KEN MCNAB on MONDAY
Greetings. Here is this week’s hurriedly-prepared Sporting Takeaway. On the menu is the aftertaste from Sunday’s Betfred Cup clashes, Scotland’s European co-efficient providing food for thought and Paul Pogba giving Man United fans serious indigestion with his penalty shenanigans. All feedback welcome!
Be afraid! Celtic’s hex factor may cast a spell on the rest of Scottish football
Double, double, toil and trouble¬ – Brendan Rodgers looks to have rediscovered his hex factor just in time for Hallowe’en.
Celtic’s 3-0 demolition of Hearts in Sunday’s Betfred League semi-final provided a trick and treat in equal measure.
And suggested the rest of the SPFL might be advised to look out cloves of garlic as protection against a team that has finally found green shoots of recovery – domestically at least.
Craig Levein’s men simply couldn’t hold a candle to Celtic once they kicked into gear. Both teams were beset by injuries prior to kick-off and Steven Naismith’s early retiral only served to blunt Hearts’ attacking options even more.
But the result only reinforces the notion that the back-to-back treble winners have unlocked the mojo that was clearly absent earlier in the season.
Delighted Celtic fans, Brendan Rodgers and Ryan Christie.
And it was achieved despite the absence of several key players, while opening the door for the likes of Ryan Christie to lay down a marker to his manager.
They now have the opportunity to put the rest of their title rivals in a headlock this week. Celtic take on bottom markers Dundee on Wednesday night at the same time as Hearts walk a Tynecastle tightrope against capital rivals Hibs.
Defeat for Hearts and a win for Celtic will see the margin between the two teams slashed to three points.
Which means Levein’s men rock up to Parkhead on Saturday knowing the lead they have held at the top since day one is in seriously peril.
Celtic’s win, of course, twisted the knife into a Rangers side that failed to catch fire against Aberdeen in the other semi-final at Hampden.
Including their 3-2 defeat by Hibernian in the 2016 Scottish Cup Final, this was a sixth straight cup defeat for Rangers at the national stadium.
Gerrard took the rap for the 1-0 defeat but warned his players they must “step up”. Admittedly, they were also without key players – Alfredo Morelos’ absence was perhaps a reminder of a frontline painfully shorn of serious attacking options.
But this was a genuine chance for Rangers to prove a corner has been properly turned. That a reversal of the fortunes that have blighted the Ibrox club for years was fully in play.
And they blew it against an Aberdeen side that has repeatedly stalled on the grid this season.
Painful lessons will again have been learned. It’s a bizarre juxtaposition that a team that can stand reasonable tall in the European arena delivers such inconsistency on the domestic stage.
Derek MacInnes and Stevie Gerrard.
Gerrard, however, simply cannot afford to keep fluffing his lines on the big occasion. That’s one piece of silverware that has disappeared over the horizon. The league looks a distant proposition for a team that cannot seem to summon up domestic momentum, leaving the Scottish Cup as the only serious option to extend a trophy drought that now extends to seven years.
Derek McInnes, meanwhile, will hope the victory can be the force to at last galvanise his team to mount a serious title assault. Hang on to your broomstick…it’s going to be a roller coaster.
European co-efficient progress is a long and winding road to progress for Scottish clubs
Two steps forward, one back. That’s the fragile reality of Scotland’s beleaguered European co-efficient.
After years of heading south, Scotland’s is finally travelling in a better direction. But it is a painfully slow and frustrating process, one that was underscored by last week’s Old Firm performances in the Europa League. Celtic were bulldozed into submission by RB Leipzig, a result that wiped out any meagre co-efficient gains from Rangers’ plucky 0-0 stalemate at Ibrox against Spartak Moscow.
It leaves Scotland sitting in 20th place in the co-efficient ladder with 5.5 ranking points. Better than we were but still a long way off reaching the 15th rung currently occupied by Switzerland that guarantees us having two sides in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
The latest stats show Scotland has earned 5.25 points this season – taking our total to 20.875. That’s 0.5 better off than 21st-placed Belarus but 0.875 behind Serbia in 19th. To put the whole thing in context, Spain sit at the top of the pile with seven teams still in Europe having amassed the grand total of 91.283 ranking points – 22.249 ahead of next-in-line England. Of course, it’s apples and oranges.
Having had four clubs involved at the start of the season, Scotland earn 0.5 co-efficient points for every victory and 0.25 for every draw. It’s a heavy burden for the Old Firm to shoulder.
And you can guarantee that fans of other Scottish clubs won’t give a monkey about Celtic and Rangers in Europe. But anything that removes the obstacle of our top teams taking on teams of cattle farmers from countries where football is as popular as badger baiting should be a good thing.
Pogba stepped out of line with his penalty showboating
Pogba and his Man U boss Jose Mourinho.
Is Pogba French slang for prat? Let’s not confuse gallus for Gallic. His tippy-tappy-tippy-tappy penalty run-up – 26 steps in all – was a perfect example of ego at its worst. The Manchester United midfielder took longer than Usain Bolt running 100 metres to take his spot kick against Everton. When he missed, it was a serious laugh-out loud-moment. He was lucky to get out of jail by tapping in the rebound after Jordan Pickford pushed the initial shot back into his path. Cockiness is one thing but there is no place for the kind of look-at-me narcissism that Pogba embodies. World Cup winner he may be, but he’s not Messi. It’s no surprise that his relationship with manager Jose Mourinho ¬- not exactly someone lacking in conceit himself – often catches fire like dry tinder. Only one of them will be at Old Trafford by the start of next season.
Leicester’s hurt should be shared by all in football’s family
It’s Bill Shankly’s famous quote that often springs to mind at times like this. “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death,” he famously said in those gruff tones. “I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
But it isn’t. Like many of his witticisms, the quote lost its context over the years.
The good people of Leicester are this week in mourning for a man who never delivered Churchillian homilies like Shanks. But the club’s billionaire Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha put his money where his mouth was. And the result was a fairy tale Premier League title triumph against overwhelming odds in 2016 – they were 5,000-1 shots when the first ball was kicked – that will perhaps never be repeated. The ultimate footballing equivalent of David felling not just one but a whole league of giants. The helicopter tragedy that claimed the life of Srivaddhanaprabha and flour others is a solemn reminder that football, with all its passion and fervour, can never be more important than a person’s mortality.
Hamilton’s F1 triumph win left me in snooze control
- Lewis Hamilton won his fifth Formula One title at the weekend. Talk about snooze control. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.