Saturday, May 24, 2008

SPL end of season report card


Verdict: Success - just, thanks to seven straight wins at the end of the season. Performed just about to expectations, with another sojourn into the last sixteen of the Champions' League.

Star player: Aiden McGeady was at the center of most good things that Celtic did in an attacking sense.

Waste of space: Massimo Donati sauntered through matches like he didn't give a flying f****, possibly because he didn't.

Best moment of the season: Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's late winner in the third Old Firm game of the season kept the title race alive.

Worst moment of the season: Losing at home to Motherwell was probably the nadir.

Next season: Will Gordon Strachan stay? If he does, his priorities must be a centre-half to partner McManus and another centre midfielder. Life could be difficult if Boruc, McGeady or Nakamura skedaddle.


Verdict: A resounding success until 10 days ago, but something of an anticlimax in the end. Still, any Hun will tell you that they've come on leaps and bounds since Paul Le Guen.

Star player: It can only be the indomitable Carlos Cuellar. The only way Rangers could have been more solid is if they built a brick wall round their 18 yard box.

Waste of space: Andy Webster seems to be almost permanently injured, and on the occasions he's actually been available he still can't displace David Weir, who is so old he's starting to fossilize.

Best moment of the season: Beating Fiorentina on penalties to make the final of the UEFA Cup gave Rangers fans the belief that they could win an unprecedented quadruple.

Worst moment of the season: Missing out on the last 16 of the Champions League after crashing 0-3 at home to Lyon

Next season: Plenty of dead wood for Walter Smith to shift off the wage bill, and he needs to decide whether to make the various loan signings permanent. Also, in order to placate the Rangers support, he probably needs to work out how to get Rangers winning while also making them enjoyable to watch.


Verdict: Success beyond the dreams of most of their fans, as anyone who saw them last season would agree. Mark McGhee has transformed them from relegation battlers to qualifiers for Europe.

Star player: Former Ger Stephen Hughes has blossomed on his return north of the border, with his slick passing key to the side's success.

Waste of space: The Fir Park pitch is a candidate for this, having probably impeded Motherwell as much as their opponents in the second half of the season. Playing staff-wise, Bob Malcolm has plumbed his usual depths since arriving in January, with his sole contribution being a straight red at Celtic Park.

Best moment of the season: Either the win at Celtic Park or beating Aberdeen to secure European football next season.

Worst moment of the season: The death of Phil O'Donnell

Next season: Sounds like McGhee might be on his way to Tynecastle, in which case Well will do, erm, well to find an adequate replacement. If Ross McCormack legs it as well, it might be back to mid-table mediocrity and an early UEFA Cup exit.


Verdict: Very nearly equal to last season in the end - a late run into fourth place in the league, that wonderful run in the UEFA Cup. However, Dons fans will remember 07/08 for the fact that they blew the chance of reaching the Scottish Cup Final and almost missing top six, and for the loss of Michael Hart, Chris Clark and Barry Nicholson to bigger wage packets down south.

Star player: Zander Diamond has come on leaps and bounds this season to compensate for Russell Anderson's departure. Now, if only he could pass the ball...

Waste of space: Veteran Jackie McNamara was the high-profile arrival last summer, but he's already legged it to Falkirk after a nightmare year pockmarked with injuries and poor form.

Best moment of the season: The fantastic home draw with Bayern Munich.

Worst moment of the season: Blowing the cup semi against Queen of the South

Next season: Priority one, holding on to Lee Miller, has been achieved already. The departure lounge at Pittodrie is already full to the brim though, with the number of players exiting at double figures. The tango man will need to wheel and deal to come up with a side capable of competing for the UEFA Cup place again. Hopefully he;s learned not to sign players from the Dutch League.


Verdict: Probably a bit of a disappointment, but things are looking up under big Mixu. His next generation of youngsters look a raw but promising bunch, and after a ropey start to the year under John Collins the Hibees ended up making top six with a bit to spare.

Star player: Steven Fletcher is the current starlet, and his pace and technique are almost unheard of for a young Scottish striker. Could do with scoring a few more, mind.

Waste of space: Rumour is that Hibs spent a six figure sum to sign winger Alan O'Brien from Newcastle last summer, but he made only six league starts and scored zero goals with his raw pace and complete lack of any composure giving you the impression of a poor man's Ivan Sproule. Bear in mind that Sproule wasn't actually that good...

Best moment of the season: Winning at Ibrox at the end of September, which left Hibs unbeaten after 10 league games.

Worst moment of the season: The acromonious departure of John Collins in a row over transfer funds - though his side had won only one of ten league games before then.

Next season: If they can hold onto Fletcher, his partnership with Nish could be more bountiful than giving a rich man a peerage. Next year will be the acid test for McNeil, McCann, Stevenson, Chisholm etc. - can they emulate Tony Mowbray's Hibs youth stars? If they can, there could be some good times at Easter Road.


Verdict: John Hughes continues to accomplish miracles on a minimal budget, but he will be aggrieved that he missed top six again. As enjoyable to watch as any team in this league, with a slick passing game.

Star player: Young centre back Darren Barr was a rock at the back and popped up with a few goals as well, so he edges out fellow Academy graduates Tam Scobbie and Scott Arfield.

Waste of space: Former Barcelona youth player Arnau Riera showed he could pass it around when he could be bothered, but that wasn't too often. I don't expect his loan move from Sunderland to be made permanent.

Best moment of the season: A sensational 5-1 crushing of St. Mirren at Love St. just before new year.

Worst moment of the season: The knee injury to Michael Higdon, which precipitated the loss of form that cost them a top six place.

Next season: Hughes has already signed the experienced McNamara and Neil McCann, who may fit well into his system. What he really needs is a young Russell Latapy to pull the strings and creaste chances, because he has procured forwards who can take them. His astute use of the loan market may come in handy there.

Verdict: An unmitigated disaster. Do you think Vladimir Bugger-ov has the message yet?

Star player: When he's fit, Andrew Driver is an outstanding left winger and a threat to any defence. Shame he doesn't qualify to play for Scotland.

Waste of space: Where do you start? Calamity keeper Kurskis, Michael "I played for Man Utd once" Stewart and Calum Elliot are just some of the utter guff that has wore the Maroon at times this season.

Best moment of the season: beating Rangers 4-2 at Tynecastle in September

Worst moment of the season: Finishing with 8 men in a 4-1 defeat to Dundee United in January.

Next season: If they get McGhee and he gets a clause in his contract preventing Vlad from intervening, we might be back to 2006 Hearts again. I wouldn't bank on it though, and the likes of Christophe Berra may yet cut theit losses and escape this summer. Still, it's entertaining, isn't it?


Verdict: Could have been worse after a nightmare start to the season, but a dodgy defence and inconsistency meant they came up short on top six again.

Star player: Don Cowie made the step up from div 1 no bother and, I kid you not, scored more leagie goals than any other midfield player in the SPL.

Waste of space: Phil McGuire was the knight in shining armour for our duff defence when he signed- but his form after Xmas gave the impression that he was wearing a suit of armour on the pitch, such is his lack of mobility and aerial prowess.

Best moment of the season: Coming from two down to beat Celtic.

Worst moment of the season: A 3-0 hammering at home to Hearts in March.

Next season: Craig Brewster has a lot of work to do, especially if Marius Niculae leaves. A big transfer fee from that, though, may give Caley the clout to bring in the forwards and defenders they so badly need. However, expect ICT to be in their first proper relegation battle next season.


Verdict: Haven't really gone forwards since last season, but obviously relegation wasn't a worry.

Star player: David Van Zanten's solid performances at right back have earned him a move to Hibs.

Waste of space: Craig Dargo is thought to be the highest paid player at the club, but one goal in twenty one games is not much of a return.

Best moment of the season: Beating Motherwell 3-1 in January - the only time they scored three in an SPL game all season.

Worst moment of the season: Either cup exit - out of the league cup to East Fife or of the Scottish Cup quarter finals to St. Johnstone.

Next season: Gus McPherson needs firepower badly - can Tom Brighton and Dennis Wyness provide it? - and defenders too. One of the teams likely to be battling to avoid the drop.


Verdict - really poor season, which can only be partly put down to the sale of Naismith and Nish and injury problems. Not much to shout about for the Rugby Park fans.

Star player: Mehdi Taouil was the one shining light in the Killie midfield.

Waste of space: David Fernandez, who continues to live on one good season for Livingston nearly a decade ago, now has a total of 3 goals in 42 appearances for the club.

Best moment of the season: Gubbing Inverness 4-1 at home to end an appalling run of form

Worst moment of the season: Losing at Gretna seemed to put Killie in a relegation dogfight - until Gretna's administration was announced a few days later.

Next season: This summer is crucial to Jim Jefferies, who probably needs five or six good players to get this side back to where they were 12 months ago. An unsuccessful foray into the transfer market and Killie will be in this area of the table again next year.


Verdict: The biggest embarassment since Abel Xavier's haircut.

Star player: Goalie Greg Fleming has earned himself a move down south - though to be honest I thought he was a bit rubbish!

Waste of space: Davie Irons was not only a crap manager, but he then legged it as soon as the problems became apparent. Smooth.

Best moment of the season: Beating Dundee United twice is some effort, while a win at home to Killie briefly gave the fans hope of avoiding the drop.

Worst moment of the season: After administration of course, crashing 6-1 in Inverness added insult to injury.

Next season: Just existing will be an achievement.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Half time in Moscow

Typical freaking Chelsea. They've been guff, they've shown about as much willingness to attack as a Quaker smoking a spliff and they have been utterly creamed by Man U - yet they're level at the break thanks to a combination of Petr Cech and a spot of pinball around the Man U box.

So one team at the Luzhniki stadium has shown a keenness to get forward, to play attractive football and hope the best. The other has punted aimless balls up the pitch, kicked United's skill players and has Florent Malouda on the pitch - not signs suggestive of entertaining football.

All this equates to is Rangers' anti-football but with better players.

Let's hope, like in the UEFA Cup final, the better team ends up winning. Otherwise this is not a good advert for the best teams to throw any caution to the wind in big games.

In conclusion, if Chelsea win, I will be in a huff for at least three days, I think.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rangers on the ropes

Apologies for the lack of devotion over the last week and a half, peeps. I was, er, well, a bit lazy actually. But plenty to talk about in the last couple of weeks - Big Eck relegated with Birmingham (I told you so at New Year), Man U win the title (ditto), Fulham survive (which two months ago looked about as likely as Mike McCurry giving the away team a penalty at Ibrox - more later), Motherwell clinch a UEFA Cup spot (having them and QOS in Europe will do wonders for our coefficient, but not in a good way), but, unsurprisingly, it's the Great Unwashed that have been the focus of attention for Scottish football fans.

Oh, it all seemd so sweet and rosy for them after the Fiorentina game. An almost unheard of quadruple was still on the cards, there was still a bit of a cushion in the league thanks to games in hand, and the likes of Cuellar and Weir were showing reserves of stamina normally shown only by camels in the Sahara.

A few weeks on, and, quite frankly, it has all gone t*** up.

Unfortunately, for all the heroics of the UEFA cup run (if winning matches by virtue of boring the other team to suicide is heroism) all that will be remembered of it by all but the most devoted Gers out there are the scenes afterwards. In the space of one evening in Manchester, the wonderful reputation of Scottish football fans has been badly, maybe even fatally tarnished. Yes, it may have been a minority, but from the pictures on TV you can see that many hundreds were involved. It tells you something about the mindset of these people that they attacked the engineers who had come to fix the giant screen that had broken and sparked the trouble.

Were these people proper Rangers fans? I don't know. I don't care. All I know is that when Celtic reached the UEFA Cup final, they were a delight in Seville. And on that run they also managed to play big away games in Blackburn and Liverpool without a hint of trouble. And to cap it all, in front of the UEFA president himself, Rangers fans hauled out the good old sectarian songbook during the game itself.

Perhaps this is part of David Murray's plan to get Rangers into the Premier League - by making fans of Scottish football hate them so much they get chucked out. Mind you, the English are hardly likely to welcome them with open arms now, eh?

Anyway, enough of the anti-Rangers fan ranting, though it is fun. Let's focus at the pitch, where the helping hand that Mike McCurry gave them against Dundee United seems more distant after the draw at Fir Park yesterday (everything Craig Levein said is an echo of pretty much every Scottish football fan who has no Old Firm ties, and he's rapidly becoming a bit of a hero amongst them). How on Earth did Rangers blow this advantage? I think it was probably because their last five away games have produced three points (two of them were at Celtic Park, mind). But in each of those games, Rangers have played 4-5-1 and, consequently are struggling to score goals in them. If you're the home team against them, you're hardly going to adopt an offensive strategy! And so, with Rangers refusing to turn to Kris Boyd until the number of minutes left reaches single figures, the lack of offensive threat on the pitch is hurting them. It's a good idea against Werder Bremen, Fiorentina, Sporting Lisbon, but maybe not the way to go tomorrow night against St. Mirren, Wattie...

That said, there's still a fair bit of footie to play. Who would bet against Celtic blowing it at Tannadice on Thursday night?

And don't forget that Rangers have the opportunity to make up signficant grounds in goal difference at Love Street. I know it's a seven goal difference at the moment, but it wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility for them to win by four goals or more at Love Street, which could give the Tims just a little bit of a shake.

Anyway, we'll see.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Team of the year: strikers

honourable mentions: Ross McCormack (Motherwell), Noel Hunt (Dundee United), Lee Miller (Aberdeen)

Even the most diehard Hun would find difficulty in denying McDonald a place in the team (though some would still try) - he's the top scorer in the SPL and proved that he can score in the Champions League as well. Fletcher has continued to progress nicely, though opponents correctly earmark him as about the only attacking threat Hibs have, and as a consequence he now has vey little space to operate in. I expect him to become the next to exit from Easter Road this summer.

honourable mentions: Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers), Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham Hotspur), Benjani (Manchester City)

I never rated Torres when he played in La Liga; therefore I have been horrified (in a good way, though) by his efforts this season. I remember how he gave Chelsea the run around back in only the second game of the season, and when I saw him in the flesh he was like greased lightning. Adebayor, in contrast, is a player I have admired for a while, as few play the lone striker role as well as he does. He has flourished since Henry left.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Team of the year: left midfield

honourable mentions: Lee McCulloch (Rangers), Andrew Driver (Hearts)

Yes, I know he's more overrated than viagra (not that I'm talking from experience, honest) but, until from February every team started doubling up on him, McGeady had finally found a bit of consistent. If Cuellar is Scotland's outstanding defender this season - actually there is no "if" about it - then McGeady is the outstanding attacker. He's been a joy to watch, at least for those of us who are neutral with regards to the Old Firm, and I wouldn't be surprised if he deserts Paradise for down South sooner or later.

honourable mentions: Martin Petrov (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)

Young gets the nod for his stonking form in the last couple of months, though admittedly he has been playing in more of a free role. He's quick, direct and his set piece delivery is sensational time after time. So he gets in ahead of Petrov, who is greased lightning but lost form like the rest of the City team after New Year, and Downing who I suspect looks better than he really is because of the paucity of quality surrounding him at Boro.