Three of our teams have been in European action. Livingston
could only draw in Liechtenstein, Aberdeen scraped
a one-goal lead against Moldovan opponents and Celtic
had to rely on a referee who handed out penalties so soft he could
pass for an SPL regular. To give an indication of just how bad
our teams currently are, FK Sartid - who destroyed Dundee
in last season's Intertoto - were beaten by Welsh side
Celtic recovered well after the shock of losing a goal
inside 90 seconds to Basle. But Henrik Larsson's
penalties continue to let them down. Larsson scored one from the
spot but missed another. I know Celtic seem to rely on Larsson
so much that he probably picks the menu for the corporate boxes,
but his spotkick misses have been increasing in number over the
seasons and it really is time they entrusted this task to someone
As it is, what should have been an unassailable lead now looks
merely comfortable. A 2-0 defeat in Switzerland would see
Celtic bow out to a team that would finish last in the group stages
- ignore all the rubbish emanating from Parkhead about how 'good'
Basle are. But that is surely unthinkable. The Parkhead team
are more than capable of scoring away from home. If they approach
the second leg the way they played in Amsterdam at the same stage
a year ago, they will qualify with ease.
What are the BBC headline writers on? When
I saw them proclaim "LIVI OFF TO GOOD START"
I naturally assumed that the Almondvale side had won by
at least three or four goals in Vaduz.
It transpired that they had actually been quite lucky to get a
1-1 draw. Now, of course this was their European debut, but
let's not fool ourselves. Liechtenstein is the lowest-ranked
European country in world football. Vaduz have won just
one tie in seven previous European outings over the past decade.
Some of their aggregate defeats have been by such embarrassing
proportions as 14-1, 12-1 and 11-1. Remember too,
that thanks to seeded draws in the qualifying stages, these defeats
have been inflicted by other minnows of the European game.
A spectacular setting for Livingston's debut in
Europe. But the result was a disappointment.
Vaduz are 8th in the 12-team Swiss B Division.
In seven League games this season, they have won just once. Forget
the fact that this was Livvy's debut - the draw couldn't have
been kinder if they'd let Jim Leishman pick it himself.
For the third best side in Scotland to scrape a draw against a
team like Vaduz, is nothing short of a disgrace of Skonto Riga
proportions. At least there were only two Scots in the Livingston
side. For once, it was their expensive imports - who have served
them so well in the SPL - who must take the blame.
Livingston should still go through. Failure to do so would
be the worst result by a Scottish club in nearly half a century
of European competition.
The same BBC web page also sported this headline: "
DAVIS GIVES COTTAGERS HOPE".My first thought was
that this was a statement from the newly gay-friendly Tory Party's
former Chairman. Turns out it was about Fulham!
It wasn't quite Skonto Riga or Bohemians
all over again at Pittodrie but it could still end in embarrassment
for Aberdeen in Moldova in two weeks time. A Darren
Mackie header just before the hour mark was all the Dons could
put on the scoresheet. Incredibly, this was only Aberdeen's third
home victory in Europe since 1990! At least they didn't concede
anything and will still be favourites to progress.
But, just like Livingston before them, this Aberdeen team are
not equipped for European football. Any half-decent side will
eliminate them. That is, if the Moldovans of Nistru Otaci
don't do it beforehand. Nistru have played just once previously
in Europe - last season, when they were beaten by Hungarians Debrecen.
Ominously for the Dons, Nistru won their home leg.
It isn't even as if Aberdeen can rely on the Martin O'Neill
excuse - "they've played more games than we have"
(odd how quickly that changes to "they've played fewer
games than us" later in the season). The Moldovan
season only started on August 10th when Nistru were beaten by
a newly-promoted side!
The sort of opposition Aberdeen
used to meet in Europe - Juventus
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AND THE WINNER
Hold the front page! Scottishleague.net
predicts that the SPL champions 2002-03 will be........ (fumbles
around, opening envelope)... either Celtic or Rangers.
Much as we hate to be boringly predictable, that's the way it is.
We expect Celtic to take the title for the third successive season
for the first time since the Stein era. But we also think
that Rangers will push them harder than in the previous two campaigns.
Below the big two, Livingston look capable of equalling last
season's achievements. The last big breakthrough from the lower
divisions came in the 1960s when Dundee United and Dunfermline established
themselves at the top table. Livingston may well do the same but
the big test for them will be in sustaining themselves as a challenger
over five seasons rather than two. Nevertheless, they look good
enough to be top six again.
As do Aberdeen. They've lost players but Ebbe Skovdahl
has quietly brought youngsters up through the ranks and the Dons
should be contesting the European places again.
Kilmarnock and Hearts also look top six material.
Killie were unlucky to have missed out last season and are the only
club outwith the Old Firm to have actually strengthened their squad
over the summer - the loss of Tommy Johnson apart.
Hearts are nowhere near as strong as they were four or five years
ago but they should be good enough to battle it out for a Euro spot
with Livvy, Aberdeen and Killie.
Dunfermline fans must be wondering what the point of a top
six finish is. They creeped in last season then failed to win a
game thereafter. They shouldn't have to worry about repeating the
process next May.
Dundee United also don't look good enough to finish in the
top half but, like Dunfermline, should have no worries about relegation.
Hibs are an enigma. Far and away the best outside the Old
Firm in 2001, they struggled badly last year. Bobby Williamson
is a superb manager but it will take more than one season to recover
lost ground, Despite their bad start, expect to see Hibs move off
the bottom soon. They probably won't make the top half though.
Dundee are the other great puzzle of the Scottish game. This
could be the season when it all starts to unravel at Dens Park.
Latin flair? Jim Duffy style? Don't think so. They
Partick Thistle are favourites for the drop but we reckon
the Jags will do just enough to stay up. They've brought
in a clutch of experienced players and that is what distinguishes
them from our tips for relegation.
Motherwell have had the guts ripped out of the club. Despite
the presence of some promising youngsters and excellent pre-season
results, the Fir Park club look to be in a desperate situation.
They're not as bad as St Johnstone last season, but they look like
the ones to go down.
Euro success is a must for Celtic this term.
It's 40 years since their first campaign
began at home against Valencia.
The First Division has been ruined before a
ball was kicked. Only two clubs - St Johnstone and St
Mirren - have grounds which meet SPL requirements. As
things stand, none of the other eight clubs would be promoted should
they win the league.
Although St Johnstone were a country mile behind the rest of the
SPL last season, they will be strong favourites to go back up. We
don't think so. The Saints will be challenging but we take
Falkirk. Buoyed by a surprise reprieve from relegation and with
new boss Ian McCall bringing in players like John Hughes
and old Brockville favourite Kevin James, the Bairns
should win the title.
Whether they'll be able to enjoy the prize of promotion is another
None of the others look likely to get near. Alloa and Arbroath
are most likely for the drop but St Mirren boss Tom Hendrie
must be a worried man. If the Buddies continue this term
where they left off last, he could be the first manager to be sacked
The Second Division is always strange as 40% of its membership
alters each season. Neither Airdrie United nor Raith Rovers
should be playing at this level and we expect them to be in at the
death, along with Hamilton.
At the other end, Stenhousemuir were the lucky club saved
from relegation by the demise of Airdrieonians. They'll do
well to do the same this time. Add in Brechin and Cowdenbeath
and it's two from three to go down.
In the Third, Morton are clear favourites and the ignominy
of playing at this level should last no longer than twelve months.
Every club in this division must fancy their chances but new boys
Gretna may surprise many. They shouldn't be too far away come
the end of the season.