Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't panic! Not till Wednesday, anyway

As one of the guys watching the Holland game with me said at the final whistle, "Business as usual, then!"

Let's face it, any points would have been a massive bonus. We didn't deserve to lose 3-0, though admittedly we didn't deserve a draw either. Goodness knows what might have happened had Caldwell's header not been chalked off for no apparent reason. If nothing else, might morale be better had we lost 2-1 rather than 3-0?

If George Burley is up to this job, then you would like to think that spirits in the camp would be just as high coming into the very winnable (and ultimately must-win) Iceland game on Wednesday. I remain eminently confident that wins at home to Iceland and Macedonia and a draw in Norway will put us in good stead for second. Moreover, our last game is at Hampden against the Dutch, who by then will surely have qualified and may not be quite so formidable. Here's to hoping, anyway, but we are still the team in pole position for second, no question.

We absolutely, positively must win on Wednesday, though. If we draw, we will probably need to beat Norway in Oslo; if we lose, Burley is, and rightly so, a dead man walking. Defeat surely makes his position untenable, as 4 points from 5 qualifiers, including a defeat in Macedonia as well, is just not on.

George, if you're reading, please go 4-4-2 for this one, and seriously consider dropping Kenny Miller - the Rangers striker looked more devoid of confidence than an RBS stockbroker. Not only that, but there was none of his usual hard work off the ball. I'm not the biggest fan of Steven Fletcher, but the boy has a bit of swagger about him. And we need a target man, so step forward Chris Iwelumo; he deserves the chance to atone for that miss of misses. Hutton comes in for Alexander, while Gary Teale has got to be hooked for James Morrison. The rest of the midfield? It would be harsh to chuck Ross McCormack, who put in a smashing shift in Holland, but who would you leave out from Ferguson, Fletcher and Brown? The captain had a bit of a mare at the weekend, but do you dare to drop him? The easy decision, though not necessarily the right one, is to stick Brown wide.

Anyway, George, no pressure, but you have to win this one. Or else.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aberdeen fans need a reality check

The trouble with supporters groups and internet blogs (like this one, let's face it) is that they give minorities (often small minorities) loud voices with which to air their opinions and to try and influence people (although, let's face it, this blog has about as much influence on the world as Tony Blair had on the Iraq War).

So an Aberdeen supporters group have called for Jimmy Calderwood's head today. Apparently the Tangoman is not doing a good enough job, despite four successive top six finishes and, for the last two years, spending about as much on players as I do on my wardrobe - those who know me will be well aware that I do not spend much on my wardrobe.

Perhaps anticipating the inevitable claims that Aberdeen fans still think they should be winning titles like in the Alex Ferguson era, the press release claims "The supporters would have taken seventh in the league and a cup win rather than third in the league and going out of the cup to Dunfermline". They also claim Mark McGhee is the man to replace him and describe Calderwood as "tactically inept".

Firstly, Aberdeen fans ARE still stuck in the past. At least the ones old enough to remember the 1983 Cup Winners' Cup are. The club may have a bigger stadium than anyone outside the Old Firm, but Hearts and Hibs at least can match them for average attendance, and Dundee United aren't ar behind. Therefore it's fair for them to expect top six finishes and regular challenges for the top four. And what have they been getting under Calderwood? Pretty much that, I would say.

They might also like to recall that it's only a few months since McGhee was getting slagged off for Motherwell's start to the season.

And finally, "tactically inept"? Tactically inept is someone like Craig Brewster, with his 4-5-1 at home and high balls to a midget striker, or John Barnes, with his 2-4-2-2 with full backs bombing on and no-one supporting the central defence. Calderwood takes risks, especially when Aberdeen are losing, and they often backfire. If he didn't take the risks, they would probably lose these games too. Moreover, this season he has almost always played a standard 4-4-2 formation, with wide midfielders and a target man striker. You can't get much more orthodox than that.

Remember Alex Miller, Paul Hegarty, Ebbe Skovdahl and Steve Paterson? Exactly. Wakey-wakey Dons fans, there's a very strong mocha that I think you need to take a sniff of. You guys think you've got it bad...


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Things I learned this weekend

One; when you only have two days out of sixteen off, do not waste one of them on a three hundred mile round trip to see your team thumped four-nil. In hindsight, there are lots of more enjoyable things I could have done, including gouging my eyes out with my thumbs. Falkirk were about due a result, but they were crap and so were we. At least nobody died, and the A9 was pretty quiet. That's about the only positives I can take.

Two; neither Celtic nor Rangers seem overly keen to win the league this season. My own (probably inaccurate) statistics suggest that Celtic's current haul (64pts from 29 games) is the lowest by an SPL leader at this point since the league expanded to twelve teams. If only one of Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United could put enough results together to mount half a challenge.

Three; Newcastle are well and truly in the swanny. Have you seen their run-in? It's more difficult than doing a Su Doku puzzle with a blindfold on. Their defence was a catastrophe against Arsenal yesterday.

Four; we have something resembling a title race in England, though Man U have a game in hand and do not exactly have a titanic run in. No sooner do I mention Everton as challengers for fourth, that they go and get beat, while Arsenal show themselves to be right back to their best. In mid-May the Gunners play Man U and Liverpool in consecutive weeks - these results might well decide where the title goes.

Five; another week in Spain, another stonking Leo Messi solo goal. I say it again: Barcelona v Manchester United as a Champions' League final is enough to make any football fan wet his pants with unbridled excitement.

Another international week beckons, can't say I feel overly optimistic...


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Some light relief

I just had to put up this lovely little parody from the Guardian's picture gallery this week. If you think this one of Harry Redknapp as Churchill is bad, just be thankful I didn't put up the "Mata 'arry" picture...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Slow and steady wins the race

Now, just when we thought that Marouane Fellaini's 70s-blaxploitation afro was undoubtably the worst haircut in football - and probably the reason behind some of his yellow cards, as I reckon it definitely qualified as ungentlemanly conduct - he has got rid of it, only to replace it with corn rows. They don't even look good on Steven Pienaar, for god's sake. Add in Jo's outrageous do, and Everton have a collection of the crappest hairstyles going.
Right now, however, the hair is about the only thing not going for Everton. Consider that they only picked up 9 points from their first 9 games and that there were, in early October, one or two moans about the team's progress, about whether David Moyes' reign had run its course. Well, six months on, I think it's safe to say that it hasn't. Everton managed to get the likes of Pienaar and Cahill fit again, remembered how to win at home (only 1 win in the first 9 home games, but 5 wins in the last 6 at Goodison) and even, god forbid, are seeing off teams by more than the one goal.

Moyes comes in to the run-in knowing that sixth is all but safe, and after Man Utd's win in the League Cup that is enough for a place in Europe. But with Villa suddenly collapsing like a house of cards built over the San Andreas fault, Evertonians can now set their sights even higher, though Arsenal's recent resurgence may deny them a second appearance in the Champions' League qualifiers. They also have an FA Cup semi to look forward to, albeit against Manchester United. A few (probably wrong) commentators have started talking up Tim Cahill for Player of the Year.

The downside is the absence of Mikel Arteta for the rest of the season, but so far they haven't missed him, just like they haven't exactly missed Yakubu. If they can keep Louis Saha fit, and keep getting goals from him (yes, that is a big ask, but you would have said the same in Januay about getting something out of Jo, who at Man City offered about as much attacking threat as a kitten with a ball of string) then that might be the little miracle that allows them to push on further.

Everton's travel to Villa on April 12, but their other remaining games are pretty mundane. Arsenal still have to play Man U and Chelsea. All season it looked like the big four's monopoly would be broken, but by Martin O'Neill. Instead, could it be the blue side of Liverpool who finally freshens things up just a touch?

Monday, March 9, 2009


If this goal from yesterday doesn't warm your heart, you have no soul. How the hell do you score with a volley off the outside of your boot, with such control and precision? It is absolutely, totally glorious. If there is a better goal this season, then I will cover my hat in custard and eat it. Wonderful, wonderful.

It is joy enough to see the little Brazilian-cum-Croat playing back at this level at all after his horrific injury just over a year ago. Keep this up, and he'll be more popular than a cash dispenser that gives out twenties instead of tens...


Friday, March 6, 2009

Bairns in need of a right good smack

Last summer, John Hughes, his side having missed the top six by the skin of their teeth, was able to convince some damn good players to ply their trade at Not-Brockville stadium (no, I can't be bothered checking what it is actually called, but I bet it's the Falkirk stadium or something) this campaign. Seasoned veterans appeared to be queuing up to sign - Jackie McNamara (albeit after a horrendous year in Aberdeen), Lee Bullen, Neil McCann. Joining them were two players most non-Old Firm teams were crying out for - Steve Lovell, who has hit double figures for goals this year, and Burton O'Brien, who like Bullen had hardly looked out of place in the Championship. Meanwhile, they had not lost Higdon or Arfield, their two best players.

If you thought the disappearance of Lord Lucan was a mystery, that is nothing to the puzzle regarding Falkirk's current plight.

Now, anyone could have foreseen ICT's troubles this year, what with the loss of some good players over the last few years and a reliance on unproven youngsters, plus a horrendous finish to last season. As the newly promoted side, Hamilton were expected to be rather near the bottom than the top. And St. Mirren, well, they seem allergic to moving above tenth in the table.

But Falkirk? A team with an experienced, proven manager and a set of players with a mix of experience and youth, professionalism and flair? And one that hasn't really been hit all that catastrophically by injuries? Figure that one out.

Suddenly, courtesy of the latest Terry Butcher miracle (you tell me a man who has carried out more of those since the death of Jesus), the Bairns find themselves rock bottom with only ten games to go, including showdowns with both the Old Firm before the split. The big date on their calendar just now is 21st March - a home game with Inverness. This Saturday's cup clash between the two is likely to be a marker for that one, as each team tries to get one over in advance.

When asked about the SPL's basement battle in the last two months I have confidently predicted (at least since Brewster was banished across the Kessock Bridge) that Inverness will put plenty of points on the board, and so will Falkirk. The first prediction is proving accurate, but Yogi's boys have, I believe, one win in fifteen in the league. I still think, much to my dread as a Caley Thistle fan, that they will find some momentum and stay up. My confidence of that, though, is lessening by the week. Anyone who can explain to me how it has managed to go belly up for them has my full attention!

This Saturday will be interesting indeed. If Falkirk lose the cup quarter final in the Highlands, just what sort of impact will that have on the league meeting in a fortnight.

The road to SPL relegation has a good few twists on it yet, methinks.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

A perfect moment

On Wednesday night, I was to be found at St. James' Park, Newcastle, taking the opportunity to get a rare glimpse with my own eyes of the Manchester United side chasing the quintuple. They didn't disappoint, with Fergie putting out a full strength side which needed to put in a decent effort to defeat a spirited home side which unfortunately lacked quality to go with the guts they put on display. By the final whistle, I had witnessed the skills of Ronaldo, the guile of Berbatov and the incredible work rate and genius of Wayne Rooney, the new holder of the award for "best player I have ever seen in the flesh".

By the final whistle, though, I didn't give a flying damn about what was going on in front of me. Because my mobile phone had been inundated with messages about a certain goings-on at Ibrox.

Caley had only gone and fecking beaten Rangers. In their backyard. Un. Be. Flipping. Liev. Able.

The previous time we had done the Huns (that rhymes, I like that) on their own patch, I had gone to a Middlesbrough-Everton game instead. The next time we play them away, I will again have to find an English match to be at!

What this means, apart from massive kudos and the opportunity to abuse many bluenoses who I count as friends (an opportunity I have not wasted), is that, for the first time since I put an SPL table on this site, ICT are not rock bottom. Now not only are Falkirk very much in the cack, St. Mirren and Kilmarnock are now dipping their toes in it as well. A situation which looked doomed six weeks ago is now looking rather more rosy indeed.

Still ten games to go, though, plenty of time for things to go completely down the pan, starting with our next three league games - Kilmarnock (home), Falkirk (away) and St. Mirren (home). Doom and gloom could yet be inflicted on us again.

But right now I would rather look back to about 10:30 last night, when I leant on a wall beside Newcastle's Millennium Bridge, which was all lit up in green, while I tucked into a sausage supper with white, numbed fingers. I recalled the game I'd been to and the other one, the one that ultimately meant so much more, and I smiled to myself as a thought crossed my mind: it really cannot get better than this, can it?

If, for a football fan, that is not a perfect moment, then I don't know what is.

Happy days.