Friday, 28 November 2008

Back to Earth...

The exit of Celtic from Europe this week has given our sport’s reporters the opportunity to do what they seem best equipped to do… hit the panic button and bring out the “crisis” headlines for Scottish football. While I don’t exactly agree with Gordon Smith, that this years results were some sort of blip, there are certain circumstances surrounding each of our clubs and the fixtures they have played.

Hibernian, for example, were woefully behind the pace but were drawn against Elfsborg, who were half way through their own season when they met. If they played each other now, Hibs would comfortably win. Queen of the South performed admirably but were undone by opponents with more tactical nous than themselves. Having watched 1st Division football when St Mirren were there, I can tell you that there are no teams who as lethal at the counter attack as Nordsjaelland were. Not that they should be there anyway (unless they had won the Scottish Cup, but that’s another argument). Motherwell again were undone by a lack of European experience, with Malcolm, Hughes (with Rangers) and John Sutton (with Dundee) alone in the Motherwell team in featuring in a European tie before. For all of these teams, the gap between domestic football and European football was, at this moment, too big a gap to bridge.

For the Old Firm, there are different circumstances. Rangers crashed out before the end of the school summer holidays against Hearts feeder team, FBK Kaunas, a result which started the doom and gloom headlines rolling. While Hibs matches were played in early July, Rangers had 2 more weeks to find match fitness. Until Tuesday night, this was the worst European result for any of the Old Firm since the bad old days of the 1990’s. Then came Celtic in Aalborg.

Bizarrely both games followed a similar path. Both Rangers and Celtic took leads, and unravelled to dramatic effect when both teams equalized, with winners for the home sides late on. Both the Old Firm controlled their games, but ceded advantage to their opponents. Not what we expect from our best teams.

Scottish teams results in Europe this season are not a blip, or a sign of worse times ahead. What they are is a kick up the backside, for everyone in Scottish football. We should heed this warning against complacency

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