Monday, January 30, 2017

Talking Points from the Premiership

Can Celtic remain invincible?
Even without a recognised striker, the Celtic juggernaut continued on the way to six-in-a-row, with a thumping win over Hearts leaving them unbeaten in domestic competition for 27 straight games, eclipsing the start of the famous Lisbon Lions.  Goals from Callum McGregor, Patrick Roberts and a Scott Sinclair double restored the lead at the top of the table to 22 points and the result never really looked in doubt.  

Craig Gordon was rarely tested, Kieran Tierney and Christian Gamboa were given the freedom of the wings as they looked to punish the Hearts back line and a reborn Dedryck Boyata looked in imperious form in the heart of defence yet again.  The tactical know-how of the Celtic manager showed again when he moved James Forrest to the right from the left and put Patrick Roberts through the middle. This move reunited Tierney and Sinclair on the left-wing, a partnership which has provided dividends time and time again. 

Even the loss of Stuart Armstrong in the warmup didn't hinder the home side; Nir Bitton came in and showed what can do in the middle of the park.  With Eboue Kouassi still to strut his stuff, depth is not a problem.  

Ahead of the visit of Derek McInnes and Aberdeen on Wednesday you have to ask who can take points off Celtic, never mind beat them.  It'll take a touch of class, a bad decision and/or a one-off bad display from Celtic. (and maybe one or two 'honest mistakes' - Ed ;-))  At the moment though, they really do look like they could win the treble and go unbeaten till May.  Can anyone stop them?  PF

Hearts' misery compounded by injuries
The bottom line is that Ian Cathro's tenure at Tynecastle has so far produced just four points in six league games, along with extreme difficulty in getting past Raith Rovers in the cup.  And their Premiership defeats include blowing a two goal lead against Dundee, a toothless loss at home to Aberdeen, and now this shellacking at Celtic Park which came even though the injury-hit hosts had to deploy Scott Sinclair up front.

Cathro must feel like he's walked under a ladder whilst stepping on a black cat.  Not only are too many players out of form, but he's lost pretty much the entire defence that he inherited from Robbie Neilson.  Whilst Faycal Rherras will return from international duty soon, and Alim Ozturk was no great loss, the departure of Igor Rossi left him without his best centre-back, and now John Souttar is lost for the season with an achilles injury.  With Callum Paterson already on the treatment table till the summer, defensive options are very limited...though not so much so that Juwon Oshaniwa is getting a game.  Yet.

Hearts have been busy in the transfer window - Alexandros Tziolis became their seventh January arrival today.  But moulding all these players together will prove a short-term test.  And yet if form does not pick up soon, it won't only be Kris Boyd going after the Jambos' manager, whose inexperience and different way of doing things are a very easy stick to beat him with. LS

Ajer could be an inspired Kilmarnock signing
So much for Kilmarnock struggling in the AC (After Coulibaly) era; they only went and scored three goals in a game for the first time in the league this season, with Kris Boyd on target for the first time since September.  Loanee Sean Longstaff grabbed a late winner here which gives Killie much-needed breathing space at the bottom.

The star man was another temporary arrival - Kristoffer Ajer, the thirteenth loan signing Lee Clark has made so far this season.  The Celtic teenager had to fill in at centre-back here, given his new team's injury problems, but strolled through the match defensively; more crucially, his willingness to bring the ball out from the back gave Kilmarnock control over the game.  Observers likened his ball skills to those of ex-Bhoy Virgil Van Dijk, which is high praise indeed for the eighteen-year-old Norwegian.

Clark's recruitment policy has frequently smacked of throwing youngsters against the wall and hoping a few stick.  Ajer has stuck harder and faster than any of the others, and will be a major weapon in their fight against the drop. LS

In Hyndman, Rangers finally have the midfielder they need
Emerson Hyndman is the latest American to play for Rangers, and on first viewing he could be one of the best.  Granted, Alejandro Bedoya and Carlos Bocanegra aren’t going to end up in the Ibrox Hall of Fame.  But Claudio Reyna held his own in a very good team, and DaMarcus Beasley was fun to watch, while Maurice Edu at least scored a last minute winner in an Old Firm game.

Obviously it’s early days, but on Saturday the Bournemouth loanee not only worked hard, but added some composure to Rangers’ attacks that has been sorely lacking.  His work in the build up to his victory-sealing goal was lovely to watch and just reward for a Man of the Match performance. Had Rangers picked up Hyndman instead of Joey B****n at the start of the season then we all might have saved ourselves a lot of drama...and the Gers might be out of sight for second spot.

Motherwell must have thought it would be their day after Michael O’Halloran’s early red card, but they weren’t able to take advantage after Scott McDonald first missed an open goal and then got himself sent off.  The home side were unable to create anything of note and it became a case of whether the visitors could break them down.  There was little controversy surrounding the red cards, but McDonald’s tackle looked particularly egregious given the victim was a senior citizen, albeit one that can’t stop scoring.

The three horse race for second place looks very much that it will be down to two, particularly if Rangers beats Hearts on Tuesday.  It’s no title race, but the battle between Aberdeen and Rangers is probably going to the most interesting thing about the second half of the season, at least in the top six. IM

Niall McGinn is back to his best
The outcome of this Friday night match - thankfully under fully operational floodlighting - could perhaps have been a different one had Paul McGowan's attempted lob from 25 yards out dipped into the goal instead of crashing off the crossbar.  But once Ryan Jack opened the scoring with a convincing header (followed up with some less than convincing 'dabbing'...) there never seemed to be any reasonable doubt as to the end result.

Niall McGinn, the creator of the opening goal, added a double of his own in a dominant display that was possibly one of his best ever in a Dons shirt.  His first goal was as stunning as McGowan's would have been had it gone in - controlling a knock down from Ash Taylor with the inside of his right thigh before swiveling to strike a left foot volley from similar distance.  His second goal came late in the second half, nodding in a cross from Jonny Hayes.  McGinn looked tired in the early part of the season after his summer efforts with Northern Ireland; he looks revitalized by a winter holiday.

The home support emplored Aberdeen 'Don't sell McGinn!'.  Even if he stays through the January transfer window, the decision will be out of the hands of Niall's employers if he chooses not to extend his contract beyond this summer.  It would be understandable if he decided to move on in the event that a significant offer did emerge for him, and nobody could reasonably begrudge him such an opportunity after years of quality service for the Dons, but hopefully the contract situation can be sorted out sooner rather than later. MI

Accies have reasons to be positive...
To the outsider a three-nil defeat looks pretty comprehensive, but both Tommy Wright and Martin Canning agreed post-match that, until Graham Cummings put St. Johnstone ahead early in the second half, Accies were actually the better team in Perth.  "We'll play better and lose" was Wright's take on the game.  Had Ali Crawford not made a dreadful hash of a glorious first half chance, Accies would probably have come away with a result of some sort.

That will be of some solace to Canning, though less so to a support who are baying for his blood and threatening boycotts until his dismissal.  Hamilton were actually under-strength for this clash, particularly at the back with Georgios Sarris, Massimo Donati and Michael Devlin all suspended; the latter two will be back for the crucial midweek tie with Inverness, while new signing Blair Adams may be fit to start at left-back.  It's a match that may define their season, but they have a wee bit more reason for optimism than their opponents. LS

...but Inverness don't
Caley Thistle could at least claim a rare clean sheet (just their second in the league this season) to go along with their point against the Real Jags, but that was about as far as the positivity could stretch in the Highlands.  This was a truly dreadful game, where the visitors had much the better of the possession and the paltry chances.

Richie Foran explained afterwards that Gary Warren and Greg Tansey were playing through illness, but that went very little way towards explaining his side's toothless attacking play, or the fact that several other players were, shall we say, blowing out of their arses in the final quarter of the match.  For long periods the home side had ten men behind the ball; the eleventh, Henri Anier, committed more fouls than he had touches.

Foran lost the tactical battle for the umpteenth time this season.  Whilst he started with a 4-4-2 (Anier alongside Lonsana Doumbouya), Partick Thistle had, like everyone else, identified that by keeping their wide players high up the pitch they could eliminate Inverness' hope of getting width from their full backs.  And so Steven Lawless and Chris Erskine wreaked havoc between the lines and Thistle were dominant in possession even after Foran switched to 4-2-3-1...then swapped 'wide' men Liam Polworth and Larnell Cole...then moved Polworth into the centre with Anier going wide...then subbed the ineffectual Doumbouya for Iain Vigurs.  Pep Guardiola this was not.  Had Partick's final ball not been frequently terrible - step forward, Callum Booth - they would surely have headed south with all the points.

Inverness have gone eleven league games without a win for the first time in their history.  Foran's status as a club legend has protected him from a lot of criticism, but there was a real sense that the fans' patience is running out.  The trip to Hamilton is huge, and it's not escaped attention that the last time the club sacked a manager (Craig Brewster) it was after a defeat at New Douglas Park. LS

Paul Fisher (PF) is our Celtic correspondent, and spent a number of years helping with Celtic Live.  He is actually a professional journalist.

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

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically our Rangers Correspondent, though these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog so he could 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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Borrowers

The above tweet made me do a double-take this morning...until I realized it was a reference to the members of Eiffel 65 and St. Johnstone's cringeworthy music video that has just gone viral and earned them some excellent publicity.

St. Johnstone don't actually have a player on loan at the moment, which puts them in the minority in the Scottish Premiership currently.  Bringing in players on loan is becoming an increasingly popular option - ao much so that every Premiership club has done so at least once this season - even Celtic have borrowed Patrick Roberts from Manchester City, while Rangers have desperately tried to spin their temporary moves for Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman to give the impression that the duo are more than merely promising youngsters currently nowhere near the first XIs of Arsenal and Bournemouth respectfully.

Loaning players at this level tends to be cheap and offer little short-term risk; the parent club gets a small loan fee (or none at all), and if the player is a bust then he can be punted back at the end of the deal.  St. Johnstone themselves got their fingers burned with Joe Gormley, as the Peterborough striker quickly decided full-time football wasn't for him and 'retired', before moving to a club in his native Northern Ireland.

Motherwell don't have one at the moment either, having wasted their time with Luka Belic; recent comments from Mark McGhee implied that he knew nothing about the West Ham player before bringing him north, but he was returned south of the border with zero fanfare at the end of 2016, no questions asked.  I doubt McGhee is the only manager to

Of course, it's a rotten long-term strategy because if the player is any good the parent club will want them back - James Maddison did well enough at Aberdeen that Norwich have recalled him.  No transfer fee, no nothing.  Just a gap in the squad that needs filled again, and again, and again.

The loan system has benefits, of course.  Sending players to lower division sides is beneficial for all parties - just ask Robert Snodgrass, who Livingston sent to Stirling Albion at one point.  One objective of the SFA's Project Brave is to expand the use of development loans, so there are further opportunities for Premiership clubs' most promising youngsters.  But we now have a situation where Scottish kids are now denied first team action by promising youngsters that their own club has signed on loan.

Players signed on loan by Premiership clubs this season (parent club in brackets) 
Aberdeen: Ryan Christie (Celtic), James Maddison (Norwich) 
Celtic: Patrick Roberts (Man City)
Dundee: Michael Duffy (Celtic)
Hamilton: Remi Matthews (Norwich)
Hearts: Tony Watt (Charlton)
Inverness: Larnell Cole (Fulham)
Kilmarnock: Charlee Adams (Birmingham), Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic), Flo Bojaj (Huddersfield), Scott Boyd (Ross County), Will Boyle (Huddersfield), Jonathan Burn (Middlesbrough), Oliver Davies (Swansea), George Green (Burnley), Luke Hendrie (Burnley), Sean Longstaff (Newcastle), Cal Roberts (Newcastle), Mark Waddington (Stoke), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle)
Motherwell: Luka Belic (West Ham)
Partick Thistle: Niall Keown (Reading)
Rangers: Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth), Jon Toral (Arsenal)
Ross County: Milan Lalkovic (Portsmouth), Jim O'Brien (Shrewsbury)
St. Johnstone: Joe Gormley (Peterborough)

Kilmarnock are the perfect example of how the use of loans at the top end of Scottish football is out of hand.  They have loaned no fewer than thirteen players this season, eleven from English clubs.  That's because whilst there is a limit on domestic loan moves per season, there are no such restrictions on moves between different countries.  Lee Clark has exploited this to the full; seven of those loanees have already gone, with three of them lasting less than a month before leaving.  Killie are a club with a reputation for developing youth; these temporary signings might keep them up this season (maybe not now Souleymane Coulibaly has gone), but what about next year?  And the next?  And in the meantime kids of their own who have potential, such as Iain Wilson, Dean Hawkshaw and Alan Frizzell, are left on the sidelines.

That's one way in which the system is being manipulated.  The loan of Ryan Christie to Aberdeen yesterday raises another interesting possibility.  A year ago there's no chance Celtic would have loaned the Dons a player, given their proximity in the title race, but now there's no such threat.  But Christie fills the gap left by Maddison, giving Derek McInnes' side a boost.

Enough of a boost to finish ahead of Rangers?  That's uncertain, but imagine that other Celtic reserves were offered to Aberdeen, or to Hearts.  Efe Ambrose, Eoghan O'Connell (who has actually gone to Walsall), Liam Henderson, Nadir Ciftci, Kris Commons...all players who will play very few minutes for Celtic this season but who would improve those two sides.  And, looking at the long-term, it would be in Celtic's interests to push Rangers down to fourth place, denying them prize money and a place in European football and keeping them very much the poorer half of the Gruesome Twosome.

Unlikely?  Maybe.  But it's an interesting thought.  The current system allows such high jinks, and that's another reason why it needs tightened up.  It'll be better for Scottish football in the long run.

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, January 15, 2017

Caley Thistle's case for the defence

Edinburgh-based Caley Thistle fan Chris Lindsay analyses why Caley Thistle can't seem to defend at all this season.

When Richie Foran took over as manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle from John Hughes, there were mixed feelings from the fans but the overall mood was positive. Foran was a dedicated club man, had been a leader on the pitch and, importantly, had the benefit of a settled squad of experienced players to build his team around.

Seven months on and things look different in the Highland capital. Caley Thistle’s season started badly, rallied and has since hit a slump that has seen the club go on the worst run since joining the senior leagues in 1994 – ten matches without a victory. The club had gone from to-ing and fro-ing in the ‘pack’ of teams in the SPFL Premiership to sitting bottom below Hamilton Accies, four points from safety. Only three victories have been achieved in the league by ICT all season and the league cup campaign saw an ignominious exit at the hands of part-time Alloa. Underlying the whole season is a leaky defensive unit. In league matches up until the winter break, ICT conceded 40 goals in 21 matches, 1.9 goals per game – by far the club's worst goals conceded per game ratio ever in the top flight of Scottish football.

Goals Conceded total
Goals per game











21 games played

Clearly something has gone wrong with the previously reliable ICT defensive unit. However, the defensive partnership of Gary Warren and Josh Meekings has been the basis of the ICT defence for several seasons and far fewer goals were conceded. In addition, the club has retained experienced full backs Carl Tremarco and David Raven, while the much-criticised Danny Devine departed last summer.

Several radar charts show the difference in performance between 2015/16 and 2016/17 for the ICT defenders.

Gary Warren


Warren showed exceptional results in 2015/16, despite it being a relatively difficult year for ICT. He registered close the top with aerial duel success and interceptions per 90 minutes along with good passing accuracy and positive forward passing scores. These remarkable scores are made all the more impressive by the fact that Warren missed the first three months of 2015/16 with a broken leg.

2016/17 shows significant drops for all of those measures, with only the passes to the final third figure showing a rise.

Josh Meekings

Meekings figures show a boost from 2015/16, with all areas measured in the chart improving. However, Meekings did miss significant parts of 2015/16 through injury and the impact of this on his numbers should be taken into account. Also, Meekings played as a right back for part of the 2015/16 season, covering due to injuries to dedicated full-backs.

Deputising for Meekings and Warren during their injuries in 2015/16 was Danny Devine, a fill-in player in defence since his arrival in Inverness in 2013. Devine left Inverness in the summer of 2016 to sign for Partick Thistle.

Danny Devine

Devine showed good ratings in aerial and defensive duels but poor pass ratings. Both in terms of completions and passing forward he rated less than Warren and Meekings both in 2015/16 and in 2016/17. Devine incurred criticism from supporters during the season for his mistakes, including hitting a short pass in his own box to Stuart Armstrong at Celtic Park, resulting in a goal, and inexplicably handling within his own box at Dens Park for a penalty, fortunately saved.

Carl Tremarco


The robust full-back was previously most noted for his red card in the 2015 Scottish cup final but came to the fore following the departure of star left-back Graeme Shinnie to Aberdeen.

Tremarco’s defensive figures have improved from 2015/16 to 2016/17 but his passing figures have set back slightly. Unmeasured in this chart is his emergence as an unlikely goal source with six goals already scored in league and cup this season, making Tremarco ICT's leading goalscorer.

David Raven / Brad McKay
Raven has made the ICT right back slot his own, capping his time as a stalwart of the team with an unforgettable winner against Celtic at Hampden to put ICT into the Scottish cup final. John Hughes’ intention to release the Liverpudlian following a fall-out lead many fans to conclude that they’d prefer the manager to leave over the right back.

Brad McKay was signed following his release from St Johnstone and was surprisingly slotted into the right back straight from the start of his stint in the Highlands

Raven 2015/16
McKay 2016/17

Raven’s solid figures from the previous season are significant higher than McKay’s. McKay has a significantly lower percentage of wins in defensive duels and in the air and fewer passes to the final third. Like Tremarco though, McKay has contributed in unexpected ways, with four assists provided so far this season, behind only Celtic’s Moussa Dembele in the Scottish Premiership.

The radar charts show us that most of the defenders stats have slipped back since the previous season. Can any weaknesses be pinpointed in the defence by looking at other available information? In terms of where the methods of goals against ICT, the goal sources have not significantly altered over the two seasons

Goals from crosses balance out roughly equally at 20% for both left and right with approximately 40% of goals coming from through balls. The composition of the final 20% has changed, with dead balls almost doubling in terms of the percentages but in absolute terms only from three goals (all penalties) in 2015/16 to five this season, two penalties and three direct free kicks. 

 The number of goals conceded from long range shots or direct runs at defence by an individual has doubled but these figures again are relatively small – rising from two in 2015/16 to four in 2016/17. One positive for ICT is that no goals have been conceded so far in 2016/17 from own goals or direct passes to the opposition forwards.

Without a glaring weakness accounting for the increase in defensive frailty in Inverness, further analysis is required. The following charts show the areas of the pitch where the opposition played the ball during their goals, including scoring shots. This doesn’t represent individual touches of the ball, just the times opposition played the ball in these areas of the pitch during goalscoring moves. The pitch is divided into 24 boxes, with the ICT goal at the top.


In 2015/16 a higher percentage of opposition goalscoring moves against took place in the 18 yard box than in 2016/17 – 44.3% against 32.4%. Other significant differences are seen in touches in the ICT half in wide areas – in 2015/16 16.6% of opposition goalscoring moves touched on the wide areas of the ICT half, whereas in 2016/17 the figure was 25.2%.

Looking into midfield, in 2015/16 14.7% of opposition goalscoring moves touched on the midfield areas immediately in the opposition half and then in the ICT half – the ‘centre circle’ areas. In 2016/17 that figure rises to 25.3%.

These figures are a bare analysis but appear to show opposition having greater success at maintaining possession and building attacks on the ICT defence when around the centre circle and moving into the ICT half. The scope of this blog post is not to analyse the performances of ICT's midfield and forward players but the move from having pacier forwards like Miles Storey, Jordan Roberts and Andrea Mbuyi-Mutumbo in 2015/16 to having a forward line based more on aerial targets like Lonsana Doumbaya and Alex Fisher could have resulted in opposition regaining possession in better attacking positions and the forward players not stretching opposition defences and midfield players with attacking runs off the ball.

Another point for further analysis is on the ICT midfield players – how much protection are the ‘2’ in the 4-2-3-1 favoured by Richie Foran offering the defence? Ross Draper is typically the Inverness powerhouse in the middle of the park but, at least early in the season, he was utilised in more attacking roles, with his strength and power used against opposition defences rather than their attacking players. Greg Tansey’s performances are widely perceived by fans to have dipped since the transfer speculation linking him with Aberdeen. The players the in the ‘3’ have also interchanged continually through the season with Iain Vigurs, Larnell Cole, Liam Polworth, Billy King, Aaron Doran, Jake Mulraney and, briefly, Ross Draper having filled roles there. A more settled and organised line could provide further pressing and protect ICT further up the pitch.

With Richie Foran promising to be active in the transfer market and the club facing several crucially important matches in the final ten days in January, ICT fans can only hope that the clubs uncharacteristically leaky defence is improved – in the last five years only Dunfermline in 2011/12 with 2.15 had a higher goals conceded per game ratio than the current ICT team.

The pitch grids measure the areas of the pitch where the opposition moved the ball during a goal. If the ball is passed from one grid to another, that counts as a ‘score’ for both grids. If a player dribbles from one grid to another both grids are counted. If a ball is kicked from the halfway line into the box and then put into the net then only the boxes at the halfway line and the penalty box are counted.

The author is an enthusiastic amateur, fully open to any comments, positive or negative about the article and any of the measures used in it.

Radar chart data kindly supplied by superb Twitter analyst and resource @TheSPFLTwitter.
Goalscoring videos for 2015/16 and 2016/17 viewed on

Thanks to @ASutherland1983 for making the playlist for 2016/17.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Should Kouassi Eboue be allowed to join Celtic?

As if a 19 point lead wasn't enough, Celtic have trolled Rangers fans further by actually getting out their chequebook this month to sign Kouassi Eboue for £2.5million.  I'd be lying if I claimed I knew much about the 19 year old Ivorian; describes him as a defensive midfielder.  If he does indeed have the potential that Brendan Rodgers has claimed - "I look at (him) with the same feeling I had as when I saw a young Coutinho and a young Sterling" - then presumably he'll be in the team soon which case another of Celtic's established midfielders is going to see less game time.  Scott Brown?  Stuart Armstrong?  We'll see.

My beef with the signing is not that; it's that its not clear at all how Eboue circumvents work permit rules.  The criteria for a non-EU player is as follows:
- must have played for their country in at least 75% of its competitive matches in the last two years when fit
- their country must be 70th or higher in the FIFA rankings

Well, the Ivory Coast are ranked 34th at the time of writing.  However, Eboue has a grand total of zero caps.  He has had two previous callups to the Elephants, but is yet to play for them.  So on we go to the next step, where according to SFA rules, "where an application does not meet the published criteria, a club may request a panel to consider the player's skills and experience".

The panel takes the following factors into account.  I quote word for word from the SFA's guidance:
- 'to consider whether the player is of the highest calibre'
- 'to consider whether the player is able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in Scotland'

To recap, Eboue is an uncapped 19 year old who, so far this season, has started less than half the league games of his Russian Premier League side Krasnodar.  Now, it might be rather stringent for me to assume that 'highest calibre' applies to the Messis and Ronaldos of this world, but to stretch the definition this far appears to be pushing one's luck.

As for contributing 'significantly to the development of the game at the top level in Scotland', what to make of that?  From Celtic's own selfish point of view, he might improve their squad and ultimately strengthen their starting lineup.  Moreover, their long-term aim is to sell him for megabucks, which would certainly contribute significantly to their bank balance.  However, if Eboue is a success, he will reduce the potential playing time of other Celtic players including some Scottish ones.  Maybe Armstrong and Brown are untouchable in the short-term, but what about guys like Callum McGregor and Liam Henderson?

So I strongly dispute that Eboue can be described as 'of the highest calibre'.  And I certainly dispute that he will contribute significantly to anything other than Celtic's ongoing hegemony.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't find any other non-EU signing in Scotland that is comparable.  Victor Wanyama was my first reference point, but whilst Kenya's FIFA ranking was between 65 and 100 before he joined Celtic, he had at least hit that 75% target and so his signing is much easier to justify.

But of course it isn't me who makes the decision.  This panel has sat, and apparently has recommended to the SFA that Celtic be allowed to register Eboue.  Apparently he is of 'the highest calibre', and apparently he will 'contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in Scotland'.

Clearly they know more than I do about football.  Because the alternative explanation is that the panel might not have been entirely impartial in their judgement.  But the idea of an SFA process such as this being anything other than transparent and squeaky clean is nothing short of preposterous, obviously.

On the other hand, say Aberdeen had found a 19 year old uncapped non-EU player and wanted to sign him.  I can't help feeling that wouldn't be looked upon favourably.

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, January 12, 2017

League Two for beginners

I think there are plenty of Scottish football fans out there who have a vague interest in what happens in the lower divisions, but not enough time to keep up with what's happening - even more so since the demise of Tell Him He's Pele.  So here's a basic runthrough of where Scottish League Two is at this point.  I'm sure fans of the various clubs will tell me where I've gone wrong!




1 FORFAR ATHLETIC 9 6 1 2 24 15 19
10 7 2 1 20 13 23
19 13 3 3 44 28 42 16 DWLWW WDWDW WWWDW
2 ARBROATH 9 4 4 1 16 8 16
10 5 4 1 17 11 19
19 9 8 2 33 19 35 14 WWLWX WDWWW WWWXW
3 ELGIN CITY 9 4 1 4 20 12 13
10 6 0 4 24 12 18
19 10 1 8 44 24 31 20 WLWWD WLLLW WWLDW
4 ANNAN ATHLETIC 10 5 1 4 18 15 16
9 2 3 4 12 18 9
19 7 4 8 30 33 25 -3 LWWWL DLLLW LLWWL
5 CLYDE 9 5 2 2 18 14 17
10 2 2 6 11 19 8
19 7 4 8 29 33 25 -4 DWWXL LLLLL LXLLL
6 EDINBURGH CITY 10 2 2 6 11 15 8
9 3 4 2 8 9 13
19 5 6 8 19 24 21 -5 LWDWL DWWXW WWXWL
7 STIRLING ALBION 10 3 4 3 13 14 13
9 2 2 5 16 22 8
19 5 6 8 29 36 21 -7 LDWLW DWLLD LWDLW
8 BERWICK RANGERS 9 2 3 4 13 16 9
10 3 3 4 9 16 12
19 5 6 8 22 32 21 -10 DDWLL LLLLW LLLLW
9 MONTROSE 10 1 5 4 9 18 8
9 4 1 4 11 14 13
19 5 6 8 20 32 21 -12 LDWDL WLLWX WWDXL
10 COWDENBEATH 10 3 1 6 10 14 10
9 2 3 4 13 18 9
19 5 4 10 23 32 19 -9 WWLLL LDDLW LLLWL

The current top three will probably finish the season in those positions, though not necessarily in the same order.  But There's a six point gap between third and fourth...and a six point gap between fourth and bottom spot.  With East Kilbride tearing up the Lowland League, there's a real likelihood that another club will fall through the trapdoor like East Stirlingshire did last season.

Edinburgh City were most people's favourites to exit the SPFL as soon as they'd arrived, and a dreadful start to the season seemed to confirm those fears.  But they've found their feet dramatically, going seven matches unbeaten until last weekend's loss to Arbroath.  While marquee signing Craig Beattie has been largely a non-factor, Joe Mbu's decision to postpone retirement has been a huge boost and the January signing of ex-England u19 captain Josh Walker (who scored once for Aberdeen against Bayern Munich!) is intriguing.  One wouldn't bet against them avoiding the drop.

Bottom spot has changed hands six times in the last six weeks.  Currently its Cowdenbeath at the foot, at risk of their third consecutive relegation.  Liam Fox's revamped side has several names that Scottish football fans will recognise - David McGurn, Burton O'Brien, Chris Turner, Gary Glen and Fraser Mullen among them - and were supposed to be at the top end of the table, but they've struggled mightily with just five league wins.

Berwick Rangers only moved off the bottom by winning at Central Park last weekend, but are at real risk of losing their status as the only English team in the SPFL.  Manager John Coughlin reportedly offered to resign in October after they were knocked out of the Cup by Hawick Royal Albert, but was persuaded to stay on.  The club have been busy already since the transfer window opened as they look to bring in enough quality to stay up.

It's no surprise to see Montrose in trouble; this is their twentieth consecutive season in the fourth tier and it's less than two yearss since they defeated Brora Rangers to preserve their league status.  The manager who saved them, Paul Hegarty, was dismissed in November and replaced by ex-Dunfermline player Stewart Petrie.  Form has improved since, but they are ninth in the table and are in real danger.  An improved record at Links Park, where they've won just twice since mid-February 2016,

The other League Two club to change manager is Stirling Albion, who sacked Stuart McLaren in September after a humiliating home thumping by Elgin showcased the squad's lack of fight and left them with one win from their first seven games.  It took six weeks for them to appoint a successor - ex-St. Johnstone player Dave 'Cuptie' Mackay who takes on his first managerial role in trying circumstances.  Their hopes of a surge into the promotion playoffs may hinge on whether they can hold onto French forward Dylan Bikey, who has scored seven in seven games on an amateur contract.

That Clyde are in this large group seems inexcusable to this writer, particularly given boss Barry Ferguson's penchant for pontificating on other clubs and managers in his newspaper columns.  It's the ex-Scotland skipper's third season at Broadwood, and it seems like he brings in a new team every year.  After looking like emulating last season's run to the playoff final, they've picked up just one point from their last six games and tumbled down the table.

Jim Chapman's Annan Athletic have overtaken Clyde for fourth on goal difference, though they've won consecutive games just once all season.  The loss of a number of experienced players last summer hurt the Borderers and they've done well to keep themselves in mid-table after a big squad turnover.

At the right end of the league, Gary Bollan's Forfar Athletic look a good bet to return to League One at the first time of asking, having opened up a seven point gap at the top of the table.  The Loons won their first seven league games and have led the division since opening day.

Behind them, Arbroath and Elgin City are very likely to take up two of the three playoff spots.  Dick Campbell is a seasoned operator in the lower leagues and has built an experienced squad at Gayfield that are grinding out results.  Elgin were hopeless away from Borough Briggs last season but this term it has been their home form that has let them down and prevented them from challenging Forfar; in ex-Inverness striker Shane Sutherland they have the division's leading scorer with thirteen goals.