Greetings. Here is this week’s Monday sporting takeaway. Bit different but a bit of a rush job. Feedback, brickbats, verbal hand grenades all welcome.
THE FORCE IS WITH CHANGE…BUT DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE.
In a galaxy VAR, VAR away, a period of civil war was unfolding. A brave alliance of underground freedom fighters called managers was challenging the tyranny and oppression of the Hampden empire. Their goal was to ultimately turn Scottish football away from the dark side to embrace a new hope called Video Assisted Referees.
But the farce was strong with the empire…and the rebels’ faces being crushed under the heel of their storm-troopers, the hated men in black.
Joking aside, it’s going to take more than Luke Skywalker and a few well-aimed Light Sabre thrusts to sort out the refereeing morass enveloping Scottish football.
Another weekend, another round of top games marred by controversies over yellow cards, red cards. The charge sheet against referees keeps on growing.
And it will keep on growing, be in no doubt about that.
Brendan Rodgers added his voice to those of Steve Clarke, Neil Lennon, Steven Gerrard and Derek McInnes over recent refereeing decisions that have left gaffers raging and supporters perplexed.
Ntcham red carded and Rodgers and Gerrard.
Although Rodgers’ flinty defence of Olivier Ntcham’s red card against St Mirren, it should be said, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in the court of public opinion.
More credible are the crimes that went unpunished or were deemed to be excessive. Allan McGregor’s clear kick out at Kristoffer Ajer in the Old Firm clash; Alfredo Morelos’s red card against Aberdeen reduced on appeal; Kilmarnock’s Gary Dicker’s two-game ban for a challenge on Hearts Calumn Wilson that everyone and their granny accepts was fair; Aberdeen’s Mikey Devlin shamefully wrong dismissal against Kilmarnock.
And then there was the question of Partick Thistle’s ‘ghost goal’ that rippled the net against Morton only to be bizarrely ruled out by ref Barry Cook. A phantom menace if ever there was one.
Football has changed. The game is faster and players are more sussed. Never has the line between cunning – cheating if you like – and Corinthian been so difficult to determine. Even when we now have four officials at games.
Yet, in the top-flight at least, a solution is at hand. Every game in the SPFL is covered by television. Cameras sitting pitch side with a lens trained on every incident.
How long would it take a referee to trot over to a pre-appointed spot, have a look at the incident again on replay and then make the call? It works in rugby so why not football?
If you listen closely you’ll hear the wagons being circled outside Hampden. It’s too expensive, it will ruin the flow of the game and lead to more uproar.
Change? You can whistle for it. But why not trial VAR in selected Scottish Cup games for a kick-off? Surely anything that provides a level playing field for punters, players’ managers AND REFS is worth serious consideration. Perhaps SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell will emerge as the chosen one who will lead Scottish football into a new refereeing age. The alternative is an attack of the clones in a sport where star wars will indeed become the norm.
GRIFFITHS DIDN’T DESERVE ECKY THUMP
Alex McLeish, pictured right, has enough miles on his clock as a player and a manager to know how to handle footballers. Brittle egos can quickly turn into a bonfire of the vanities.
Which is why the Scotland manager should have been more tactful over his early declaration that Steven Naismith will “likely” be his first-choice striker for next month’s Nations League clash against Israel.
The statement left Leigh Griffiths on the canvas nursing a low blow to his pride. A kick in the teeth was his own description of the snub.
McLeish, of course, is entitled to pick the players he believes will deliver the win in Haifa that will take us another welcome step towards possibly qualifying for the 2020 European Championships.
Naismith is in a rich vein of form for Hearts and is currently the top scorer in the Premiership with a tally of five goals and three assists. Griffiths, still to reach full fitness after injury, has just two strikes to his name so far this term.
So McLeish’s decision to hand Naismith a starting jersey ahead of the Celtic striker against Albania at Hampden was vindicated by an assist and the second goal that gave us three points in the bank from the first game.
But perhaps Griffiths was entitled to a quiet word in his ear rather than finding out from the media a seat on the bench in Israel had his name on it.
MINNOWS ARE PUSHING BACK THE TIDE AT THE DEEP END OF PREMIERSHIP
An early-morning glimpse at the English Premier table could easily leave you wondering if REM sleep is still kicking in.
Sure, the usual suspects occupy the top three spots. Unbeaten Chelsea, rejuvenated under Maurizio Sarri, sit at the summit on goal difference ahead of Liverpool, also yet to taste defeat. Two points behind, Manchester City are waiting to pounce on any mistakes from the two front-runners.
But it’s the appearance of Watford and Bournemouth in fourth and fifth places that causes eyebrows to arch upwards.
The newly-promoted Hornets are delivering football with a swagger, though their first defeat to Manchester United will have stung. Especially since it would have put them on the same pedestal as Chelsea and Liverpool.
Sitting two points further behind, Bournemouth, under Eddie Howe, continue to punch above their weight with a brand of football that is cavalier and entertaining. It’s beyond me why a top club hasn’t taken chance on Howe. I’m looking at you, Arsenal. He has fashioned a rollicking good side on a shoestring. And Ryan Fraser is proving to be a good-old fashioned Scottish terrier proving his pedigree in England’s top flight.
Of course, ultimately, the big guns will simply have too much financial firepower. Don’t put any bets on Leicester Mark Two. Won’t happen.
Right, now, though I’d rather watch the free-flowing football of Bournemouth than the sterility of, say, a Manchester United side still flattering to deceive.
GOODBYE TO THE DAVIS CUP BUT THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
So it’s a sad goodbye from Scotland to the Davis Cup. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow. Especially when we recall those epic days and nights at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Who will ever forget the heady days of Murray Mania of 2016 that propelled Team GB to victories over the USA and Australia on their way to winning the competition for the first time since 1936?
The weekend win over Uzbekistan may not have emulated those dizzy heights but once again the Scottish public rallied (did you see what I did there?) behind the team.
There is little doubt that the passionate support from the stands helped debut star Cameron Norrie get over the line in Sunday’s match-winning singles tie, especially after nerves got the better of him on Friday night, losing after winning the first two sets.
Proof positive that there remains a genuine appetite for top-class sport north of the border that doesn’t involve 22 guys on a football field.
And wasn’t it great that his Glaswegian dad flew all the way from New Zealand just to watch his boy strut his stuff in front of his ‘ain folk’.
Changes to the format means it’s unlikely Scotland will again host a Davis Cup tie. Or that we will see Andy Murray play top class tennis on his home turf.
But what memories they have left us. Scottish tennis fans and Glasgow-born Davis Cup captain Leon Smith – can be proud of the racket they made. (See, I did it again).
Have a good week y’all and good luck to Celtic and Rangers in their Europa Cup matches on Thursday.