Category Archives: Scottish Championship

Match Review – Dunfermline vs Dundee United – 13/1/18

In normal circumstances a result like last week’s 6-1 humiliation against Falkirk may have resulted in me boycotting the next away game as a form of protest but unfortunately Steak Bridies exist in this world and I cannot say no to an East End Park Steak Bridie (or two). The reality though is that, despite saying this every week, the Dunfermline game became the most important of the season far. If we won and won well then the season looked like getting back on track. Lose, and hear the news that St.Mirren had won away at Dumbarton then it looks like things are getting to stage where it is done and dusted. Another season in the Championship would be a disaster for the club so it really is all or nothing right now.

The paper talk all week was quite bullish from Csaba Laszlo. Shouts of “we are Dundee United” and the claim that even Celtic wouldn’t put 6 past his side have meant that the build-up to the game has been quite intriguing. Before the Dunfermline fixture Laszlo stated, “As a player I don’t remember we lost like this ever and on the field I tried to keep the stability in my team. As a manager I don’t lose like this with six goals. It was like a nightmare, but this was reality, not a nightmare.”

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In an ideal world fans would have liked to have seen Laszlo ring the changes but the reality is we don’t have the squad capable of it and Laszlo himself said, “If you have the possibility for change, maybe you change but I want the people back in charge,”.

Hopefully my Steak Bridies are not the only good thing to come out of the visit to East End Park…

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So, the big question on everybody’s lips, “would United give us a reaction after last week?”

The answer? No.

From the first minute the United team seemed happy for the ball to be played across the back four and happy for play to be built up incredibly slowly. Dunfermline coped with this very easily and it resulted in a very poor 90 minutes from Csaba Laszlo’s team. The reality is that without Scott Fraser and Fraser Fyvie the team seems to have lost a bit of spark. There is very little going forward and no real control in the middle of the park. Today’s performance felt just as deflating as last week. I was genuinely looking forward to this afternoon because I assumed that it would be a United side full of fight and aggression. Sadly it was a fairly insipid performance, made all the worse with the result from Dumbarton. We are now 8 points behind St.Mirren and the title race is officially out of our own hands. In the space of three weeks we have gone from being in control to being cut adrift and hoping for other results to go our way. We of course have a game in hand and a home fixture against St.Mirren in March but we don’t look like title winners at present.

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The team today should have had enough to beat Dunfermline but the manner in which we went about our business meant that it was all too easy for the Pars. Things could have been even worse if the home side had managed to finish one of the three or four good chances they had in the last fifteen minutes. It felt like, to me, that we were almost playing for the point in the end. It might have been nerves after last week but to be honest it should have been a performance of attacking intent, not one that resulted in incredibly safe and predictable football.

Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 5 – Guilty of incredibly poor distribution. Didn’t have a huge amount to do apart from making three very good saves, two of which came directly from his own mistakes.

4. Mark Durnan – 7 – It says a great deal about a performance when you feel that one of your central defenders was the best player in the side. He made some very important interceptions and kept things together at the back.

3. Tam Scobbie – 4 – Another really poor performance from Scobbie who made a number of bad judgement calls at the back and was caught for pace on a few occasions.

16. Willo Flood – 6 – Did a reasonable job at right-back and came to the rescue a few times. Didn’t get forward too often. 

17. Jamie Robson – 6 – Much more comfortable on the left hand side. Like Flood he didn’t get forward to often and he had to make up for Scobbie’s mistakes on a few occasions.  

15. Craig Slater – 6 – Grew in to the game as it went on and looks like a decent enough player. Didn’t stamp enough authority on to the game .  

12. Sam Stanton – 6 – Similar to Slater. Did okay but did not do enough on the ball and didn’t manage to get the better of the Dunfermline midfield.

7. Paul McMullan – 6 – Credit to McMullan for putting in a real shift. He hassled and harried but his final ball, as always, was lacking. He missed a good chance towards the end of the game.  

11. Billy King – 5 – Completely out of the game in the first half and only really saw the ball on a few occasions during the second 45. Flashes of positivity but not enough. 

58. Emil Lyng – 5 – Looks a decent enough handful but let down badly by the supply in to his feet or the lack of crosses into the box.

8. Scott McDonald – 4 – For me it was another really poor performance from someone who did plenty of talking during the week. His decision-making in particular was very, very poor.

Subs – 5. Paul Quinn (2) You must assume Stanton was injured otherwise it was a very strange decision to bring Quinn on. He did very little as a central midfielder.

Man of the Match – For me it was Mark Durnan. It shouldn’t be the case that a central defender becomes your key man but the reality is we relied on him to bail us out on several occasions today.

Next Fixture – The league takes a break as we travel to play Alloa in the Scottish Cup. If we were flying high at the top of the table I would say play your strongest team but to be honest it should be used to field some fringe players and work on fitness for those lacking it. Laszlo has a lot of work ahead of him over the next fortnight, and hopefully a couple of new signings might be on the horizon.

Match Preview – Dunfermline vs Dundee United

There is little doubt that United fans will be approaching Saturday’s game against Dunfermline with some anger still to subside after the 6-1 thrashing against Falkirk. It was one of the worst performances in living memory and will take a long time to get over. One group of people who do need to move on, and quickly, are the players. Much has been said in the last few days with players publicly apologising in the newspapers, on ArabZone and on their social media platforms. Talk is cheap though and the only comfort for United fans will be a good result and a strong performance.

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The fact that our next opponents are Dunfermline could act as a blessing or a curse. We actually have a strong record against the Pars but we must be wary of the fact that they will have seen last week’s result and fancy their chances. They are on a good run of form and one thing Dunfermline can do is score goals so it will be vitally important that the defensive errors that were there for all to see at the weekend are cut out. You would hope that despite a persistent injury Mark Durnan would be back in the starting eleven and, for me, Cammy Ballantyne deserves an opportunity at right-back (assuming Stewart Murdoch is still injured). It was the wrong call by Laszlo to expose Jamie Robson on his weaker side against Falkirk. He really struggled but so did Brandon Mason. He had a nervy 90 minutes and looked every bit the inexperienced defender on the left hand side. Those two had really poor games but they were not helped by the experienced central defenders also showing major weaknesses that the Falkirk players exploited far too easily.

In the deeper midfield positions we are limited with options but for me the two sitting players should be Sam Stanton and Craig Slater. I feel a little sorry for Willo Flood but his performances against Falkirk and St.Mirren, both away from home, were well below what is expected from him. The Dunfermline central midfield is arguably one of their weaker areas so if Stanton and Slater can dominate then we could gain control of the game.

That leaves the forward area. Nobody came out of the Falkirk game with any credit but again we are a little bit short on numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a reshuffle but lack of bodies means that we are limited. James Keatings (who may be injured again) was totally anonymous last Saturday and for me it would be an easy decision to relegate him to the bench if others are available. There seems to be a little bit of confusion surrounding Paul McMullan’s two game suspension with some newspapers claiming he is banned but others saying that his second game is in fact next week. If he is available he should play instead of Keatings. The same selection dilemma is a bit more difficult when it comes to Scott McDonald. I think the veteran forward has some big attitude issues when things are not going his way and his body language against Falkirk was atrocious. He is, however, our top scorer and can be a game changer in terms of his finishing and awareness. I would probably go with a three of McMullan, McDonald and Keatings in behind our new striker Emil Lyng. The giant Dane didn’t really get a sniff during his brief cameo in the last game so he should be given the opportunity to lead the line against Dunfermline.

My team would be –

GK – Harry Lewis

 

RB – Cammy Ballantyne

CB – Mark Durnan

CB – Tam Scobbie

LB – Jamie Robson

 

CM – Craig Slater

CM – Sam Stanton

 

RM – Billy King

CAM – Scott McDonald

LM – James Keatings/Paul McMullan

 

ST – Emil Lyng

 

Subs – Deniz Mehmet, Brandon Mason, Paul Quinn, Willo Flood, Logan Chalmers, Matty Smith, Scott Allardice.

Key Player – Emil Lyng – A massive opportunity for the new striker to become the main man for United. We have been guilty of not taking chances this season so if he can get off the mark on Saturday then he could be the man to make a difference over the next few months.

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This Saturday the team need to put on a performance for the large travelling support. We normally take good numbers through to East End Park and this would be the perfect opportunity to show them that the team are still in the fight for the title. If we end up losing or dropping points then it could be last chance saloon if St.Mirren carry on winning. They play Dumbarton away and their lead at the top could be extended to nine points if we lose against Dunfermline.

 

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – St.Mirren

Although technically it is down to alphabetical order it is quite apt that my last Championship report card is also the easiest and probably the most positive. It is safe to say that if you are a Buddie then life is quite good at the moment and the last 12 months have been some of the best in recent memory. They also have, at the moment, one of the best young managers in country leading their charge back to the Premiership. Things are on the up regardless of whether they win the title this year or not (I am a Dundee United fan so have to remain optimistic). The free scoring Saints have provided this league with the best performances and best individual players we have seen this season so it is looking more and more likely that they have enough to get them over the finishing line.

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The form guide has been full of green this year as only 4 defeats and 3 draws have meant an impressive points haul of 38 in the first half of the campaign. This averages out at 19 points per quarter (with 17 being the enough to win the Championship over the past few seasons). Two big wins over Dundee United in Paisley also show that when they need a result, more often than not they get one. I must say I have always been thoroughly impressed with the way Jack Ross sets out his team and the manner in which his side wins matches. They have great attacking flair but they are also streetwise enough that gradually as the season has gone on they have been able to grind out important results. The fact that they have so many different goal scorers in the team also shows just how potent St.Mirren are when they are on their game.

The amazing thing about how well St.Mirren are doing is that if I was to write a mid-term report for last season we would be talking about potential League One football. The Buddies didn’t win any of their first 14 games last year and they already have more points now than they ended up with in the whole of last term. Despite losing Stevie Mallan in the summer the team have been strengthened with some very smart signings, including top goalscorer Gavin Reilly and the permanent signing of Cammy Smith. From an outsiders point of view the, still fairly fresh, board seem to have all the right ideas and could be seen as the envy of some other clubs (remember, I am a Dundee United fan). The supporters and the club all seem to working for the same goal and even if they did not gain promotion this year things are looking incredibly bright. I suppose one challenge that may face the club in the near future is life after Jack Ross and making sure that the next managerial appointment is as positive.

One final point I want to make regards St.Mirren’s stance on Project Brave. I have always kept an eye on them because of the investment in youth development. They have probably been one of the more consistent producers of young talent in the country over the past 6 or 7 years so I was interested to hear why they hadn’t applied for ‘Elite’ status. It stems from the additional costs required to reach ‘Elite’ and the club felt that hiring more staff will happen but at the moment things are working well and within budget. Another sensible move by the board.

January Wishlist – There is no real desperate need to sign anyone in January. St.Mirren’s squad is already very strong and contains a plethora of attackers. I have seen a few suggestions that an enforcer type midfielder might be useful for additional strength in the middle and to maybe help see out games but to be honest as long as everyone is fit there is no need to add more than 1 or 2 and even then it would be mostly for cover.

Player of the Season (so far) – Take your pick. In any other season people like Stephen McGinn or Gavin Reilly would be up there but you can’t really look past one of the best young prospects in the country for this. Lewis Morgan has been simply outstanding this year and he has been rewarded with a move to Celtic. The decision regarding his loan back to the Saints for the remainder of the season is a fantastic piece of business that will benefit both Morgan and St.MIrren.

Predicted Finish – 2nd. Just to clarify the prediction of 2nd is more hope than anything else due to my own allegiances. I must admit as the weeks go by it is looking more and more likely that St.Mirren might end up as title winners in May. Before the festive period it looked like Dundee United were in the driving seat however the Buddies have gone on to notch some impressive results and now have a clear advantage over Csaba Laszlo’s side. There may well be a sticky spell ahead but the only reason I say that is down to pure chance given most teams go through 3 or 4 games a season when things slow down. I can but hope…

Manager Grade – A. Is Jack Ross the best young manager in Scotland? He is probably close. Almost everything you hear about him is positive. The players praise his man management, his coaches praise his training sessions and it helps that as a person he is very engaging, intelligent and willing to help others. imgID140956005.jpg.gallery.jpgThe big worry for any St.Mirren fan is actually someone else losing their job because Ross will be mentioned anytime there is a vacancy. There would have been a few nervy fans watching on as Hearts were looking for a new manager earlier in the season and again when the Derek McInnes saga was rumbling on. I have even seen a few mentions of a possibility of him being on the Stoke City shortlist. One thing is for sure, if he wins the league and then moves on then there will not be a single fan with anything but positivity towards Jack Ross.

Overall Grade – A. I am of course delighted as a United fan to say that things are wonderful in Paisley. In all seriousness though there is a slight feeling of jealousy as, at the moment, things seem to be sitting very nicely both on and off the pitch for St.Mirren. They seem to be heading for the Championship title and they have given themselves a little bit of breathing space over the coming weeks. A couple of freak results may derail things but to be honest there is a big part of me that thinks it is now St.Mirren’s title to lose. It is a great time to be a Buddie.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Queen of the South

Challenge – Try to write this report and not mention Stephen Dobbie every other sentence.

Queen of the South are pretty much Championship veterans now and they have managed in the last few seasons to be there or there abouts almost every year. They are normally quite good value for the odd big result and it is always the case that teams tend to worry about their trips to Palmerston as being the games that see them slip up. It has been another season of decent runs of form mixed in with a few terrible results but so far, in general, things have been okay (but not great).

Getting their own fans to come and watch Queens has been an issue over the past few seasons and crowds are not that impressive again this year. They have tried to entice more supporters to the games but it remains that they have one of the lower average attendances and by default this then affects their budgets and ability to sign players. It is for this reason that they are probably now in a situation where they feel like they don’t really know what the next steps are. The investment opportunities are not really there to be able to push them towards a title challenge but at the same time they are safe enough at the moment that relegation is not really a concern.

January Wishlist – For me Queens need to shore up their back line and the fact that they have conceded more goals than everyone bar the bottom two means they need to sign a couple of defenders at the very least. They have already secured the services of Myles Beerman from Rangers so he should provide additional cover defensively (although he is predominantly a fullback). Further forward they need some more bodies in the middle of the park. The midfield is not dominant enough and there is no ‘presence’ in there. With the departing Chris Kane it is also important that Queens add to their forward line. It doesn’t help they are tight budget wise and will, like others, be competing for similar players.

Player of the Season (so far) – I’ve been saving up my Stephen Dobbie mentions so I might as well go for it now. The 35-year old is probably the best player in the Championship and there are a number of Premiership sides who would be desperate to land his services. A bona fide Queen of the South legend he is now the fifth highest goalscorer in the club’s near 100 year history and is probably the best Queens player of the ‘modern era’. It isn’t just his goalscoring, technically he is a superb footballer with a wonderful range of passing. He reckons he has another two seasons in him. Let’s wait and see…

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Predicted Finish – 7th. Firstly, sorry. Secondly the only real reason that I have put Queens in 7th is that I have used up the other slots above them and to be honest 4th-8th is a total lottery. One of the reasons I think they might fall away a little is the reliance on Dobbie. They are not a one man team but if he was to pick up an injury or a suspension then the goals suddenly dry up. It might not happen but I think that some of the teams in and around Queen of the South might make a bigger push as the season reaches its critical stages. This is also a squad that is already a bit thin on the ground so much depends on January dealings.

Manager Grade – C. Generally speaking I’m a fan of Gary Naysmith and I have no doubt that he will have a decent career in management. It is however the case that maybe things are not quite as ‘fresh’ as they once were when he initially took over at Queen of the South. The team has stalled over the last year or so and it is looking like Naysmith, despite having a very tight budget, is maybe not quite getting the best out of what is available to him. He is at a stage in this job where he has been there long enough to be judged and it might be that come the end of the season he may need to move on if they do not progress in the league.

Overall Grade – B. Another season of ups and downs in Dumfries. A few good performances and watching Dobbie boss games has seen the fans enjoy a fair chunk of the season but there are also serious frailties in this side and maybe it is time for a freshening up of the coaching staff. On their day it feels like either Queens are running riot or failing badly and there is little in between. It must be incredibly frustrating for fans to watch their team flip from one type of performance to another but at the same time it must also be worrying that this side don’t seem to have a strong identity or consistency about them. Small home crowds and tightening budgets also mean that in such a tough league they may find themselves slipping down the league table not only this season but possible next too.

Match Review – Falkirk vs Dundee United – 6/1/18

Disclaimer – This first bit was written just before game.

There is nothing more exciting as a football fan than going to a game and wondering if some new signings will be playing for the first time. It doesn’t matter how bad your team are your heart will always be lifted by the news that you have some new players to judge support. Thankfully this United team are progressing quite well at the moment so signings Craig Slater, Brandon Mason and Emil Lyng are joining a squad that is already quite strong (if a little depleted).

Laszlo will have seen today’s game as a very difficult prospect as Falkirk are also in the midst of a signing spree and surely must come good at some point this season (they can’t be this bad all season can they?)

The starting eleven had two changes, both enforced. Paul McMullan was suspended due to his stupidity last week and Mark Durnan is still feeling the effects of a niggling injury that was made worse against Brechin. Of the new signings it was Brandon Mason and Craig Slater who made their debuts with Emil Lyng on the bench.

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The first half was probably the worst we have seen under Csaba Laszlo so far. The early goal was really the only positive for United and to be honest losing 2-1 at the break flattered us. Falkirk hit the bar and post with Craig Sibbald bossing the midfield. It was flat all over the park and our normally solid defence looked incredibly weak with Robson on the right being torn apart from the other Robson on the left for Falkirk. Paul Quinn really struggled in the tackle and looked very weak physically. It didn’t help that his passing was also pretty woeful. Harry Lewis looked very suspect, especially coming for crosses. Almost every Falkirk corner seemed to cause mass panic which was not helped by the insistence from Lewis to come charging out for every ball. Falkirk strolled the first 45.

Surely the second half would be better? Surely? No. No it wasn’t. In fact it was worse. Amazingly there was no reaction from the United team after the first half performance. Normally you expect a quick start or a bit of pressure early on but it was completely missing. All credit to Falkirk for their work-rate and forward play but as a team United were totally abject and had no redeeming qualities. Not much else to say about the game other than Laszlo will absolutely devastated and incredibly angry. This is a performance that will embarrass him and it embarrassed the 1200 odd United fans that made the effort to go. There can be very few slip ups now with St.Mirren continuing to pick up points. No more room for error and we need to move on from one of the worst performances I can remember from a United side.

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Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 2 – At fault for at least one of the goals and looked unsure all afternoon. Poorest he has been in a United shirt.

32. Brandon Mason – 3 – He obviously enjoyed getting forward but today caught him out. Maybe the pace of the game was a bit of a shock but he looked nervy on the ball and was out muscled far too easily.

3. Tam Scobbie – 3 – Badly caught out in a few one on one runs from people like Longridge and he did not look like an experienced pro today. Out paced and out thought.

5. Paul Quinn – 2 – I’ve seen this type of performance from Quinn before and it reminded me of the game against Crusaders. Totally devoid of any leadership and quality from someone you expect better from. 

17. Jamie Robson – 3 – Looked very uncomfortable in possession playing on his weaker side and he was easily beaten down the line far too often.  

15. Craig Slater – 4 – Probably United’s best midfielder despite being substituted early in the second half. Neat and tidy in possession so should be an important player over the next few months.  

12. Sam Stanton – 3 – Very quiet compared to his usual box-to-box style. Never got a sniff and was physically as weak as I have seen him.

16. Willo Flood – 3 – Back to the bad old days of last season. Looked totally lost and well short of pace compared to the Falkirk players around him. He was totally bossed by the Falkirk midfield.  

11. Billy King – 3 – Weak going forward and did nothing to help out Mason behind him. Nothing came off for him apart from his early goal which he took well.   

19. James Keatings – 2 – Going backwards again for Keatings. After last week’s decent performance he went missing today. Offered nothing on the ball.

8. Scott McDonald – 2 – Isolated upfront but did nothing to help his cause by not putting in any effort off the ball. Looked like he was in the huff for the majority of the game.  

Subs – 58. Emil Lyng (2) Made no impact under difficult circumstances. 38. Logan Chalmers (2) Difficult game for the youngster to be involved in. 28. Matty Smith (2) Same as Chalmers, couldn’t make any impact.

Man of the Match – Craig Sibbald. Not a chance any United player would be anywhere near this. In the first half Sibbald was by far the best player on the park, in the second he was a bit quieter but still dominated the midfield. Louis Longridge got the stadium announcement and was also very impressive for the Bairns. 

Next Fixture – Dunfermline Away – 13th December. We must surely see a massive reaction from United? Laszlo has a full week to prepare for what will be a massive game for his team. We must win at East End Park. Not only that we need to put in a dominant performance to repay the faith that the fans showed today (and will again next week).

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Livingston

I’ve been looking forward to this. Every team I have written about so far seems to have an underlying tone of negativity. Not here. Not at the Toni Macaroni Arena. Livingston won the 2016/17 League One title at a canter so had time and space to plan for this immediate return to Championship football. Spirits were already high coming in to this campaign and David Hopkin has now been in charge for two years so knows the club well and knows what to do to get the best out of his players. imgID129635145His managerial record is pretty fantastic and this season has seen a few admiring glances from sides who have parted company with their own managers. At the moment though he is fully focused on continuing Livingston’s very impressive season. Livi have been there or there abouts all campaign and they are still within touching distance of the top despite a couple of slight falters recently. The fans have been delighted with what they have seen this season and it has been great to see as an outsider. Of all the supporters in the division the Livi lot have the freedom to enjoy their season and what it might bring. Enjoyment is a luxury that most football fans don’t have! Since week seven Hopkin’s men have not been out of the playoff spots and you would think that if they replicate even some of their early form after January then they will comfortably end the season in the top four.

One slight concern for fans given the season they have had will be the potential for this team to be ripped apart. How often do we see teams doing well and then losing half a dozen players? Currently there are over 15 who are out of contract in the summer.  That is a huge number and some are already attracting interest, like the team captain Craig Halkett. It is the price of success and unfortunately Livingston are a club that, in the long term, cannot compete financially with others in the division and in the Premiership. It means that as a club they can give a platform for young, talented players but they know that they might lose those them after a short while. Of course most Livingston supporters have been through pretty much anything and everything you can experience supporting a football club so none of this will come as too much of a shock to them.

January Wishlist – The real focus in January is to try and extend some of the contracts that are expiring and to be able to hold on to some of the players that have been attracting interest. They can do with adding a little bit of depth here and there with upfront being a priority (but it is for pretty much every team in the league). They have already missed out on a striker, Nathan Austin, due to another team offering a better financial package so they will have to be patient this month. The loan market has proved useful and could be another avenue to explore. Today they have moved to sign Jordan Thompson on loan from Rangers. 

Player of the Season (so far) – Take your pick. Spoiled for choice here especially in the defensive areas given Livingston’s organisational strength. JS131342737Midfielder Scott Pittman is a perfect foil in front of the defence in terms of breaking things up but my pick comes in the shape of captain fantastic Craig Halkett. The 22-year old leads out Livingston every week and looks every bit the part. Many reckon he could be the best defender in the league and it looks a certainty that he will move on sooner rather than later. He should go on to have a very good career.

Predicted Finish – 3rd. Momentum is massive and if Livi can hold on to the core of their team and not lose any players due to expiring contracts then they should be good enough to finish in the top four. They know what to expect in the second half of the season and they know that they can compete against every team in the division. Securing important results and edging out teams like Dunfermline and Morton will be vital but everything will come down to not losing key players.

Manager Grade – A. Can’t really say anything negative about Hopkin. Along with Stevie Aitken at Dumbarton and Jack Ross at St.Mirren you could make a case for him being the best manager in the division at the moment. He will have a decision to make in the near future because the chances are he will be offered an opportunity at a bigger team soon. He would probably benefit from another season at Livingston but if his squad gets decimated in the summer then he would be within his right to seek out a fresh challenge.

Overall Grade – A. Definitely the success story of the year so far. A team punching above its weight on the pitch they have managed to surprise everyone and may well get the reward at the end of it all by playing an important role in the title race if they can hold on to their players. Fans must be delighted that after such a turbulent few years they can finally enjoy their football on the pitch and it certainly seems that the board are doing a pretty good job at ensuring the future of Livingston (although the exact picture isn’t totally clear). The stadium ownership is still an uncertainty that long-term might need a solution and the board will also have a decision to make in the coming months; what next? Do they push and try to challenge again next season? The focus might be more about stability and ensuring that the club becomes a competitive Championship side with a clear plan and clear budget. One thing they do need to start doing, in my opinion, is offering players longer deals with more security and possibly sell-on clauses or future payments so that they do not lose players for nothing.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Inverness Caledonian Thistle

It is always difficult trying to re-adjust after a relegation (as Dundee United found out last season) and for Inverness the same pressure was in place during the summer as they knew that they would be playing in the Scottish Championship. I don’t think it is unfair to say that for a long time now Inverness have been punching above their weight. That is not say that they are not a Premiership sized club but their budgets are much smaller than many of their counterparts (including now in the Championship). It is a big challenge to plan and attract new players when you don’t have the lure of top-flight football or the ability to pay big wages. Having sacked Richie Foran after a disastrous spell in charge (plus for his terrible beard) the board moved to bring back John Robertson as head coach in the summer. nintchdbpict000348189927.jpgMany, myself included, thought that his appointment would end in disaster. Bizarrely he didn’t even apply for the job but was offered it due to connections on the board. I don’t particularly like clubs that re-visit previous regimes but Inverness seem to do it more than most. It also doesn’t help that the boardroom situation at the club is in a bit of a mess. People seem to be coming and going on the board which does not help with stability, especially in a difficult period such as this. It has also been suggested in recent weeks that the future of the club could be in jeopardy due to the current stadium deal (link).

As for the team on the park well Robertson, who last managed the club nearly 15 years ago, got off to a pretty disastrous start after winning only one of his first seven games. However, as if by magic, on the 30th of September a 0-0 draw at home to Queen of the South seemed to kick some life back into their season. Since that game Robertson’s men have only lost twice in twelve and have managed to shore up their defence (breaking a club record for consecutive clean sheets in the process). They are still way short of a finished article but they seem to have a decent momentum behind them. Games against St.Mirren, Falkirk and Dunfermline in quick succession in January will go a long way to show how far Robertson has improved this team since the start of the season.

January Wishlist – Just like a few teams in this division Caley are crying out for some firepower. They have secured the services of Nathan Austin who was released by Falkirk but they will need another one striker at the very least. Furthermore, with the departure of long-serving David Raven they will definitely need another reliable right-back to take his place.

Player of the Season (so far) – I have noticed a few Caley fans singing the praises of Mark Ridgers this season and it seems as though he has definitely improved as a goalkeeper. However for player of the season so far I can almost feel my fingers hurting as I type this. DQxhiLQUQAE-SsbTo be honest any Dundee United fan reading this report will have this down as one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, but my pick for the best player for Inverness so far is……..Coll Donaldson. Yes, Coll Donaldson. The world is a weird and wonderful place.

The central defender has found a new lease of life at Inverness and has put in some terrific performances during his spell at the club. He has recently signed a contract extension and will undoubtedly be keen to continue to prove the haters wrong (mainly United fans).

Predicted Finish – 4thI’m taking a gamble here but I have faith in Inverness finishing in the last playoff spot. I’m not sure what it is but I think they have reason to galvanise as a squad and they seem to have found a bit of purpose recently. Much will depend on two or three quality additions in January but for me I think Robertson’s side have more about them compared to others who will be fighting it out for 4th spot. I’ve probably jinxed it now but I do think that they will have just about enough.

Manager Grade – B. John Robertson. Even thinking about him as a football manager again still makes me feel a bit odd. He was out of coaching for five years and got the job despite not applying for it but yet he has managed to do something good in recent months otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about a possible 4th place finish. Are Inverness where they are because of Robertson or in spite of Robertson?

Overall Grade – C.  I’m not really sure what to make of Inverness, and I am sure that some of their fans probably think the same. If you are a diehard Caley fan then this season has been really difficult. Beyond the relegation itself behind the scenes things are not healthy and you wonder if another season in the Championship may make things even worse. Who knows what the future may hold for this club but at the moment there does not seem to be much good will towards the board and the prospect of what may happen in the coming months. On the pitch things are a bit more stable after a shaky start and it may be the case that in a few months time the fans will have at least the playoffs to look forward to. In many ways, more than most in this division, the next few months will be huge for this club.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Greenock Morton

Of all the clubs in the division this season it feels as though Greenock Morton seem to be the just bobbing along without much to get too excited about or be too worried about. Partly it might be because last season was particularly good and things have yet to reach those heights but it is also partly down to the general nature of Jim Duffy just going about his business without much fanfare (which is maybe part of the problem). Jim-Duffy-against-St-Mirren-Gary-Bradley_925x581_acf_cropped-1.jpgThe danger for Morton is that there are other teams in the division that seem to be a lot more desperate to achieve something or prove a point so it might be that that get caught out when the league campaign reaches the final stages. In my opinion Duffy is beginning to falter in this sense. Similarly to Houston when he was at Falkirk it seems as though Duffy is now beginning to be a little unsure of his signings, his team selection and his tactics. Last season the standards were high and this season, more often than not, they have not quite been met. One thing Morton do not have is the budget of a St.Mirren or Dundee United but when you look at what Livingston have managed to do then you must begin to question if Duffy (or the board) have just gone a bit stale? There isn’t any room in the Championship for taking your eye off the ball because there will always be half a dozen teams willing to invest and push forward. Are Morton becoming victims of resting on their laurels?

One nice touch that the club have added to this season is the continuation of the opportunity for fans to design and then vote on the club’s kits. This has been happening in various forms over the past couple of seasons and it continues in this with next season’s home kits. The images below show the shortlisted kits and then the eventual winner for next season’s strip.

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January Wishlist – Probably a bit of everything if possible. One key area of the team that needs improved in my opinion is in the middle of the park. They need cover in there and someone who can sit deep and take control of the game in terms of breaking things up. Some additional cover in the fullback areas would also be good. Duffy has used the loan market very well in the past but hasn’t yet to do so this season.

Player of the Season (so far) – In a pretty average season so far it is a challenge to pick out a single player. Defensively Rickie Lamie has been probably been the most consistent performer. Gary-Harkins-celebrates-versus-St-Mirren-Ross-Cameron-Resized-e1514846051327.jpgAlso as a United fan I am pained to admit it but Gary Harkins has put in some excellent displays this season. He is having a bit of an Indian summer as he reaches the end of his career.

Predicted Finish – 6thWhen I first started to write this report I had Morton down as finishing in 4th spot but to be honest the more I thought about it the more I realised that there are other teams around them who seem to be making improvements and Morton are standing by whilst this is all happening. Jim Duffy seems to have lost his way a little and the team on the park are unbalanced and lightweight in key areas. I wonder if the second half of the 2017/18 campaign will turn out to be a bit of a nightmare for Morton. Either that or it will tail off into a season of mediocrity.

Manager Grade –  C. Last season Jim Duffy was in the running for everyone’s end of season managerial awards. He managed to galvanise a squad and achieved great things across the domestic competitions. He talks a good game, is well thought of in the media and holds a decent reputation in Scotland. As I mentioned earlier though, it might be a case of resting on his laurels but the impression I get is that he is coasting a little and maybe it is time for a fresh approach.

Overall Grade – C. Despite a couple of positive results recently it just isn’t a very exciting season for Morton and the fans. An inconsistent home record means that supporters don’t know what to expect when they turn up to Cappielow. The board have been criticised for ‘settling’ and not pushing the club forward in the way fans would want. They have invested a great deal of time and effort into Project Brave in order to enter at the ‘Performance Progressive’ status but this has not been achieved. If you are a fan reading this I am sorry if all of this sounds a big negative, I actually really like Morton. I just feel as though there needs to be a collective push from the club because there really is not that much between the teams in this division and if you take your eye off the ball you can find yourself slipping down the table before you know it.

 

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Falkirk

Where do we begin? The reality is that any look at Falkirk’s 2017/18 campaign so far would run into ‘War and Peace’ territory but seeing as though I have set myself an 800-1000 word limit on these reports then you will have to get the abridged version. Basically everything has been awful.

I will start with my own, outsiders opinion, on the recent decision to withdraw funding of the Forth Valley Youth Academy. This is something I have a huge interest in and I would recommend reading Michael Calvin’s book ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ for anyone interested in youth football and a look at how these decisions have affected some English clubs. The timing of it all also holds additional weight given the recent decisions regarding the SFA’s Project Brave (but I definitely don’t have time to talk about that). Having read many opinions and spoken to people who support Falkirk I think the overall feeling I have is one of sadness. Removing this part of a football club, to me, means losing a bit of identity. It also endangers much of the good faith people have in the community aspect of a football team, something Falkirk have a fantastic reputation for. Financially there are reasons for making this call but the ins and outs of that are above the knowledge of your average fan. The way it has all been handled has been quite poor (and it also doesn’t help that they have given this new direction a terrible title – “Towards the Premiership”). As a supporter you want your team to win on a Saturday and if this decision helps improve that then it will be seen as the correct one but it is still a move that doesn’t sit well with me.

In terms of on the park things are quite straightforward. Dreadful summer recruitment and low morale has resulted in one of the worst starts to a season in living memory. The summer signings made little sense and for me it was like watching the same film from a few years ago as Houston started doing what he had done at Dundee United in terms of recruiting players to then play them out of position whilst ignoring much of the young talent already at the club (it was almost as if he was working his ticket). Houston was rightly sacked but the problems go way beyond the manager. nintchdbpict000358180538The performance that sums Falkirk’s season up for me was the display against Dundee United in November. The 3-0 defeat was one of the most abject performances I have ever seen at Tannadice and one which made me really wonder how bad things are at Falkirk. The new manager, Paul Hartley, has a huge challenge ahead of him and he has already begun a clear out that will continue into January. Whether or not a large influx of players can turn things around remains to be seen but one thing is certain, whatever happens this season there remains huge question marks over the current board and their ability to move Falkirk forward. This club has the fan base, the facilities and the structure to be challenging for the Championship title.

January Wishlist – A transfer window rivalling what is commonly referred to as a ‘Ross County’ is needed. The board have decided to financially back a push towards the Premiership so they will be giving Paul Hartley the freedom to do as much as he can. The problem might be in shifting players as there are a few on decent money that won’t be cheap to get rid of. Whether all of this happens in January, who knows, but there must be at least half a dozen new players on their way to Falkirk in the coming weeks. What areas need strengthened the most? That is easy, everywhere.

Player of the Season (so far) – Do I have to? It would be much easier to single out the awful performances from people like Alex Harris, Rory Loy, Myles Hippolyte et al.image.jpeg One bright spark (and ironic given the decision to get rid of the youth system) has been Cieran Dunne. A player with a great deal of raw talent he has managed to show some of the more experienced professionals a thing or to by putting in some consistent and reliable performances during his brief spell in the first team.

Predicted Finish – 8thDespite all the negativity I personally think the is some light at the end of all of this. As much as it looks like it now I don’t think Falkirk will be in relegation battle come May. They should catch those above them (just) but it is safe to say that Inverness, Morton etc are probably too far away to be caught so I think 8th is roughly where Falkirk will end up. As long as Hartley can add a handful of decent additions then they will have enough to get through the campaign and then they can begin to plan for next season.

Manager Grade – Not possible to grade Paul Hartley yet. He inherited a bit of a gang (and not a very good gang) so he needs time to get things right. Despite being a Dundee United fan I actually do rate Hartley and think that he is a decent manager who needed a fresh start after becoming a bit stale at Dens. He should give Falkirk a good chance at promotion next season.

Overall Grade – F. Not much more I can add to what has already been said. The whole thing has been a bit of a mess (both on and off the field). Fans have been left in a state of disillusionment at just how poorly things have been handled in recent months and the latest decision to axe the youth development side of the club has further divided supporters. Sacking Houston should have happened sooner and the reality is the board have a lot to answer for in guiding Falkirk, a club that should be nowhere near this mess, into a complete shambles of a season.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Dunfermline Athletic

I like Dunfermline. East End Park was the first regular away ground for me and my dad so I have always enjoyed going to watch football there. There is also the small matter of the best food in football (I am more than happy to queue behind a dodgy ticket scanner for hours to get a couple of steak bridies).

Going into the start of this campaign I would have had Dunfermline as potential title challengers alongside United, Falkirk and St.Mirren. Until October it looked like that was going to be the case but one league win since the start of November has seen the Pars fall way behind the top two. Fans must be frustrated at the lack of progress under Allan Johnston this season. maxresdefaultHe has now been in charge for just over two years but to be honest, for me it looks more and more likely that he has simply taken his side as far as he can. The criticism of Johnston is quite often directed towards his tactical naivety and his inability to manage game situations properly. His side play good football and they attack well but there is an imbalance in the squad that needs addressing. There is probably no real danger of a change of manager right now but it might be the case that the board may look elsewhere when his contract expires in the summer.

Dunfermline supporters will be incredibly frustrated that they have not seen their side make more of a push towards promotion. The league this year is anybody’s guess and to be honest the Pars should be in the mix. In my opinion one big factor in the downturn in fortunes has been the lack of a proper midfield. Johnston has players out of position and to me they lack at least two central midfielders who can control games and distribute the ball properly. Bizarrely the potential targets in January (according to rumours) contain more strikers.

Getting away from the pitch I think Dunfermline deserve a lot of credit for the hard work in introducing a number of different initiatives and community projects over the last 18 months. Dunfermline should be applauded in making efforts to improve many of the behind the scenes things that fans might not always notice. After a turbulent few years it looks like Dunfermline are back to being a stable, well run, community club (and others could learn a thing or two from it).

January Wishlist – It is vital that Dunfermline add to their midfield. They need real quality in the middle of the park which would take the pressure away from the players who are playing in there at the moment. One issue for Johnston might be that teams like Falkirk and Dundee United will be looking for a large number of players and Dunfermline may lose out as you would assume these clubs may be more desperate and offer larger contracts.

Player of the Season (so far) – Quite a difficult job this. All of Dunfermline’s key men have suffered from real inconstancy this season and the forward line is full of players like Joe Cardle who can destroy teams one game and then be totally anonymous the next. Personally Declan McManus is someone who I rate highly. SportPix_SCHAM_Dun-v-Bre_CB23122017017_5138He has been a bit of a nomad in his career so far but at 23 he may have found some stability at Dunfermline.

Predicted Finish – 5thIt is pretty much an impossible task to predict where Dunfermline and a few other teams might finish this season. They still have the capability in this squad to finish in the playoff spots but the worry would be teams in and around them who may have a more successful January transfer window. I can see Dunfermline just missing out on a playoff spot.

Manager Grade – C. I’m a big believer in managerial cycles. Might it be that Allan Johnston is coming to the end of his? In recent months they feel like a team who have run out of ideas, confidence and stability. They don’t really seem to have a tactical plan at the moment and it might just be the case that they need a fresh set of ideas. Dunfermline fans seem to be fairly split on the issue of managerial change but if they do not reach the playoffs then it would surely mean the end for Johnston.

Overall Grade – C. After a fantastic start it looked like Dunfermline may have been the team to beat this year. It makes it all the more frustrating for their fans that they now look much weaker than Livingston, St.Mirren and Dundee United. They also have two or three sides looking over their shoulder. A good run of form from Morton, Inverness or Queen of the South would see Dunfermline slip out of playoff contention. The January window (and tricky fixture list) will tell us a great deal about what the second half of the season holds for the Pars.