Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Toepoker SPL Team of the Year Part 2

I told you I would get round to it. And I told you I would do my utmost to limit the number of Rangers players mentioned. Sadly, unlike the Daily Record, I feel required to tell it as it is...

I've gone for a 4-3-3 this year, for two reasons. First, I think it allows me to put in the best 11 players. Secondly, it's because there just isn't an outstanding left midfield candidate, with Andy Driver perenially injured and Aiden McGeady now perenially mediocre - the best I could come up with were Conway (just because of his cup final exploits) and Flynn of Falkirk. Hmm.

Winners: Steven DAVIS (Rangers), Morgaro GOMIS (Dundee United), James MCARTHUR (Hamilton Academical)

Mentions in dispatches: Prince Buaben (Dundee United), Simon Mensing (Hamilton Academical), Liam Miller (Hibernian), Tom Hateley (Motherwell), Lee McCulloch (Rangers), Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone)

I've slagged off Davis in the past on this blog, and will do again in the future, but he was absolutely sensational on the domestic scene, both in a defensive and attacking sense, and has the versatility to play centrally or wide right. Like so many of the Ibrox men, he appears woefully inadequate in Europe, which is perhaps a sign of the times for the SPL.

Every manager in the country wants a midfielder like Gomis. His engine, and his attitude is just incredible, I bet there isn't a blade of grass that he doesn't cover during a game. He reminds me of Wilson Palacios of Spurs; a humble background playing for obscure teams, and now he is determined to be as good a player as he can be. Alongside him, Buaben has also played well this season.

James McArthur's inclusion ahead of Hibs' Liam Miller is more on what I have read than seen, but there is no doubt that he is a talented young midfielder set to leg it south like teammate James McCarthy did last summer.

Winners: Anthony STOKES (Hibernian), Kris BOYD (Rangers), David GOODWILLIE (Dundee United)
mentions in dispatches: Robbie Keane (Celtic), Jon Daly (Dundee United), Derek Riordan (Hibernian), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Motherwell), Kenny Miller (Rangers)

Surprised Georgios Samaras isn't in? Thought not. I thought long and hard about whether Robbie Keane should make the lineup, but while his goalscoring was awesome, I feel he wasn't around long enough to qualify. So Goodwillie gets in as my wild card choice, partly because his name makes me snigger. But there is no doubt that he s is a young forward with immense talent (you don't know how hard it is not to claim he is "good in the tackle")

Boyd was always going to be in this, even though his form has waxed and waned since new year. My views on big Kris are well documented - even if all he does is score goals, well, he scores goals. He has at least improved his all round game this year as well.

Stokes is the signing of the season. Hibs paid absolutely zilch for the young Irishman and he scored 20 goals - Marc-Antoine Fortune scored half as many and cost 3 million. Considering Hibs went to pieces from February onward, that is a superb return.

Anyway, so there is this season's lineup - Ruddy, Whittaker, Weir, Webster, Papac, Davis, Gomis, McArthur, Stokes, Boyd, Goodwillie

If you disagree, please feel free to comment with constructive criticism. Or just put in your pipe and smoke it. Whatever you prefer.



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Toepoker SPL team of the year part 1

I told you I'd get round to it eventually. I'm about to be consumed by the wonderful illness called World Cup Fever, so if I don't manage my 3rd annual SPL Team of the year now, I never will. So here is part one - the keeper and the back four. The second part will come...well, when I can be bothered.

Winner: JOHN RUDDY (Motherwell); mentions in dispatches: Allan McGregor (Rangers), Dusan Pernis (Dundee United)

Those who are aware of my anti-Old Firm leanings are well aware that I wouldn't give McGregor this award in a month of Sundays. But Ruddy's year-long loan from Everton went swimmingly both for Motherwell, who got a superb goalie, and for Ruddy himself, who has surely put himself in the window for a Championship club. His huge frame made him commanding in the box, yet he has the agility to produce some great stops.

Winner: Steven WHITTAKER (Rangers); mentions in dispatches: Andreas Hinkel (Celtic), Jack Ross (St. Mirren)

Whittaker looked hopelessly out of his depth in the Champions League, but his marauding attacking play produced a goal total in double-figures, and his pace usually gets him out of trouble against SPL wingers, so he had to be in. Hinkel was let down by his Celtic teammates this season, while Ross, despite being in his twilight years, is likely to earn a move to a better side than St. Mirren this summer.

Winner: Sasa PAPAC (Rangers); mentions in dispatches: Lee Wallace (Hearts), Steven Hammell (Motherwell)

Rarely spectacular, Papac continues to be the outstanding left back in the SPL through hard work, solid defensive capabilities and the ability to, almost quietly, provide an overlapping threat on the left. He is simply the most consistent player around. Wallace is surely going to leave Hearts soon to further his career down south, while Hammell remains a useful left back with a sweet delivery from wide areas and dead balls.

Winners: David WEIR (Rangers), Andy WEBSTER (Dundee United); mentions in dispatches: Sol Bamba (Hibernian), Mark Reynolds (Motherwell), Marius Zaliukas (Hearts)

I think you have to have played more than half of all league games to be considered for this list, so that rules out Majdid Bougherra, and also Michael Duberry (brilliant for St. Johnstone after arriving in January). Weir may look like he's moving in slow motion all the time, but then pace was never his thing anyway. He's just turned forty, yet you could see him lasting another couple of years. Webster will surely return to Ibrox to be his partner next season - he is right back to his best and was critical to Dundee United's successful campaign.

As for the rest, I'm almost embarrassed to include Bamba, but he has shades of Bobo Balde about him. Reynolds is another one who will surely go on to better things, and, well, I've just always been a fan of Zaliukas.

Too many Rangers players so far, huh?

I'll finish off the rest of the team in my next post. You can bet your bottom dollar Kris Boyd will be in it, and you can bet another one that Michael flipping Stewart will not.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another family final

Yes, yesterday was my first ever Scottish Cup Final - and it was an enlighting experience indeed - not akin to being at one with the universe (I do that on Wednesdays) but enlightening, nonetheless. Those of you who watched the game will have had the general feeling that the first half was forty-five minutes of your life which you will never get back, but the second half was exciting (I was more neutral than a Swiss man in a World War, even if I was in the County end), the sea of tangerine on the opposite side of Hampden was an extraordinary sight, and there were 47000 fans there. From two clubs whose average home attendances combined this season barely reach five figures.

(As an aside, I'm beginning to get narked with the folk who moan "why aren't these fans at every home game?" Well, douchebags, they can afford 30 quid for a one-off big event like this, but ten times that for a season ticket, in this day and age? Only the ridiculously wealthy, ridiculously stupid and ridiculously boring can make that sort of committment - you can decide which category I fall into - it's not the first anyway)

But the atmosphere yesterday was so relaxed, so jovial, that it actually felt plain weird. Seriously. No malice. No poison. No abusive chants. Barely any full-blown swearing (though I did mutter several oaths under my breath towards Andy Barrowman, just like in his Caley days). Just 47,000 people who clearly felt that they were just lucky to be there, and were determined to have a good time. It felt like being at a rock concert. I've never been to a rugby match, but I bet this is what it is like.

So, bottom line, it was a damn good day out for everyone, even the vanquished County fans. I can't help suspecting that, if either of the Gruesome Twosome had been on the scene, there would have been a palpable tension and discomfort though. I don't suppose Rangers and Celtic could be banned from all future Cup Finals?

It would certainly improve my chances of getting to see one of these games as a Caley fan...


Friday, May 7, 2010

Almost at the end

You know what's really swell?

Not being involved in a final day shootout this year.

From the moment the fixture lists for this season were announced, I had earmarked Caley v Dundee on May 1st as a title decider. By xmas this looked fanciful because Dundee were miles ahead. By April it looked fanciful because the boot was on the other foot. So Caley are heading back to the SPL, and to my pleasant surprise and delight, have managed to convince everyone that matters in the first team squad (that is, our "Shamrock" front line of Foran, Rooney and Hayes - you see, "shamrock" because there are three of them, and they're Irish, and because a Shamrock is an Irish three leafed clover? Get it? Eh? Oh, never mind...) to stay. So hopefully we can try to emulate St. Johnstone next season.

Whoever we replace in the SPL is going to have a heck of a time next season. Both Falkirk and Kilmarnock have considerable financial problems, and expect cost-cutting to rival Tesco for the side which fails to come out of Saturday's crunch game on top. Surely Falkirk can't escape with an away win for the second year running? It should make for interesting viewing.

The people's final?

I have my ticket for the Scottish Cup final. Apparently so do 40,000 others. So far. Who would have thought that Ross County v Dundee United could get close to a sellout? Let's just hope it doesn't turn into a cagey encounter - not least because, for a 300 mile round trip, I damn well want to see a few goals. But a classic match would bring some welcome kudos to the Scottish game, not leadst because it would occur in the absence of Old Firm sectarianism. If County win the cup, does that make it a Highland league double?

Lennon hard to turn down

I still maintain that Neil Lennon is not the man to turn things around at Celtic, even despite his Old Firm victory...against a Rangers side who really didn't look up for it. But after a succession of league wins, it becomes difficult to say no to him. 'Tic fans need to remember the Cup Semi debacle, though; the one game that was important, and the players were even less up for it than an impotent pensioner's, um, you-know-what. Of course, it's easy for me to say it shouldn't be Lennon, but I'm buggered if I know who should get the job instead. Names like Alan Pardew hardly get the tongue wagging.

Coming up

This year will be the third in which a Narey's Toepoker Team of The Year is due. I will do my utmost to keep this tradition going next week. I'll give you a little sneak preview - there are no St. Mirren players in it. Bet that came a surprise...