Monday, May 30, 2016

2015-16 report card - Kilmarnock

Running out of lives
Image result for kilmarnock fc

LEAGUE: 11th, 36pts (2014-15 - 10th, 41pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fifth round
LEAGUE CUP: Third round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Jamie MacDonald, Mark O'Hara, Conrad Balatoni, Stuart Findlay, Kevin McHattie, Steven Smith, Craig Slater, Kallum Higginbotham, Greg Kiltie, Rory McKenzie, Josh Magennis,

OVERVIEW: The appointment of Lee Clark as manager in February came too late to save Kilmarnock from the dreaded playoffs, but they finally came up with the goods when it mattered - a 4-0 thumping of Falkirk in the second leg which keeps them up for a 24th consecutive season.  Given the club's financial issues, it was a result which might have saved them from far worse than relegation.  But eleventh was not acceptable and the continued decline in attendances is a reflection of the deep malaise affecting Killie.  Their artificial pitch didn't give them any home advantage; they won just 4 league games at Rugby Park, whilst conceding four goals there on four occasions and five once!  This was the last of their nine lives spent; continue in their current manner and they are doomed next time around.

HIGH POINTS: That glorious win over Falkirk, in front of a large, loud crowd.  Oh, and the day Gary Locke resigned.  Harsh, but fair.

LOW POINTS: Losing 4-0 on opening day at home to Dundee set the tone.  Defeat by the same score three weeks later against Ross County was even worse, on a day where Lee McCulloch had one of the worst 45 minutes experienced by any central defender ever.

STAR MAN: Josh Magennis was a rare shining light, managing double figures in the league for the first time despite often being shunted to the wing to make space for Kris Boyd.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Locke's greatest (only?) accomplishment at Kilmarnock was to convince Greg Kiltie to sign a new contract; the young attacker was exuberant in the second half of the campaign.

WASTE OF SPACE: June 2015: Hearts reject Scott Robinson signs a three year deal with Kilmarnock.  March 2016: Robinson released after just 12 appearances.  They didn't win in any of his six starts.

THE BOSS: Lee Clark won only two games out of thirteen before the playoff double-header, but the team were definitely better organized and harder to beat under his tutelage.  He's instigating a huge clearout, and it'll be interesting to see who he manages to rustle up using his contacts down south.  Clark's record at Birmingham and Blackpool wasn't great, but there's been enough evidence so far to suggest that Killie have made a good appointment here.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: These depend entirely on who Clark manages to coax north.  He definitely needs a striker because he can't rely on Kris Boyd as a regular goalscorer.  Holding on to the impressive (but out of contract) Miles Addison would go a long way to helping the defence.  The return of Rangers - whose fans presumably will be allowed to fill all the empty seats when they visit Rugby Park - should help the bank balance a fair bit.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Conor Brennan, Lee Ashcroft, Mark Connolly, Stuart Findlay (end of loan), Lee Hodson (end of loan), Darryl Westlake, Julien Faubert, Alex Henshall, Chris Johnston, Craig Slater, Aaron Splaine

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2015-16 report card - Inverness CT

There may be trouble ahead
Inverness Caledonian Thistle.svg

LEAGUE: 7th, 52pts (2014-15 - 3rd, 65pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Quarter-finals
LEAGUE CUP: Quarter-finals
EUROPA LEAGUE: Second qualifying round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Owain Fon Williams, Josh Meekings, Danny Devine, Gary Warren, Carl Tremarco, Ross Draper, Greg Tansey, Liam Polworth, Iain Vigurs, Danny Williams, Miles Storey

OVERVIEW: Coming off a cup win and a third place finish, 2015-16 was always going to be an anticlimax for Caley Thistle.  And ultimately coming seventh is hardly a disaster; there was never a realistic threat of relegation (though that didn't stop me worrying), and with a bit of luck (and not conceding nine goals in the ninetieth minute or later!) they would have been top six.  But my god it was dull.  Home games were often spent watching the team keep possession in their own half for aeons without any cutting edge in attack, and too many goals and games were lost by silly defensive blunders.  Most of the best performances were away from home.  And John Hughes' acrimonious exit made sure that the campaign ended under a cloud.

HIGH POINTS: Winning all three league derbies.

LOW POINTS: Going out of both cups timidly at home - to Ross County and Hibs - was a right shame.  Losing twice in Inverness to both Motherwell and Hamilton was pretty grim.

STAR MAN: Up until January it was the glorious Ryan Christie.  After he departed for Celtic's subs bench, I'd say Ross Draper was the top performer.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Liam Polworth was surprisingly handed a one year contract last year, despite failing to establish himself in the team.  He was the primary beneficiary of the injury problems, and several goals and assists and an under-21 call-up later, he's one of the first names on the teamsheet.

WASTE OF SPACE: Dani Lopez was a Spanish striker with a lousy touch and the turning circle of a bus.  He managed a solitary goal before injury; when he got fit again he promptly got banned for spitting on a St. Johnstone youngster in a reserve game.  This delightful fellow was punted in January, thankfully.

THE BOSS: It's a shame it ended like this, with bitterness and infighting between Yogi and the board.  But all Hughes' moaning about budgets smells very much like a man who was manufacturing his exit.  Given he had burned his bridges with many fans because of the turgid football and the treatment of David Raven, he won't be missed much.  But I suspect that once this has all faded into memory a bit, he'll be remembered for the positives - primarily that Scottish Cup triumph.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: Very unclear at this point.  The smart money is on Richie Foran being promoted from within, an extremely risky move which feels like the cheap and lazy option to this writer.  Stability might convince some out-of-contract players to sign on, but does Foran have the contacts to find the new faces the club needs?  Does he have the coaching acumen?  It all feels very Eddie May and Tommy Craig to me...and look how those appointments turned out...

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Liam Hughes, David Raven, Miles Storey (end of loan), Nat Wedderburn

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

2015-16 report card - Celtic

Won the title.  Meh.
Celtic crest

LEAGUE: Champions, 86pts (2014-15 - Champions, 92pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Semi-finals
LEAGUE CUP: Semi-finals
EUROPA LEAGUE: Group stage
MOST USED FIRST XI: Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Dedryck Boyata, Efe Ambrose, Kieran Tierney, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Stefan Johansen, Leigh Griffiths

OVERVIEW: Could a trained monkey have won as many trophies as Ronny Deila this season?  It's a question worth asking.  Celtic's league title was as much down to having a deep (or even bloated) squad which meant they could absorb injuries and losses of form in a way Aberdeen couldn't.  But yet again they struggled with the big occasions: two cup semi-finals lost (one to Rangers!) as a result of panicky performances; failure to make the Champions League again; failure to win a single Europa League game.  Rarely were they so dominant in games that they could engage cruise control.  And if Leigh Griffiths had been injured for any length of time, even the Premiership could have gone all Pete Tong.  The most appropriate adjective is surely 'meh'.

HIGH POINTS: Probably the day they officially wrapped up the title by beating Aberdeen, though even then they nearly threw away a 3-0 lead.

LOW POINTS: That loss on penalties to Rangers was not only humiliating but had an enormous psychological effect on both sides; Celtic's great rivals now believe they can cause a real upset in the top flight next season.

STAR MAN: Frankly, Leigh Griffiths carried Celtic this season.  Simple as that.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Aside from Griffiths and Tom Rogic, Kieran Tierney was the only other bright spot; the left-back is surely the most promising Scottish youngster around.

WASTE OF SPACE: Take your pick from Tyler Blackett, Scott Allan, Carlton Cole and Nadir Ciftci.  Though there were plenty of other wage thieves too.

THE BOSS: Oh, Ronny.  You seemed so fresh and idealistic when you arrived at Celtic Park, but by the end it was clear that you were broken.  In May the team were still having the same difficulties with set-pieces that they did in August.  The tactics were the same for every single game with no obvious plan B, with Griffiths bailing the team out time and time again.  And the players never seemed to forgive him for blaming the Malmo defeat on them.  I'm sure Deila will go on to be a decent manager elsewhere.  But bringing in Brendan Rodgers is like replacing a Ford Fiesta with a Mercedes.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: A sixth successive title is of course a minimum requirement; being in the same league as Rangers will surely serve as a boot up the behind.  Brendan Rodgers is an excellent, but expensive appointment; success in Europe (i.e. Champions League qualification) may be dependent on how large a transfer budget he is given...which may in turn depend on how many of the numerous duds on the books can be shifted off the wage bill. But it seems reasonable to expect the quality of results, and the quality of football, to be an improvement.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Tyler Blackett (end of loan), Derk Boerrigter

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2015-16 report card - Hearts

Going up in the world
Heart of Midlothian FC logo.svg

LEAGUE: 3rd, 65pts (2014-15 - promoted from Championship)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fifth round
LEAGUE CUP: Quarter-finals
MOST USED FIRST XI: Neil Alexander, Callum Paterson, Igor Rossi, Alim Ozturk, Juwon Oshaniwa, Sam Nicholson, Prince Buaben, Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Walker, Osman Sow, Juanma

OVERVIEW: Two seasons ago, Hearts were relegated and on the brink of extinction.  Now, with Ann Budge pulling the strings, they are possibly the most envied club in the land, stable and progressive off the pitch and getting the results on it.  The Jambos were comfortably the third best team in the land, and by the end of the season they were closer to Aberdeen than the table suggests.  Only a poor run-in, where players looked tired or ready to hit the beach, cost them second spot.  But with no financial concerns and plenty of exciting young players establishing themselves, things look very bright down Gorgie way.

HIGH POINTS: Five straight wins to start the season and announce their return to the top flight.  The most impressive single result was the 6-0 demolition of Motherwell in January.

LOW POINTS: Going out of the Scottish Cup in a replay at Easter Road was pretty disappointing.  If Hearts had won that game, you'd have fancied them to win the cup.

STAR MAN: It's a shame Jamie Walker missed nearly half the campaign with various injuries; the schemer continues to improve all aspects of his game and Hearts were always most dangerous when he was playing just behind the striker.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: A nightmare against Celtic aside, John Souttar fitted seamlessly into the defence after escaping the nightmare at Dundee United in January.  Surrounded by half-decent players, he once again looks like Scotland's centre-back of the future.

WASTE OF SPACE: Juwon Oshaniwa played at the 2014 World Cup, so you'd think he would be decent.  You'd be wrong.  Neilson has persisted with the Nigerian left-back, despite several poor performances and a hot head that saw him get sent off twice.  A replacement should be targeted,

THE BOSS: Yes, there really were some idiots who paid for a plane to fly over Tynecastle with a 'Neilson out' message.  The young coach followed up a Championship title with a top three finish, so I reckon he should feel pretty secure for now.  Sure, he made some tactical errors and his squad rotation sometimes seemed a bit barmy.  But more often that not he made the right calls, and given that he's only 36 next month, there's still plenty of room for improvement.  In terms of league finishes, it's hard to see how anyone else could have done better.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: Finishing above Aberdeen is a realistic target.  Can Hearts compete with Rangers...or even with Celtic?  The latter is too much to ask, but if Craig Levein's contacts can rustle up another goalscorer, and the club can hold on to their talented youngsters, then finishing second in the league is possible.  Much will depend on how much money needs to be spent on the new stand instead of the squad.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Neil Alexander, Blazej Augustyn, Abiola Dauda (end of loan), Soufian El Hasnaoui, Liam Henderson, Sean McKirdy, Miguel Pallardo,

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2015-16 report card - Dundee

Dundee FC crest.svg

LEAGUE: 8th, 48pts (2014-15 - 6th, 45pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Quarter-finals
LEAGUE CUP: Second round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Scott Bain, Paul McGinn, Julen Etxabeguren, Thomas Konrad, Kevin Holt, Nick Ross, Paul McGowan, Gary Harkins, Rory Loy, Greg Stewart, Kane Hemmings

OVERVIEW: In my season preview I predicted Dundee to finish above their neighbours - and I was spot on with that.  I also predicted that they would finish fourth, which was very wrong.  On their day, the Dark Blues certainly looked capable of such a feat; after all, they had two nominations in the Player of the Year shortlist.  But there were too many games drawn when they should have been won, and too many points dropped against weaker opponents.  Having been top six for most of the season, finishing up in the bottom half was pretty galling.  I'd say that they underachieved, given that the club's American backers have been relatively generous.  But many Dundee fans remember recent darker days all too well and are just happy to be established in the top flight again...and to be top dogs in the City of Discovery.

HIGH POINTS: I imagine most fans rather enjoyed the schadenfreude of relegating their neighbours at Dens Park...and with a last minute winner too.

LOW POINTS: Losing James McPake to a horrendous knee injury on new year's day was a massive blow, as he was in outstanding form.  Dundee always looked soft in defence after losing him.

STAR MAN: Hemmings came up with 26 goals in all competitions; not bad for a guy who was playing for Cowdenbeath two years ago.  Quick and mobile, yet big and strong, and a capable finisher, the Englishman is the sort of striker every manager in this league craves.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: I'm sure I mentioned Craig Wighton last year, so this time I'll go for full-back/wide midfielder Cammy Kerr, who played well when called upon.

WASTE OF SPACE: Spanish loanee Arturo made a handful of sub appearances and failed to make any sort of impact in his four months on Tayside.

THE BOSS: Paul Hartley may be a bit fortunate that everyone's been rather distracted by events down the other end of Tannadice Street for the last several months, given that he was given decent financial backing to land the likes of Hemmings and Rory Loy last summer.  Often thought of as a manager with considerable tactical acumen, Hartley could be accused of overthinking things on occasions.  I've also heard tales that his arrogance winds up an awful lot of folk.  To be fair, injuries didn't help, though the quality of cover at centre-back left a lot to be desired.  Still a relatively inexperienced coach (just shy of 40), he's not under any pressure yet anyway.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: I think a top six spot is the minimum target.  I would expect the budget to be well ahead of what St. Johnstone, Motherwell and Inverness can offer and therefore it should be possibly to leapfrog these clubs.  There's not a lot wrong with the starting XI once McPake is fit again (although if Paul McGinn leaves a new right-back will be needed) but it's squad depth that is the issue.  The pre-contract moves for Danny Williams and James Vincent suggest that Hartley recognises this.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Arturo (end of loan), Thomas Konrad

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

2015-16 report card - Ross County

Their best ever season
Ross County F.C. logo.png

LEAGUE: 6th, 48pts (2014-15 - 9th, 44pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Quarter-final
MOST USED FIRST XI: Scott Fox, Marcus Fraser, Chris Robertson, Andrew Davies, Ricky Foster, Michael Gardyne, Jackson Irvine, Martin Woods, Jonathan Franks, Alex Schalk, Liam Boyce

OVERVIEW: 2015-16 was unquestionably the best season in Ross County's history, if only because of their terrific and deserved League Cup triumph.  In addition they managed to force their way into the top six; in fact, they only spent two weeks of the whole campaign in the bottom half (one of which was the week before the split!).  Their campaign did tail off a bit after their Hampden triumph, but I don't think anyone would begrudge them that.  It's hard to believe that 18 months ago they looked dead certs for relegation to the Championship.

HIGH POINTS: Beating Hibs in the cup final of course - and what a way to do it, with a last minute winner from Alex Schalk.  The Dutchman also inspired a stunning upset victory in the semi-final; even if Celtic played most of it with 10 men., it was a terrific team performance.

LOW POINTS: What is the deal with league Highland Derbies?  Inverness won all three this year with an aggregate score of 7-1.  County haven't won one since January 2014, though they did knock their rivals out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage

STAR MAN: Jackson Irvine was generally outstanding in midfield, and his workrate often put some former teammates at Celtic to shame.  I've no idea why the Australian isn't playing at a higher level; he may need to if he is to force his way back into the international setup.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Young full-back Chris McLaughlin looked very capable when given his chance at left-back and will feature more often next year.

WASTE OF SPACE: David Goodwillie managed just a solitary goal after arriving on loan from Aberdeen.  In a few years he's gone from being a Scotland international to Ross County's fourth choice striker (fifth choice if Craig Curran hadn't been injured).

THE BOSS: Jim McIntyre has support from his chairman (both financial and personal) that most managers dream of, but he has earned it.  County aren't necessarily purveyors of pretty football, but that doesn't mean they can't be good to watch with their high tempo and onus on two strikers.  It's very much his team - only two squad members were signed by predecessor Derek Adams - so he deserves the plaudits for some clever acquisitions and for getting the best out of guys like Ricky Foster and Liam Boyce.  County fans just wish they could see what he sees in Martin Woods.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: The current squad are pretty much all signed up, so there's no reason to believe they can't pick up where they left off.  It wouldn't be a surprise if Roy McGregor found the funds for another signing or two, and a talented wide player and a solid centre-back wouldn't go amends.  But with their current stability, another top six finish looks like a solid bet.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Raffaele De Vita, David Goodwillie (end of loan), Chris Konopka, Jamie Reckord, Gary Woods (end of loan)

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2015-16 report card - Motherwell

McGhee's remarkable turnaround

LEAGUE: 5th, 50pts (2014-15 - 11th, 36pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fifth round
LEAGUE CUP: Third round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Connor Ripley, Josh Law, Steven McManus, Kieran Kennedy, Stevie Hammell, Lionel Ainsworth, Stephen Pearson, Keith Lasley, Marvin Johnson, Scott McDonald, Louis Moult

OVERVIEW: Motherwell went to Tannadice in mid-February languishing in 11th spot, without a win in seven and in real trouble.  They triumphed 3-0 that night, then only went and won five of the next six to force their way into an unlikely top six spot.  It was quite a remarkable turnaround given the mess that Ian Baraclough had left behind when sacked at the end of September, and the initial difficulties Mark McGhee endured.  The key was a formation change which meant they played with three strikers; whilst the defence was often overexposed, the outstanding form of forward trio Louis Moult, Scott McDonald and Marvin Johnson more than compensated.

HIGH POINTS: A shock win at Celtic Park, courtesy of a Moult double, was a welcome Christmas present for the fans.  Another come-from-behind win, against Aberdeen, wrecked the Dons' title hopes and came after most of the squad had been laid low with illness.

LOW POINTS: Baraclough's reign ended after they were knocked out of the League Cup by Morton, amid talk of considerable dressing room unrest.  And if losing 7-0 to Celtic on Title Day didn't count for much, being pumped 6-0 at Hearts in January certainly did.

STAR MAN: Moult got the goals - eighteen in all competitions - but plenty came courtesy of fabulous wing play from Marvin Johnson.  For much of the second half of the season, the speedy wideman was uncatchable and unplayable.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Central defender Ben Hall came out of nowhere to establish himself in the team at just 19, while midfielder Chris Cadden - the same age - is now a regular in midfield.

WASTE OF SPACE: Baraclough made some poor signings, the worst of which was Reading loanee Jake Taylor, a midfielder devoid of ability and prone to petulance; one wit on Pie & Bovril hailed one Taylor performance as his best for the club...because he had been an unused sub that day.

THE BOSS: Not many folk, Motherwell fan or otherwise, were all that impressed by the return of McGhee seven years after he had left them for Aberdeen.  And it took him a while to have a positive impact, not least because of a strange insistence on leaving Moult on the bench.  But getting this team into the top half of the table is a remarkable achievement, and there's no question he got a lot more out of this team than his predecessor did.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: Some of the feelgood feeling has been sucked away by the news that the club have to cut their cloth, which means several senior players will have to take wage cuts if they are to get new deals.  That may mean that there's not much left over for new faces either.  In a league where very little separated the teams in fourth and eleventh place, it's not impossible to envisage them falling down the table if they don't recruit well.  But one of the characteristics of McGhee's first spell at Fir Park was that he managed to find some terrific players, so there's reason for optimism.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: David Clarkson, Wes Fletcher, Morgaro Gomis (end of loan), Connor Ripley (end of loan)

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

2015-16 report card - Partick Thistle

Not quite top six material
Partick Thistle FC logo.svg

LEAGUE: 9th, 46pts (2014-15 - 8th, 46pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fifth round
LEAGUE CUP: Second round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Tomas Cerny, Gary Miller, Liam Lindsay, Danny Seaborne, Callum Booth, Sean Welsh, Stuart Bannigan, Abdul Osman, Steven Lawless, Kris Doolan, David Amoo

OVERVIEW: Thistle just needed a draw in Dingwall to clinch a top six spot, but defeat dropped them into the bottom half and took the sting out of their season.  The fact they got so close was quite remarkable though; they had a nightmare start to the campaign, failing to win any of their first nine league games.  At the start of October they looked like relegation favourites and Alan Archibald was under fire, but if the season had started at that point they would have been fourth at the split.  Archibald largely ditched the passing style of the last two seasons, partly because of the rotten Firhill pitch and partly because Stuart Bannigan got injured, and the more pragmatic approach paid dividends.

HIGH POINTS: A four game winning streak before Christmas, including a last minute Ryan Stevenson fluke against Inverness and smashing five past Killie at Rugby Park.  Off the pitch, the success of mascot Kingsley must have brought in plenty of publicity and sponsorship

LOW POINTS: Aside from the rotten start and the narrow loss to Ross County that cost them top six, crashing 4-1 at home to ICT just after the split actually raised a few fears that they could be dragged into the playoff.

STAR MAN: The fans would say keeper Tomas Cerny, but for me it's a toss up between Kris Doolan, who played so well that he finally got a contract for more than a year, and titanic midfielder Abdul Osman, who provided plenty of midfield steel.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Full-back James Penrice got his chance at the end of the campaign and impressed, not least because of his outstanding set-piece deliveries.

WASTE OF SPACE: Striker Antonio German arrived in January after an impressive spell in India, but made just two sub appearances before disappearing again. 

THE BOSS: Alan Archibald does a good job of staying positive, given the financial limitations he works under and the inability of the club to keep their brightest talents.  It's hard to believe he's only 38, given he's been in charge for three full seasons.  I'd say that this was the year that he learned it was okay to compromise his ideals a bit, and it could also be argued that he had more hits than misses in the transfer market.  Thistle are in good hands going forward.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: The loss of Bannigan leaves them without their midfield fulcrum, and the exit of Seaborne weakens the defence considerably.  If Steven Lawless moves on too, then that's a lot of big holes to fill.  But that will always be Thistle's lot.  As ever, recruitment will be key.  And there's reason to believe a few of the youngsters can fill gaps.  It might be even harder to make the top six, but it would be a surprise if they slumped to the foot of the table.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Stuart Bannigan, Jordan Leyden, Aiden Nesbitt (end of loan), Danny Seaborne

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2015-16 report card - Hamilton Accies

Doing just enough
Hamilton Academical FC logo.svg


LEAGUE: 10th, 43pts (2014-15 - 7th, 53pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fourth round
LEAGUE CUP: Second round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Michael McGovern, Ziggy Gordon, Jesus Garcia Tena, Lucas Tagliapetra, Antons Kurakins, Grant Gillespie, Darian McKinnon, Dougie Imrie, Ali Crawford, Gramoz Kurtaj,  Carlton Morris

OVERVIEW: For the second year running I predicted Accies would be relegated, and for the second year running I was proven wrong.  Good for them - though this year's survival was less down to their own successes and more down to the incompetence of two other clubs.  Hamilton again benefited from a quick start; they were actually top six mainstays for the first half of the season. But they won only six of their thirty games from October onwards, including only one of their last fifteen home games.  But Accies have the lowest budget in the Premiership, and their business plan is based around bringing through young players - even if it costs them their top flight status - so staying up counts as a successful season for them.

HIGH POINTS: That cracking start to the campaign included a 4-0 thumping of Dundee United and an impressive come-from-behind win over ten-man Hearts.

LOW POINTS: Getting knocked out of the cup by lower league opposition is always embarrassing...but that adjective doesn't quite do justice to a 4-1 defeat by League Two Annan Athletic.  Judge for yourself whether that was worse than losing 8-1 at Celtic Park a week and a half later.

STAR MAN: Dougie Imrie is 33 in August, but you wouldn't know it from the apparently limitless energy he displayed on the wing.  He wasn't always brilliant, but he never lacked effort.  And his six league goals were priceless in a squad filled with goalshy forwards.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Eamonn Brophy came back from a loan at Dumbarton to offer a rareray of sunshine during the second half of the season.  His four goals included a brace on the final day of the season, though he looked like a prat for raucously celebrating a consolation strike at Celtic when his side were already 8-0 down.

WASTE OF SPACE: Kemy Agustien was playing for Swansea City in the Premier League three years ago.  Signed in March, he managed one start, where he was so out of shape and practice that he was hooked at half-time and never seen again.

THE BOSS: Martin Canning's record in sixteen months at the helm is pretty dreadful - played 58, won 14, drawn 15, lost 29, scored 58, conceded 103.  And compared to the aggressive, attack-minded side sent out by his predecessor Alex Neil, Canning's lot are far more of the Billy Reid vintage...including the persistent fouling and time-wasting.  They've been hard going to watch at times, especially at New Douglas Park, and the Annan and Celtic humiliations might have led many clubs to sack the manager.  But while the supporters are not overly impressed by him, he has the full support of the board, who are satisfied with his achievements.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: The loss of Ziggy Gordon and probably Michael McGovern is a huge blow; both were consistently excellent performers, and both will be very difficult to replace.  Accies will follow their tried and tested formula though, by bringing in a few foreign journeyman (some of whom will succeed and some of whom will be duffers) and by promoting youngsters (at least one of which will be a gem).  I expect they'll be in a relegation battle again, but of course I say that every year...

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Kemy Agustien, Oumar Diaby, Ziggy Gordon, Christopher Mandiangu

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

2015-16 report card - St. Johnstone

Punching above their weight again
StJohnstoneFC crest new.png

LEAGUE: 4th, 56pts (2014-15 - 4th, 57pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fourth round
LEAGUE CUP: Semi-finals
EUROPA LEAGUE: First qualifying round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Alan Mannus, Joe Shaughnessy, Steven Anderson, Tam Scobbie, Brian Easton, David Wotherspoon, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson, Michael O'Halloran, Steven McLean, Graham Cummins

OVERVIEW: If there was a 'pounds per point' league table based on player wages, St. Johnstone would be top.  And not for the first time in recent years.  It isn't always flamboyant - though it must be said they scored a lot more goals this season, as well as conceding more too - but no Premiership side was better at grinding results out than the Perth Saints.  When you factor in the mid-season sale of star player Michael O'Halloran, their achievements look even more impressive.  Aside from a decent Scottish Cup run, I don't think much more could have been asked of them.

HIGH POINTS: While other teams were thinking of their holidays, St. Johnstone saved their best performances for after the split.  Victories at home to Aberdeen and Celtic were impressive and well deserved.  Their 5-1 win at Pittodrie in October might have been the most stunning of all, though.

LOW POINTS: They missed a great opportunity to reach the League Cup final, choosing the semi against Hibs for an uncharacteristic off-day.  And crashing out of the Europa League so early was a huge disappointment.

STAR MAN: O'Halloran aside, this could be a toss-up between David Wotherspoon, who had the best season of his career, and veteran striker Steven McLean, who at 33 could possibly say the same.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Young midfielder Craig Thomson certainly showed flashes until he broke his collarbone in the spring; he could break into the team regularly next year.

WASTE OF SPACE: Giving John Sutton a 2 year deal last summer looks pretty daft now.  His only goal for the club was on the opening day, and he hasn't even made the bench in recent weeks. He was officially transfer listed this week, but has been available since Christmas.

THE BOSS: It's no surprise that Tommy Wright has been linked with Nottingham Forest.  His record at McDiarmid Park is outstanding, and it is only a matter of time till he moves on to better things.  It's hard to see how his stock could climb higher in his current post, especially when at least one more club with far greater resources will be joining the Premiership next season.  He's an excellent manager who is able to motivate players and whose tactical acumen is very underrated - he might have been the only boss to completely outmanoeuvre Mark Warburton's Rangers this season.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: Every year I worry that it'll be one too many for the older players, but the likes of McLean, Chris Millar and Dave Mackay haven't slowed down yet.  Holding onto Wright is the highest priority; making sure there is a reliable goalscorer to take the heat off McLean is the next one.  Otherwise, this is a settled squad which should be just as competitive in 2016/17.  Surely sooner or later they will fall out of the top half of the table, but would you dare to bet on it being next season?

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Michael Doyle, Darnell Fisher (end of loan), Plamen Krachunov, Scott Brown, Simon Lappin

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, May 16, 2016

2015-16 report card - Aberdeen

A missed opportunity
Aberdeen FC logo.svg

LEAGUE: 2nd, 71pts (2014-15 - 2nd, 75pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Fourth round
LEAGUE CUP: Third round
EUROPA LEAGUE: Third qualifying round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Danny Ward, Shay Logan, Ash Taylor, Mark Reynolds, Andrew Considine, Graeme Shinnie, Ryan Jack, Jonny Hayes, Kenny McLean, Niall McGinn, Adam Rooney

OVERVIEW: Will Aberdeen ever get a better chance to win the title?  The final table may show them fifteen points behind Celtic, but this was a close race right up until mid-March.  Then the Dons lost at Motherwell, and they threw in the towel.  They picked up only six points from their last eight games, and ultimately finished with a lower points total than last season.  Yet outwith that collapse, and a major blip in early Autumn, they were imperious; they won eight in a row at the start of the campaign and had lost just one in seventeen league matches before the Motherwell debacle.  But every time Celtic stumbled, they seemed to stumble too - a question of mentality, perhaps?  One wonders what might have happened had Adam Rooney not got injured at the end of February, and, more pertinently, if Liverpool had not recalled outstanding keeper Danny Ward in January.  The defence was never remotely secure with Scott Brown or Adam Collin between the sticks.

HIGH POINTS: The best result of the season came all the way back in July - a 3-0 win in Croatia against Rijeka in the Europa League qualifiers.  Two home wins against Celtic, one of which came with 10 men, went down rather well with the Pittodrie faithful.

LOW POINTS: That Motherwell defeat and another a few weeks later to Hearts came against sides ailing from illness.  Shipping five at home to St. Johnstone in October was embarrassing, but the 3-0 defeat in Perth straight after the split was a shocking performance live on telly.

STAR MAN: Jonny Hayes had another tremendous season, and may have played his way into Ireland's Euro 2016 squad.  He was as reliable and consistent as ever in a multitude of positions and even forced his way onto the Player of the Year shortlist.

 20 year old Craig Storie finally forced himself into the team after Christmas and actually looked a better bet at the base of midfield than the underperfoming Willo Flood and Ryan Jack.

WASTE OF SPACE: Loan striker Josh Parker had plenty of pace but had no idea what to do with it.  His biggest achievement in the North-East was appearing in an episode of Come Dine With Me.

THE BOSS: It seems a bit harsh to fault Derek McInnes much; on his watch, the club have established themselves as the second strongest in the country and they haven't spent outwith their means either.  Most of Aberdeen's defeats seemed to be down to poor performances from established players rather than mistakes from the manager.  That said, they failed to match last season's points tally, and another couple of early cup exits didn't go down well with the fans.  Given that he's only 44, will a point come where he feels he can't take the club any further, and does he still harbour ambitions of managing at a higher level?

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: The Dons are more likely to be looking over their shoulders next season than challenging for the league, especially as Celtic surely can't be as inept next time around.  Expect Hearts and Rangers to be sniffing around that second spot.  Just to stay where they are, Aberdeen will need to improve their squad depth markedly - striker Jayden Stockley, arriving from Bournemouth, is a good start - and find a new goalkeeper.  Oh, and getting hold of the 2014-15 Mark Reynolds and Ryan Jack would be a big help.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Scott Brown, Adam Collin (end of loan), Michael Rose, Barry Robson (retired), Simon Church (end of loan), David Goodwillie

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

2015-16 report card - Dundee United

A total catastrophe

LEAGUE: 12th, 28pts (2014-15 - 5th, 56pts)
SCOTTISH CUP: Semi-finals
LEAGUE CUP: Third round
MOST USED FIRST XI: Eiji Kawashima, Ryan McGowan, Sean Dillon, Mark Durnan, Gavin Gunning, Paul Dixon, Scott Fraser, John Souttar, John Rankin, Blair Spittal, Billy Mckay

OVERVIEW: Well, that was a trainwreck of a season.  Some of us expected United to struggle, but no-one thought it would be quite like this.  Remarkably, they got worse after Jackie McNamara was punted.  Whether that was due to Mixu Paatelainen being incompetent, or because the squad was just too much of a mess to salvage, is not clear - it's probably a bit of both.  United won just eight league games, two of which were after relegation was confirmed.  Oh, and they had points deducted after one of those wins for fielding an ineligible player.  They were by some distance the worst team in the Premiership, despite having the fourth highest wage bill.  They become only the second ever team (after the 2013-14 Hibs fiasco) I've given a zero.

HIGH POINTS: The high point was on 11 August with 10 minutes to go at home to Dundee, when they were two up and heading for a second successive win early in the season.  It all went horribly wrong from there...

LOW POINTS: For the rest of us, Gavin Gunning's tantrum against Inverness where he picked up the ball and walked off was hysterical.  It confirmed to everyone that United were a complete shambles.

STAR MAN: A tricky one.  Loanee full-back Kyle Knoyle put in efforts and performances that shamed his more seasoned colleagues.  Simon Murray hit form at the end of the season and should bag lots of goals in the Championship next year.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: With John Souttar sold to Hearts, attention now turns to his younger brother Harry, who will hope to fill his sibling's position in central defence.

WASTE OF SPACE: Where to start?  There's the aforementioned Gunning.  There's the remarkable decline of youngsters Charlie Telfer and Robbie Muirhead.  Darko Bodul was useless (and is still at the club!).  Florent Sinama Pongolle got paid a decent wage to sit on the treatment table.  And Rodney Sneijder played just one game before quitting the club and returning to Holland.

THE BOSS: The relationship between Jackie McNamara and the supporters was irreparably damaged by the end of last season and it was no surprise he was gone by October.  Big Mixu looked like a great appointment but he couldn't turn it around and his own signings were pretty much all hopeless.  His tactics at times were inexplicable and he looked desperate from early on.  The mantle now falls to Ray McKinnon, who had two spells at Tannadice as a player and has done a great job at Brechin and Raith Rovers.  He's tasked with getting them straight out of the Championship.

PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON: Hard to tell at the moment; there will be a clearout, but United also have several folk under contract that they need to get shot of - not just to create space but to cut costs.  With the club running an operating loss, there are real concerns about the financial situation.  If chairman Steven Thompson can't find investors, it could get worse before it gets better.  The bright side is that there are plenty of young players who should flourish at a lower level.

FIRST TEAMERS DEFINITELY LEAVING: Gavin Gunning, Kyle Knoyle (end of loan), Callum Morris, Euan Spark, Guy Demel, Chris Erskine, John Rankin, Ryan Dow, Billy Mckay (end of loan), Edward Ofere, Florent Sinama Pongolle

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Are Hughes and Inverness heading for a split?

Image result for john hughes kenny cameron
A year on from a Scottish Cup win, is ICT chairman Kenny Cameron running out of patience with John Hughes' whinging?

Delaying the presentation of Manager of the Month awards until 10 days after the end of said month can make the decision look pretty daft.  And so it seemed on Monday, when John Hughes was named Manager of the Month for April just a few days after Caley Thistle capitulated at home to a doomed Dundee United side.  But the logic behind the award wasn't daft - only Celtic amassed more points than ICT in April.  It's just a shame that they couldn't have given it to him a week earlier.

The timing removed rather a lot of the shine from a rare positive in the Highlanders' season.  2015/16 was always likely to be an anticlimax, following on from the greatest campaign in the club's history; a third place finish and a Scottish Cup win were always going to be impossible to emulate.  But Caley Thistle missed out on a top six finish for the first time in four seasons.  On the flip side, they've never really been in serious danger of dropping out of the top flight at any point, which means that the most appropriate adjective for this campaign is probably 'banal'.

There are caveats.  A lot of good players have moved on in the last eighteen months, ones that most Premiership clubs would struggle to replace.  The loss of Ryan Christie mid-season left a hole that was impossible to fill at short notice.  And the injury list has been lengthy all season, not helped by an early start in the Europa League.

Regardless, no-one at the club is satisfied about how this season has gone...and therein lies a problem.  Just a year after that incredible cup triumph, there are signs that the relationship between manager and club is turning sour.

The manager isn't happy
Hughes' disgruntlement stems back to October, when he was touted as an early favourite to replace Jackie McNamara at Tannadice.  United even made an approach to speak to him, but they were too tight with compensation and so Caley Thistle refused to let him.  Some would say that, given subsequent events, he dodged a bullet there.

Yogi was rewarded with a new two and a half year deal in December.  But within days he felt the need to moan about what had happened a couple of months earlier. "I was a wee bit disappointed that they didn't let me go and speak to Dundee United...That doesn't mean that I was going to go. They might have had a little more trust, I can look after myself", he told the press.  Aye, sure.  You were just going to go down for a wee natter.  Pull the other one, it has got bells on.

But the more prominent problem is one of money - money for next season's playing squad, in fact.  It feels like whenever Hughes speaks to the media, this is the only subject discussed.  And he certainly doesn't sound pleased with his lot.

The club has made overtures to the out-of-contract Partick Thistle trio of Abdul Osman, Steven Lawless and Stuart Bannigan.  It certainly didn't surprise this author that these moves have proved fruitless; Osman is Thistle's captain, and its likely the new deal he signed with them last week pays him well. Bannigan has attracted bigger clubs than Caley Thistle.  But Hughes still felt the need to grump to the media about the financial limitations that had apparently stifled him.

It was a step too far.

The board isn't happy
ICT's board are generally a reserved bunch, more interested in action than talk.  So this club statement at the end of April was very interesting indeed, particularly as it came a few days after Yogi's public whinging.

If the comment that "this season has seen the club's largest-ever playing budget.  The cost of a 25 strong first team pool was far in excess of anything we have ever experienced at the club" was a slap on the wrist, then the follow-up "players will sustain injuries and there’s little point in feeling sorry for ourselves over this. It is the responsibility of the management team to replace them and the Board have provided the finances required this season to enable this" was a smack on the chops.

Caley Thistle run a tight ship, intent on operating as a viable business - something that Dundee United and Kilmarnock fans might envy.  It does mean that the playing budget is inevitably one of the lower ones in the Premiership - I'd estimate that only Partick Thistle and Hamilton pay lower wages.

But it's not as if directors are trousering money that could be spent on the team.  In fact, they came up with a 'rainy day fund' to bring in reinforcements in January.  Hughes squandered this on Liam Hughes, Ryan Williams and Alex Fisher.  Who, you ask?  Well, exactly.

One would think this admonishment might shut Yogi's trap...but he decided to fire another salvo: "We have lost too many quality players in my time here and not replaced them. I think the fans deserve some quality players here to excite them and hopefully that will be the case.  I think we need to move the club forward. You either stagnate or you move forward. There is a wee bit of to-ing and fro-ing to what direction we're going to go in."

Cue another thinly-veiled public rebuke from the chairman, who reiterated that, this season, "the manager has obviously had a fair bit more money".  That appeared in the P&J yesterday.  Today, on the Inverness Courier site, Hughes found another reason to criticize the board - apparent inaction over a new contract for Greg Tansey.  "I thought Greg Tansey would have been well down the line by now. I'm really surprised we've not spoke to him."

This is all getting out of hand.  Caley Thistle are not a club that washes their dirty linen in the press.  Any disagreements - and I understand there were plenty between Terry Butcher and the hierarchy back in the day - are usually kept strictly in house.

What Hughes thinks he is accomplishing is anyone's guess.  Does he think he can shame his bosses into finding more cash?  Does he see this as a playground argument where he'll win, in spite of all reasonable opposition, if he shouts loudly enough for long enough?  

Is he preparing the ground for a resignation, on the pretext that he has taken the club as far as he can (unlikely, given the two years left on his contract)?  Or is he just really crap at dealing with the media?  It could be the latter - I'm told by journalists that he genuinely hates interviews because he feels his words get twisted and he isn't a confident public speaker.

However, the manager's current narrative - basically, that he hasn't got enough money to build a decent team  -  is rather self-defeating, as it's surely going to put potential signings off coming.

The fans aren't happy
As for the fans, they are mostly coming down on the side of the chairman.

Obviously they'd all like to see good money spent on good players.  But there is some realism about how that can be achieved, though perhaps not enough given that finishing seventh or eighth in the table would be considered an underachievement, whereas it can be argued that it's a decent effort given the size of the club.  However, Hughes and Terry Butcher before him have previously done fine with the resources given to them.

More significantly, the relationship between the supporters and Hughes has always been fragile.  He replaced a popular, flamboyant manager in Terry Butcher, and the rapid change to a possession-based style of play did not provide positive results initially, or much entertainment for that matter.  But you can't argue with success, and last season Caley Thistle were not only successful, but often great to watch too.

Not so this season.  It's not just that results have been mediocre; the entertainment value has often been zero.  Too many home games have been complete borefests, with the hosts passing the ball sideways without any obvious purpose, and goalmouth action at a premium.  Then the opposition will go and score, frequently as a result of a defensive blunder.  Performances have been better on their travels, but of course most season ticket holders aren't at those games.

Hughes' treatment of the immensely popular David Raven has also bred resentment.  Now in truth Raven is 31 and has already shown some signs of slowing down, so his impending exit is not as outrageous as some would make out.  But in the context of the defensive problems, particuarly as Josh Meekings is played out of position on the right and Danny Devine continues to play at centre-half every week despite a dreadful campaign, it's another stick to beat the boss with.

There's also concern about summer recruitment.  Hughes is clearly capable of coaching up players - he's turned Carl Tremarco into a footballer, so he must be a quality coach.  But his record in the transfer market has never been reliable at other clubs.  There's a real worry that he'll bring in another bunch of Dani Lopezes and that next season will be a huge struggle.

My own view can fluctuate in the blink of an eye.  Recent form had been impressive, but the debacle last week shook my faith in Hughes once more.  On the other hand, who would replace him?  I don't doubt that there are plenty of competent coaches out there, but even appointments that seem clever (Mixu Paatelainen!) can often go terribly wrong.

We'll see how this plays out.  But as time passes, this looks more and more like a marriage heading for an unhappy divorce.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Talking points from the Premiership

Celtic show their best and worst on Title day
Ronny Deila was ultimately undone by the underwhelming use of the funds that were made available to him (consider that the Norwegian splurged almost £4m from Celtic's own coffers on Messrs Scepovic and Ciftci alone simply to loan them out to other clubs).  However it must at least be conceded that he did at least have success from tapping a rich vein of Manchester City loanees.  Last season, Jason Denayer and John Guidetti were key contributors, and while Celtic didn't need to bring in 7 million pounds worth of teenage talent to win the league this season, Patrick Roberts certainly looks like he'll be a big help to whomever utilises his services for the next 12 months.

The boy (coincidentally the 7 millionth player to acquire the moniker 'Mini Messi' on social media) has got talent.  For his opening goal, he nonchalantly skipped inside Graeme Shinnie from the right flank, drove forward and struck a left-pegger from the edge of the box that the Dons keeper could do nothing to stop sailing into the net.  Clearly chastened by the experience, Shinnie then decided it would be easier not to mark Roberts at all and chose to help close down Leigh Griffiths instead - the striker deftly side-flicked the ball past into the open space behind the defence, Roberts rushed onto it and struck a left-pegger from the edge of the box that... well, you get the drift...  For someone who has only played in nine league matches so far, he has arguably made a bigger impact already than any of the incumbent wingers at the club have managed all season.

It was an uncharacteristic horror show for Shinnie, who started the second half by allowing Callum McGregor to skip round him this time and cut back for Mikael Lustig to put Celtic 3-0 ahead.  Game over, surely?  However, there was an even worse defender lurking in the shadows.  Having only come on in the second half, Efe Ambrose's first telling contribution was to thwack the ball off Jonny Hayes on the halfway line - Hayes homed in on goal and was only denied by a combination of Craig Gordon and the side-netting.  For his next trick, the Nigerian failed to track another Hayes run behind him and the Irishman duly squared for Niall McGinn to get one back.  The piece de resistance was conceding a free-kick for a high challenge on Shinnie, and then losing Andy Considine when the Don headed home from the resultant set-piece.

In the end, Celtic hung on to officially claim the league title they had all but won the previous weekend.  This match encapsulated both their best and their worst moments - often irresistible going forward, but also often exposed for their frailties at the back.  Similarly for Aberdeen, a side that at their best have looked capable of going toe to toe with the Champions but have never realistically threatened to actually overhaul them at any point.  With first and second place now tied up, anticipate the first teamers from both clubs getting to knock off early, with another infeasibly early start beckoning in some far flung Eastern European county several weeks from now. MI

Playoff could make or break Killie
So much for my belief that Kilmarnock could avoid a playoff, as they followed their stunning win at Hamilton last week by losing tamely to Partick Thistle.  Plastic hasn't been fantastic for Killie; they've won only four of eighteen league games since installing an artificial pitch at Rugby Park.  Admittedly, this may be less down to the surface and more down to the crap defending that has plagued their season.

Who would Lee Clark want in that two-leg playoff?  Hibs seem on paper to be the stronger outfit, but they would have a Scottish Cup final to distract them.  Plus there's a reason why 'Hibsing' will be in next year's Oxford English dictionary.  Falkirk, meanwhile, have no such concerns about playing on astro, as they already have it at their own ground and it clearly doesn't hold them back.  Either way, it's going to be a tough encounter.  And given the club's very iffy financial results from a few weeks back, the long-term prosperity of the club could well depend on whether Clark can keep them up. LS

Dundee are lucky their neighbours get all the attention
In football, as in life, timing is everything.  Hamilton have been pretty poor in general since Alex Neil moved south. A run of no back to back victories since September meant the spectre of a playoff has hung around New Douglas Park for awhile.  But any team that doesn't implode like Dundee United will always have a chance of escaping trouble if the can put a wee run together...say, like Accies' three wins in their last four games.

Fair play to Martin Canning for getting the best out of his team when it mattered. But it undoubtedly helped that those three games they won were all against sides from the City of Discovery.  Sure, United's season has been an absolute dumpster fire, but Dundee's has also been relatively unsatisfactory given the level of investment in the team.    After beating Ross County on April 2nd it looked like they had a top six place sewn up, only to throw it away a week later against Hamilton. Even seventh position is not guaranteed for the Dark Blues, although surely they have enough quality to finish above Inverness.

Despite, Dundee's underachieving, there is no talk of Paul Hartley’s job being under threat, and the crisis at the other end of Tannadice Street has no doubt deflected focus off him, as well as reminding fans and board members that things could be a hell of a lot worse.  But if there is further investment in the squad this offseason, Hartley will be expected to do an awful lot better in 2016/17.  IM 

ICT's fans fed up with being bored
Nobody was terribly pleased on Friday night.  Caley Thistle fans had to wait for their team go 3-0 down with barely a whimper to a side already relegated before their own players bothered to turn up.  United's supporters, meanwhile, were left wondering why on earth their own motley crew couldn't play with such heart and dedication when it actually mattered.  Oh, and Stephen Thompson was left wondering where on earth he would find the money to actually pay win bonuses.

The attendance was just 2500.  Of course, the away support was minimal since it was a Friday night, and the TV coverage doubtless kept many away too, but the truth is that attendances at Caledonian Stadium have not been great this season, even following on from a Scottish Cup win.  One reason for that was evident in the first half of this clash: it was really, really boring.  "We dominated the game" lamented John Hughes afterward, as if constant sideways passing in your own half construes 'domination'.  ICT's overwhelming first half possession resulted in one clear cut chance and two shots from distance that kept Eiji Kawashima warm.

When Eddie Ofere put United three up, something interesting happened.  A lot of longstanding season ticket holders around me, who are quiet as mice for months on end, started yelling criticisms at the home dugout.  It's interesting because the last time I remember such an occurrence was a few months before the club sacked Craig Brewster.  Back then, the football was dull and we couldn't buy a win.  At home at least, it feels much the same.

There are lots of caveats here: a seemingly neverending injury list; the loss of Ryan Christie; an early start which wrecked preseason.  But it's fair to say that Hughes has lost most of the goodwill that he built up last year.  And the club have a problem - not many folk are inclined to fork out £350 to watch his idea of 'domination'.  They'd much rather a football match broke out. LS

Hearts fans need to chill out
Yes, I know David Goodwillie scored, the week after I slagged him off.  It was bound to happen.

Anyhoo, there's depressingly little else to say about this end of season encounter, other than that the result makes zero difference to Hearts.  That made the reaction of many supporters rather surprising; following on from defeat against Celtic last week, there was a palpable frustration around Tynecastle at the failure to comfortably put away County.

Jambos need to relax.  Their club has finished an impressive third, just a year after being in the Championship and just two years after administration.  Many of the young players have impressed, yet still have room for improvement.  And if anyone seriously thinks Robbie Neilson hasn't done a good job, then they need to go and have their heads examined.  Next season, Hearts will be battling for second with Aberdeen and Rangers - you watch. LS

Motherwell sate my need for highlights
St. Johnstone are in the top six for the fifth season in a row, and are set to finish in the top four for the third time in four years (they won the Scottish Cup in the other year!).  That is a hell of a record.  Eight other clubs have made the top six in those five years, but only Celtic have also managed it every time.

Barring a crazy finish to the campaign, victory at Fir Park was enough to make sure of that fourth place.  The Perth Saints showed the resilience that has become characteristic of them under Tommy Wright, responding well to losing a daft opener which Zander Clark won't look back on fondly (though he at least got to poleaxe Louis Moult in the buildup) and coming from behind to win.

It's a shame the BBC thought it was worthy of less than two and a half minutes of coverage.  My moaning about this has been a theme this season; Motherwell's excellent media team showed them up once more by producing eight minutes of highlights and putting them up on Saturday evening.  This came only a fortnight after an interdict from SPFL headquarters that was meant to stop them from providing free highlights, but thankfully common sense has prevailed.

The new broadcast deal with Auntie means more cash for the league, but that's only a small part of the battle.  The more exposure, the better - whether it's on council telly, YouTube, Twitter, whatever.  Several sports leagues now offer clips of action on social media just minutes after they happened.  The SPFL needs to take advantage of this.  They could do with maybe just leaving it in the hands of Motherwell's media team. LS

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He agreed to help with this blog because now he can tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.