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hislopsoffsideagain

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Blog Entries posted by hislopsoffsideagain

  1. hislopsoffsideagain
    On the one hand, it must be noted that these figures are essentially a year old, as they are for the 2018/19 season. There can also be pretty legitimate reasons for clubs either losing money or not making as much as expected, such as investment in infrastructure.

    On the other hand, we now have access to the 2018/19 season accounts for eighteen of Scotland's twenty-two full-time SPFL clubs (assuming no-one is counting Airdrie as full-time yet). We also have an idea of what's to come in two other sets. Of those twenty clubs, just eight turned a profit last season. Most of those eight come with a caveat of sorts as well. The rest were in the red, and in a number of cases spectacularly so.

    That can't be healthy.

    Today let's take a closer look at the twelve clubs that were in the 2018/19 Premiership. If I get round to it, I'll put up a further post looking at the state of play in the lower tiers.


    SOME THOUGHTS FIRST
    There's nothing to suggest that any of these clubs are in imminent financial distress (though as explained in the link further on the situation at Rangers is complicated to say the least). There are two areas of concern that I can see.

    The first is what it takes for clubs to run a profit, full stop. It seems that, if a club finishes in the league position one would expect given their budget, only gets through a round or two in the cups and doesn't sell a player for at least a high six-figure fee - a realistic outcome, basically - they will lose money. I can't see how that is a good thing in the long-term. It also means that clubs are running to stand still, in that they are having to budget higher than they really should just to keep themselves at the level they are at, in the hope that they hit the jackpot in one of the above areas every so often.

    The second is the potential effect of relegation. The experience of recently demoted sides is that turnover falls by about a third on going down. Long-term player contracts are not all that common at all but the biggest Scottish clubs so often a rapid cut in the playing budget is possible, but that in itself is rarely sufficient to deal with such a rapid drop in income. Those clubs struggling to break even as it is would face proper trouble if they ended up in the Championship.

    (addendum - almost at the same time as this blog was published, this story about the potential effect of coronavirus on Scottish football clubs went up. Given the high dependence of gate receipts, I can absolutely believe this would cause significant problems.)

    Onwards...

    IN PROFIT
    CELTIC
    TURNOVER: £83.4m (2017/18: £101.6m)
    PROFIT: £8.7m (2017/18: £17.3m)

    Celtic made a profit of £11m on transfers in 2018/19, which meant they were still profitable despite their turnover taking a big hit from missing out on the Champions League. That's the way of it for them at the moment - either get to the Group Stage or make up the shortfall by selling a player, as they have done again this season with Kieran Tierney. The club also spent a decent amount of cash on infrastructure, such as (shudder) disco lights. With £39m in the bank as of last summer, they are in rude financial health.

    HEARTS
    TURNOVER: £15.1m (2017/18: £12.1m)
    PROFIT: £1.6m (2017/18: £1.8m)

    Hearts' staff costs for last season were £8.2m, which puts them fourth in Scotland. Whilst their profit looks impressive, they received £3.25m in donations and Ann Budge described it as "a challenging year on and off the pitch".


    HIBERNIAN
    TURNOVER: not known yet (2017/18: £9.5m)
    PROFIT: £2m (2017/18: £214k)

    That profit looks juicy for Hibs, who haven't yet published their accounts but had their AGM at the end of February. But it comes off £2.8m of profit in the transfer market thanks to the sale of John McGinn. New owner Ron Gordon said himself that "without the McGinn money, the club would have made a significant loss".

    But Gordon has paid off the club's mortgage and invested a seven figure sum that leaves them with £5.5m in the bank. That looks like a pretty decent platform to build from. He has made it clear that he intends Hibs to be profitable going forward...but they all say that, don't they?


    KILMARNOCK
    TURNOVER: £6.6m (2017/18: £5.1m)
    PROFIT: £126k (2017/18: loss of £180k)

    Given Killie finished third in the table, I expected profits to be higher than this; if they had come fourth, they would have posted a loss. They do seem to have spent a fair bit on infrastructure - not least the laying of a new artificial pitch, and the wages to turnover ratio is fine. Apparently the budget was increased for this season, which means it will be interesting to see what effect a lower league finish and the binning of Angelo Alessio has on finances going forward.


    LIVINGSTON
    TURNOVER: not known yet (2017/18: £1.4m)
    PROFIT: not known yet (2017/18: £46k)

    I'm told by Livingston fans that Chief Executive John Ward has recently said the club made a small profit in 2018/19, but accounts have not been filed yet. Their turnover will have jumped spectacularly after their promotion to the Premiership


    ST MIRREN
    TURNOVER: £4.1m (2017/18: £2.8m)
    PROFIT: £99k (2017/18: £77k)

    It's notable that the Buddies made £1m from 'profit on disposal of player registrations' which in fact is their share of the fee for John McGinn's move from Hibs to Aston Villa. Without that, they wouldn't be in profit. That said the Buddies had to pay off Alan Stubbs too. And with the McGinn money coming in early in the season it's likely that it was added to the budget.

    Promotion meant nearly half a million more in gate receipts and £600,000 more in prize money. The total wage bill for staff leapt from £2m to £3.2m which pretty much tied up the whole of the extra income. But they do have nearly £700,000 in the bank for rainy days. The club continues to plan for Fan Ownership, perhaps as soon as 2021.


    LOSSMAKING
    ABERDEEN
    TURNOVER: £15.9m (2017/18: £15.4m)
    LOSSES: £1m (2017/18: £800k)

    The Dons increased their turnover, but increased their losses as well. That's due to a combination of another increase in the wage bill from £8.5m to £9.2m and finishing lower in the league. The good news is that new chairman Dave Cormack has brought in considerable new investment. On the other hand, the move to a new stadium at Kingsford could be delayed till 2023.


    DUNDEE
    TURNOVER: £3.9m (2017/18: £4.6m)
    LOSSES: £1.8m (2017/18: £425k)

    Eek. Dundee have run a loss every single year since Tim Keyes took over the club, and its just as well he doesn't look like turning off the money tap any time soon. Getting rid of two different managers, along with pretty much bringing in an entirely new squad for Jim McIntyre, cost a fortune. Relegation will only reduce income further, and their accounts explain that significant losses are expected for this season and the next, with Keyes underwriting those. That said, with several million quid spaffed up against a wall since 2013, your guess is as good as mine as to where the cash for their proposed new ground will come from.


    MOTHERWELL
    TURNOVER: £4.6m (2017/18: £6.8m)
    LOSSES: £436k (2017/18: profit of £1.7m)

    2017/18 wasn't as successful on the park as 2016/17, and it showed. The wage bill stayed the same but with no cup runs, reduced prize money and reduced player sales (which still totalled £700k, mind) turnover dropped by a whopping 35%. They also spent a significant amount of the previous year's profit on infrastructure. Going forward, 'Well have now paid off loans to John Boyle and Les Hutchison, which leaves them with only £80k in debt now. But its no surprise that the accounts state "it is imperative to the good health and sustainability of Motherwell" that the club continues to do well out of selling on players; hopefully that big fee for David Turnbull will come after all.


    RANGERS
    TURNOVER: £53.2m (2017/18: £32.6m)
    LOSSES: £11.3m (2017/18: £14.3m)

    I wrote about Rangers' financial situation when these were published a few months ago.


    ST JOHNSTONE
    TURNOVER: not reported (2017/18 - not reported)
    LOSSES: £149k (2017/18 - £258k)

    Chairman Steve Brown has been a right sad sack in recent weeks, claiming the club has the sixth highest wage bill in the country (I dispute this) and suggesting losses for 2019/20 will be much higher. St. Johnstone still had £2m in the bank as of last summer which should protect them from any problems in the immediate future.


    NOT KNOWN
    HAMILTON ACCIES publish truncated accounts, as is their wont because of their low turnover. My understanding (which may be wrong) is that they lost nearly £500,000 in 2017/18, mostly because of a vishing scam. The 2018/19 accounts should be better, especially with £240,000 from Aberdeen for Lewis Ferguson.


    I hope this information is useful...and most of all I hope it is right! Please let me know any errors and I'll amend them.

    PS Kieran Maguire, to be found on Twitter at @PriceOfFootball, is the place to go for analysis of club accounts and finances, and covers Scottish clubs just as keenly as English ones.


    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
    In case you haven't noticed, Covid-19 (let's be a bit pedantic and call it that, since there are plenty of other coronaviruses of varying severity, including causes of the common cold) is coming. At the time of writing there are 27 cases in Scotland, but that number is going to increase impressively.

    For what it's worth it seems to me (from my day job perspective as a GP) that the powers that be are dealing with things pretty appropriately at the moment. I'm not an expert in virology or epidemiology (or anything, really) but the advice they're giving right now makes sense to me. And the fact that said advice will change in the next little while as the number of infected people increases also makes sense.

    It does now seems inevitable that some time soon the government will ban large public gatherings. Like, say, football crowds. After all, it's already happening in Ligue 1, La Liga and Primeira Liga. In Italy, where infection rates are higher than anywhere else in Europe, they've gone a step further; all Serie A matches have been postponed till the start of April.

    It's not just the crowds that are the issue. The Premier League has postponed tonight's Manchester City v Arsenal game because Arsenal players have been exposed to someone with Covid-19 and are self-isolating. This will surely become a common issue and matches will have to be called off either one by one or probably en masse.

    And if that's what the experts say should happen here, then so be it. Saving lives is rather more important than twenty-two men chasing a ball.

    If/when that happens, there will be significant knock-on effects for Scottish football.

    More than anywhere else in Europe, Scottish clubs are dependent on matchday income. Postponing matches means that they won't see that cash till further down the road. Playing them behind closed doors means no cash at all.

    Football finance expert Kieran Maguire gave this take on how it will play out for English League One and League Two clubs, which is pretty comparable. By this time of year season ticket proceeds have been spent and clubs are dependent on what they can get from walk-up fans and away supporters, as well as food, programme sales etc. Not many have a rainy day fund to get through this sort of situation.

    It's also possible that clubs will be obliged to refund season ticket holders for games they aren't allowed to attend. One would like to think that most supporters would take that on the chin, but you never know. Having to compensate them in any way would be extremely onerous.

    It's certainly possible that a number of clubs who are already living hand-to-mouth - I'm mainly thinking of full-time teams in the Championship and League One - will be in a right fix. Will someone go bust? I hope not. But it must be a possibility.

    The SPFL and SFA have already noted this. As it stands, their intent is to "endeavour to complete the season and fulfil their obligations under their broadcasting agreements". They said that a week ago. It seems wildly optimistic now.

    If matches are to be postponed, when will they be played? Will they be played at all? What on earth will the SPFL do with the rest of the season? Here are the options that seem to be available. None of them are especially palatable...


    SQUEEZE IN ALL THE POSTPONED GAMES BY THE END OF THE SEASON
    Any matches that are called off are fitted in to the remaining available midweek dates. Everything finishes on time and it's all good.

    The problems with this plan: the last day of the domestic season - the Championship playoff final - is 24 May, with the lower leagues finishing their 'regular season' on 2 May and the Premiership finishing on 17 May. If there is a significant fixture backlog, there aren't many dates available for catchup. And if call-offs start happening before the Premiership split, then that could cause a real headache for schedulers.

    Chances of it happening: this is of course the ideal solution for everyone, but it seems increasinly unlikely circumstances will allow it.


    FINISH THE SEASON EARLY
    Bring forward the end of the season, and declare champions, relegation etc depending on positions at this point. Hearts strongly disapprove of this plan.

    The problems with this plan: obviously there's an element of unfairness. It's also not clear how you would manage cup finals and playoffs in these circumstances. And clubs would miss out on income from their last few home matches.

    Chances of it happening: there would be a significant outcry about 'sporting integrity' which would probably derail this. And the financial knock-on would also be a big problem. It is however the simplest solution, if not necessarily the fairest.


    EXTEND THE SEASON INTO THE SUMMER
    If matches aren't finished by the end of May, just keep playing into June...and onwards, if necessary.

    The problems with this plan: for a start, plenty of clubs have players only contracted till the end of May or even a few weeks before that in the case of lower division teams. Broadcasting and sponsorship agreements also expire around that time. There's also Euro 2020 (if it goes ahead as planned) and the need for players to get an appropriate break before the start of next season which would normally be scheduled for mid-July.

    Chances of it happening: this would probably cause as many problems as it would solve. Perhaps an option if other countries were doing it, but it would require major changes in the calendar for next season.


    LOTS OF PLAYOFFS
    The Italians have mooted deciding the title and relegation via playoff matches. It would certainly make for good TV.

    The problems with this plan: Celtic are never going to agree to a playoff for the league, given their current points advantage. And how do you decide what teams should go into the relegation playoffs in any given league?

    Chances of it happening: can't see it.


    CALL THE SEASON OFF
    Declare the 2019/20 season null and void. Don't award the league title to anyone. Don't have promotion or relegation. Start over next season with clubs in the same divisions they are now. Hearts strongly approve of this plan.

    The problems with this plan: who wants to volunteer to tell Celtic fans that nine-in-a-row is cancelled? There are also repercussions for clubs such as Dundee United, who would be stuck in the second tier for yet another year having spent significantly to get up to the top flight.

    Chances of it happening: unlikely, unless the rest of Europe is doing the same thing.


    CANCEL RELEGATION BUT ALLOW PROMOTION
    Get around the idea of stopping the season early being unfair on clubs at the bottom of the table by announcing relegation would be scrapped, but allow promotion to take place anyway so no-one is disadvantaged (much). Obviously it would be sensible to promote the team currently second in the Championship since the playoffs wouldn't happen (wink, wink).

    The problems with this plan: you'd end up with having to deal with a 14 team top flight for at least a season, which would be a whole new issue.

    Chances of it happening: pretty much zero, since only a half-crazed Caley Thistle-supporting blogger would even think of it, let alone support it.



    In conclusion, this is going to be a real headache for Scottish football - and for football in general - to deal with. For us, it'll probably be a case of doing what England and other countries do. Normally I would grate at that, but in this case following everyone else's lead is probably the best way forward. That's assuming of course that everyone else agrees on a way to go forward.

    And most importantly, if this is the price to pay for helping the country and the world get through this crisis, then so be it. Remember that Bill Shankly quote - "Some people think football is a matter of life and death...I can assure them it is much more serious than that."? Bear in mind that he was joking.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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  3. hislopsoffsideagain
    The reaction to St. Johnstone's decision to give three McDiarmid Park stands to Rangers and Celtic fans was somewhat mixed.

    There was, for example, this piece from the Daily Record's Michael Gannon claiming that they were trying to 'make a quick buck' by exploiting the biggest supports in the country - because giving said supports more tickets is, apparently, 'exploitation'.

    Especially when said tickets are £28 a pop. Sure, we'd all like to pay less for football tickets, but criticizing the price is rich given it costs only a quid less for away supporters at Celtic Park to watch from the infamous 'restricted view' seats that, in addition to watching their team getting pumped, give the spectator the treasured bonus of an acute case of torticollis.

    However, plenty were pragmatic about it. Whilst few actually believed the Perth Saints' claim that temporarily shifting some fans so the home support was amalgamated in one area would help provide a 'partisan atmosphere' - there's no way that was written with a straight face - we're not talking small change here. Gannon claimed St. Johnstone would "trouser a couple of hundred grand which might fund a couple of players".

    A couple of hundred grand would equate to about 5% of St. Johnstone's annual turnover. It's more likely to pay for four players than for two. It might be loose change for Scotland's largest two clubs, but it is a significant amount of money for a club of their size...and for at least half the clubs in the Scottish Premiership.

    Gannon bizarrely suggested away fans should boycott Perth in protest. He did also briefly mention one of the reasons why St. Johnstone can, and need to, take this step - the fact that season ticket holders are dodging these matches.

    Those are generally the most loyal supporters, and ones who have actually paid for their seats already. And yet they are eschewing the chance to watch the biggest and most talented clubs in the country take on their own side.

    Imagine season ticket holders at Bournemouth and Watford deciding to skip the visit of Liverpool or Manchester City, or Getafe fans staying at home when Barcelona come to town. I attended a Middlesbrough-Manchester United match in 2008 where the visiting support took great joy in proclaiming "you're only here for United!" loudly. It was true too; my mate spent the whole game salivating over Paul Scholes and I over Wayne Rooney.

    But St. Johnstone's fans are not the only ones turned off by the Gruesome Twosome. Other clubs have also noted their season ticket holders staying away in similar circumstances.

    There are a few different factors at play here. One is that these games tend to have awkward kickoff times. Another is that no-one ever enjoys seeing their team get gubbed. After a few years where both Celtic and Rangers looked like potential scalps when you got them on your own patch, we've rewound to the days when, for example, Stephane Guivarc'h scored two in an 8-0 win for Dick Advocaat's Rangers...in Perth.

    But that was never quite enough to keep folk away. Perhaps the star power of Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson etc. was worth the ignominy. Alfredo Morelos and Odsonne Edouard are talents but hardly in the same stratosphere.

    And then of course there is the whole experience of having Rangers and Celtic fans in town.

    Sure, they aren't the only ones to sing unpleasant songs, to invade the pitch, to set off flares, to throw objects, to damage the stadium.

    But it only feels inevitable when it's one of those supports.

    At Inverness (a place that neither club are likely to be visiting again in the near future) I've seen fans of both clubs drinking in the streets - Strongbow for Celtic fans, Buckfast for Rangers fans - urinating outside the ground (as if they don't think indoor plumbing has reached the Highlands yet) and have endured loud aggressive chants about killing people which have no relation to the actual match or opponent.

    It is not a lot of fun.

    So we've now reached a strange denouement where fans of other Scottish clubs are turned off by Rangers and Celtic, and yet the big two and the SPFL will cite the impressive viewing figures for their derby clash at the end of December as further evidence that, outside Scotland at least, they're the only clubs that matter.

    Which is fair enough until they complain that no-one else wants to watch them...


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly

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  4. hislopsoffsideagain
    Lyndon Dykes will be missed in Moldova
    Dykes reminds me of the character in the Monty Python 'Upper-Class Twit Of The Year' sketch who "doesn't know when he's beaten, this boy, he doesn't know when he's winning either. He doesn't have any sort of sensory apparatus". I had no doubt at all that the naturalized Ozzie would be unfazed by his penalty miss against Israel, and there was something very Dykes about scoring a goal by essentially karate-kicking the ball. But whilst he remains somewhat limited - some of his movement off the ball is just so random rather than thought-out - he continues to develop as a player and he is yet to hit his ceiling. If only because of his remarkable self-belief he is Scotland's best option up front just now; the hard-working Che Adams is still uncomfortable in front of goal, while Kevin Nisbet just looks like a guy trying too hard because he's not sure he belongs at this level. Unfortunately, Dykes' suspension means Scotland will have to go back to playing a striker up front in Tiraspol next month, rather than some sort of force of nature. It's not ideal.


    Nathan Patterson is our least-bad option at right-back
    Patterson was one of many who struggled in the first forty-five against Israel, but his appearance as a sub in the Faroes proved pivotal as it was his terrific cross that led to the winner. The problem for Clarke is that none of our right-back options are great just now. Stephen O'Donnell is probably the pick for matches against elite opposition because of his adequate (-ish) defensive play but he is always identified by other teams as a non-factor going forward; in Vienna he often had a bus lane to work with on that flank because his final ball was guaranteed to be rubbish. Ryan Fraser is a winger, not a wing-back. Defensively he was frequently out of position in Torshavn though he did become more dangerous going forward as the game progressed. Patterson is the one who not only has the tools to play wing-back but also is the one who has the potential to be a really special player. The rewards for Scotland of playing him, both for the present and the future, outweigh the risks.


    Billy Gilmour needs another playmaker beside him
    Gilmour is ridiculously special. He has also elevated Callum McGregor's game; with the duo in the centre of the park Scotland are better in possession than I've ever seen them. The balance wasn't there with Scott McTominay in midfield though - more on the Manchester United man later - and Gilmour only really took control of the Faroes match after McGregor arrived as a substitute. The thought of Ryan Jack sitting beside - or slightly deeper - than Gilmour is an intriguing one, though the Moldova/Denmark double-header may come too soon for the Rangers midfielder. Jack's defensive work is better than McGregor's and might be a useful option against quality teams without reducing our quality on the ball significantly.


    McTominay's best position for Scotland is at the back (at least right now)
    Ooh, controversial! Not too many folk would argue that McTominay is a better defender than Jack Hendry, but I feel the former's positional lapses are balanced out by the latter's tendency to lose concentration and make silly errors. What McTominay does give the back three is another player who is comfortable bringing the ball out from the back; Hendry has the ability to do so too but his decision-making just isn't as strong. Meanwhile neither McTominay nor Scotland look comfortable when he is in the centre of the park, though I can't quite figure out why. Is he trying to do too much?


    It's a long time since the players and fans had it as good as this
    As Scotland took the ball to the corner flag to waste time at the end of the Israel match, Ryan Christie could be seen extolling the crowd to get louder. That was somewhat optimistic, given Hampden was already at fever pitch. That game had the perfect synergy between the players on the pitch and the supporters in the stands - the latter encouraging the former on with a wall of noise, and the former giving the latter (and Ally McCoist in the commentary box!) sufficient reason to lose their s***.


    Too often in the last two decades it has been the complete opposite, with a support that felt mostly let down and embarrassed and players who often looked devoid of confidence or just like they didn't want to be there. 


    Yes, we needed an injury-time winner to beat Israel, a competent but non-elite opponent, at home. And an 86th minute winner in the Faroes (bear in mind Denmark took 85 minutes to crack them, and by then the Faroes were down to ten men). If these are the 'good times' then that says a lot about what the bad times were. After all, Scotland will probably need to win in Moldova (or at home to the Danes) and then defeat two high-quality opponents in the playoffs to reach the World Cup. That's a hell of an ask. But to be as close as this is such an improvement on what came before.


    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
    So yeah, this tweet about Rangers' finances got some serious traffic and clogged up my mentions for a couple of days.



    Is it worth noting that not one of however many hundred people who saw that tweet noticed the mistake? Apparently I'm not the only one who can't count to seven...

    The numbers there though. Ooft.

    You don't have to be an accountant - and I'm not - to know that companies don't publish accounts late on a Friday evening if they want attention drawn to them. Though last year Rangers published their accounts on a Wednesday evening during a Rangers match, so I suppose this is a step up from that.

    It seems like the distraction has largely worked. Dave King appeared to be channelling the Iraqi Information Minister when he claimed "the financial year under review was again a positive one" but this line appears to have been swallowed by the Scottish media like a piece of, say, succulent lamb? The only piece of criticism I've seen was on Forbes.com. I don't think too many Scottish football fans check that out. (Of course, if you were cruel you could say the same about this site!)

    Anyroad, my mentions were filled with fans of other clubs claiming imminent liquidation, criticising the SFA for letting this happen, and suggesting that  UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules were being broken. There was also one apparently genuine Rangers fan who seemed to think Dave King is the Messiah.

    People of a certain vintage might remember an Only An Excuse sketch from when Livingston went into administration all those years ago, where a reporter was asked to explain the circumstances in layman's terms and described it as a "help ma boab situation".

    So is it Help Ma Boab time down Govan way? Let's see.


    Turnover is up
    This is the big positive. Not only did income increase, but it shot up dramatically by 63% to £53.2m. The main reason for this is the club's run to the Europa League group stages; income from European competition totalled £14.1m.


    So is the wage bill, but that's probably okay
    First team wages have more than doubled in two years, up to £23m. Overall staff costs are £34.4m which is still well behind Celtic (£56.6m) but is four times that of Aberdeen. That sounds like a huge figure but the wages-to-turnover ratio is 64.6% which is pretty acceptable.


    Those legal fees
    I initally misread this figure as £3.6m and thought "how on earth do you spend £3.6m on lawyers?" By picking a fight with Mike Ashley, that's how.  But in fact its a £3.6m increase in legal fees, so the amount is actually higher than that. Crumbs. The bloke at Forbes says the full figure is £9m but that sounds insane and I couldn't find that in the accounts. The saga of Rangers' kit deal with Hummel ain't over yet and seems likely to cost the club a decent seven-figure sum when it is finally concluded.


    What debts are there?
    "As at 30 June 2019, there are interest-free, unsecured loans with investors amounting to £10.3 million, other commercial loans of £3.0m, whilst the Group also has finance lease agreements totalling £1.2 million".

    This is hard for an amateur like me to decipher. What we do know is that Rangers have got by for years on soft loans from directors which have then been converted to equity further down the line. From what I can tell - and I may be talking out of my arse - it seems like all the soft loans from directors have been converted to equity since June 2019 via a share issue. The flipside is that they also state that there have been another £9.7m of investor loans in the last few months.

    This shares to equity thing has been ongoing throughout the King era. How long can they keep repeating it?

    Meanwhile we know a loan was taken out with financial house Close Brothers in February 2019; this is likely to be the aforementioned 'commerical loan'. The £200,000 of interest payments up till June are presumably related to that loan, which would suggest a pretty high interest rate. This is the problem with not being able to get a loan from a bank.


    A ten million quid hole
    If the Turnover part is the big positive for Rangers fans, then this is the overwhelming negative.

    "At the time of preparation, the forecast identified that the Group would require £10.0m by way of debt or equity funding by the end of season 2019/2020 in order to meet its liabilities as they fall due. The first tranche of funding is required from investors in November 2019".

    Ten million quid.

    For what its worth, in the last few seasons the accounts have also stated extra funding would be required - I believe it was £4.6m in last year's, and £3m the year before.

    Ten million quid.

    And that will be despite the expected income from Rangers' 2019/20 campaign, which includes another qualification for the Europa League and another £14m+ from that.

    One of King's family trusts, Laird Investments, is apparently going to cover the shortfall. Given that during the Takeover Panel saga King described himself as "penniless" because of a lack of control over family trusts, this is worth a raised eyebrow. That said, another one of his family trusts, NOAL, has converted £8.4m of loans into equity in the recent past so perhaps he is putting his money where his mouth is?


    Financial Fair Play
    Are Rangers breaking UEFA's FFP rules? The honest answer is "buggered if I know". The received wisdom is that losses of more than 30million Euros over three years are grounds for sanction, and they would be over that limit. However the FFP regulations are a nightmare to understand, which makes me suspect there are loopholes relating to the amount of money spent on infrastructure etc. With European football so critical to the business plan I find it impossible to believe that the club haven't thought of this.


    Looking ahead
    It feels like Rangers took a huge - even reckless - gamble on progress in Europe last season and this. Lord knows where failure would have left them. But lo and behold Stevie G managed to navigate about a million qualifying rounds and got Rangers access to the Europa League pot of gold.

    The thing is that they've had to take the same gamble again this year. And again they've reached the Europa League. Yet despite that they're still £10m short. Presumably that's because of the £11.5m spent on the likes of Ryan Kent and Filip Helander.

    Moreover, the turnover figure for 2019/20 is unlikely to be particularly higher than 2018/19 - why would it be? And yet with transfer fees and probably another hike in the wage bill, losses will be higher, unless they sell off prize assets like Alfredo Morelos. And that's before the whole Mike Ashley/Hummel stuff.

    So the fear is that the board are taking an even bigger and potentially dangerous punt - on Gerrard delivering the title and access to the untold riches of the Champions League. Pulling that off would solve any financial issues at a single stroke.

    And if they fail? There are plenty out there who would love to see an administration event, But whilst the Big Hoose of cards looks pretty fragile it has done so for several years without actually collapsing. Rangers still look like a financial basket case. But people keep putting money into the basket.


    And one other thing...


    Eros Grezda, I assume?



    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
    Are we ever going to have a battle for the league title again?

    A two horse race isn't much more exciting than a one horse race when you don't have a stake in either, but last season some thought Rangers might be able to push Celtic a bit. Not too many expected them p*** all over Celtic's ten-in-a-row dream. Steven Gerrard's side won the title by 25 points. Can Celtic turn that back around. The evidence of their opening European games was not encouraging.
    As for the other ten, we're very much back to a situation where the ceiling is third place. Hibs managed it last season, but Aberdeen are reinventing themselves, Hearts are back in the top flight and St. Johnstone will look to carry the momentum of two cup wins into the new campaign. At the other end of the table, Hamilton's relegation means that for the first time in years we don't have a clear and obvious favourite for the drop (the fact that Accies kept proving everyone wrong is by the by...)


    ABERDEEN (2020/21: 4th; 2019/20: 4th; 2018/19: 4th) Derek McInnes and Stephen Glass have very different ideas of how football should be played. Aberdeen had unquestionably gone stale by the end of McInnes' tenure but Glass has inherited squad with some young talent in Ross McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson and solidified the backbone with the signings of Scott Brown and Declan Gallagher. The Dons often looked toothless up front last year, and they'll be looking to American striker Christian Ramirez to solve that issue.

    CELTIC (2020/21: 2nd; 2019/20: 1st; 2018/19: 1st) How the mighty have fallen. Assuming Odsonne Edouard will be out the door imminently, they still need at least a goalkeeper, two full-backs, a centre-back, a defensive midfielder and a striker. The Champions League exit reduces the budget by a significant amount. Ange Postecoglu has been asked to win a poker game with a two-seven off-suit hand, and he's not even bluffing about it. The business they have done so far looks pretty decent at least, but it could well get worse for Celtic before it gets better. And yes, I know how daft that sounds when their floor is still second place, but that's Scottish football for you.

    DUNDEE (2020/21: 2nd in Championship; 2019/20: 3rd in Championship; 2018/19: 12th) Has James McPake found his feet as a manager, or did Dundee just go on a streak at the end of last season and luck into a playoff with a joke of a Kilmarnock team? We'll find out soon. A lot of their transfer activity has been about improving depth though Ryan Sweeney and Corey Panter will compete for a place in the centre of defence. Charlie Adam will be eyeing this season up as something of a swansong. There are a lot of players here who have previously flattered to deceive at this level though, particularly up front. And can they get something consistent from Jason Cummings?

    DUNDEE UNITED (2020/21: 9th; 2019/20: 1st in Championship; 2018/19: 2nd in Championship)
    United fans are filled with trepidation after a summer which saw them promote Tam Courts from the youth academy to be new head coach and only two new signings so far (one is a backup keeper and the other is 168 year old Charlie Mulgrew). There is going to be a clear emphasis on playing youngsters here, and there are high hopes for defenders Kerr Smith, Flynn Duffy and Kieran Freeman, midfielder Chris Mochrie and forward Logan Chalmers. But it's a risky strategy, though if Courts can get Lawrence Shankland scoring regularly again they should be okay.

    HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN (2020/21: 1st in Championship; 2019/20: 12th; 2018/19: 6th) Hearts somewhat underwhelmed despite cruising the Championship last season, too often playing down to the opposition. The question is whether they can step it up again, and the return of John Souttar and exciting arrival of Beni Baningime should help with that. Liam Boyce is a top class striker and should be amply supplied by Gary Mackay-Steven and Josh Ginnelly. If Souttar and Peter Haring can stay fit then they actually should be in very good nick. And if worse comes to worse they've still got Loic Damour...

    HIBERNIAN (2020/21: 3rd; 2019/20: 7th; 2018/19: 5th) Hibs have only lost Ofir Marciano and Jackson Irvine from the side that finished third last year and with Jake Doyle-Hayes arriving to bolster the midfield there's no reason for expectations to be lower. A bit more consistency from young talents Josh Doig and Ryan Porteous in defence, midfielder Kyle Magennis and new winger Daniel Mackay would make this team rather dangerous. Striker Kevin Nisbet deserved his Euros call up, and the electric Martin Boyle could (should?) be playing for a bigger club than this.

    LIVINGSTON (2020/21: 6th; 2019/20: 5th; 2018/19: 9th) We all know Livi will do things differently from everyone else, and so far that's worked for them. But they won only one of their last fifteen games last season which was alarming. There's been lots of squad turnover although only the loss of Jon Guthrie seems a particular blow and Tom Parkes should replace him in defence. Bruce Anderson looks like a fine signing up top and loan players Adam Lewis and Ben Williamson look like useful midfield additions. Can David Martindale blend this unusual looking squad together though?

    MOTHERWELL (2020/21: 8th; 2019/20: 3rd; 2018/19: 8th) Graham Alexander has not beaten about the bush when it comes to recruitment; eighteen players left this summer and there are nine new signings (and he wants more!). Getting Liam Kelly back in goal is a coup and Callum Slattery should add quality to the midfield. Can one of their four new strikers score consistently though? Well also seem to be completely devoid of wide players. Alexander is clearly a man with a plan, but to the uneducated such as myself it's not totally clear what the plan is...

    RANGERS (2020/21: 1st; 2019/20: 2nd; 2018/19: 2nd) The Champions will essentially go again with the same squad that won the league last year, with midfielder John Lundstram and forward Fashion Sakala adding slightly more depth. There's not much talk of their top players legging it - though that might change if they falter in the Champions League playoffs - and unless motivation is a problem (which seems unlikely) they should walk the league again.

    ROSS COUNTY (2020/21: 10th; 2019/20: 10th; 2018/19: 1st in Championship) Having managed to stay up, County gutted the squad (correctly), replaced the manager (harshly?) with Malky Mackay (controversial) and then spent the time they should have spent on recruitment on trying to explain to everyone why the appointment wasn't controversial at all. And then they had a Covid outbreak. Given that they're never short of cash, it's concerning that they've only brought in five new faces to replace the fourteen they chucked, though full-back Jake Vokins is a good pickup on loan. While one would assume Mackay will have them well-drilled, more signings are surely needed.

    ST. JOHNSTONE (2020/21: 5th; 2019/20: 6th; 2018/19: 7th) Make no mistake, they were really, really good in the second half of last season, and most of the cup winning players are back again. If they can hold onto Jason Kerr and Shaun Rooney the defence will remain strong and David Wotherspoon continues to fly under the radar but the midfield could maybe do with another set of young legs alongside the outstanding Ali McCann and having lost Guy Melamed they could do with a reliable goalscorer. They should have enough to have another tilt at the top six though.

    ST. MIRREN (2020/21: 7th; 2019/20: 9th; 2018/19: 11th) Jim Goodwin has quietly done a very good job of making the Buddies just a little bit better each year, partly through excellent recruitment. Curtis Main seems a striker tailormade for the club and who might bring the best out of Eamonn Brophy, while Greg Kiltie may thrive away from Kilmarnock but hopefully won't have to fill the shoes of the much-sought after Jamie McGrath. Scott Tanser should improve a decent defence further and whilst Tony Fitzpatrick's dreams of them winning the Champions League, curing cancer and solving climate change are a bit optimistic, another step a little further up the table is a fair aim.

    And here's the predicted table:
    1. RANGERS
    2. CELTIC 3. HIBERNIAN 4. ABERDEEN 5. HEARTS 6. ST. MIRREN
    7. ST. JOHNSTONE 8. MOTHERWELL 9. DUNDEE UNITED 10. ROSS COUNTY
    11. LIVINGSTON
    12. DUNDEE
    As ever, I expect to be proven very, very wrong...

    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. View the full article
  7. hislopsoffsideagain
    For the first time since 2014, there isn't a club in this division that could be considered a Scottish football heavyweight - yes, I'd still refer to Dundee United as such, even if they are a bit flabby with bingo wings and move slower than a week in jail. There's also not a club like Dundee or Ross County who have significant financial backing from a benevolent millionaire.


    So in theory at least the Championship is up for grabs. However Kilmarnock - back at this level for the first time since 1993! - have not messed about and deserve to be described as favourites. Supporters or almost every other side can legitimately dream of having at least an outside shot at the top four though. But they can also brick themselves at the possibility that they could get relegated. It's not unusual for a more established club to have a nightmare of a season and finish bottom. Who might that be this time around?


    ARBROATH (2020/21: 7th; 2019/20: 5th; 2018/19: 1st in League One)
    Surely the only part-timers in the division can't survive and thrive at this level forever - though you wouldn't dare say that to Dick Campbell's face. The Red Lichties still have that excellent back four, marshalled by Tam O'Brien, and are better at using the loan market than most. They really need one Livingston loanee, Jon Nouble, to replace the goals that were provided in the second half of last season by another Livingston loanee, Jack Hamilton. If not, lack of firepower will give them a real problem, especially since the talismanic Bobby Linn is nearly 36.


    AYR UNITED (2020/21: 8th; 2019/20: 4th; 2018/19: 4th)
    United didn't really pick up after David Hopkin replaced Mark Kerr in charge and won only two of eleven league games under him. Hopkin has gone back to Morton to try and strengthen the defence, and though neither Markus Fjortoft nor Sean McGinty impressed in Greenock he has lured talented young keeper Aidan McAdams from his former club. They're another team who look dicey up top; with Michael Moffat now 37 they need young striker Marc McKenzie or new signing Tomi Adeloye who has more clubs in his career than he has goals. 


    DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC (2020/21: 4th; 2019/20: 6th; 2018/19: 7th)
    Dunfermline's new German owners seem happy to rely on more traditional recruitment for the moment and on paper it has worked well for them. The addition of Reece Cole and Graham Dorrans should give them a strong midfield and winger Kai Kennedy is a terrific signing on loan from Rangers. With Nikolay Todorov and Craig Wighton as established goal threats and Dom Thomas creating, they will be very dangerous going forward. The defence will miss Euan Murray but it seems reasonable to expect at least one of new signings Rhys Breen and Ross Graham or Lithuanian international Vytas Gaspuitis to step up. New boss Peter Grant should go from a relegation battle at Alloa last year to a promotion battle this time around.


    GREENOCK MORTON (2020/21: 9th; 2019/20: 7th; 2018/19: 5th)
    Covid has not helped Morton's preparations but with only four new signings it feels like they have a lot of work to do in all areas. At the back Gus MacPherson will need Jack Hamilton to shake off a rotten few years at Dundee, while Alan Lithgow should be an improvement at centre-back. The midfield needs young players like Cameron Blues and Reece Lyon to finally step up, while up front Gary Oliver and Gozie Ugwu work hard but score too few. Robbie Muirhead is the X-factor but shows his ability all too rarely. MacPherson won just one of his twelve league games in charge before the playoffs last season and the jury is out on whether he is yesterday's man.


    HAMILTON ACADEMICAL (2020/21: 12th in Premiership; 2019/20: 11th in Premiership; 2018/19: 10th in Premiership)
    In some ways it seems laudable that Accies stuck by Brian Rice despite relegation, but in plenty of other ways it seems crazy. In Hakeem Odoffin and David Templeton they have two players who would stroll this division...but Odoffin will surely move on and Templeton is perennially injured. Basically Hamilton are looking to cobble together a promotion challenge with a combination of players who proved out of their depth in the top flight and unproven youngsters. Can Rice really convert them from a mindset of battling to avoid relegation every year to taking the initiative against most opponents?


    INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE (2020/21: 5th; 2019/20: 2nd; 2018/19: 3rd)
    The suggestion from some bookies that ICT are third favourites seems rather optimistic after watching them defend in the League Cup; at the moment they look very much like a side with a rookie manager (Billy Dodds) and an aged centre-back who needs put out to pasture (Kirk Broadfoot). Maybe it'll all gel, maybe Broadfoot will aid the development of young defenders Robbie Deas and Cameron Harper, and maybe fellow veteran signings Michael Gardyne and Billy Mckay will add quality and nous. Or maybe not. If wingers Tom Walsh (back for a second spell), Anthony McDonald and Aaron Doran can stay fit they should be fun to watch, but it's hard to predict how they'll do until Dodds has had a couple of months to show whether he's up to management or not.


    KILMARNOCK (2020/21: 11th in Premiership; 2019/20: 8th in Premiership; 2018/19: 3rd in Premiership)
    Just the sixteen new signings as Tommy Wright overhauled the side that shockingly got relegated. It's essentially a new team with only Brandon Haunstrup, Chris Burke and Rory McKenzie from last year's team likely to start. Jason Naismith, Scott Robinson and Liam Polworth look like particularly great additions, while Euan Murray, Fraser Murray and Dan Armstrong proved last year that they can cut it at this level. If Innes Cameron can fulfil his potential - at the moment he looks like he's going to be given an extended chance to do so up front - then it's their title to lose.


    PARTICK THISTLE (2020/21: 1st in League One; 2019/20: 10th; 2018/19: 6th)
    Ian McCall built a tidy squad to get out of League One and won't be content simply with survival. Brian Graham and Zak Rudden provide a fine combination of experience and youth in attack and Cammy Smith is a terrific addition to the midfield. McCall also signed Ross MacIver and Scott Tiffoney permanently after successful loan spells and if the defence, reinforced by loanee keeper Harry Stone and centre-back Lewis Mayo and permanent addition Kevin Holt, is up to the task then they will be closer to the top than the bottom.


    QUEEN OF THE SOUTH (2020/21: 6th; 2019/20: 9th; 2018/19: 9th)
    Another summer, another big clearout in Dumfries with only a handful of last season's starters remaining. Like last year Allan Johnston has had to take chances on players from the lower divisions and from down south who are largely unproven; the exception is former Hearts starlet Harry Cochrane. The League Cup group was encouraging with lots of goals from newbies Ally Roy (Airdrie) and Ruari Paton (Stranraer) and Portuguese forward Ruben Junior seems to be a nice chap who loves his mum. But their first Stephen Dobbie-less season since 2016 could be a tough one.


    RAITH ROVERS (2020/21: 3rd; 2019/20: 1st in League One; 2018/19: 3rd in League One)
    Rovers played some sexy and successful football last season, but can they keep up the forward momentum after losing outstanding midfielder Regan Hendry? Liam Dick should replace Kieran MacDonald at left back and hopefully Christophe Berra still has some legs left. Keeping Lewis Vaughan fit will make a big difference, as will getting the best out of erratic wingers Dario Zanatta and Aidan Connelly. Rovers are another side who do well in the loan market and they've picked up youngsters Kai Fotheringham and Ethan Varion plus Livingston striker Matej Poplatnik this way; they'll all be expected to make a big impact.


    And here's my predicted league table:


    1. KILMARNOCK


    2. DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC
    3. PARTICK THISTLE
    4. RAITH ROVERS


    5. HAMILTON ACADEMICAL
    6. INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
    7. AYR UNITED
    8. QUEEN OF THE SOUTH


    9. GREENOCK MORTON


    10. ARBROATH


    Arbroath fans won't need to be told twice to take a screenshot of this so they can haunt me with it in May 2022...


    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
    As you will all be acutely aware, in a Covid-free universe the Scotland National Team would have marched inexorably through the spring playoffs and into Euro 2020. Israel at home? Pah. We managed to beat Israel at home with Alex McLeish in charge. Israel are so cack that James Forrest scored a hat-trick against them.

    And then Norway away, probably. Sure, Erling Haaland looks like a bit of a player, but he looks to be the perfect size and shape for Charlie Mulgrew's back pocket. Besides, Norway are under as much pressure as us over not qualifying for tournaments for practically forever. They'd have definitely wilted under the pressure of satisfying an anxious Oslo support, just as Haaland would have wilted once he'd stared into Scott McKenna's cold, dead eyes.

    And therefore we should be awaiting, around this point, the announcement of the squad - the twenty-three players (including three goalkeepers) that would take us to glory...or at least a fighting shot at being one of the best third-placed sides in a group with England, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

    So I thought it might be fun to pick my own Scotland squad. Which it was, right up until the point I had to whittle it down to twenty-three from an original list of thirty-five. Then it stopped being fun and started being a case of typing with one hand whilst putting the other on my stressed forehead.

    I don't buy the idea of two players for every position - at least, certainly not when it comes to attackers. Different types of players are needed for different situations. Some injury cover is definitely required but so too are guys who you'd bring off the bench if you were chasing a goal...or hanging onto a slender lead. But striking the balance is decidedly easier said than done.

    So here's my pop at it. I suspect many of you will have your own thoughts - constructive ones, I hope! - and I look forward to hearing them. Anyone who has previously retired from international football wasn't getting back in, no matter how much Allan McGregor and Scott Brown begged...



    GOALKEEPERS: DAVID MARSHALL (WIGAN ATHLETIC), JON MCLAUGHLIN (SUNDERLAND), ROBBY MCCRORIE (RANGERS)

    When I was a boy, I swear goalkeeper felt like a position of strength for Scotland. Not so now. Marshall is the only stonewall-certain pick here and would start between the sticks. With Allan McGregor out of the picture and Craig Gordon having not played a league game since December 2018 the other two slots are wide open. I initially listed Scott Bain because he would be my number two if he played as well as he did for Celtic in early 2019 but that was a long time ago. In contrast McLaughlin has been a regular in squads and so I imagine he'd be on the plane though being a starter in League One doesn't give him or Portsmouth's Craig MacGillivray much kudos in my eyes. I know very little about MacGillivray, which perhaps unfairly counts against him. The third keeper is never going to play, so is it really worth taking a veteran? Instead I plump for the guy who I think will be Marshall's long-term successor, Robby McCrorie, for the experience. He gets the nod just ahead of QPR's Liam Kelly. That also means - spoiler alert - that Rangers fans won't moan that I haven't picked any of their players...



    FULL-BACKS: ANDREW ROBERTSON (LIVERPOOL), KIERAN TIERNEY (ARSENAL),  GREG TAYLOR (CELTIC), STEPHEN O'DONNELL (KILMARNOCK)

    How many left-backs can we pick? Captain Robbo is obviously going to start, while I maintain that a fully-fit and committed Tierney would potentially be our best option at right-back and possibly even in central-defence (you laugh, but wait till you see the list of centre-backs). Taking Greg Taylor can be justified if he was considered as Robertson's backup (since I'm playing Tierney somewhere else in the backline). If not, he would surely be the highest-quality player left behind. Callum Paterson, who is named later, would also be an acceptable right-back option so you can probably get away with picking one natural right-back. I suppose it would be helpful to take someone who actually plays the position naturally, so I'll plump for Stephen O'Donnell over Liam Palmer. I'd like to think O'Donnell wouldn't play but he's a known quantity to Clarke and his banter (and baking ability) won't do squad morale any harm.



    CENTRE-BACKS: SCOTT MCKENNA (ABERDEEN), LIAM COOPER (LEEDS UNITED), CHARLIE MULGREW (BLACKBURN ROVERS)

    This is where I should probably dig out the Frasier "Dear God!" gif. Would I be confident with any of the available centre-backs playing in a major tournament? Hell, no. What a bunch. I'm certain Clarke would pick Mulgrew because of his experience but I still have nightmares about how Artem Dzyuba benchpressed him in Moscow. McKenna is a cert too, even if he hasn't kicked on enough in the last year or so for my liking; at least his forehead remains a ball magnet. I probably rate Liam Cooper too highly but I'd rather have him facing Harry Kane than Declan Gallagher and Stuart Findlay, good as they have been in the Premiership this season. If I'm gambling on Tierney as a central defender (please don't @ me) then I reckon I can leave Gallagher, Findlay and Grant Hanley behind, so I can pick more midfielders and forwards. It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off.



    CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: JOHN MCGINN (ASTON VILLA), CALLUM MCGREGOR (CELTIC), KENNY MCLEAN (NORWICH CITY), JOHN FLECK (SHEFFIELD UNITED), SCOTT MCTOMINAY (MANCHESTER UNITED)

    From a position where we have no quality to one where we have it in spades. Clarke will probably start with a central midfield trio, and if they're fit I'd guess McTominay, McGregor and McGinn would be those three picks. That would also give a decent balance of qualities in and out of possession. McLean has looked decent as part of a deep double pivot and could play there at times when parking the bus is required. Fleck would be a perfectly decent backup for both McGregor and McGinn. The romantic in me wants Billy Gilmour as a bit of an X-factor, but I just couldn't find space for him. I couldn't see a situation where he or Ryan Jack would start or likely come off the bench, so they stay at home.



    ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS/WIDE PLAYERS: RYAN CHRISTIE (CELTIC), JAMES FORREST (CELTIC), RYAN FRASER (BOURNEMOUTH), CALLUM PATERSON (CARDIFF CITY), STUART ARMSTRONG (SOUTHAMPTON)

    I've already pencilled in Paterson because of his versatility - he could do a job at right-back, as an attacking midfielder and up front. Two of Christie, Forrest and Fraser should be in the starting XI. I very nearly left Stuart Armstrong out but I just love his hair too much. That, and his box-to-box engine offers something a bit different. But mostly it's because of the hair.



    STRIKERS: OLI MCBURNIE (SHEFFIELD UNITED), LEIGH GRIFFITHS (CELTIC), LAWRENCE SHANKLAND (DUNDEE UNITED)

    And that leaves me with space for all of three centre-forwards. Griffiths has to be one going by his apparent return to form. I think McBurnie has to be the other as he is best placed to play as a target man. And I have to have Shankland because he's the bloke coming on when we're 1-0 down with ten minutes left. I'm not confident the declining Steven Naismith offers enough to make the cut. Oli Burke misses out too.


    So that's the twenty-three then. The players I considered but who didn't pick were Liam Kelly, Craig MacGillivray, Liam Palmer, Stuart Findlay, Declan Gallagher, Grant Hanley, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Jack, Mikey Johnston, Johnny Russell, Oli Burke and Steven Naismith

    There's bound to be someone I've forgotten, isn't there?

    Anyway, it's all academical because, by the time Euro 2021 comes around, a lot will have changed. Billy Gilmour will have become the British Xavi, Leigh Griffiths will be back to his 2017 level and finally we'll have a competent central defender.

    Well, maybe not the last one...


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. 

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  9. hislopsoffsideagain
    It's the hope that kills you. Any Scotland fan knows that all too well.

    And yet, and yet.

    For the first ten minutes last night, Scotland ripped into Russia. The sheer energy and will took the visitors - and the Hampden crowd - by surprise. The full-backs flew down the flanks; Callum McGregor demanded the ball at each stroke; John McGinn snapped at every Russian heel; Scott McTominay bestrode the midfield like a colossus. Steve Clarke's lineup and plan were absolutely perfect for the occasion.

    And then John McGinn scored.

    Goals change games. I'm not sure I've ever seen one change a game like this though. They buoy spirits, lift the crowd, inspire the scorers on.

    Instead Scotland instantly metamorphosed from a feral beast into a frightened hedgehog, unnerved even by the slightest passing breeze and rustle of leaves. This was not as a result of quality play by the opposition, nor pressure from the stands, nor tactical caution from the dugout. Having created a springboard to win the match, the players collectively baulked at actually jumping on it.

    The captain summed it up perfectly afterward. "It was as if it scared us".

    Andrew Robertson was hardly exempt from criticism himself. When cool, experienced heads were required, the captain was stuck in Liverpool mode. Every time the ball came his way he put his head down and charged up the pitch with it, even when every moment pleaded for someone in dark blue to put their foot on the ball, stop and take a deep calming breath. At one point he tried a backheel by the corner flag - his own corner flag.

    They were all at it though. Charlie Mulgrew, 33 years old and with over 40 caps to his name, could be excused for being bullied by Artem Dzyuba, whose physique had more in common with the twenty-two at Murrayfield than the penalty box at Hampden. There was no reason however for him to treat the ball like a hot potato, acting as if Dzyuba was constantly breathing down his neck even when he was twenty yards away catching his breath. Punt after punt after punt after punt. With the midfield struggling to get even into the same postcode as Oli McBurnie it was no surprise that the ball kept coming back.

    And what of the midfield that contains so much talent and started as if they intended to prove it? The quartet playing in front of McTominay looked like rabbits stuck in Lada headlights. James Forrest and Ryan Fraser dropped deeper and deeper, negating their use as an attacking outlet without offering any actual protection to their full-backs. McGregor and McGinn looked stuck in No Man's Land, neither pressing their opponents nor dropping in beside McTominay, who had now gone from proverbial Colossus to actual Colossus, a tall, leaden-footed statue watching as people swarmed around him.

    With the exception of David Marshall, whose outstanding efforts in preventing a shellacking will probably be forgotten, and Stephen O'Donnell, who just had a good old-fashioned mare, this felt very different from, say, a debacle like Kazakhstan where tactics were poor and players looked uncertain and unwilling from the off. Here the plan was great and was initially executed well, which tells us that the manager knew what he was doing and the players had the ability and nous to pull it off. Their subsequent reaction is perhaps more terrifying than if they had just played like horses**t.

    As Robertson said, they were scared.

    I grew up watching players like Colin Hendry, Kevin Gallacher, James McFadden and many others who seemed galvanized by wearing the Scotland shirt in the way we all believed we would be if, as in our dreams, we ever played for the national team. Now the wearers of said shirt appear burdened with the weight of twenty-one years of failure on it. Even in such a favourable situation, with a home crowd behind them and the reassurance of knowing that their strategy was working, the players simply could not deal with the pressure of being ahead against an opponent considered to be superior to them.

    How on earth do you fix that? All the clever management and tactics and quality in the world will only take you so far if in moments like that you simply can't help thinking "we're going to screw this up because we're Scotland".

    The only thing I'm certain of is that you don't fix it by playing Belgium three days later.

    The caveat: even if last night had gone well, the onus was still very much on preparing for those Euro 2020 playoffs. Those are the games that count now. Everything else is about building towards those. And there remains no doubt in my mind that if anyone can pull this off, its Steve Clarke.

    The fear is that even Clarke can't manage it. What if all those years of failure simply infect the Scotland National Team to such an extent that there's no shaking it?

    Or, to put it bluntly, what if there is actually no hope?


    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
    We waited twenty-three years for this, and what did we get? An endless barrage of mediocre nausea-related puns regarding the name of the Czech goalscorer.


    What we didn't get was the epic, all-action, never-say-die, no-one-lives-forever performance from the home side that we were looking for and, frankly, expecting. Heck, no-one even got booked.


    Don't forget that Scotland were the home side here. Opportunities to play at a major tournament are like hen's teeth for us; to do it on our own turf is a chance that had to be grasped with both hands, not least against our only group opponent that didn't reach a 2018 World Cup Semi-Final. If this had been a 2-0 defeat at home to the Czech Republic in qualifying, in this manner, the postmortem would have been pretty grim. There should be little sympathy or patience just because "at least we qualified".


    Okay, it came down to fine margins and sure, Scotland were grossly short-changed on this front. We could probably afford to lose Kieran Tierney less than any other player in the squad. The Czech goalkeeper had a fine match. Jack Hendry hit the bar when the score was 1-0. One simply cannot allow for an extraordinary moment like Patrik Schick's second goal and perhaps it is unreasonable to expect such a strike to be anything other than a knockout blow.


    But on a day that demanded a carpe diem spirit, Steve Clarke set Scotland up in such a way that this match was only ever going to come down to fine margins. The starting lineup looked quite adventurous with Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and John McGinn all there to ostensibly provide support to Lyndon Dykes but the reality was anything but. Somehow we managed to lack an attacking threat because we played too many attack-minded players.


    With Tierney injured and Scott McTominay back in midfield none of the Scottish back three were either comfortable enough in possession or confident enough to step out with the ball. Carpe diem? We couldn't even manage carpe pila. With no Ryan Jack, Kenny McLean, Callum McGregor or Billy Gilmour on the pitch and McTominay closed down whenever he came deep, the only out ball was a long punt forward.


    This worked marginally better when Dykes was joined by Che Adams in the second half, but even then the play was depressingly archaic: either hit it at Dykes and hope he can flick it on, or get it wide and ping it in the box. That's 'get it wide left', obviously, because for the vast majority of the match only Andy Robertson looked capable of making anything happen...and the Czechs were well aware of this, which is why they offered us the chance to pass to Stephen O'Donnell as much as possible.


    No-one can doubt the Motherwell defender's effort, his contribution to team camaraderie and his impeccable home baking but at this level he is a Standard Grade maths student being asked to give a calculus lecture at St. Andrews. In the second minute he took a pass on the right touchline, looked up and let the ball run under his foot with no-one near him. He ruined one promising attack by inexplicably getting in Christie's way after the Celtic player had managed to beat two defenders. His crosses never beat the first man, he gave away possession time and again and ultimately he was the one who was so, so slow to get out and close down the two-on-one the Czechs created to cross for the opener.


    That said, Grant Hanley has one job. ONE JOB. TO WIN HEADERS.


    Perhaps the most depressing aspect was how little influence John McGinn had on the match. Most of Scotland's finest play under Clarke has involved the talismanic midfielder doing damage in the final third. Here, whilst he seemed to be playing ahead of Armstrong, he was neutered. It says it all that his sole highlight moment, a 360 degree spin out of trouble that left an opponent dazed and confused on the turf, took place twenty-five yards from his own goal...and that when he then looked for a teammate to pass to, there were none.


    As a close friend texted after the final whistle, "most disappointing of all, Clarke was crap". Scotland's cerebral, savvy, streetwise coach was supposed to be the great equalizer that compensated for the lack of quality in some areas of the team. When we look back on this game for years to come, people will think of that fifty-yard strike, but many will not forget that Scotland's team selection hamstrung them from the start.


    So, what does Clarke do now? Unfortunately, the only answer I can think of is 'pray'. All the optimism has been sucked out of the Tartan Army now and replaced by an overwhelming feeling of dread in the pits of our stomachs; that's not Schickness at the Czech result, it's the very real fear that if we play like  that at Wembley on Friday we are going to be humiliated.




    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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  11. 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.

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  12. hislopsoffsideagain
    PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: THIRD

    LAST SEASON: 4th, 67pts

    NOTABLE INS: Funso Ojo (Scunthorpe United, £125k), Luc Bollan (Dundee United), Craig Bryson (Derby County), Ryan Hedges (Barnsley), Curtis Main (Motherwell), Michael Ruth (Queen's Park), Ash Taylor (Northampton Town), James Wilson (Manchester United, loan made permanent), Jon Gallagher (Atlanta United, loan), Greg Leigh (NAC Breda, loan)

    NOTABLE OUTS: Gary Mackay-Steven (New York City), Mark Reynolds (Dundee United, loan made permanent), Graeme Shinnie (Derby County), Dominic Ball (Rotherham United, end of loan), Tommie Hoban (Watford, end of loan), Max Lowe (Derby County, end of loan), Greg Stewart (Birmingham City, end of loan), Greg Halford

    LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Lewis, Logan, McKenna, Devlin, Lowe, Mackay-Steven, Shinnie, Ferguson, McGinn, May, Cosgrove



    How big a deal is it that Derek McInnes signed a new contract this summer? After all, it won't stop him leaving if another club offer sufficient compensation. But he could have hedged his bets and let it run down. But six years into his tenure, he has chosen to commit himself to the club going forward. 

    It's a huge boost to the club because the Dons' squad appears to be going through something of a rebuild. It feels like a long time since the 2017 Scottish Cup Final, where an Aberdeen side containing Graeme Shinnie, Ryan Jack, Jonny Hayes and Kenny McLean went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles. Club captain and Duracell bunny Shinnie became the last of that quartet to depart at the end of last season. Gary Mackay-Steven has decided to take his chances in the USA. Max Lowe has proven an all-to-brief answer to the club's longstanding question at left-back - if anything, Clive, he was too good, so Derby County wanted him back.

    After slipping to fourth last season, following four straight second place finishes, could it be that Aberdeen cracked their heads off the glass ceiling and are on their way down again? It seems McInnes thinks not. With the new stadium at Kingsford due to open in 2021, and the decision to become a PLC to attract further investment, perhaps he has reason to believe that the Dons are going places.

    In the meantime, he still has the third biggest wage budget in the country to work with, a budget that has allowed him to entice Craig Bryson back north and to keep James Wilson. The latter will have taken a massive wage cut from the thirty grand a week he was making at Manchester United but will still surely be on a decent wad. The thing is, he was an overwhelming disappointment during his loan spell last season, managing just four goals and often looking disinterested. Retaining him looks like a considerable leap of faith by McInnes, especially since Sam Cosgrove has proven himself a consistent goalscorer and a very capable loan striker.


    He has also ventured back into the left-back loan market and come up with former Manchester City youngster Greg Leigh, while out wide a lot he has taken three throws of the dice at replacing Mackay-Steven; Scott Wright returns from a loan at Dundee where he showed flashes, while Welsh international winger Ryan Hedges has arrived from Barnsley and most curiously Jon Gallagher, an Irishman playing in the USA, has arrived on loan. Gallagher looks raw as heck but has pace to burn. Signs from the European games are that two of these three will do fine interchanging with Niall McGinn as part of the '3' in a 4-2-3-1.

    At the other end they look pretty set. Joe Lewis seems to have decided to spend the rest of his career in the North-East after signing a new contract. Shay Logan was a bit below his usual high standards last season but remains one of the better right-backs in the country. It's only a matter of time till Scott McKenna goes on to bigger things but until then they have excellent quality and quantity at centre-back, especially if Michael Devlin can stay fit. Otherwise Ash Taylor has returned after two years back in England and Andrew Considine is reliable enough. 

    The loss of Shinnie is a blow but rather than try and find a like-for-like replacement. McInnes instead landed Funso Ojo, who is more of a typical holding player. This may be no bad thing as the large spaces between Aberdeen's defence and midfield have been an obvious weakness for years. And Lewis Ferguson looks more than ready to take on Shinnie's mantle. The ex-Accie doesn't turn 20 till August but the £240,000 fee the tribunal set for him last summer looks like robbery. There's also Bryson who will be on a decent wage but who may actually find it tough to break into this side.

    Ferguson isn't the only youngster who the Dons have high hopes for. Connor McLennan looked great on the flanks when given his chance last season, while Bruce Anderson showed signs that he could be a capable striker. Anderson will have to wait his turn though behind Cosgrove, Wilson and new signing Curtis Main and may go out on loan again. Stevie May, meanwhile, will be on his way.

    Time will tell if the Dons are weaker than they were last season but third place looks like a very achievable target. Frustratingly for the support, the gap to Rangers looks insurmountable, whereas the difference between the Dons and the likes of the Edinburgh clubs - and of course Kilmarnock if their new boss picks up where the old one left off - is not that great at all. McInnes' remit for now is surely to make them the third best club in the country for the next couple of years...and then hope the Kingsford move can spark something special.


    THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
    Goalkeepers: Tomas Cerny, Joe Lewis, Danny Rogers
    Defenders: Luc Bollan, Andrew Considine, Michael Devlin, Jon Gallagher, Greg Leigh, Shay Logan, Scott McKenna, Ash Taylor
    Midfielders: Craig Bryson, Dean Campbell, Lewis Ferguson, Stephen Gleeson, Ryan Hedges, Funso Ojo, Ethan Ross, Miko Virtanen
    Forwards: Bruce Anderson, Sam Cosgrove, Curtis Main, Stevie May, Niall McGinn, Connor McLennan, Michael Ruth, James Wilson, Scott Wright

    THE BEST XI?

     

    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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  13. hislopsoffsideagain
    Part one of this, which counts down from 25 to 11, can be found here.

    As ever, the top ten is dominated by whichever club has drastically underachieved that season. No prizes for guessing which side occupies more spots than any other, though not the top one. And for the first time in four seasons, it isn't a Rangers player who 'leads' these standings.

    Onward...


    10. SIMEON JACKSON (KILMARNOCK) The Canadian international hardly impressed at St. Mirren last season, but Kilmarnock were so desperate for strikers - and for numbers, given how threadbare their squad was - that they took a chance on the 32 year old on a short-term deal in October. Angelo Alessio claimed he was very similar to Eamonn Brophy, and he is...apart from the goals, and the pace, and the work-rate. One start and three sub appearances later he was off to Stevenage.


    9. JOEL CASTRO PEREIRA (HEARTS) The funny thing is that a few years ago Joel Pereira was highly enough thought of that he was part of the Portugal squad at the 2016 Olympics and started a Premier League game for Manchester United in 2017. But that was then and this is now. And now the Swiss-born goalie has clearly not fulfilled his potential. I accept that there is a need these days for a keeper being able to use his feet, but not at the expense of using his hands. Pereira seemed allergic to making his saves; his poor positioning was found out frequently and when he did get his gloves to the ball it was only to parry it out directly in front of him, often straight to the nearest opponent. He was so rotten that he's made Zdenek Zlamal - Zdenek Zlamal! - look like a reliable alternative.


    8. OAN DJORKAEFF (ST. MIRREN) Expectations were probably too high because of his famous father Youri, but the young midfielder was considered good enough to play all St. Mirren's League Cup group games. The problem is that these included a loss to Dunfermline and draws with East Kilbride and Albion Rovers, proving to Jim Goodwin that he needed to upgrade his team fast. Djorkaeff managed just five minutes of first team football after the first week of the league season, and spent so much time as an unused substitute - sixteen games - that he there is probably a Djorkaeff-shaped dent in the St. Mirren bench. He spent January training with Queen of the South but didn't win a contract...but apparently didn't leave Paisley either. At least we think he didn't, though he hasn't been seen since so it's hard to know.


    7. LOIC DAMOUR (HEARTS) Craig Levein had wanted Loic Damour last January, and clearly wanted him badly given that the Frenchman was awarded a four year contract at Tynecastle. It's only two seasons since he was a useful part of the Cardiff team that got promoted to the Premier League but Jambos haven't seen any of that. Instead they've had to view a midfielder who has been ponderous in and out of possession and who has shown a remarkable talent only for giving the ball away. Hearts actually tried to move him on in January but he's still there with no signs that Daniel Stendel can redeem him.


    6. JOSH VELA (HIBERNIAN) Vela's signing certainly looked good on paper. The versatile midfielder had been a constant for Bolton over several years in the Championship before coming north and Paul Heckingbottom had plans to use his energy in a box-to-box role. Unfortunately, said energy seemed to have been left behind in Lancashire. Heckingbottom's last match - a thumping by Celtic in the League Cup semi - was also Vela's, with his particularly turgid display summing up his time at Easter Road. He never played a game under Jack Ross and moved to Shrewsbury in January.


    5. MORITZ BAUER (CELTIC) Bauer's deadline day signing on loan from Stoke was clearly aimed at improving Celtic's depth at right-back. One suspects there was a decent fee involved as part of it. But the Austrian has rarely been seen on the park. Part of that is because Celtic have done fine at the position with Jeremie Frimpong's rapid emergence and formation tinkering that has seen both Kristoffer Ajer and James Forrest on that side of the pitch, and part of that is because Bauer hasn't really been great when he has been in action. He's been a dud, and probably an expensive one, but it hasn't exactly impacted negatively on Celtic's season.


    4. ANDY KING (RANGERS) Like Bauer, King's lack of impact hasn't really damaged Rangers in any way other than in the financial sense; the club will have paid a significant chunk of the Welshman's wages for the four months or so he was at Ibrox. The move didn't even make sense at the time given Steven Gerrard already had plenty of options in midfield. Five substitute appearances and a total of 70 minutes on the pitch later, he returned south. If (as I'm sure I saw somewhere, unless I dreamt it) he cost about £20,000/week, those twenty weeks he was in Scotland were very, very expensive.


    3. GLENN WHELAN (HEARTS) There's a fine line between being 'experienced' and being 'past it'. Hearts were hoping that 35 year old Glenn Whelan was the former but he rather looked like the latter. Not that he would acknowledge it; the Irishman would later claim that "my form was good for the last few months" of Craig Levein's tenure. That's somewhat at odds with what everyone else thought. He complained that people said "that I didn't fancy it, that I was laying down the tools". That'll be because that's exactly what it looked like. Daniel Stendel, on being asked about the veteran's leadership qualities, responded with "a real leader in the centre of the pitch? Sorry, maybe I missed it." Ouch. The funny thing is he was still getting picked for Ireland during his time at Tynecastle and he's fitted in nicely at Fleetwood Town since signing for them in January. So chances are he was afflicted by the same malaise as everyone else at Hearts, rather than a cause of it.


    2. CASPER SLOTH (MOTHERWELL) One unkind Twitter user suggested Sloth looked happier in the departure lounge of Edinburgh Airport, awaiting his flight to Copenhagen, than he did at any point of his spell at Fir Park. The Danish international midfielder's arrival on a two year deal looked like a coup for Motherwell, a player whose career had stalled in the last couple of seasons and who could really shine in the SPFL. Stephen Robinson championed "not only his ability on the park, but his desire (and) his hunger to be here". We'll have to take his word for it, as Sloth made just a single League Cup appearance. When he was mutually consented in January, Robinson was at least generous enough to credit him with "pushing on younger players in his position to excel". If you say so, Stephen...


    1. MADIS VIHMANN (ST. JOHNSTONE) St. Johnstone's defence was hoaching in the first half of the season. So what does that say about a central defender who, even when they were dreadful and desperate, Tommy Wright could not bring himself to play? Lanky Estonian international Vihmann signed a season-long loan deal in July, but his debut saw the Perth Saints embarrassed by Forfar and his next appearance was a 7-0 humiliation at Celtic Park. Vihmann made just three more appearances. He left McDiarmid Park in January. We'll never see his like again - literally, as he announced his retirement "for personal reasons" just a few days later, at the age of just 24.


    Hopefully there'll be another edition of this next year...though that would require us having some football to actually watch first. Fingers crossed...


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  14. hislopsoffsideagain
    Given that League One is still mostly the domain of part-time clubs, any full-time teams should always be considered favourites.

    Partick Thistle lived up to that billing last season, eventually. Falkirk on the other hand collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane; if missing out on promotion was a catastrophe, slumping to fifth place is, er, something worse than a catastrophe?


    For 2021/22, the Bairns, Airdrie - who have a bit of a hybrid model in their squad - and Queen's Park, who are in a heck of a hurry after throwing off the shackles of amateurism, are the full-timers. But there's also Cove Rangers who are paying pretty impressive part-time wages. And there's a bunch of battle-hardened squads who would like nothing more to 'welcome' these full-time fancy dans to the seaside leagues. Let's see how it all pans out...


    AIRDRIEONIANS (2020/21: 2nd; 2019/20: 3rd; 2018/19: 5th)
    Last season's promotion playoff finalists only retained eight of last year's squad - and highly rated youngster Thomas Robert will probably leave - but they will expect to be near the top again. Rhys McCabe, Adam Frizzell and Dylan Easton will add flair and are among a host of new signings who need to see this as their last chance to prove they can make this their day job. A goalscorer would make a big difference - can Gabby McGill or Salim Kouider-Aissa get into double figures?


    ALLOA ATHLETIC (2020/21: 10th in Championship; 2019/20: 8th in Championship; 2018/19: 8th in Championship)
    It's the end of an era for the Wasps following the end of their three year Championship stay and many mainstays have departed along with manager Peter Grant. Barry Ferguson brings a bit of razzmatazz to the dugout but the jury is still out on his managerial credentials. But on paper this is a pretty strong squad with the addition of Mark Durnan and Fernandy Mendy in defence and Steven Boyd up top, and veterans Andy Graham, Scott Taggart and Alan Trouten have hung around.


    CLYDE (2020/21: 8th; 2019/20: 7th; 2018/19: 2nd in League Two)
    Danny Lennon hasn't been allowed to take a squad of youngsters to a desert island yet, so he'll have to make do with this motley crew, which includes 14 new signings so far. Conrad Balatoni, Morgaro Gomis and Gregory Tade - the latter coming out of retirement - give them an experienced backbone and David Goodwillie has scored 73 goals in 4 seasons which is some strike rate. This is surely time for them to push on towards the top half of the division.


    COVE RANGERS (2020/21: 3rd; 2019/20: 1st in League Two; 2018/19: 1st in Highland League)
    Cove still have aspirations to get to the Championship and Ross County duo Ross Draper and Iain Vigurs are the marquee additions to a group that already contains the illustrious trio of Fraser Fyvie, Mitch Megginson and Rory McAllister. Cove's biggest weakness looked like being squad depth - they struggled to fill their bench in the League Cup games - but Paul Hartley has now brought in Shay Logan and Javan Anderson (son of Russell) to boost the defence


    DUMBARTON (2020/21: 9th; 2019/20: 6th; 2018/19: 6th)
    It was a turbulent summer at the Rock, with manager Jim Duffy leaving and only three of last year's squad remaining. New boss Stevie Farrell has a tough job on his hands rejuvenated a club that only avoided relegation via a playoff in May. Joe McKee should fill the Ross Forbes-shaped hole in midfield, and Gregor Buchanan, Paul Paton and Andy Geggan add experience but it's hard to see where the goals are coming from.


    EAST FIFE (2020/21: 6th; 2019/20: 5th; 2018/19: 7th)
    The Methil side were unlucky to end up on the wrong side of the split as they were still in promotion contention at the time. They've lost keeper Brett Long and talisman Scott Agnew but there's still plenty of quality with Scott Mercer added to the defence, Danny Swanson in midfield and Kevin Smith and Ryan Wallace up front. They'll fancy they can improve on last season.


    FALKIRK (2020/21: 5th; 2019/20: 2nd; 2018/19: 10th in Championship)
    It's promotion or bust for the Bairns under new boss Paul Sheerin, who has a squad filled with players that would not look out of place in the second tier. Brad McKay, Ryan McGuffie and Aidan Nesbitt all look like terrific additions on paper, but we said that about many of the team last season. Callumn Morrison might be the best wide player in this league and Aidan Keena certainly has the quality to score for fun, but will expectations weigh them down again?


    MONTROSE (2020/21: 4th; 2019/20: 4th; 2018/19: 4th)
    Nobody (except maybe their Smokie neighbours?) quite seems to punch above their weight like Stewart Petrie's Montrose do, not least because of a squad that has been settled for a number of years. The loss of striker Russell McLean and loanees Harry Cochrane and Chris Mochrie will make it a bit harder, but getting Blair Lyons back on loan from Partick Thistle is a boost and one of the strongest backlines in the division gives them a good base to work from.


    PETERHEAD (2020/21: 7th; 2019/20: 8th; 2018/19: 1st in League Two)
    It's hard to know what to make of the Blue Toon, who last season were too good to go down and not nearly good enough to go up. Brett Long and Russell McLean will improve them at either end of the pitch but the days of paying big wages are long gone and it looks like they will play the loan system as best they can. Scott Brown and Simon Ferry give them plenty of quality in midfield but they will miss long-term absentee Gary Fraser. Derek Lyle, now 40, will play his twenty-third league season.


    QUEEN'S PARK (2020/21: 1st in League Two; 2019/20: 5th in League Two; 2018/19: 7th in League Two)
    Last year's League Two champs have no interest in just consolidating; the Spiders want to get up the leagues and have supplemented their squad with some decent reinforcements in keeper Calum Ferrie and winger Lewis Moore. Michael Doyle, Lee Kilday, Peter Grant and Tommy Robson form an excellent defence and Bob McHugh and Simon Murray should score plenty at this level. It will be interesting to see how rookie coach Laurie Ellis fares after Ray McKinnon left in the summer.




    And here's my predicted standings:


    1. FALKIRK


    2. AIRDRIEONIANS
    3. QUEEN'S PARK
    4. COVE RANGERS


    5. ALLOA ATHLETIC
    6. EAST FIFE
    7. MONTROSE
    8. CLYDE


    9. PETERHEAD


    10. DUMBARTON


    I await the usual constructive criticism...


    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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  15. hislopsoffsideagain
    At the time of writing we're ten days away from Deadline Day - in Scotland it's midnight on Monday 2 September. Plenty is going to happen between now and then. For a start, the window has been closed for English Premier League and Championship clubs for more than a fortnight and so there are players who (in the Fraser Forster style) need to get out if they are to play at all between now and new year. That should mean some decent pickings on loan or permanently for Premiership sides.

    The flip side is that after a week Monday anyone at an SPFL club who hasn't moved yet will be essentially stuck till January. And it seems like everyone has players they want to punt. Here's a few...


    STEVIE MAY, STEPHEN GLEESON (ABERDEEN)
    The last-gasp collapse of May's triumphant return to St. Johnstone has probably done significant short-term damage to both parties. There was talk of Dundee being interested but they signed Kane Hemmings instead. Now May appears to be unwanted everywhere, not just at Pittodrie. Gleeson's situation has been complicated by injuries over the summer but he only started eight games last year and is now further down the pecking order. (Candidates for loan moves: Miko Virtanen, Bruce Anderson)


    SCOTT SINCLAIR, JACK HENDRY, EBOUE KOUASSI (CELTIC)
    If it's true that Neil Lennon wants to add a few more players yet then this list could be longer. The Sinclair situation has been badly botched; the club activated a contract extension in the summer but left it so long to decide they wanted shot of him that he can't join an English Premier League or Championship club. Unless he wants to go to League One or abroad he may be stuck till January. Hendry will probably go on loan with a number of Premiership clubs apparently interested in rejuvenating his career. Remember when Celtic argued Kouassi deserved a work permit as he was an 'exceptional talent'? He's made 12 starts in two and a half years and hasn't played since he recovered from an ACL injury sustained in October 2018. (Candidates for loan moves: Calvin Miller, Anthony Ralston, Ewan Henderson, Jack Aitchison)


    STEVEN BOYD (HAMILTON ACCIES)
    Boyd signed a new contract just days before Martin Canning was punted and has disappeared off the radar since. If he has been injured it hasn't been publicized (this is Accies we're talking about so don't completely rule out that possibility) but it feels like a long time since he scored a derby-winning screamer against Motherwell last August. (Candidates for loan moves: George Stanger, Shaun Want)


    ZDENEK ZLAMAL, OLLY LEE (HEARTS)
    Zlamal's now infamous poleaxing of a teammate against Ross County seems to have been the last straw for Craig Levein, who quickly signed Joel Pereira to take over between the sticks. Lee has been made available since the end of last season but hasn't found a new club; it's a shame for a guy who did pretty well when he first joined the club and strange given how many other Jambos (looking at you, Oliver Bozanic!) are still in Levein's good books. (Candidates for loan moves: Jamie Brandon, Bobby Burns, Harry Cochrane, Anthony McDonald, Rory Currie, Euan Henderson, Aidan Keena, Dario Zanatta)


    OLI SHAW (HIBS)
    To be fair, Shaw is more likely to move on loan than permanently; Hibs are weighing up the need for a backup to Christian Doidge and Flo Kamberi with the fact that Shaw requires games in order to develop. St. Johnstone have been linked with him and that would look like a good move. (Candidates for loan moves: Jamie Gullan, Innes Murray)


    NONE (KILMARNOCK)
    Killie need to get players in before Angelo Alessio can think of moving some on. (Candidates for loan moves: Devlin Mackay, Iain Wilson, Dom Thomas)


    GREGG WYLDE (LIVINGSTON)
    Having made just three appearances since signing in January, Wylde has been apparently sent to train with the youth team. (Candidates for loan moves: Craig Henderson)


    CRAIG TANNER (MOTHERWELL)
    Tanner is another one who looks set to go out on loan, providing he agrees to extend his short-term contract past the end of the month. 'Well are impressed with his recovery from the knee injury that has kept him out for more than a year and want to get him first team football somewhere for the rest of 2019. (Candidates for loan moves: Adam Livingstone, Barry Maguire, Jamie Semple)


    GRAHAM DORRANS, EROS GREZDA, JASON HOLT, JOE DODOO, JAMIE MURPHY (RANGERS)
    That's some list. Holt (who has been linked with St. Johnstone) and Dodoo have been persona non grata for about two years already. At 32, Dorrans is finding it difficult to find a suitor that will match the wages Pedro Caixinha gave him. Grezda has been a complete bust and a waste of £2million. Murphy has recovered from his long-term knee injury but the club have said they want to loan him out (which at Rangers often seems to mean that they don't want you anymore). (Candidates for loan moves: Jordan Houston, Aidan Wilson, Jamie Barjonas, Jake Hastie)


    DAN ARMSTRONG, DAVIS KEILLOR-DUNN (ROSS COUNTY)
    Armstrong broke his jaw at the end of June but it's hard to see him breaking into the County side when he is back to full fitness. Keillor-Dunn has already been told to find a new club amid rumours of an attitude issue. (Candidates for loan moves: Harry Paton)


    DAVID MCMILLAN (ST. JOHNSTONE)
    It's tempting to also include Steven Anderson - who is past it at this level - and Ross Callachan - who seems to be in Tommy Wright's bad books - on this list. McMillan is a cert though, in that the club have been trying to move him on for the best part of the year; a mediocre loan spell at Hamilton hasn't encouraged any takers. (Candidates for loan moves: Jordan Northcott)


    JIM KELLERMANN (ST. MIRREN)
    Buddies fans have probably forgotten Kellermann is still in Paisley. But he can't get in the team even when they're struggling to fill the bench. (Candidates for loan moves: Sam Jamieson, Cameron Breadner)


    And as a bonus...

    ANDREW DAVIES, CRAIG CURRAN, FRASER AIRD (THE CHAMPIONSHIP)
    Worth mentioning this trio as a bonus. Davies has never played for Dundee, having got injured immediately after signing in January. He apparently wants to go back to England. So does Curran allegedly, though you'd assume the Dark Blues want shot of him anyway. Aird seems to have rubbed Robbie Neilson up the wrong way quite spectacularly and wasn't even given a squad number. He's still at Tannadice though...for now.


    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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  16. hislopsoffsideagain
    This is the eighth season we've done this.

    Whilst football has come to a standstill I don't believe it entitles these players (or the clubs that signed them) a stay of execution. The halt to matches has probably spared some - particularly January arrivals) - from appearing on this list simply because there wasn't enough evidence of them being crap. But that didn't mean we were short of folk to choose from...


    As a reminder, here are the previous seven 'winners':
    2012/13 - Rory Boulding (Kilmarnock) 2013/14 - Stephane Bahoken (St. Mirren) 2014/15 - Jim Fenlon (Ross County) 2015/16 - Rodney Sneijder (Dundee United) 2016/17 - Joey Barton (Rangers) 2017/18 - Eduardo Herrera (Rangers) 2018/19 - Umar Sadiq (Rangers)
    Let's start things off with a countdown from 25 to 11...

    25. JAMES WILSON (ABERDEEN)
    The first player to appear on this list two years in a row, on the rather dubious grounds that he was only a rubbish loan signing last season for the Dons and was then inexplicably signed permanently last summer. Hey, I don't make the rules...well, actually, I do. Wilson, who will have been on a decent contract, failed to score in sixteen appearances this season and left in January for Salford City, where he scored twice on his debut - one more goal than he managed in the whole of 2019.


    24. KOREDE ADEDOYIN (HAMILTON ACCIES)

    The traditional even-the-club's-own-fans-didn't-know-he-was-playing-for-them player. Signed on loan from Everton, the teenage forward played ninety minutes for Accies' Colts in the Challenge Cup, which was ninety more minutes than he played for the first team. When he returned south in January, Hamilton's website stated it was due to "tough competition for places", which given the quality of the club's attacking options, means he really can't have been very good.


    23. GLENN MIDDLETON (HIBERNIAN)

    This looked like such a good move on paper; exciting young winger Middleton had looked the part in a few cameos at Rangers and would get plenty of playing time in an ascending Hibs side. Except Hibs were heading in the wrong direction and Middleton was dragged along with them. After Paul Heckingbottom's dismissal he never played again, with Jack Ross seemingly writing him off instantly. Half a season of a talented youngster's development wasted.


    22. EWAN HENDERSON (ROSS COUNTY)
    Half a season of a talented youngster's development wasted, part deux. Why Celtic and Ross County thought stylish midfielder Henderson would be a good fit in County's somewhat agricultural midfield I have no idea. He made only six starts and was recalled to Glasgow in January. Worse, he had made a substitute appearance for Celtic in a Champions League qualifier - in the ninetieth minute - which meant Celtic couldn't loan him out to someone else for the second half of the season (not that, in hindsight, that would have meant much action).


    21. RYAN SCHOFIELD (LIVINGSTON)
    When Matija Sarkic was unexpectedly recalled by his parent club during the winter break, Livi were suddenly left without a competent keeper (no, Ross Stewart doesn't count). By the end of the window they'd ended up with both Schofield and Robby McCrorie, with McCrorie as first choice. Schofield signed first, but a combination of a (short-term) injury in his first game and the unexpected availability of Rangers prospect McCrorie on loan led Gary Holt back into the market and left the Huddersfield keeper somewhat surplus to requirements. Schofield did get to play in the Scottish Cup (as McCrorie was cuptied), but was partly culpable for the only goal in a defeat at Inverness.


    20. HARVEY ST. CLAIR (KILMARNOCK)
    You'd think an ex-Chelsea youth, Scottish under-21 forward who started matches for parent club Venezia in Serie B last year would make more than three appearances for Kilmarnock, wouldn't you? Your guess is as good as mine as to what's gone wrong here. There have been no reports of injuries and he has occasionally been an unused sub but the youngster, who was apparently wanted by Rangers last summer, has offered practically nothing to Killie's season.


    19. CECE PEPE (LIVINGSTON)
    "Cece is an out and out defender and likes to defend, good on the ball, physical and has a bit of pace." Gary Holt was very bullish about the Frenchman on his arrival last June. But he made only two sub appearances in the league before picking up a calf injury in October that has hobbled him since. Livi are not exactly short of strength or depth in central defence now, especially after picking up Efe Ambrose, and it remains to be seen whether Pepe will see out the second season of his two year contract.


    18. WALLACE DUFFY (ST. JOHNSTONE)
    Unlike many of the players on this list, Duffy has seen plenty of action; he has started 14 games for St. Johnstone. However, after ten league starts at right-back or centre-back in which Saints conceded 26 goals, his demotion to the bench at the start of December coincided with them racing up the table. Time will tell if Duffy, who has just turned 21, still has room for improvement or whether he just isn't up to Premiership standard.


    17. BRANDON BARKER (RANGERS)
    With Jordan Jones, Jake Hastie and Sheyi Ojo all arriving last summer (and Ryan Kent soon to return) its not clear why Steven Gerrard wanted yet another wide player, or why he wanted Barker who had hardly set the heather alight in a year at Easter Road in the 2017/18 season. Curiously, two of his four starts for Rangers have been against Porto in the Europa League; however he has mainly been a substitute. The decision to give him a three year deal looks weirder and weirder as time goes on.


    16. DONIS AVDIJAJ (HEARTS)
    There was plenty of hype about the impending arrival of the Kosovan international in January, but his previous issues at other clubs and his decision to wear the '99' shirt (players with daft numbers like that are always for the watching) were red flags. When he joined, the winger declared "there is no country, no city in the world where I don't score. I score everywhere." At Tynecastle, he could barely even get a game.


    15. SIMON POWER (ROSS COUNTY)
    The Irish wideman joined Kings Lynn Town in England's sixth tier in January; this is apparently more his level than the Scottish Premiership. Power's loan from Norwich to Dingwall looked like a bit of coup given he played in the 2019 Toulon Tournament and had apparently impressed Lyon and Borussia Dortmund. He certainly didn't impress County fans, given he was trusted with just seven minutes of league action in his spell in the Highlands.


    14. OSMAN SOW (KILMARNOCK)
    Remember when Sow was so awesome for Hearts that they sold him for a million quid? That feels like long ago. The Swedish striker has struggled for fitness ever since he returned to Scotland with Dundee United and spent the first half of this campaign on loan at goal-lite Killie. Sow started only two matches and failed to score, even missing a penalty against Ross County. He never looked on the pace at all there, but actually broke back into the United lineup on his return to Tannadice...only to rupture his achilles tendon at the start of February.


    13. IBRAHIM SAVANE (LIVINGSTON)
    Two year deal. Two sub appearances. Thirty-one minutes of first team action. Away after three months. The Guinean left-back apparently struggled dreadfully with homesickness, though Livi rather unkindly noted on his departure that he "really struggled to adapt to Scottish football".


    12. ADRIAN BECK (HAMILTON ACCIES)
    Powerful German midfielder Beck joined Hamilton on loan from a Belgium second division team with Brian Rice claiming "he's very sharp on the ball. I think he will settle well in Scotland." Apparently not, given Beck started only two games and had his deal cut short in January. He's now playing in the German regional leagues. Gloriously, Beck has recently whinged to the German press about Scottish football being rubbish, involving only "high and wide balls" which were "not my idea of football". He also claimed Rice didn't pick him because he wasn't British. Aye, sure...
    11. JORDAN JONES (RANGERS)
    Jones was terrific at Kilmarnock but it always looked likely that Rangers would be too much of a step up for him. And so it has proved. Whilst he has made the odd start and a few sub appearances, Jones' first season at Rangers looks likely to be remembered only for getting himself stupidly sent off for hacking Moritz Bauer against Celtic in a match that was already lost, and injuring himself for the next three months in the process. It's hard to see him having a long-term future at Ibrox.


    The top ten will be with you soon enough...


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  17. hislopsoffsideagain
    PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: SEVENTH

    LAST SEASON: 3rd, 67pts

    NOTABLE INS: Mohamed El Makrini (Roda JC), Laurentiu Branescu (Juventus, loan)

    NOTABLE OUTS: Daniel Higgins (Cove Rangers), Jordan Jones (Rangers), Daniel Bachmann (Watford, end of loan), Conor McAleny (Fleetwood Town, end of loan), Liam Millar (Liverpool, end of loan), Youssouf Mulumbu (Celtic, end of loan), Mikael Ndjoli (Bournemouth, end of loan), Aaron Tshibola (Aston Villa, end of loan), Kris Boyd (retired), Scott Boyd (retired), Will Graham

    LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Bachmann, O'Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor, Dicker, Power, Mulumbu, Stewart, Jones, Brophy

    Steve Clarke, man. Sure, Jesus turned water into wine, but could he have guided Kilmarnock to third in the league? Dunno about that. I'm sure I wasn't the only neutral rooting for Killie last season. They weren't always pleasing on the eye but I've not seen a better organized team in Scotland. And whoever Clarke sent out onto the pitch would have jumped in front of a bullet if it meant getting a result. He was so damn magnificent that he was able to frequently (and publicly) criticize the SFA and still get the national team job.

    And so, midway through June, the club appointed Angelo Alessio as Clarke's successor.

    I was instantly on board with the move. Appointing another name from the ranks of Scottish football, a la Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Lee McCulloch et al would have inevitably meant regression back to where they were before the Clarke era. Taking a punt on Alessio obviously came with risk - his previous management posts were in Italy's lower divisions and he has never worked in Scotland before - but like his predecessor his coaching CV is impressive - he assisted Antonio Conte at Juventus, Chelsea and with Italy's national team. If Killie were to have any hope of kicking on, it would be by pulling off a high risk, high reward move like this.

    Then along came Connah's Quay Nomads. What's that noise that sounds like something going down a drain? Why, that's most of the goodwill and benefit-of-the-doubt the fans had given Alessio being flushed away.

    A (very, very) generous person would point out that the new man has had only a few weeks and made only two additions to a squad that lost a lot of players at the end of last season. Most however would point to the fact that the Welsh side needed a penalty shootout to see off League Two Edinburgh City at home in last year's Challenge Cup. All, I think, are worried that the reason no-one had really heard of Alessio is because he is actually just Gary Locke standing on Lee McCulloch's shoulders, surrounded by a ridiculously large overcoat and putting on an outrageous accent.

    And a couple of weeks later there have been no further additions to the squad. Alessio has said himself he needs at least another centre-back, two wingers and a striker. In truth he probably needs even more than that.

    As we said, 'high risk'. If the ceiling is a repeat of third place (a thought that now seems optimistic to the point of delusional), how low is the floor? Certainly bottom six, though the spine of the team is surely far too strong to prevent disaster. Assuming Kirk Broadfoot has enough left in the tank, a back four of him, Stuart Findlay, Stephen O'Donnell and Greg Taylor is stout and talented. The latter three may have been called up for Scotland by their former boss, but they all earned it on merit rather than favouritism.

    Taylor has flown under the radar a bit because left-back is a real (the only?) position of strength for the country, but he has played more than 100 league games and is still just 21. Findlay made a real breakthrough last season, and O'Donnell is one of the best right-backs in the country. The return of Alex Bruce provides centre-back cover, and Taylor's backup Calum Waters is highly thought of at Rugby Park. But more depth is essential now Scott Boyd has retired.

    Alessio can also hang his hat on central midfield duo Gary Dicker and Alan Power, both of whom blossomed under Clarke. Veteran Dutchman Mo El Makrini is probably more of a squad player. The problem, as the manager has identified, is out wide where 35 year old Chris Burke remains the best option. Dom Thomas found his level on loan at Dumbarton last year and Adam Frizzell's development has stalled. Greg Kiltie is best as a number ten, but needs a manager to give him a run of games to show what he can do. Of the club's youngsters, the powerful Innes Cameron is probably the best bet to succeed. He doesn't turn 19 till August though and it may be a bit too soon for him.

    And if you think the wing options look poor then take a peek at the attackers - or attacker, singular. The only striker on the books currently is Eamonn Brophy. Brophy was a hit under Clarke partly because of his workrate and willingness to do the defensive work. He did lead the club with 12 goals last season, but he can be really streaky and his 'shoot first, think later' policy really needs to be binned if he is to push on. At the moment he has no competition to push him.

    And at the other end of the pitch, Jamie MacDonald faces the possiblity of yet another season where he starts as first choice and finishes on the bench. It's safe to assume Laurentiu Branescu has been signed on loan to play, though he will do well to emulate the efforts of Daniel Bachmann last season.

    So a lot now depends on who Killie procure between now and August. The hope is that Alessio can use his contacts to find some gems, and that the players respond positively to another tactical manager. The fear is that Connah's Quay is a sign of what's to come, and that within a few months the dreaded 'safe pair of hands' will be required to dig them out of a hole.


    THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
    Goalkeepers: Laurentiu Branescu, Jamie MacDonald, Devlin Mackay
    Defenders: Kirk Broadfoot, Alex Bruce, Stuart Findlay, Ross Millen, Stephen O'Donnell, Greg Taylor, Calum Waters, Iain Wilson
    Midfielders: Chris Burke, Innes Cameron, Gary Dicker, Mohamed El Makrini, Adam Frizzell, Greg Kiltie, Rory McKenzie, Alan Power, Dom Thomas
    Forwards: Eamonn Brophy

    THE BEST XI?

     


    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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  18. hislopsoffsideagain
    I don't care what anyone else says, the Championship is the most interesting division in the SPFL. What's that you say? "You're only saying that because the team you support is top of the table"? That's an outrageous allegation that I can neither confirm nor deny at this time.


    We are now nine games, or one quarter, of the way through the season. So here's a breakdown of how the ten clubs are faring, with a grading system shamelessly stolen from the legendary Tell Him He's Pele site of years gone by...




    ARBROATH    A
    If anyone needs reminding, Arbroath are a part-time team. This is their third season at this level but they are not only surviving but thriving. They are outside the promotion playoffs only on goal difference and their only two defeats are to the clubs first and second in the table. I simply cannot overstate how incredible this is. This is the strongest team they've probably ever had, though they will find it hard to replace the outstanding striker Joel Nouble when he inevitably returns to parent club Livingston in January. Nouble has deservedly got the headlines for his terrific play which has also brought out the best in Michael McKenna, who has seven goals already after scoring only six in the league in the previous two seasons combined. More under the radar is Nicky Low, the former Aberdeen prodigy who had been strolling around the Lowland League until last Spring and yet is the closest thing this level has to a quarterback. His range of passing has made the Red Lichties more expansive and his superb set pieces give them yet another type of threat. Add in the traditional Dick Campbell levels of organization and you get a club which put many far better resourced peers to shame.


    AYR UNITED    C-
    Teams are (and correctly so) often pilloried for sacking a manager as early as September. However United got it right by binning David Hopkin after a dreadful start where they took a single point from their opening four matches and Hoppy seemed to blame the supporters for their struggles. Since Jim Duffy took over there's been three victories and a jump into mid-table. There's no question Ayr are now better organised and less likely to cause your eyes to bleed, though Hoppyball set the bar pretty low there. The recent 4-0 thumping by Partick Thistle exposed their limitations though. The biggest concern is the lack of quality and balance in the squad Duffy inherited, which is desperately short on central midfielders. Up front Tomi Adeloye looks like the only potent goal threat. Expect reinforcements in January which will determine whether they can steer clear of a relegation battle.


    DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC    F
    Bottom of the league and still winless, Dunfermline couldn't even get through the international break without shooting themselves in the foot. Peter Grant's insistence last week that the Pars could still win the Championship (a 500-1 possibility according to the bookies) was relatively small beer compared to the spectacularly ill-thought out statement released by the board the week before which seemed to defend the hapless manager whilst slagging off the supporters at the same time. The draw at the weekend against Kilmarnock was a welcome improvement but is it an aberration or a sign of a corner turned? Whilst the takeover by a German consortium did not have the fans expecting the next Franz Beckenbauer, this squad is supposed to be challenging at the top end rather than propping up the table. It's not unfair to point the finger of blame at the dugout; Grant has brought in roughly a million central defenders, fell out with Dom Thomas shortly after making him captain, took too long to drop calamity keeper Deniz Mehmet and persisted for ages with playing widemen through the middle. It's also worth noting that the team look better without injured marquee signing Graham Dorrans, whose main contribution so far is to get in a slagging match with some supporters after another defeat. It can get better, but it is unlikely to do so until Grant is replaced.


    GREENOCK MORTON    C-
    As if being ninth wasn't concerning enough, the fact that Morton fans consider keeper Jack Hamilton to have been their best player so far this season is probably not a good sign. Gus MacPherson won more matches during the relegation playoffs at the end of last season (three) than he has done in sixteen Championship matches as manager (two). The glass-half full view is that MacPherson is still integrating some intriguing last minute loan signings in defender Oisin McEntee, wide players Jaakko Oksanen and Tom Allan and striker Gavin Reilly. A more realistic take is that this is a young and thin squad; Kyle Jacobs aside, the midfield is very raw while among the forwards only Reilly has a pedigree for scoring regularly at this level. If their hitherto impressive goalie hits a patch of dicey form as he so often has in his career, the Ton could be in for a ton of trouble.


    HAMILTON ACADEMICAL    D
    It's not unusual for newly-relegated sides to struggle to find their feet in the early weeks of the Championship season. They don't usually hit the skids as spectacularly as Accies though. Brian Rice's departure after two matches hasn't helped - not that the fans minded - and any hopes that a win over ICT was the sign they'd turned a corner evaporated in a 6-1 shellacking at home to Partick Thistle. That victory over Inverness is the team's only home triumph since opening day weekend. The truth is that this is a remarkably weak squad given the club spent the previous seven seasons in the top flight. At the back Mihai Popescu looks more like the jobber that won this league with Hearts than the titan who won it with St. Mirren, Shaun Want is yet to find his level and highly-related youngster Jamie Hamilton's progress has stagnated and loanee Luke Matheson looks lost. Lewis Smith and Josh Mullen are bright sparks but otherwise the midfield has struggled, though this might improve when Lewis Spence gets fit and Miko Virtanen is played in his more natural deeper role. And up top the long-term injuries that have limited forwards David Templeton and Andy Winter to one start between them have left them dreadfully blunt with just Andy Ryan and David Moyo to pick from. Still, are they really so weak that they could go down again? Surely not...


    INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE    A
    ICT are not only top of the table but five points clear, which makes it all the more remarkable that they have blown their opponents away in only one half of football so far - the second forty-five at home to Partick Thistle. Otherwise they've proven adept at grinding out results, often getting in front and seeing out the game with relative comfort and control without really getting out of second gear. It could be argued that there is plenty of room for improvement, but is just as possible that they could regress to the mean. It feels a far cry from the intial poor results and performances in the League Cup under Billy Dodds though; after some rocky defending in those matches the Kirk Broadfoot-marshalled backline has turned into a strength. Mark Ridgers is the sort of reliable keeper that many clubs would die for, and the most important veteran is ex-Ross County midfielder Michael Gardyne who has chipped in with four goals. A more reliable goalscorer would really make this team dangerous - Billy Mckay is threatening to fill this role having finally got a run in the team - and whilst it is debatable if they have the depth to stay at the top all season one would suspect a few quid could be found behind the sofa for reinforcements if they are in the mix come January.


    KILMARNOCK    B-
    Tommy Wright essentially signed a new team following relegation and so it maybe shouldn't be that surprising that Killie are still a work in progress. That said, the club's budget is light years ahead of their peers and so expectations are, and should be, higher than third in the table at this point. Has Wright found his best team yet, or even his best formation? He seemed to start out with a 4-2-3-1 which would bring the best out of Liam Polworth but difficulty in breaking down deep-lying opponents, plus attacking reinforcements, has led back to 4-4-2. With Oli Shaw, Callum Hendry and Scott Robinson available up front they now look far more lethal and yet in recent games against Raith and Dunfermline they've started letting in soft goals at the other end. That should be easily fixable though; the trick for Wright will be to reduce the dependence on Chris Burke - 38 in December - for creativity. Both Blair Alston and Fraser Murray need to step up to the plate. But Kilmarnock remain the odds-on favourites for promotion for good reason.


    PARTICK THISTLE    A-
    120 goals have been scored so far in the Championship. 37 of them - nearly a third - have been either for or against Thistle. They have been as entertaining as that sounds. Veteran targetman Brian Graham and young predator Zak Rudden have twelve league goals between them so far, more than seven of the clubs in this division have managed. Scott Tiffoney has been electric on the wing. At the other end of the park keepers Jamie Sneddon and Harry Stone have both blundered on occasions and the back four look decidedly dodgy and exposed. Ian McCall seems to have made his peace with this and is unwilling to sacrifice attacking edge for defensive stability, at least for now. Certainly Thistle can consider themselves to be challengers at the top end of the table and have the right to believe they can emulate the example of Livingston a few years back and win back-to-back promotions. 


    QUEEN OF THE SOUTH    C
    What are appropriate expectations for the Doonhamers? They may be full-time, but this is a squad built mainly by taking fliers on young players from the lower divisions or from outside Scotland. Some, such as striker Lee Connelly (admittedly on loan in this division at Alloa from Sunderland last season) or central defender Roberto Nditi (signed from Forfar Athletic) have been spectacular successes. But most are either still finding their feet or never will. And of the two signings most likely to be described as 'marquee' Aidan Fitzpatrick can at least claim he is still short of match fitness after joining last month but ex-Hearts starlet Harry Cochrane looks like his confidence is completely shot. It's never a good sign when the manager is still changing formations and deciding on his best XI nearly three months in - Wullie Gibson has played in about half-a-dozen different positions already and whilst QOS are seventh in the table they have lost more matches than anyone else and it feels as if they are heavily dependent on Connolly for goals. If he can't keep it up, they will be in a tough spot.


    RAITH ROVERS    A-
    After Regan Hendry left in the summer and Lewis Vaughan injured his knee again, Rovers were expected to regress. In fact they've barely missed a beat. John McGlynn has stuck with a crisp passing game where the full-backs are encouraged to be extremely adventurous - in the win at Rugby Park Liam Dick scored and Reghan Tumilty set up a late goal with a lung-busting run up the pitch - and wingers Dario Zanatta and Aidan Connolly drive infield. Zanatta looks back to his best after two rotten seasons at Partick and Ayr. In defence Christophe Berra has looked far more comfortable (and far less exposed?) than he did at Hearts last season and has quickly formed a good partnership with Kyle Benedictus, while Jamie MacDonald is still a fine keeper. It's a marker of the progress the club are making that they were able to sign ex-Aberdeen midfielder Ethan Ross last week; when he is up to speed his arrival protects nicely against the impending exit of Dylan Tait in January to Hibs. Raith's obvious weakness is up top where loanees Ethan Varian and Matej Poplatnik put in big shifts but rarely look like scoring. Regardless of that this is a side who are certainly one of the best in this league.


    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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  19. hislopsoffsideagain
    Outgoing Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne gave an interview a few weeks ago where he criticized the refusal of Rangers and Celtic to allow change in Scottish football. It was almost as ridiculous as the toupee he sported at the start of his 21 year reign at Pittodrie.

    Many, including former St. Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour, were more than willing to lay into Milne for his hypocrisy and his apparent attempts to rewrite history. It's no secret that other Premiership clubs were willing to use Rangers' absence from the top flight to rewrite voting rules that meant an 11-1 majority was required for significant change, which in turn allowed Rangers and Celtic to veto things they did not favour. Aberdeen, vainly believing they could take over as Scotland's second force, derailed this for their own perceived advantage. They enter the 2019-20 winter break back in fourth place.

    However Milne's comments lay plain the fact that at the start of 2020 Scottish football is once more in thrall to the blue and green cheeks of the Glasgow arse. Currently the gap between second and third is thirteen points (and the top two have games in hand). At the end of the 2010-11 season it was twenty-nine.

    So are we basically just back where we started?


    Some might argue that the 2010s was the decade of the diddy team. Dundee United, Hearts, St. Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hibernian - Hibernian, who seemed cursed to never win the competition again! - won the Scottish Cup in the last decade. Kilmarnock, St. Mirren, Aberdeen and Ross County all lifted the League Cup in the same period.

    The liquidation of Rangers in the summer of 2012 was in some ways the defining moment of the last ten years in Scottish football. Off the pitch, it doomed us all to an apparent eternity of tedious 'newco'/'Sevco'/'there is no Old Firm' arguments. On the pitch, Rangers' rise from League Two provided some welcome publicity and cash to lower league clubs and plenty of amusing moments for non-Bluenoses as the Gers made rather heavy weather of their rise up the leagues despite having the second highest wage bill in the country even when they were in the fourth tier.

    It also meant that in the top flight there was no real competition for Celtic for many years. Only two of their eight consecutive titles has been won by less than fifteen points; even those two, the last two, were won by nine.

    But in knockout competitions the door was flung wide open. The aforementioned trophy winners and their supporters were galvanized by their sudden ascendance into relevance. It rather helped that Celtic spent two years under incompetent Norwegian coach Ronny Deila; whilst their vastly superior squad depth ensured glory in the league they proved remarkably vulnerable in cup matches.

    Alas, this period was all too brief. Hibernian were the last club other than Celtic to win a cup (no, the Petrofac Training Cup doesn't count), in the summer of 2016. Since then the Bhoys have swept the board with a 'treble treble'. The combination of overwhelming financial muscle and an extremely talented coach in Brendan Rodgers made them literally unbeatable in 2016-17. Having Rodgers in the country did bring in some kudos but his extraordinary success once more left the league open to accusations of being a procession.

    Rangers were finally promoted to the Premiership in 2016, but took two further years to get themselves sorted out properly. Now under Steven Gerrard they look like Celtic's equals and could well win the title this season.

    The SPFL frequently trumpets rises in attendances, but these are mainly because of the large visiting supports the two Glasgow clubs bring. In fact many sides have noticed a reduction in the size of the home supports at these matches. The experience of hosting either club, with the dreadful, hateful songs and the strong likelihood of a heavy beating, is not a pleasant one. Fighting for a distant third place, whilst pretty much writing off three or four home matches per season, is no healthier a position than it was in the past.

    Thus Scottish football remains locked in the mindset that a strong, wealthy Rangers and Celtic, with cash trickling down to the other clubs, is the way to go.

    One thing that is different is the lack of relevance even the strongest Scottish clubs have on the European stage. Only twice in the last six years have Celtic made it to the Champions League and that ratio is unlikely to improve now that the path through qualifying has become harder. The Europa League, a distraction in the days of Deila, is now a major focus.

    Financially, it does seem as if the Champions end up selling a star player each year they don't make it to the Champions League. Rangers have spunked tens of millions away in the last seven years and still run a seven figure loss annually. This blogger's biggest concern is that other full-time clubs seem to be struggling to run within their means as well, especially the ones in the Championship. Whilst a repeat of the administration plague that hit Scottish football in the noughties is hardly imminent it is hard to see how as many 20 full-time clubs can be supported in the long term. It could be argued that none of them can break even without either significant success on the pitch or selling their best players.


    At international level the lone bright spot has been the breakthrough of Scotland's Women's team who not only qualified for a European Championship and World Cup but captured the hearts of many by doing so.

    As regards the men there has been precious little to crow about. The fact that the greatest moment of the decade for the Scotland mens' team was a Leigh Griffiths goal against England which ultimately didn't even win the match sums things up nicely.

    Even at the best of times we have no right to expect qualification for the World Cup. But a twenty-four team European Championship? Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania got to Euro 2016. Scotland did not.

    The same old SFA failings played a major part. After gross underachievement in the Euro 2012 qualifiers - 4-6-0, indeed - Craig Levein was kept on long enough to ruin our 2014 World Cup hopes. Gordon Strachan wasn't the worst appointment, though it showed an unwillingness to think outside the box. And when, after he was let go, the powers that be tried the outside-the-box thinking they be the farm on Michael O'Neill, only to find that Northern Ireland now had a bigger farm.

    The humilation forced the resignation of Chief Executive Stewart Regan and in the aftermath the organization went back to what it knows best - jobs for the boys. Hence the fourteen month fiasco that was Alex McLeish's second spell. Never has the morale of the Tartan Army been so low.

    Going into 2020, the national team feels like it is at a Sliding Doors moment. The Nations League has given us an extra shot at Euro 2020 qualification which depends on beating Israel at home and Norway or Serbia away. Pull it off and he and his side will be heroes. Blow it, missing out on a tournament which includes matches at Hampden itself, and that might finally be it for many fans.

    As for the youngsters, you tell me what's happening there. Mark Wotte was appointed as the first Performance Director in 2011 and was later succeeded by Brian McClair and then the rather controversial Malky Mackay. It seems to me that there have been plenty of decent results by Scottish youth teams in the 2010s but that will matter to no-one if senior results don't improve.


    All in all it feels like the 2010s produced plenty of opportunities both domestically and internationally that have been squandered in favour of the apparently safe status quo. It is often said that one has to run to stand still. Scottish football continues to stand still and wonder why the rest of the world is rushing off into the distance.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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  20. hislopsoffsideagain
    Steve Clarke's first couple of games in charge will have given him an idea of what he has to work with. In some areas he is pretty well off, but in others he's either going to have to hope some players really improve or he's going to have to compensate for the deficiencies. Here's how his options look at each position, going from our strongest area to our weakest...


    LEFT-BACK
    Greg Taylor did himself proud in Brussels with a tenacious, committed performance. He's got a bright future ahead of him...as Scotland's third choice at the position. That's how spoilt we are for left-backs. Captain Andrew Robertson will of course be the starter whenever he has two working legs.

    MIDFIELD
    Against Cyprus, we could field John McGinn and Kenny McLean, both of whom will be first choices for Premier League clubs next season, and Callum McGregor, arguably the best player in Scotland over the last two years. For the Belgium match in came Manchester United's Scott McTominay and, in a more advanced role, Stuart Armstrong of Southampton. For future matches where an attacking playmaker is needed, Clarke will be able to call upon Tom Cairney - who, going by his willingness to come along just to be a sub, clearly had a beef with Alex McLeish - and Ryan Christie, who missed this double-header with injury. There's also John Fleck, promoted to the English top flight with Sheffield United and who understandably declined to postpone his wedding for this round of games. We may not have an absolute world class talent, but we are pretty stacked at this position.

    OUT WIDE
    The setup against Cyprus shows that Clarke is not wedded to the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 that worked so well for him at Kilmarnock - which is just as well as the pace and dribbling of Ryan Fraser and James Forrest are our two best attacking assets. The caveat is that there is not a lot of depth; Johnny Russell started wide against Belgium because of his fresh legs and willingness to do defensive work, while Robert Snodgrass and Matt Ritchie remain out of the international picture and Matt Phillips has disappeared from contention.

    GOALKEEPER
    David Marshall justified his recall and is probably an adequate option going forward. But I don't blame Clarke for trying to convince Jed Steer of Aston Villa and Angus Gunn of Southampton to join the fray. I also don't blame him for not rushing to anoint Scott Bain as first choice. The best case scenario is that Liam Kelly, still only 23, continues to blossom when he leaves Livingston this summer.

    RIGHT-BACK
    At the moment, the choice is between natural right-back Stephen O'Donnell (or Liam Palmer, though all I've seen of him was that Kazakhstan debacle), former right-back Callum Paterson who now plays his club football in midfield or up front, or shoehorning Kieran Tierney into this position. I personally don't mind the latter, but an awful lot of folk disagree. Regardless, none of the options are ideal.

    CENTRE-BACK
    The potential is there; Scott McKenna and John Souttar clearly have bright futures, while Stuart Findlay thoroughly deserved his call-up and David Bates hasn't disgraced himself when called upon. All four are 23 or under. What odds that two of them can step up and become the type of central defender Scotland used to have loads of in the eighties and nineties? In the meantime, Clarke has felt obliged to insert Charlie Mulgrew into the lineup as much for his experience as anything else, and will also fancy that he has the tactical nous to cover up some of the deficiencies in the backline. Oh, and this is another position I can see Tierney end up playing in...

    STRIKER
    Given the time constraints, it's so much easier to coach an international team to defend than to attack. And so having a centre forward who can do it on his own can make a middling side so much more dangerous - think Gareth Bale of Wales or Robert Lewandowski of Poland. In the last two matches Scotland played...Eamonn Brophy and Oli Burke. Brophy was a 'devil you know' option who knows exactly what Clarke wants from his front men, which is great in terms of defending from the front but he offered zilch in attacking threat. Burke gave us a microcosm of his career so far; twenty excellent minutes against Cyprus where he looked dangerous and showed his full array of physical attributes followed by a start against Belgium where he looked like a headless chicken and justified concerns about his football IQ with a series of bad decisions. He's still only 22; surely there's a player there?

    As for the others, the best long-term hope might be Oli McBurnie who scored 22 goals in the Championship last season, but in the immediate future Steven Fletcher's experience and quality link-up play may make him first choice. Alternatively, Leigh Griffiths may come back from his absence as sharp as he was two years ago. But sadly the most likely outcome is that Scotland are going to have to look to other areas of the team for goals.


    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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. hislopsoffsideagain
    To be fair, Aberdeen fans probably aren't alone in suffering from a kind of collective footballing dementia.

    On the one hand, their long-term memory is generally outstanding, especially when it comes to the 1980s and the word "Gothenburg" is mentioned. More Aberdonians claim to have been there than hippies at Woodstock.

    And you can hardly blame them for suppressing any recollection of the early part of the 21st century, the era of managers such as Ebbe Skovdahl, Steve Paterson, Jimmy Calderwood and Mark McGhee, of forwards like Leon Mike, Laurent D'Jaffo, Leigh Hinds, Bryan Prunty, David Zdrilic...I've only got as far as 2004 and already any Dons fans reading this have retreated to the corner of the room and curled up into a ball, whimpering softly.

    But when it comes to Derek McInnes, there's a definite feel of "what did he ever do for us?" going around right now. Well, apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, he managed:


    four consecutive second place finishes (the last time they had previously finished second was in 1993-94) six consecutive top four finishes (they had finished in the top four six times in the previous seventeen seasons before Deek arrived) a League Cup win (their first trophy for nineteen years) two other League Cup finals and a Scottish Cup final (they had made it to four finals in the previous twenty years) But that was then and this is now. And now Aberdeen go to Hamilton tonight on the back of a five match goalless streak. Their only goal in 2020 so far is a penalty...at home to League One Dumbarton. They are fourth in the league, only three points behind third placed Motherwell, but are eight points worse off than they were at this point of last season.
    You know it's bad when it comes to this: 

    That is the sort of guff that a manager starts saying when they are feeling the pressure.

    The truth is that Aberdeen look so stale that one expects to find a turquoise mould beginning to blossom on Andrew Considine's scalp.

    Perhaps there's an inevitability about that. McInnes is the second longest serving manager in the SPFL, just six weeks shy of seven years at Pittodrie. For comparison, Tommy Wright is the only Premiership manager who has been in his current post for more than three.

    And a few years ago the team hit a ceiling that was constructed out of shatterproof glass. 

    The pinnacle was probably the 2017 Scottish Cup Final, where they scored first and went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers' invincibles until Tom Rogic's injury time winner. The lineup that day? Lewis, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, Shinnie, Jack, McLean, McGinn, Hayes, Stockley. Ryan Christie was ineligible to play against his parent club. Before he arrived in January, they had got half a season of James Maddison on loan.

    Two and a half years on, five of that starting eleven remain. Shay Logan, Andrew Considine and Niall McGinn are all the wrong side of thirty and trending downward, while Ash Taylor, who returned to the North-East last summer has been a shadow of the player who left the club after that match. That leaves only keeper Joe Lewis playing at anywhere near the same level.

    And just look at the quality of the players who have gone, particularly that midfield. Five years ago I'd have happily bet that playing for Aberdeen would have been the career pinnacle for Kenny McLean (now in the Premier League), Graeme Shinnie (in the English Championship), Ryan Jack (bossing it for Rangers) and Jonny Hayes (signed by Celtic for £1.5million). Hell, Jayden Stockley's career trajectory since moving on makes his failure to impress a bit of a weird one.

    The rebuild has been tough, and its hard to know whether McInnes captured lightning in a bottle with some of his signings in the first few years, or alternatively he has just been unlucky in the last couple. Again, take the midfield. Craig Bryson, Funso Ojo and Ryan Hedges certainly came with a decent pedigree but none have made a decent impact. Before that, Chris Forrester and Stephen Gleeson proved to be huge misses, but both looked like good purchases.

    Regardless, the remarkable form of striker Sam Cosgrove had papered over a lot of cracks. Now Cosgrove has hit the most spectacular funk in the Granite City since a James Brown-tribute act graced The Lemon Tree, the deficiencies are there for all to see.

    It doesn't help that McInnes has shown little taste for tactical evolution. His obsession with man-to-man marking in open play works when he has superior players but often goes terribly wrong against stronger teams or better coached ones. Not unreasonably he has been criticized for a poor head-to-head record against Rangers and Celtic. It did not go unnoticed amongst the support that the side who pipped the Dons to third last time out were an extraordinarily well-coached David who not only had a habit of beating Goliath but also took great pleasure in shouting "bye-bye, Rangers!" at them.

    To make matters harder still, a new chairman with American business links and an eye on trying to use the new stadium - which seemingly they now won't get into till 2023 - as a platform to push on will surely demand some on-pitch success to generate momentum and encourage investment.

    That at least means that, if it proves that seven years is long enough, a successor will have a far stronger platform to work from than McInnes did in 2013, or any of his predecessors did for a generation before that. But even if his time is up soon, Aberdeen fans should force themselves to remember the nightmare years beforehand, and realize that "we need to move on from Derek McInnes" and "Derek McInnes has been a successful Aberdeen manager" are not mutually exclusive positions.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
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  24. hislopsoffsideagain
    If you haven't read part 1, you can find it here.

    Lots of folk who did read it complained...about crap players from their own club who weren't on the list. That was invariably because said players were in the top ten.

    Any one of the top five could, I think, have been number one. Argue amongst yourselves as to whether they are in the right order.




    10. NICOLAI BROCK-MADSEN (ST. MIRREN) Yes, it's another Alan Stubbs signing. Would you believe this player was once signed by Birmingham City for £500,000? Not if you watched him play for St. Mirren. In his five games leading the line for them, they scored a solitary goal - an own goal. Oran Kearney rated him so highly that he sent him back to the Midlands in mid-October...even though he wouldn't be allowed to play for anyone other than the Buddies till January.


    9. CRAIG CURRAN (DUNDEE) Curran had done well for Jim McIntyre at Ross County so it was no surprise that he persuaded the English forward to move the entire length of Tannadice Street to join Dundee. It was also no surprise that Robbie Neilson was happy to let him go given he had hardly set the Championship alight. And so we had the amusing spectacle of Curran appearing as an unused sub on a Saturday afternoon for United and being unveiled by Dundee later that day. Less amusing is Curran's impact at Dens, at least if you're a Dark Blue. So far it's 13 games, zero goals and a lot of gripes from the supporters. He gets extra bonus points for that manic, unhinged look in his eyes in his signing photo. Back in Dingwall he used to get that look when chasing a 50-50 ball, but no longer.


    8. JAMES WILSON (ABERDEEN) 20 goals in 32 games. When Aberdeen announced they were loaning Wilson, who was scoring goals for Manchester United as a teenager, their fans were expecting stats like this. But those belong to Sam Cosgrove. It's unclear whether Wilson simply doesn't fit into the Dons setup, whether there's no room for him in the team because of Cosgrove, or whether he simply can't be arsed. The most recent of his three goals came in December and he's only started one game since. A massive disappointment.


    7. CHRIS FORRESTER (ABERDEEN) This one can't really be helped; it's not the player's fault or the club's fault that this didn't work out. Forrester suffered a family bereavement that expedited his return to Ireland after only a few months at Pittodrie. But the Dons paid £200,000 - a significant sum by their standards - to sign him from Peterborough and to get only one start out of him makes this a complete and utter disaster for them. The silver lining is that it has meant more gametime for Lewis Ferguson.


    6. VAKOUN ISSOUF BAYO (CELTIC) Maybe Bayo is 'one for the future'. Maybe he just needs some time to acclimatize to Scottish football. Or maybe this will turn out to be £1.75m down the drain. The Ivorian was signed in January just days before Celtic brought in Oliver Burke and Timo Weah on loan. As a fourth choice striker (and potentially fifth choice when Leigh Griffiths returns) who at the time of writing has played a single minute (plus injury time) of first team football, he does not appear to be offering value for money.


    5. RYAN EDWARDS (HEARTS) Maybe one day it will be revealed why on earth Hearts signed the combative Australian after he left relegated Partick Thistle. Having never played for their first team, he was loaned to St. Mirren before the end of August, where he made 14 appearances before being sent back to Gorgie in January...but not before winding up Jambos by taking to Twitter to hail Adam Hammill's goal against Hearts in November. He has a year left on his contract but it's safe to say he'll never wear the maroon (apart from with the Colts team in the Challenge Cup, which doesn't count).


    4. DAVID VANECEK (HEARTS) Hearts wanted the Czech striker in the summer, but his club Teplice insisted he see out his contract till the end of 2018. That hadn't stopped Vanecek bigging himself up on social media before arriving in Scotland...looking out of shape. He was hooked during the first half of his first league start against Dundee with Craig Levein lambasting his lack of fitness. He has improved in that respect to the point that he's made a few more appearances, but now its lack of quality that's the big concern. To be blunt, when he played against Auchinleck Talbot, you'd have thought he was one of the Juniors.


    3. ANDREW DAVIES (DUNDEE) Most sane people would question the wisdom of giving an 18 month contract to a 34 year old centre-back, but Jim McIntyre's desperacy to bring the Ross County Relegation All-Stars band back together (see also Craig Curran and Martin Woods) meant Davies, who looked to be declining in his final campaign in Dingwall before a brief spell at Hartlepool, was summoned to Tayside in January. Unfortunately he broke his metatarsal in training just four days after arriving...and then did it again a week after returning to training. He won't play this season, even though having just one working foot would still make him more effective than Darren O'Dea. Regardless of Dundee's fate, it'll be a surprise if he ever pulls on their strip.


    2. JOSH HEATON (ST. MIRREN) A club of St. Mirren's size doesn't pay a transfer fee unless they really think they are onto a winner. Alan Stubbs forked out £75,000 for Heaton, a central defender who had never played above Conference North level. He played just twice for the Buddies (both in the League Cup), which is one more appearance than the number of years on the contract he signed. Nowhere near the squad once Oran Krearney took over, in January he returned to the Conference North on loan...where he can't command a regular game either.


    1. UMAR SADIQ (RANGERS) Sadiq has been hyper-critical of how Rangers treated him during his time on loan from Roma. He claimed that - less than two months after arriving -  Kyle Lafferty's signing led to him being banned from the first team dressing room and he couldn't park at the training ground, He also says he was fined for liking an Instagram post and that they still owe him wages. If true, all that deserves sympathy, but it shouldn't detract from the fact that he was a complete haddie. With Lafferty and Alfredo Morelos available he got his big chance to show what he could do in the League Cup semi against Aberdeen and gave a performance for the ages...but not in a positive sense. Dons fans will never forget the moment when having gone round the keeper he chose to dive rather than score an equalizer. It was the only thing of note he did in that match and in a Rangers jersey.


    Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.
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  25. hislopsoffsideagain
    Better late than never, I suppose.

    Usually my Team Of The Year goes up in April, but with everything else that's going on it had fallen by the wayside. But I was spurred into action by the SPFL's own 'voted for by fans' effort.



    Sake.

    I mean, Mohamed Elyounoussi made all of seven starts and three sub appearances in the league this season. Jeremie Frimpong played twelve games. I know the season was cut short, but I'm not having that...nor a vote that ends up with players from only the two cheeks of the Glasgow arse.

    So here's mine. But first, for old time's sake (and to make me cringe), the twelve previous Teams Of The Year...

    2007/08: Allan McGregor (Rangers), Alan Hutton (Rangers), Carlos Cuellar (Rangers), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Lee Naylor (Celtic), Barry Robson (Celtic), Stephen Hughes (Motherwell), Barry Ferguson (Rangers), Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Steven Fletcher (Hibernian)

    2008/09: Lukasz Zaluska (Dundee United), Andreas Hinkel (Celtic), Gary Caldwell (Celtic), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Scott Brown (Celtic), Bruno Aguiar (Hearts), Pedro Mendes (Rangers), Andrew Driver (Hearts), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Rangers)

    2009/10: John Ruddy (Motherwell), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), David Weir (Rangers), Andy Webster (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Steven Davis (Rangers), Morgaro Gomis (Dundee United), James McArthur (Hamilton), Anthony Stokes (Hibernian), Kris Boyd (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United)

    2010/11: Marian Kello (Hearts), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Daniel Majstorovic (Celtic), Michael Duberry (St. Johnstone), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Steven Naismith (Rangers), Beram Kayal (Celtic), Alexei Eremenko (Kilmarnock), David Templeton (Hearts), Nikica Jelavic (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United)
    2011/12: Cammy Bell (Kilmarnock), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Paul Dixon (Dundee United), James Forrest (Celtic), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Ian Black (Hearts), Dean Shiels (Kilmarnock), Jon Daly (Dundee United), Gary Hooper (Celtic)

    2012/13: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Mihael Kovacevic (Ross County), Gary Warren (Inverness CT), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Stevie Hammell (Motherwell), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Nicky Law (Motherwell), Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone), Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian), Michael Higdon (Motherwell), Billy Mckay (Inverness CT) 

    2013/14: Jamie MacDonald (Hearts), Dave Mackay (St. Johnstone), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United), Scott Brown (Celtic), Stuart Armstrong (Dundee United), Peter Pawlett (Aberdeen), Kris Commons (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock), Stevie May (St. Johnstone)

    2014/15: Craig Gordon (Celtic), Shay Logan (Aberdeen), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Jason Denayer (Celtic), Graeme Shinnie (Inverness CT), Ryan Jack (Aberdeen), Greg Tansey (Inverness CT), Greg Stewart (Dundee), Stefan Johansen (Celtic), Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United/Celtic), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen)

    2015/16: Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Igor Rossi (Hearts), Andrew Davies (Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen), Nir Bitton (Celtic), Jackson Irvine (Ross County), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Kenny McLean (Aberdeen), Marvin Johnson (Motherwell), Leigh Griffiths (Celtic)

    2016/17: Joe Lewis (Aberdeen), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Jozo Simunovic (Celtic), Joe Shaughnessy (St. Johnstone), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Stuart Armstrong (Celtic), Adam Barton (Partick Thistle), Scott Sinclair (Celtic), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Liam Boyce (Ross County)
    2017/18: Jon McLaughlin (Hearts), James Tavernier (Rangers), Scott McKenna (Aberdeen), Christophe Berra (Hearts), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Scott Brown (Celtic), Dylan McGeouch (Hibernian), John McGinn (Hibernian), James Forrest (Celtic), Daniel Candeias (Rangers), Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock)
    2018/19: Allan McGregor (Rangers), James Tavernier (Rangers), Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic), Craig Halkett (Livingston), Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Callum McGregor (Celtic), David Turnbull (Motherwell), James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Christie (Celtic), Ryan Kent (Rangers), Alfredo Morelos (Rangers)

    And here's this year's goalkeeper and back four.

    GOALKEEPER: MARK GILLESPIE (MOTHERWELL)
    Honourable mentions: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Vaclav Hladky (St. Mirren)

    It's quite possible that none of this trio will be in the SPFL next season. Gillespie was so impressive this season that he might actually end up signing for Newcastle United. He is a cracking shot-stopper and, just as crucially, he was reliable and mistake-free. Forster has certainly looked more like the keeper who shone in his first spell in Scotland than the one who lost confidence at Southampton, but at domestic level he really isn't tested very much. Hladky has been terrific since arriving in Paisley and he will be an extremely difficult act to follow.


    RIGHT-BACK: JAMES TAVERNIER (RANGERS)
    Honourable mentions: Aaron McGowan (Hamilton Academical), Stephen O'Donnell (Kilmarnock)

    No, I don't love this pick either. After all, Tav hasn't been anywhere near as good as he was in the last two campaigns (both of which ended up with him in my Team Of The Year as well).But my rules are that players are considered only if they play half of their club's league games, so that means no Frimpong. And even an under-par Tavernier was still better than the alternatives. Speaking of which, McGowan's tenacity made him a favourite at Hamilton, and he has now joined Killie as a replacement for O'Donnell after the Scotland cap chose to leave for pastures new.


    LEFT-BACK: BORNA BARISIC (RANGERS)
    Honourable mentions: Jake Carroll (Motherwell), Aaron Hickey (Heart of Midlothian)

    In contrast to the other flank, this was an easy pick. After a mediocre first season at Ibrox Barisic lifted his game considerably, offering an attacking threat comparable with that of Tavernier on the other side and proving far more solid defensively. It's a question of when, not if, he moves on to a bigger league. Carroll was the obvious second choice after a good campaign at Fir Park, but otherwise left-back was not a position of strength in the Premiership this season; I've plumped for Hickey as the third name mentioned because at his best he is such a talent, but he still has a lot to learn and had his share of poor games.


    CENTRE-BACKS: KRISTOFFER AJER (CELTIC), JON GUTHRIE (LIVINGSTON)
    Honourable mentions: Christophe Jullien (Celtic), Stuart Findlay (Kilmarnock), Declan Gallagher (Motherwell), Andrew Considine (Aberdeen)

    Ajer continues to develop into a terrific ball-playing centre-back and this may be the summer that he moves down south for big money. Every time I saw Livingston Guthrie was terrific, to the point that they didn't miss Craig Halkett or Declan Gallagher at all. He's a proper body-on-the-line defender, and chipped in with five goals too.

    After a slow start, Jullien was great as long as he wasn't playing against Lyndon Dykes. Findlay had another good season in the Kilmarnock backline, Gallagher continued his Livi form at Motherwell. And Considine, who has just turned 33, might well have had the best season of his career. He played more games at centre-back than left-back (according to transfermarkt, anyway), which is why he is in with this bunch.


    The rest of the lineup will be up in a few days.


    Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. 
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