FANS of the 12 SPL clubs give their verdict on the week’s action on and off the pitch
After playing well only to lose 1-0 at Ross County the week before, the performance slipped a bit at home to the other Saints at the weekend but this time we ended on the right side of a 1-0 win. Things are looking good for making the top six and then focusing on a push for Europe. Our next two games are away but you sense there are points for the taking at Dundee and Hearts before two home games provide a golden chance to finish the pre-split section strongly.
Such is the tightness of the league this season, however, that we can’t afford to look beyond one game at a time. The appointment of John Brown may have raised eyebrows but the arrival of a new man in the dugout often inspires a big performance from the most beleaguered of teams, so there will be no premature triumphalism as the tractors trundle towards the metropolis by the Tay tonight.
I am surprised that Dundee are where they are given how well they played on Sunday. They seem to lack belief rather than ability. Only the linesman prevented an early lead for the doomed Dees. We also had the crossbar and Fraser Forster to thank for keeping a clean sheet. So we were fortunate to reach half-time with the 1-0 lead still intact.
The manner in which the goals were scored in the second half was pleasing. Apart from the first, all of them were well worked and involved Anthony Stokes. However, the pick of them was Gary Hooper’s volley at the end to send the fans home with a smile. I expected Efe Ambrose to blossom at right back but even Lenny lost patience with him being constantly dispossessed. I think the manager has been reading the SPL fanzone over the last few weeks.
Before last weekend’s round of fixtures there were five points separating second and ninth in the SPL. After the games the spread was only four points. The middle of the league is so tight that a prediction of the top six at the split is a wild gamble.
Motherwell’s win over Inverness a fortnight ago gave us a chance to create a breathing space in second place but two poor performances against Dundee United and Ross County simply dragged us back into the pack. The reward for such carelessness is a visit from the league leaders tonight.
The arrival of our much loved James McFadden should have lifted everyone yet two defeats have dampened our hopes. He’ll need time to deliver his best, but there can be no better occasion that a meeting with Celtic for him to remind us of his talent.
There’s one of those season-defining weeks coming up for United. First up is an away trip to ICT tonight. With nine teams all bunched together, any team wanting to make the top six has to start winning games consistently. All those teams are all capable of finishing second in the league, a position that United have never occupied come the end of a season. If United are to get into the top six and have ambition to finish second, a victory against ICT is essential. It would also set us up nicely for our biggest match of the season when we visit Dens Park on Sunday for our cup tie against Dundee. Dundee seem to be in all sorts of trouble (again) but you know what they say about wounded animals. Anyone who thinks that United can just stroll up and win the game needs to think again,
Life is rarely dull for Dundee supporters. If it’s not happening for us on the park, there’s sure to be something going on off it that threatens to bring the club to its knees.
Barry Smith, one of the Dundee greats as a player and manager (the -25 season), was sacked last week and replaced by “Bomber” Brown, another Dundee legend, if only as a player. That’s where the problem lies, with so many Dundee fans refusing to accept that Brown is anything other than a joke figure after his toe-curling rallying call to the Rangers faithful last year. But, after Monday’s press conference, when Brown was given the chance to say his piece, the feeling is that maybe he can steer us past United in the Scottish Cup quarter-final on Sunday. Barry deserved better, but the upheaval at Dens will have been worth it if we win the cup tie.
The Club 12th Man
The Hibs mini-revival continued at Tannadice on Sunday with a fully-deserved point. But the away support was left feeling slightly aggrieved as Hibs suffered once again at the hands of a very poor penalty decision. Clearly, the Craig Thomson effect of giving penalties when fouls are outside the box is rubbing off on his fellow “professionals”. But that should not detract from the strong performance Hibs put in to make it four from six points gathered from two difficult away trips.
The mood on the hibs.net message board has, as a result of recent good form, also lifted with much credit on offer now that Fenlon appears to have sent the team out with the emphasis on playing the ball on the deck.
The test for Hibs now is to carry that good form into what is a very important week, with a league and cup double header against Kilmarnock.
It was nice to get back to winning ways on Saturday and see Billy McKay finding the net again after a barren spell. The commitment of the team shone through again as they never gave up after being pegged back twice by Hearts. It was also small revenge for the league cup exit.
Hopefully, this win will reinstil the confidence required for the run-in to the split and we can secure our first top-six spot with room to spare. The high cost of the entry fee at Tynecastle was a talking point prior to the game. With all the talk about low crowds it really doesn’t help having prices like these and many of our fans didn’t travel for this game. Another good performance would be welcome tonight before facing our noisy neighbours in the re-arranged Highland derby fixture on Saturday. They are on fire just now so it should be another cracker.
No-one is quite sure how the referee on Saturday failed to award a penalty and show a red card to Cammy Bell – instead deciding to book McGinn for diving. One can only hope that Euan Norris is not really that incompetent.
Poor decision aside, the game perhaps should have been beyond Killie by the time they equalised and it is important that Craig Brown’s team put matters behind them and concentrate on the next few games. The league is still very tight and points are there to be won.
In recent times, games against Kilmarnock have tended to provide the final blow to Aberdeen managers’ careers but it appears that Brown negotiated that hurdle at the weekend, with a little help from the referee.
The big news of the week was obviously the return of Kris “Boomer” Boyd to the Theatre of Pies – not many saw that coming! At only 29 years of age he still has plenty to offer and a wealth of experience garnered during his seven-year absence. To be fair, we all know that he’s only here to put himself back in the shop window but, if he sticks a few in the pokey for us and helps us stay in the top six or win the cup, then who cares about that. Saturday’s result was probably fair given the balance of play, the Dons were by far the better team in the first half and we dominated the second but they were denied a stonewall penalty when Cammy Bell clattered into one of their players in the box. Maybe the referee was making up for the last red card he showed Bell that was later rescinded? Whatever the case, it is not before time that we had a bit of luck or a dodgy decision in our favour.
Hearts were condemned to their third straight defeat with a woeful defensive performance that highlighted yet again the blow that was the loss of Zaluikas. If you cannot defend simple balls into the box then you won’t win any game in the SPL, so there is a lot of work to do on the training ground.
With all the off-field issues currently engulfing the club, the manager’s position is unlikely to be under any serious scrutiny from whoever is currently in a position of influence at the club. However, if and when new owners come in, then the first item on the agenda should be the removal of the manager as he is not the man to take the club forward in any way shape or form and appears to have lost the backing of a good number of the fans. This week’s fixtures include a preview of the league cup final however, given our current form, it is difficult to view any game as winnable.
Earlier in the season our defending wasn’t particularly great but we were scoring goals. Now our defending is reasonable but we can’t find the back of the net. We’ve failed to score in our last three games, which has pretty much killed off any lingering hope we had of making the top six this season. It’s perhaps no coincidence this has happened since Gary Teale got injured. After a difficult first season in Paisley, the veteran winger has been terrific for the last six months or so and Steven Thompson has thrived on his supply.
We have to turn this around quickly as we cannot go into the league cup final low on confidence and on the back of a poor run of form. Tonight’s game against Hearts is one we have to win as they’re not doing particularly well and it would give us a slight psychological edge for our trip to Hampden.
Another crazy week in the world of Scottish football. James McFadden made a return to Motherwell and, while many in the media felt that he would add that extra spark that the team needed to secure second place in the league, since his return, Motherwell have accumulated a total of zero points from two games. He got 26 minutes action in Dingwall on Saturday and maybe it was a little bit of nerves but he was less than impressive while he was on the pitch.
County, on the other hand, have a forward making a comeback in Ivan Sproule and hasn’t he made an impressive start to his career at County. I don’t know what Derek Adams does, but he really seems to have the knack of getting the most out of players that have maybe been knocked by managers elsewhere – long may that continue!