Rangers' kick in face, Celtic synchro wish, Levein's Hearts return, Hibs' pride at Tavares, McGinn injury - Scottish football news

Ibrox defender believes ‘very dark cloud’ has been lifted while Levein and Naismith speak ahead of big return

It’s been a day of press conferences across Scotland ahead of the weekend matches and we pick out some of the key stories:

Balogun happy to see ‘very dark cloud’ lift at Rangers

Leon Balogun has welcomed the removal of a “very dark cloud” which hung over Ibrox following the Aberdeen defeat which ended Michael Beale’s time as Rangers boss. Beale was teetering in September when Barry Robson’s side visited in the cinch Premiership and a convincing 3-1 win for the visitors, which brought more boos from frustrated Light Blues fans, was a step too far. The former Rangers coach was replaced by Steven Davis on a temporary basis before Philippe Clement came in to change the mood of the club and the Belgian won six and drawn one of his seven games in charge before the international break. Ahead of Sunday’s trip to Pittodrie, 35-year-old defender Balogun looked back to the last game against Aberdeen and said: “I wasn’t involved, but that was a massive… a slap on the wrist doesn’t quite make it… it was a kick in the face, (a kick) in your gut. I remember that the team was very down. There was a very dark cloud around the dressing room, I would say, which feels like it has now lifted. There’s a different buzz in the changing room and confidence, as I said before, feels pretty high at the moment because of the recent results and performances as well. So it’s very, very different."

Rangers' James Tavernier celebrates with Leon Balogun and John Lundstram.Rangers' James Tavernier celebrates with Leon Balogun and John Lundstram.
Rangers' James Tavernier celebrates with Leon Balogun and John Lundstram.

Rodgers seeking ‘synchronised’ Celtic side

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Brendan Rodgers will look for his Celtic side to synchronise again following the international break when they host struggling Motherwell on Saturday. The cinch Premiership leaders hammered Aberdeen 6-0 at Parkhead in their last outing which made up for a defeat by the same result against Atletico Madrid in Spain in the Champions League just days earlier. The Scottish champions are eight points ahead of Old Firm rivals Rangers at the top of the league having played a game more and get a chance to stretch that lead further at Celtic Park as the Ibrox men do not play until Sunday when they travel to Aberdeen. Celtic will come up against Stuart Kettlewell’s struggling Motherwell side who, after a good start to the season, have lost seven and drawn two of their last nine league games and are two points off bottom side Livingston. However, Rodgers is focused more on his side’s performance. He said: “We had a really good game against them and Stuart is an excellent young coach who is developing a style there. When I see them play they are very well coached and they work very hard so, for us, we will give them that respect. We come back off an international break and we very quickly have to get the team synchronised again and start off where we left off in our last home game. But we will prepare for a tough game but our focus is working on how we want to.”

Levein relishing prospect of return to Hearts with Saints

Craig Levein is excited about reviving his love affair with Tynecastle as the new St Johnstone manager gets set for familiar surroundings in his third game in charge. The former Hearts player, manager and director of football ended his Gorgie career on a sour note when his second spell as boss ended in the sack in October 2019 with the club on their way to relegation, albeit in a Covid-shortened season. Levein smiled as he claimed he hoped to get “roundly booed” on his return but he is relishing the prospect of more positive reunions. “I have spent over 20 years of my working career there and I have got really fond memories of my time,” the 59-year-old said. “I am actually really looking forward to going back and seeing Ann Budge and other board members I haven’t seen for a while. “I am excited. I love Tynecastle, I spent all that time there over the years and have great relationships with people. It’s an interesting fixture so early in my career with St Johnstone. I know quite a lot about going to Tynecastle so maybe it will help. We will find out.”

St Johnstone manager Craig Levein returns to Hearts this weekend.St Johnstone manager Craig Levein returns to Hearts this weekend.
St Johnstone manager Craig Levein returns to Hearts this weekend.

Levein’s Tynecastle appearance should be positive – Naismith

Steven Naismith does not believe Levein’s return to Tynecastle will draw a negative reaction from Hearts supporters on Saturday as he feels most will recognise that overall he had “a positive impact” in his various spells at the Edinburgh club. Naismith – when asked if he expected his former manager to get a negative response – said: “No, I don’t think so. He’s been a large part of the club’s history. He’s been in many roles at the club. He was a fantastic player who was unfortunate that injury stopped him having an even stronger career and he’s been a successful manager at the club. I think people now appreciate what he did for the club. With every employee, coach, player or manager, there’s always a short-term reaction whenever there’s a decision made in terms of somebody leaving, moving on. There’s either an anger or a happiness but over time that subsides and people see the bigger picture with what they have done at the club. Nobody can dispute that he’s had a positive impact at the club, whether as a player or coach.”

Montgomery happy to oversee Tavares’ turnaround

Nick Montgomery expressed “pride” in Jair Tavares over the way the Portuguese winger has seized his second chance at Hibernian after being frozen out under previous boss Lee Johnson. The 22-year-old spoke this week of the “mental devastation” he endured over his lack of game time following his move to the cinch Premiership club from Benfica in the summer of 2022. Tavares made just nine appearances for Johnson last term and featured only twice this calendar year – both times as a late sub – before the Englishman was sacked in late August. However, the winger has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence since Montgomery’s appointment in September, featuring in nine of the current manager’s 11 games in charge and starting each of the last five. “Jair is a great example of a young player moving to a club and things not going as planned,” said Montgomery. “No doubt he’s had some tough times but the first thing I said to him when I came in was ‘you have to forget the past, you can’t have a victim mentality because if you do, it’s really hard to pick yourself up’. I think he’s been growing week by week with his confidence and I’ve been really proud of Jair. I think now people are really starting to see the ability he has. He’s a real team player, he’s working his socks off, and he’s been outstanding ever since he came back into the team. He’s a great story for any player, young or old, who is thinking their career at a club is finished. A change of manager or whatever it may be, and all of a sudden you get an opportunity and you have to grab it with both hands. I think he’s done that.”

Scotland's John McGinn goes off injured during last Sunday's match against Norway.Scotland's John McGinn goes off injured during last Sunday's match against Norway.
Scotland's John McGinn goes off injured during last Sunday's match against Norway.

McGinn could feature for Aston Villa at Tottenham

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery is hopeful John McGinn will be fit for Sunday’s Premier League game at Tottenham. Key midfielder McGinn was withdrawn in the closing stages of Scotland’s 3-3 Euro qualifying draw with Norway last Sunday after sustaining a knock. Emery told a press conference before Sunday’s trip to the capital: “Yesterday (McGinn) came back and he rested, but today he was training. Hopefully tomorrow, there will be no change and he will be OK for Sunday.”