Five games that defined Scottish football this year… “Enjoy” might not be the right word to use, but please read on anyway!
24 March – St Mirren 4 Celtic 0
Remember Tony Mowbray? Celtic fans would prefer not to. His tenure in Glasgow’s East End was pretty much an unmitigated disaster that is still being unwound by Neil Lennon (the Scotsman reports that Morten Rasmussen has “failed to impress” on loan at Mainz and will be returning to Parkhead soon… oh dear).
This result was the final nail in the coffin. To set the scene: Celtic were already ten points behind Rangers having played a game more, while St Mirren were in a relegation fight and had just lost 1-0 in the League Cup Final to a 9-man Rangers team. It was a must-win game for Mowbray – and his team collapsed, utterly and entirely. They had just kept three consecutive clean sheets for the first time in two years, but that record ended in spectacular style. Mowbray was gone the next day, and like Rangers at the end of the Le Guen era, Celtic turned to a familiar face to restore stability.
7 September – Scotland 2 Liechtenstein 1
We thought it was all over, and it almost was for Craig Levein. Seconds away from almost certainly the worst result in Scottish football history, Stephen McManus pops up to save the most crimson of blushes.
I said at the time and I would say it again now – you can’t read too much into a game like this. Everyone has an off day now and then.
But then again: if we have to worry about home games against Liechtenstein, are we dreaming if we think we can qualify for international tournaments?
8 October – Czech Republic 1 Scotland 0
You know those tacky teatowels you can buy listing all the stuff that Scots have invented over the years… penicillin, TV, marmalade, tarmacadam, and the rest? The ones on sale up and down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh? I think Craig Levein was making a bid for textile immortality with his 4-6-0 formation on display in the Synot Tip Arena in Prague back in October. That’s the only plausible reason I can think of for deploying this innovative but ridiculous strategy.
Earlier in the year we beat the Czechs 1-0 in a Hampden friendly with a 4-5-1 formation, and maybe it was predictable that Levein would be even more defensive away from home. For the likes of Walter Smith that would mean shifting to a 5-4-1 and hoping for the best, but at least with one striker up front there’s always the possibility of a Faddy moment, or at least a respite for the defence with a hoof up the park. With 4-6-0, how exactly are we supposed to score?
A winnable game thrown away, meaning we’ll definitely be staying home in the summer of 2012.
17 October – Dundee United 1 Celtic 2
“A first-class advertisement for Scottish football,” wrote Roddy Forsyth in the Telegraph at the conclusion of this game. Little did he know how accurate his words would prove.
This match has perhaps done more for Scottish football’s international profile than any in years, and for all the wrong reasons. To recap: referee Dougie McDonald awarded Celtic a penalty, at 1-1 in the 70th minute of the game – then rescinded his decision after consulting his referee. Celtic were raging, but they won anyway with a last-minute goal. Only afterwards did it come out that McDonald did not consult his linesman – he used his talk with the poor guy as his excuse for changing his mind, lying to all and sundry in the process.
As the tawdry truth dribbled out out – no wikis were needed for these leaks – all hell broke loose with the linesman’s resignation, accusations of referee bias from Celtic’s chairman, a referee strike that made the front page of the New York Times then was partially mitigated by a Luxembourg referee and bad weather, then finally, comically, Hugh Dallas’s pope-joke emails forcing him out of the SFA.
My one regret for 2010 is that there wasn’t a reality TV crew around to film the whole thing. The silver lining: a referee’s charter and a wholesale review of the SFA’s byzantine disciplinary processes.
6 November – Celtic 9 Aberdeen 0
Scottish football making the front page of the New York Times for the second time in a month was no silver lining for Mark McGhee after this atrocious result.
Maybe a game like this was certain to happen at some point with the inequity in Scottish football between the big two and the rest, but I’m not convinced that’s the case. Teams like Hamilton and St Mirren have fewer resources than Aberdeen so they make up for it with canny management and team spirit. Aberdeen still think they’re one of the bigger fish so they think a big-name manager (McGhee was part of Fergie’s ‘dream team’, remember) and their reputation can carry them along. It can’t, and now Craig Brown has his work cut out to fix the mess.
And I’ll say it one more time: why is the bald, de-moustached head of Willie Miller still paid to hang around the corridors of Pittodrie power?