Fitbaw Ramble: SFA Decisions, Boyata, Championship Title and More!

We are now a couple weeks into the new season of football in Scotland and as always, there is no lack of talking points. From off the ball clashes, attempting to force transfers and everything in between, Scottish football has never claimed to be a sanitised, cool, calm and collected place.

I’m going to do these articles whenever a time suits. For a weekly look into my thoughts and opinions on our game, please consider having a listen, either live or on demand, to my Monday Night Football Hour, 9-10pm on Mearns FM. These articles are going to be less on a regular schedule, they are more or less about having some discussion when topics are there to be discussed – and hopefully with the help of other passionate Scottish Football supporters, I can include others analysis and opinions.

Let’s start with off the ball incidents and the SFA’s decisions regarding these. Regardless of your opinions on the Morelos kick, the Brown elbow or the Naismith stamp, the worrying inconsistency with how the SFA has dealt with these issues in comparison to how previous issues have been reacted to is an issue that needs to be highlighted. The SFA have now given themselves some difficult situation to deal with, because the next time they do decide to punish someone, these issues will certainly be pointed to when appeals are lodged. It is also of course confusing how among football, you can often see greater punishments handed out to players whom have mistimed a tackle than those who have purposely attempted to hurt an opponent.

There is plenty of debate in Scottish football but I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to find a supporter of any team who could tell you with a straight face that they feel Dedryck Boyata is acting completely within reason with the way he is attempting to get a move from Celtic. While Boyata himself claims he is injured, rather than refusing to play in Greece, I’d highly doubt Brendan Rodgers would make such claims about a player you’d assume he wants to keep.

When you look at the prices being thrown around in discussions about moves to a number of different clubs, I’d have to say I wouldn’t blame Celtic for taking the money. That said, the number of centre backs  Celtic have gone through without really finding a situation they are happy with shows exactly why they probably wouldn’t be confident of finding a replacement for the Belgian international, especially with English clubs unlikely to do business at a time they can’t bring new faces through the door.

Jason Denayer is a player who’s return would probably be welcomed with open arms by Celtic supporters. In terms of any other suggested options at this point, I’m not sure I’ve seen a better alternative. However, the gossip recently has suggested the player himself is more keen on a move to Turkey with Galatasaray.

The Championship this season, as always, is about as predictable as the length of the grass at Tynecastle (Literally could have had another 500 words in this on the topic of grass, thank me for not doing that later.) From the early stages it’s hard to predict a real favourite to take the League title and with it automatic promotion this season. My pick would still be Ross County when you consider their two wins thus far, their form in the League Cup and overall transfer dealings this summer – which has just be supplemented by the incoming Don Cowie.

It’s a league that’s bound to be hectic as always and there are plenty of stories already materialising. I expect Lawrence Shankland to stay with Ayr United now, as frankly as of the sides that would be interested in him, I just don’t see paying the amount Ayr are wanting for him at this time in the transfer window.  Should the former Aberdeen player keep up his goal scoring form – certainly easier said than done – he could very easily be pushing Ian McCall’s side into a position where they might even challenge for a playoff spot.

Hibs have managed to do some wonderful transfer business this summer. Stephen Mallan is a player that the clubs around them may well end up being quite jealous of not snapping up themselves. Neil Lennon has got a couple of fantastic strikers who have already proven last season that they fit into the team. Having a lad like Ollie Shaw, who has started the season well with two goals in as many games, continuing to develop behind Maclaren and Kamberi shows a very healthy front line. Sometimes last year you felt as though Hibs maybe lacked that little bit of depth and that’s certainly an issue they’ve addressed. Emerson Hyndman is a player who I feel will fit in at Easter Road, but I wouldn’t regard him as a direct replacement for John McGinn. I wouldn’t put it past them to have a transfer or two still up their sleeves in Leith – one of them should be someone as similar to McGinn as possible. Their defenders and goal keeping situation I’m sure is still a bit of a concern for many supporters.

Always happy to have a good football discussion on Twitter, so if you’ve got any thoughts on the topics discussed in this article, let me know – @NE98FT

Guest Match Report: Cove Rangers 2-0 Raith Rovers

The following is a guest writer – David Reid – We are always looking to highlight other journalist’s work. If you have a piece – match report, feature, video, audio – you’d like us to share with our audience, get in contact via – NE98football@gmail.com

By David Reid – (@DavidReid123)

Find post match audio from David here –

https://soundcloud.com/user-812778215/guest-writer-david-reid-post-match-audio-from-cove-2-0-raith-rovers

Cove Rangers warmed up for the 2018-19 Highland League campaign with a
2-0 win over Scottish League One outfit Raith Rovers.

Cove Rangers started the game at a very high tempo and almost made the
breakthrough after 2 minutes, a ball from Blair Yule found Harry Milne
at the back post 3 yards from goal but the full back was denied by
Robbie Thomson.

John Sherans side took the lead after 9 minutes. Mitchel Megginson got
clear of his opposite marker and pulled the trigger which smacked off
the post before Daniel Park guided the ball into an empty net.

Cove almost doubled their advantage on 23 minutes with a free kick by
Jamie Masson hitting the side netting.

Raith Rovers started to get into the game towards the tailend of the
first half, a long range strike from Lewis Milne 9 minutes before the
interval went wide of the left hand post.

Ross Matthews also tried his luck for the Kirkcaldy outfit with an
effort from 12 yards blocked superbly by Harry Milne.

Kevin Nisbet had another chance to pull level for Rovers on 60 minutes
with a volley from the edge of the box denied by a block from Blair
Yule.

Cove made it 2-0 on 76 in what was unfortunate circumstances for
Rovers. Sam McGuff spilled the ball out of his hands when it looked
liked being a comfortable catch and Jamie Masson was there to guide
the ball into an unguarded net.

A bad afternoon for Rovers got even worse in the dying moments of the
match with Barry Smiths side awarded a penalty with Liam Buchanan
fouled by Harry Milne. Buchanan got himself up and his spot-kick went
wide of the right hand post. Raith simply weren’t at the races and
Coves superb play warranted the hosts with the win.

Cove Rangers finish 4th in the group with Rovers bottom of the group.
Cove play Fraserburgh in the Highland League as the Aberdeen side
start the defence of the Highland League title.

Raith missed out on the League One championship last season just being
edged out by Ayr United before a play-off defeat by Alloa Athletic.
Barry Smith will be keen to rectify matters heading into the new
season with the aim being promotion back to the Championship at the
2nd time of asking, Raith travel to Stranraer this Saturday.

Full Time Cove Rangers 2-0 Raith Rovers.

Betfred Cup Match Day 3 Round Up

This year’s League Cup Group stages are beginning to get really exciting as many of the teams involved pass the half way point. All remaining fixtures are set to be played this week and there is sure to be plenty of battles for spots in the next stage.

Group A hasn’t gone the way Dundee United would have hoped, a 1-1 draw with Alloa this weekend, followed by a loss on penalties (The same story as occurred against Arbroath on the opening day) leaves United with just two points. Csaba Laszlo’s team still have bottom side Elgin to play, so qualification for the next round isn’t impossible, but it would also require Elgin beating Alloa, followed by Ross County defeating both Arbroath and Alloa. Although, while such results could see United finish second on goal difference, they’d quite possibly still not progress as one of the best 2nd placed sides. Elsewhere on Saturday, Arbroath kept their chances alive by beating League Two Elgin City. Dick Campbell’s side will require an upset victory against Ross County on Wednesday (A game we will have camera’s present) and other results to go their way to qualify. Having played three times, Arbroath’s League Cup campaign will come to an end on Wednesday without a positive result. They currently sit third, behind second place Alloa on goal difference – County sit top, a point ahead.

Montrose still top Group B, despite a loss this weekend. Tony Watt scored his first competitive goal for St Johnstone as they ended Mo’s 100% record at Links Park. A 1-1 draw between East Fife and Forfar – Forfar winning the bonus point – leaves Tommy Wright’s side with a good chance of progression, and Montrose will be confident they can beat fellow League One side, Forfar, in order to almost guarantee a place in the last sixteen. A Montrose win will leave them on nine points. St Johnstone could do one better if they beat Falkirk and Forfar in the next week, but nine points would still almost definitely see Stewart Petrie’s side remain in the competition despite finishing second. East Fife won’t progress and Forfar would need two massive wins to give themselves a chance. Falkirk can still also finish on nine points, so it’s a three horse race with it not unlikely for this group to contain two progressing teams.

Group C continues to be filled with plenty controversy and interest off the pitch – meanwhile Inverness are quietly going about their business off of it. Cove Ranger’s travelled to take on Cowdenbeath in a repeat of last season’s pyramid playoff final. While the antics and fiery tempers seemed to be kept at bay on this pitch this time, reports on twitter appear to suggest there was plenty of it on the benches and in the stands. A 1-0 win for Cowdenbeath sees them continue to look good for progression. As things stand, Hearts are now three points behind the League Two side – still to play each other. The outcome of Heart’s punishment for fielding an ineligible player has seen this gap increase for just one point. Meanwhile, a win for Inverness either at home to Raith Rovers on Tuesday, or away to Hearts on Sunday, should complete their journey to the next round. Craig Levein will be confident that Inverness game and the earlier fixture, at Tynecastle against Cowdenbeath should see his team progressing regardless of any punishment for their infringement of the rules despite a 1-1 draw with Raith, followed by a penalties win this weekend, a result Levein is likely to look at as a point lost.

All teams are still in it Group D. Peterhead and Stirling with just a game remaining each – Against Dundee and Dunfermline respectively however – won’t be too confident of progression. After an obsession with losing last season, Brechin haven’t lost yet in the competition, leaving them second. Although, games with Dunfermline and Dundee this week could soon change that. Despite losing 1-0 yesterday to Dunfermline, Neil McCann will surely be confident that both sides will be in the last 16, but both will need things to go to plan against sides further down the league’s this week for that to happen. Stirling’s 2-0 win over Peterhead on Saturday may not make many differences to the League Cup standings, but it could suggest Peterhead aren’t firm favourites to conquer League Two this year, as some may have predicted.

The southern section of the groups begins with Group E. Both Partick Thistle and Ayr United sit on 100% records having played two games each. It’s unlikely any of the sides below them – Stenhousemuir, Morton and Albion Rovers – will progress. Ayr continued their good form with a 2-0 win over Albion Rovers, who are rock bottom. Meanwhile Morton are finally on the board, beating Stenhousemuir 2-0, however, Ray McKinnon’s side are unlikely to qualify for the next stage. They’d have to beat Albion Rovers on Saturday and hope one of either Partick or Ayr do not pick up more points – and make up a goal difference deficit. Even then, six points is still unlikely to secure a last 16 position. Partick are away to Albion, while Ayr host Stenhousemuir on Tuesday, with the two then meeting on Saturday as both attempt to jostle for top position.

Kenny Miller hasn’t gotten off to the perfect start as Livingston manger, but he’s pretty close. Undefeated and his first goal for the club winning the game against Annan Athletic at the weekend leaves Livi top of their group. Airdrie threw themselves into the mix with a 3-0 win over Berwick Rangers, while Hamilton still toils on one point. The Accies will need to pick up all three points in both of their remaining games – away to Berwick on Tuesday and at home to Airdrie on Saturday – for a chance to progress. Meanwhile Livingston host Berwick on Saturday and Kenny Miller will know any sort of points should be enough to ensure progression for his side.

Queen of the South are steam rolling towards the last sixteen with a 100% record and 12 goals scored. Only Motherwell could potentially catch the Dumfries side now, and even then, the nine points racked up by Gary Naysmith’s side should be enough for a place as one of the best second placed sides. Motherwell will host Stephen Dobbie & co on Tuesday night in potentially the game of the group. Stephen Robinson’s side need to win that game, plus beat Clyde on Saturday to finish above QOTS. All three of the other sides in Group G will be hoping two major Motherwell slip ups could allow them into the next round, but that coupled with maximum points for any of them seems unlikely.

Finally, Group G hasn’t particularly went the way either Steve Clarke or Alan Stubbs may have wished, but penalty wins and Kris Boyd respectively are doing their best to help each side out. The Saints had a weekend off (so spent it getting bullied off the park by Jack Ross’s Sunderland) While Kris Boyd’s hat-trick helped Killie to a 4-2 win over Dumbarton, although Dumbarton still sit in first place. Dumbarton are away to St Mirren on the final day and will most likely need a win to secure progression, however, even a draw might end up being enough if Killie slip up against Queen’s Park and Spartans, while the Saint’s themselves slip against Queen’s Park also. Of course on three points themselves, causing upsets against the two Premier League sides could propel the League Two side through. Although, it appears more than likely the two Premiership sides will progress, albeit via a much bumpier road than anticipated.

Betfred Cup Match Day 2 – Round-Up

The Betfred Cup delivered once again with the second round of group stage fixtures. Shocks and goals were once again on the menu.

We will jump over Group A for a moment, to allow us to start with Group B, which had the first of our featured games – Montrose Vs East Fife. I was at Links Park to watch as the two League One sides battled after impressive results for both last weekend – East Fife holding St Johnstone to a draw and Montrose defeating Falkirk. It was a pretty even affair, although most of the real chances fell to Montrose. The home side took the lead early in the second half through Danny Cavanagh. With six points on the board last year’s League Two Champions may be beginning to dream of progression to the next round. The Angus side can also take a lot of encouragement from their League Cup performances heading into the league season – it would not be surprising to see their momentum carrying them forward towards a challenge for the playoffs. Elsewhere in Group B, Falkirk are back on track after their loss to Montrose last weekend. Falkirk endured a tough first half, including the Bairns keeper Robbie Mutch saving a Forfar penalty but went on to record a 2-0 victory. Montrose currently hold the top spot in the group and will face Premiership side St Johnstone on Saturday.

Going back to Group A, Dundee United are still struggling to find their feet. The Tannadice side drew against Arbroath at the weekend and faced a tricky tie away in the Highlands against Ross County. Nicky Clark missed a late penalty, which was only made worse when Jamie Lindsay netted for the home side minutes later, giving the staggies all three points. Arbroath could not build on their impressive start days ago losing 4-2 to new Championship side Alloa Athletic. The strike partnership of Alan Trouten and Greig Spence could be a handful for Championship defences this season, with Trouten picking up a goal and Greig Spence netting a brace in this game. Lewis Toshney – who joined on loan from Dundee United earlier this week – had a debut to forget for Arbroath, converting into his own net for Alloa’s other goal.  County sit on top of the group with six points and will be confident of securing passage to the next round. Second spot, however, is wide open, although it’s currently occupied by Alloa.

On Tuesday night Inverness recovered from a difficult start to win a seven goal thriller at Central Park as they faced League Two Cowdenbeath. Jordyn Sheerin scored both goals for Cowdenbeath – including the opener – his side are looking far better than last season, where they were very close to dropping into the Lowland League. Inverness fought back however, Aaron Doran and Tom Walsh both grabbed two goals each. Our other featured game took place on Wednesday night. Cove Ranger’s hosted their first competitive game at new ground Balmoral Stadium against Hearts. We were in attendance as goals from new signings Olly Lee and Steven MacLean, followed by a Cove reply from Paul McManus saw the Premiership side pick up all three points. Hearts were playing quite a few new signings, many of whom look as though they will be important parts of their system this season, although the Highland League Champions gave them a decent challenge.

Dunfermline got their League Cup up and running more –or-less perfectly. The Championship side put three past League Two Peterhead without reply and will be confident going into their clash with Dundee this weekend. Dundee weren’t in action for this set of games, so they will have the benefit of rest ahead of the fixture on Sunday. Brechin picked up a win for the first time since November last year as they defeated Stirling Albion 2-1. This leaves last season’s relegated Championship side (without a win) sitting on top of group D. Although, both Dundee and Dunfermline who are just a point behind Brechin have played just a game each.

Partick Thistle continue to look good for a title challenge in the Championship this season, as they go top of Group E, while Ray McKinnon has more to worry about for Morton. Relegated Thistle scored twice within the first half an hour. Morton got a goal back late on but ultimately fell to their second defeat of the League Cup group stage, following their loss to Ayr United at the weekend. Stenhousemuir are level with Ayr in second place – having played a game more – after putting four past Albion Rover. Both sides swapped leagues last season, Stenny being promoted to League One, with Albion relegated. Aberdeen fans will be interested to know that young don Seb Ross was on target for the League One side.

Annan Athletic continued their fantastic start to the season with a 4-0 win over Berwick Rangers. After beating Premiership side Hamilton on the first game day, such an empathic win over fellow League Two team Berwick will have Annan supporters hopeful of the season ahead. Annan are currently sitting on top of group F, a point ahead of Premiership new boys Livingston. Kenny Miller’s new side have had a decent start, following up last weekend’s win over Airdrie with a 0-0 draw against Hamilton at New Douglas Park. It was Livi who won the following penalty shootout, giving them a bonus point and they now look to have a good chance of progressing to the 2nd round.

Group G had eight goals in total on Tuesday, all shared between the two home sides. Edinburgh City will be sick of the sight of Motherwell. Stephen Robinson’s team beat the League Two side in the group stages last season, matched again this season, Motherwell were victors, this time wining 5-0, with Elliot Frear notching a hat-trick. Queen of the South followed up their victory over Stranraer at the weekend with a 3-0 win over Clyde. This result leaves QOTS top of the group, with Motherwell having only played one game.

Finally, Group H had one of the bigger, if not the biggest shocks of the tournament so far. Spartans were at one point, leading Premiership new boys St Mirren by two goals to nil. While St Mirren eventually came back to draw the game 2-2, and then winning the extra point via the shootout. This will of course come as a massive knock in confidence for the Buddies. Having a home game against a Lowland league side, even the most negative of Saint’s fans wouldn’t have expected to fall behind by two goals. While credit will be given for the comeback, Alan Stubbs will certainly feel as though they’ve missed out on an additional point. Dumbarton put themselves top of the group, taking advantage of St Mirren’s slip up with a 1-0 win over Queen’s Park.

Betfred Cup Match Day 1 – Round Up

Okay, so while every other outlet talks about the World Cup final, debates VAR and discusses what hair style Paul Pogba should celebrate his World Cup winners medal with, let us look back at the opening weekend of the Betfred Cup.

Before we start, we’d like to wish all the best and hopefully a speedy recovery to Cove Rangers player Jordan Brown. Jordan was taken to hospital and his side’s friendly with Aberdeen this afternoon was abandoned following an apparent clash of heads.

The first fixture wasn’t exactly an instant classic, Kilmarnock and St Mirren played out a 0-0 draw, followed by some of the most unenthusiastic penalties you’ll ever see, which were won by St Mirren, giving the Buddies a bonus point. St Mirren probably looked the better of the two sides, if they can find themselves a decent goal scorer, they might have a good looking side there.

Meanwhile, difficult to judge Killie off of this game. Of course Youssef Mulumbu has left Rugby Park and the likes of Kris Boyd, Stephen O’Donnell and Greg Taylor were all missing for this clash. Nonetheless, Mulumbu will be a big miss in the centre of the park for Steve Clarke’s side.

We said in our preview that Arbroath were a side not to be underestimated, and Dundee United found that out first hand at Tannadice on Saturday. Bobby Linn levelled matters after Nicky Clark finally opened the scoring. After the draw it was Arbroath who took the bonus point, winning 5-3 on penalties. NE98 have had the pleasure of watching Arbroath in pre-season action twice this season (Thanks again to the club for being such a massive help) and more of the same should be expected from the League One side. Elsewhere in Group A, former Aberdeen striker Declan McManus was on target as things went a little more to plan, Ross County defeating League Two side Elgin City 2-0.

One of the bigger shocks of the day – but probably a close second – saw last season’s League Two Champions Montrose beat Paul Hartley’s Falkirk 1-0. The Championship side may well have underestimated Stewart Petrie’s side – they shouldn’t have, Falkirk were recently beaten by Highland League Champions Cove Rangers in a friendly – but by all accounts, Montrose were fantastically hard working and deserved the result. That result will surely spur Mo on to replicate last season’s form in the league above, although it’s another worrying side for Falkirk supporters. Another shock took place in Group B. Fellow League One side East Fife held Premiership St Johnstone to a 0-0 draw, although the Perth outfit did manage to take the bonus point via penalties. NE98 will be at Links Park on Tuesday for the fixture between Montrose and East Fife (No camera this time though) So keep an eye out on Twitter for our live reports.

Things went to plan for Inverness Caley Thistle in Group C. It might not have been overwhelming but their 2-0 victory over Cove Rangers was solid enough. Raith Rovers however, will be disappointed with their 2-0 loss to Cowdenbeath. Barry Smith’s side were incredibly close to winning the League One title last year. Instead Ayr United snatched the crown, leaving Raith to crash out of the playoffs at the semi-final stage. Smith will be anticipating another title challenge, but that looks unlikely if they produce results like this one – against very nearly relegated to Lowland League football Cowdenbeath – too often.

 

 

Dundee handed out a light trashing to Stirling Albion – aided by two Sofien Moussa goals – as they raced to the top of Group D. Nothing all that remarkable elsewhere in the group, League Two Peterhead did however, hold League One Brechin City to a 0-0 draw, to then win the penalty shoot-out for the additional point.

Lawrence Shankland scored 26 times to claim the Golden Boot in League One last season. There were rumours Craig Levein was after him this summer, but the former Aberdeen player signed a new deal with Ian McCall’s side. That decision was immediately justified as Shankland scored a hat-trick against Morton, one of his former sides, to help Ayr win 3-1. These two will do battle in the Championship this term and it’s a result that, while coming in early days, will give Ray McKinnon plenty food for thought – especially considering Morton were mentioning promotion in the search for a manager this summer. Partick Thistle didn’t look like they were struggling to bed in new signings, the Championship side want promotion straight back the Premiership this season and began the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Stenhousemuir.

Hamilton Academical of the Premiership were beaten 1-0 by League Two Annan Athletic. The reaction from Accies supporters across social media went exactly as you’d expect, but it’s probably not worthwhile questioning if this hints at relegation for Martin Canning’s team this season as in typical Accies fashion they’ll no doubt continue to hold some of the big sides to draws at New Douglas Park and avoid demotion once again…or maybe not. Livingston’s new player/ manager Kenny Miller was in action as his new side saw off Airdrieonians 2-1. Although there was a goal from a striker with “Miller” on his back, it was former Aberdeen and Falkirk player – Lee.

Group G saw eight goals shared between Queen of the South and Stranraer – a game we pointed out as one to watch in our preview. The Championship side took the spoils with a 5-3 victory, and they might give confidence to QOTS that they may challenge for progression to the next round. League Two sides Clyde and Edinburgh City drew 1-1, it was the Edinburgh side who won the bonus point in the shoot-out.

Group H is yet to have a goal in open play. Lowland League Champions Spartans held League One Dumbarton to a goalless draw, although the side relegated from the Championship last term avoided full on embarrassment, winning the penalties. Let’s hope Group H’s teams can find some goals on the next match day.

In terms of NE98’s schedule for the next couple weeks, we will be at the following games: Tue, 17th July, Montrose Vs East Fife (Twitter updates + Report), Wed 18th July, Cove Rangers Vs Hearts (Twitter updates + Report), Fri 20th July, Aberdeen Vs West Brom (Twitter updates + Report) Wed 25th July, Arbroath Vs Ross County (Filming to produce match round-up)