This week’s talking points from around the SPL
WE SEEM to have a thing for the number nine. We finished ninth two years ago and in the same spot last season and again we find ourselves occupying ninth place in the league. It’s an odd situation to be in, as many fans would argue that we are better than that. That’s true, we’re only two wins behind third, but if we are still in this position come the end of the season, any “improvement” is quickly forgotten alongside another bottom-six finish. The reality is we appear to have stalled and, whilst we are not in freefall, nor in any danger of relegation, the real risk is continuing apathy from fans that will damage the club in the long run.
Ironically, we probably need to see nine points from the next four games to “achieve” a top-six place and keep the season going.
I LIKE seeing competition in the squad. However, the competition between Izzy and Efe as to who can squeeze most errors in per season is getting out of hand. Fresh from being caught out against Motherwell, Izzy topped it by setting up the St Mirren equaliser. Strangely, Hooper played quite deep on Saturday. Rumours abound that he was there to mark Efe.
In saying that, Celtic looked a bit sharper at the weekend. There appeared to be more zip to their passing. However, our chances to conversion ratio are still horrendous. And so we face United in the Scottish Cup semi – a weakened side without Johnny Russell but still good enough to turn us over at Hampden.
It looks like Mission Impossible tonight, but all I would expect is a decent performance and, echoing the manager’s words, to show the first-leg score flattered Juve.
TO LOSE one Scottish Cup tie to the other lot would be bad enough, but to lose seven in a row, well, you can imagine how Dundee fans are feeling after this latest exit.
We never seem to get a break against United in the cup. An awful decision by the linesman when he was standing right where Mackay-Steven dribbled the ball out of play, yet allowed him to play on, contributed to our defeat on Sunday. Admittedly, we were poor at defending the free kick which was awarded seconds later, but the linesman changed the course of the game, as it turned out.
Dundee then proceeded to get on top and had United on the rack following our equaliser, but a breakaway and a good strike from GMS pretty much finished the game before the break. At least United drew Celtic in the semi-finals.
The Club 12th Man
UNITED fans have experienced the highs and lows of football in the last few days. Nothing compares to beating your city rivals on their patch. Knowing we had the bragging rights, along with a trip to Hampden, meant Monday morning blues were brushed away with the anticipation of the semi-final draw. Then reality hit home. Of all the teams, we got Celtic, a team we haven’t beaten in 44 attempts in Glasgow. This was followed by the news of Johnny Russell’s leg break. And it got worse with the news that Rangers were in for our captain and cult hero, Jon Daly. It was expected he would go at the end of the season but never did it cross our minds that he could go to the lower divisions with a club, who, to put it politely, are unpopular with United fans. Hopefully, Big Jon will have more sense.
Hearts continued their poor run of form with two more league defeats, including the cup final warm-up. The manager, who in my view should have been removed from his position some time ago, has gone and, despite more shambolic defending against Motherwell, the second-half performance did enough to suggest that a better manager can get more from this squad. We need to put at least an 18-point gap between us and Dundee by the end of the season in case the worst happens. The ongoing saga in Lithuania is having a real destabilising effect on the club and it would appear we are now in the death throes of the Romanov regime but what will replace it is anybody’s guess.
This weekend’s derby and the league cup final are the two biggest games we have left this season. Win them both and it could end up being a reasonably successful one, but we need to stop leaking silly goals.
Sometimes things come together to make a day out at the football an unbeatable form of entertainment. With a large vociferous Hibs support packing the away stand the stage was set for a cracking cup tie and that is exactly what we got. In terms of tactics, attitude and application, Pat Fenlon and the team got this right. It was hat-trick hero Leigh Griffiths who deservedly got most of the plaudits. The Killie defence just could not get to grips with him and surely a Scotland call up can’t be far away. The TV ‘experts’ may dismiss us as a one-man team but in midfield Jorge Claros was running the show and could also stake a claim for man-of-the-match. David Wotherspoon made the most of his return. Fenlon deserves credit for removing him briefly from the first team and allowing him to come back refocused. Hopefully we carry the momentum into our next match against relegation battlers Hearts.
The three previous Highland Derby encounters this season had produced high-quality games so it was only a matter of time before a bad one came along. Although each side tried to play football, it was almost impossible on a pitch that resembled Nairn beach, but credit to the players for giving it a go.
There were very few chances in the game and County edged these but, in the end, a draw was a fair result and one we’d have taken prior to kick-off. No game is without its controversy but the vast majority seem to think we were denied a stonewall penalty and, watching the TV replay, it would appear to be the case.
Both Highland teams remain in the top six and, hopefully, it will remain like this at the split so we can have another day out in Dingwall full of good banter with our rivals.
A WEEKEND full of promise turned out badly as Hibernian ran over the top of us and won a semi-final tie against lower league Falkirk. We were stretched at the back with two youngsters at full back and Tesselaar deputising at centre half for the injured Pascali and out-of-form O’Leary. Things went from bad to worse as Cammy Bell had a shocker, as did Sissoko and Tess and, although we managed to claw back two equalisers, Fenlon’s tactics were better and the result was probably fair. In the latter stages we actually had only two defenders on the park and four strikers, but eight minutes was not enough for the returning Boyd to become a hero. The boss showed faith in the squad he fielded at Easter Road and they failed him badly. We’ve been talking to midfielder Sander Puri about signing for next season – maybe a couple of defenders should be top of the list!
Emotions change quickly in football and, at Fir Park, we can see an illustration of that. Consecutive losses to Dundee United and Ross County saw us slip down the table and put our top-half spot under threat. The turnaround in performance to defeat Celtic was remarkable and the follow-up victory at Tynecastle means that confirmation of a top-six place is almost just a matter of time. There is no room for complacency but it is important to be realistic. Our goal is no longer merely securing sixth but holding on to a European place. The temptation of Europe, and the cash boost it will bring, should help us keep some of the squad intact.
That is unlikely to happen until the manager commits to a new deal. If the final details are agreed this week, fans will be in a good mood indeed en route to Pittodrie.
YOU could have been excused for not knowing the Highland derby had happened given the lack of coverage. Yes, it was Scottish Cup quarter-final weekend which rightly attracted a lot of the attention but surely a derby between teams in third and fourth in the SPL merited more attention. The game virtually sold out but it didn’t quite match the entertainment value of the previous cup match in Dingwall. There may have been no goals, and limited chances but it was a typically fiery affair with personal battles being contested all over the pitch (and on the sidelines in the case of Adams and Butcher).
In reality, these are two very well matched teams and the stalemate actually sets it up nicely for when the two teams go head to head again on 16 March in Inverness – with whichever team wins probably taking the advantage for qualifying for the top six.
The SPL split finishing line is in sight and it really is neck and neck. Tense and exciting – just the way it should be – and there’s no telling who will make up either half of the league come match day 33. Motherwell look pretty much nailed on for a top-six spot but, from there down, there’s not much between the sides. We threw away a great chance to put ourselves within touching distance of securing our spot last week at Dundee, losing a silly last-minute equaliser to ten men.
Last night we played Hearts. Writing before the match is played, it strikes me as being a very, very important game. A win puts us third and puts the pressure on the rest of the chasing pack. A defeat gives everyone else a game in hand, with matches against our fellow top six hopefuls to come. Kilmarnock visit on Saturday and that, too, could prove to be a massive game.
IT WAS unlikely lightning would strike twice but we gave it a good shot. It was a proper blood-and-thunder cup tie against Celtic and we gave a good account of ourselves. We didn’t collapse after losing an early goal and managed to get back into things thanks to some comical defending. On another day we’d have managed a replay or even won.
We seem to have rediscovered our scoring touch – although Emilio Izaguirre must take most of the credit for Esmael Goncalves’ header. Hopefully, we’ll continue that tonight and, hopefully, Graham Carey is fit enough to start. His goal against Hearts was a screamer and we looked more of a threat on Saturday when he came on as he made some terrific passes and almost scored with a free-kick. The top six has gone but a win over Dundee would end any lingering relegation fear.