Sunday 12 October 2014

top of the league!

Ian's close-season blog post, below, assessing our prospects of "staying up" in the top flight, now looks strangely pessimistic, in spite of his conclusion that he's "confident we can survive". What a difference the confidence of our team has wrought.

With a quarter of the season gone, Accies have been in unexpected breathtaking form, and we stand clear top of the league on merit. Top scorers, best defensive record, unbeaten since the first game, headline-grabbers as the first away league winners at Celtic Park for nearly two years... the list of our accomplishments goes on. And special mention to Ally Crawford, hitherto a target for frequent abuse from many of our fans, and now the SPL's top goalscorer. Crawford currently looks like one of the most threatening midfielders in the SPL.

The problem with all of this is that it invites predators, and there is already much speculation that we could lose the likes of Crawford, Andreu and Gordon in the January transfer window. Not to mention the architect of this success, "Sir" Alex Neil. Despite his total managerial experience amounting to less than one-and-a-half seasons, Alex has made a huge difference to the way we play football and the results we've achieved.

Building on the good work of Billy Reid, Accies' most successful post-war manager, Alex has accelerated the promotion of young players, trained them to retain possession, developed a free-flowing passing style, and instilled a fearless, winning mentality. For me, he has been the stand-out Accies player of the last decade, but he's already eclipsed his on-field exploits in his short spell in the dugout. It's now surely just a matter of time before he surpasses the peak of Billy Reid's reign, 7th in the SPL, and leads us to a top six finish.

Well done to everyone at the club for making this one of the most pleasurable times to watch Accies.

On a personal note, this has been my first blog post for a while, and it may be some time before I post another. The reinvention of the Acciesworld forum has made it, for now at least, a more civilised place to visit, and I look forward to spending more time there. A downturn in our fortunes could change that, but it's hard to see any such downturn looming. I still believe there is room for a multi-user blog as well as a discussion forum, and I hope others will take up the open invitation to post here.

Monday 28 July 2014

What are the odds of Accies staying up?

As the new season approaches what are the odds of Accies staying up? Arguably the squad that has won promotion via the play offs does not have the same depth as the one that won us outright promotion in 2007. Then the presence of the '3 Diamonds', Alex Neil fit and at his peak alongside experienced players like Canning and Mensing, saw Accies hit the track running so to speak with opening victories against Dundee United and Inverness. On the face of it then you might expect Accies to be the bookies favourites to be relegated and you would be right with Coral offering odds of 12/5, Ladbrokes 11/5 and others 5/2. But the big difference since 2007 is the seismic change in the membership of the Premier League as the financial meltdown has taken its toll. No Rangers, no Hearts, and although not due to financial overspending, no Hibernian either. Aside from Celtic, the only Premiership clubs with comparatively big player budgets are Dundee United and Aberdeen and even they have to balance budgets against debt. Other clubs might not have the budgets but both Motherwell and Saint Johnstone have developed squads that look as though there is still more to come in the new season. That leaves Accies playing in a league that has this time round has a more level playing field in terms of resources. In effect we are in a league of seven including ourselves, and an Accies side judiciously strengthened and injury free should be capable of taking points from any of the others. Nor should we discount taking points of the likes of Aberdeen or Dundee United.

Inverness took their time last season to get used to the managerial change from Butcher to Hughes and they seem to have lost some of their sparkle but with Butcher’s departure from Hibs, an anticipated raid during the close season on their squad hasn’t materialised. Kilmarnock appear to have sorted out their financial problems but their management team of Alan Johnston and Sandy Clark came in for a lot of criticism from their fans and it was interesting to see Clark depart to be replaced by Gary Locke. Despite an apparently strong contract offer, losing Kris Boyd who scored 22 goals for them to Rangers will have an impact. Can’t see his replacements Lee Miller and Josh Macgennis equalling that total. Interestingly Johnston is the bookies favourite to be the first to lose his job this season. Saint Mirren’s board clearly felt that the squad they had was underachieving under Danny Lennon but the appointment of Tommy Craig caught many by surprise. Championship winners' Dundee have had a big clear out of players as Paul Hartley has sought to reshape the squad that he had inherited from John Brown. Sometimes too many as much as too few changes can be dangerous and it will be interesting to see how Hartley moulds his squad with 11 new faces. Partick Thistle under Alan Archibald’s guidance survived their first season back in the top flight aided by the mid season loan signing of Lyle Taylor. Taylor has since been released by Sheffield United and Partick were looking for him to sign full time but he has gone to Scunthorpe. And then there is Ross County. A bad start to the season saw manager Derek Adams strengthening the team quite radically mid term backed by Roy McGregor's money,  but they will not want a repeat this season and to date have made 8 summer signings.

All the Summer ins and out can be found here:

So all to play for in my opinion. 11th place, as we are well aware, will no longer guarantee safety but league reconstruction means that any team getting relegated via the play offs will receive a parachute payment of £500,000 in their first season down and £250,000 in year two assuming they stay down. A significant financial cushion that should allow teams to weather the drop. Back to the odds. Currently you can get odds on Accies to win the Premier League of between 300 and 750 to 1 but we are the bookies' favourite for outright relegation with Partick Thistle closely behind. While the odds will change I’m still confident we can survive.

For all the odds see here :

Tuesday 27 May 2014

What do you mean Accies aren’t playing now until August!

May be you had thought Accies were just going to keep playing all summer but I’m sorry it is now officially the close season. For the players it’s been a really long season with the addition of the play – offs and I’m sure they are off on well-earned breaks. The season started way back in 2013 with a friendly away to Spennymoor on the 18th of July. I missed that one so for me and a number of Accies fans the first game was a couple of days later when we played East Fife on the 20th. Seems like ages ago that I was sitting in the summer sun wondering where Methil Power Station had gone! But instead of finishing with the Morton game on the 3rd of May we have had an extra 3 weeks of excitement, nail biting, squeaky bum time to go through. However until next August, unless there are pre season friendlies, I’m sorry it’s an Accies less summer so what are you going to do?

I used to go down to the ground peer over the fence at the Sainsbury end and watch the grass grow. Cant do that any more with the 3g pitch. There is the World Cup for those fanatics that like their international football but unless there is a team with red and white hoops and a player with a passing resemblance to Jason Scotland I’m not sold. You could always support England of course.  Last year we had the Olympics but the beach volleyball proved too much for me and by the time the Commonwealth Games come round we will have kicked off again. You could take up another sport like subbuteo or coarse fishing but many of us are couch potatoes.

Of course if you are a season ticket holder you can plan a trip to the ground to renew. Perhaps if you ask Scott Struthers nicely he will let you sit in your seat just to try it out. You can monitor the media and social media to see who is coming and going as Alex reshapes the squad for the premiership. Personally I’m going to watch the game against Hibs over and over and over again.  So see you all in August. If we are in the first round of the League Cup then it's the second of August, if not the SPFL kicks of on the 9th. And for those of you who cant wait for a live game of football then you will be pleased to know that Brechin are playing Aberdeen in a pre season friendly on the 25th of June and that is less than 5 weeks away.

Monday 26 May 2014

Stranger than fiction

And so Accies discover a new, more exciting way to win promotion. Nobody can deny the events of Easter Road were hugely exciting and entertaining, and as exhilarating for Accies as they were devastating for Hibs.

Nobody, even most of our own fans, expected us to do it. The first leg had been a big disappointment - somebody summed up that game as "Accies played the football, but Hibs scored the goals", and the least that can be said is that we dominated the first half. But the bottom line is we lost 0-2 at home, and only the biggest optimists felt we could overturn that deficit in the away leg.

The script required a more urgent Accies than in the first game, with greater penetration: Jason Scotland, in particular, duly obliged. It required Accies to score the first goal, preferably early on, and in 12 minutes, Jason Scotland obliged again. It required an equaliser in 90 minutes, and with 1 minute 20 seconds to spare, a sublime combination featuring Gordon, MacKinnon, Scotland and Andreu led to the last named blasting into the net. That took us into extra time.

Accies dominated from start to finish, played the best football, had a clear goal scoring chance denied when referee Collum missed a blatant cynical foul in the second half, and could well have won by more in normal time. If we had, Hibs could have had no complaints, and it might have saved them later agony.

After a great game, extra time was an anticlimax, with both teams exhausted, and so the penalty shootout arose.

I don't know who would have taken the fifth Accies penalty - I've read Alex Neil, I've read Jesus Garcia Tena - but it wasn't needed, because Gillespie, Andreu, Antoine-Curier and Scotland all coolly scored, while Cuthbert saved two out of five Hibs pens.

The media have focused on Hibs' dramatic fall, and the fall-out, but these are trivial concerns to this blog. This was all about Accies' triumph, and manager Alex Neil winning promotion in his first full season in charge. It was about a special blend of youth, such as Gillespie, Gordon, Crawford and Longridge, with experience in the shape of the likes of Cuthbert, Canning, Neil and Scotland, gelling into a successful team unit. And it was about an unforeseen conclusion to a rollercoaster season.

In time, we'll move on to speculate about our prospects in the top flight, back where we spent three seasons just two years ago. We'll look ahead with relish to contests with the best teams in the country. But that's for another day: the here and now is about celebrating one of the greatest victories in Accies' post-war history, and dreaming of what it may portend.

Thanks and congratulations are due to everyone associated with this phenomenal success. Hibs 0 Accies 2, aggregate 2-2, Accies win 4-3 on penalties, Hibs are relegated to the Championship, Accies are promoted to the Premiership.

Sunday 4 May 2014


Yesterday's win deserves celebration regardless of its context.

  • Ten goals is the most I have ever seen Accies score in any game - I suspect it's the most any living Accies fan has seen us score.
  • 10-2 is the biggest winning margin I have ever seen Accies record. Others will have seen 8-goal wins before, with our 9-1 wins over Berwick in 80/81 and Brechin in 93/94, but I missed both of those.
  • Twelve goals is the biggest single game total I have ever seen Accies involved in - my previous highest, with much less cause for celebration, was 3-8 to Celtic in 86/87.

It was a tumultuous end to the season, albeit somewhat subdued by the circumstances of losing the title to Dundee by virtue of their last game home win.

The game invites comparison with our narrow miss of promotion in the memorable 91/92 season, when we lost out on goal difference to Partick Thistle on the last day. Similar conspiracy theories have emerged about missed chances for Partick's and Dundee's opponents respectively. These should be discounted as readily as competing theories that Morton players took a trip to the bookies before yesterday. The big difference is that we always trailed Partick in 1992, and only drew level on points due to their last game draw.

Finishing second this season is a great accomplishment, not least because for the first time in many years it affords an opportunity for promotion, via play-offs. Hopefully the disappointment of having thrown away automatic promotion in the crazy last quarter of an hour at Dumbarton last Saturday will be eclipsed by yesterday's fantastic performance and result.

The play-offs beckon: let's see if we can do it.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Dumbarton debacle

Yesterday Accies effectively handed the league title to Dundee. It is small consolation that Dundee felt they had given it to us a week before, as we're a week closer to the end, and this time it's more likely to count. Yes, it is still theoretically possible for Accies to win it, but it's unlikely, and it's out of our hands.

Dumbarton has rarely been a happy hunting ground for us. But our record there is not as bad as some say: we won there, in the cup, as recently as last season, and truth be told, we haven't played them that often in the last decade, due to being in different divisions. However, yesterday's big crowd, and the sense of anticipation that we could be on the verge of a title, contrived to create a big sense of let-down.

The thing is, we actually came very close. With quarter of an hour to go, we were at 1-1. At that point, we felt that would be a bad result, but it would have been much better than what finally happened. We spent the early part of the second half bombarding the Dumbarton goal, and although they looked quite dangerous on the break, we had most of the play and spurned several great chances, notably a hazy Crawford dribble into the box, which I thought he'd finished, and Longridge one-on-one with the keeper.

As we went into the last quarter of an hour, Alex Neil clearly felt it was time to gamble, withdrawing a midfielder, Gillespie, for another striker, Antoine-Curier. Many of our fans prefer Neil as our manager to Billy Reid precisely for this sort of choice: in the same situation, would Billy have gambled? I doubt it, and with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn't the right choice by Neil. But at the time, it was a gamble I think most of us supported.

Cooler analysis suggests it might have been better to hold on for a draw, perhaps sneaking a winner if we were lucky. A draw would have left Dundee needing to win their last game, whereas now a draw will be enough for them. Dumbarton, even if their play-off hopes are effectively over, are capable of drawing with a jittery Dundee. But the knowledge that a draw is now enough should do wonders for any Dundee jitters.

Cooler analysis was what was missing. Neil had looked well able to manage from the pitch earlier in the game, when he countermanded the substitution of Scotland by Antoine-Curier, a decision vindicated by our goal. But in the crucial minutes, the notorious Neil red mist descended. Yes, it was frustrating to concede a goal against the run of play, although we could yet have recovered. Yes, Gilhaney wound him up, and doubtless knew exactly what it took. But the bottom line is that Neil should never have head-butted him, and that's what I saw him do.

Ironically, Neil and Chairman Les Gray criticised young Andy Ryan for getting needlessly sent off in the last game of last season.  How much more culpable is our experienced player-manager?

I don't wish to dwell on Neil's folly; I'm sure he recognises it more than anyone. But if he is to continue to play next season, then as a manager he needs to have a contingency plan for when incidents like this happen, as they will again, although hopefully not in such crucial circumstances. As it was, we looked not just leaderless, but totally disorganised, as we conceded two more goals in the last ten minutes. I'm told some of our young players were crying on the pitch at the end, but by then I had left along with many other disappointed Accies fans.

Today's perspective is that we never expected to win the league this season; the play-offs were our target, and we have accomplished that. But we accomplished that a couple of weeks ago, had the chance to go one better, and missed that chance through our own failure yesterday.

Hopefully we can pick ourselves up to beat Morton at NDP next Saturday, but we'll be missing quite a few important players. And while that's not likely to be enough to overtake Dundee, it would secure second place and mean we have one less play-off to negotiate. Either way, our prospects for those play-offs look diminished. Time for our players to show their mettle.

Sunday 13 April 2014

They think it's all over

It's not yet.

If Dundee had opened a three point plus goal difference gap yesterday, I would have been prepared to concede.

But our late equaliser could yet prove to be one of our most valuable goals of the season.
Why does one point make such a difference? With three games left, Dundee could have afforded to lose one and still pip us on goal difference (we're not likely to make up four goals in three games, although it is just possible). Now they can't. If Dundee lose a game and we win our last three, the title will be ours.

I'm not saying we'll do it. It's out of our hands now. If Dundee hold their nerve and win their last three, the title is theirs. But I'm not convinced they will. They could draw a game, giving us the slim chance of making up the goal difference. The pressure could get to them. And one or two of their opponents, who still have play-off places to chase (although Alloa's chance should be over before they play Dundee), could actually beat them.

TBH, I'm more concerned about us fulfilling our end of the deal. At least one of our remaining games, at Dumbarton, is eminently lose-able. And we are going to be depleted by suspensions, with Hendrie, Gordon and MacKinnon all due to miss games. The pessimists will point out we could even lose second place to a resurgent Falkirk, leaving us an extra round of play-offs to negotiate.

Even if we fail to overhaul Dundee, I think it's been a season to be proud of. Accies have exceeded my expectations. In last night's comment to my previous blog, Dave questions the mentality and discipline of our team under Alex Neil. While true, I think this criticism is a tad unfair. We weren't that much better under Billy Reid, and it was to be expected that Alex would stamp this aspect of his personality on the team, along with the more positive qualities he brings - hard work, effective use of the ball, determination, competitiveness, and a winning mentality. I can't share Dave's conclusion that the jury is still out on Alex - for a first full season in management I think he's done no bad.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Accies promotion would be "a disaster"

It hasn't attracted much attention elsewhere, but BBC Radio Scotland pundit Allan Preston made a comment yesterday, perhaps deliberately provocative, that promotion for Accies rather than Dundee would be "a disaster" for Scottish football.

I'd suggest Alex Neil should pin that up in the dressing room.

Preston's argument seems to be based on the size of Accies' support, and the disaster is the potential loss of revenue to SPL clubs in the difference between that and Dundee's support. It's a specious argument, at best, and it ignores all sorts of contradictory evidence, such as Accies playing more attractive football, and the report on the BBC website yesterday of Dundee seeking to emulate the Accies youth academy -

Yesterday's 1-1 draw leaves our noses still just in front, in what is turning out to be the tightest Championship title race for some time. I'd have taken a draw before the game, certainly when we went in at half-time 0-1 to what seemed a dubious offside goal (it seems Lee Kilday, injured and off the park, played the scorer on), and a draw was a fair result in the end.

So now we have just four games to decide things between the two contenders. I don't think Falkirk are back in it, despite their 5-0 win yesterday - too little too late for the Bairns, I think. For Falkirk to win it, even if they win all four of their remaining games, which is far from certain, they need both Accies and Dundee to drop four points each. I can't see it. I think we may well drop points, but we won't both drop enough to hand it to Falkirk.

I hope Preston's disrespectful comment helps make a difference. Bring on the "disaster"!

Sunday 30 March 2014

Top of the league!

At the start of season 2007/08 (actually after the second game), I launched a thread on AcciesWorld called Top of the League! It was an exciting time to be following Accies, perhaps the most exciting time since I started following in the 1970s. We had survived near extinction, including relegation to the fourth tier, had built a new stadium, and were heading back to the top flight. I was just one of many Accies fans who felt certain we were going to win the league in 2008. As indeed we did.

This season has not been the same. Despite establishing an early lead, many of us never felt we were the best team in the league, or favourites to win it. The club's stated aim was to make the play-offs.

Yesterday we returned to the top of the league. And we secured a minimum of a place in the play-offs. These are massive achievements, and every congratulation is due to the players, Alex Neil's management team, and Les Gray's board. But it's not over yet.

With just five games left, we are in pole position to win the league. The first remaining hurdle faces us when Dundee visit NDP next Saturday. We have not yet managed to beat Dundee this season, but if we can at least draw, we will still be top and one step closer to the title.

Can we do it? I have no idea. The fluctuating form of both Dundee and Accies suggests it's not just a question of avoiding defeat in the head-to-head then seeing out the season. I don't expect either contender to win all of their remaining four games.

But undoubtedly the game this coming Saturday is the toughest of our run-in, and if we can actually win it, then we have a fantastic chance of winning the league and returning to the SPL. Perhaps this most successful period of our modern history is not yet over - the adventure continues.

Can we do it?