The exit from the League Cup last Tuesday to Queen of the South was maybe the wake-up call the players and management needed. But then again it has done nothing more than highlight the current squad is well short of the quality needed to sustain any sort of challenge in all competitions.
Players on the fringes of the first team need to be tested in these fixtures to monitor their fitness levels and match sharpness. But when the opportunity does arise to showcase your worth to the team, you must deliver and stake your claim for a run in the side. It would be fair to say those who did take to the field last midweek have shown exactly why the manager has chosen to go with alternative members of the squad.
It is a long and hard season ahead and suspensions and injuries are likely to take their toll. The manager more than expressed his disappointment in the wake of last Tuesday’s defeat, and quite rightly so, but who does he have to turn to should injuries go against us? If Pat Fenlon does not possess the confidence to bring others into the reckoning then this is when the cracks will start to show.
It is essential that every squad member has a part to play throughout the season. Like any good, honest professional though, they all want to spend their Saturday afternoons out on the pitch. However, when looking at a lot of players at clubs both north and south of the Border, they continue to pick up good salaries irrespective if they play or not and this is something I believe to be bankrupting the game.
I have heard of many players who have contributed nothing to their clubs, and in some cases, not played competitively for months on end. Surely this cannot continue with the majority of clubs’ finances stretched to the limit. There has to be a solution to this and I believe it lies within players’ contracts when they sign on the dotted line. I often wonder to myself what the ex-pros are thinking when looking at a subs’ bench which is populated by six or seven on any given game, yet squads of the past were restricted to the use of just two substitutes but enjoyed vast amounts of success.
Going to Celtic Park on back of our sorry cup defeat and coming away with a fully deserved point will certainly lift the spirits of the players, management and supporters. The result is even more creditable considering the exploits of our opponents during the week who managed to qualify for the Champions League group stages for the first time in four years when defeating Swedish side Helsingborgs.
I believe inconsistency could prove to be our biggest downfall with the newest members of the squad still trying to find their feet in the SPL. However, the experience of going to Celtic Park and returning to the Capital without a defeat will do those players no harm at all. In all fairness to the squad, they have responded well in the wake of disappointment and have managed to grind out results. Our league form has been encouraging so far and taking eight points from our first five fixtures is something we can all be positive about. We have faced Hearts, Celtic and Dundee United, teams I would all expect to be up there challenging at the top end come next May.
Of course we would all love to perform well in every competitive fixture we play, but keeping in line with last year’s narrow escape, the league must be our priority when putting our strongest side together. We can now regroup, recharge our batteries and look forward to the visit of Kilmarnock after this weekend’s international break.