Club Columnists

Positives for Celtic in uninspiring season

Written by Hamish Carton.

Dumped out of both cups at home and a disappointing, if adequate, season in Europe. This season hasn't exactly been a glowing success for Celtic. Up until last Tuesday there was one crumb of comfort in the shape of an unbeaten league season. Aberdeen soon saw to that though and left Celtic with a series of meaningless fixtures to round of the campaign. Sure the Hoops will once again win the title but that will be little consolation after an uninspiring season.

There is cause for optimism though. It comes in the shape of new recruits who seem to have added the swagger back to Celtic's play. Deadline day signing Leigh Griffiths has flourished in his early days at Parkhead, netting four in his first four starts. He looks like the penalty-box striker that Neil Lennon has been looking for since the departure of Gary Hooper in July. Griffiths' arrival also seems to have awoken Anthony Stokes from his mid-season slump and the Irishman looks like he may be back to his sparkling best.

Celtic's midfield has taken a battering over the past 18 months with the loss of Ki Sung-Yeung, Victor Wanyama and then Joe Ledley in January. 20 million pounds worth of talent gone but it looks like they may finally have found adequate replacements. Norwegian signing Stefan Johansen looked impressive on his debut, finding cute passes as well as snarling at the opposition to turn over possession, but struggled when put up against the combative Barry Robson in the cup defeat to Aberdeen. The signs look good for Johansen on the whole though and he looks ready the bridge the gap left by Ledley. Israeli holding midfield Nir Biton has taken time to adapt to life in Glasgow but now looks to be a great find. Calm on the ball, a competent passer and a terrific reader of the game, Biton looks to have it all and may not be at Celtic for much longer if his current form continues. Celtic's major downfall in this season's Champions League was their inability to keep possession of the ball. In Johansen and Biton they have two men who rarely give it away.

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Motherwell 4-1 Hearts: Review by Well fan Lewis Birrell

Written by Lewis Birrell.

After two poor Motherwell performances, Stuart McCall’s side bounced back with a convincing victory against Hearts.
 
Steven Hammell and Henri Anier unfortunately joined Ramsden, Kerr, Lawson, Moore and Erwin on the casualty list. Meanwhile Lee Hollis, returning from injury himself, replaced Gunnar Nielsen between the sticks. The lengthy injury list meant that youngsters Euan Murray, Dale Shirkie, Dom Thomas and Christopher Cadden occupied places on the bench and Jack Leitch featured in the starting eleven.
 
McCall got a quick reaction from his players as they looked to attack Hearts right from the start, rather than standing off their opponents as they have done recently.
 
I believe that a key factor in diluting the Jambos' threat was the return of Lee Hollis. Our defence had looked slightly shaky recently, conceding 9 goals in three games. It was evident to all that the defence weren’t entirely comfortable playing in front of Nielsen due to his slightly unpredictable nature. Lee Hollis though, is much more solid, consistent and reliable which fills the backline with more confidence.
 
Hearts 'keeper, Jamie Macdonald, had a very busy first half as John Sutton and Lionel Ainsworth both came close. Craig Reid and Zaine Francis-Angol, who were really effective on the overlap, piled on more pressure. So much so, that Hearts struggled to pose any real threat to Motherwell in the first half. Their only real moments of danger came from free kicks and corners, one of which saw a Brad McKay header go over the bar.
 
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Hibs fans also to blame for slump

Written by Lewis Barnes.

Once again the Scottish cup has eluded Hibs.  A home tie against lower league opposition who have not scored this calendar year was always going to be a match only Hibs could lose.  Add into the equation one of Raith’s best players being on loan from Easter Road and many others in their squad and the manager being Jambos and there was inevitability about Hibs demise.  If good things come to those who wait Hibs fans are due something pretty special.

Credit to Raith for a determined and skilled performance including some inspired goal keeping which saw them deservedly through to the next round but in truth Hibs have only themselves to blame.  Celtic had just been knocked out as the game kicked off at Easter Road and with Rangers and Hearts a shadow of their former selves there may not have been a better opportunity to bring the Scottish cup back to Leith for the first time in 112 years.  But a fourth defeat in a row has seen the Terry Butcher revolution stall.

From back to front it was a wretched display.  The returning Paul Hanlon looked like a player short of match practice and forgetting how much his form had improved under a new manager.  The rest of the back four were no better.  Defensively Hibs were a shambles and have now conceded 10 goals in their last 3 home games.  Alex Harris still seems short of sharpness and a long way off the player who sparkled on last year’s run to the final.  James Collins, for all his hard work does not finish or have the first touch or pace to justify his significant transfer fee but in many ways captain Liam Craig is the biggest problem.  Butcher is woefully misusing him as a defensive midfielder.  A prolific goal scorer and creator as an attacking midfielder at St Johnstone his performance and distribution was poor once again from a deeper role.  The set up play in Paul Heffernan’s great but spurned chance to force a replay gave a reminder of what Craig can produce in the attacking third but if Butcher requires a defensive midfielder it is hard to see why the exiled Kevin Thomson isn’t a better option.  The former club captain and Scotland internationals game may not be perfectly suited to Butcher’s tactics of getting the ball forward as quickly as possible but Saturday’s game was screaming out for his composure and skill.

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Ayr United back Michael Moffat

Written by Calum McLurkin.

It is a surreal experience to see any Ayr United news hit the headlines but we did when our striker Michael Moffat received a six match ban after being found guilty of breaching football betting rules. The club are rightfully appealing the decision which the chairman, Lachlan Cameron, declared as “grossly unfair”.

Everyone at the club is right behind our talismanic figure and no wonder. Since his arrival in the winter of 2011 from Girvan (the last time the club paid a transfer fee for a player) he has almost scored one goal in every two games for us in all competitive matches- a superb ratio in the Championship and League 1.

Now that he is at the club full time working as a community coach, I think it has galvanised his performances this season and as a result looks much happier playing football. His effort is faultless in every game. He gives 100% every week since he started playing and stuck with us despite being fully capable of playing in a league above.

I can’t think of a player who has offered more to the club on the pitch in the last three years than Moffat. He achieved cult hero status when scoring the decisive winner to defeat Brechin when we won promotion to Division One in 2011.

 
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What has Terry Butcher changed at Hibs?

Written by Lewis Barnes.

A richly deserved and long overdue Edinburgh derby victory concluded an excellent festive period for Hibs.  Ten points from a possible twelve propelled the club into the top 6 and continued Terry Butcher’s encouraging start to life at Easter Road.

Twice this season Hearts have scored the only goal in Edinburgh derbies to beat Hibs.  Aberdeen are the only other side to lose to the Jambos over 90 minutes this season.  Particularly in the league cup game in October Hibs had the better of their city rivals yet lost so when 45 minutes of predominantly Hibernian attacks resulted in a goalless half time score the home contingent of the new Easter Road’s first capacity crowd could be forgiven for anxiety overtaking pleasure at a decent first half display. 
 
However, instead of another defeat Hibs recorded a victory that was far more convincing than the scoreline suggests.  So what has changed?

Firstly and probably most importantly is confidence.  The Hibernian players now seem more relaxed and enjoy their football more.    Butcher has worked wonders installing positivity into a beleaguered squad and a string of good results will only keep this momentum going.  The Hibs players now possess composure and belief and even when Hearts equalised they kept passing the ball about and getting it forward with purpose.  

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Motherwell: Mid-season review

Written by Lewis Birrell.

Having obtained European Football and second place in the SPL in season 2012-2013, it was always going to be extremely difficult for Stuart McCall’s men to find a way to equal or even better this.

This mammoth task was not helped at all by the fact that many of Motherwell’s most influential players decided to further their careers in both the lower leagues of England and abroad. Darren Randolph, Tom Hateley and Chris Humphrey transferred to England, while Michael Higdon and Henrik Ojamaa moved to Nijmegen and Legia Warsaw respectively. Nicky Law chose to drop down the divisions to join Rangers.

The ‘Well support were heartened though upon learning that we had acquired Iain Vigurs and Paul Lawson from Ross County – both of whom had earned rave reviews in the Highlands. The return of fans’ favourite, John Sutton, reassured them that Michael Higdon’s boots could be filled, and they felt in safe hands following the signing of former Manchester City goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen, who had a loan spell at Fir Park previously. Although we seemed to be fairly stable in this position, former Celtic skipper Stephen McManus arrived to bring his extensive experience to the defensive line. Estonian Henri Anier and Rotherham’s Lionel Ainsworth were also brought in on loan to boost the attacking line.
It was also pleasing to bring the ‘will he?/won’t he?’ McFadden saga to an end, when it was finally announced that he had signed for the forthcoming season. This gave everyone a huge boost before the highly anticipated Europa League clash with Kuban Krasnodar.

The team had a fairly average pre-season schedule which included home games against Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest and away run outs against Doncaster and Morecambe.

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Could Dundee United challenge Celtic for title?

Written by Ally Stewart.

WHAT a couple of months it has been for Dundee United supporters. There have been goals galore leading to six wins on the trot with some sparkling football in the process. Consequently, many of us are speculating as to just how far this side can go and what realistic aspirations we can have.

You could really feel the buzz around Tannadice prior to the game on Saturday against Ross County. Another healthy crowd resulted in an overspill into the old Jerry Kerr stand with many anticipating plenty of goals. What followed was a fully merited but more modest 1-0 win against a side whose main aim was to prevent United playing their usual free flowing game. This itself is a sign of where the tangerines are just now, with teams wary of being on the receiving end of a heavy defeat. The patience showed during this win demonstrated yet another aspect to the character that Jackie McNamara has instilled in his side.

The run of results of late really has been remarkable. By seeing off County the terrors made it six wins in a row and 22 goals scored in these games. Added to this the football, as mentioned, has been excellent and crowds are growing by the week. Several of the side are catching the eye and one day may well attract big money offers from other clubs.

Keeping this group together could prove to be challenging long term but the fans mainly seem to be of the viewpoint that we should enjoy being able to see the team play each week for now.

The contract extensions announced recently should hopefully ensure that this doesn’t happen in the immediate future. Added to this it also increases the odds that any bids will be sizeable should they arrive. Credit is due here to chairman Stephen Thompson, his board and obviously Jackie McNamara. It also seems players such as Ryan Gauld, John Souttar, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci realise that playing week in week at Tannadice is better for their long term development.

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Morton face a long road to survival

Written by Graham Barr.

LAST Monday, new manager Kenny Shiels took over the reins at Cappielow after a dismal start to the season had led to the sacking of Allan Moore.

Many of the Ton fans were delighted by the appointment and have been impressed by his manner in the interviews he has done so far.

On Saturday, Morton faced Falkirk at Cappielow in front of a crowd full of optimism ahead of the new managerial tenure.

Unfortunately, the sad truth of the matter is that, although the club has a new, exciting manager, he is still working with the same dreadful squad that his predecessor assembled.

The team lacked any sort of cutting edge and two defensive mistakes gave an average Falkirk side an easy 2-0 victory.

Shiels tried to blood some youth, with Nacho Novo dropping to fourth choice striker, but the impact of young David McNeil and Aidan Ferris was disappointing.

There is a lot needing fixed within the current squad; the defence is a shambles, the midfield lacks creativity and is sorely missing David O’Brien, and up front the team desperately needs a clinical finisher.
Prior to last Monday, Shiels had already watched the team three times and it speaks volumes that on his first day, he had already brought two players in to train with the squad.  

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