An injury-time winner down in Dumfries prevented another unwanted chapter in our cup history and offered some payback for “that day”, while another draw in the league preserved our unbeaten run.
But it’s events in Govan that dominate. Cries that Scottish football “needs Rangers” are common among pundits but the figures may suggest otherwise. Last year games against the Old Firm had 4,500 more fans than our average attendance but, in 2007/08 when we were in Europe and finished fourth in the league, we had almost 5,000 more fans at non-Old Firm games. No Rangers would mean more chance of cup finals, more chance of second place finishes, more chance of European appearances, all with financial benefits to outweigh the missing Rangers fans.
With the additional ten-point penalty for Rangers adding to the gap at the top, it was important that Celtic didn’t rest on their laurels at the weekend. Complacency cost us the title four years ago and, though Rangers lost again on Saturday in front of a full house, Celtic must keep winning to secure the title as quickly as possible. And that is exactly what Celtic did on Sunday. I think Hibs got their line-up wrong and were taken by surprise at Celtic’s confident approach to the game.
It was great to see the Stokes and Hooper partnership in full flow again. Though Sami has done well, the Stokes and Hooper partnership is easily our best.
Interestingly, Celtic have to play Motherwell and Rangers twice before the end of the season; we could have a big bearing on who finishes second... just saying!
It’s hard to find any sympathy for the plight of Rangers, particularly when they owe Dundee United the best part of £100,000. For Rangers to then to try and sign Daniel Cousin, using money that should have been earmarked for United, shows a complete lack of respect from the Ibrox club, not only to United but to the handful of other clubs they are owe a debt to.
After a drab scoreless draw against St Mirren, United face Kilmarnock and Hearts this week, which could see them rise to fourth in the SPL if they beat both. The only thing consistent about United at the moment is their inconsistency and with the battle really on for the top six, fans will be hoping the free-flowing United turns up for these games rather than the long-ball-up-the-park version.
Whisper it. Dunfermline could still stay up. There was enough encouragement in the home match with Inverness to suggest the Athletic are finally getting to grips with the SPL. Inverness recently had a seven-game unbeaten run, yet were repeatedly cut open at East End Park.
Rutkiewicz, Graham and Kirk embody a new fighting spirit. Kevin has marshalled what was a shambolic defence. David is frankly a revelation in midfield and not just because of his boots. Kirk is incisive up front.
There is a welcome new togetherness off the pitch, too. The board and manager have belatedly thanked a faithful support through the media, programme and tannoy. That was welcome given we have stuck with the team despite wretched home form and early cup exits.
After five tough matches in 13 days, the Motherwell game on Saturday appeared a step too far. Although we were slightly unfortunate with the first goal, we never looked likely to get back into the game.
Having put in a performance that I thought was his best for Hearts on Tuesday, Jamie MacDonald was back to his usual error-strewn antics. Marian Kello should be brought back for the rest of the season to provide some solidity at the back. Third place has gone and our focus now should be holding on to fourth place and the cup campaign. The replay at St Johnstone was a perfect example of why you should never leave before the end and, going into extra time, I felt we had the momentum. Our captain produced an all round sensational performance and, if we could get someone in to provide more of a threat up front, we may just have a chance of going all the way.
There is no denying it; on Sunday Celtic had far better players than we did in virtually every position. That’s only to be expected given the massive financial advantage that the team from Glasgow have. With the other half of the Old Firm allowing greed and egotism to cripple themselves, the SPL looks like being a one-horse race for the foreseeable future. The problems Rangers face should be seen as a chance for the SPL to move heaven and earth to provide a more level playing field. Surely the case for a more equitable distribution of TV revenue and voting rights is now overwhelming. The numbers of empty seats in the home stands were testament to the fact that many Hibs fans saw no point in going along to watch a one-sided game played against a backdrop of gloating triumphalism from the away fans. Things have to change sooner rather than later.
We were all over the Pars first half, defended soundly, controlled midfield but the weakness was up front. No target man appeared to be a tactical error and we were getting in each other’s way. Failure to take chances had the inevitable about it as yet another dodgy free kick resulted in us conceding a goal against the run of play. Our second-half performance was woeful as we couldn’t pass or create anything and handed the initiative to the Pars. Changes needed to be made and the introduction of Owen Tudor-Jones gave us some stability with a player who could pick out passes and make things happen. We could have easily thrown this game away and dragged ourselves back into the relegation mire so grabbing a point was probably no more than we deserved. A top-six spot is not beyond us but we need a lot of target practice.
The only thing better than beating Rangers at Ibrox is beating them at Ibrox in front of a full house when no-one gives you a chance of getting a result. What’s more, the win secured by a Dean Shiels goal – his excellent form has earned him a call-up to the Northern Ireland squad – gave us a back-to-back double over Rangers for the first time in the SPL.
The Killie fans gave a bit of stick to their counterparts throughout the match and, while no-one wants to see anyone else’s club go out of business, the Rangers fans should take a serious look at fan ownership so that the future of their club is in their own hands and not entrusted to money men who ultimately just do not care. But they also need to cut out the sectarian songs. Respect is a two-way thing and no-one is going to back your club’s fight for survival if you don’t put a stop to all this antiquated vitriol.
Anyone happening by Fir Park on Saturday could have been mistaken for thinking the season was over. The reaction of fans and players to our win over Hearts suggested a belief European football is in the bag. But it could get even better! Rangers have their obvious difficulties, on field and off, which means the glory of a Champions League qualifier could well be on offer for Stuart McCall. Deep down, most Motherwell fans accept this is unrealistic but there’s also a sense we should enjoy it while it lasts.
We take on Hibs tonight and Celtic on Saturday before Rangers play again. Winning either will be hard but two victories would take us level on points with Rangers. In this unlikely scenario we’ll have made up 19 points on the champions in the space of 11 days – momentum, don’t you just love it?
So, our bread and water crash diet started on Saturday, with the UK’s largest football attendance badly let down by players failing miserably to show the necessary spirit and backbone in adversity. Indeed, Killie could have been three ahead at half-time as they took advantage of ridiculous amounts of time and space afforded by their opponents.
Brian Clough said football is a simple game made complicated by idiots, and the magnificent Rangers support deserves far, far more in terms of fundamentals; effort, application and concentration. Regardless of Craig Whyte’s off-field chicanery, Rangers players must get back to doing the basics well and using superior skills to reassert some much-needed authority because, make no mistake, jackals like nothing better than tackling a big beast brought low.
Boring. Dull. Slumber-inducing. That pretty much covers it for Sunday’s trip to Aberdeen. Unfortunately this game was broadcast across the UK – although I’d imagine those missing their usual Sunday English Premier League fix would have turned over pretty quickly.
We just don’t seem to be connecting in the final third in the same way we were earlier in the season. Hopefully this is simply a temporary blip as it is absolutely vital for our top-six hopes that we put points on the board soon.
Luckily the teams below us have been constantly cutting each other’s throats, although the points gap is getting tighter as weeks go by.
We must start adding to our own tally soon – starting with this weekend’s game against Dunfermline.
There’s no shame in getting a draw with Dundee United these days – after all they’ve destroyed both Rangers and St Johnstone in recent weeks. However, the worrying thing is, once again, we failed to score. We’ve now failed to find the back of the net in our last four SPL games and, despite the cup games against Ross County providing some respite, it’s a worrying situation. Fortunately, our defence and goalie have been in top form and have ensured we’ve still picked up points. But we can’t keep relying on them and draws aren’t going to get us anywhere.
League wins are needed, quickly, if we want to wipe out the slim chance of Dunfermline catching us and boost our flagging hopes of a place in the top six. Aberdeen at home this weekend is must-win stuff but, if we get another draw, hopefully it will be a score one.