Greetings everyone. Here is Tuesday’s takeaway, my look back at the sporting weekend. This week’s cast includes Scotland, Alex McLeish; St Mirren’s new manager, Oran Kearney; Serena Williams and Justin Rose. All feedback welcome. First an apology from Bill Heaney for the late publication date. Computer problems, hopefully now remedied, in Connemara, West of Ireland.
Heads you win! Victory over Albania can provide the right foundation for Scotland instead of building castles in the air. By Eck, Scotland needed that 2-0 Nations League win over Albania. A victory that hopefully sets us on a path to the European Championships. And a chance for this team to wipe out 30 years of hurt over our unerring ability to miss out on the business end of major tournaments.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Had Scotland crashed and burned against a side 18 places below us in the Fifa rankings, Alex McLeish would be firmly in the crosshairs of the Tartan Army. More of a platoon, actually, considering only 17,000 found the need to turn out at Hampden on a rain-sodden Monday night. Proof that the jury is still out on McLeish and statistical corroboration that this competition has yet to win over the paying punters. He went into the game nursing a record of just one victory from five games in charge ¬ and only one goal to Scotland’s name. A win is a win, though, especially where context is everything. The 4-0 battering by Belgium was a painful reminder, not that we needed one, of just where we are in terms of world football. We don’t have anyone who can provide the artisanship of Eden Hazard. Or the deadly finishing applied by his Stamford Bridge team-mate Michy Batshuayi, a player, incidentally, not considered good enough for Chelsea’s first team. Roberto Martinez’s star-studded side rightly sit near the top of football’s Everest while Scotland under McLeish are only setting off from base camp. But there were positive glimpses against Albania that they are ready to climb the mountain to restore our national pride. Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, John Souttar, John McGinn, pictured with his grandfather, Jack, and Callum McGregor are five players round whom a team can be moulded.
(I’ll give McGinn the benefit of the doubt despite those cardiac-arrest-inducing passes out from defence). Mix in the experience of Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon between the sticks, Stuart Armstrong in midfield, Leigh Griffiths (if he stays fit) up front and a rejuvenated Steven Naismith and all of a sudden the picture doesn’t look quite as gloomy. Naismith, especially, deserves plaudits for a tigerish display up front, which was rewarded with a vital assist for Albania’s own goal and the header that set everyone’s mind at ease. Even if he did summon up the ghost of Chris Iwelumo with that point-blank miss in the first half. But they need wins to build up momentum and convince a sceptical support that maybe, just maybe, McLeish can live up to his mission statement to build a team rather than paper over the cracks of what has gone before. Next up is Israel in Haifa, a side rated only seven places inside the top 100 teams in the world. Six points from two games would put Scotland in pole position to qualify from the group and just two wins from reaching euro 2020. Crazy, when you think about. But you can only play the cards you’re dealt. And in that sense, Alex McLeish may yet come up with a winning hand to woo back those Tartan Army deserters.
So, Hampden has won the battle with Murrayfield over which stadium will be the home of Scottish football. Fine but serious money is required to bring the Old Lady of Mount Florida up to scratch. And that will surely start another bun fight at the SFA’s cookie corral. The decision may have been made but the financial squabbles will continue apace.
Indigestion follows for England and Southgate after a bite at the reality sandwich
It hasn’t taken long for the shine to come off England’s golden chariot, has it? Vodka-tinged memories of their run to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia are already fading into a mirage-like distance. Lusty chants of football’s coming home have quickly given way to familiar groans. A sobering reality is setting in. Last weekend’s skelping against Spain delivered an ineluctable truth. Gareth Southgate’s team aren’t good enough to play in the big boys’ playground of world football. And the point is proved beyond measure when they come across any team of genuine pedigree. Like Belgium. Like Croatia. Like Spain. Tonight they take on an in-form Switzerland at Leicester’s King Power Stadium hoping to end a run of three games without a tick in the win column. Failure to do so would leave them, comically, looking at relegation from their group. Once again, though, it raises a question for the ages. Why can’t England, with all the vast player richness at their disposal, not find a team that can gel? Perhaps Southgate should have taken that new contract while his stock was high in the summer. Anything less than a win tonight will provide more evidence of a side with more holes than Swiss cheese.
Kearney’s crazy title boast smacks more of blarney than the bottom line
Oran Kearney’s appointment as St Mirren manager will crank up the craic in the Premiership this season. Five of the top-flight gaffers now herald from the Emerald Isle. But you can’t help thinking that Kearney had been supping a little too much of the black stuff after reading his bold prediction that the Buddies can win the title. Nothing wrong with ambition. But keep it real. There’s a big difference between bluster and blarney. Kearney’s first task will be to administer the smelling salts to bring his new squad off the canvas. Then he must start amassing points round by round, game by game, if a relegation dogfight is to be avoided. Friday’s home match against Celtic will provide a baptism of fire for the man who has swapped part-time duties with Coleraine and full-time teaching duties for the pressure-cooker of the Premiership. If he can take even a point off his countryman Brendan Rodgers, he’ll be entitled to a couple of jars – and his players will have earned their Spondoolicks.
Serena’s claims of sexism make her look like a spoiled brat.
Tears and tantrums. The oldest weapons in a woman’s emotional armoury. Fully loaded and deadly on impact. Pull the pin on that hair-trigger temper and kaboom. Serena Williams used all these combustible components to maximum effect when she delivered her finger-jabbing, hormone-laden hairdryer at the umpire in the US Open final on Sunday. When she defamed Carlos Ramos by calling him a thief and a cheat before a worldwide audience of millions. When she ensured that all the headlines were about her and not 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, whose debut grand slam victory was collateral damage, an expendable in Serena’s crossfire hurricane. When she actually set back women’s tennis by playing the sexism card. It wasn’t #metoo…it was me, me, me. What right did Ramos have to punish her on “her court”? “You’ll never umpire one of my games again,” she wailed…as if it was down to her. “I’m fighting for women’s rights,” she harrumphed. No, she was trying to justify her own shocking behaviour, which actually impugned women’s rights. “I have a daughter,” she added for good measure. As if that lends any moral defence. She better pray that baby Olympia doesn’t grow up to wince at the sight of her own mom spitting out the dummy and burning the house down. Lost amid all this, of course, was Osaka’s golden moment. She is the one who showed real grace under pressure by not getting caught up in Serena’s own brattish melodrama. If anyone deserves to be called a cheat and a thief, it’s Serena. For trying to use psychological warfare on her younger opponent knowing she was staring down the barrel of a humiliating defeat and then stealing the headlines that was rightly Osaka’s in the first place. Consistency over umpiring decisions for men and women is the issue here, not sexism.
Rose is blooming at the right time for Ryder Cup
Justin Rose’s dogged climb to the top of golf’s world rankings could not have come at a better time for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. Rose does not posses the kind of intimidation Tiger Woods once brought to the first tee. Nor does he carry the kind of star power generated by the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. What he does have, though, is that number one ranking. And for captain Thomas Bjorn and the rest of his team-mates, that’s an advantage any team would welcome. No matter what sport they play.