Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Predictions for 2014

Here we go...


Celtic win the league (huh, bet you didn't see that one coming), but (shock, horror!) do get beaten a couple of times. Helped by home advantage in the final, they lift the Scottish Cup.

Hearts are relegated from the top flight (bet you didn't see that one coming either!)

Aberdeen finish second, and scoop the League Cup.

Kilmarnock finish eleventh, but survive a playoff.

Dundee return to the Premiership.

Rangers finish unbeaten in League One but don't get past their first Premiership opponent in the Scottish Cup. Their Championship campaign is a lot more awkward however, as they battle for promotion with a resurgent Hearts...leading to some embarrassment that the second and third highest average attendances in the country (or the first and third if Celtic stop fiddling their figures!) are in the second tier.

There's still no sign of armageddon - even Kilmarnock manage to keep their house in order - but another summer of costcutting makes the gap between Celtic and the rest even wider.

Weakened by summer departures, Celtic fail to make the Champions League.  And, of course, no other Scottish team even manages to win a European tie.


Celtic - Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras don't sign new deals. The club accept big summer offers for Fraser Forster and Virgil Van Dijk.

Dundee United - Ryan Gauld moves down south for a seven figure sum. Ditto John Souttar.

Inverness - Someone takes a punt on Billy McKay for, say, half a mil.

Kilmarnock - Chris Johnston is snapped up by a Championship club.

St. Johnstone - Someone takes a punt on Stevie May for about half a mil as well.

St. Mirren - Kenny McLean and John McGinn are sold. Steven Thompson to retire and take up a media role?


I reckon Neil Lennon will move on to pastures new, if a job at somewhere like Norwich comes up. It's not as if he can achieve anything else at Celtic that he hasn't already (except maybe that elusive League Cup!)

Amongst current Premiership clubs, I can't see Allan Johnston or Gary Locke surviving to the end of 2014. Paul Hartley to coach Hearts in the Championship next season?

Even though I suspect they'll avoid a relegation playoff, I reckon Derek Adams might leave Ross County at the end of the season.


The SPFL will get a title sponsor - but not till next season, and it won't be for much more than pennies. Despite this, Neil Doncaster will remain in a job.

Rangers will manage to prevent administration - temporarily - with another share issue. Dave King will be invited to buy a significant proportion of those shares. When the SFA are asked (not by Scottish journalists, of course) how he passes the Fit And Proper Persons Test, their spokesperson will respond by putting their fingers in their ears and shouting "La la la, I can't hear you". Despite this, Stewart Regan will remain in a job.

The role of Compliance Officer is abolished after a team (probably Celtic or Rangers) challenges one of Vincent Lunny's decisions by using legal action.

All the optimism surrounding the national team will have evaporated - hey. I'm just basing that prediction on past experience!  But the women's team will have a playoff to qualify for the World Cup.  And, what the hell, I'm going to say they'll qualify, just so I can make one positive prediction.

And, on that happy note, I wish you all a much better 2014 than I'm predicting!



Thursday, December 26, 2013

January business

Right, the transfer window opens next week.  What business will your side get up to?

Feel free to correct me, in abusive fashion, if I'm hopelessly wrong...

What they need to do: Kidnap Michael Hector and refuse to give him back to Reading.  The English defender has got better and better as the season's gone on, but his loan finishes imminently and his parent club want him back.  With Andrew Considine having torn his calf and Clark Robertson out till February, the Dons are now very stretched defensively, especially given that Russell Anderson really does look past it.  Other than that, Derek McInnes is probably happy with what he has got.

Potential departures: Aside from Hector, there's unlikely to be many exits.  Some of the youngsters, such as Lawrence Shankland and Craig Storie, will probably head out on loan.  Nicky Weaver is out of contract, so a new keeper will be needed if he leaves.

What they need to do: Resist the temptation to spend unnecessarily.  With the title a formality and the European campaign over, there's not really much need for new faces, unless they can find a bargain - which is unlikely as the January transfer window tends to lead to inflated prices rather than knockdown ones.  There are rumours that Partick's Aaron Taylor-Sinclair is on his way for a £75,000 fee.  It would be in the club's long-term interests to take the opportunity to get some of the younger players some extended game time in the second half of the campaign.

Potential departures: I think it's safe to say that, if Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras haven't signed new contracts by now, then they've made up their minds that they're leaving in the summer when their current deals run out.  Might Neil Lennon choose to cash in on whatever he can get for them?  It would probably be the smart thing to do.  Tom Rogic needs first team football if he's to make Australia's World Cup squad.  Dylan McGeouch apparently declined a loan move in August; given he's seen bugger all action this season, he may be reconsidering that decision.

What they need to do: Unplug all the phones so no-one can make a bid for one of their starlets that they can't refuse.  Other clubs are bound to be sniffing all over Ryan Gauld et al.  United probably won't bring anyone in unless someone leaves.

Potential departures: David Goodwillie's loan spell is up in January, and such has been his mediocrity that few tears will be shed if he returns to Blackburn.  Mark Wilson's short term deal runs out soon as well, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him stay. 

What they need to do: Act as if the transfer window never opened - the Jambos won't come out of administration until the spring, and so their transfer embargo still stands.

Potential departures: The squad is already so thin that Gary Locke is probably on the brink of getting his boots out; he certainly can't afford anyone to leave.  Perhaps a Championship club might come in again for Jason Holt though?

What they need to do: Hope Steve Marsella has scouted a few decent wingers; Hibs' new goalkeeping coach and chief scout needs to come up with a few gems to compare with the players he found for Caley Thistle.  On top of that, installing a revolving door in Easter Road might be useful, as there's bound to be plenty of comings and goings - don't believe Terry Butcher for a second when he says he's pleased with the quality of the squad.  But, given the compensation cost of the new coaching staff, there's unlikely to be any money in the kitty, and certainly not enough for Butcher to sign all the ICT players he'd like.

Potential departures: The problem will be convincing players who are under contract to leave, given that few of them will have suitors.  Tom Taiwo and Rowan Vine certainly don't seem to be in the manager's plans.

What they need to do: Find another central midfield player, given that Richie Foran has joined Jamie Vincent on the casualty list.  The worry is that Yogi Hughes will revert to type and insist on signing Kevin McBride and Patrick Cregg, like he has done for so many other clubs.  Goalkeeper Dean Brill has already made his loan move from Luton permanent.

Potential departures: If Billy McKay is lured away during the window, I think it would be best if someone took my ties and shoelaces from me.  Striker Curtis Allen terminated his contract after failing to make a first team appearance this season, but hopefully Toby Agdestein will stay beyond the end of his short term deal.  If either McKay or Agdestein depart, then another forward will be required.

What they need to do: Rip it all up and start again.  Kilmarnock have already used 28 players this season, yet it appears that, aside from Craig Samson in goal and Fat Kris Boyd up front, Allan Johnston is still not happy with the quality of his first team.  Killie have brought in several trialists, but one has to hope they are rather superior to the ones who turned up in the summer and were inexplicably offered contracts...

Potential departures: ...I'm looking at you, Kyle Jacobs and Mark Stewart, players who have never previously looked better than Scottish Championship material and who proved woefully out of their depth.  Their short-term deals will not be extended.  Barry Nicholson is a more likely candidate to have his deal extended.  Johnston will also probably try to extend the loan deal of Celtic's Jackson Irvine, but another loanee, Dundee United's Michael Gardyne, has gone off the boil recently.  I wonder if Kenny Shiels may return to his old club to try and sign some youngsters on loan, or maybe even veteran James Fowler, who is out of favour at Rugby Park.

What they need to do: Convince Stephen McManus and James McFadden that it's January 2008, not January 2014, in the hope that they start playing as well as they did six years ago.  Failing that, another wide player would be useful even if loan player Lionel Ainsworth sticks around.  Stuart McCall will be desperate to keep Henri Anier till the end of the season.

Potential departures: The squad is small enough that they won't be looking to get rid of anyone.  Bob McHugh has gone stale and will be a candidate for a loan move when he returns from injury.  Goalkeeper Dan Twardzik's emergency loan won't be extended as long as Lee Hollis or Gunnar Nielsen are fit again.

What they need to do: Find a few more Premiership-quality players.  Too few of their summer signings were up to the job, and there is zero depth beyond the first XI.  A new left-back will be a necessity if Aaron Taylor-Sinclair signs for Celtic.  Another central defender would be lovely too, so Alan Archibald doesn't have to turn to the hapless Gabriel Piccolo whenever his first choice pair are hurt.  Kris Doolan's good form has reduced the need for another striker, but I'm sure Archibald would jump at the opportunity to sign a good one.

Potential departures: Liverpool loan striker Henoc Mukendi will probably go, given he hasn't made a first team appearance.  Other than him, there probably won't be too many exits.

What they need to do: Replace their January 2014 squad with their January 2013 squad.  County's spirit appears to have been sapped.  They need better defenders, a striker who can score goals, and a defensive midfielder so that Richard Brittain can be pushed further up the park.  The latter problem might be solved by Cardiff's Filip Kiss, who has been on trial in Dingwall.  It will not have gone unnoticed that left-back Evangelos Oikonomou, outstanding last season, has been released by his club in Greece and is available.

Potential departures: It will be a surprise if Swiss forward Orhan Mustafi stays, given that he's been a waste of space.  Ivan Sproule has already returned to Northern Ireland for family reasons.  Derek Adams hasn't been shy in the past about punting players who aren't in his plans, even those who have been around for a while.

What they need to do: With Steven Maclean still out, they could do with another striker.  Attacking midfielder Lee Croft has already returned for a second spell at the club and is building up his fitness.  Other than that, their main aim to be to prevent English Championship sides from sniffing around Stevie May again. 

Potential departures: Tommy Wright seems to have a soft spot for winger Gwion Edwards, but the player's loan from Swansea expires in January and he's not really done enough to justify extending it.  Midfielder David Robertson will definitely go after an injury-hit year.  Sanel Jahic will also be a free agent, and may be surplus to requirements when Steven Anderson is fit again.  If Wright has any sense, he'll try to convince Rory Fallon to leave, as the New Zealander is a waste of a wage.

What they need to do: Sign some decent players, rather than the dross they picked up in the summer.  I'd say that not a single one of the seven signings made in the summer would be in Danny Lennon's first choice XI right now (Marian Kello was signed in October, so he doesn't count, and neither does Conor Newton, who was here last year).  If they can convince Newton to stay for the rest of the season, that would be a big boost; it seems more likely that he will return to Newcastle and be replaced by young forward Adam Campbell, who would take some of the load off Steven Thompson.

Potential departures: Stephane Bahoken's loan from Nice has already been terminated; he was absolutely useless.  David Cornell started the season as first choice keeper and is now third choice, so he's off back to Swansea.  Hopefully, for the Buddies' sake, Paul McGowan's off-field antics don't lead to a loan move for a few months to Barlinnie Prison F.C.


Monday, December 16, 2013

10 talking points from the Premiership weekend

Has Derek Adams lost the plot?
In August, I'd have said that Adams' previous achievements at Ross County made him unsackable.  But is that still the case now?  The defeat to Motherwell was County's tenth of the season in the league; they only lost eleven all last season.  They have won only two games out of thirteen in all competitions since 24 August.  Gone are the solidity and team spirit of the last two seasons.  Adams' team selections have become increasingly erratic, which is surely a worry. Against 'well, he used winger Melvin De Leeuw at centre forward, a ploy which failed miserably against Celtic and which worked no better this time.  By the time he brought on a striker as a first half sub, the damage had been done.  Also, there was no logic to dropping keeper Mark Brown for his clearly inferior deputy, Michael Fraser.  Adams' trademark scowl is now seen so often that you'd think the wind had changed; Will the wind of change blow through Ross County soon?

Trial by TV?
The SFA has previously been accused of only taking retrospective action regarding incidents that are discussed on Sportscene - so it will be interesting to see if Anthony Stokes gets a letter from Hampden this week.  Numerous journalists noted that, after being booted in the air for about the tenth time by Hibs defender Jordan Forster, Stokes took an off-the-ball swipe at the youngster which couldn't have been more obvious to onlookers if it had been preceeded by an impromptu performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" in a beautiful tenor voice.  Referee Bobby Madden took no action - and I can't tell you how bad that decision was because absolutely zero reference to the incident was made in the BBC match report or highlights.  If Stokes gets away with it, then a few managers and fans may file this in the mental folder marked 'preferential treatment for Celtic' which tends to get depressingly large over the course of a season.

Reuben Gabriel's an international player?!  You're kidding, right?
Believe it or not, Reuben Gabriel - or is it Gabriel Reuben? It's not clear - is a Nigerian international with a good chance of playing at the World Cup next summer.  Yet he barely looks capable of holding down a place in a rancid Kilmarnock midfield.  It's only a month since Allan Johnston claimed Gabriel wasn't good enough to get in the side, so his elevation to the lineup in the last few weeks stinks of desperacy on the manager's part...as did Gabriel's rather brief performance on Saturday, where he received two yellow cards in the first 22 minutes.  An international midfield player really should know better than to commit a cynical foul whilst booked - and frankly, any Sunday League player would know better too.  I wouldn't be surprised if the next time we see him, it'll be in the green of his country rather than the blue and white of his club.

Going to Tynecastle? Take your boots
Jamie Walker limped off on Saturday, and looks set to be the latest addition to an injury list that Hearts can ill-afford.  With Jason Holt and Ryan Stevenson already out, the Jambos have bugger all left in midfield.  And, with Danny Wilson playing through shin splints, their only fully fit outfield player aged over 22 is Jamie Hamill, who, was the situation not so desperate, would surely be Left Back In The Dressing Room, rather than Left Back.  Barring the unlikeliest of wins at Celtic Park next week, Hearts will still have a negative points total at Christmas; the club now only has three things left to focus on - a League Cup semi final, coming out of administration, and deciding what season ticket prices should be for a season in the Championship.

The obligatory weekly Dundee United/Ryan Gauld love-in
Yes, I swoon over Dundee United every week.  But Saturday was the fourth time in a row, and the fifth time in six league games, that they've scored four times.  They also stuck five past Kilmarnock in the cup at the end of November.  Their performances are not so much sexy as they are proper top-shelf pornography.  Meaningless stat alert: Keith Watson's goal now means that United's full backs have already scored a total of five goals this season.

Motherwell will beat St. Mirren next week
That claim is simply on the grounds that the Steelmen's league record against the sides in the bottom six this season is a remarkable nine wins out of nine after they saw off Ross County.  Against the other top six sides, they've managed just one point out of twenty-one.  So they'll probably get beaten by Aberdeen on Boxing Day, then.

An important first win for Yogi
To some extent, John Hughes is on a bit of a hiding to nothing at Inverness - he can hardly take them in any direction but down from their current second place.  So getting a win under his belt early will have been very handy, particularly given a run of tricky matches over the Christmas period which includes home games against Aberdeen and Celtic, a derby with Ross County, and travels to Partick and Motherwell.  Given Hearts' current travails, it's becoming increasingly the case that a win over them is a necessity rather than a good result.  It was another masterclass in movement and finishing from Billy McKay, who has now scored five times in three games against Hearts since his infamous miss in last year's League Cup semi final.  I'm not convinced that he won't have moved on to better things by the time the sides meet again at Easter Road in February.

St. Mirren can't afford to lose McGowan
I was interested to find out today that Paul McGowan, the St. Mirren forward, has pled guilty to charges of assaulting police officers - and it's not the first time either.  A solicitor friend of mine tells me that the judge's decision to ask for reports could be meaningful, as these are a prerequisite for a first custodial sentence.  Whilst, unlike most employers in the real world, I can't see the Buddies sacking him, they certainly would struggle if Gowser, unquestionably their best player, was missing for any time - remember that his logical replacement, Gary Harkins, hasn't been on the winning side in any of the six league games he's started for the club, and might as well not have been on the pitch most of the time.

Partick still can't win at home
Yes, I am being harsh - the match at Firhill was abandoned - but Partick Thistle still haven't won a home league match this season, and after their bright start to the season they now have only one win in thirteen games in all competitions since the end of August.  With St. Mirren having picked up in recent weeks, it looks increasingly like the Real Jags will face a three way battle for eleventh place with Killie and Ross County.

No complaints about Useless Euan Norris' decision to send off Reuben Gabriel as discussed above, but he turned down a very good shout for a Killie penalty later for handball against John Souttar.  Bobby Madden apparently had a mare at Celtic Park - but the only big decision to make the highlights was the one he got right - booking Emilio Izaguirre for a dive.  It wasn't as bad a dive as the first half swoon by ICT's Marley Watkins though, which inexplicably escaped sanction from Brian Colvin; however, it may have contributed to Watkins being denied a second-half spot kick after he was rugby-tacked by Kevin McHattie!  Meanwhile, in Dingwall, no-one knows why a Ross County equalizer was ruled out by Crawford Allan except, it seems, the official himself.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Celtic at a crossroads

If a week is a long time in politics, a year can be a very short time in football.

2012-13 saw Celtic scramble their way out of a very difficult Champions League group and into the last sixteen.

In 2013-14, they finished rock bottom of their group, picking up only 3 out of a possible 18 points.  Whereas last season they defeated Barcelona at Celtic Park and were beaten at the Camp Nou only by a last gasp Jordi Alba strike, this time around they lost to the Catalans at home and, on Wednesday night, completed their lousy campaign by losing a dead rubber match 6-1 to the Spanish champions.  Meaningless game or not, you'd have expected the players to be lifted by the opportunity to play such feted opponents; the performance was so bad that you'd have thought Ross County's back four were playing.

No question, Celtic are drastically weaker than they were last season.  Out went Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama and English forward Gary Hooper, for £18 million in total transfer fees.  Neither have been replaced even remotely adequately. 

I know a few Celtic fans who were quite blasé about Hooper's exit, claiming that his goals-per-game ratio in Scottish football was far from outstanding, and who claimed that Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes were superior players.  Yet Hooper proved last season that he could be an effective lone striker, and goalscorer, at continental level.  Stokes' electric start to the season might have convinced Neil Lennon that he could take over that mantle; however his goal against Motherwell last week was his first in any competition since the start of October.  Samaras looked the part last season, especially when playing wide, but has been struck once more by a return of the malaise that plagued his game for so much of his first few seasons at Celtic Park.

Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to see Wanyama in the flesh for Southampton about six weeks ago, when down south.  Against Fulham, he strode around the pitch like he owned it...and it seemed like he did, given his dominance in the middle of the park.  He was simply a special talent, and it's not surprising that Lennon didn't have anyone in the squad who could fill his role.

They were unable to find adequate replacements in the transfer market either.  Lennon summed up the problem himself - "players sometimes won't come unless you have Champions League football guaranteed.  Then, after (you've qualified), it's pretty difficult to get the kind of player you want".  The bottom line is that the club can no longer attract elite players from elite leagues.  They cannot pay these players enough, or offer sufficiently prestigious competition.  Gone are the days that the likes of Chris Sutton, John Hartson or Lennon himself could be signed for huge fees - the equivalent players of 2013 just aren't interested.  After all, Hooper considered Norwich a step up.

So instead they rely either on bringing in cheaper players with potential, or, frankly, rejects from bigger leagues.  The former category included Wanyama and Hooper, who were successes.  It is hard to see many others in this Celtic squad who could be sold on for similar, large transfer fees, however.  Fraser Forster would be the obvious candidate.  Virgil Van Dijk, unquestionably the most successful of the new faces, has been imperious domestically but his limitations were dreadfully exposed in the final two group matches against Milan and Barca.  A couple of years ago, I'd fully expected Emilio Izaguirre and Beram Kayal to be sold at huge profit, but neither has been as impressive in the last twelve months as they were when initially signed.

Even if some players are sold off for big bucks, then what?  Celtic might be able to afford to splash the cash on better players, but, as stated above, how many of them would actually want to come?  The example of Teemu Pukki is not reassuring - the Finnish striker was let go by a Bundesliga club, Schalke, and who has largely looked like he has been phoning in his performances, rather than showing the hunger expected of a player who cost £2.5million.  It would be easier if they had a clutch of impressive youngsters waiting in the wings, but, James Forrest aside, only two academy products (no, Charlie Mulgrew doesn't count, pedants) have started a game this season - Tony Watt, punted on loan to a Belgian club at the end of August, and Dylan McGeouch, who played in the League Cup humbling to Morton.  The best of the club's youngsters is full back Darnell Fisher, who was actually signed from Farnborough in 2011.

To an extent, Celtic are being held back simply by being in Scotland, playing in a mediocre league (which now means three Champions League qualifiers just to get to play with the big boys), dwarfed by it's neighbour south of the border.  Players want to play in the higher quality, more competitive, Premier League instead.  The fans want to watch it on telly instead.  The sponsors want to throw their money at it instead (remember, the Scottish Professional Football League - still!!! - hasn't got a title sponsor).  But the lack of competitiveness up here has come about because of the dreadful imbalance in prize money during the SPL years, and that in turn led to the lack of interest from anyone with money, and the subsequent drop in quality.  Celtic, and of course Rangers, were rather in favour of that at the time.  Now, it's a hindrance.

And I don't see how it is reversible.  The return of the other half of the Gruesome Twosome to the top flight won't change it quickly - I don't believe for a second that Rangers, with all their off-field issues, will be able to turn it into a two horse race quickly...and that's if they make it through another year and a half without another administration event, which is far from a given.  And there is zero chance of escaping to England - what on earth have they got to gain from having either Glasgow club in the league, other than their baggage?

So Celtic are stuck with their lot.  And it's quite likely that their manager and players are increasingly aware of that.  It would be surprising if Forster doesn't respond positively to suitors.  Samaras and Joe Ledley appear reluctant to sign new contracts.  Someone may take a chance on the potential of Van Dijk, Forrest and Adam Matthews.  Lennon?  Save a League Cup win, there is nothing realistically achievable at Celtic Park that he hasn't achieved already.  I can't help feeling that his love for the club may be trumped by his ambition.  After all, 5-0 away wins in the SPFL must be becoming pretty boring for him; they're certainly boring for the rest of us.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The lowdown on Hughes

So, it's John Hughes then.  The outpourings of joy and cheer have been abundant...from fans of other clubs.  Caley Thistle supporters were ready to accept Paul Hartley as their Messiah; however, the Alloa manager pulled out for personal reasons.  So, instead of hiring the brightest young coach in the country, we've got Yogi Hughes.  After our manager left for Hibs, we've replaced him with a man whose last top flight job ended with him being sacked...by Hibs.  That's not encouraging.

So, let's remind ourselves - who is John Hughes?  He was a decent central defender who spent most of his playing career at Falkirk and Hibernian - both of whom he managed later on.  In between, he had a solitary season at Celtic Park.  Apparently he's called 'Yogi' purely because there was another footballer with the same name, 20 years earlier, who had that nickname.  No, it's nothing to do with boo-boos.  (I'll get my coat).  Arguably his finest achievement as a player was being caught streaking in the background whilst Falkirk teammate Mo Johnston was being interviewed on Scotsport.

His first managerial job came at 39, when he took over from Ian McCall at Brockville,.  Initially he was co-manager with teammate Owen Coyle, but he took sole charge from the start of the 2004-05 season.  (Falkirk won the first division in 2003-04, but weren't promoted because Brockville was, well, a death trap.)  I had it in my memory that Yogi was a good manager when at Falkirk, but hindsight offers a different perspective.  His second full season in 2004-05 saw the Bairns win promotion, though, if I recall correctly, they had the strongest squad that year.  Their SPL finishes under his command were as follows: tenth, seventh, seventh, tenth.  In 2007-08, they blew a top six place by losing to Aberdeen in the final match before the split.  But they were very nearly relegated in his final season in charge, only surviving thanks to a last day win against, funnily enough, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who went down as a result.  They did reach the Scottish Cup final that year, losing to Rangers.  

He was entertaining on the touchline, at least.  In 2006, Falkirk visited Inverness for a  League Cup quarter final on a cold Wednesday night.  It was, frankly, one of the worst football matches I've ever seen.  Falkirk won 1-0, but it was such a dreadful spectacle that I was relieved that Graham Bayne missed a late sitter as I couldn't face the prospect of extra time.  The only entertainment on show that evening was provided by the Falkirk manager.  Yogi spent most of the game berating a young Liam Craig over his positioning - "LIAM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"  If I recall correctly, whilst Falkirk's players celebrated their goal, he took the time to scream at a few of his players, rather than displaying any joy at all.  Most strikingly, there was an incident where, after Caley Thistle had booted the ball out for a Falkirk injury, a Bairns player punted the drop ball out for a throw-in just beside our own corner flag, rather than put it back to the keeper...and Yogi went absolutely ballistic over the poor sportsmanship.  He even ordered his his players not to contest the throw-in, which earned him a fair bit of applause from the home support.

At Falkirk he developed a reputation for 'pretty football', whatever the hell that means.  In this case, it seems to have referred lots of tippy-tapping around the halfway line.  He did, however, bring through talented youngsters such as Darren Barr and Scott Arfield, and, given that he managed to procure some very high quality loanees from down south, including the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Tim Krul and Anthony Stokes (who was an Arsenal youth at the time), he must have a decent contacts book.  But form could be terribly erratic, and he was lucky to be able to call on the mercurial Russell Latapy; as the Trinidadian aged, the club's star began to wane a bit.

Still, there weren't too many complaints when he was appointed as Hibernian manager - at that point he was seen as an up and coming coach.  His tenure at Easter Road started pretty well. At the end of January 2010, Hibs were third, only two points behind Celtic.  Then it all appears to have gone horribly, horribly wrong.  They only won three of the last sixteen league games of the season and stumbled to fourth.  He was dismissed in October, after his side won only one of their first seven SPL matches of the new season.  There was a worrying increase in the use of the long ball towards the end, and reports of a breakdown in discipline which included players refusing to warm down after matches.  How much of this is Hughes' fault is open to debate; his successors did not exactly turn things around.  But it spreads a seed of doubt in my mind regarding his man-management skills.

However, I'm more disturbed by the list of signings he made for Hibernian - Patrick Cregg, Danny Galbraith, Kevin McBride, Graham Stack, Anthony Stokes, Liam Miller, Graeme Smith, Mark Brown, Edwin De Graaf, David Stephens, Michael Hart, Francis Dickoh, Valdas Trakys.  Stokes and Miller (who had one good year at the club) aside, there is no-one on that list who will evoke fond memories in any Hibee.  I have nightmares that, by February, ICT's solid central midfield will have been ditched as the new manager signs Cregg and McBride yet again in the deluded belief that they are any good.

After Hibs, he spent a bit of time as Head Coach at Livingston, working with Director of Football John Collins.  His role there seems to have been more about developing youngsters than getting results, and he was highly though of at Almondvale prior to his departure for Hartlepool United last winter.  The League One side were hopelessly adrift at the bottom and required a miracle worker - instead they got Hughes, who did well enough to get a manager of the month award, but not well enough to save them from the drop or to avoid the sack.

Yeah, it's not a CV that makes one's soul burn with excitement, is it?

That said, it's not fair to automatically dismiss him as a certain failure, either.  And I will at least stand up for him regarding preconceptions that he isn't the sharpest tool in the box.  More than one person that I've spoken to about Hughes' appointment has instantly responded with "he's a moron" - a common viewpoint that seems based less on anything that he has actually said and more on snobbery about his accent; unfortunately, just about anyone from Leith, intelligent or not, is doomed to sound more like a neanderthal than a quantum physicist.   If you listen to what he says, rather than how he says it, he's not bad.  Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't an articulate man, after all.

So, in conclusion, John Hughes has come to Caley Thistle at a time when his career appeared to be heading in the wrong direction, several years after his last success in the dugout.  But then you could say the same about Terry Butcher in January 2009 as well.  That didn't turn out too badly, did it?  I'm not exactly enthralled, but I'm quite happy to give Yogi plenty of time to prove us doubters wrong.  He has inherited a talented squad with an excellent attitude; if he has the sense, and the humility, to keep things much the way they are now, he should at least keep Caley Thistle on track for the time being.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Summer signings, 4 months on

Right, we're four months into the league season now - which means that it's no longer too early to jump to conclusions. We have a good idea about who's going to fight for a top six place, and who is going to be struggling at the other end of the table.  And we've seen enough of each team to be able to judge whether the signings made since the end of last season have been studs or duds.  I've taken a look at how the new players at each Premiership club have performed so far in 2013-14.  Which teams hit the jackpot with their moves, and which teams (I'm looking at you, Killie!) just signed a bunch of diddies?


Best signing: When he's been fit, former Dundee United and Celtic midfielder Willo Flood has added quality to the midfield.
Worst signing: There haven't really been any duds.  Arguably the biggest disappointment so far has been ex-Rangers winger Gregg Wylde, who has struggled to make any impact since returning north of the border and has spent most of the season on the bench.
Verdict: Out of the newcomers, only Michael Hector (on loan from Reading) and Calvin Zola have started more than 10 league games.  Zola looks dreadful, but the lumbering forward has managed three goals and the team seem to be more effective when he is playing.  But Derek McInnes will be happy that he improved squad depth.  The Dons will expect to get a lot more out of Flood and Barry Robson, as both have missed plenty of time with injuries.


Best signing: After a slightly rocky start, Virgil Van Dijk has been tremendous and will be a strong candidate for Player Of The Year honours.  The Dutchman is probably more comfortable on the ball than any central defender I've seen in Scottish football.
Worst signing: I hope Steven Mouyokolo is on a pay-as-you-play contract.  The defender had a dreadful injury history prior to his move to Celtic Park...and, guess what?  He got injured again, after just two games.  A ruptured Achilles has ended his season, and I suspect that it'll end his Celtic career too.
Verdict: As shown by their disappointing Champions' League campaign, Celtic did not come close to replacing the likes of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper.  Derk Boerrigter, Amido Balde and Teemu Pukki cost £6.5million in total, but not one of them has established themselves as a first choice player.  Israeli Nir Biton hasn't really had enough opportunity yet.  The bottom line is that Neil Lennon's business last summer didn't really improve the squad.


Best signing: Andrew Robertson was playing for Queen's Park last season.  By the end of 2013-14, I wouldn't be surprised to see him playing for Scotland.  This young left back is a solid defender, but is also such an attacking threat that he's scored five goals this season.
Worst signing: The biggest disappointment is unquestionably David Goodwillie, who looks a shadow of the player who left for Blackburn two and a half years ago.  He looks bereft of confidence, and Jackie McNamara showed guts to drop the former golden boy.
Verdict: Pretty positive.  Whilst Goodwillie has been a let down and defender Calum Butcher was quickly dropped after looking out of his depth early on, Nadir Ciftci has been superb, as has defensive midfielder Paul Paton, who played under Jackie Mac at Partick Thistle.  Another former Partick player, winger Chris Erskine, was a target for the support after a poor start, and hasn't even been a sub most weeks.  Bringing Mark Wilson back to the club for a second spell has proven an astute move and the defence looks considerably stronger than it did at the start of the season.


Best signing: There was only one - Danny Wilson, whose loan from Liverpool was made permanent.  He's been their best player.
Worst signing: Wilson again, technically...
Verdict: The only verdict that can be made here is that, without strengthening the squad in the summer (and without the opportunity to do so in January), this Hearts squad is far too weak to overcome their 15 point penalty.


Best signing: Liam Craig has shown flashes of the outstanding form of his last couple of seasons at St. Johnstone, though there should still be plenty to come from him.
Worst signing: Another former Perth Saint, Rowan Vine, has been a huge disappointment.  It's incredible to think that Birmingham City once paid £1million for this guy.  Maybe he'd be more mobile if he ditched that dreadful beard, which must be weighing him down no end.
Verdict: None of these players were signed by Terry Butcher, of course.  The issue with Pat Fenlon's summer signings was not so much the lack of quality as the failure to address certain positions, such as the full back and wing areas.  Fraser Mullen is in the former category but was sidelined after some rotten performances after joining from Hearts.  Wideman Abdellah Zoubir looks exciting but doesn't appear to have much end-product.  Owain Tudur Jones, who played for Butcher in Inverness, is just one more central midfielder in a squad with about a million of them.  Paul Heffernan has so far proven to be a more dangerous signing up front than James Collins - though I understand Collins did not cost nearly as much as the quoted £200,000 fee.


Best signing: Aside from one blunder against Partick Thistle, Dean Brill has been solid and dependable in goal for Caley Thistle.  He's already arranged to make his loan move from Luton permanent.
Worst signing: Does Northern Irishman Curtis Allen actually exist?  The striker, signed from Coleraine, got injured in pre-season and hasn't got close to seeing first team action since he returned to fitness.
Verdict: Okay rather than brilliant.  Jamie Vincent looked good before getting injured at the end of September.  More recently, left-back Carl Tremarco and winger Marley Watkins have established themselves in the team.  We've yet to see the apparent best of Toby Agdestein or Ben Greenhalgh yet, though.


Best signing: When you've signed eleven players and the best one is 35 years old, that doesn't reflect well on your actions in the transfer market.  But I'd say that veteran Barry Nicholson has been consistently decent, though not particularly special.
Worst signing: Considering David Silva wasn't particularly good the first time he was at Rugby Park, what possessed Allan Johnston to decide to bring him back?  The winger has only made 3 appearances before getting injured.
Verdict: I think it's fair to say that Kilmarnock's manager doesn't have much in the way of contacts when it comes to signing good players.  Kyle Jacobs (ex- Livingston) and Mark Stewart (ex-Dundee) are no better than Championship level, while Michael Gardyne's performances both at Killie and at Dundee United suggest the same of him.  Jackson Irvine, on loan from Celtic, struggled in defence but has looked better after moving into midfield.  Darren Barr also had a poor start to the season but has improved recently, and the same could be said of full back Sean Clohessy.


Best signing: Stephen McManus has been solid and dependable, just as Stuart McCall hoped when he signed the former Scotland international.
Worst signing: To be fair to Iain Vigurs, he hasn't been truly terrible; however, he's had barely any impact compared to how brilliant he was for Ross County last year.  It doesn't help that McCall hasn't worked out how to get the best from him.
Verdict: On paper, 'Well's transfer business looked great - but Vigurs and ex-Staggie teammate Paul Lawson haven't made an impact.  Lionel Ainsworth and Henri Anier both made quick impacts - Ainsworth scored a screamer against Dundee United, while Anier scored a few goals - but both have regressed in recent weeks, with the latter unable to establish himself as a consistent partner for the more dependable John Sutton.  I expected more from goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen, given he was on Manchester City's books for so long.


Best signing: Isaac Osbourne looked good on occasion in Aberdeen - that is, on the rare occasions that he wasn't actually injured.  But he's been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league this season.
Worst signing: Mexican defender Gabriel Piccolo has been an absolute nightmare whenever he's seen action - which, given how poor he has played, is surprisingly often.  Is he blackmailing Alan Archibald with dodgy pictures, or something?
Verdict: Partick Thistle didn't do a good enough job strengthening for the top flight.  Mark Kerr and John Baird weren't good enough with Dundee last year and haven't got any better.  Gary Fraser, on loan from Bolton, was decent initially but got himself a hefty ban for kicking the s*** out of an opponent in a reserve game.  If they are to stay up, it will be because of the efforts of the players who won promotion last season.


Best signing: Dutch winger Melvin De Leeuw has looked very slick - when he's been moved inside to play off a front man, which has allowed him to assert far more influence on matches.  The less said about Derek Adams' decision to play him as a lone striker against Celtic, the better.
Worst signing: Apparently Orhan Mustafi has played up front for Switzerland's under-23 team.  But he looked unfit when he arrived on loan, then broke a toe.  He still hasn't scored a league goal...which makes him no different from County's other strikers.
Verdict: County's Dutch experiment hasn't been a success so far, De Leeuw aside.  It's been downhill for fellow wideman Darren Maatsen since he scored at Celtic Park on opening day, while Kevin Luckassen has struggled mightily up front and young midfielder Marc Klok has only started one match.  Adams' attempts to reshape the defence have also failed miserably, with Brian McLean showing why Dundee United wanted shot of him and Ben Gordon displaying none of the form from his previous spells at Kilmarnock.  At least Graham Carey has done a good job on the left flank.


Best signing: After looking stale during his final season at Hibernian, David Wotherspoon has been revitalized since moving to Perth.
Worst signing: I presume Rory Fallon was signed to offer a target-man option when the Saints are desperate late in games.  At least, that's the only reason I can think of.  He isn't anywhere near as good as the other strikers in the squad.
Verdict: It's hard to criticize many of the players Tommy Wright brought in.  Brian Easton has been decent at full back, while Gary McDonald has been a pleasant surprise, given that he was nicknamed 'the ghost' at other clubs because of how little impact he had on games.


Best signing: Marian Kello by a distance, even though the Lithuanian keeper was only signed in October.  He's looked far more reliable than either of his predecessors, both of whom were signed in the summer.
Worst signing: The deadline day signing on loan of French forward Stephane Bahoken felt a bit desperate at the time - which is ironic, since 'desperate' is an appropriate way to describe his performances.  After starting two games in September, he has drifted out of first team contention.
Verdict: Not good to be honest, apart from Kello and Conor Newton, who returned for a second loan spell after playing in Paisley last season.  David Cornell was supposed to be the first choice goalie, but made several errors, prompting the signing of Kello.  Ex-Hearts defender Danny Grainger has lost his place at left-back to youngster Sean Kelly.  Another loanee, midfielder Jake Caprice, has seen action only as a sub.  The team's form has improved considerably since the highest profile signing of the summer, Gary Harkins, lost his place in the lineup.