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October 2005

A Crucial Month 










October Resolution

October is make or break month for Scottish football. By Halloween we could be looking forward to a mouth-watering play-off for a place in the World Cup Finals next summer, an exciting five-way tussle at the top of the SPL, an equally entertaining battle at the bottom, intensifying promotion and relegation struggles in the SFL and Rangers and Hibs proudly flying the Scottish flag in Europe.

Or we could be dumped on our backsides for the third successive major tournament, a resurgent Old Firm signalling business as usual in the title race, one club detached at the bottom, runaway winners for the sole promotion places on offer in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions, play-off races that fail to ignite, poor sides surrendering to relegation just as the clocks go back and our remaining European hopes either ignominiously dashed or playing out time at the bottom of their group.

Possibly - and much more likely - we will see a combination of the above scenarios. While the permutations on offer in the World Cup would drive Einstein to distraction, Scotland's task is at least simple enough. Win both games or forget all about it. But we are relying on others to slip up. Not just Norway but Slovenia also. For if the Norwegians beat Moldova and Slovenia can take a point from Italy then Slovenia too will go into their match against Scotland with a chance of qualification. Remember, the Italians need just a point to confirm their place in the finals. Who is to say they won't settle for a draw against the Slovenes?

Perversely, for Slovenia to be eliminated from the equation before Scotland travel there on October 12th we need them to lose in Palermo AND the Norwegians to beat Moldova. Head-to-head results would then make it impossible for Slovenia to finish above Norway. Any other combination of results leaves Slovenia in with a chance.

There is also the remote possibility of Scotland, Norway and Slovenia all finishing with 14 points producing a nightmare scenario in which the Slovenes have a better head-to-head than Scotland, the Norwegians a better record than the Slovenes and the Scots and the Norwegians level. Goal difference, fair play, play-offs to reach the play-offs, all kinds of weird and wonderful delights may yet be on offer. But basically we have to win our matches and hope for the best. To be honest it's remarkable we are still even talking about the possibility of qualification with two games remaining. The qualification campaign may yet claim some big names. Both Spain and France are at risk of missing out despite both being unbeaten so far and England's defeat in Belfast has thrown their future back into the melting pot.

FIFA must be running scared at the prospect of three of the biggest and best supported countries missing out on the Finals in Germany. Especially after manipulating the draw so that they (and Italy) weren't placed in a group with seven teams.

Domestically, Hearts' victory over Rangers would in most circumstances prove the Tynecastle side to be the real deal when it comes to a title challenge. But these are not normal circumstances. Rangers had already lost at Aberdeen, drawn at Falkirk and been humiliated at home by Hibs before losing at Tynecastle. Hearts have to travel to face Celtic in October. If they win there then there is the very real possibility that we could have a one-horse title race with the Old Firm scrapping it out with Hibs and Killie for runners-up spot.

But warnings should be in store. Twice before a side other than the OF has made such a stunning start to the season and lost the title. It happened to Hearts in 1914-15 after eight straight victories and to Motherwell in 1933-34 after they won the first nine. Hearts though did win the first eleven in 1894-95 and went on to win their very first championship that season.

With the season taking shape in the three lower leagues and Champions League and UEFA Cup fixtures wrapped around the World Cup qualifying finale October 2005 promises to be one of the most crucial months in Scottish football for many a year. Unfortunate therefore that for a large part of it this website will be away from the action. This writer has to take his breaks whenever he can though and this year that means that instead of roaring on Scotland at Hampden it's a case of finding some accommodating place with a satellite TV connection.

But don't feel too sorry for me. There are some compensations, not least the fact that on the same day as East Stirling and Albion Rovers battle it out at Firs Park, I shall be basking in the relative luxury of Barcelona v Saragossa at the Camp Nou. And of course the website forum will remain open 24/7.

Here's hoping that come November we still have that sense of excitement and anticipation that is building up now. And that plans are being made again for foreign travel. This time for the World Cup play-offs.






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