The Scottish game from the Borders to the Highlands & Islands and beyond
While a lot of what went on in Scottish football during the course of the last season was perhaps enough to have you reaching for some heavy medication, it really wasn’t all that bad. Really, it wasn’t.
Off-field problems aside, Neil Lennon really made his mark on Celtic in his first full season as manager, walking away with the Scottish Cup after their 3-0 win over Motherwell in the Final.
Across Glasgow, Walter Smith guided Rangers to a third consecutive SPL title, in what was his last season in the Ibrox dugout. In many ways, he seemed to right the wrongs of his first departure back in 1998, when his final season ended trophy-less, after failing in his quest to land a historic tenth league title in a row. This season he had two, adding the League Cup to the Ibrox trophy cabinet after slugging it out with Celtic in a rocking Hamden Park.
The tributes poured in from far and wide for the retiring Smith, with Graeme Souness, David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson just some of the many to praise the career of Lanark born manager after his years with Rangers, Everton and Scotland and his stints as assistant manager at Dundee United and Manchester United.
Although he has never fully ruled out coming back into the game in some capacity or another, quite where he will turn up is as easy to guess as how the current series of Doctor Who will end.
Another manager being showered with praise was John McGlynn, whose Raith Rovers side achieved an unlikely second place in the First Division title race, beaten only by a stronger Dunfermline side. It was a massive achievement for a club that were still stuck in the Second Division two years ago.
The Kirkcaldy side were in fact top of the league for the first three months of 2011, but a stuttering finish, coupled with Dunfermline’s 12-game unbeaten run - including six wins on the spin at the end of the season – swung it the ‘Pars’ way.
It was a 2-1win over Rovers that helped clinch Dunfermline’s return to the SPL, while Raith’s fans could only wonder at what might have been as their Fife rivals celebrated. The fact they had run Dunfermline so close was enough to see fellow bosses award McGlynn the “Manager of the Year” crown.
If McGlynn can emulate or better what he achieved last season in the next campaign, greater riches will be afforded to him - namely the chance to manage an SPL side. Rovers fans hope it’ll be with them. However with the bar set a little higher and 15 players being released from Stark’s Park, including front two Gregory Tade and John Baird, there’ll be some rebuilding to do first.
It certainly has the makings of a challenging season ahead for McGlynn, and one can only hope the Raith faithful get behind them next season should results not transpire as they did in the season just gone; despite performing above their expectations, fans were more than willing to voice their displeasure at underperforming players.
While Raith looked to enter the SPL, Kilmarnock were considered among the favourites to be relegated out of it, having gone close the previous year. But the appointment of Mixu Paatelainen and some significant signings resulted in a change in footballing style, and fortune, as they finished in the top six.
Alexei Eremenko in particular was a massive signing for them (on a year’s loan from Metalist Kharkiv) and came close to winning the Player of the Year award, narrowly missing out to Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre. However Paatelainen did not last the season, answering his country’s call to take over the Finnish national side, leaving Kilmarnock in March.
Albion Rovers, a side marooned in the Third Division for so long, deserve a special mention for winning promotion for the first time in 22 years after beating Annan Athletic in the play-off final to take their place in Division Two.
While their stay in the old Division One in the 1989-90 season lasted only a year, they’ll certainly fancy their chances of consolidating next season. Credit to the work done by manager Paul Martin, who has reaped the rewards of three years hard work at the Coatbridge club.
Another tantalising prospect for Albion fans is the prospect of four local derbies with Airdrie United in the Second Division next season. Given that they’ve never played Airdrie United in their current guise in league football (they last played Airdrieonians in their ill-fated 89-90 campaign in Division One) this is a fixture that has been 22 years in the making.
A season of reinvigoration for Scottish football was no more evident that in the national team, who seem to be displaying something tantamount to progress under Craig Levein.
After a precarious start to the Euro 2012 campaign, including the narrowest of narrow wins over Liechtenstein and some little hoo-haa about a formation in Prague, Scotland produced a brilliant, yet ultimately futile display against World Champions Spain, losing 3-2 despite fighting back to draw level from 2-0 down.
Levein, without a major qualifier to play until September, used Carling Nations Cup in Dublin to blood new players, young and old(er), in matches against Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Clinical displays resulted in 3-0 victories over both the Faroe Islands 3-0 and Northern Irieland in Pittordrie and Dublin, respectively. A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil in Wembley was no disgrace (banana wielding German aside), but further decent performances in the remainder of the Carling Nations Cup matches – beating Wales 3-1,but losing 1-0 to the Republic – paints a promising picture for the future.
Who says Scottish football is all bad after a season of such wonderful positives?
Five other points to cheerfully remember...
1) While Dundee’s plight of administration cast a heavy cloud over the club off the pitch, they were a joy to behold on it, as the squad rallied together and surged on a new club record of 23 matches unbeaten under new manager Barry Smith. Had they not been given a 25-point deduction, they would have finished second, a point behind champions Dunfermline Athletic.
2) Livingston secured their return to the First Division after winning the Second Division the most comfortably of any of the four league winners. This two years after being demoted to Division Three, after financial problems saw them enter administration. Gary Bollan and his squad will feel confident they can compete well in Division One.
3) One of the more bizarre revelations of the year came from Dundee’s Sean Higgins’ who revealed he played in a match against Queen of the South with a steak strapped around his foot to protect an injury. It worked, and then some, as Higgins actually netted in the 2-1 win. There’s a joke here, somewhere; meat… meaty shot?
4) Stuart McCall’s arrival as Motherwell replacing Craig Brown, who left for Aberdeen, raised a few eyebrows in the North Lanarkshire town, but any doubts over what he could do were quickly answered when he led the club to a top six finish and a place in the Scottish Cup Final. Defeat to Celtic denied the Steelmen what would have been a fourth consecutive season in Europe.
5) The emergence of a managerial Tartan Army in England’s top flight shows that this country can develop some excellent bosses, particularly from the Glasgow area. Paul Lambert, promoted with Norwich City, Kenny Dalglish, parachuted back in at Liverpool and Steve Kean, taking over mid-season at Blackburn, joined the Glaswegian movement, alongside established campaigners such as Ferguson, Moyes, Coyle and Championship-bound McLeish.
He steaked his claim on the scorelist?
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