Saturday, April 24, 2010

It's got a bridge and a castle...

...oh Inverness is wonderful!

Or so the only vaguely amusing Caley song goes.

This blog hasn't been getting the care and attention it deserves (the wags out there will of course say "yes it has!") because my work situation recently has been, frankly, horrific. But the most important thing that has happened in the footballing universe recently is, of course, ICT winning the first division.

Now, I have an abysmal record when it comes to making predictions on this blog - as soon as I tipped Arsenal for the title, they collapsed, and as soon as I slagged off Hamilton Accies, they went on a brilliant run. As with a "commentator's curse", perhaps there is a "bloggers curse"? Or maybe I am just having delusions of grandeur. But I did say in August that, if someone scored 20 league goals for Inverness, they would win the title. And I said in February that Dundee were on the brink of a massive collapse. In the end I was right on both accounts, though I thought Richie Foran, not Adam Rooney, would be the Caley goal hero, and even I didn't expect a Dundee freefall which saw us win promotion with two games to spare...and avoid a final day showdown with the Blues in Inverness. After the Dens boys held us to a draw on Boxing Day, we were twelve points adrift and out of it. Or so we thought,

The funny thing is, we haven't actually been all that brilliant, even though we have gone ninteen games unbeaten. The difference in the second half of the season has been the ability to grind out results - late winners against Partick and Raith, a last gasp equalizer (thanks to a dodgy penalty) at home to Ayr, a battling draw in Dingwall - these are games that we weren't getting results in earlier in the campaign. But ultimately, we have scored more goals than anyone, and conceded fewer than anyone, so I guess we are worthy champs.

So here's to another season back in the lower half of the SPL, with one up front and safety-first football, with crowded midfields and time-wasting tactics, with Old Firm fans coming North and leaving Buckfast bottles everywhere, along with the stench of sectarianism. Hmm, actually, can we not stay in div 1 for a little longer, please?

In other news...
Who's going to drop out of the SPL? It's a three horse race now, but it would take a brave man to guess which of Falkirk, St. Mirren and Kilmarnock will fall into the abyss. Whichever is relegated is unlikely to display Caley's "bouncebackability" - they are more likely to have the administrators on the doorstep. I'd like to see Falkirk survive, simply for the selfish reason that it's easier to get to away games there - though Steven Pressley really is a complete twat. If he thinks Aberdeen's time wasting is bad, just wait till he faces Hamilton.

Talking of administrators
You can't make it up. Portsmouth's list of creditors, published this week, includes Pukka Pies (40 quid), two quid to Qatar Airways (did someone forget to pay for hand baggage or something?) and, most bizarrely, 72 pounds to the Scout Association. Obviously none of the Portsmouth board got their badge for Financial Management. Dib dib dib and all that.

And lastly
Haven't been on here since Ross County did Celtic in the cup semi. That. Was. Awesome. Bring on the cup final. I have nothing against our Highland neighbours, and might yet join their ranks to cheer them on against Dundee United in the most interesting climax to the Scottish Cup in years.



Monday, April 5, 2010

Last minute winners and first (five minutes) losers

A pleasant surprise

I spent most of Saturday evening fretting about how Caley had dropped two critical points at home to Raith, handing Dundee a crucial foothold in the scrap for promotion to the SPL. This is the problem with being at a wedding at the back of beyond, and last checking the WAP at five to five - I assumed 3-3 was the final score, so imagine the shock I got when I got home on Sunday lunchtime (I was sleeping in a hostel, not a ditch, honest) to find that Richie Foran had scored an overhead kick in the 94th minute to nick the win. The highlights on Caley's official website show that it was probably the least impressive overhead kick ever scored, but it could have gone in off his Irish ass for all I care. Inverness are now 4 points clear with 5 games left, and though there are plenty of banana skins left for us, Dundee have only one home match left. It is in firmly in our hands.

I slagged off the first division a lot earlier in the campaign, and for good reason; the standard is dire compared to 2003-04, when we won it before. But it's increasingly apparent that the gap between SPL and us is no bigger than previously - it's just a sign of the drop in quality of Scottish football as a whole. Whoever wins this division...surely either us or Dundee now, with Ross County having to play so many games in the next four weeks that their players are bound to keel over with exhaustion...will have the chance to make the same impact as St. Johnstone have this year, and the team who are relegated will find it damned hard to get results in the lower tier.

Saints a breath of fresh air

And so we seamlessly move onto St. Johnstone, whose delightful 4-1 hammering of Rangers last midweek was vindication of their season, and the very promising development of Derek McInnes as a young manager. No cagey defensive football for the Perth boys; only the top three have scored more goals in the league this season. And that's on a strict budget as well. Chairman Geoff Brown runs a tight fiscal ship (the Conservative Party should really take heed) and they don't have the financial concerns of...well, pretty much every side below them. Long may their run continue, though it's hard to believe that McInnes won't be lured away from McDiarmid Park some time in the next 12 months.

Lennon the cheap option, but bound to end in tears

So far, so good for Celtic's interim manager (at least they don't have to call him a "consultant" like Iain Dowie at Hull) with two wins out of two so far. Appointing Lennon as boss for the long term would be an awful risk for Celtic, though, considering his lack of experience. He's not even been anyone's assistant so far. Frankly, it would be like Rangers appointing Iain Durrant as manager.

That said, it's hard to see who would be interested in the job just now, unless the Parkhead board unleash a war chest the size of a small country's GDP. Mowbray's experiment has failed miserably, and left the club with a lot of players who don't look, at least at the moment, as if they are good enough. And if Lennon continues his good run, aided by Robbie Keane's good form, it will be very difficult not to give him the job permanently. The Irishman is carrying Celtic just now, however, and if he chooses to return south in the summer it is tough to see Lennon keep the results going.

Laws of gravity dragging Burnley down

How things have changed in a few months. Before Christmas, Burnley were every neutral's favourite Premier League team, playing flamboyant football under Owen Coyle and crushing allcomers at Turf Moor. The signs of a downturn were there before Coyle eloped to Bolton, but the form under his successor, Brian Laws, is a catastrophe - just one win since Xmas. Losing three goals in seven minutes at home to Manchester City should surely be the final straw for him, though surely if Laws spent as much time on tactics as he does on his stylish hairdo he would be more succesful. God knows why he chucked their half decent centre-backs out of the team and replaced them with Leon Cort (a Stoke City reserve) and Michael Duff (by name and by nature). You couldn't just drive a bus down the middle of their backline on Saturday, but an entire fleet of battleships.

To cap it all, Burnley's fans have started misbehaving in recent weeks, and sullying the club's reputation. They look increasingly doomed, with or without a managerial change, and as time passes, fewer and fewer people are sorry about it.

And the weekend's other last minute winners

Arsenal again came up with the goods late on at the weekend, to keep themselves in the title race. But, sure enough, they were cursed by my tipping them for glory in my last post, and promptly dropped two points at Birmingham. It's going to be awfully hard to overcome Chelsea now.

And, having written such praise for St. Johnstone, what are the odds Dundee United will thump them tonight?