How greatly will already-flourishing Killie and Well benefit from the return of fans’ favourites?

February 23, 2013

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This week has ended in the same way as it began, with the return of the prodigal son a dominant feature in Scottish football.

Two mainstays of the most successful Scotland national team in over a decade have returned to the clubs that brought them their first opportunity in football.

However, given both James McFadden and Kris Boyd have done so while still on the ripe side of 30 having previously left to pursue careers at more illustrious clubs, is there a feeling they have come back as damaged goods?

With both players signing deals at Motherwell and Kilmarnock respectively until the end of the season, the rewards for each party are conflicting; if the players can impress as they initially did in their careers then they could force the attention of a bigger club to take one last gamble on them. If they don’t light up the SPL as they once did, the chances are they will remain there next season, which would give their teams longer to revive the potential that clearly exists.

It is worth noting that neither player has played for the national side since they were both hastily substituted by Craig Levein from the 2010 Hampden Qualifier against Lichtenstein – a night unkindly remembered for being Levein’s big escape as Scotland boss.

In assessing the potential roles McFadden and Boyd can play in their respective “new” sides though, there is not as much certainty each will flourish as you would normally expect from players of such calibre.

They are both re-joining clubs who appear well-served in their positions: Boyd will be competing with Paul Heffernan and Cillian Sheridan for a striking berth, both of whom have already struck double figures for Killie in all competitions this season.

Meanwhile McFadden joins a side which has also been in fine attacking form, with Michael Higdon spearheading a potent attacking threat stemming from midfielders Henrik Ojamaa, Nicky Law and Chris Humphrey.

If McFadden and Boyd reach the performance levels they were turning out before leaving, there should be no holding them back from the starting line-up.

However, Kilmarnock nor Motherwell have taken their old hero back as an act of desperation. Both have done so while in a position of relative luxury, which could have the effect of alleviating the pressure on McFadden and Boyd given obvious concerns over their match fitness.

The key question remains over who has taken the bigger risk – club or player?

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Strachan’s Scots show early appeal to Tartan Army

February 8, 2013
Strachan: Fine start, but next month's qualifiers will be the time to start proper judgement. Photograph PA Wire/PA

Strachan: Fine start, but next month’s qualifiers will be the time to start proper judgement. Photograph PA Wire/PA

Gordon Strachan was the fans’ choice to take over from Craig Levein.

And he started his reign in the same way as his predecessor – with a 1-0 home friendly victory against European opposition.

Levein’s opening success against the Czech Republic in 2010 arguably set the tone for his period in charge – his side were impressive in friendlies but ultimately poor in competitive action.

Yet Strachan’s victory over Estonia at Pittodrie on Wednesday night left Scotland fans with a feeling that more was to come, and that they could have inflicted more damage on their opponents following Charlie Mulgrew’s opener at the end of the first-half.

Estonia were a team considered to be a subtle threat to hopes of a successful debut at the ground where he spent many prosperous years with Aberdeen as a player.

However there were limitations other than the opposition that prevented Scotland reaching full flow, as the conditions amounted to make offensive football a great difficulty. Notwithstanding the fact Pittodrie is among the coldest grounds in the country, the poor playing surface made it awkward for Strachan’s attack-minded team to flourish.

The Pittodrie pitch has struggled to recover since Scotland’s rugby side travelled to the north-east to host Tonga as part of their autumn test series. That perhaps explains Aberdeen’s recent slump in form, with the Dons having won just one of the six home games they have played since that match.

The pitch clearly had a detrimental impact on several factors most would consider important to the thinking behind Strachan’s line-up, such as Charlie Adam’s range of passing and Steven Fletcher’s link-up with the midfield. However, one player returning to the side was Chris Burke, whose wing-play in the first-half made the bumpy pitch look like an irrelevant element.

It was therefore ironic that despite the conditions doing so much to disrupt Scotland’s gameplan, the winning goal was perfect execution of a move seemingly straight from the training ground. Adam’s free-kick from wide on the left was driven low to the edge of the penalty spot, where it met the run of Mulgrew who had rapidly peeled inside from the far post before the Celtic man hit a first-time shot into the bottom corner.

As so often happens in friendlies, the plethora of second-half substitutions brought the game to a lull. But the intent with which Strachan showed in starting Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Burke behind Fletcher was itself a statement likely to enthuse the Tartan Army.

Strachan’s track record has exposed him to many big-match situations before – English Premier League football with Coventry and Southampton and Champions League football with Celtic. One thing that has stayed common with his time in charge of each side has been the absence of any kind of intimidation at the prospect of facing bigger teams.

The signs are there that Strachan will set his team up offensively when necessary, something Levein was criticised for failing to do often enough. However, as brief an introduction as Wednesday’s clash was, the serious judgement will be held back a month until March’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Serbia have been concluded.

Rory right to plumb away at lower divisions

July 6, 2011

Picture the scene: an hour before your career-deciding exam. Could you imagine doing anything but reading textbooks in your own toilet, until those gruelling final 15 build-up minutes, when connection with your chirpy colleagues derails the esteem you have built-up over hours of intensive revision? For Rory McAllister, try being unveiled to the media at the showroom of your club’s new sponsor.

McAlliser’s transfer is undoubtedly one of the most talked-about in Scotland this summer. In moving from Brechin City, the 24 year-old left a side just one game away from playing in Scotland’s second-tier. By stark contrast, Peterhead finished rock bottom of the Second Division, and are now back in the same league as they were when they evolved from their Highland League shell in 2001.

However, McAllister’s 40 goals in 63 league appearances for Brechin attracted major interest from Aberdeen, St.Johnstone and St.Mirren, all of whom he spoke to before turning down. In particular, having started his career with the Dons, a renewed opportunity to prove  doubters wrong with his hometown side seemed too good to be true.

But the Blue Toon won the race. Why? Because money talks; being McAllister’s only part-time offer on the table, it gave him the chance to finish off his apprenticeship as a plumber, something he was ironically forced into after full-time football deserted him. This – coupled with an extremely favourable wage from the Balmoor club for training twice a week and playing on a Saturday – cooked up a total income that most bottom-six SPL clubs would struggle to match in today’s economic climate.

On a playing level, it appears a strange move, as well as a risky one; he now faces an extraordinary level of pressure to deliver at least 25 goals this season. All eyes will be on the talismanic forward, and Blue Toon fans don’t want promises, they demand guarantees. 

McAllister scored 29 goals in the Second Division for Brechin last season

However, there is a re-assuring confidence within McAllister which leaves few people in doubt he will meet expectations. Indeed, he was 25 minutes shy of sitting a crucial exam required for his qualification, when he politely declared; “I might need to be heading away just now”, in the absence of any prior notice to reporters, who had gathered to see Peterhead’s lucrative new sponsorship with Bon Accord Glass announced.

McAllister practically finds himself in a win-win situation, for even if his football career does slip away he has a skill to make a living from. However this could also be his big break. In most people’s eyes, the main reason he made the move was to complete his plumbing qualification. Therefore an exceptionally good season with Peterhead will attract another fairground queue of full-time clubs vying for his signature.

If anything, one could point to his time with Inverness – after being released by Aberdeen as a teenager – as evidence of why a move back to the SPL could have been premature. Scoring just three goals in 49 games, albeit most as a substitute, is not what he will be best remembered for, even to families whose toilets he has repaired. There is nothing to suggest McAllister cannot eventually become a success at that level. However, the more time he spends in the lower divisions, the more prepared he will be for his ultimate move.

For Peterhead, the advantages are endless. In return for the substantial wage supplied to their new man, there comes a heatwave of publicity and interest which can only be good for a team in development. This has prompted cynics to compare their spending to that of the now fallen Gretna when they were in the Third Division. However, the absence of an eccentric, chain-smoking chairman with more money than brain cells lends itself towards Blue Toon success.

McAllister’s obvious talent can only set them on their way.

Cove Rangers 7-2 Turriff United

February 11, 2010

Cove Rangers saw off the threat posed by Turriff United, and although the scoreline suggests it was a comfortable night for the champions at Rainbow Taxis Park, they were made to work hard for the three points – having to come from behind twice to level proceedings in a tight first-half.

United took a surprise lead on 12 minutes, when a ball whipped in from the right found Leigh Henderson and his flick on was met by the darting run of Andrew Hutchison, who directed a header into the back of the net from six yards.

Seven minutes later, Kevin Webster equalised for the home side with a piece of individual brilliance. After receiving a ball from Murray McCulloch, he cut inside with an intricate flick past Hutchison and curled a beautiful left-footed shot high into the corner of the net.

Turriff responded accordingly though as Dave McKenzie’s shot from the edge of the box was parried by to his left by Stuart McKenzie in the Cove goal, but the ball fell into the path of the hovering Grant Noble, and the forward tucked home from close range.

However, the visitors’ joy was short lived as Cove equalised – with Webster again heavily involved. A marauding run into the box saw him sidestep three defenders before cutting the ball across goal where Martin Johnston was on hand to stab home from 12 yards.

Half time: Cove Rangers 2 Turriff United 2

Cove took the lead for the first time in the game on 61 minutes when a cross into the danger area by Webster found Danny Milne unmarked at the far post. He was presented with the time and space to chest the ball down before rifling under the legs of Turriff goalkeeper Ross Buchanan.

Just four minutes later, the hosts were two goals ahead, with Kevin Webster claiming his second of the night. The influential Webster converted from the penalty spot after Barrie Stephen’s progress in the box had been halted by Michael Ralton.

United’s contribution to the match was not halted by this quickfire set-back however, and on 67 minutes substitute Martin McLeod was desperately unlucky not to pull one back. After sidestepping ‘keeper McKenzie, McLeod found his shot cleared off the line by the covering Neil Cruikshank.

Cove sealed the win on 82 minutes when substitute Dean Lawrie hit the by-line before playing a ball across to the near post where Danny Milne was on hand to head the past Buchanan for his second goal of the evening.

Just three minutes later, Cove substitute Robbie Henderson added insult to injury for Turriff as he found himself clean through on goal from Jamie Buchan’s long ball forward, and he made no mistake in beating Buchanan with a slide rule finish.

Cove put the icing on the cake in the dying seconds, amidst a highly controversial incident. Turriff’s Darren McAllister was shown a red card for conceding a penalty, that the visitors’ claimed had been committed outside the box. In Webster’s absence, it was Danny Milne who stepped up to complete his hat-trick, firing the ball beyond a shell-shocked Buchanan.

Cults U13s 3-1 Kincorth U13s

February 6, 2010

Below-par Cults were fortunate to maintain their season-long winning streak at the expense of Kincorth, who pushed the hosts all the way on a rain-soaked pitch in Milltimber.

Aidan Combe set the home side on their way on 17 minutes, with a cool run-in-shot beneath the onrushing goalkeeper.

Cults looked sluggish in their pursuit of the second goal, and after a hoard of missed chances they finally doubled the lead on 37 minutes, when winger Calum Reid was presented with an easy tap-in 8 yards out.

Kincorth did not let this set them back however, and just four minutes later a beautifully curled effort from the edge of the box got them right back into it.

Despite concerted efforts to equalise – including a header off the line and shot off the bar – Kincorth could not find a way through, and three minutes from time Stuart McNicholas wrapped up the points for Cults. The midfielder received the ball on the edge of the box, before he waltzed through the visiting defence and neatly placed a shot beyond reach of the goalkeeper.

In the end, the win marked Cults’ third over Kincorth this season, and a continuation of the incisive form that has been disrupted by a lack of recent games – this being their first fixture since 15th December.

Cove Rangers 2-0 Fort William

January 23, 2010

A tremendous performance saw unfancied Fort William come away from Aberdeen with their heads held high, despite going down 2-0 to Cove Rangers. The Lochaber side brushed aside their traditional tag of ‘whipping-boys’ by producing a battling performance, with the reigning champions below-par throughout.

Cove came close in the opening stages when Jordan Heads found himself unmarked in the centre, but nodded Kevin Webster’s cross over the bar. Fort also showed early promise on twelve minutes when Sean Ellis raced onto a long clearance by goalkeeper John Campbell, but shot harmlessly over.

However just three minutes later the home side snatched the opening goal that Fort William were dreading, albeit with a hint of good fortune. Murray McCulloch hit the byline before pulling the ball back into the path of Danny Milne at the near post, and although the striker mis-hit his effort, it still carried enough to deceive Campbell and notch the ex-Locos man his fourteenth goal of the season.

As Cove looked to double their lead, Webster started to influence Cove’s attacking play. Twenty-five minutes in the winger came agonizingly close to achieving this feat, when he latched onto McCulloch’s through-ball, cut inside the defence before firing a low drive inches wide of Campbell’s left-hand post.

The visitors did not appear in any way deflated by the goal, and managed to produce two glorious chances to equalise. On thirty-two minutes Sean Ellis whipped a ball into the danger area, where the unmarked John Hewitt was lurking, but he was unable to get enough contact on the ball to force it home. Just thirty seconds later Ellis managed to create an opening for himself 12 yards out, but snatched at his shot and blasted it high over the crossbar.

Cove appeared to be lethargic in their pursuit of the second goal, and it took them until just before the break to seriously threaten. Another magnificent run from Webster saw him evade the challenges of three visiting players before firing across goal, where the ball ricocheted off the goalkeeper and hit the post, before bouncing clear.

The home side hit the woodwork once again just a minute later. This time the ball fell to Jamie Buchan on the edge of the box following a corner, and his storming effort cannoned off the post with no takers to convert the rebound.

Milne brought Cove’s flurry of chances to an end on forty-four minutes, when he cut in from the right and fired a shot towards the near post, but Campbell was alert to palm away and deny the striker his second.

Half-time – Cove Rangers 1-0 Fort William

At the start of the second-half the home side picked up from where they left off, and Webster’s 25-yard free-kick was swerving into the postage stamp corner, but Campbell was at full stretch to make a wonderful parried save.

Fort sensed that they were very much still in the game, and Michael Ellis found a sight of goal on 56 minutes. However, he was thwarted by a sharp block by Stuart McKenzie.

The Toonsers ought to have put daylight between the two sides on two minutes later, but had goalscorer Milne to blame for spurning a glorious chance. Webster’s delivery was angled to the far post, where Milne somehow contrived to blast the ball over the bar from 5 yards.

Once again poor finishing was to blame for Cove’s failure to increase their lead on 66 minutes, as Barrie Stephen’s delivery found Martin Johnston in plenty of space inside the box. However, he was somewhat complacent with his effort, allowing Campbell to make an impressive block with his legs.

The Lochaber side looked to take advantage of Cove’s sloppy finishing, and Michael Gillespie came close on 75 minutes, as he prodded Ian Foggo’s delivery narrowly over the bar. Five minutes later they found another opening, as the impressive half-time substitute Sam Urquhart found himself in space on the edge of the box, but he rifled his shot straight into the grateful arms of McKenzie.

Having made heavy work of Fort, who hadn’t played a game since 5th December, Cove finally wrapped up the three points with seven minutes to spare. Substitute Phil Reid fired a tempting cross in to the far post, where Eric Watson was on hand to guide the ball home with a downwards header.

The result means that Cove now advance three points ahead of Huntly, but remain three points behind leaders Buckie Thistle with a game in hand.

Team-lines:

Cove Rangers – McKenzie, Cruikshank, Heads (Black 66), McCulloch, Watson, Tindal, Webster, Johnston, Stephen (P.Reid 79), Buchan, Milne (Henderson 72).

Unused Subs – Huggins, Windrum.

Fort William – Campbell, Foggo (Redpath 88), Bamber, Martin, Quigg, Mark Gillespie, Hewitt (Finnis 78), Mackintosh (Urquhart 45), M.Ellis, S.Ellis, Michael Gillespie.

Man of the Match – John Campbell (Fort William)

Referee – R. Cobb

Attendance – 150

Post-match reaction

Jerry O’Driscoll (Cove Rangers)

“We were absolutely terrible. We’ve spoken to the players all week about togetherness and team-spirit, and in the end we’ve taken lessons from the eleven Fort William players. How we won that game I’m not entirely sure.

The dressing room is not a very chirpy place just now. We’ve got a tough run of games coming up, so I’ve told the players to go home and take a real look at themselves, because we can’t afford to produce performances like that.”

Calum Maclean (Fort William)

“I was very impressed with the boys today, especially after having not had a game since 5th December. We’ve hardly trained because of the conditions back home, so to put on a performance like that is unbelievable.

It’s one of the fixtures we dread, because it’s a very difficult place to come to. We normally get beaten by seven or eight goals, but we have limited that to four and two over the last two seasons respectively. We outdid anything we’ve done before here at Cove, so I’m really chuffed for the boys.”

Cults Seniors 0-1 Perth High Seniors

January 22, 2010

Cults bowed out of the Scottish Cup, despite a valiant effort in this Fourth Round tie against Perth High at Kaimhill. In the end a spirited performance was not enough to book a place in the last-sixteen, and the visitors showed impressive character to profit from several chances missed by the home side.

The visitors appeared to be sharper in settling into the match, but had nothing to show for their early efforts. Indeed it was Cults who caught the first sight of goal nine minutes in when a long ball was played into the direction of Joel Young, but the forward was snuffed out by three covering defenders. Two minutes later Fraser Smith came close for the visitors with a curling shot from the edge of the box.

Cults were looking to take advantage of any half-chances that came their way, and on 18 minutes Jack Guthrie shot through a crowded penalty area, but an unfortunate deflection carried the ball safely into Scott Booth’s arms. Cults won a free-kick in a dangerous position just a minute later, but the left-foot of Liam Shaw could only blast the ball high over the bar.

The hosts registered their first shot on target 28 minutes in, as a low snapshot by skipper Stuart Cooper was smothered by Booth. Just two minutes later Ciaran Findlay ghosted in from the right flank before firing a venomous shot goalwards, with Booth having to be at his sharpest to hold the ball.

The Cults defence were doing a fine job in limiting Perth’s threat to long-range efforts, and on 32 minutes Fraser McKinlay fired wide from 25 yards after cutting inside from the left.

Cults defender Cooper was beginning to pose problems for the visitors further upfield. On 36 minutes he once again found himself in a shooting position 30 yards from goal, and was unfortunate to see his effort drift narrowly wide of the target.

However three minutes later Perth took the lead against the run of play. Liam Neil raced onto a long ball, before he evaded the challenge of Michael Thomson and lofted the ball beyond the outstretched arm of Danny Matthew.

Cults didn’t let the goal set them back however, and within 30 seconds of going behind Shaun McDonald came within inches of levelling up the tie once again. The striker picked up the ball on the edge of the box before unleashing a shot that shaved the post with Booth deceived.

Perth were denied the elusive two-goal cushion going into the interval by brave defending on the goal-line. A corner found its way to Jake Tulloch at the back post, and his header looked to have beaten Matthew, but a combination of keeper and defender managed to scramble the ball to safety.

Half-time – Cults 0-1 Perth High

On 51 minutes Matthew had to be at full stretch to deny Matthew Gallagher. The midfielder struck low from the edge of the box, but found Matthew alert to clutch the effort at the second attempt.

Perth were beginning to display the confidence that came with notching the opening goal just before the break, and on 58 minutes skipper McKinlay caught the ball cleanly on the volley from 10 yards, forcing a superb full-stretch save from Matthew.

The home side once again had Matthew to thank on 68 minutes, as Perth went all-out to end the tie as a contest. Matthew raced to the edge of his box to thwart the onrushing Neil, who looked to clip the ball over the Cults stopper.

As the match entered its final quarter, a widespread abundance of cramp hindered Cults’ hopes of notching an equaliser. Eventually they were forced to relinquish forwards Ciaran Findlay and Shaun McDonald from proceedings, with defenders Jordan Scheier and John McPherson forced to cover further up the park.

Cults gave it their all in pursuit of the equaliser, and moved defender Stuart Cooper forward to add extra dimension to the frontline. Basti Troell-Smith and Steven Smith both came excruciatingly close with efforts from just outside the box seven minutes from time, with their shots bouncing narrowly wide. With just a minute of regulation time still to play, Cooper headed a corner towards the far post but Booth was on hand to collect before it reached a green shirt.

Right on the 90th minute came Cults’ best chance of the match. Another corner was fired into Cooper’s direction, and the skipper headed the ball down to Niklaes Haugland-Gosling who ballooned over from close-range.

Amidst the intensive rush for a Cults equaliser, the visitors almost snatched a second goal two minutes into injury time. Matthew allowed a low cross from the right to slip from within his grasp, leaving McKinlay with what appeared to be an open goal, but right-back Thomson managed to spread himself across the goal-line and make a heroic block.

The home side had one final throw of the dice five minutes into stoppage time as Guthrie tried his luck from long-range, but goalkeeper Booth comfortably held his effort.

Full-time – Cults 0-1 Perth High

Team-lines: Cults (4-3-3) Matthew, Thomson, Cooper, Smith, Haugland-Gosling, Troell-Smith, Shaw, Guthrie, Findlay (Scheier 73), Young, McDonald (McPherson 79). Unused Subs: Coult, Lamont

Perth High (4-4-2) Booth, Tulloch, Bow, Quinn, Gleave, Smith, McKinlay, Davies, Jordan, Gallagher, Neil.

Subs: Brown, Goodfellow, Wilson.

Referee – G. Cheyne

Man of the Match – Stuart Cooper (Cults)

Match Stats:

Shots on: Cults 5 Perth High 6

Shots off: Cults 6 Perth High 4

Corners: Cults 3 Perth High 5

Fouls: Cults 4 Perth High 10