Category Archives: Scottish Football

Match Review – Alloa Athletic vs Dundee United – 20/1/18

Ah yes the magic of the Scottish Cup. As I had previously written in the match preview the ‘magic’ of the cup has all but vanished from Tannadice so today’s game against Alloa has not exactly caused a huge amount of excitement amongst the fans. With about 1000 tickets sold for today’s game there is still a decent travelling support but it is safe to say that all the fans want to see at the moment is league football given how important it is. The United media team have also been showing footage all week from our previous Scottish Cup triumphs which is a handy reminder of the fact that we used to be quite good!

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Perhaps maybe not as many changes as we were expecting from Laszlo. From the team that started the game against Dunfermline it was a case of only two changes. Paul Quinn came in for Tam Scobbie who is injured and Thomas Mikkelsen started ahead Paul McMullan. On the bench Brandon Mason and young Frenchman Idris Kadded did make the match day squad.

A really slow and stuttering start to the game from United. The home side seemed to have a huge number of half chances in the opening spell and United didn’t manage to get a hold of the game. A Jamie Robson sclaff that came off the woodwork and a smattering of Craig Slater shots were the only real attacking moments in the opening minutes but after the 20 minute mark United did start to get more of a grip on things with Sam Stanton coming really close to opening the scoring. After that you would expect United to press ahead but despite having lots of possession it was a really flat performance in the first 45 without much to shout about. Despite all of this we did actually score! Mark Durnan continues his impressive season and managed to grab a goal just before the half-time whistle.

The second half was a bit more positive without ever really being too exciting. Again United had a great deal of the ball but it always seems a bit too patient at the moment and all a bit safe. It was great that Emil Lyng got off the mark for the club and it looks like new French youngster Idris Kadded has a decent technique and could be a good addition to the squad. With games like this it is always the case that the win is the most important thing. At the end of the day Dundee United are in the draw for the next round.

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Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 6 – Steady enough game with not a huge amount to do apart from a couple of decent stops in the first half.

4. Mark Durnan7 – His goal gets him a bonus point and he was probably more willing to be more positive with the ball than the other defenders.

5. Paul Quinn5 – Decent enough performance but his passing and distribution remains a big issue.

16. Willo Flood5 – He is okay at right-back but he is not particularly comfortable there and he needs to be back in the middle.

17. Jamie Robson6 – Got into a few decent positions but his final ball let him down.

15. Craig Slater5 – Quiet game in the middle and three games in he is maybe not making enough of an impact on play.

12. Sam Stanton5 – A fairly uneventful game for him. Quieter than usual.

9. Thomas Mikkelsen6 –  A decent return from the Dane. He links play well but he needs better service.

11. Billy King – 5 –  Looked lively in the first half but was pretty anonymous in the second half.

58. Emil Lyng5 – Yes he scored but he did not have much of an impact on the game and didn’t look particularly comfortable. Hopefully more to come once he is fit.

8. Scott McDonald4 – Really not suited to the role he is playing right now. Does not influence the game enough from his current position behind the striker.

Subs2.Stewart Murdoch (4) – Good to get him on to build on his fitness. Team looks more balanced when he is playing fullback. 22.Idris Kadded (5) – Looked lively when he came on and showed some good touches. Unlucky not to score. 32. Brandon Mason (3) – On for fitness reasons probably. No real impact. 

Man of the Match – Mark Durnan. Simply for being slightly more comfortable than the others around him plus he got his goal. 

Next Fixture – Greenock Morton at home next Saturday. It is back to league business and another massive fixture for the team. Morton got a good win today at Dunfermline so will be high in confidence. It is vital we pick up three points.

 

Match Preview – Alloa Athletic vs Dundee United – Scottish Cup Fourth Round

Normally the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup is quite exciting and intriguing. It gives you a break from league duty and it allows fans the opportunity to enjoy a day out without the normal league pressure. Unfortunately though, one by-product of the current situation at Dundee United is that cup football has become an unnecessary distraction and much of the enjoyment of these occasions has evaporated. Personally it is something I have found quite sad about the last couple of years given the recent track record of doing quite well in domestic cup competitions. Realistically when next might we see United in a quarter-final or semi-final let alone a final?

As for the Alloa game if United were flying high at the top of the Championship it would be easy for me to say that Csaba Laszlo should play his strongest side with the faint hope of a cup run to enhance our season. The reality though is that we are not good enough to go very far in the competition and to be honest we have other priorities. Laszlo should use Saturday’s trip to Recreation Park as a fitness exercise for those on the fringes and needing to prove a point. We need to ensure that some of our players are building on their fitness and we need to give games to players who have been waiting on the bench. It isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be trying to win the match but we should put out a side that looks a little different to the one we have been seeing recently.

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A good win in the cup would at least put things on a positive spin for the home match against Morton a week on Saturday but there remains a cloud over the team at the moment and it is not going to be an easy few months as we head into the remaining league fixtures.

Personally a good shake up would be good for the squad so I would like to see Deniz Mehmet get a game over Harry Lewis. It has been a frustrating season for Deniz who probably thought he might have been given a more prominent role in the squad. He played quite well in the Irn-Bru Cup so I wouldn’t be against him playing against Alloa.

Ahead of him I would like to see Brandon Mason get 90 minutes if he is fit. The young fullback needs a bit of a confidence boost after his horror show against Falkirk. Rumours of him heading back to Watford seem to be a little off the mark but he apparently was down south for some physio so he may not be quite fully fit for Saturday. Another young defender, Cammy Ballantyne should also be getting a run out here. This game would be perfect for the returning defender to prove to Laszlo that he can provide real competition to the right-back slot (he is also pretty much the only natural right-back we have).

In the forward areas I wouldn’t be against Matty Smith or Logan Chalmers getting a shot and it would also make sense to give another 90 minutes to Emil Lyng to build on his match fitness. Resting the likes of Scott McDonald, Billy King and Willo Flood would be a good idea.

My team would be –

GK – Deniz Mehmet

 

RB – Cammy Ballantyne

CB – Mark Durnan

CB – Tam Scobbie

LB – Brandon Mason

 

CM – Craig Slater

CM – Sam Stanton

 

RM – Matty Smith

CAM – Logan Chalmers

LM –  Paul McMullan 

 

ST – Emil Lyng

 

Subs – Harry Lewis, Jamie Robson, Paul Quinn, Willo Flood, Louis Appere,  Scott McDonald, Billy King.

Key Player – Emil Lyng Second week in a row as ‘key player’ for the big striker. A great opportunity for him to get off the mark and hopefully put in a good performance. He showed flashes against Dunfermline so will be looking to grow in confidence against Alloa.

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A good performance and win will at least settle a few nerves (especially amongst those fans who have travelled in huge numbers over the last few weeks). It is however the case that as soon as the full-time whistle goes on Saturday then the real hard work begins as we look ahead to the 15 remaining league games.

 

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.

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.

 

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Dumbarton

Growing up my Grandad, who lived in Balloch, would always sing a song about Dumbarton anytime I mentioned the football team. I can’t remember the exact tune but it contained lines about ‘sons of the rock’ and a reference to ‘everybody licking them’. This has nothing to do with my Dumbarton report card but I thought I would mention it anyway.

Dumbarton had a very positive 2016/17 campaign. They finished 8th under Stevie Aitken and impressed in key games over the course of the season. Much like last year they underwent a huge squad transformation over the summer but they knew they could rely on the hard-work and dedication of their manager to see them through the season. Many fans of Scottish football are maybe a little surprised that Aitken has not been offered a full-time post somewhere else but at the moment the arrangement works out for everyone involved at Dumbarton. They have one of the best managers in the league and regardless of their recruitment over the summer it was always going to be the case that they have the right man to get the best out of the players at the club. It has been a fantastic few years for The Sons but fans know that Aitken will probably be headhunted in the not too distant future.

As for the season so far it has been all pretty positive. Dumbarton sit nine points ahead of 9th place and are in the semi-final of the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup (they have every reason to be confident that they can go on and win the thing). The league highpoint is definitely the 1-0 away win in Paisley against free-scoring St.Mirren but the Sons have only won four games so far and a lack of firepower is costing them some potential points. One big concern for Sons fans should be the quite alarming amount of goals that have been conceded from set-pieces. A huge number of points have been lost due to sloppy defending and they must address this going forward.

January Wishlist – With a fairly balanced squad there is no real need for any panic buys in January. The squad could do with a little more competition going forward and a striker will be the number one priority. The real wish in January for some at the club will be the decisions on the new stadium proposals at Young’s Farm. A new stadium, new pitches, new commercial opportunities and a new community hub are all part of the proposals and the next planning stage is due for consideration towards the end of January. Not all fans are behind the proposed move and I can’t really speak on behalf of any Dumbarton fan but it could be the start a turbulent period in the club’s history if approved.

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Player of the Season (so far) – A couple of contenders here. Despite being signed after the start of the season the short number of appearances by Dimitris Froxylias have been impressive. Probably in terms of impact, and in recognition of younger talent, it has to be said that young winger Tom Walsh has been a standout for Dumbarton. On his day he is probably the best player in this side and he has been attracting interest from two or three teams who might try to put in a bid for his services in January. Holding on to him until the summer will be vital.

Predicted Finish – 9th. A bit controversial this one. I know that Dumbarton are comfortably ahead of Falkirk at the minute but I fully expect a complete squad overhaul for Paul Hartley’s side and I think that we might see a resurgence in their form. It will be tight but I wonder if Dumbarton might slip into a playoff spot at the tail end of the season (especially if they keep shipping soft goals). I would fully expect them to win any potential playoff if they do end up in 9th.

Manager Grade – A. Stevie Aitken continues to work magic with recruitment and game management. thumbnail.aspHe says himself that he is happy concentrating on his job at Dumbarton but truth be told if a bigger job (and maybe more importantly a full-time job) comes along then he may well move on. After a very impressive few seasons with Stranraer and now Dumbarton it has to be said that he probably deserves the opportunity at a full-time managerial post. Holding on to Aitken will be one of the biggest challenges ahead for Dumbarton.

Overall Grade – B. Nothing but general positivity here. Dumbarton fans, especially those who are beyond their teens, will be savouring a period of time in which they can rely on their side to provide a strong challenge to all of the other Championship clubs; it hasn’t always been like this. By the very nature of football things may not last forever but certainly at the moment the fans can feel very satisfied about their team.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Brechin City

On paper it is pretty easy to report on Brechin City’s season so far. Having not won a single game the Glebe Park side sit bottom of the Championship and must surely be facing an immediate return to League One. The table doesn’t lie but there is more to Brechin’s season than the three points they have accumulated since August.

Manager Darren Dods is someone who worked wonders with an injury ravaged squad last season and in many ways this year was always going to be a bit of a free ride. dods-e1514290058989-940x535-2He has faced criticism for his defensive tactics in the past but the hard work in making sure his side are difficult to beat has nearly paid off on more than a few occasions this season (frustratingly they have lost a league game by just a single goal on nine occasions). Brechin have caused teams problems this year but they haven’t quite managed to get over the finishing line. Moving in to January there is a bit more confidence in this team compared to early on in the campaign but the lack of a clinical finisher at the club has meant that there have been numerous opportunities for points that have sadly passed. The January window is an opportunity for Dods to add to his squad and he is keen to do so. He will expect his side to pick up their first victory and push on giving some hope of remaining in the Championship for another year.

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Brechin’s recent 2-1 defeat at home to St.Mirren was the latest example of a frustrating single goal loss.

Looking beyond 2017/18 Brechin will be in a much stronger position after a season in the Championship. Bigger crowds, commercial revenue and a Scottish Cup draw against Celtic will ensure that despite a seemingly inevitable relegation they will be in a very good place for an immediate return to the Championship. The windfall from the tie against Celtic will allow the board to make small improvements behind the scenes and they will also be in a position to give the manager a little bit of money to reinvest in the squad. There is no real danger of Dods being sacked and the board will be happy to give him the opportunity to prove his worth again next season.

January Wishlist – It is obvious to say a striker or two wouldn’t go a miss but for me personally there is an argument to be made in not making any signings. The reasoning behind this might be in then giving Dods a larger budget for next season rather than spending it on the second half of this season.

Player of the Season (so far) – Multiple options for this. A few players are relishing the chance to prove their worth in the Championship and the majority of players have not looked out of place in any way. After much deliberating (and some input from my go to Brechin fan Kim) the decision is that Gary Fusco gets the ‘so far’ award. The 35-year-old deserves a season of Championship football and he has grabbed this opportunity with some solid displays.

Predicted Finish – 10th. Regardless of recruitment it looks like Brechin will finish bottom. They are not helped by the fact that the teams above them will be able to spend much more in January. The best Brechin can hope for is a decent second half of the season and a couple of victories for their fans to celebrate.

Manager Grade – B. Darren Dods is a rare breed in football, a genuinely nice guy with a good relationship with pretty much everyone. He has a great deal of good credit in the bank and he is still relatively inexperienced in management so there is much more to come from him. There is no danger in him being sacked so for him it will be a case of looking ahead to next season to build on his growing reputation.

Overall Grade – Practically impossible to give Brechin any real ‘grade’. Things at the club are pretty healthy, the fans are generally quite happy and the team on the park are showing enough despite the results. No team should be satisfied with bottom spot but Brechin are a side that can be happy with their season so far and it could be a campaign that sets them up for a successful few years ahead.

The Scottish League Cup Revamp

So, with Scottish football always needing a fresh injection of new ideas to boost the ‘product’ (I hate that term), there have been some announcements in the last few days about the Scottish League Cup’s new revamp.

Everyone’s favourite Chief Execute Neil Doncaster explained the reason behind the change and announced a new partner for the competition –

“The new format of the Scottish League Cup marks an exciting new chapter for the competition and sees Scottish football leading the way with a number of innovations.

“Fans, the media and clubs alike have expressed a desire for competitive summer football which will be delivered from next July while the ground-breaking bonus point system should add incentive to teams and excitement for supporters.

“We are delighted to welcome BT Sport as our exclusive League Cup TV broadcast partner and to have their support for the new format. Our agreement with BT Sport delivers a huge increase in the number of games being shown live as well as providing increased competition prizemoney for clubs.

“The new format has also enabled the re-introduction of a winter break for Ladbrokes Premiership clubs. We are consulting with Ladbrokes Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs to establish whether they also favour a winter break in their respective divisions.”

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So, what are the “exciting” new changes? Well, the new format will see eight groups of five teams play each other once each in a round-robin format across five July dates (16th, 20th, 23th, 27th & 30th). As the SPFL website tells us, the new 80-game group stage will involve all 38 teams not involved in UEFA qualifiers plus winners of this season’s Highland League and Lowland League.

The group stage uses the traditional three points for a win and one point for a draw model however, in another innovation, all drawn matches will go straight to a penalty shoot-out whereby the winner of the shoot-out will be awarded a bonus point, believed to be a first in world football.

The bonus-point system is designed to create greater excitement around every match as well as providing more points variations to increase the number of meaningful games throughout the group stages. The eight group winners and four best runners-up progress to the second round, when they are joined by the four UEFA qualifying clubs and the competition reverts to traditional knock-out format.

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With BT Sport further adding to their current Scottish TV deal it does all seem pretty positive. My own personal view is that any change to a tired old format is pretty welcome. The games, if marketed properly and priced properly, will hopefully add a bit of intrigue and make for some interesting early season games. The penalty shootout idea is an odd one but might add a bit of excitement (the whole ‘bonus point’ idea will take getting used to).

I would really like proper pricing for these games, that would make a huge difference. It would also be good to see teams experiment with younger players during the earlier stages.

For a fan I like the idea of visiting new grounds early in the season, plus if the games are regionalised it would hopefully boost attendances and get some local interest in a few of the ties (again, pricing has to be correct). The inclusion of the Highland and Lowland leagues gives fans an opportunity to see sides that they wouldn’t normally and with the inclusion of sides from the Highlands and Lowlands that actually means those leagues are represented in three competitions now.

Other things should be considered though. If we are going down the bonus points road then why not award bonus points for goals scored, or for high scoring draws? Also, I would like to see the distribution of gate money made clear, and hopefully weighted towards smaller clubs. The draw for the competition should also be totally unseeded. The current format seeds teams in the early rounds but it would make for a more interesting competition if it was just a free for all.

Some would argue that the best revamp of the League Cup would be to scrap it all together. It is often referred to as the ‘diddy cup’ so it will take a lot of work to get it back to a higher profile trophy. What about transferring the European place to the competition? Or, and this is maybe a bit too far fetched, alternate the European place with the Scottish Cup but increase the prize money for the other trophy.

Football photo of the day…SPFL Roundup Week 5

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A hectic weekend in the Scottish Premiership resulted in some major pieces of controversy but also a fixture lineup that included some brilliant matches. There now looks to be three teams who will be leading the pack for the honours at the top of the table even at this early stage of the season. Aberdeen and Celtic continued to look impressive but Hearts suffered a setback against Hamilton in a bad-tempered match that was littered with goals and some interesting referee decisions. At the bottom of the table it was another miserable weekend for Killie fans who witnessed their team lose yet another fixture.

Full results –

Celtic 3 – 2 St.Johnstone

Dundee 1 – 1 Inverness

Hamilton 3 – 2 Hearts

Motherwell 1 – 0 Kilmarnock

Partick 0 – 2 Aberdeen

Ross County 2 – 1 Dundee United

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Highlights

Player – The driving force behind Hamilton’s win on Saturday was youngster Ali Crawford. He was a standout in the heart of the Accies side driving his side forward at every opportunity. Crawford looks to have a huge future ahead of him. A stunning goal capped a brilliant performance.

Performance/Result – If you were lucky enough to have been at New Douglas Park on Saturday you witnessed a classic. I was enthralled and I was only listening on the radio! Plenty of goals, an end to end match and a brilliant performance by Martin Canning’s men resulted in a 3-2 victory for Hamilton. Hearts will feel as though officials cost them the game but the truth is that the Accies deserved their win.

Goal – Poor Sean Dillon. The Irishman is one of those players that just goes about his business and rarely gets a moment in the limelight. It is just his luck then that he scored an absolute screamer on Saturday that ended up meaning very little as his Dundee United team lost in Dingwall. It was a once in a lifetime strike from the defender but it was the scoreline and not the goal that had the fans talking.

Controversy – It seems as though everything happened at Hamilton this weekend and it is back there we go for a controversial decision by Willie Collum that Hearts manager Robbie Neilson felt ruined the game. With Callum Paterson seemingly fall as he went into a challenge on the edge of his own box he saw straight red as Collum immediately decided it was a dangerous foul. Neilson’s comments after game didn’t help matters as he insisted that Heats were training all week “with 10 men” to prepare for the inevitable red card.