The Scottish title race is suddenly very much in the balance | Soccer


ALLAN KEY

Last Saturday certainly was a day to forget for poor old Allan McGregor. He got up at the crack of dawn to travel the 187 miles north from Ibrox to Dingwall for a lunchtime kick-off, and will wonder why he bothered. The hapless Pope’s Newc O’Rangers keeper endured a shocker, fumbling a cross that let Ross County back into the game, then inexplicably letting a bobbling ball ping off his chest in the last few seconds of added time, teeing up a Staggie to slam home from close range and deny the champions a couple of precious points. It’ll have been a long four-hour drive home after that carnival display. And an uncomfortable one, too, if several items later discovered along the southbound A9 – three square wheels at Aviemore, a radiator with steam parping out of it near Pitlochry, a large water-filled flower and bucket of glitter outside Perth – were anything to do with him. Reports remain unconfirmed. Honk.

What we do know for certain is that his team’s quest for an historic Two in a Row is suddenly very much in the balance. The champions have been unconvincing of late, also shipping points from a winning position against Aberdeen, and only just squeaking past ersatz Meadowbank Thistle tribute act Livingston at home. The Queen’s Celtic, by contrast, have suddenly developed something of a swagger, winning 12 of their last 13 matches in all competitions and drawing the other. In fact, confidence is so high that manager Ange Postecoglou feels able to drop folksy aphorisms such as “I don’t just sign players, I sign people” unselfconsciously, and without being fingered in the press as a Rodgers-Brent wannabe. (The “very mature” Matt O’Riley, £1.5m from Franchise FC, since you ask.)

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As the bitter rivals prepare to throw hands at Parkhead on Wednesday evening, the momentum is very much with Postecoglou and his Bhoys, and their bid to leapfrog the Light Blues at the top of the table could be further boosted by the possible return of captain Callum McGregor, who took a serious knock to the coupon against Alloa a couple of weeks ago. The visitors, by contrast, have concerns up front, with Fashion Sakala and Cedric Itten out of sorts, and Alfredo Morelos on an ever-so-slightly pointless 15,000-mile beano around South America with Colombia, watching the rest of the squad play football. With new signing Aaron Ramsey unfit, some breaking news there, the goalscoring burden may fall to Kemar Roofe. The Fiver suggests he’ll need to bang in a couple at the very least if the Gers are to come away with anything … unless, of course, Po’ Allan manages to relocate his mojo quicksmart.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE!

Join Paul Doyle for hot Afcon semi-final MBM coverage of Burkina Faso 0-2 Senegal from 7pm GMT, while Scott Murray will be on hand for the Queen’s Celtic 1-1 the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers at 7.45pm.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I forget simple words – it scares me” – Wycombe’s Matt Bloomfield tells Ben Fisher why a freak concussion – by his estimation a fifth in four years – has ended his career.

Good luck, Matt.
Good luck, Matt. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

FIVER LETTERS

“I can totally sympathise with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang ending up signing for Barcelona while on holiday (yesterday’s Fiver), as a similar thing happened when I was in Malta a few years back. Got talking to a guy who claimed to be the owner of a then-top-flight club and once he found out I played football, he seemed keen to sign me up. Not wanting to cast aspersions on the quality of Maltese football, but he wasn’t even deterred when I clarified it was very much Sunday league-level. For my part, I wasn’t exactly convinced he was a club owner anyway, so I joked that he could prove it by bringing me a kit … which he duly did the following day. In a state of mild surprise, I accepted the gift, made it clear I couldn’t make the switch and he went on his way. Having checked, said team didn’t appear to have a club shop and it seemed to be a player spec shirt, so” – Jim Hearson.

“Re: yesterday’s Quote of the Day. It turns out Uefa Media Relations sent the pizza shop owners an email saying they have no problem with the ‘Champignons League’ pie after all. The email is somewhat interesting, but at the same time completely pointless and unnecessary. Is this what they call a non-fungi-ble token?” – Peter Oh.

“Re: yesterday’s last line. Can I be the first of 1,057 NFL fans to wonder whether, after such a stellar career, Tom Brady is a little deflated about the way it ended” – Ed Taylor (and no other NFL fans).

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Jim Hearson.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Join Max and co for the latest edition of Football Weekly.

Oh Australia!
Oh Australia! Photograph: Adil Al Naimi/Getty Images

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood has been bailed following his arrest on suspicion of raping, assaulting and threatening to kill a woman. The 20-year-old remains under investigation.

Raith Rovers’ women’s team are cutting ties with the club as the backlash against David Goodwillie’s signing intensifies. A tin-eared club statement (“first and foremost, this was a football-related decision”) defended bringing in the striker, who was found to have raped a woman by a civil court in 2017. On Wednesday, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “What it effectively seemed to be saying was it didn’t matter how a man treated a woman, the only thing that mattered to them was whether he could score goals.”

Dazn and Discovery are sniffing around now BT is in talks with the Premier League regarding the offloading of its sports TV business. No more Jake Humphrey?

West Brom have given head coach Valérien Ismaël the boot, little more than seven months after paying Barnsley to take him off their hands.

Fellow Frenchman Jean-Luc Vasseur is also out of employment after Everton Women called time on his 10-game tenure.

Steve Hitchen has done one from his scouting and recruitment gig at Spurs, with a similar role at Everton in the pipeline.

And to the Fun and Games in South America Dept: Peru’s equaliser in their 1-1 Human Rights World Cup qualifier with Ecuador produced an enjoyable commentator-gasm.

STILL WANT MORE?

Sid Lowe has the inside gen on how Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s last-minute move to Barcelona came off.

Big Website transfer guru Fabrizio Romano runs the rule over a January window characterised by certain clubs acting decisively and having a plan.

Barney Ronay, meanwhile, argues that a return to unsustainable big spending is nothing to cheer.

It’s an upgrade on certain news broadcasters.
It’s an upgrade on certain news broadcasters. Photograph: Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

In Ligue Urrrn, it was the strugglers who really splashed the cash, reports Eric Devin.

The predictability of Asian qualifying for HRWC 2022 is doing no one a favour, reckons John Duerden.

Clubs that have won trophies in three different centuries, footballers who have played for the most Uniteds and more are picked over in this week’s Knowledge.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!





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