Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How a Scotsman can get to English games

Guess who's got himself a ticket for Manchester City against Chelsea on Monday 19th March?

I'll give you a clue - it wasn't you.

Yup, since I'm lucky enough to be on annual leave that week, I'm heading to the Ettihad (apparently, if the situation at Newcastle is anything to go by, I'll get sued or something if I call the ground by it's real name). To be honest I had grandiose, but not entirely unrealistic plans for a long weekend of English Premier League action, which was going to start at Goodison Park on Saturday (Everton v Arsenal), progress to Molineux on Sunday (Wolves v Manchester United) and culminate by watching the game which I reckon might end Andre Villas-Boas' reign as Chelsea coach.

However, I have a close friend who lives and works in Swansea and who has been asking for me to visit her for ages. And I can't help feeling I'd be a better, more rounded person if I visited her, than if I went gallivanting round football grounds on my own for three days.

On the other hand, I've noted that Cardiff are at home to Burnley on the Sunday, so if her chat is lousy, then escape is only an hour's train ride away...

The Man City-Chelsea game will mark my twentieth English Premier League game, not a bad total for someone who lives in the north of Scotland and has to travel at least 100 miles just to get to his own club's away matches. My first game was at the Riverside Stadium with my dad in October 2006, with Middlesbrough beating Everton 2-1that day. Yakubu scored twice for Boro; Tim Cahill got a consolation at the other end. How times have changed since then.

Anyway, friends and family often ask me how I've managed to get tickets for games, and how to handle the massive hassle of travelling (often they follow up these questions with "And why haven't you got a life yet?") So here is a useful guide on how to undertake these adventures...

1) Always go to an English game when your team are playing at Ibrox (unless you're a Rangers fan)

Four times Caley Thistle have been playing Rangers away, and I've chosen to go south of the border instead of seeing my team get humped by The Great Unwashed and getting intoxicated by the Buckfast fumes eminating from the home end. ICT's record in these four games? Two wins and two draws. The wins were as special as they come, too - the first, (witnessed by my mum and sister on the same day my dad and I took in the Boro-Everton game) was a 1-0 following a hideous goalkeeping error by Lionel Letizi, while I will never forget the second. I was sat in the back of the stand at St James' Park, utterly unbothered about Man Utd's 2-1 win, as I received dozens of texts telling me that Ian Black had converted a last-gasp penalty for the only goal of the game.

2)You can get a ticket almost anywhere if you look in advance

Tickets for most games go on general sale 3-4 weeks before the match. Obviously Liverpool-Man Utd is never going to be an option for the likes of me. But I got to Old Trafford to see Man Utd-Bolton in January. It did sell out in the end, but in this economic climate even United end up putting tickets on general sale for the masses when they're playing the likes of Bolton. I seriously toyed with going to the Emirates in October, and would have got a ticket for Arsenal-Stoke if I had wished.

3) Northern clubs are good value for money

Anything is good value for money compared to SPL football. A ticket for the main stand in Inverness costs a whopping £26...or even more if the Old Firm are in town. In comparison, myself and a friend went to Wigan-Arsenal at the DW Stadium in December, and sat at the half-way line, three rows from the front. The cost? £27 a seat. The likes of Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn can't sell out their grounds, so it's not hard to get a good seat as well. Newcastle are the exception to the rule - the Geordies are so mad about footie that only the crappier seats are available, and even those are pretty dear.

4) Driving isn't the worst way to get around

Coming from Inverness, I'm used to having to drive considerable distances, on rubbish roads, to get from one significant population centre to another. It came as a bit of a shock to realize that everywhere in the North of England is so close together. In Janaury we managed to get from Manchester to Aberdeen in five and a half hours (and I swear that no speed camera would have been offended by my driving). My old mate Allan, a willing accomplice on many trips, is a master of the motorway (we call trips in his VW Golf 'The Thomson Express') and has managed Glasgow to Liverpool in 3 hours flat.

Parking is the one big issue. Street parking is easier in some places (Blackburn) than others. New grounds tend to have adjacent car parks which charge extortionate fees. Newcastle is just a nightmare for parking - as proven by the time when Allan got lost and drove the wrong way round the City Centre's one-way system on a Saturday afternoon. A bit of planning and research on the internet will often reveal a convenient, cheap option, such as Salford Quays Mall (10mins walk from Old Trafford).

5) New grounds vs Old grounds

The older stadiums certainly have more atmosphere. In the case of Goodison Park, they also have leg room which would cramp a Hobbit's style; for myself, a 6ft 4in gentleman (insert pithy joke here), they are practically a DVT risk. Some of these modern flat-pack stadia lack personality, but they are far comfier and offer better views.

Anyone who has any questions or comments, feel free to pass them on; as for the rest of you, I'll see you at the Ettihad next month. Or, if you're watching Sky, you'll at least see me...


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How do you solve a problem like Hibs?

On the one hand, I wanted Hibernian to be beaten by Celtic last weekend. As much as I enjoy seeing either half of the Old Firm get beaten, a home win would have risked dragging Inverness back towards the relegation dogfight, as well as potentially galvanizing the Hibees. It's not only the clubs in Scotland that are all about self-preservation, you see.

It's now hard to believe that, about ten minutes into the match at Easter Road, I genuinely thought "Wow, Hibs look good on the ball and could really hurt Celtic". An hour and a half later, Celtic were five goals up. There's being beaten, and then there's being humiliated. In my book, suffering your heaviest home defeat in 25 years counts as a humiliation. Celtic were clinical and efficient, but the way the home team collapsed after conceding two first half goals was staggering. I'd love to say the Bhoys were made to work hard, but the goals seemed to come simply from defensive errors, poor concentration or, dare I say it, lack of effort.

Hibernian fans could be forgiven for assuming that Colin Calderwood was still in the dugout. Calderwood's year in charge, which ended in November, was, to put it bluntly, a catastrophe that did the club a lot of damage. He won just twelve of forty-nine games and lost a Scottish Cup tie at second division Ayr United just two months into his reign. For all the slagging of The Tache (the nickname of Hibs managing director Rod Petrie, who has whiskers that a World War II fighter pilot would be proud of) and his spell in control of Hibernian, Calderwood's record as manager of Nottingham Forest and Northampton Town justified backing him beyond the end of last year, even as the team stumbled to a tenth place finish.

That said, when Calderwood attempted to leave the club to become Chris Hughton's assistant at Birmingham, Petrie should have cut his losses - actually, since Birmingham offered £300,000 in compo, he wouldn't have had any losses to cut. But Hibernian opted to keep a manager that obviously wasn't committed to the club...and allowed him to sign ten players in the summer transfer window. The result? Three wins in fourteen league games, and Calderwood was sacked in November. Instead of getting a fee for him, Petrie had to pay him off. What is Calderwood doing now? Why, he's assistant manager at Birmingham City.

The appointment of Pat Fenlon as manager was meant to herald a new dawn. The reigns of Calderwood, his predecessor John Hughes, and possibly even Mixu Paatelainen before them, had been characterized by a playing squad that looked good on paper but, on and off the pitch, reeked of disorganization, indiscipline and lack of effort. Calderwood had pretty much revamped the entire squad, but the same problems remained.

The January transfer window was so busy that rumour has it that an extra revolving door is being installed at Easter Road. Not happy with what he inherited, Fenlon has gone for the short-term fix of loan signings - no fewer than six, in fact. I must admit, each name impressed me a little bit - either guys with Championship experience (James McPake, Tom Soares, Roy O'Donovan), young players trying to break into their English Premier League team (George Francomb, Matt Doherty) or, in the case of Honduran Jorge Claros, the fact that Hibs allegedly beat Rangers to his signature. Five dead-wood players were punted, four of which were Calderwood signings.

And he seemed to have done the sensible thing by shoring up the defence first with Francomb, McPake, Doherty and permanent signing Pa Saikou Kujabi. The new look back-line earned Fenlon his first SPL clean sheet with a goalless draw against Aberdeen. Sadly, that was sandwiched by the humping from Celtic and a 4-0 drubbing at Ibrox. McPake was sent off against Rangers, and was an absolute disaster against Celtic. Kujabi is apparently known as the Gambian Roberto Carlos, though the only obvious similarity is a lack of defensive ability. Claros looked quite tidy on the ball against Celtic, but was overrun in the centre of the pitch.

What chance does Fenlon have to break this terrible cycle of underachievement and defeat (and, given the antics of Leigh Griffiths, indiscipline too)? One win and five points from your first ten league games is not overly encouraging for the future. The hope for Hibernian fans is that he can gel this team quickly. The short-term priority is just to get to the end of the season as an SPL club - for all their problems, the team is surely good enough to earn more points than Dunfermline, especially when Garry O'Connor, the Scotland forward, is fully fit again. The most impressive signing of the lot, Stoke's midfielder Tom Soares, should team up with Claros to give him an enviable midfield pairing. On-loan Wolves centre-back Doherty has played some EPL games earlier this season.

But we've said this before when the likes of Liam Miller and Derek Riordan were strutting around the pitch. Football, after all, is not played on paper. And we've claimed that 'Hibernian are too good to go down' so many times now that, sooner or later, we might well be proved wrong.

football formations


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Craig Whyte gambles everything

As regards Rangers, events have moved faster than a Coatbridge resident who has spied a bottle of Buckfast fifty yards away.

So much for the 5-10 days they appearently had to appoint administrators; the taxman moved swiftly to try and get the men of their choice in charge of the affair, but Whyte kept half a step ahead of them and brought in a group from Manchester, Duff And Phelps (who sound more like an 80s TV police cop partnership). It has already been noted that a director of this company was actually involved in Whyte's original takeover - lending more credence to the theory that going into administration was always part of the Rangers' owner's grand plan.

Interestingly, the reason given by Duff And Phelps for today's move was not the potential bill related to the, shall we say, 'creative' ways Whyte's predecessors avoided paying tax for so many years. In fact, it finally emerged in the public domain that Rangers have not been paying their VAT and PAYE since Whyte's takeover...a cool £9 million. Whilst Sir David Murray undoubtedly deserves much of the blame for the current circumstance, it is also finally indisputable (as if there was much doubt left) that Craig Whyte is a shady character indeed.

This whole fiasco increasingly resembles a feud between Whyte and HM Revenue and Customs. There appears to be no chance of Rangers getting away with a slap on the wrist and an agreement on a drastically reduced and affordable payment. So by taking Rangers down the slip-road marked Administration, he has done the business equivalent of going all-in at a Poker table. He has bet everything on this move. He's hardly going in with pocket aces, but on the other hand he's not stuck with an off-suit two and seven either. (Anyone who doesn't play poker should just ignore the last few lines)

Don't forget that managing failing businesses appears to be Whyte's forte. He either turns them around and walks away with a big fat cheque, or lets them go bust and just walks away. I think it is safe to assume that he predicted the actions of HMRC today, and from his point of view, this is almost a no lose situation for him, business-wise. If the taxman caves in, then Rangers come out of this a bit worse for wear, but ultimately, after a few years of pain, there is a good chance that they return to their recent status by the middle of the decade.

Alternatively, if the taxman squeezes till the pips squeak, then Whyte lets Rangers go bust. He, it seems, can walk away with little or no financial loss, or alternatively will be in the prime position to pick up the pieces and start up 'Rangers 2012' or whatever the new club would be called. Of course, by this process (and indeed administration itself) lots of people - mostly those in the background, such as office staff, canteen workers, cleaners etc - will lose their jobs and suffer significantly (these are the only people involved in all this who deserve even a modicum of sympathy), but Whyte doesn't lose.

As Winston Churchill said after El Alamein, "This is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end. But perhaps it is the end of the beginning". Plenty will happen in the near future. With no prospect of selling players for four months, I wonder if the administrators will have to sack players in order to cut costs. We have the result of that tax tribunal to come in the next few weeks. And ring the 31st of March on your calendar - this is the date by which Rangers have to submit independently audited accounts if they are to be allowed to compete in Europe next year. If they don't get out of this mess by then, they will be denied a UEFA licence and wouldn't be allowed to compete in continental competition.

The SPL's reaction to all this will be extremely interesting to watch. Depressingly, the only penalty they can give Rangers at the moment is a 10 point deduction, which sends them plummeting to...second in the league, still, with a decent cushion over third placed Motherwell. Will they mollycoddle Rangers, or will they flog them?


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Rangers chickens come home to roost

Considering the larger figures that had been banded around in the press for weeks previously, most Scottish football fans were surprised when Rangers received only £5.5 million for star striker Nikica Jelavic from Everton on the final day of the transfer window.

A degree of cynicism is a requirement when reading the Scottish papers, and so many raised a quizzical eyebrow at claims that Rangers had, a week earlier, rejected an offer of £7 million from West Ham United. Of course, it was in neither party's interests to refute the story; it gave the impression that Rangers were playing hardball and holding out for a fatter cheque, and allowed West Ham fans to believe money was no object in their quest to return to the Premier League.

But, when David Moyes' approach for Jelavic was accepted, I wasn't the only one to suspect that the Croatian was going to Goodison Park because Everton might be offering to pay all the cash up front.

Today, less than a fortnight later, Rangers announced they have filed papers signalling their intention to go into administration. Whilst Jim White's claim on Sky Sports News that "The world of football has been rocked by what has happened to one of it's biggest clubs" certainly overstated the position of Scottish football on the global radar, there is no doubt that this is a huge day in the history of our domestic game.

I'm not even going to try to hide my delight. My hatred of the Old Firm is no secret at all. But the scars left by growing up in the nineties as a non-Old Firm fan, where all my friends jumped on the nine-in-a-row bandwagon have never quite healed. It could easily be argued that there is a huge taint on the countless league titles and other trophies won by the club during Sir David Murray's stewardship, when the Ibrox club paid obscene transfer fees in order to try to compete in the Champions League, as well as to steamroller all domestic opposition.

But that was then and this is now. Right now, there is a realistic concern that Rangers Football Club cannot be salvaged. To many football fans, 'administration' means a way to cheat debts and start afresh, with nothing more than a points penalty. But the Rangers situation is precarious indeed. For a start, the Daily Record reported only last week (the only time I have bought that newspaper in 15 years) that current owner Craig Whyte had mortgaged the next four years worth of season ticket sales in exchange for a short term cash boost - dramatically reducing their scope for bringing in future income.

Many clubs who have been in administration have got some dosh in quickly with a fire sale of players. But the closure of the transfer window prevents Whyte from selling players until the summer. The only way to reduce the wage bill in the short-term would be through making players and staff redundant. There are certainly some higher-profile players who will be earning weekly wages in excess of five figures - Allan McGregor, Steven Davis and Steven Whittaker come to mind - and one only hopes that the claims by Daniel Cousin's agent that he has returned for a second spell at the club on a £5,000 a week contract (he signed a contract for the rest of the season this morning) really is as ridiculous as it sounds; The Gabonese forward looked good during a year at Ibrox before leaving for Hull in 2008, but since then he has scratched around the Greek league and more recently turned up in Gabon's domestic league. He is now 35. If he is the answer, then what is the question?

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. We've already talked about the reduced potential for income. What about the money they owe? We already know about the two tax bills they are fighting. The first of these, which would cost them £4.2 million, is still being disputed (though the taxman has a court order forcing the money to be ringfenced in Rangers' accounts). The second, more recent case, a verdict on which should arrive at the beginning of March, would, should Rangers lose, cost them anywhere between £20 million and £49 million. Given that HRMC have been under considerable criticism in recent months for coming to generous arrangements with major businesses over unpaid tax bills, it is not unreasonable to believe that they will fight tooth-and-nail to get raid the Ibrox coffers. If a bill for that much cash turns up in the postbox at G51 2XD, then the greatest administrators and accountants in the world could not save Rangers.

So there is not so much a dark cloud as a cyclone hanging over Govan today. Where do Rangers go from here? How severe could an SPL punishment be? Can the business be salvaged from bankruptcy? If not, can a new Rangers club rise from the ashes, and where would they fit back into the Scottish football system.

And, more importantly from the point of view of a non-Old Firm supporter, could this be the making, or the breaking, of Scottish football?

Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. All I know is that developments over the next few days will be very interesting indeed.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

SPL January dealings - team by team

The return of the prodigal son, Russell Anderson, four and a half years after he left the club for Sunderland. The former club captain was released by Derby County in December; the Dons have signed him till the end of the season, though a hamstring injury will prevent him from contributing for a few weeks yet.

There's a bit of a Dad's Army feel to the Pittodrie squad now after Anderson (now 33) was joined by former Scotland international midfielder Gavin Rae (now 34), who left Dundee to join his home town club. Craig Brown also brought in two players from his Motherwell days, midfielder Stephen Hughes and defender Mark Reynolds, the latter on loan from Sheffield Wednesday. Little is known about his other signing, young Nigerian forward Daniel Uchechi.

The most notable departure was captain Ricky Foster, after Bristol City paid £250,000for the full-back. Promising youngster Jack Grimmer was poached by Fulham.

Dons fans could not be happier that Foster has gone; he burnt his bridges with them after agreeing to a one-year loan at Rangers last season and his performances over the last few months have been poor. Anderson's contributions depend on his fitness, Rae is a short-term fix, and the boss will hope that he can get Reynolds and Hughes back to the level they were playing at a couple of years ago. Overall Aberdeen have a bit more depth at the back, but they still lack creativity, particularly with Rob Milsom out for the season.

For all the rumours, it was a docile window for Celtic. The biggest story was the arrival on loan of Polish striker Pawel Brozek from Trabzonspor - mainly because Rangers apparently wanted him first.

Swedish international defender Mikael Lustig signed on a free from Brondby. Young Nigerian Rabiu Ibrahim impressed on a trial after being released by PSV Eindhoven and was given a contract, but he's probably one for the future. I bet Celtic bit Southampton's hand off when they offered £1.5million to sign Jos Hooiveld permanently. Defender Josh Thompson (Chesterfield) and forward Paul Slane (MK Dons) are off south on loan, while young full-back Lewis Toshney is off to Rugby Park for the rest of the season and Badr El Kaddouri returned to Ukraine after his unimpressive spell at Parkhead on loan.

Lustig and Brozek are somewhat unknown quantities at the moment - but the important thing for Neil Lennon is that his team haven't been weakened to the extend Rangers have.

One young player left - Scott Allan signed for West Brom for £400,000 after rejecting a new contract - but another, forward Johnny Russell, stayed despite Celtic supposedly offering £500,000 plus Danish forward Morten Rasmussen.

Irish midfielder Richie Ryan arrived after starring in the Irish League last year with Sligo Rovers, while Slovakian forward Milos Lacny was signed from Sparta Prague on loan to replace Lauri Dalla Valle after the Finn rejected the chance to extend his loan from Fulham. Surprisingly, United declined to cash in on Garry Kenneth, even though the defender is certain to leave when his contract expires this summer.

If even one of Ryan or Lacny turns out to be a hit, boss Peter Houston will be laughing. He will certainly be relieved that some of his other promising youngsters did not leave. It's unclear whether they are better off than they were at the beginning of the month though.

After the season-ending shoulder injury to Paul Gallacher and the performances in relief by Chris Smith (his blunders which earned Caley Thistle a cup replay and then a tie with Celtic earned us £160,000), it was no surprise that Jim McIntyre brought in ex-Everton keeper Iain Turner on loan from Preston - though Turner has not distinguished himself so far either...

McIntyre's other solution to keeping the Pars up appears to be bringing in defensive midfielders - former Aberdeen skipper Mark Kerr returns to Scotland after a spell in Greece, while Kyle Hutton arrived from Rangers on loan. Another bluenose, full back Jordan McMillan, signed permanently after Jason Thomson returned to Hearts. This probably won't improve the defence as much as getting rid of John Potter (on loan to Queen of the South) will. Reserve striker Pat Clarke also dropped down a division, joining Raith on loan. Veteran Craig Easton will leave when his short term contract expires.

The goalkeeper situation could relegate Dunfermline, unless Turner finds form. No strikers were brought in, and I'm not convinced that the current options (Andy Barrowman, Andy Kirk and Liam Buchanan) are enough to keep them up.

So much for the mass exodus! In the end the sale of Eggert Jonsson to Wolves for a rather generous £200,000 allowed Romanov to pay the players and give Rudi Skacel a contract extension till the end of the season. No new players were brought in though.

After he went on strike over the wages issue, it wasn't surprising that Ryan Stevenson signed for Ipswich for £50,000. John Sutton, out of favour with boss Paulo Sergio, will move on loan to Australia's Central Coast Mariners if international clearance is given. Third-string goalie Janos Balogh was let go, as was Calum Elliot; the latter signed for Lithuanians Zalgiris Vilnius, who aren't the team owned by Romanov. A few other young players, including Robert Ogleby and Conrad Balatoni, were released as well.

Most Hearts fans will be relieved at how the squad looks, considering the rumours of the previous few months. Whilst there were no reinforcements brought in, the Tynecastle club still have the talent and depth to be considered the favourites to finish third.

There was much embarrassment for Rangers (and amusement for everyone else) when their Honduran trialist midfielder Jorge Claros chose to sign on loan for Hibernian instead. Not content with the team, manager Pat Fenlon seems to have decided to loan an entire new one - in came defenders George Francomb (Norwich), James McPake (Coventry) and Matt Doherty (Wolves), midfielder Tom Soares (Stoke) and striker Roy O'Donovan (Coventry).

I think we know what Pat Fenlon thinks of the signings his predecessor, Colin Calderwood, made - he punted most of them during the window. Junior Agogo is a-gone-gone (couldn't resist it, sorry), as are Matt Thornhill, Akpo Sodje and Victor Palsson. Michael Hart, a John Hughes signing, is offski too. It's easy to forget that, at the beginning of the month, Hibs signed Irish forward Eoin Doyle, while on deadline day they also brought in Pa Saikou Kujabi, 'the Gambian Roberto Carlos', apparently. Draw your own conclusions.

Whilst the Hibees have shifted a lot of dead wood, integrating eight new players is going to take a bit of time...which they don't really have, given that they are locked in a relegation battle. I can't help remembering that Calderwood tried a similar stunt last January, and look how that went...

ICT's failure to convince on-loan Wolves midfielder David Davis to stay at the club beyond January was a huge disappointment; the young Englishman was in outstanding form and it is galling that he chose to return south to join Chesterfield (bottom of League One) rather than stay in the Highlands.

Another Wolves youngster, striker Sam Winnall, has joined up on loan for the rest of the season, as has 6ft 4in centre back Steve Williams from Bradford. Meanwhile, not being content with just one Gregory Tade, Terry Butcher has brought in another French player of exactly the same style - Claude Gnakpa, of Walsall. Oft-injured winger Aiden Chippendale was shunted back to Huddersfield when his loan spell expired, while it was a shame to find out that young midfielder Lee Cox, whose season has been blighted by injury, had been sold to Swindon Town for £50,000.

With so many players out with long-term injuries, the new players at least provide some depth. The team are just a goalscorer away from being real top six challengers - will Winnall be the answer?

Somehow Killie found enough cash down the back of the sofa to sign the manager's son, Dean Shiels, on a permanent deal after his impressive loan spell from Doncaster - a critical move as he has been the star player for the team this season.

Shiels also did well to bring Ben Gordon, the Chelsea full-back, in on loan for the second time - Gordon had a successful six months at Rugby Park last season. Veteran centre-back Michael Nelson arrived from Scunthorpe and should provide experience. Another loan player, Celtic's Lewis Toshney, offers another defensive option, while little is known about Belgian forward Dieter Van Tornhout other than that he has an awesome name.

Leaving the club were Swedish defender Billy Berntsson (Hammarby), striker Ben Hutchinson (Mansfield) and defender Patrick Ada. Spanish striker Jorge Galan had his loan spell from Osasuna cut short. Young forward Rory McKenzie was sent out on loan.

Nelson's signing should allow Kenny Shiels to push Manuel Pascali back into midfield. Certainly the defence looks stronger. Unless Van Tornhout proves a hit, Kilmarnock will have a real problem up front if top scorer Paul Heffernan gets injured.

Estonian forward Henrik Ojamaa signed on a free transfer and hit the ground running, scoring 4 goals in his first 5 games. Motherwell want to sign him on a long-term deal pronto.

A deadline day offer from Blackpool for young forward Jamie Murphy was accepted, but the under-21 international rejected the move. Stephen Hughes failed to impress after returning to the club for a couple of months and was let go; he signed for Aberdeen.

I'm pleasantly surprised Stuart McCall was able to hold on to everyone he wanted to keep. Ojamaa adds an extra threat that should keep Well in the fight for third place.

Craig Whyte finally cashed in his prize asset, Nikica Jelavic - and completely failed to find a replacement. Ally McCoist declared at the start of January that he needed to bring players in, but all he got was Swedish under-21 winger Mervan Celik on a free transfer.

Despite a lack of options, McCoist has loaned out the likes of John Fleck, Kyle Hutton and Darren Cole. David Weir finally decided it was time to start collecting his pension. Disturbingly, young players Thomas Bendiksen and Jordan McMillan turned down new contracts and moved on.

With Steven Naismith out for the rest of the season, McCoist now has to try to win the SPL with David Healy and Kyle Lafferty as his only notable attackers. Whilst quality players like Steve Davis and Allan McGregor have remained, this is as threadbare a Rangers squad as I can remember.

I can't help feeling a lot of the 'Rangers for Sandaza' stories were mainly an attempt to unsettle the Spanish striker before the game between the two sides. In the end, Sandaza has agreed to stay till the end of the season, when he'll be able to take his pick of suitors. Jody Morris was linked with a return south, but nothing came of that either.

Extending the loan deal of Sandaza's strike partner, Cillian Sheridan, was a real coup. Steve Lomas did a lot of business in the loan market; whilst I'm unsure if Falkirk midfielder Jack Compton is good enough for the SPL, I've no doubt that Derby wideman Lee Croft is (and his other half is a looker too!). Young Celtic striker James Keatings is a highly-rated prospect, while I'd be lying if I claimed to know anything about Tottenham forward Kudos Oyenuga.

Lomas did well to clear the decks a bit; it was no surprise that Willie Gibson's loan spell from Crawley was allowed to expire, while backup strikers Sean Higgins (Ayr on loan), Sam Parkin (Queen of the South) and Stephen Reynolds, and defender Graham Gartland (Shamrock Rovers) came off the wage bill.

St. Johnstone seemed to be punching above their weight, but they've not only managed to keep their best players - they've brought in some intriguing loan signings too. A top six place seems assured - can they go any better?

Who'd have thought the Buddies would be the biggest spenders of the window north of the border? Their £35,000 purchase of Dougie Imrie from Hamilton was the only transfer fee paid by an SPL club. There was talk of midfielder Kenny McLean leaving, but a fractured collarbone put paid to that, at least for now.

Joe McKee was sent back to Burnley after an unsuccessful loan spell, while Dutch defender Ilias Haddad left at the end of his short-term contract. Young forward Jon McShane was loaned out.

None of Danny Lennon's best eleven departed during the window. Imrie is a hard-working player who can fulfil a number of roles. This is just as well as there doesn't seem to be too much depth in the squad. A few badly-timed injuries may scupper their top six ambitions.