in both the Austria and Israel games and he seems to have lost his place in the Derby County team in the last few weeks, and so his position in the starting lineup is very much under threat from Gordon. It is depressing to think that Scotland's best goalkeeper is actually 39 year old Allan McGregor, who retired from international football two years ago.


    FULL- BACKS
    CERTAINTIES: Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Stephen O'Donnell
    PROBABLES: Liam Palmer
    MAYBES: Greg Taylor
    LONG SHOTS: Paul McGinn


    Aaron Hickey would have been an intriguing wild card option had he not wrecked his shoulder recently. Tierney is listed here but if Robertson is fit he will start as a left-sided centre-back; that could lead Clarke to pick Taylor as 'backup left-back' but personally I think that would be overkill. Right-wing back continues to be an area of weakness. Ryan Fraser started there against the Faroes but using him in that role against quality opposition would be more cavalier than we would expect from Clarke. Would James Forrest, who has played that role more often at club level, be an alternative? More likely the boss sticks with his beloved O'Donnell who rarely impresses but also rarely lets Scotland down. Palmer is likely to come along as the backup, though could be a casualty in order to fit in a more versatile player like Callum Paterson.


    CENTRE-BACKS
    CERTAINTIES: Grant Hanley, Scott McTominay
    PROBABLES: Scott McKenna, Liam Cooper, Jack Hendry
    MAYBES: Declan Gallagher
    LONG SHOTS: Andrew Considine, Paul Hanlon, Ryan Porteous


    This is the position I've reshuffled most since the last time I did this exercise. Gallagher has dropped all the way from 'certainty' to 'maybe'. He hasn't started a club game since the end of January and that's come at the worst possible time for his international aspirations. Clarke seems to like a powerful guy who's good in the air in the centre of his back three and Grant Hanley looks very much like the first choice in that role right now, with McKenna probably the second. Is it really necessary to take Gallagher as well? Tierney and Liam Cooper would sort out the left-sided role, which would leave team mascot-extraordinaire Considine on the sideline. Given he started two of the recent qualifiers, one would have to assume Hendry is very much in the equation, though he'd be a sub if McTominay plays in defence rather than midfield.


    MIDFIELDERS
    CERTAINTIES: John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Ryan Jack, Kenny McLean
    PROBABLES: John Fleck
    MAYBES: David Turnbull
    LONG SHOTS: Billy Gilmour


    Jack dropped out of the recent games because of injury, and Scotland seemed to particularly miss him against Israel. I would still expect him to start alongside McGregor and McGinn in midfield for the opening Euros game. McLean played well against the Faroes. Fleck's club form has improved considerably over the last few months and he is the closest we have to a direct replacement for McGregor. Turnbull is unlucky that this area is a relative strength for Scotland but a strong finish to the campaign could yet swing things in his favour.


    ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS/WINGERS
    CERTAINTIES: Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, Ryan Fraser
    PROBABLES: James Forrest
    MAYBES:
    LONG SHOTS: Ryan Gauld


    If Forrest can get in half a dozen matches for Celtic between now and the end of the season then he's too good to leave out. The other three are sure picks, though it's still not clear how to get the best out of Armstrong in the current system. For all the plaudits Gauld is getting for his performances in Portugal, he's still not getting picked for his country.


    FORWARDS
    CERTAINTIES: Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes
    PROBABLES: Oli McBurnie
    MAYBES: Kevin Nisbet, Leigh Griffiths
    LONG SHOTS: Oli Burke, Callum Paterson, Lawrence Shankland


    Adams quickly showed that he is by some distance our most talented forward. Dykes is still the target man of choice, but he was better at doing the defensive work than providing a goal threat in the recent qualifiers. Clarke continues to show faith in McBurnie, but the Sheffield United man is utterly bereft of confidence. If I were the manager I would be thinking about which forwards I would want to have on my bench if I needed a goal late in the game; for that reason alone I think Griffiths should be picked but Nisbet seems to be ahead of him in the queue. Burke, Paterson and Shankland have work to do after missing out on the last squad.




    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. 
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  3. hislopsoffsideagain
    It's always fun being a critic, and even more so when it comes to Scottish football. In previous years the criticism of these articles has generally been along the lines of "you didn't rank our s*** player high enough". Except for the season I included St. Johnstone's David McMillan...but who was proven right then, I ask you?


    So this is the ninth year we've ranked the duds signed by Scottish Premiership clubs. Rory Boulding, Stephane Bahoken, Jim Fenlon, Rodney Sneijder, Joey Barton, Eduardo Herrera, Umar Sadiq, Madis Vihmann...who will be this year's 'winner'?


    Well, you won't find out today because the top ten will be published at a later date. But here's the countdown from 25 to 11 to whet your appetite...



    25. EDDIE NOLAN (MOTHERWELL)

    Does this player actually exist? The 32 year old defender joined Motherwell on loan on the last day of the winter window, but has never actually played a game or even sat on the bench. Maybe he's injured. Or maybe he took one look at Lanarkshire and scarpered back south; Motherwell's squad is currently so huge that it's possible no-one's noticed he's gone.



    24. MOHAMED MAOUCHE (ROSS COUNTY)
    Does this player actually exist, part two? John Hughes bigged him up when he signed in January as someone who would add flair to the midfield. But Maouche, who had been out of football for six months prior to joining County, was delayed in joining the squad by quarantine rules, then he was given leave for 'personal reasons', but by early February he was apparently ready to roll. We're still waiting. He hasn't even been a sub.



    23. DJIBRIL DIANI (LIVINGSTON)
    Does this player actually exist, part three? Actually, here the answer is yes; Diani agreed a loan move from Grasshopper Zurich at the start of February but it took nearly two months to sort out a work permit for the French midfielder. So we may actually see him in action after the split.



    22. SCOTT FOX (MOTHERWELL)
    Four different goalkeepers have started matches for Motherwell this season. That number does not include veteran Fox, who wrecked his knee in preseason training and who has been missing for the entire campaign. He probably should be ranked higher on this list just for having his signing announced with a photo of him in some sort of denim bodywarmer/hoodie combo.



    21. ISAAC OLAOFE (ST. JOHNSTONE)
    Callum Davidson brought two players in on loan from former club Millwall. Danny McNamara was a huge success. Isaac Olaofe was not. The forward went back to London in early October having made two substitute appearances; Saints had managed only four goals in their opening ten matches by that point, but Olaofe still couldn't get a look in.



    20. ISAK THORVALDSSON (ST. MIRREN)
    If you think Olaofe's stay in Perth was brief, it was nothing on Thorvaldsson's spell at St. Mirren which lasted just thirty-eight days and two cameos off the bench. Manager Jim Goodwin suggested afterward that homesickness was a big factor, and that Paisley was "a hell of a long way away" from his parent club Norwich. Maybe it just felt like that...



    19. TUNDE OWOLABI (HAMILTON ACCIES)
    Owolabi can probably be classed as a low-risk signing, but he did score 35 goals for FC United of Manchester last season. That's 35 more than he scored for Accies, for whom he started only twice - one of which was a League Cup humiliation at Annan - before being released at the start of February. He is now at Irish club Finn Harps.



    18. JAKE EASTWOOD (KILMARNOCK)
    Goalkeeper Eastwood signed on loan from Sheffield United, and started on opening day against Hibs. Five minutes into his league debut he had a rush of blood to the head and raced out of his box, gifting Martin Boyle a goal in the process. At half-time he was subbed with a thigh injury. He never played again, returning south in January. That forty-five minute long Killie career will go down in infamy. 



    17. MARC MCNULTY (DUNDEE UNITED)
    United fans are actually largely sympathetic towards McNulty, given Micky Mellon's tactical system means his forwards seem to spend bugger all time in the box. But just two years on from winning two international caps, McNulty has managed all of two goals this season - and one of those was a consolation goal at Ibrox. That's a dreadful return.





    16. RYAN EDMONDSON (ABERDEEN)
    Edmondson did score twice in one game against Hamilton, but those were his only goals for Aberdeen. Having been signed on loan after Sam Cosgrove got injured, Edmondson himself got crocked quickly and on returning to fitness discovered Derek McInnes had recruited Marley Watkins. Ultimately he became an impact sub making minimal impact. After going back to Leeds he went on loan to Northampton Town where he's played regularly but only scored once.



    15. JUSTIN JOHNSON (HAMILTON ACCIES)
    Dutch winger Johnson made a handful of appearances for Dundee United five or so years ago, and returned to Scotland after a couple of seasons in the Cypriot Second Division. Now, I know the Scottish Premiership isn't an elite league, but I'd like to think it's a few steps - perhaps an entire flight of stairs - above the Cypriot Second Division. Johnson made seven appearances for Accies, and they never scored a goal whilst he was on the pitch. He left at the end of January and signed for Morton; given he's managed only a couple of sub appearances there (they haven't scored during those either) perhaps the Championship is a bit better than that Cypriot league too?



    14. LARS LOKOTSCH (LIVINGSTON)
    Livingston's approach to strikers this season is similar to mine when playing Football Manager - always looking for a better one and willing to discard even the most recent signings for a guy whose rating is a fraction of a star greater. Lokotsch was plucked from the German fourth tier on a two year deal with an option of a third. He did start a couple of league games but was quickly sidelined as the club brought in upgrades. Lokotsch was loaned to Raith Rovers within a few months, where he mostly sat on the bench, before returning to Germany in January.



    13. NATHAN SHERON (ST. MIRREN)
    The most damning thing one can say about Sheron was that by the autumn he struggled to make the Buddies' bench even when they were naming kids on it. His last appearance for the club was in mid-October; before then he had been a regular in the starting XI but as soon as he was dropped results started to improve. St. Mirren's win percentage in seven league games with him - zero. Their win percentage in league games without him - 38%. If Jim Goodwin had dropped Sheron sooner, they'd have probably made the top six with a bit to spare. Sheron returned to parent club Fleetwood in January, but he's been so inconsquential there that no-one's even updated his Wikipedia bio to say he's gone back.



    12. DIEGO LAXALT (CELTIC)
    At least Laxalt is on loan, which means he will return to Milan this summer and Celtic fans will not have to endure him further. Laxalt was signed to play wing-back, only for Neil Lennon to ditch 3-5-2 within days and leave the Uruguayan playing as a more orthodox left-back, where his defensive frailties were frequently exposed. And I can't look at him, with his ultra-thick spectacles and braided hair, without thinking of his resemblance to Lisa Loeb of early nineties hit 'Stay (I Missed You) fame.



    11. ALBIAN AJETI (CELTIC)

    Celtic weren't short of strikers when they paid a whopping £5m for Ajeti, and after a reasonable start he unsurprisingly became a multi-million pound backup for Odsonne Edouard. If he was brought in to be the Frenchman's successor, the plan has certainly hit the skids. He's scored once since the end of September and John Kennedy even left him out of the matchday squad for the most recent game against Rangers. 


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  4. hislopsoffsideagain
    Legend has it that Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister in the late nineteen-fifties, was once asked what is most likely to blow a government off course and replied "events, dear boy, events!"


    As in politics, so in life. And so in football, at least in Inverness. Make no mistake: Caley Thistle, their players and those who run the club have significant responsibility for their current plight too, but it has taken a perfect storm of factors, many of which are out of anyone's control, to leave them where they are - in extreme danger of plummeting into League One.


    At first, it looked like lockdown might be a boon for the Highlanders.


    ICT were second in the Championship when play stopped in March 2020, albeit miles adrift of Dundee United. Whilst holding onto that second spot was hardly a given in a very close division there were grounds to expect a top four finish and another shot at the promotion playoffs. But when the season was called early talk turned to 'reconstruction' and the possibility of expanding the Premiership to fourteen clubs and keeping Hearts in the top tier. Inverness would have been the beneficiaries of the need for an even number of participants.


    So how do you get from there to freefall in such a short space of time?


    Last summer was always going to require a rebuild - Shaun Rooney, Carl Tremarco, Charlie Trafford, Tom Walsh and Jordan White left, following Coll Donaldson and Jamie McCart last January - and recruitment was going to be tough anyway given the club's tight finances. Add in the money lost because of Covid, and travel restrictions - try selling the prospect of not seeing friends and family for months to potential new signings - and in hindsight John Robertson did remarkably well to tempt Robbie Deas, Scott Allardice and Wallace Duffy north. It also explains why the team are rather more reliant on Shane Sutherland (who returned to full-time football after years at Elgin and Peterhead) and Daniel Devine (whose partner is from Aviemore) than a club with promotion aspirations should be.


    The coup de grace was the arrival on loan of winger Kai Kennedy from Rangers. Kennedy had good and bad days - as all young wide players do - but he particularly shone in a 3-0 win in Dumfries live on TV on a Friday night. By January, he was gone; the reason - homesickness - a stark example of the difficulties that people face in these trying times. In a division where the majority of clubs have four or more loan players boosting squad depth, Caley Thistle are unique in currently having none.


    But in that victory away to Queen of the South and another at home to Raith Rovers the week before, ICT were impressive and dominant, looking every inch like a side who would be in the promotion playoff mix. Since then they have won just one of twelve matches.


    Kennedy's departure was supposed to be compensated for by the arrival of former Hearts youth Anthony McDonald but he picked up an injury before even playing a game and had surgery last week. A thin squad - even more so because Kevin McHattie, Lewis Toshney and Aaron Doran were frequently in the treatment room - has been stretched further after a run of postponements has left them with a hectic two-games-a-week schedule for February and March. Those matches were supposed to produce momentum for a surge up the table but the opposite has been true, with tired players low on confidence struggling against fresher, buoyed opposition. Nine midweek matches have been played this season in all competitions, the opposition (Cowdenbeath, Raith, Dunfermline, Morton twice, Arbroath, Alloa, Queen of the South and Dundee) hardly overwhelming. Inverness have not won any of them. They are in action on the next two Tuesdays.


    Then there's the problems in the dugout, with the double blow of first losing assistant manager Scott Kellacher to serious illness and then the need for manager Robertson to take compassionate leave following a bereavement with no return date timetabled. Only a fortnight in, all but the first twenty minutes of interim replacement Neil McCann's tenure has been horrendous, with a promising draw with Hearts followed up by limp defeat at Dundee, a rather undeserved draw at bottom-of-the-table Alloa and then another loss at home to Morton (who had been winless in ten!).


    McCann has come into a rough situation, but as many feared he has insisted on using the blueprint that didn't work especially well for him when he was in charge at Dens Park. Playing out from the back is a risky strategy with elite players. With Championship players on Championship pitches it becomes especially dicey. To insist on it in driving wind and rain, as was the case in the Morton match, is insane. There are already worrying parallels to be drawn with John Hughes' infamous spell in charge of Raith a few years back where his insistence on a similar style with a struggling side led to disaster.


    There is an awful lot for the supporters to be frustrated with - and that's before we even get to the lousy online streams they've had to pay for this season, including the national embarrassment of the Pixellot camera system which couldn't tell the difference between a football and a linesman's head. It is hard to make watching Caley Thistle more painful just now is having to view it through Pixellot just about manages to do so.


    The last two seasons have seen two full-time clubs - Falkirk and Partick Thistle - suffer an almighty collapse and drop into League One. Don't bet against Caley Thistle following them there.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  5. hislopsoffsideagain
    We have only a couple of months of the season left, and by my count there are - at the time of writing - 141 Premiership players whose contracts are up in the summer. With Covid having impacted finances there are going to be some big budgetary decisions at some clubs to come. And there are many well-known names - often club stalwarts - who may be at risk of the axe. Here's my take on who will stay and who will go...(as ever, I look forward to being proven completely and utterly wrong) 


    ABERDEEN
    Out of contract (9): Bruce Anderson, Michael Devlin, Tommie Hoban, Greig Leigh, Shay Logan, Niall McGinn, Ethan Ross, Ash Taylor, Miko Virtanen
    Loans ending (4): Callum Hendry, Fraser Hornby, Florian Kamberi, Gary Woods
    There are some significant decisions ahead for Derek McInnes. Are long-time club servants McGinn and Logan (both mostly substitutes this season) finished at this level? Are injury-prone defenders Devlin, Hoban and Leigh worth persisting with? Both Hoban and Taylor have played plenty this season. Ross and Virtanen have recently been recalled from loan spells to sit on the bench, while Anderson seems unlikely to get a new deal given that he has been loaned out to Hamilton.
    It's certainly possible that some or all of the Dons' loan signings could extend their stay; Woods would be a good veteran backup for Joe Lewis, while Hendry, Hornby and Kamberi all have the chance to impress.


    CELTIC
    Out of contract (3): Scott Brown, Karamoko Dembele, Armstrong Okoflex
    Loans ending (4): Shane Duffy, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Jonjoe Kenny, Diego Laxalt
    Brown will be 36 in the summer and it's hard to see a scenario in which he's a regular contributor next season. If his leadership will be badly missed, it's because Celtic have totally failed to prepare for a future without him. But the player himself has claimed he has been told "it is completely and utterly up to myself  whether I want to stay"...isn't that a decision that needs to be made by an incoming DoF and Head Coach?
    Dembele and Okoflex were once considered wonderkids and their failure to fulfil their potential so far does not reflect well on anyone.
    The supporters would probably like to forget as soon as possible that Duffy and Laxalt ever played for them. Surely Elyounoussi will not remain for a third year on loan at a club where he is in and out of the team. And surely Kenny, only a year removed from impressing in the Bundesliga, will set his sights higher than staying at Celtic for the long term.
    I imagine most Celtic fans will look at the list of names above and think to themselves "I wish this list was longer"...


    DUNDEE UNITED
    Out of contract (2): Peter Pawlett, Dillon Powers
    Loans ending (2): Luke Bolton, Marc McNulty
    United have remarkably few players not under contract beyond the summer, so there's not much to say here. Neither Pawlett nor Powers has impressed enough to earn a new deal. McNulty has been a disappointment during his loan spell, while Bolton has been in and out of the side.


    HAMILTON ACCIES
    Out of contract (9): Brian Easton, Kyle Gourlay, Aaron Martin, Reegan Mimnaugh, Kyle Munro, Hakeem Odoffin, Marios Ogkmpoe, George Stanger, Nathan Thomas
    Loans ending (2): Bruce Anderson, Lee Hodson
    Obviously Hamilton's actions will heavily depend on whether they stay up, but regardless they will struggle to hold onto Odoffin, who has been so impressive in recent months in midfield. Ogkmpoe continues to be a first choice up front and one assumes there will be a new deal for him if he wants it. Easton has largely stayed fit this season and would certainly be a sentimental choice for a new contract. Martin has been a first choice since signing. Munro and Mimnaugh are on the fringes of the starting lineup and are more likely to be extended than fellow youngster Stanger. Gourlay would probably be a cheap backup keeper. Thomas has rarely played due to injuries.
    Regarding the loan players, Hodson may fancy finally putting down some roots after a string of loan moves. Anderson has found a better fit here than at Aberdeen and I bet Brian Rice would love to keep him.


    HIBERNIAN
    Out of contract (5): Kevin Dabrowski, Jackson Irvine, Matt Macey, Ofir Marciano, Stephen McGinn
    Loans ending:
    Three of these players are the club's three goalkeepers. Marciano has been offered a new deal but is wanted by clubs in his native Israel. Macey has played understudy to since arriving in January, while Dabrowski impressed on loan at Dumbarton earlier in the season but its unclear if Hibs consider him to be a potential number one going forward.
    As for the outfielders, Irvine may fancy he could get better wages if he returned south, while McGinn was signed only as a depth piece and its hard to see him making many first team appearances going forward.


    KILMARNOCK
    Out of contract (25): Tomas Brindley, Kirk Broadfoot, Chris Burke, Innes Cameron, Kyle Connell, Diaguely Dabo, Euan Deveney, Gary Dicker, Clevid Dikamona, Nicke Kabamba, Greg Kiltie, Kyle Lafferty, Ross Millen, Youssouf Mulumbu, George Oakley, Mitch Pinnock, Josh Rennie, Danny Rogers, Craig Ross, Keir Russell, Ally Taylor, Aaron Tshibola, Steven Warnock, Calum Waters, Danny Whitehall
    Loans ending (4): Colin Doyle, Zech Medley, Brandon Pierrick, Zeno Rossi
    This Killie list is bloated by the number of youngsters who made first team appearances in the League Cup due to a Covid outbreak - it also means that it's possible I'm wrong about their contract status.
    Looking at the more established players, it will be interesting to see how Tommy Wright feels about veterans like Broadfoot, Burke, Dicker and Mulumbu. Lafferty may see this short-term contract as putting himself in the shop window, but his arrival has limited minutes for Kabamba, Oakley and Whitehall. It would be a surprise if first choice keeper Rogers left. Tshibola has been reliable enough too, while the jury is out on Dabo, Alex Dyer's last signing. Dikamona has been a disappointment and may not be as cheap to resign as fellow defenders Millen and Waters, though whether the latter two are up to standard is another matter. Kiltie has shown flashes but might benefit from a change of scenery. Pinnock hasn't really shown any flashes at all.
    One suspects that if Brindley, Cameron, Connell and Taylor haven't broken into the lineup by now they probably never will.
    It's unlikely any of the loan players remain after May. Doyle was a convenient backup keeper while Medley, Rossi and Pierrick are clearly here with a view to development.


    LIVINGSTON
    Out of contract (14): Efe Ambrose, Raffaele De Vita, Nicky Devlin, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Jon Guthrie, Steve Lawson, Alan Lithgow, Gary Maley, Josh Mullen, Carlo Pignatiello, Scott Robinson, Ross Stewart, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Scott Tiffoney
    Loans ending (3): Djibril Diani, Robby McCrorie, Julien Serrano
    It's safe to assume Livi will want to hold onto Devlin, Guthrie, Mullen and Robinson, all of whom have been significant contributors this season. Ambrose's age may work against him a bit, while Lawson has looked good when playing but hasn't played that much. Lithgow's future may be up in the air due to long-term injury, while De Vita and Stewart have been out on loan this season and shouldn't be expected back. Emmanuel-Thomas, Taylor-Sinclair and Tiffoney have failed to establish themselves and are likely to go too. If Maley gets a new deal, this year it probably won't be put to an internet vote...
    Serrano has made himself the first choice left-back and you could see a permanent deal being worked out there. McCrorie hasn't had a great season though while Diani hasn't played yet and so is a complete unknown.


    MOTHERWELL
    Out of contract (18): Allan Campbell, Aaron Chapman, Robbie Crawford, Devante Cole, Dean Cornelius, David Devine, Charles Dunne, Sam Foley, Scott Fox, Declan Gallagher, Christopher Long, Ross Maciver, Bevis Mugabi, Stephen O'Donnell, Liam Polworth, Harry Robinson, Sherwin Seedorf, Jamie Semple
    Loans ending (6): Jake Hastie, Liam Kelly, Tyler Magloire, Eddie Nolan, Jordan Roberts, Harry Smith
    This is a long list, so - assuming Well don't go down - there's certainly going to be an opportunity for Graham Alexander to revamp this squad if he so wishes. It would seem unlikely that Campbell, Gallagher or O'Donnell will remain; Gallagher has supposedly triggered an extension in his contract but the club have been coy about that and he has a lot of suitors. Meanwhile don't expect to see Chapman, Foley, Robinson or Seedorf retained, and long-term absentees Fox and Dunne will find it hard to justify new deals. Alexander will probably want to keep first team regulars Cole, Crawford and Mugabi, but Polworth is out of favour just now and Long only came back to the club last summer after not finding a better offer elsewhere.
    Goalkeeper Kelly and centre-back Magloire have impressed on loan so far, while Roberts has already shown more than he did for Hearts. They're more likely to stay for the long-term than Hastie (who has been a non-factor), Smith (who has been mostly injured) and Nolan (who may not even exist).


    RANGERS
    Out of contract (9):  Leon Balogun, Jamie Barjonas, Steven Davis, Jermain Defoe, Daniel Finlayson, Andy Firth, Allan McGregor, Dapo Mebude, Greg Stewart
    Loans ending (1): Bongani Zungu


    It's already safe to say that there will be no new deal for 38 year old Defoe, now fourth choice striker despite being on £30,000/week, but 36 year old Davis is still highly thought of and Steven Gerrard wants him to stay. Stewart will be away, and Barjonas, Finlayson and Mebude will need to try their luck elsewhere after failing to make the step up from the academy. Firth is probably an inexpensive third choice keeper.
    The main questions are whether 39 year old McGregor hangs up his gloves, whether Balogun has done enough as a useful backup to justify a new deal and whether the recent Covid embarrassment scuppers Zungu's chances of signing permanently.


    ROSS COUNTY
    Out of contract (20): Tony Andreu, Josh Black, Ross Draper, Michael Gardyne, Jermaine Hylton, Ross Laidlaw, Mohamed Maouche, Billy Mckay, Callum Morris, Ross Munro, Jason Naismith, Connor Randall, Blair Spittal, Jordan Tillson, Carl Tremarco, Iain Vigurs, Keith Watson, Jordan White, Ben Williamson, Matthew Wright
    Loans ending (4): Joe Hilton, Leo Hjelde, Stephen Kelly, Charlie Lakin
    The future of a lot of these players will be dependent on what division County play in next year, not least because John Hughes is unlikely to stay on if they go down. The club tend to look after players who have had long tenures, so Gardyne and Vigurs may be kept on with a view to joining the coaching staff further down the line. Also likely to stay regardless are first choice keeper Laidlaw and striker White, who previously spent two years in the Highlands with Inverness. Likely to leave are Draper - whose injury history will make it hard to justify retaining him.- Tremarco, who is well past his best, and Maouche who hasn't even played for the club due to a mixture of injury and personal issues. As for the rest, only Naismith is likely to have Premiership suitors.
    None of the loanees are likely to stay, with the parent clubs of all four likely to see this as a step in their development.


    ST. JOHNSTONE
    Out of contract (15): Callum Booth, Craig Bryson, Craig Conway, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson, Charlie Gilmour, Olly Hamilton, Chris Kane, Stevie May, Guy Melamed, Jordan Northcott, Michael O'Halloran, Elliot Parish, John Robertson, Scott Tanser
    Loans ending (2): James Brown, Glenn Middleton
    Callum Davidson has to decide whether his four veteran midfielders - Bryson (34), Conway (36 in May), Craig (34) and Murray Davidson (33) - are worth extensions. Up front, there are also decisions to be made on Kane and Melamed, who have played well for the last few months, and May and O'Halloran, who have not. You'd imagine one or both left-backs, Booth and Tanser, will be kept on, while Parish is a satisfactory backup keeper. Winter signing Gilmour hasn't had a chance to impress yet while academy products Hamilton, Northcott and Robertson are not really in first team contention.
    Neither of the loan players have forced their way into the first XI so far and there's no sign that either of them have been brought in with a view to remaining long term.


    ST. MIRREN
    Out of contract (12): Cameron Breadner, Dylan Connelly, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Ilkay Durmus, Ryan Flynn, Marcus Fraser, Lewis Jamieson, Nicholas McAllister, Junior Morias, Jonathan Obika, Collin Quaner, Peter Urminsky
    Loans ending (2): Daniel Finlayson, Brandon Mason
    The Buddies will make Eamonn Brophy's loan move permanent in the summer. Jim Goodwin's priority will be retaining Fraser, who has had the best season of his career, and Doyle-Hayes. Connelly and Durmus have also seen plenty of action this season and Obika remains a fan favourite. 
    In contrast, Morias, who is out on loan, will surely be away and Urminsky has failed to rise beyond third choice keeper. Quaner has barely played since arriving in February and so is hard to assess. Finlayson hasn't played at all since joining on loan from Rangers last autumn and Mason has only featured intermittently so don't expect them to stay on.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  6. hislopsoffsideagain
    Right, the Neil Lennon era is finally over. The lame duck of the last several months has quacked its last. It would seem a bit cruel for someone to recount how it came to this, to rub salt into the wound...

    So now the question is: where do Celtic go from here?


    They are a distant second to Rangers, eighteen points adrift. They have no manager, no Director of Football and the new Chief Executive does not start until the summer. They have several key players likely to leave at the end of the season, and so much deadwood in the squad that you could build an ark out of it (the mediocre left-backs went in two-by-two, hurrah, hurrah...). Whilst they will be in the Champions League qualifiers, the path to the group stage potentially includes matches against French, Portuguese or Russian opponents. And don't forget Covid and its effect on finances; the club lost £6m between June and December alone.


    But as Einstein once said, "in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity". Can Celtic turn this into a moment where they reinvent themselves and drag themselves back towards not only the domestic title but also European success? Basically, is this going to be a John Barnes/Kenny Dalglish disaster, or a Martin O'Neill miracle?


    Here's what needs to be done. It's a hell of a job. In short (much to the chagrin of the supporters), they need to copy what their greatest rivals have done in the last year or two...


    THE NEW MANAGER
    I prepare to be proved wrong - I never expected Brendan Rodgers to come to Scotland - but it could be very difficult for the club to attract a name with high pedigree. One issue is that Brexit means that managers from outside the UK will need work permits, which could prove quite tricky and prevent the club snaring the 21st century equivalent of Wim Jansen. Of foreign coaches mentioned in dispatches, Rafa Benitez is surely unrealistic, whilst Roberto Martinez's exploits with Belgium would surely leave him fancying he could do better. Eddie Howe makes more sense but there may be jobs closer to home (Crystal Palace? Newcastle?) that could come up in the near future. In contrast, Steve Clarke may see this as a step up but he surely wouldn't leave Scotland until they were knocked out of the Euros and would therefore only have a few weeks in the job before the new season.


    In short, this search could be long and laborious. One hopes that the club, already having realized Lennon was a busted flush, have already started it.


    RECRUITMENT
    It's plain for all to see that standards have dropped dramatically since Lennon replaced Brendan Rodgers. There have been unkind (and probably accurate) suggestions that signing policy was being run as much by Peter Lawwell as by the coaching staff. Regardless, Celtic do not have a philosophy in place for how the first team is going to play and how to build the squad around that. Lennon did insist last summer on moving to a 3-5-2 and recruiting with a view to that, but those tactics made little sense given the players he had available - shoehorning James Forrest into a wing-back role and leaving little room for Mo Elyounoussi, Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie - and the quality of opposition; three centre-backs and a defensive midfielder against Hamilton Accies?


    Meanwhile the youth academy continues to offer only crumbs. Mikey Johnston is perenially injured, while the jury is out on whether Stephen Welsh can be the next Stephen McManus or the next Stephen Crainey. Kids who were hyped up a few years ago such as Karamoko Dembele, Armstrong Oko-flex and Cameron Harper are set to leave having failed to make the grade, with poor development and a lack of a realistic pathway to the first team among the reasons for this.


    Celtic seem to have been in the market for a Director Of Football for sometime now, and finding one who will mesh well with the new manager/head coach is critical. Perhaps the best strategy would be to appoint the DoF first? Bouncing around from one strategy to another is not an efficient or cost-effective strategy in modern football and doing so (Lennon to Deila to Rodgers to Lennon) is one of the reasons they have ended up in this mess. Celtic can aspire to get back in the Champions League in the next year or two, but the process of turning them into a club that can get there on a regular basis again will take much, much longer.


    THE SQUAD
    It's probably best to look at this by position group, but damn it's going to be a big job for the new boss to sort this out.


    GOALKEEPER
    This mainly depends on whether Vasilis Barkas is salvageable. It's safe to say that for £4.5m Celtic expected a rather safer pair of hands. Scott Bain is an acceptable backup but nothing more, whilst Conor Hazard went from cup final starter to persona non grata in the space of a few weeks; it's not even clear whether he has signed a new contract or not. Barkas wouldn't be the first goalie who has a difficult first season and makes a huge leap in his second, but if not then Celtic will be back in the goalie market again.


    DEFENCE
    Kristoffer Ajer will probably leave as he only has one year left on his contract; his stagnation under Lennon may well cost the club several million pounds. Shane Duffy and Diego Laxalt have been loan duds; Jonjoe Kenny is a far better player but convincing the right-back to make his move from Everton permanent may not be easy. Anthony Ralston is under contract for another year but clearly has no future here. And neither do Boli Bolingoli, Jack Hendry or Lee O'Connor, who are all out on loan currently.


    So that leaves Christopher Jullien, Greg Taylor and Stephen Welsh. And Jullien may not even be fit for the start of next season. Eek. I suppose you could also count Nir Bitton as a defender, though as far as I can see Lennon was the only person who did.


    MIDFIELD
    Scott Brown will be thirty-six in June and it's clearly time to put him out to pasture/melt him down for glue (delete as applicable depending on how you feel about him). Tom Rogic is likely to take up an offer from an Asian club, and it's hard to see Mo Elyounoussi returning for a third season on loan or Olivier Ntcham coming back from his temporary move to Marseille. The good news is that Ismaila Soro, Callum McGregor and David Turnbull can probably provide a pretty balanced central midfield, but there's a real need for depth here. Scott Robertson is that rarest of things - an Academy product who the club have high hopes for. A new manager might light a fire under youngster Ewan Henderson too?


    ATTACK
    I think its safe to assume Odsonne Edouard will be offski with only a year to go on his current deal, and the smart money is on Ryan Christie looking for a new challenge as well. Celtic will not be short of numbers up front, but they might be short on quality. There's Albian Ajeti, who has scored a few goals but who really should have made more of an impact given his £5m transfer fee; Patryk Klimala, a £3.5m dud; the erratic Leigh Griffiths; and the forgotten Vakoun Bayo. Out wide there's another failure in Marian Shved (whose arrival actually predates Lennon), plus Mikey 'Mr Glass' Johnston and James Forrest, who is close to a return from a long injury layoff.


    There will presumably be cash to spend, especially if there are outgoings; Edouard in particular should fetch a huge fee. But whoever takes this job has a heck of a job on their hands. And unlike Brendan Rodgers a few years ago, he has a proper opponent on the other side of Glasgow who could make life very, very difficult for them.


    Celtic simply cannot afford to get this wrong.




    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  7. hislopsoffsideagain
    Back in the olden days, when everything was in black and white - or maybe it just felt like that in Aberdeen at the start of the 2000s - I was a regular visitor at Pittodrie. One season under Ebbe Skovdahl the Dons finished fourth in the league; later on under Jimmy Calderwood they came fourth three times and third once. Other league finishes in the early years of the twenty-first century include eighth, eleventh, ninth, ninth, ninth, eighth. And of course there was Skovdahl's first campaign, where they were spared relegation only because Falkirk's ground was at risk of falling down at any moment.


    Leon Mike, Laurent D'Jaffo, Leigh Hinds, David Zdrilic, Lubomir Blaha, Dyron Daal, David Bus, Jerel Ifill...doubtless Aberdeen fans will remember plenty more duffers from that era, but these were names that jogged this particular memory, and not in a nice way. It does no harm to remember that things could, and have been, a heck of a lot worse.


    However, that does not necessarily mean that Derek McInnes should get a free pass.


    Times have changed during the seven years that Deek has managed the Dons. Expectations are higher, and should be. Part of that is down to his own success - four consecutive second places (which would have been five but for a missed foul on the keeper in the final match of the 2013-14 season) - but also investment in the club is rather higher than it was in the dog days of Skovdahl, Steve Paterson and even Craig Brown. The club have the third highest wage bill in Scotland, and by that measure alone coming fourth in each of the last two seasons behind Steve Clarke's Kilmarnock and Stephen Robinson's Motherwell respectively is an underachievement. And there has been just one trophy, a League Cup.


    There is a school of thought that after a few years under the same manager football clubs often become stale, and that is the perfect adjective for how things feel in the North-East. Arguably the peak was the 2016-17 season where they reached both cup finals and went toe-to-toe with Celtic's invincibles in the Scottish Cup Final. Four years later, six of the fourteen who played that day are still at the club, but only keeper Joe Lewis (who has not had a great season by his standards) is really anywhere near that level any more. Shay Logan is rarely trusted now, Andrew Considine's Scotland cap feelgood story shouldn't distract from the fact that he is past his best, and Jonny Hayes, Ash Taylor and Niall McGinn - each of whom left and then came back - appear to be very much on the decline. 


    Rebuilding the team has not gone to plan. In three and a half years, one could argue the only unequivocally successful signings have been Gary Mackay-Steven (now long gone), Lewis Ferguson, Ross McCrorie and Sam Cosgrove (sold for good money last week). The list of duds is rather longer: Michael Devlin and Ronald Hernandez in defence, Greg Tansey, Chris Forrester, Stephen Gleeson, Craig Bryson, Funso Ojo and Dylan McGeouch in midfield as McInnes used up significant resources trying to replicate the Jack-Shinnie-McLean trio in the centre of the park; Curtis Main and James Wilson up front.


    Worse, the club's youth system has not exactly come up trumps, with the exception of Scott McKenna. Scott Wright only shone in fits and bursts, while we're still waiting for Connor McLennan to put it all together and beginning to wonder if Bruce Anderson ever will.


    It's not just personnel that are the problem. Aberdeen's philosophy has not evolved at all since McInnes first arrived. This is especially noticeable when they are out of possession, with a focus on man-to-man marking all over the pitch and immediate pressing of the ball when it is lost. This previously worked well when the overall quality of the team was higher and when they played so much of the game in the opposition half, but now most opponents have them worked out. Teams who are good enough in possession to beat that initial press find space between the lines, and players who are clever enough to switch position (especially coming off the wing) can easily cause havoc with the shape of the team.


    In attack there continues to be a focus on getting it wide and sticking it in the box, which is simply not the most effective way of scoring goals in the modern game. Neither the wide players nor the forwards have been consistently dangerous for months now; Cosgrove had scored only twice from open play in twenty-seven matches before his departure, while Main is a player who can only be effective in nineteen-eighties hoofball. To make matters worse the one impressive forward, Marley Watkins, got injured during his loan spell and returned south. Their leading assist providers, Hayes and Ryan Hedges, are averaging one assist every eight league games. Hedges is now out for the season.


    The deadline day wheeler-dealing in strikers felt very un-McInnes, a throw of the dice from a manager who generally seems risk-averse. Given everything else, such unorthodoxy is probably not a bad thing. The odds of one or more of Fraser Hornby, Callum Hendry and Florian Kamberi proving their worth are probably decent, but it feels like an act of desperation than a cunning plan. If it turns out as a double six, revitalizes the place and drags the Dons back into third place with some momentum, then maybe, just maybe, there is still a future at Aberdeen for the current boss. But it does feel like too little to late, like change is inevitable.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  8. hislopsoffsideagain
    It is ten months since Covid forced Scottish football into lockdown. After all this time we still have no fans at matches, all divisions from League One downwards have been stopped until at least the end of January and the Scottish Cup has been halted. How depressing.


    And that is of course because of the even more miserable fact that Covid is still out there. Vaccination will hopefully provide a light at the end of the tunnel. But for Scottish football clubs that light cannot be reached quickly enough, and there is always the underlying fear that it will turn out that the end of said tunnel is on fire.


    It is reassuring that so far none of the 42 SPFL clubs have hit the wall, and that none appear to be in imminent danger of doing so. Government grants of £500,000 to each Championship club, £150,000 to each League One club and £100,000 to each League Two club, coupled with the philanthropy of James Anderson, have been a real boon.


    Meanwhile Premiership clubs can access a reasonably generous loan scheme from the government. This week Kilmarnock were the first team to confirm they'll be taking up this opportunity, admitting they expect a seven figure loss for this season. That's a huge sum of money for a club of their size and there's no reason to believe other similar-sized top flight clubs - with the exception of Motherwell, who sold David Turnbull to Celtic for megabucks - aren't in the same boat, even despite taking advantage of the furlough scheme during the spring and summer.


    But that government support should mean they can weather the storm till the end of the season...as long as the season ends.


    The big fear now for Premiership - and other SPFL - clubs has to be that Covid forces things to a halt again. That would mean missing out on several million pounds of TV money from Sky Sports and would therefore reduce the size of the prize money pot drastically. 


    And while the top flight has managed (with a few notable exceptions) to keep going since August, the bottom line is that Covid restrictions were a lot more relaxed then than they are now. The halting of the lower divisions seems based on the not unreasonable logic that sending mostly part-time players, who may be exposed to Covid as part of their day jobs, all around the country is not especially wise; in order to continue, Championship clubs have had to start their own testing regimens. At a cost of £18,000 per month, I wonder whether a few of those teams might be quite happy to stop too; instead of paying players to play in front of no fans, they'd be able to go back to furloughing and save money.


    One potential consequence of that though would be one which is also staring League One and League Two in the face: not being able to complete this season either. Whilst calling the leagues by points-per-game was pretty acceptable after playing so much of the 2019/20 season, the clubs outside the Premiership are not even halfway into a truncated twenty-seven match 2020/21 campaign. Clyde of League One and Cowdenbeath and Albion Rovers of League Two have only played eight games. Can promotion and relegation be decided if clubs can only play each other twice - or worse, if they can't even manage that? I imagine that scenario gives Ann Budge at Tynecastle sleepless nights.


    League One and Two clubs have apparently sent a plan to the SPFL for restarting in the next few weeks. My cynicism is somewhat heightened by the fact that virtually no details of the plan are in the public eye aside from a commitment to testing. Given the cost of the protocols that the bigger clubs follow would surely be prohibitive (and I'm sure the Scottish Government would not look kindly on large chunks of public money being frittered away on tests) I suspect the plan advocates use of the cheaper lateral flow tests...which by any medical standard are a pretty lousy test. I would be surprised if such a scheme garnered support.


    For too often it is forgotten that the welfare of football, and of the clubs, is of minor importance compared to that of society in general. For all Neil Doncaster's claims that Scottish football is too important to the economy, it was last estimated to be worth £214m a year (0.12% of GDP) and support 5700 FTE jobs; for comparison, Debenhams employed 11,000 people in Scotland alone before it's recent crisis. It could be argued - and I bet it will be by folk who aren't interested in the sport - that the government have been very generous in their support, especially given much of the value of the game and many of the jobs it supports will be focussed very much on two big Glasgow teams...and I don't mean Partick Thistle and Queen's Park.


    So it is quite possible that until restrictions are eased considerably, which may be several months away, that the lower leagues will remain in stasis. Heck, if there is another outbreak at a Premiership or Championship club in the near future, despite all their protocols, one might imagine the pressure to halt those divisions becoming too great.


    Ditto if there is another scandal anywhere near the level of Dubaigate. And it did not go unnoticed that in amongst a rant that will rank up there with the Jim MacLean punch and Billy Brown's Bin Places, Dun Hings as one of the most infamous Scottish football interviews of all time, Neil Lennon decided to take aim at St Johnstone and Hamilton Accies, whom he suggested had not provided Covid-friendly facilities for Celtic when they had visited.


    Both clubs have strongly denied this - St Johnstone's assertion that they gave Celtic four dressing rooms suggests that Lennon's comments were mostly a combination of whataboutery and vindictiveness - but then Derek McInnes poured a bit more fuel onto this dumpster fire by saying "there are a couple of grounds where the concerns are clear right from the outset and you are a bit nervous about that next Covid test."


    This is not helpful to anyone. From a public health viewpoint, if clubs had concerns they should have been raised immediately and not alluded to weeks later when any damage will have been done. For the powers that be, this innuendo just gives politicians more ammunition if they do decide to force a stoppage.


    For all Lennon's ravings about a 'political' agenda, I'd say it could be argued that the government have been pretty good to Scottish football during all of this. Now the question is whether our game can be careful enough, clever enough and, I daresay, lucky enough to get out the other end of this frightful era.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. 
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  9. hislopsoffsideagain
    It would be absolutely typical if having qualified for Euro 2020, with two games in Glasgow, Scotland weren't allowed to play in front of fans...or worse, that the tournament gets wiped out due to the ongoing pandemic.


    Still, here's hoping.


    There's still five months to go, but that hasn't stopped me taking a look at the candidates to make the final twenty-three man squad. I've broken it down by position and taken a look at who is already (injury permitting) certain to be in that twenty-three and the other players trying to fight for their place in history.


    I actually did something similar last May, mostly as a laugh as I never seriously believed we would pull it off. Players who have disappeared off my radar since then include Charlie Mulgrew (nearly 35 and playing for Fleetwood Town in League One), Stuart Findlay (good but not that good for Kilmarnock since Steve Clarke left), Steven Naismith (34 and on the decline) and Johnny Russell (unable currently to be called up for travel reasons).


    So here's where I think things stand right now...


    GOALKEEPERS
    CERTAINTIES: David Marshall
    PROBABLES: Craig Gordon, Jon McLaughlin
    MAYBES:
    LONG SHOTS: Robby McCrorie, Liam Kelly, Scott Bain, Craig MacGillivray


    Marshall is not only Scotland's number one, he'll also never have to buy a drink in this country again after his heroics in Serbia. Whilst the third choice keeper pretty much never plays, it seems unlikely that Clarke will give that slot to a future prospect...even more so given Robby McCrorie can't even get a game at Livingston just now. So Gordon and McLaughlin are very likely to be the other two keepers, with the likes of Bain, Kelly and MacGillivray likely to be the next-man-up if one of the veteran trio gets injured.


    FULL-BACKS
    CERTAINTIES: Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney
    PROBABLES: Stephen O'Donnell, Liam Palmer
    MAYBES: Greg Taylor
    LONG SHOTS: Paul McGinn, Ryan Fredericks, Aaron Hickey


    I've listed Tierney here as a full-back even though he is most likely to be used on the left side of a back three. Obviously he would provide backup for Robertson and possibly even on the right side as an emergency. Greg Taylor is a Clarke favourite but he's not getting much gametime at Celtic just now. Hickey, who is playing plenty in Serie A, would probably be just as good an option at left-back if Clarke felt he needed another one in the squad. 


    Right-back remains an issue; neither O'Donnell nor Palmer have let Scotland down when called upon but neither can hold a candle to whoever is lining up at left-back. However unless Ryan Fredericks of West Ham changes his mind - apparently he's turned down Clarke before - the duo are our least bad options in the position. McGinn would seem to be the emergency option.


    CENTRE-BACKS
    CERTAINTIES: Declan Gallagher, Scott McTominay
    PROBABLES: Scott McKenna, Liam Cooper
    MAYBES: Andrew Considine, Grant Hanley
    LONG SHOTS: Paul Hanlon, Ryan Porteous, Steven Caulker


    I've put McTominay in this category rather than in midfield as he's likely to stay in the back three for a while yet. Gallagher has excelled in recent international appearances and it's hard to see him getting displaced from the starting XI. If anyone can do so it is probably McKenna, who lost his place in the starting lineup when injured but has done pretty well since moving to England in the Autumn. Cooper and Considine both offer left-footed options; the latter has done better in an international shirt but the former has greater pedigree at club level.


    Hanley has come back into the reckoning with some fine performances for Norwich this season. Whilst Porteous is clearly one for the future, it's hard to see the 21 year old or his veteran Hibs teammate Hanlon leapfrogging enough names to make the final squad.


    Thrown in here as a wild card option is Caulker, who has turned his career around in Turkey and has made no secret of his wish to represent Scotland.


    MIDFIELDERS
    CERTAINTIES: John McGinn, Callum MacGregor, Ryan Jack
    PROBABLES: Kenny McLean
    MAYBES: John Fleck
    LONG SHOTS: Billy Gilmour, David Turnbull, Ross McCrorie


    The Jack-McGinn-McGregor trio offers excellent balance in midfield and with McTominay needed in defence it's hard to see anyone breaking them up. McLean has done well in the anchor role in the past though and came off the bench against Israel and Serbia.


    Fleck seems like a like-for-like backup for MacGregor but he has had a tough season so far at club level and that could leave him on the edge, especially if Turnbull continues his fine recent form. It feels like Gilmour is on the verge of becoming a regular at Chelsea; if he does so in the next few months he'll be impossible to ignore. McCrorie was called up for the last international but he is probably the longest of long shots. 


    ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS/WINGERS
    CERTAINTIES: Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, Ryan Fraser
    PROBABLES: James Forrest
    MAYBES:
    LONG SHOTS: Mikey Johnston


    If Forrest gets back to full fitness he'll surely be in the squad, but he hasn't played since September. A relative dearth of wingers means that Johnston, who is possibly even more injury-prone than Forrest, could be a surprise beneficiary if his Celtic teammate is injured.


    Meanwhile there's no way Armstrong, Christie and Fraser won't be named...unless Fraser gets hurt again. The latter two would compete for the second striker role. Armstrong is unfortunate that Clarke's formation doesn't really suit him, but his versatility is enormously helpful and he's just playing too well to leave out.


    FORWARDS
    CERTAINTIES: Lyndon Dykes
    PROBABLES: Oli McBurnie, Leigh Griffiths
    MAYBES: Oli Burke, Lawrence Shankland, Callum Paterson
    LONG SHOTS: Che Adams, Kevin Nisbet, Steven Fletcher


    Dykes just fits the system so well that it's hard to believe anyone can displace him from the lineup. The best bet would be Griffiths, if the Celtic striker can return to the form of three years ago. McBurnie continues to be a divisive figure to say the least but he has all the tools; it's just that he hasn't done it for Scotland (yet, I hope). Given the other options he's still a good bet to be a backup.


    Paterson is intriguing because of his ability to play at right-back and in midfield which in an international tournament may prove useful. Shankland has the advantage of having his foot through the door but Nisbet's better goalscoring record this season can't be ignored. Burke offers something of an X-factor but his lack of end product remains infuriating.


    Fletcher has never quite closed the door on his international career and while the veteran has been wary of adding to the wear-and-tear on his body, the chance to play in the Euros might be too juicy to ignore. Adams has so far declined Scotland's overtures, but he might be tempted to change his mind for the same reason.




    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
  10. hislopsoffsideagain
    To be honest, I was ready to just pack it in.
    When Luka Jovic's header flew into the net, it felt like one heartbreak, one Glorious Failure too many. I just could not do it anymore.
    As Jovic celebrated, my mind was already racing ahead. The heads would be gone. We'd get creamed in extra time. If somehow we didn't, we'd screw up the penalties. I just couldn't be having with the agony of supporting Scotland any more. My wife is Northern Irish - perhaps I could just bring up my boys to support them instead, and they might get the joy of qualifying for something occasionally? Heck, I've got a mate from Gibraltar - they might lose all the time but I bet they don't care about it.
    You'd like to think that had we lost I would have got over the misery and been ready to do it all again for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Thankfully, we'll never know...


    For the first 89 minutes in Belgrade Scotland produced their best team performance in over a decade. It was clear from the early stages that Steve Clarke had got his tactics spot on and from front to back the starting eleven were tremendous. 
    At one end of the pitch Lyndon Dykes, the Australian who was playing for Queen Of The South eighteen months ago and who looks more like one of the 'pre-cogs' from Minority Report than a centre forward, gave a marvellous throwback performance of shoulder barges, deft flick-ons and runs into the channels that will still have the Serb defenders looking over their shoulders this morning.
    At the other end a back three consisting of Kieran Tierney (a natural left-back), Declan Gallagher (of Motherwell) and Scott McTominay (a natural midfielder) looked every bit the equal of the great Boyd-Calderwood-Hendry trinity of the mid-nineties. Any pre-match doubts I had about Gallagher's merits have well and truly evaporated; it was nice of him to let Aleksandar Mitrovic out of his pocket for long enough to take a penalty in the shootout.
    Between defence and attack there was Callum McGregor, so often underwhelming at international level but here playing more like the Celtic version from the last few years than the one of the last few months, demanding the ball at every opportunity and directing play,. Ahead of him was the whirling dervish that is John McGinn, covering every blade of grass, bouncing off opponents with that magnificent arse of his.
    And the rest were great too. At half-time some moron suggested Scotland would benefit more from having a natural striker on the pitch than Ryan Christie.





    The fact we played so well - so much better than the Serbs - made it worse. It's glorious failure if you're the plucky underdogs that have been unluckily thwarted, not when you're the better team by miles. 
    Even in despair I couldn't bring myself to turn off the TV. Loyalty? Masochism? A tiny grain of hope? Make up your own mind as to the reason. The extra time purgatory was only exacerbated by Clarke's substitutions which were made with the intention of protecting our lead and beefing us up on defending set pieces (that went well...) but left the team dreadfully unbalanced and unthreatening. Oli McBurnie, who had replaced the spent Dykes, was utterly awful, the ball bouncing off him repeatedly as if his whole body was just one big shin. Another sub, Callum Paterson, started up front and ended up going out to the right flank, which suddenly looked more vulnerable than when only Stephen O'Donnell had been protecting it.
    Yet with Scotland against the ropes with wobbly knees and eyes out of focus, Serbia failed to land the knockout blow. Only once was David Marshall seriously threatened, the veteran keeper pulling off a wonderful fingertip save from Nemanja Gudelj. At the interval in extra-time not only captain Andy Robertson but also McGregor, Marshall and Ryan Jack could be seen trying to lift their comrades. Scotland had bent, but they were not broken.
    But penalties would surely be our undoing, right? In Christie, McGinn and Dykes we had substituted three potential takers. For every Scotland player who stepped forward and grabbed the ball, I convinced myself it was their destiny to miss. Leigh Griffiths was brought on as a sub just to take a penalty, which seemed to make him a hostage to fortune. McGregor's performance, his best ever in a Scotland shirt, seemed too good to be true. McTominay was the man who should have been marking Jovic for the goal and who seemed to be setting himself up to be the goat of the game. McBurnie, so often a disappointment, had the pressure of knowing that if he missed he would be derided forever. And was it not too much to ask for Kenny McLean, hero against Israel, to reprise his role of iceman once more?
    Yet they all held firm. Griffiths' penalty was the diciest of the lot but still went in off the goalkeeper's hand. McGregor dispatched his expertly. McTominay smashed it into the bottom corner like a man who had completely forgotten his role in the equalizer. McBurnie sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. McLean surely deserves a promotion from Mayor of Norwich to Duke of Edinburgh.
    And then there was Marshall. Whenever he is mentioned I still mentally picture the 19 year old teenager who in 2004 single-handedly repelled Barcelona at the Camp Nou for Celtic. His subsequent career, though very decent, has never hit such heights again. Until now, sixteen years on. I never thought for a second that Aleksandar Mitrovic, an accomplished penalty taker, would miss. And yet he was the one who cracked. It wasn't a dreadful penalty but Marshall moved as if he had springs on his feet to make a terrific save to his left.
    Of course, then there was that awful split-second where Marshall had to look to the referee, to confirm VAR wouldn't spoil this golden moment. But as the goalie said afterward, what's another four or five seconds when you've had to wait 22 years?


    While all that was happening, I had somehow gone from pacing the living room anxiously to being on my knees, fists clenched, arms in the air, biting my lip partly to stop me from screaming out and waking my wife and small children and partly to stop me from crying. I was 14 the last time we qualified for something. It has been a hell of a long time. I am going to savour this all the way until June. Erect a statue of Steve Clarke, build another one of David Marshall, give Andy Robertson a knighthood. As far as I'm concerned, it's the least they deserve.
    Something changed last night. You could already feel it in the build up that this country, from the younger generation who have never seen us at a tournament and think of the national team as one big joke, to the older, increasingly weary, cynical and apathetic Tartan Army veterans, were just about ready to let the national team back into their hearts. Man, we had to suffer for it. But this extraordinary, terrible, beautiful suffering has always been what supporting Scotland is about. Right now those 22 years all seem worth it. At last, Scotland are glorious without the failure.
    We are back.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
    View the full article
  11. hislopsoffsideagain
    To be honest, I was ready to just pack it in.
    When Luka Jovic's header flew into the net, it felt like one heartbreak, one Glorious Failure too many. I just could not do it anymore.
    As Jovic celebrated, my mind was already racing ahead. The heads would be gone. We'd get creamed in extra time. If somehow we didn't, we'd screw up the penalties. I just couldn't be having with the agony of supporting Scotland any more. My wife is Northern Irish - perhaps I could just bring up my boys to support them instead, and they might get the joy of qualifying for something occasionally? Heck, I've got a mate from Gibraltar - they might lose all the time but I bet they don't care about it.
    You'd like to think that had we lost I would have got over the misery and been ready to do it all again for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Thankfully, we'll never know...


    For the first 89 minutes in Belgrade Scotland produced their best team performance in over a decade. It was clear from the early stages that Steve Clarke had got his tactics spot on and from front to back the starting eleven were tremendous. 
    At one end of the pitch Lyndon Dykes, the Australian who was playing for Queen Of The South eighteen months ago and who looks more like one of the 'pre-cogs' from Minority Report than a centre forward, gave a marvellous throwback performance of shoulder barges, deft flick-ons and runs into the channels that will still have the Serb defenders looking over their shoulders this morning.
    At the other end a back three consisting of Kieran Tierney (a natural left-back), Declan Gallagher (of Motherwell) and Scott McTominay (a natural midfielder) looked every bit the equal of the great Boyd-Calderwood-Hendry trinity of the mid-nineties. Any pre-match doubts I had about Gallagher's merits have well and truly evaporated; it was nice of him to let Aleksandar Mitrovic out of his pocket for long enough to take a penalty in the shootout.
    Between defence and attack there was Callum McGregor, so often underwhelming at international level but here playing more like the Celtic version from the last few years than the one of the last few months, demanding the ball at every opportunity and directing play,. Ahead of him was the whirling dervish that is John McGinn, covering every blade of grass, bouncing off opponents with that magnificent arse of his.
    And the rest were great too. At half-time some moron suggested Scotland would benefit more from having a natural striker on the pitch than Ryan Christie.





    The fact we played so well - so much better than the Serbs - made it worse. It's glorious failure if you're the plucky underdogs that have been unluckily thwarted, not when you're the better team by miles. 
    Even in despair I couldn't bring myself to turn off the TV. Loyalty? Masochism? A tiny grain of hope? Make up your own mind as to the reason. The extra time purgatory was only exacerbated by Clarke's substitutions which were made with the intention of protecting our lead and beefing us up on defending set pieces (that went well...) but left the team dreadfully unbalanced and unthreatening. Oli McBurnie, who had replaced the spent Dykes, was utterly awful, the ball bouncing off him repeatedly as if his whole body was just one big shin. Another sub, Callum Paterson, started up front and ended up going out to the right flank, which suddenly looked more vulnerable than when only Stephen O'Donnell had been protecting it.
    Yet with Scotland against the ropes with wobbly knees and eyes out of focus, Serbia failed to land the knockout blow. Only once was David Marshall seriously threatened, the veteran keeper pulling off a wonderful fingertip save from Nemanja Gudelj. At the interval in extra-time not only captain Andy Robertson but also McGregor, Marshall and Ryan Jack could be seen trying to lift their comrades. Scotland had bent, but they were not broken.
    But penalties would surely be our undoing, right? In Christie, McGinn and Dykes we had substituted three potential takers. For every Scotland player who stepped forward and grabbed the ball, I convinced myself it was their destiny to miss. Leigh Griffiths was brought on as a sub just to take a penalty, which seemed to make him a hostage to fortune. McGregor's performance, his best ever in a Scotland shirt, seemed too good to be true. McTominay was the man who should have been marking Jovic for the goal and who seemed to be setting himself up to be the goat of the game. McBurnie, so often a disappointment, had the pressure of knowing that if he missed he would be derided forever. And was it not too much to ask for Kenny McLean, hero against Israel, to reprise his role of iceman once more?
    Yet they all held firm. Griffiths' penalty was the diciest of the lot but still went in off the goalkeeper's hand. McGregor dispatched his expertly. McTominay smashed it into the bottom corner like a man who had completely forgotten his role in the equalizer. McBurnie sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. McLean surely deserves a promotion from Mayor of Norwich to Duke of Edinburgh.
    And then there was Marshall. Whenever he is mentioned I still mentally picture the 19 year old teenager who in 2004 single-handedly repelled Barcelona at the Camp Nou for Celtic. His subsequent career, though very decent, has never hit such heights again. Until now, sixteen years on. I never thought for a second that Aleksandar Mitrovic, an accomplished penalty taker, would miss. And yet he was the one who cracked. It wasn't a dreadful penalty but Marshall moved as if he had springs on his feet to make a terrific save to his left.
    Of course, then there was that awful split-second where Marshall had to look to the referee, to confirm VAR wouldn't spoil this golden moment. But as the goalie said afterward, what's another four or five seconds when you've had to wait 22 years?


    While all that was happening, I had somehow gone from pacing the living room anxiously to being on my knees, fists clenched, arms in the air, biting my lip partly to stop me from screaming out and waking my wife and small children and partly to stop me from crying. I was 14 the last time we qualified for something. It has been a hell of a long time. I am going to savour this all the way until June. Erect a statue of Steve Clarke, build another one of David Marshall, give Andy Robertson a knighthood. As far as I'm concerned, it's the least they deserve.
    Something changed last night. You could already feel it in the build up that this country, from the younger generation who have never seen us at a tournament and think of the national team as one big joke, to the older, increasingly weary, cynical and apathetic Tartan Army veterans, were just about ready to let the national team back into their hearts. Man, we had to suffer for it. But this extraordinary, terrible, beautiful suffering has always been what supporting Scotland is about. Right now those 22 years all seem worth it. At last, Scotland are glorious without the failure.
    We are back.


    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. hislopsoffsideagain
    The last time Celtic lost three consecutive home matches, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Kylie Minogue was at number one with 'Tears On My Pillow' (no, I've never heard of it either) and Rangers were on their way to Two In A Row.


    Admittedly in the subsequent thirty years there won't have been many times when Celtic played back-to-back-to-back games at Celtic Park against teams of the quality of Rangers, Milan and, um, Sparta Prague, but still.


    How has it come to this?


    Yes, Rangers have improved. We're yet to find out whether yet another post-New Year slump will derail their title push, but it would obviously be foolish for Celtic fans to pin their hopes on that. Steven Gerrard's side are playing with confidence and no little skill. It's worth remembering at this point that, for all the spending down Govan way, Rangers' budget is still way behind Celtic's. For them to be so superior at this point is quite startling...and the way they are going about it is also exposing Celtic's problems for all to see.


    The bottom line is that Rangers have a plan, and Gerrard's squad has been built with it in mind. In contrast, if Celtic's grand strategy for 2020-21 was all about the switch to three-at-the-back, it made no sense to this blogger. Playing three central defenders in the Premiership against teams who sit back and soaked up pressure just unnecessarily robs the team of an attacking or creative player...even more so given Lennon's insistence on deploying Scott Brown at the base of midfield as well.  In Mohamed Elyounoussi, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston they have three wide players who don't obviously fit into that system, though the injuries to the latter two have made this less of an issue than it might have been. Ditto the more natural number tens like Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic.


    The Shane Duffy factor has been thoroughly dissected elsewhere, but the bottom line is that this is not a player that fits what Celtic need in central defence - either in a back three or a back four - in the slightest. Duffy is not a bad player, but his weaknesses are woefully exposed and his qualities are rarely on show in this situation. It is a failure of recruitment. 


    And it isn't the first one. Celtic have signed three left-backs in fifteen months. Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli cost £3million each and whilst Kieran Tierney's shoes were always going to be impossible to fill the bottom line is neither player can hold a torch to Rangers' Borna Barisic. Nor were they especially well suited to playing as a wing-back; ironically, as soon as Lennon signed a player tailor-made for the left wing-back role - Diego Laxalt - he reverted back to a back four which currently makes Laxalt look very uncomfortable.


    Meanwhile, the list of players currently out on loan and with no future at the club includes Bolingoli, Vakoun Issouf Bayo, Jack Hendry and Maryan Shved. It's not clear who is leading transfer policy at Celtic, but it does seem that folk are not all on the same page.


    As for the coach himself, it is increasingly tempting to wonder whether Lennon's first spell at Celtic Park was really all that. After all, his three league titles came when the closest opposition were a Rangers side on the brink of liquidation, Motherwell and Motherwell respectively; to be frank Celtic would have won those leagues with you, or me, or even Ronny Deila in charge. In continental competition, take away Tony Watt's goal against Barcelona - bear in mind that Celtic, with 11% possession, rather rode their luck that day - and results were not impressive; they finished rock bottom of their Champions League group in 2013-14 after nearly losing in the qualifiers to Shakhtar Karagandy, while they missed out on both the Champions League and Europa League groups in 2010-11 and only got into the Europa League groups the following year after Sion were disqualified.


    His return in early 2019 as a stopgap made a fair bit of sense given Brendan Rodgers' sudden departure, but in truth the team's form for the rest of that season was hardly all that and they huffed and puffed their way past a pretty putrid Hearts side in the Scottish Cup Final. It was not a performance that justified offering Lennon the job permanently after the match, but it was the romantic option and perhaps the easy one too. It was probably cheaper also in terms of wages, but it could be argued that the European qualifying failures of this season and last have made appointing him very expensive indeed for the club.


    The fact is that since Rodgers left Celtic have largely coasted, as if they feel they are untouchable. In fact, 'stagnated' may be a more appropriate term. On the pitch, there is very little sign of tactical imagination. The formation may have changed recently but in the final third the strategy seems the same; to rely for moments of individual brilliance to unlock defences. It's worth noting that both they and Rangers have endured their star player and talismanic striker suffering a collapse in form this season. Rangers have barely missed a beat despite Alfredo Morelos' struggles; Celtic simply do not look the same without a potent Odsonne Edouard.


    Edouard isn't the only one out of sorts. After the Sparta game, Lennon didn't hold back. He accused the players of being 'lazy' of 'lack of application', 'lack of hunger' and suggested they weren't working hard enough in training and that there was a need for a 'culture change'. The obvious elephant in the room there is the question of who is responsible for working them in training. After all there is precious little evidence during matches that they have worked on anything particularly intricate tactically. Heck, back in August Kieran Devlin at The Athletic reported that a number of players employed their own fitness coaches because they were unsatisfied at what the club was offering.


    There's still time to turn this around - two-thirds of the season in fact. And the Celtic squad has more than enough quality to do so. But it is fair to say we have reached the point where you'd be surprised if Neil Lennon was still in charge by the end of the season. And it's also fair to note that if you're going to change manager, an international break - like the one coming up next week - would seem like the least painful time to do it. Do they take the plunge and sack a manager for the first time since Tony Mowbray? The fate of their Ten In A Row dream may well depend on what decision they make.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
    View the full article
  13. hislopsoffsideagain
    The last time Celtic lost three consecutive home matches, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Kylie Minogue was at number one with 'Tears On My Pillow' (no, I've never heard of it either) and Rangers were on their way to Two In A Row.


    Admittedly in the subsequent thirty years there won't have been many times when Celtic played back-to-back-to-back games at Celtic Park against teams of the quality of Rangers, Milan and, um, Sparta Prague, but still.


    How has it come to this?


    Yes, Rangers have improved. We're yet to find out whether yet another post-New Year slump will derail their title push, but it would obviously be foolish for Celtic fans to pin their hopes on that. Steven Gerrard's side are playing with confidence and no little skill. It's worth remembering at this point that, for all the spending down Govan way, Rangers' budget is still way behind Celtic's. For them to be so superior at this point is quite startling...and the way they are going about it is also exposing Celtic's problems for all to see.


    The bottom line is that Rangers have a plan, and Gerrard's squad has been built with it in mind. In contrast, if Celtic's grand strategy for 2020-21 was all about the switch to three-at-the-back, it made no sense to this blogger. Playing three central defenders in the Premiership against teams who sit back and soaked up pressure just unnecessarily robs the team of an attacking or creative player...even more so given Lennon's insistence on deploying Scott Brown at the base of midfield as well.  In Mohamed Elyounoussi, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston they have three wide players who don't obviously fit into that system, though the injuries to the latter two have made this less of an issue than it might have been. Ditto the more natural number tens like Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic.


    The Shane Duffy factor has been thoroughly dissected elsewhere, but the bottom line is that this is not a player that fits what Celtic need in central defence - either in a back three or a back four - in the slightest. Duffy is not a bad player, but his weaknesses are woefully exposed and his qualities are rarely on show in this situation. It is a failure of recruitment. 


    And it isn't the first one. Celtic have signed three left-backs in fifteen months. Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli cost £3million each and whilst Kieran Tierney's shoes were always going to be impossible to fill the bottom line is neither player can hold a torch to Rangers' Borna Barisic. Nor were they especially well suited to playing as a wing-back; ironically, as soon as Lennon signed a player tailor-made for the left wing-back role - Diego Laxalt - he reverted back to a back four which currently makes Laxalt look very uncomfortable.


    Meanwhile, the list of players currently out on loan and with no future at the club includes Bolingoli, Vakoun Issouf Bayo, Jack Hendry and Maryan Shved. It's not clear who is leading transfer policy at Celtic, but it does seem that folk are not all on the same page.


    As for the coach himself, it is increasingly tempting to wonder whether Lennon's first spell at Celtic Park was really all that. After all, his three league titles came when the closest opposition were a Rangers side on the brink of liquidation, Motherwell and Motherwell respectively; to be frank Celtic would have won those leagues with you, or me, or even Ronny Deila in charge. In continental competition, take away Tony Watt's goal against Barcelona - bear in mind that Celtic, with 11% possession, rather rode their luck that day - and results were not impressive; they finished rock bottom of their Champions League group in 2013-14 after nearly losing in the qualifiers to Shakhtar Karagandy, while they missed out on both the Champions League and Europa League groups in 2010-11 and only got into the Europa League groups the following year after Sion were disqualified.


    His return in early 2019 as a stopgap made a fair bit of sense given Brendan Rodgers' sudden departure, but in truth the team's form for the rest of that season was hardly all that and they huffed and puffed their way past a pretty putrid Hearts side in the Scottish Cup Final. It was not a performance that justified offering Lennon the job permanently after the match, but it was the romantic option and perhaps the easy one too. It was probably cheaper also in terms of wages, but it could be argued that the European qualifying failures of this season and last have made appointing him very expensive indeed for the club.


    The fact is that since Rodgers left Celtic have largely coasted, as if they feel they are untouchable. In fact, 'stagnated' may be a more appropriate term. On the pitch, there is very little sign of tactical imagination. The formation may have changed recently but in the final third the strategy seems the same; to rely for moments of individual brilliance to unlock defences. It's worth noting that both they and Rangers have endured their star player and talismanic striker suffering a collapse in form this season. Rangers have barely missed a beat despite Alfredo Morelos' struggles; Celtic simply do not look the same without a potent Odsonne Edouard.


    Edouard isn't the only one out of sorts. After the Sparta game, Lennon didn't hold back. He accused the players of being 'lazy' of 'lack of application', 'lack of hunger' and suggested they weren't working hard enough in training and that there was a need for a 'culture change'. The obvious elephant in the room there is the question of who is responsible for working them in training. After all there is precious little evidence during matches that they have worked on anything particularly intricate tactically. Heck, back in August Kieran Devlin at The Athletic reported that a number of players employed their own fitness coaches because they were unsatisfied at what the club was offering.


    There's still time to turn this around - two-thirds of the season in fact. And the Celtic squad has more than enough quality to do so. But it is fair to say we have reached the point where you'd be surprised if Neil Lennon was still in charge by the end of the season. And it's also fair to note that if you're going to change manager, an international break - like the one coming up next week - would seem like the least painful time to do it. Do they take the plunge and sack a manager for the first time since Tony Mowbray? The fate of their Ten In A Row dream may well depend on what decision they make.


    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. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  15. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  16. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  17. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  18. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  19. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  20. hislopsoffsideagain
    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. Each Championship club's current squad list can be found here. 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
  21. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  22. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  23. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  24. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
  25. hislopsoffsideagain
    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
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