As the supporters see it...
In the past an international weekend was a welcome break from league business and offered a change to the football on show. For Aberdeen fans at the weekend it produced another scoreless draw and one that wasn’t even as entertaining as those we’re now used to. While the national side huffs and puffs, the absence of Aberdeen players in the full squad means there is time for players carrying knocks to rest and recover and for players such as McGinn and Milsom, more time to get fit and push for a return for our next game against Inverness. There is a feeling that the team will finally click and, when they do, the opposition will be handed a heavy defeat. It’s hoped that this will happen sooner rather than later and it may be Inverness that suffer.
I skipped along to Hampden on Saturday full of optimism and hope. Then I saw the team. Workmanlike, cautious, defensive but lacking in creativity, I thought, and so it proved. How was Harry Potter’s dad going to work his magic and produce a victory from a defensive set-up? I was clueless and, unfortunately, so was Craig Levein. It’s a pity we didn’t have a player who could deliver a ball accurately into the box or score from outside it. Unfortunately, Commons was in Dubai! Bad news about Sami being out for a month. He’s been instrumental in Europe this season and though we have alternative options we have yet to see them play. Hopefully, the international break has provided the recovery period our injured players need and they come back fully fit and ready for the busy period between now and Christmas.
Dundee now seem to have a policy of signing 6ft-plus players, which can’t be a bad thing. We’ve never been that dangerous at set pieces and have always been vulnerable to them at the back. After the recent arrivals of Grassi, Toshney, Nish and Easton, we’ve now got former Hibs centre half Sean O’Hanlon on trial, so we seem to have a solid base. Motherwell are at Dens on Saturday, and it now looks like a game we can expect to get something from. Although we’ve received a lot of praise for our defensive qualities at Tynecastle, we were so busy thwarting Hearts that we couldn’t mount many attacks after that first minute when we strolled up the park and got the match-winning penalty. A bit more will be expected this weekend, so it’ll be interesting to see how Barry Smith approaches a home match.
The Club 12th Man
Friday night football this week and, if it isn’t exactly appealing to the Arabs’ fans, we’ve got to spare a thought for the Ross County supporters heading down from Dingwall. You have also got to think a visit to Tannadice will provide one of the stiffest tests yet of their incredible unbeaten run in league games.
A 0-0 draw at McDiarmid Park before the international break was disappointing – especially given St Johnstone’s poor start to the season but a win over County would restore our challenge at the top.
It was good to see Johnny Russell on the scoresheet for the Scotland under-21s on Monday night, albeit in an ultimately futile cause. Hopefully with the transfer window well and truly shut and any potential distraction gone, he can return to that sort of form for United.
The first international break is always an appropriate moment to review the start of the season. Hearts have had a fairly poor start with only one win coming on the opening day, albeit we have only been beaten once in the league. When the fixture list came out it looked a fairly kind start for us with all the games looking winnable and that is what makes our league position and points total disappointing. But, with a new manager and a reshaped squad with a focus on youth, inconsistency was always going to be an issue this season. My report card for the manager at this stage would say must do better. Hopefully we have used the break to look at the formation we have adopted and the best way to maximise the abilities of the squad. Saturday is a big game for us. St Mirren have had an identical start to us in terms of results but are yet to record a home win. hopefully that will continue come Saturday.
With Hibs putting together a decent run of results in the league, it might have been better if there had been no break for International football over the weekend so that we could keep the momentum going.
However, it was good to see Leigh Griffiths find the net for the under-21 side. There was certainly a strong Hibs flavour to the young Scots side, with David Wotherspoon and Paul Hanlon also involved.
For the growing band of fans disenchanted with the international side under Craig Levein, it wil be a welcome return to club football this week.
With such a small squad to choose from, Pat Fenlon’s team for Saturday against Kilmarnock almost picks itself. We may be light on cover as injuries and suspension kick in but, for now, we are benefiting from having a settled line up.
After what was looking like a promising start to the season, we find after five games in that we’re still seeking our first SPL win. With another new-look side, Terry Butcher is still struggling to get a settled squad that can defend. We sit top of the goals against table so it is obvious were are weakness is. The mistakes at the back have been awful and, in some cases, Sunday park stuff.
Our style of football has changed for the better, though. The big hoof up the park seems to have been replaced by a more passing style of game and we have created more chances and had more shots on target than, possibly, the whole of last season. We take on Aberdeen at home this weekend and, in former ICT star Johnny Hayes, they’ll have the threat to hurt us if the defence is still in Sunday football mode.
It is not often we get signing news after the transfer window is shut but we were hoping there would be some movement from the club as it is quite clear we are lacking firepower up front. Lo and behold, there was news to be had. CSKA Sofia, in Bulgaria, released Cillian Sheridan after they ran into financial difficulties and the Irish forward, capped three times so far by the Republic, chose to come to the mighty Killie out of his potential suitors. He has been described by many as “not prolific” but, given that he is only 23 and scored at every club he has been at (apart from Plymouth), I think his record, given a low number of starts due to his age and injury, is not too bad and a decent run with a good football playing club like ours could bring out the best in him. Kenny Shiels wanted him so I have no doubt that he will fit in to the gaffer’s plans.
While most of the staff and players at Fir Park have been enjoying a few days off after a very busy spell, some of our number have been globetrotting with their national teams. Darren Randolph was on the bench in Kazakhstan watching Ireland snatch a late win, Henrik Ojamaa faced Romania for Estonia for the first 45 minutes and Zaine Francis-Angol added his name to those who have played in the World Cup preliminaries when Antigua and Barbuda lost to Guatemala.
On their return, they’ll be delighted to find that a big League Cup tie has been added to the calendar at the end of the month. Motherwell were the last SPL club to play at Ibrox and they will be the first to visit the new Rangers for a game that will have nationwide attention. That game will go some way in repairing the damage to our finances that will result from their disappearance from the top flight.
There appears to have been more activity and rumours in the last week now the transfer window has closed than there was in the whole of the previous month. Of course, this is because teams are looking at the free agent players who have basically been left behind for whatever reason. Dundee have been busy. This is understandable given their late admission to the SPL. St Johnstone, on the other hand, knew long before the end of last season that they would be in the SPL this year and, despite a spate of signings during the summer, are still adding to their playing staff and must now have one of the biggest squads in the league.
Ross County are still looking at adding players and are scouring the free agent market as well. This was always going to be an option for Derek Adams, given that County have by far the lowest budget in the league.
Hopefully, by the time you are reading this, the depression will have lifted, slightly, with a Scotland win over Macedonia. But watching Scotland on top of St Johnstone really sometimes melts your brain. I get the impression just now that Craig Levein and Steve Lomas are doing pretty much exactly the same thing, with similar results.
They are making things harder for themselves with their tactics, formations, selections and substitutions – all the while not endearing themselves to their supporters with their media appearances. I hope both can turn it around – both certainly have the players at their disposal to do so. Saints welcomeCeltic to McDiarmid Park on Saturday lunchtime, so maybe we’ll be a week or two away yet from that elusive victory. That said, our first win last season was at Parkhead so stranger things have happened.
Thank goodness the international break is now over. If I wanted to watch negative football where a home draw against a team of similar standard was deemed as a good result I’d fish out some footage of our games a few years ago. If you have Messi or Ronaldo then playing one up front at home is acceptable. Scotland have Kenny Miller. With the domestic action resuming, we really need to kick on and start getting some more wins on the board. It’s time we start converting the draws into victories. Hearts are never the easiest of opponents – we’ve struggled against them in the last few years – but the fact they don’t have Rudi Skacel is a huge plus for us. We really need to take three points from sides like them at home if we want to make the top six. With Steven Thompson and Lewis Guy clicking well, we have the strikers to harm teams but we need to give them some ammunition.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
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