Yokerbhoy looks ahead to the return of football, but also asks a pertinent question…
IS THIS THE BEST TIME TO BOYCOTT THE SCOTTISH CUP?
With all the shit that’s been going down lately such as the Ryan Christie ban or the completely false accusations of racial abuse aimed at the Celtic support as a deflective measure to protect that unsavoury wee fellow Morelos from punishment for his revolting throat-slitting gesture, I was in two minds as to whether to post this Scottish Cup tie preview or not, bearing in mind that there is, quite understandably, a strong current of feeling among our supporters geared towards pulling out of this SFA competition.
For me at least, one of the greatest attractions of cup competitions in any part of the world is the opportunity that they provide for modest wee teams to live a dream and compete against the big guns as it helps them to survive and embraces a moment of magic for those faithful small bands of fans (for whom I have the utmost respect), from small children right through to senior citizens, which will probably remain in their memories for the rest of their lives.
Although we Celtic fans wish to see our team win every single match that we compete in, this particular edition of the Scottish Cup will take on far less importance than in previous seasons as the lion’s share of our efforts must be focussed on winning the league. Possible European success would be a tremendous bonus but the Premiership has to be the clear priority.
In view of the fact that Lawell and the board have done precious little or nothing in recent years to defend the dignity of our club and show at least a sliver of solidarity towards the demands and concerns of the fans, I cannot honestly see our club pulling out of this competition to manifest its non-conformity with the ever-increasing corruption, lies and cheating on the part of the SFA, the SPFL and the MSM.
After some serious soul-searching, my own personal viewpoint on the matter is that I’d like to see our bhoys participate in the cup (albeit with weakened teams, giving youth a chance and resting key players) but I’d also like to see a complete fan boycott at Hampden (which would have far more impact than a boycott during the early stages and would also allow more time for adequate preparation) if and when we get to the semi-final and final of the competition as this would deliver a significant blow to both a complicit Celtic board and a corrupt SFA, a scenario which might just open their eyes a little.
It would also be an unprecedented gesture that would make sports media and football authorities all around Europe sit up and take notice. Such a move would obviously require some terrific organisation as well as a huge effort and a clear message would have to be transmitted to the general public inside and outside Scotland as to why such a decision has been taken.
I just hope a way can be found to convince our masses of supporters to give their full backing for this kind of measure. Patience has a limit, things are continually going from bad to worse so I think that it’s time for a massive response to help bring about change.
With that out of the way, I’ll proceed to the regular match preview, quite a detailed one this time as I’ve had a fair amount of time to check out how the Partick men have been shaping up during the latest part of their Championship campaign.
The second half of the season kicks off for us with a splutter rather than a bang as we renew our quest for the quadruple treble by facing our old pals from the north of Glasgow in a cup competition for the second time this season.
Perhaps I’d have prefered to write about a tie against a minnow team from League 1 or 2, or even a non-league side just for the sheer novelty fun value but at least Thistle have been anything but boring so far this season. The Maryhill Magyars have managed to keep an impressive record intact from the very beginning of this term: they’ve conceded at least a goal in every single competitive game they’ve played.
In all fairness though, if compared to what they were like when we gave them a battering in the League Cup at CP a few months ago, their defence has improved a fair amount since then.
They were going through a particularly sticky time back then, of course, as they were rooted at the bottom of the league and had no choice other than to oust their then manager Gary Caldwell, whose short reign at Firhill was nothing short of calamitous. Ian McCall, who recently made good use of his managerial gravitas and tactical nous to work wonders for Ayr Utd in a very short period of time, as well as having had a successful 4 year spell as Thistle manager from 2007 to 2011, seems to be gradually turning things around by initially ringing a few changes and altering the formation as well as patterns of play to help consolidate the defence and improve creativity in the middle of the field.
McCall has breathed fresh confidence into a few individuals who were underperforming at the time he took over but the financial limitations ever present in clubs like this severely hinder any prospects of rapid improvement in player quality over a short space of time.
The intensity of competition as well as the unpredictable nature of most games in the Championship this season is extremely high, with very few points separating the sides at the bottom from the 4th position (i.e. the minimum requirement to make the play-offs) so anything can happen, which must produce quite a few thrills for the diehard supporters of the clubs involved.
The only given would be Dundee Utd being crowned champions and enjoying their long overdue direct return to the top flight to which they’re bound to make a fine addition.
On current form the Jags are a bit stronger at the back, leaking a lot less goals than before and especially looking more solid in the centre of defence. Their midfield has a fair amount of creativity and thrust going forward but falls spectacularly short in bite, grit and pace; they are sorely missing the presence of a natural defensive midfielder or ballwinner.
The recent performance levels shown by their frontmen has been patchy at best, with a substantial quota of their goals scored coming from midfielders. To go into a bit more detail on this, I’ll just run you through the present team. There are no world-beaters in this squad obviously but praise will be given where it is due, within the context of the level that the club is competing in at the moment.
Although he had been suffering from a severe dip in form when he played against us recently in the League Cup, goalkeeper Scott Fox has come on leaps and bounds since then, instilling confidence in his defenders and pulling off quite a number of fabulous saves.
In the right back position Ryan Williamson has been a notoriously poor performer this campaign. Curiously enough, the ex-Pars defender is comfortable enough on the ball and is in fact one of the most adept in the Championship at delivering dangerous balls into the box but his defensive qualities are glaringly weak. He stands off opposing wingers who are in possession, allowing them acres of space and his positional sense is poor. His limited ability to put in a decent tackle coupled with his general dithering and dallying when under pressure have cost the Maryhill outfit quite a few goals in the past months.
Conversely, 21 year-old left back James Penrice (a product of the Thistle youth academy and definitely one to watch for the future), is notably progressing in the first team and looks very useful in all departments. We have to be aware of O’Ware, mainly due to his height, strength and heading ability. The big CB has been renowned for his unpredictable form from game to game but it looks like he’s started to settle and even forge a fairly dependable partnership in the centre of defence with ex-Motherwell player Steven Saunders, who has been their most consistent player along with Penrice in recent matches.
Moving to midfield, the Jags are seriously missing an effective DM.
McCall has experimented by deploying O’Ware, who is too slow and cumbersome for that role as well as Stuart Bannigan, who is a creative midfielder but not the type of clean tackler required to break up play and regain possession. Mystifyingly, he’s even opted to go with veteran Joe Cardle, who is at best a bang average wide player, but the Englishman is completely lost playing in a defensive midfield role.
This will clearly be one of the manager’s main priorities during the transfer window with the possible signing of Ayr Utd captain Ross Docherty being a decent solution.
On the plus side, great club servant Stuart Bannigan, who seems to have finally got over a long-term injury, has started to re-produce some of his old form. He was a highly promising youngster who was set to move to Aberdeen when suddenly tragedy struck, resulting in him being sidelined for the best part of two years with what was a career threatening knee injury but Thistle stood by him. A quick-thinking, incisive passer of the ball who likes to dictate play and also has an eye for goal, ‘Banzo’ is to Partick what Dani Parejo is to Valencia.
To complement his play, 21 year-old Brentford loanee Reece Cole has been hugely effective bombing forward to support the attack. He has a fine first touch and a remarkable ability to find and use space both on and off the ball. He’s also blessed with an innate talent for shooting from long range and has blasted in a few spectacular goals so McCall will do everything in his power to keep him until the end of the season at the very least.
Talking of loanees, Thistle suffered a blow when young English prospect Osman Kakay was recalled to his parent club QPR. He had started to come onto a good game down that right hand side offering badly needed cover for the mistake-ridden Williamson and linking up play very well with the forwards.
Who will fill this position? Craig Slater has filled that gap for the moment but he’s an inconsistent player, who really contributes nothing special to the overall output and whose passing is frequently wayward.
Thistle will provide enthusiastic opposition but have serious defensive issues down their right flank while their midfield is as soft as brie. They shouldn’t pose too much of a goal threat either. Brand new signing Darian MacKinnon was the captain of Hamilton not too long ago but has just been released and will be with the Jags until the end of the season.
The 34 year-old veteran does have the reputation of being something of a midfield warrior but (if selected) I’m pretty sure Broonie would sort him out with ease. Oddly enough, MacKinnon will continue to coach the Hamilton Accies youth team whilst playing part-time for Partick Thistle.
Up front they have Kenny Miller, who is no stranger to us.
What has the 40 year-old desperado been up to lately?
He’s still an old fox in the box that started the campaign pretty well but his goals seemed to have dried up (two in the last fourteen games) and he’s also been increasingly guilty of drifting out of his natural position to play in a much deeper role. Could the recent change in management have adversely affected his contributions?
He’s definitely become a fly in the Thistle ointment, frequently throwing a spanner in the works by creating imbalance in the side, trying to dictate the midfield and often even retreating as far back as the bye line to pick up the ball from the goalie and subsequently try to create a build-up from the back.
The trouble is he neither has the vision, nor the awareness nor the passing ability to re-invent himself as some sort of new super sweeper skipper and it feels almost like being a man down when he ‘does his own thing’ sitting deep so the fans (and I’m sure his team mates also) are becoming pretty restless and, to be realistic, the clean-shaven Kenny seems unlikely to continue his adventure at Firhill next season.
Indeed he looks like he’s about to burst into tears every time he gets subsitituted.
Alongside, Alex Jones does score the odd goal but is lacking in confidence, his finishing ability has been erratic to say the least and he appears to be rather lightweight when it comes to any kind of physical jousts with defenders.
In the last few matches the Harry Wraggs have used the same guys in their substitutions.
Gary Harkins was a popular figure for Thistle in the past and is currently enjoying (not sure if that would be the right word) his second spell at Firhill. Now aged 34, the seasoned pro has featured in no fewer than 13 different clubs north and south of the border, having had no fewer than 3 different spells at Dundee. The story goes that unbeknownst to him, the bulky forward played for about 4 years (at both Thistle and Dundee) with a broken ankle, precisely at the time when he was playing his best ever football!
These days, however, his inclusions have often had a negative effect on the rest of the side as he is rather ungainly and slow.
Another frequently used sub and occasional starter is young Canadian Dario Zanatta, who can play on either wing or as a main striker. He can look brilliant in flashes but is just as likely to strew wild passes all over the shop and can sometimes even raise a giggle or two with some of his eccentric efforts in front of goal.
Everything that I have previewed above was written before Thistle’s last league game, a crushing four-one home defeat at the hands of runaway leaders Dundee Utd. Strangely enough, the Maryhill mob dominated the first half hour of play and should have been a couple of goals to the good but some sloppy defending led to a couple of United goals late in the second half which knocked the stuffing right out of the home side.
Some desperate and wierd changes to the formation, including a shift from LB to midfield for Penrice (a role he had never played before and where he looked completely lost) along with a further slump to new depths in overall play (especially in the defence) led to a miserable afternoon for the Firhill faithful in a game that was played in atrocious weather conditions.
For the record, the on-fire Lawrence Shankland scored a Moussa Dembele style hat trick (i.e. a goal with each foot plus a header) while Miller supplied the Jags with their consolation in the dying moments (he has quite a knack for nicking a wee goal when his side are already 4-0 down).
At least from the home side’s point of view, not too much should be read into this disaster as Dundee Utd are in a class of their own in this league and the entire PT team had a complete off day. Although this defeat keeps them very much in the danger zone, their form over the last six games or so suggests substantial overall improvement and there must be at least a glimmer of hope that they’ll gradually haul themselves up the table during the second half of the season.
Barring last minute new signings, this will be their probable team selection against us on Saturday evening:
Williamson Saunders O’Ware Penrice
Cardle (or MacKinnon) Bannigan Cole Zanatta
Referring back to my introduction, my own feeling is that for more than one reason the Scottish Cup should take on less importance than usual this season but at least it could be beneficial to some of our budding young starlets and fringe players who have something to prove. Lenny will probably take quite a serious approach to the game and field a pretty strong team, which probably won’t even remotely resemble the one that I’ll be putting up here.
Hear me out..
Certain players won’t be available through suspension and injury such as Christie, Rogic, Elhamed, Simunovic, Johnston and Elyounoussi while others such as Lee O’Connor and Bayo could well be going out on loan very soon.
Potential therefore for a few who haven’t made an appearance for a while being selected.
I hope the gaffer gives youth a chance for this one (congrats to our young guns for winning against Chelsea’s u23s in London, by the way) and that we can get at least a glimpse of new bhoy Pat Klimala in action. The acquisition of Ivorian DM Soro (was that no a David Bowie song?) is practically over the line at the time of writing (it would be nice if he could outshine his fellow countryman Kouassi) but won’t be ready to face Thistle while I wouldn’t be too surprised if missing man Danny Arzani (remember him?) were to be involved in some way.
I don’t see much sense in risking injury to several of our top players for this one.
Even with a significantly weakened team, we should win comfortably on Saturday.
Celtic possible potential laden line-up
Frimpong Bitton Deas Taylor
Shved Brown Robertson Afolabi
Subs: Gordon, O’Connor, Hayes, Ajer, McGregor, Dembele, Oko-flex (or Arzani)
Prediction: Plastic Whistle 0 Celtic 4 (Griffiths (2), Klimala (2))