Tag Archives: Aberdeen

Match Review – Aberdeen vs Dundee United – 11/02/18

One central defender in the entire match day squad. One. When United announced the team for today’s game against Aberdeen you could audibly hear the scratching of heads from all of the supporters who had started to try to figure out just exactly what kind of formation we were going to start with. Nobody gave United the slightest of chances before this team was announced. Now? Is it possible to have less than no confidence?

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I always remember when I was younger that when we played Celtic or Rangers at Tannadice I would always be absolutely petrified every time they got the ball because I assumed that they would score. That feeling returned today as I looked at the Aberdeen squad and realised that it was the biggest gulf between the two teams that I can remember. I’ve generally never not looked forward to watching my team but today really, really tested that.

When the teams did emerge it ended up being Stewart Murdoch in the middle of the defence alongside Mark Durnan. Recent signing Grant Gillespie was at right-back with the rest of the squad in their familiar positions. Matty Smith, a surprise starter, was deployed out wide with Emil Lyng the lone striker.

To be fair to United the opening period of the game was as reasonable as we could have hoped for. We were never going to be able to venture too far forward but defensively the team did a pretty good job despite only having 30% possession. The hard work was undone by a sloppy goal and after that it looked like United were going to crumble as we really struggled to get a foothold in the game. With the defence looking weak and the poor positioning of makeshift defenders Murdoch and Gillespie it was no surprise that Aberdeen turned the screw and after half an hour it looked like United were on to the much expected hiding. Amazingly though we actually did score a goal! Sam Stanton’s excellent break and finish at least gave us something to cheer. Aberdeen scoring 30 seconds later restored normal service.

The second half was a case of going through the motions for Aberdeen and they never really had to work too hard despite United scoring a good second goal through McMullan. United did grow in confidence as the game went on but it was never going to be enough to turn over the deficit. Aberdeen could have and should have added more goals but they became sloppy and lazy with the ball, making us look better than we probably were.

It really is a terrible time to be a United fan. Watching the game today you can’t help but look back to just a few years ago when we would have been able to compete against an Aberdeen team. Now it is incredible just how far apart we are. The Dons could have scored as many as they would have wanted today and we made the whole thing so easy for them. A short period of positivity towards the end of the game is not enough to hide the fact that we are a very poor side.

Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 3 – After his loan spell at United I would imagine that for the next two seasons he will be playing on loan for various English League Two sides and then his contract will expire at Southampton. He isn’t very good.

4. Grant Gillespie – 4 – Felt sorry for the new signing. He is a midfielder and although he has been used as a right-back at Hamilton he was hung out to dry today playing alongside Murdoch.

4. Mark Durnan – 5 – Poor performance from someone we have relied upon this season. Probably didn’t help that he was part of a terribly makeshift defence.

2. Stewart Murdoch – 4 – Rubbish. He is never a central defender and looked totally uncomfortable for 90 minutes.

17. Jamie Robson – 3 – If he wasn’t left-footed he would never have been given so much of a chance to play at United. Weak, hesitant and unreliable. 

16. Willo Flood – 5 – Ran about a lot but never did anything of note. Gave away possession far too often.

15. Craig Slater – 3 – Really have not seen anything from Slater since he signed for the club. Terrible in possession and incredibly slow with the ball at his feet.

28. Matty Smith – 5 – Fair play to Smith he did a reasonable job on the right hand side and he put himself about.

12. Sam Stanton – 6 – United’s best player and someone who is maybe beginning to regret signing a new two-year deal to stay at the club. He should be playing top-flight football.

11. Billy King – 5 – Tried to show for the ball in the first-half, went missing in the second until his assist for McMullan. Had no service to work with.

58. Emil Lyng – 4 – Feel sorry for a player being so isolated. Hardly had a touch of the ball.

Subs – 7.Paul McMullan (5) – Took his goal really well. 8.Scott McDonald (2) – Did nothing. 9.Thomas Mikkelsen (1) – Did less than nothing.

Man of the Match – Sam Stanton. He is the best player we have at the moment. His box-to-box ability and his fitness mean that he is always involved and seems to cover more yardage than most of the team put together. 

Next Fixture – We have another break of nearly two weeks before we face Livingston away. They actually have two games between now and then so could quite feasibly be ahead of us by a few points by the time we meet. With the league pretty much gone it is imperative we try to secure 2nd. A win at the Toni Macaroni would go a long way to help that.

 

Match Preview – Aberdeen vs Dundee United – Scottish Cup Fifth Round

It has been a strange last ten days or so. With the Inverness game postponed and no league game until the 23rd of February there doesn’t seem to be much to talk about at the moment. The news of Stephen Thompson’s summer exit has petered out and the social media chat seems to have dried up for the time being. It has probably something to do with the fact that on Sunday we face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup and even the most hardened of United fan would admit that it is going be pretty grim viewing.

One thing that the game on Sunday does do is remind us all of just how far United have fallen in the last few seasons. If this was played in 2014/15 then the fever of the cup would have taken hold and we would be looking at a huge travelling support going to Pittodrie with great confidence. Now? It is pretty embarrassing just how far apart the two teams are and any fan that travels up north deserves a medal.

Many supporters will actually pinpoint the last cup-tie between the two sides as being the last truly positive match involving Dundee United. On the 31st of January 2015 we beat Aberdeen 2-1 at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final. We also fell behind in that match making Nadir Ciftci’s 84th minute winner even more memorable. It was a fantastic match with a fantastic atmosphere but, unbeknown to us, it signalled the start of things falling apart.

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The build-up to Sunday’s match has been pretty low-key and has only had one notable moment. Csaba Laszlo has been quoted today as saying that Aberdeen have had a pretty easy ride of it in the last few seasons and the reason for this is down to Dundee United being in the Championship. It seems to have upset some Aberdeen fans (and some United supporters too) but to be fair to Csaba I think he referred to the fact that Hibs, Hearts and Rangers have also been pretty poor in recent years so in that respect maybe Aberdeen have been able to get a firm grip on the league.

As for team news it was announced earlier today that James Keatings will be having surgery for his current injury but other than that there are no new casualties to worry about for Sunday (Tam Scobbie will still be missing despite his progress). My advice normally would be put out a weakened team in the cup as the league is the priority but given we have managed to pretty much throw away the league and we are playing Aberdeen live on TV we should probably try our best to win this. We are also helped with the players hopefully feeling reasonably fresh given they didn’t have a game at the weekend.

My team against Aberdeen would be –

GK – Harry Lewis

 

RB – Stewart Murdoch

CB – Mark Durnan

CB – Paul Quinn

LB – Jamie Robson

 

CM – Grant Gillespie

CM – Craig Slater

 

RM – Paul McMullan

CAM – Sam Stanton

LM –  Billy King

 

ST – Thomas Mikkelsen

 

Subs – Deniz Mehmet, Brandon Mason, Willo Flood, Logan Chalmers, Scott McDonald, Emil Lyng, Idris Kadded

Key Players – Everyone – Please don’t let the fans down and at least put in a good performance. We all know that there is a huge gulf in class between the teams at present but the supporters deserve to see a team that is at least willing to fight for everything and make it as difficult as possible for Aberdeen.

Football photo of the day…SPFL Roundup Week 3

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After a hectic and eventful set of midweek fixtures it was a case of keep calm and carry on for Hearts, Aberdeen, Celtic and Dundee who all continued their fine start to the season. Sidess are now beginning to show their worth as the season begins to pick up pace and a total of 25 goals were scored on Saturday as every single team took to the field . For some it has been a very positive first few matches but for fans of sides like Kilmarnock, Dundee United and St.Johnstone there has been little to shout about. The biggest surprise of the weekend came at New Douglas Park as a previously goalless Hamilton side destroyed Dundee United 4-0. With some behind-the-scenes issues at Tannadice in the headlines the pressure is really beginning to build on Jackie McNamara. His odds of being the first sacked manager of the new season fell significantly at the weekend…

Full results –

Celtic 4 – 2 Inverness

Dundee 2 – 1 St.Johnstone

Hamilton 4 – 0 Dundee United

Motherwell 1 – 2 Aberdeen

Partick Thistle 2 – 2 Kilmarnock

Ross County 1 – 2 Hearts

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Highlights

Player – This week it is praise for one of those unsung heroes. Dundee’s Nicky Low produced a fine midfield display against St.Johnstone, one that included two assists. The summer signing will feel as though he never really established himself at Aberdeen so he will see this season as an opportunity to finally make his mark.

Performance/Result – Definitely has to be Hamilton’s wonderful performance against Dundee United. Having not scored a single goal so far this season they played some lovely football and completely outclassed a lacklustre United. Will this be a result to kickstart their campaign?

Goal – After securing a dramatic point midweek you would have assumed that James McPake had finished scoring for the season but on Saturday he managed to pull off a wonderful acrobatic volley straight from a corner that just about gives him the tag ‘goal machine’.

Controversy – A fairly quiet week in terms of decisions however Ross County might feel slightly hard done by after Heart’s defender Igor Rossi was allowed to stay on the park after conceding a penalty up in Dingwall. Had he been sent off it could have changed the game but it was a tough call by the referee who only produced a yellow. Elsewhere, although it wasn’t a refereeing decision the signing of Scott Allan by Celtic has certainly caused some lively debate on Twitter!

Football photo of the day…SPFL Roundup Week 2

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Week two of the Scottish Premiership season saw three teams maintain a 100% record but piled further misery on Kilmarnock supporters. The Killie fans travelled to Aberdeen knowing that they were likely to lose against everyone’s ‘best of the rest’ side and their fears were realised as they fell meekly to a strong Dons team. Even this early in the season there are doubts as to how they will collect points from week to week. Elsewhere Dundee United bounced back after an opening day defeat against Aberdeen as they collected all 3 points against a Motherwell side who would have felt a little disappointed at not getting anything out of their game at Fir Park. Dundee and Hearts served up the weeks most intriguing and entertaining game at Dens, with the Edinburgh side picking up a massive three points against a strongly fancied Dundee team.

Full results – 

Dundee 1 – 2 Hearts

Motherwell 0 – 2 Dundee United

Ross County 2 – 0 Hamilton

St.Johnstone 1 – 1 Inverness

Partick Thistle 0 – 2 Celtic (Sunday)

Aberdeen 2 – 0 Kilmarnock (Sunday)

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Highlights

Player – Hearts have found a player in striker Juanma. The summer arrival scored in the opening fixture against St.Johnstone and won the game for Hearts against Dundee. An impressive solo goal capped off a fine performance for the Spaniard as he grabbed a brace at Dens. It already looks like he will be a key player for Hearts this season.

Performance/Result – After the turbulent times of last year it was a very impressive Ross County performance and result at home against Hamilton. The Staggies have undergone yet another squad transformation this year and this was their first real test. A 2-0 home win against a side who will be considered one of their rivals this year was the perfect start to their home campaign.

Goal – A couple of strong candidates this week. A bizarre but pretty fine finish from Tom Rogic for Celtic was up there, as was the strike by the very talented Ryan Christie for Inverness in Perth. My favourite finish of the week though was from the impressive Graeme Shinnie. Scoring his first goal for Aberdeen the fullback took his goal very well, showing off his technique and ability. Already he is proving to be a great signing for the Dons.

Controversy – A couple of penalty claims and incidents had a few people talking this weekend. At Dens we had a handball decision that led to a penalty for Hearts and at Firhill we had a handball decision that was ignored by the referee. Both were as a result of a defender jumping to head the ball but both were under slightly different circumstances. At Dens it was James McPake who was the guilty party and although some have claimed it wasn’t a penalty the fact that he was facing the ball and it had been floated in meant it probably was the correct decision (and I am not just saying that as a United fan!). With the incident in Glasgow it was a case of a close range ball in the air and although Mikael Lustig had his hand up he was facing away from the ball and had no way of purposely handling it. The decision to ignore the claims was probably justified in this case but it is one of those incidents that would have been given on another day.

Scottish Football 2015/16 – Premiership Preview

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So, as promised here is my Premiership preview for 2015/16. It will be significantly shorter than last year’s and won’t go into as much detail, but hopefully this will provide a concise and to the point preview of the season ahead in Scotland. I would have loved to have dedicated more time to this but it simply has not been possible this year. To begin with here is a short recap on how things finished in 2014/15 –

Scottish Premiership 2014/15

WINNERS – Celtic (qualified for Champions League Second Qualifying Round)

RUNNERS-UP – Aberdeen (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)

EUROPA LEAGUE QUALIFICATION – 3rd – Inverness Caley Thistle (qualified for Europa League Second Qualifying Round), 4th – St.Johnstone (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)

RELEGATED – St.Mirren

PROMOTED FROM CHAMPIONSHIP – Hearts (winners)

LEAGUE CUP WINNERS – Celtic

SCOTTISH CUP WINNERS – Inverness Caley Thistle

Scottish Premiership Preview 2015/16

Last season was actually pretty exciting for a number of different reasons. The league was very competitive at both ends and there were a few surprise packages along the way. Will this season be another roller coaster? Most teams have recruited well over the summer and there will be some new challenges this year. For fans of most clubs it will be the usual mixture of highs, lows and surprises.

Aberdeen fans can rest easy. They have by far and away the strongest team out-with the champions Celtic. Derek McInnes has only made a couple of changes to his squad and has finally added a natural left back in the shape of Graeme Shinnie who arrives from Inverness (and may well be the signing of the season). The Aberdeen players and fans will undoubtedly be looking forward to challenging on a number of fronts this year and they might give Celtic an even bigger push than they did last year (even if they did fall away at the end of the season). It is a great time to be a Don and although they didn’t win any silverwear last season it was still a very good year for Aberdeen.

The Manager – Derek McInnes has shown his quality since taking over at Pittodrie. He has the determination and skill to continue to be a success at Aberdeen. McInnes is honest when he makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to change things, he is a real asset to the Dons and the only worry might be that he may sometime in the future want another chance to prove himself down in England. For now though he is happy and well-loved in Aberdeen.

Signings – Joe Nuttall (Striker, Manchester City), Paul Quinn (Defender, Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Defender, Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Danny Ward (Goalkeeper, Liverpool, loan)

Expectations vs Reality – 1435871417543002Safe to say that fans of most clubs are pretty jealous of Aberdeen and for good reason. They are one of a few sides who can safely assume that the expectations they have will be matched on the pitch. The fans will want a piece of silverwear this season and another second place finish, they will probably get both. Aberdeen fans need not lose any sleep over what might happen this year.

Prediction – 2nd (comfortably)

What to say about Celtic that hasn’t already been said? Writing a preview for them is both very easy, and pretty boring. That is simply down to the fact that they are going to win the league again, and probably win a trophy or two…again. Ronny Deila’s side will need to try to improve in Europe but domestically they still have the best team and by far and away the largest resources.JS64451865

The Manager – Ronny Deila starts his second season in charge in a positive light. He has endeared himself to the Celtic supporters with his positive attitude and his high level of passion for the job. His first year was a success despite an early season struggle. The next step is to make an impact on Europe. Much like McInnes he is a young, driven manager who might want to progress further in his job but for now he has a chance to build a strong legacy at Celtic.

Signings – Dedryck Boyata (Defender, Manchester City, £1.5m), Nadir Ciftci (Striker, Dundee United, £1.2m), Logan Bailly (Goalkeeper, OH Leuven, £250k), Saidy Janko (Defender, Manchester United)

Expectation vs Reality – Celtic fans expect a clean sweep domestically. Deila nearly managed it last year so that will be his aim this season. They also want a degree of success in Europe, which means qualification for the Champions League Group Stage. The reality will probably be that domestically things will go to plan but in Europe they might struggle again.

Prediction – 1st (is there any doubt?)

Last year was a success for Dundee with their first campaign back in top flight ending with a top six spot. Credit must go to Paul Hartley who assembled a solid and effective squad that played some excellent football. Even the most positive of supporters would have been delighted with a 6th place finish and they will be looking ahead to this year with a real sense of optimism.

The Manager – imagePaul Hartley is quickly establishing himself as a top class manager with a great future. He joins a number of young managers in Scotland whose career could go on to really big things. His knowledge of the Scottish game has allowed him to sign some quality players from the lower leagues, something that he is once again doing this summer. Hartley has rejected moves away from Dundee for the time being, fans will be keen to hang on to him for some time.

Signings – Kane Hemmings (Striker, Barnsley), Kevin Holt (Defender, Queen of the South), Julen Leanizbarrutia (Defender, East Fife), Nicky Low (Midfielder, Aberdeen), Rory Loy (Striker, Falkirk), Daryll Meggatt (Defender, Alloa Athletic), David Mitchell (Goalkeeper, Stranraer), Nick Ross (Midfielder, Inverness Caledonian Thistle)

Expectation vs Reality – The problem with having a good season is that expectations then build for the next one. Dundee fans are quietly confident of another good year and they will tell you that their squad is stronger than it was last season. Don’t say it too loudly but I think this could be the year that they finish above Dundee United, which in itself would be a huge bonus for the supporters. It is a gamble signing so many players from the lower leagues so it will be really important Dundee get off to a good start.

Prediction – 5th

Dundee United find themselves in a familiar position this summer. More talent has departed Tannadice and the manager is left with another year of rebuilding. Jackie McNamara has been receiving a bit of criticism over the way the team has been performing in recent times so this year will be a huge test for McNamara and one that might define his management of United. Behind the scenes the board has also been criticised for selling off players to Celtic. The recruitment and selling policy that the club operates certainly divides supporters and if things are not going well on the park the negative views expressed by many will continue.

The Manager – Many people (this blogger included) have serious doubts about Jackie McNamara. The squad he now has is pretty much all his, so he has no excuses this year. He has made some glaring errors in the past so this year will probably seal his fate one way or another. Sorting out the defence and ensuring that United do not get bullied by other teams is something he needs to get right.

Signings – Darko Bodul (Striker, Rehindorf Altach), Coll Donaldson (Defender, Queens Park Rangers), Mark Durnan (Defender, Queen of the South), Rodney Sneijder (Midfielder, Free)

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Expectation vs Reality – United supporters have reached a stage where they have strong expectations that are maybe not being matched. This season will provide a huge challenge for United and the squad is looking weaker than it has in a couple of seasons. The expectation will be top six and potentially a cup final but this is maybe one season too many for the current regime at Tannadice.

Prediction – 6th (just)

It is safe to say that Hamilton had a fairly eventful first year back in the Premiership. With a stunning start and a stuttering finish it was a bit of a roller coaster. alex-neil-4x3132-2379220_478x359After Alex Neil guided the team to the top of the table in the early stages of last season the side fell apart when he left for Norwich. Martin Canning has struggled since taking over and the fans might be a little anxious ahead of this second season in the top flight.

The Manager – Martin Canning’s appointment by the board was a case of asking someone who knew the club inside out to carry on the development that Alex Neil had achieved. It hasn’t worked. Canning lacks managerial experience and he is learning things the hard way. He has been busy in the summer transfer market but this is maybe not the job for him. Expect him to be one of the favourites for the sack during this campaign.

Signings – Alan Martin (Goalkeeper, Clyde), Chris Turner (Midfielder, Dumbarton), Antons Kurakins (Defender, Ventspils), Gramoz Kurtaj (Midfielder, Banik Most), Christian Nade (Striker, Raith Rovers), Carlton Morris (Striker, Norwich City, loan), Salva Chamorro (Striker, Lleida Esportiu).

Expectation vs Reality – After last year it isn’t really known what the average Hamilton fan might want out of this season. Yes they challenged in the upper reaches of the league for long spells in 2014/15 but they also fell away badly. Survival will be the aim for the fans in this difficult second season, and it is something they will be fighting for right from the off. If they start with a poor run of form it could spell disaster for the Accies.

Prediction – 12th (sorry, for the second season in a row from me!)

Hearts had the perfect season last year. They won the Championship with plenty of time to spare and more importantly they got everything in order at the club. There is no doubting the size of Hearts as a club (their season ticket sales only further show this) so it is great to have them back in the top-flight. It seems strange to say this but sometimes relegation can be a great thing for a club, for Hearts it looks like it was the perfect ‘time-out’ from the Premiership and now they are back in a much stronger position.

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The Manager – Robbie Neilson (with Craig Levein as his trusty advisor) is beginning to forge a very promising managerial career. He has worked under some tough circumstances but he has also had the luxury of being able to build a club from its foundations (no easy task). It remains to be seen just how far Neilson can go in his career but if he has a good season with Hearts this year his stock will rise.

Signings – Blazej Augustyn (Defender, Gornik Zabrze), Juanma (Striker, Kalloni), Gavin Reilly (Striker, Queen of the South), Igor Rossi (Defender, Maritimo)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite being a newly promoted side the Hearts fans are quietly confident of a successful return to the Premiership. The club is finally back on a sound footing both on and off the field so the fans will be looking for the club to return to the upper end of the league and become a force again. The reality is that they may well have the season they hope for. The club have recruited well and the management team know what they want. The squad will still be on a high after last year and Hearts could find themselves competing for Europe this season.

Prediction – 3rd

What a year it has been for Inverness. The fans have experienced some historic events and the recent Scottish Cup win will live long in the memory. JS64888023Caley can be described as a ‘steady Eddie’ with recent league seasons following a very similar pattern. The supporters are used to seeing a small squad stretched to its limits but one that always seems to perform above expectations. The trophy they now have in their cabinet is the richly deserved reward for the work that has gone on in the last few years. 

The Manager – I have said it before and I will say it again. I was wrong. When John Hughes was appointed as Inverness manager and started with a run of defeats I assumed he was not up to it and would be sacked. Fair play to Yogi, he has settled in to this role incredibly well and it looks like he is loving his time up in the highlands. Hughes knows himself that he will never have a huge budget but what he lacks in money he more than makes up for in squad spirit and determination. It is difficult not to get caught up in the enthusiasm he shows for the game.

Signings – Dani Lopez (Striker, La Roda), Jordan Roberts (Midfielder, Aldershot Town), Nat Wedderburn (Midfielder, Cowdenbeath), Owain Fon Williams (Goalkeeper, Tranmere Rovers)

Expectation vs Reality – Last season will be impossible to top so the Inverness fans will actually be fairly relaxed about the season ahead. They have the memories from last year and the squad can play with little pressure this year knowing what they achieved a few months ago. John Hughes will be reminding his side of their achievements and he will be using those memories to spur his squad on in this campaign. Inverness have been very steady and consistent for a number of years, that should continue.

Prediction – 4th

Kilmarnock are a club that have had a few seasons to forget. The previous regime under Allan Johnston was a complete disaster and they were very lucky not to have been caught up more in the relegation fight last season. It never helps when things are not well off the field but it seems as though things have settled down on that front. Fans will feel that their money and time has been wasted in a period that has never amounted to anything. 

The Manager – Gary Locke was an obvious choice to take the manager’s role when Johnston left. He steadied the Kilmarnock team and managed to achieve some good results. It was a very bold (and strange) decision to reward Locke with a three year contract given Kilmarnock’s recent luck with head coaches but it did show that they were willing to get behind the former Hearts manager. Will he be here come next May? My gut feeling is no. He is in for a long hard season.

Signings – JS67149804Kris Boyd (Striker, Rangers), Dale Carrick (Striker, Heart of Midlothian), Kallum Higginbotham (Midfielder, Partick Thistle), Jamie MacDonald (Goalkeeper, Falkirk), Lee McCulloch (Defender/Coach, Rangers), Scott Robinson (Midfielder, Heart of Midlothian), Steven Smith (Defender, Rangers), Stuart Findlay (Defender, Celtic, loan)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite managing to settle things down off the field it still feels as though Kilmarnock are struggling to find a rhythm and a long-term plan. The team has been under performing for a while so if you were to ask a supporter what they wanted they would probably just say “better than last year”. Locke has made some solid enough signings but he has also relied on a few older heads who have joined the squad. A few former Hearts signings have meant that Locke is going for some tried and trusted players but it will be a tough season at Rugby Park and if you are going to rely on a recently hapless Kris Boyd for goals then it could turn out to be a bit of a nightmare for Killie fans this season.

Prediction – 11th

Well I suppose Motherwell can lay claim to the most exciting end to the season last year. They managed a superb win over Rangers in the playoffs that had the whole of Scotland watching on with interest. I suppose in some ways there will be Motherwell fans who would have enjoyed that sense of drama but they will probably settle for something a bit more solid this campaign. Ian Baraclough arrived at Fir Park last year and his tenure has been eventful (partly down to his ‘charismatic’ persona). The fans have been brilliant in backing the team both home and away but it has been a disappointing couple of seasons for the club.

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The Manager – Ian Baraclough is definitely one of those love/hate managers. He says what he feels and is always willing to add a bit of emotion to his interviews and analysis. The league needs that and the fans welcome it (as long as things are going well). It is difficult to judge Baraclough given he has not had too long in the job and the squad he has is only now becoming his. He enjoys making a number of signings and has done so again this summer so it is a case of wait and see with him.

Signings – Joe Chalmers (Defender, Celtic), David Clarkson (Striker, Dundee), Wes Fletcher (Striker, York City), Kieran Kennedy (Defender, Leicester City), Louis Laing (Defender, Nottingham Forest, loan made permanent), Louis Moult (Striker, Wrexham)

Expectation vs Reality – I feel a bit sorry for Motherwell fans. Being a force in Scotland must now seem like a distant memory. They enjoyed a number of season challenging for league honours but now they have to accept that they are still going though a turbulent time. Fans would probably accept a solid season and a league position that was a step further away from where they ended up last year. They will probably get that. I think Motherwell will have a solid, if fairly average, season. Maybe after last year that is actually perfectly fine.

Prediction – 8th

Partick Thistle have settled into an established Premiership side. They have enjoyed a few pretty consistent seasons and although they have never quite threatened to break into the top six they have, for the most part, avoided any real danger. That was the case again last year as they finished 8th in the league. Alan Archibald has a settled squad and the club are continuing to do well financially in terms of playing within their budget. 

The Manager – I have a real soft spot for Alan Archibald as he is still one of my favourite United players in the last decade. The solidity and consistency he brought to the United defence has now been transferred into his managerial career. After Jackie McNamara left Thistle a few seasons ago there was a worry that the side would struggle. Nothing could be further from that as Archibald has been a very good manager for the Jags (ask many supporters and they will choose Archibald over McNamara). He strikes me as the kind of manager who is settled and happy in his job so he will be at Firhill for a long time to come.

Signings – David Amoo (Midfielder, Carlisle United), Callum Booth (Defender, Hibernian, loan made permanent), Tomas Cerny (Goalkeeper, Hibernian), Gary Miller (Defender, St. Johnstone)

Expectation vs Reality –JS67210797 Some Thistle fans might be getting itchy feet. After a couple of solid seasons they might look at what teams like St.Johnstone and Inverness have achieved and ask “why can’t that be us?”. They have similar budgets and (probably) more supporters so this might be the last season that they will accept a 8th or 9th place finish. I wonder if this might be a tough season for the team. Archibald has made some signings but other than Cerny the goalkeeper none of the new players stand out too much. Partick won’t get relegated but they might get dragged into a fight at the bottom of the table.

Prediction – 10th

Ross County are definitely a side that has yet to find their feet. Year on year they make a raft of signings that take time to gel and it is always a case of making a late surge to find safety. That familiar pattern was repeated again last year as it took a remarkable run of form late into the season to salvage their Premiership status. Jim McIntyre’s side showed in the final few weeks that they were a very decent side but the fans will have been tearing their hair out as to why it took so long to show it.

The Manager – Young, determined and now pretty experienced Jim McIntyre says the right things and seems to be someone who knows their way around this job. The jury is still out on whether or not McIntyre is a top flight manager but this year we will find out. He has assembled a squad that is almost entirely his so if the side struggle this season there is only one person to blame. It could be a career defining season for Jim McIntyre.

Jackson-Irvine-660x496Signings – Andrew Davies (Defender, Bradford City), Richard Foster (Defender, Rangers), Scott Fox (Goalkeeper, Partick Thistle), Jonathan Franks (Midfielder, Hartlepool United), Michael Gardyne (Midfielder, Dundee United, loan made permanent), Brian Graham (Striker, Dundee United), Darren Holden (Defender, Hartlepool United), Jackson Irvine (Midfielder, Celtic, loan made permanent), Ian McShane (Midfielder, Queen of the South), Stewart Murdoch (Midfielder, Fleetwood Town), Chris Robertson (Defender, Port Vale), Dan Bachmann (Goalkeeper, Stoke City, loan)

Expectation vs Reality – Ross County fans are a patient and understanding bunch. They have enjoyed their top flight status but they also know that it is something that is almost always under threat. They give their managers time and back their team (especially when some of the local talent are involved) so they will be there again this time around. In reality  this will be a challenging season and another that will be very testing for the patience of the fans. They will look forward to seeing a brand new team but the danger is that yet another transfer merry-go-round will do serious damage to the fortunes of the side.

Prediction – 9th

When I think of  St.Johnstone I always think of Inverness. The two sides are very similar in size and they are both very similar in terms of achievements in the last few years. The Perth side enjoyed a Scottish Cup win a couple of years ago and in the league they continue to make their small budget and small squad work effectively.alashkert-fc-st-johnstone-europa-league_3320825 Fans of the Saints are now used to successful seasons and successive European spots. They have already been eliminated from the Europa League but even being there in the first place is a success.

The Manager – Tommy Wright seems to thrive under the pressure of being a consistent underdog. Even when his side are playing teams below them there is always a sense that St.Johnstone approach every game with the determination of a side that has something to prove. He has shown his quality in terms of organisation and motivation with his achievements speaking volumes for his managerial talent.

Signings – Liam Craig (Midfielder, Hibernian), Graham Cummins (Striker, Exeter City), Liam Gordon (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Brad McKay (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Joe Shaughnessy (Defender, Aberdeen), John Sutton (Striker, Motherwell)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite enjoying success in the last few years the supporters of St.Johnstone approach every season with a sense of anxiety. They know they have performed above expectations in recent times and there is always a slight worry that maybe they have overachieved with the squad that they have. My feeling about St,Johnstone this season is that they have not improved enough over the summer and with Hearts and Dundee on the up they might be the team pushed out of the top six as a result.

Prediction – 7th

So, in terms of a preview that is about it! Hopefully if I have more time I might try to look in more detail at some of the players involved in the league this year and I am sorry that I have not been able to look at the lower leagues (again maybe I will write something soon if I can). Many will disagree with my predictions and I was wildly inaccurate with some last year (Hamilton being the worst) but they are my predictions and whatever happens this season will undoubtedly spring  few surprises.

Enjoy the season ahead everyone!

Scottish Football 2015/16 – All Kitted Out

One thing that always intrigues football fans over the summer is new kit. Fans love a new kit, they look forward to buying that newly released strip in a size that is slightly too small for them and then proudly wearing it even tough it is a piece of clothing that really shouldn’t be worn by grown men. That doesn’t matter though, we are showing our support, we need something to wear at fives and after all it is something that contributes to the finances of the clubs.

Some new strips are a thing of beauty (see Hearts last year). Some are a total disaster (see St.Mirren last year) and some are just a bit ‘meh’ (see most of this year’s kits). With that in mind let’s have a look at the new Premiership kits for 2015/16 and rate them as we go –

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After finishing second last year Aberdeen fans have been buying up the club’s merchandise like crazy, and with some European nights coming up they will be wanting to get their hands on the new kits so that they can fly the flag proudly. Aberdeen have been blessed recently with their Adidas strips. The home and away kits are both nice this year but maybe not as nice as last term.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 7/10, AWAY 6/10

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Champions Celtic never have too much to play with when they get a new strip. The hoops have to stay as is tradition but they do have a new kit maker with New Balance taking over from Nike as they try to get a foothold in the football market. Merchandise is always a huge income for Celtic and this season will be no different. The home and away kits have both been released and today saw the unveiling of their third kit.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 6/10, AWAY 5/10, THIRD 2/10

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Dundee celebrate their second season in the top flight with a raft of new signings and some nice new kit. Last year the home strip in particular was well received by fans and they remain with Puma for the 2015/16 campaign. New sponsors have arrived in the shape of Kilmac. The away kit is a love or hate number this year with the home kit staying simple but classy.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 7/10, AWAY 7/10

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Dundee United are always going to divide opinion with their kits. This is mainly down to the tangerine colour. Some love it, many hate it. It means that for kit design there is always a risk. Nike remain as kit supplier and Calor stay on as longterm club sponsor. The home kit is a very, very plain template with the away kit returning to a white and black design.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 4/10, AWAY 5/10

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At the time of writing there has been no news on Hamilton kits for this season although Adidas have been named as their new manufacturer, taking over from Nike.

Moving on to Hearts. No doubting the quality of their home kit last year. With no sponsor, a vintage badge and a simple design it was one the best, if not the best, in football last season. Puma are making the strips this year, with a new unique sponsorship deal with charity Save the Children. After last campaign the new design was always going to be underwhelming.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 6/10, AWAY 5/10

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To celebrate their first every foray into Europe after their historic cup win Inverness have a new shirt maker in the shape of Carbrini. They still have the same sponsor in Subway but they will be wearing some new kit as they look to enjoy their European exploits.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 5/10, AWAY 7/10

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Kilmarnock stay with Errea for this season and the new home and away kits have both been unveiled in the last few weeks. They stick with a very traditional home design with an addition of some very bright trim, the away kit is a bit more experimental and will divide opinion.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 7/10, AWAY 4/10

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It might have taken a playoff victory against Rangers but Motherwell secured their top flight status in style last season. They celebrate with two new, and very impressive kits from Macron. Hats off to the kit designer for actually taking time to design something properly.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 8/10, AWAY 6/10

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Sponsors are a necessary evil for our football clubs. Some fit in very well with the shirts they appear on, some not so much. Partick Thistle have recently gained a new sponsor and a new mascot (courtesy of artist David Shrigley). I won’t say too much about the sponsor as you can search Twitter for the thousands upon thousands of images that sum this horrific ‘thing’ up better than I could. The kits this year therefore have been the victim of an overbearing and garish logo, which is a pity.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 4/10, AWAY 3/10

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Ross County join their highland neighbours Inverness in having Carbrini as their kit manufacturer. Bizarrely they even have the same advertising campaign to go alongside the new kits. Both clubs are going to have a ‘historic’ season apparently.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 6/10, AWAY 4/10

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Finally, St.Johnstone. The Perth side are already out of Europe so it is maybe a good thing that they didn’t release a European kit alongside their new home and away kits that are manufactured by Joma. They have a new sponsor in the shape of ‘Invest in Perth’.

KIT RATINGS – HOME 3/10, AWAY 7/10

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It is a pretty underwhelming year for kits in the Scottish Premiership. None really stand out and none are totally horrific (although Partick’s sponsor and St.Johnstone’s ‘tartan’ are pretty bad). Elsewhere in Scotland there are a few decent efforts, and actually the Championship have been blessed with some great new kits –

FALKIRK KIT RATINGS – HOME 8/10, AWAY 7/10

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HIBS KIT RATINGS – HOME 8/10, AWAY 7/10

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RANGERS KIT RATINGS – HOME 5/10, AWAY 6/10, THIRD 2/10

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ST.MIRREN KIT RATINGS – HOME 5/10 (with sponsor), 8/10 (without)

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Although there are still many, many kits I could have featured I will stop there, and apologies of you are reading this and your team hasn’t appeared here. Obviously it matters what each side does on the park but wearing a nice kit whilst doing that is important too. For those of you who support a team with a terrible kit, buy it anyway and you never know it might become a collector’s item in a few years time.

Football photo(s) of the day…

A mixture of emotions for Scottish teams in Europe…

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Aberdeen and St.Johnstone were in action last night trying to get through their individual ties in the Europa League first qualifying round with both sides hopeful of progression. With Aberdeen taking a 1-1 draw away in Skopje back to Pittodrie they had an away goal to use as leverage and it was a case of job done for Derek McInnes and his men. A 0-0 was enough to see them progress but it needed some last ditch defending and wonderful goalkeeping to set up a tie against Croatian side HNK Rijeka in the next round.

In Perth, St.Johnstone also had a tricky time of it and despite doing enough  to win on the night they managed somehow to allow a team down ten men to score a  decisive away goal. That mean Alashkert of Armenia, a side ranked 446th in Europe progressed instead of St.Johnstone.

SPFL Manager Awards 2014/15

250px-Scottish_Professional_Football_League.svgIt is that time of year again when fans are making their overall judgements on how good or how bad a season they have had, with many probably looking to the manager to take the credit (or more likely the blame). Each year there are some managers that cover themselves in glory and seem to be able to get the best out of their players, but on the other hand it is part and parcel of the football calendar that each year we see head coaches lose that bit of spark they once had or fail completely at their job. With various awards being handed out around this time of year it is only fair that we recognise the achievements of those men who lead from the front.

The Perennial Underachievers managerial awards will be handed out (not literally) on a league-by league basis over the next week with a top three in each division (I am cheating a little here, I just didn’t want to upset anyone and pick one). You may agree or disagree with these selections but each has gone through a rigorous set of checks to be awarded with their coveted 1st, 2nd or 3rd place award.

We will start with a ‘special mention’ post for those who just missed out and we will end on a ‘would rather be forgotten’ section for the few managers who have been hounded by fans and the media for simply not doing very well!

 Special Mentions

Premiership

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As a point of principal I would never nominate a Celtic manager for a domestic managerial award.  This is mainly down to the fact that it is a given that Celtic should walk the Premiership. Ronny Deila has led Celtic to a 46th league title with a playing style based around pressing opponenHowever it has to be said that Ronny Deila has been a breath of fresh air in terms of how he handles himself and how he has Celtic playing. After a sticky start they are now playing a much better brand of football compared to their style under Neil Lennon.

At Aberdeen Derek McInnes has continued his impressive tenure with another fine season but much of his hard work was done last year so he has just missed out on an award. Derek-McInnes-573645Tommy Wright at St.Johnstone is continuing the very solid and consistent development of his St.Johnstone side so he deserves a mention too.

Finally there is a manager who made a huge impact on the Premiership this year but is missing from the final list, mainly due to him not being here anymore. Alex Neil worked wonders with the Hamilton team and for much of the early season they were playing some brilliant football, beating anyone and everyone in their path. He was rightly awarded for his efforts with the chance to manage in the English Championship with Norwich.

Championship

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The Championship this year has been a fascinating watch in terms of how teams adapted to having a very top-heavy league with the addition of Hearts, Hibs and Rangers. This season has seen a fairly definite split in the league so the first honourable mention comes from the lower end of the league. JS61361764Although he has only been in charge since December it has to be said that Mark Burchill deserves a mention as he has been in charge of Livingston during a very turbulent time for the club. He has managed to win some important matches at the tail end of this season despite an atmosphere of chaos behind the scenes. Saving Livi from relegation is a massive achievement.

One manager who was so very close to being on the winners list is Peter Houston. falkirk-football-full-length-hibernian-hibs_3292164He does seem to divide the Falkirk fans at times, and although he did not manage to get his team into the playoffs this season (something most fans would have expected) he does get huge credit for getting Falkirk to their first Scottish Cup final in six years. More will be expected from him in the league next season.

League One

The league’s big boys have struggled for large parts of the League One campaign so there is a slightly surprising look to the top of the table as we end the season and credit must go to those managers in charge of sides like Stranraer, Forfar and Brechin (more on them later though). bigIt has been a fine campaign again for Gary Bollan at Airdrie as he continues to build the foundations of a side that will surely be challenging for promotion next year, the fans will be looking for that extra push next season as they have moved slowly up the league table in recent campaigns. Last year’s League Two winners Peterhead have also navigated themselves through a tricky year with a very respectable position and Jim McInally was once again at the heart of that. The Blue Toon have provided a stern test to everyone in the league and they too might be looking towards the playoffs next year.

It isn’t often you leave a league winning manager off of an awards list (Ronny Deila you are in good company) but for me Jim Duffy misses out on an award partly down to the fact that although Morton did win the title is was done rather laboriously and at times this season Morton really struggled under his stewardship.

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League Two

Another league that threw up some surprises (and one that ended up quite differently to my early year prediction) was League Two. A special mention to two managers here, first of all Jim Weir at Elgin. He has taken a side that finished 9th last season and ensured that they were fighting towards to the top end of the table this year.307693-arbroaths-allan-moore-named-league-2-manager-of-the-month-for-august-2014 They had an inconsistent season but one that was a big improvement on the previous campaign. The big managerial rollercoaster of the year has to be the story of the quite brilliant but then totally awful Arbroath. Before Christmas Allan Moore had the team taking apart almost every team in the division, scoring goals for fun in the process. Despite all that the Lichties suffered a total collapse in form that saw them win only once in 16 matches. Moore was relieved of his duties and Arbroath have since claimed a playoff place (just) so he still deserves credit for those early season performances.

 

Tomorrow, the Premiership’s top three managers…

SPFL Premiership Team of the Season (so far…)

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So here’s the challenge – Try to pick a ‘best so far’ team for the Scottish Premiership but  do it by including every single team (apart from one). You can only pick one player from each club in your side but you can use any formation you want.

For the Perennial Underachievers side the lineup looks like this –

A 3-5-2 formation of – 

Mark Brown 
                     Virgil van Dijk     Jarowslaw Fojut      Mark Connolly 
            Marley Watkins     Chris Millar     Abdul Osman     Jonny Hayes
Antony Andreu
Henrik Ojamaa       David Clarkson

 

GK – Mark Brown (Ross County)Mark+Brown+PEC+Zwolle+v+Ross+County+F_lC8CDxsJ5lIn a season of very poor performances from Ross County their goalkeeper Mark Brown has managed to hold his head high. He has put in some very decent performances and has helped County get some vital points as they look to get out of the relegation zone.

CB – Virgil van Dijk (Celtic)Virgil-van-Dijk-Celtic-Arsenal-Manchester-United-417067 Van Dijk has been Celtic’s best player for some time now and it is a case that the club are now trying to hold on to their prize asset. He will probably leave Celtic sooner rather than later and he looks like having a great career ahead of him (he is still only 23). 

CB – Jaroslaw Fojut (Dundee United) – pt9j-FUF_400x400The giant Polish centre back has certainly made his mark on this Dundee United side. He has been a rock at the heart of the Arabs defence and has brought genuine strength and aggression to a team that really needed it. He isn’t the quickest but he is a committed and composed defender.

CB – Mark Connolly (Kilmarnock)UntitledConnolly has been one of the real finds this season. He left Crawley Town at the end of last season and he found himself travelling north to join the Rugby Park club. Still very young he has shown himself to be a very accomplished defender and someone who could have a very big future if he keeps on improving.

RM – Marley Watkins (Inverness) – UntitledThis has been a really impressive season for Watkins. He has shown some tremendous form and is getting better by the week. Strong and physical he possesses wonderful pace and is very difficult to push off the ball. Consistency has been the key to his success this season and Caley fans will be hoping that continues.

CM – Abdul Osman (Partick Thistle)Abdul_stmirrenEvery good team needs a strong defensive midfielder and that is exactly what Osman gives Partick Thistle. The Ghanaian midfielder has settled in very quickly at Firhill with performances that have delighted  supporters. He holds the ball well, wins the important tackles and he manages to keep things simple in the middle of the park.

CM – Chris Millar (St.Johnstone)imageAnother midfielder who manages to do the work that sometimes can go under-appreciated  Much like Osman, Millar is the player that wins the ball and makes the simple pass, but he is a little more forward thinking than Osman in the creative aspect of the game. He also has the technique that means he is more than just someone who wins the ball and gets rid of it.

CAM – Antony Andreu (Hamilton)067_324__andreu_1419549088_standardNot much to say about this Frenchman other than he oozes class. The undoubted success story of the Scottish season so far he is someone who can do it all in the forward areas. He has wonderful technique and always seems to find that extra yard of space to make the killer pass. It also helps that he has been scoring plenty of goals for Hamilton this season too!

LM – Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen)UntitledIf you could bottle the work ethic and commitment that Jonny Hayes has you would make a fortune. He is the type of midfielder that is very hard to find, one that has fantastic technique but also has a wonderful work ethic to go with it. Hayes will always give his best and when he gets going there are few better midfielders in Scottish football for running at pace and producing moments of magic.

ST – Henrik Ojamaa (Motherwell)Henrik-Ojamaa-521573This has been a season to forget so far for Motherwell fans but back in August they got one piece of great news when cult hero Ojamaa returned for a second spell with the club. It might only be a loan deal but he has once again shown his class during this difficult time for Motherwell. A bit of an all rounder he has good pace, technique and is a hard working forward who acts as a very good outcall for his team.

ST – David Clarkson (Dundee)UntitledAlthough Andreu might be the success story in terms of overall performances it has to be said that Clarkson has been the success story in terms of out and out goalscoring. The striker had a hard time finding a club afar leaving Bristol Rovers in the summer but Dundee took a chance on the former Motherwell striker. Clarkson scored in his debut for Dundee and scored in seven consecutive games for the Dens Park club, breaking records galore along the way.

As you can see the only team to miss out is St.Mirren but with them being bottom of the table (at the time of writing) you can maybe understand why…sorry Buddies fans.

Scottish Premiership Christmas Report Card – Aberdeen, Celtic, Dundee and Dundee United

In July this blog featured a pre-season preview of the Scottish Premiership season for 2014/15. In that preview were a set of predictions at how the league table would end up in May. As you can see below there are parts of that predicted table that are wildly inaccurate!

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1. Celtic

2. Aberdeen

3. Dundee United

4. Motherwell

5. St.Johnstone

6. Inverness

7. St.Mirren

8. Kilmarnock

9. Dundee

10. Partick Thistle

11. Ross County

12. Hamilton Accies

Firstly, apologies to all Hamilton fans. However it must be said that arguably every single Scottish football fan would have predicted for Accies to be lingering around the bottom end of the table for the majority of the season. How things change!

With the original predictions in mind and the season almost at the halfway mark it might be time to do a little report card on each team and how they have fared so far in this campaign…

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Aberdeen started their year with a few memorable evenings in the Europa League qualifying stages. They disposed of Latvians FK Daugava with relative ease before setting up a very difficult tie against FC Groningen of Holland. After a 0-0 draw at home it took one of the best performances by a Scottish team in recent years to secure Aberdeen progress to the third qualifying round for the group stages. 2014-08-07_Sociedad_009_rdax_80Unfortunately the European dream ended there with Spanish giants Real Sociedad proving too strong for the Dons despite a spirited performance at Pittodrie.

Their domestic campaign got off to a stuttering start with a heavy home defeat to Dundee United and the Dons did seem to struggle to find any momentum during the first few weeks of the season. Wins were followed by losses and the Aberdeen defence were looking a little shaky in the early stages of the year. 312367-david-goodwillie-aberdeen-dundee-scottish-premiershipAt the start of October Aberdeen travelled to Dens to take on a confident Dundee team. They came away with a dramatic 3-2 victory courtesy of a David Goodwillie winner and that seemed to kick-start a fantastic run of form that has seen them win 9 out of their last 10 leagues games.

Aberdeen are beginning to look more like themselves at the moment and they have managed to shore up their defence whilst still scoring goals. They have a strong and settled squad that will probably remain largely unchanged going into the second half of the season.

In the cups they have had mixed fortunes. A 1-0 win against high-flying Hamilton means a League Cup semi-final against Dundee United awaits at the end of January and they will be hoping to retain the trophy they won last year. Unfortunately in the Scottish Cup they were knocked out in the last-minute by Dundee at Dens.

Off the field the biggest news for Aberdeen so far this season has been the announcement of a deal that will effectively make Aberdeen debt free. Various movements in the hierarchy of the club and a number of different investments plans will allow the Dons to shed their £14.5million debt and put plans in place for the future (including new facilities, a training complex and eventually a new stadium). Despite the doom and gloom perpetuated by the media over the past couple of years this is another fantastic piece of news for the future of the game in Scotland.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnesRecently Derek McInnes has reiterated his desire to stay at Aberdeen and he sees the job at Pittodrie as being “unfinished”. This will be music to Aberdeen fans ears as they are undoubtedly in one of their most prosperous periods of the club’s recent history.

Top Performer – It is difficult to choose just one Aberdeen player given how well they have been performing in the last couple of months. Ryan Jack (more on him below) has certainly been at the heart of everything that has been good about Aberdeen but there is one player who seems to perform week after week and that man is Jonny Hayes. hayes-jonny-hayes-aberdeen-scottish-premiership_3206201The Irishman is a player who has been a standout in the SPFL since arriving at Inverness in 2009 and he just seems to keep on delivering the goods. One thing that makes him such a valuable asset is the fact that he is incredibly versatile and can play in a number of positions both defensively and going forward. He works tirelessly for his team and he is capable of producing match winning moments out of nowhere.

Must do Better – Aberdeen have started to show their true form in the last couple of months and with such a strong squad it means that manager Derek McInnes is very lucky that he can change things around when players begin to dip in form. So far this season he has made the choice to replace Jamie Langfield as his number one and that is something that keeps players on their toes. The ability to replace one good player with another is the reason they are doing so well. The one possible player that needs to keep improving is central defender Ash Taylor. It is fair to say that he started the season very poorly and he struggled in his first few matches in Scotland. It must be said though that Taylor has significantly improved since the start of the season and the Aberdeen fans have been delighted with him recently.

Promising Youngster – Okay so this is a bit of a cheat nomination. With Aberdeen’s first choice squad now very settled it has meant that opportunities for teenagers like Lawrence Shankland have been limited. ryanjackTherefore the real standout youngster for Aberdeen is actually someone who is now a veteran at 22. Ryan Jack is one of the best young midfielders in Scottish football and he continues to improve every season. To be a key part of a successful team like Aberdeen at such a young age shows just how good he is. It might be time for Gordon Strachan to start thinking about getting Jack involved in the Scotland setup as he is sure to become a full internationalist within the next couple of seasons.

Christmas Verdict – Aberdeen began the season a little sluggish possibly as a result of their European exploits but they have now started to show their true colours and are building week after week. They must surely still be favourites to get second place and possibly another League Cup win.

July Prediction – 2nd

New Prediction – 2nd

 

 

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What to say about Celtic? They are top of the league as expected but that is never the full story with regards to the current Scottish Champions. Celtic fans look for performances, developments in their squad and for a side that can compete with Europe’s elite.

173495Domestic success is almost taken for granted given their resources so managers are judged on European performances and the calibre of players they can sign

Ronny Deila took over in June with the difficult task of following on from Neil Lennon. He inherited a strong squad but one that he was keen to change to make his own mark upon. He has ideas about the style of play and formation his teams should be using which are different to those used by Lennon. Seven signings have been made since Deila took over, with the majority of those being loan deals. Only Craig Gordon and Stefan Scepovic have made the move to Celtic permanent.

With a number of players leaving the club in the summer it did take some time for Deila’s new shape and new tactics to really settle. In the early stages of their European Champions League campaign they comfortably beat KR Reykjavík both home and away but the challenges that faced them in the next qualifying round meant that a 4-1 hammering away to Polish side Legia Warsaw would surely result in elimination from the Champions League. As we all now know this was not the case and a bizarre set of circumstances meant that Celtic were allowed to progress in the qualification process through a default 3-0 home win (they qualified on away goals). With Legia Warsaw comfortably beating Celtic 2-0 at Murrayfield they brough on Bartosz Bereszyński for the last four minutes. The problem was that Bartosz was technically suspended for the match having been sent off in the Europa League the previous season.

Celtic finished second in their Europa League group.
Celtic finished second in their Europa League group.

A short but controversial case ensued and a decision was made by UEFA to reinstate Celtic. It didn’t actually matter too much as Celtic were then knocked out of the Champions League by NK Maribor. They dropped into the Europa League Group stage and have managed to negotiate their way out of their group and will play Inter Milan in the round of 32 in February.

Back in Scotland the performances from Celtic have been solid but unspectacular. They have managed to secure their place at the top of the table despite never really kicking into gear. They have had a couple of impressive runs of form but there has always been a feeling that this Celtic side are still a work in progress and have been a little soft defensively (they have only kept six clean sheets in the Premiership so far). The teams in and around Celtic at the moment have managed to cause them problems but it remains to be seen if they can maintain that. One thing we know is that even a poor Celtic team still have just about enough to see off most other Scottish sides.

Celtic fans do have one huge fixture to look forward to in 2015 and that is their League Cup semi-final against Rangers in February. The two sides have not met since April 2012 so the excitement (and probably nervousness) is already building.

 Top Performer – It has to be Craig Gordon. Not just for his performances but also because the big goalie has seemingly now managed to get his career back on track after some horrible injuries and not being able to play any proper football in over three years. -530059He has been a standout for Celtic both in the league and in Europe with his international return against England the icing on the cake. Scottish football fans have always recognised the ability that Gordon has and he must be considered as one of Scotland’s best ever goalkeepers. A mention must also go to on loan Man City striker John Guidetti who has been on fire since joining in September.

Must do Better – Celtic players are always under the microscope and they will always be under more pressure than most to perform so it is common to see Celtic fans quickly lose patience with certain players. Most of Deila’s signings are still settling in and it is maybe too harsh to judge any of them just yet, so it is a man who has been at Celtic for four years now who is in the ‘must do better’ category. Anthony Stokes has been a talisman for Celtic since signing in 2010 from Hibs and there is no doubting the role he has played for Celtic in the last few years but this season he has stalled. His goal tally isn’t great and his performances in general have lacked that spark fans are so used to seeing.

Promising Youngster – Ronny Deila promised that he would give young players at Celtic their chance. He hasn’t quite flooded the first team with teenagers but he has given a few of the younger players a chance to impress. GW320H415Liam Henderson and Eoghan O’Connell are two players who have been given some opportunities to prove their talent but the standout has to be Callum McGregor. It is often said that young players might benefit from some time out on loan and he certainly is someone who has really used a loan spell to improve as a player. Spending last year on loan at Notts County has given McGregor a full season of football and he looks all the better for it. The young midfielder is seen as a huge part of Celtic’s future and he has also started to edge towards contention for the full Scotland squad.

Christmas Verdict – It is a case of ‘as expected’ for Celtic domestically. They have stalled a few times so far but they will undoubtedly win the title. As for Europe it looks like Inter Milan might be too tough a task but you never know with Celtic and Europe. The Rangers game in February adds extra spice to their domestic season.

July Prediction – 1st

New Prediction – 1st

 

Dundee_FC

In July Dundee beat Manchester City 2-0 at Dens which meant the fans of the Dens Park club were approaching this first season back in the Premiership with a great deal of optimism, and rightly so.

886f7937513f22968a26d8847fba9b6ePaul Hartley has shown in his short managerial career that he has good ideas, a strong vision for what he wants and that he can spot a player when it comes to transfer business. Dundee were very busy over the summer and they recruited the basis of practically an entirely new team. This meant that some fans might have been worried that a huge turnover in players could lead to some issues in getting the team to gel but the majority of signings were completed quickly to allow for that.

The league season started with an impressive six match unbeaten run (although that did include four draws). The football on show by the Dundee team was fluid and attractive to watch and the new signings had all bedded in very quickly. IJS45172454mportantly Dundee were getting results against teams that they would have been expecting to be competing with in the same part of the table as them. That early season from has shown what this Dundee side are capable of on their day and they do have the potential of causing more upsets as the season continues.

Despite the positive feelings around Dens things came crashing back down to earth when they were beaten 4-1 at home against Dundee United in September. The first derby of the season was highly anticipated but in front of a sell-out crowd the Dundee players let the fans down by turning in a performance that fell completely flat. This loss sparked a short spell of poor results during September and early October.

Things did pick up again during late October and early November as Dundee started to show again just what they were capable of. Impressive wins over Motherwell, Hamilton and Kilmarnock allowed the Dens Park side the chance to solidify their top flight credentials and it also put them back into a very respectable league position. However (and just like in September) things fell flat once again and Dundee are currently on another poor run of form that has seen them pick up just two points from their last five games.

That inconsistency of seemingly four good games, four bad games seems to be an issue and it is something that might prevent Dundee from really fulfilling their potential this season. There is no doubting the quality in the side and on their day they can produce excellent football but it has only been in fits and starts so far.

Dundee’s league cup campaign ended in the third round as they were beaten in dramatic fashion against Dundee United at Tannadice. A last-minute header sent Dundee crashing out of the cup despite putting in a very good performance and one that was in complete contrast to their earlier Dundee derby showing. Celtic await Dundee in the next round of the Scottish Cup.

Dundee's new indoor training facility and academy.
Dundee’s new indoor training facility and academy.

It must also be said that Dundee are continuing to do some great work off the field. The club is improving, the facilities are improving and the links with the local community are getting stronger. After many years of uncertainty behind the scenes it now looks like Dundee are in a good place, which can only be a benefit to the city.

Top Performer – A number of Dundee’s new signings have played very well so far this season with the majority of Hartley’s recruits showing that they are more than good enough to play in the top flight. Signings from the lower leagues like Greg Stewart, Paul McGinn and more recently Scott Bain have all impressed. image-3A notable mention must go to David Clarkson who has had a phenomenal goal scoring record but in terms of consistency and leadership then James McPake is the pick here. He is one of a few Dundee signings that had a point to prove after a stuttering last few seasons and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to lead from the back. A model of consistency he has avoided many of the injuries that have plagued them in the past.

Must do Better – A couple of the new players in Dundee’s squad have been more than a little frustrating. Simon Ferry should be one of the top performers but he hasn’t quite got going yet and in Philip Roberts Dundee took a chance on a player with personal baggage and attitude issues and he hasn’t grabbed his chance at a fresh start. image-4The most frustrating player for many Dundee fans must be German striker Luka Tankulic. He should have been the goal scoring threat for Dundee this year and in pre-season he was scoring with what seemed like every touch. This summer form hasn’t transferred over into competitive action though and his scoring record has been nothing short of abysmal so far.

Promising Youngster – With Dundee trying to get a new team together and with the squad aiming to fight for every point it has been difficult for Paul Hartley to experiment too much with many of his younger players. Indeed Cammy Kerr, Dylan Carreiro and the immensely talented Craig Wighton have all been sent out on loan to get some experience. UntitledIt will be next year before we see these young talents stake a real claim for the first team. Although he is 22 and some would consider that too old to be a ‘youngster’ it has to be said that Scott Bain has been very impressive in his run in the side. He is still very young for a keeper and he is playing as a top flight goalie for the first time but his form and performances have been very promising.

Christmas Verdict – Dundee desperately need some consistency. If they can keep their squad fit and add a couple of new faces in January (which they have the budget to do) then they should be causing problems for almost every team in the league in the New Year. Dundee have the potential to be pushing for a top six finish if they can get a run of results going.

July Prediction – 9th

New Prediction – 7th

 

338px-Dundee_United_FC_logo.svg

Dundee United fans probably went into this season with a mixture of emotions given how the previous campaign had ended. There is no doubt that Jackie McNamara and his team are still moving Dundee United in the right direction but the 2013/14 season ended with the team not only missing out on Europe in the league but even more disappointingly with a defeat in the Scottish Cup final. That will have spurred McNamara on to improve the side and he did some good transfer business over the summer bringing in a mixture of players in key positions.

Off the field the club raked in huge sums of money by selling both Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson. andy-robertson-scotland-celebrating_3230266The multi million pound deals for the two young Scots has allowed the United chairman to make United debt free (yet another Scottish Premiership team) and it allows the board to make more changes in the development of Dundee United.

The season started with an emphatic win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie and that must have had fans forgetting all about the disappointing end to last year. That result set the tone for the first part of the season as United went on a very impressive run of 6 wins out of their first 8 matches. dundee-united-celebrate-dundee-united-scottish-premiership_3188300The football on show from United was once again fast and free-flowing but there was a change in the structure of the team and United seemed a bit more resolute at the back (with three new faces in the back four) and more direct in going forward.

Form since the end of September has dipped though and the team find themselves on a streak of losing almost as many as they win. Out of the last 9 matches they have lost four and won 5 so there is a need for a bit more consistency in the results. That hasn’t been helped by the ever-changing United team. McNamara has a strong squad but he has rotated quite heavily in the last couple of months which has possible led to some inconsistency.

Away from the football there have been a couple of stories that have dominated headlines and for all the wrong reasons. Firstly United have been doing battle with Rangers over the transfer fee for Charlie Telffer.

Charlie Telfer won the SPFL Young Player of the Month award in November.
Charlie Telfer won the SPFL Young Player of the Month award in November.

The player left Rangers at the end of last season under freedom of contract but Rangers were due compensation due to Telfer’s age. The club offered Rangers a fee that they felt was a sufficient amount. Rangers then rejected that offer and the case has only just been resolved by the SPFL and United are having to pay Rangers £204,000 for the promising youngster.

Elsewhere stories emerged in late October of Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska having been assaulted in Glasgow. It emerged that Paul Paton of United was involved in the incident and this has led to various accusations and now court dates for the case to be discussed.

These stories have detracted slightly to what has been a successful campaign for the Terrors and one that has shown that once again despite the Tannadice club losing a few key players they are still producing the goods.

Top Performer – If this was for ‘most improved’ then there would be no doubt that Chris Erskine would be walking away with this. The former Partick Thistle midfielder has been nothing short of a revelation since returning from Thistle on loan. JS53379765He was a player who last year put in a few abject performances for United and had been all but cast aside by the supporters. A new season has brought an entirely new Erksine though. He has been the creative force in much of United’s play this year and he is now being appreciated by the fans more and more each week. The most important player though, and the top performer is the giant Polish central defender Jaroslaw Fojut. The 27-year-old has struggled with injury during his career but he arrived at United injury free in the summer and has immediately made a huge difference to the side. Commanding, committed and strong in the air he is the type of defender every club needs at the heart of their backline.

Must do Better – Much like Aberdeen, United have a strong enough squad that once players begin to dip in form then they can change things around. One area where this isn’t possible is upfront. In Nadir Ciftci the Tannadice side have one of the most gifted but most infuriating players in Scottish football. The lack of options upfront has meant that Ciftci has continued to play despite his form being quite unpredictable so far this season. 429However he is capable of match winning moments so he can’t be the choice for this one. It is unfortunate to pick on someone so talented but the player that does need to really improve is Gary Mackay-Steven. The winger has been an exceptional player for United but he is now in his last season with the club and it shows. His performance level this season has been erratic and he has not had the same impact on games he really should be having. The fact that many United fans would choose Erskine over ‘GMS’ right now shows just how much things have changed for both players.

Promising Youngster – There seems to be pressure on every young player that comes through the ranks at United. With Ryan Gauld the poster boy for every young Scottish talent it means that anytime a teenager makes an appearance at Tannadice it sets of tongues wagging about how good they might be. image-2There are really only three names in the frame this season, Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal and Aidan Connolly. Spittal has made the least impact but has been used sparingly with the other two players having featured much more. Telfer looks like a real find (and might be worth the tribunal fee…) but it is Aidan Connolly who has made the biggest impact in terms of his technical ability. Similar to Gauld in that he is a very small and slight player with a big heart he is a direct winger who loves taking people on. A ready-made replacement for Mackay-Steven? Probably.

Christmas Verdict – United have shown this season that have a bit more steel about them. Defensively they have looked stronger and more assured which is good because going forward they haven’t quite been at their best yet. As long as they can avoid their yearly run of bad form around Christmas then they should finish third.

July Prediction – 3rd

New Prediction – 3rd

Report cards for Hamilton, Inverness, Kilmarnock and Motherwell tomorrow…