Friday, May 12, 2017

The tenth annual Narey's Toepoker Team of the Year (part 2)

Right, so here's your midfield and attack.  The other half of the team can be found here.

We've gone 4-4-f******-2 this year - read on to find out why...

Honourable mentions: Scott Brown (Celtic), Kenny McLean (Aberdeen), Jamie Walker (Hearts), Ali Crawford (Hamilton Accies)

This was the hardest choice by miles - basically it was two out of Armstrong, Brown, McLean and Barton.  I love Armstrong's all-action style (and his hair), so he's in.  His progress this season has been exciting and there's still more to come from him.  I thought Brown was finished last year but he's proven everyone wrong by returning to somewhere approaching his best, while McLean has been terrific since Derek McInnes started playing a midfield trio with Ryan Jack and Graeme Shinnie doing the donkey work so the ex-St. Mirren man can concentrate on playmaking.

Barton is the hipster's choice (he's a Partick Thistle player, so of course he is!) but he's been one of the signings of the season, either in central defence or sitting just in front of the centre-backs.  Would Thistle's defensive record be as good without him?  No.  Would Liam Lindsay be getting so many plaudits without Barton beside/in front of him?  No.  So Barton it is.

Besides, I already have plenty of Celtic players in this year's team.  Their fans won't be offended if I leave Brown out, right?  (Goes away to find tin hat).

Oh, and as for the other honourable mentions, both Crawford and Walker were terrific before the winter break and pretty anonymous afterward.  Walker never looked comfortable in Ian Cathro's system - whatever it is - and Hearts need to get the best out of him if they are to move in the right direction.  Crawford seems to only ever star for half of every season, which is just about enough to make him a huge asset for Accies but not enough to entice a bigger club.

Honourable mentions: Don Cowie (Hearts), Danny Swanson (St. Johnstone), James Forrest (Celtic), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)

It's hard to argue with this dynamic duo.  Sinclair won Player of the Year, after all.  He actually seemed to disappear from games for long periods - as wingers are wont to do, I suppose - but whenever he got involved he tended to make a huge impact.  21 league goals from the wing is some tally.  It's a sign that he belongs at a far higher level than this, I suppose.

Hayes remains one of my favourite footballers.  He has everything you want from your winger - pace, the ability to beat a man, an end product and even a few goals - but it's his discipline and workrate that really make him stand out.  Ever since he came to Scotland in 2009 he's got a bit better year on year; the guy's attitude must make him a dream to coach.

As for the others, I suspect Cowie is another 'dream to coach', and looked like the only Hearts player who had a clue what Ian Cathro wanted.  Why he isn't club captain I have no idea.  Forrest and Swanson both tailed off a fair bit in 2017 after starting the season like greased lightning.  McGinn was the opposite, starting slowly before hitting form in the new year.

Honourable mentions: Steven Maclean (St. Johnstone), Kenny Miller (Rangers), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen), Marcus Haber (Dundee)

This is why we're going 4-4-2 this year - to fit both these boys in.  I think Celtic will get an offer they can't refuse for Dembele this summer, which will probably be greater than Rangers' annual turnover. He must be the best value signing the club have made since a Mr H. Larsson rocked up.  Boyce's exploits have been overshadowed slightly by his club's disappointing season; his goal drought in the spring came when he was moved into a deeper role and the onus was put on him to create chances rather than score them.  To still score 20 league goals (his teammates have managed just 22 between them) in those circumstances is quite sensational.

I'd have loved to shoehorn Maclean in.  The wily veteran is as good a lone striker as anyone in this league.  Miller continues to defy biology with his refusal to slow down and accept that he is getting old, but Rangers really can't afford to depend on him so much next year.  Rooney continues to lead the line effectively for Aberdeen.  Haber deserves a mention simply because his arrival transformed Dundee's season, and their record without him is just terrible.

So here's the team in all its glory:

(It took bloody ages to do the kit graphics by the way, so be nice!)

And, for the tenth year, that's your lot.  I'm looking forward to more of your 'constructive' criticism...

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The tenth annual Narey's Toepoker Team of the Year (part 1)

This is the tenth Narey's Toepoker team of the year.  Wow.  Here, for your amusement, are the previous nine lineups.  Every year I post these, I cringe a bit.  I mean, Daniel Majstorovic?!  Lee Wilkie twice?!

2007/08: Allan McGregor (Rangers), Alan Hutton (Rangers), Carlos Cuellar (Rangers), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Lee Naylor (Celtic), Barry Robson (Celtic), Stephen Hughes (Motherwell), Barry Ferguson (Rangers), Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Steven Fletcher (Hibernian)

2008/09: Lukasz Zaluska (Dundee United), Andreas Hinkel (Celtic), Gary Caldwell (Celtic), Lee Wilkie (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Scott Brown (Celtic), Bruno Aguiar (Hearts), Pedro Mendes (Rangers), Andrew Driver (Hearts), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Rangers)

2009/10: John Ruddy (Motherwell), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), David Weir (Rangers), Andy Webster (Dundee United), Sasa Papac (Rangers), Steven Davis (Rangers), Morgaro Gomis (Dundee United), James McArthur (Hamilton), Anthony Stokes (Hibernian), Kris Boyd (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United)

2010/11: Marian Kello (Hearts), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Daniel Majstorovic (Celtic), Michael Duberry (St. Johnstone), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Steven Naismith (Rangers), Beram Kayal (Celtic), Alexei Eremenko (Kilmarnock), David Templeton (Hearts), Nikica Jelavic (Rangers), David Goodwillie (Dundee United)

2011/12: Cammy Bell (Kilmarnock), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Paul Dixon (Dundee United), James Forrest (Celtic), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Ian Black (Hearts), Dean Shiels (Kilmarnock), Jon Daly (Dundee United), Gary Hooper (Celtic)

2012/13: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Mihael Kovacevic (Ross County), Gary Warren (Inverness CT), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Stevie Hammell (Motherwell), Victor Wanyama (Celtic), Nicky Law (Motherwell), Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone), Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian), Michael Higdon (Motherwell), Billy Mckay (Inverness CT) 

2013/14: Jamie MacDonald (Hearts), Dave Mackay (St. Johnstone), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United), Scott Brown (Celtic), Stuart Armstrong (Dundee United), Peter Pawlett (Aberdeen), Kris Commons (Celtic), Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock), Stevie May (St. Johnstone)

2014/15: Craig Gordon (Celtic), Shay Logan (Aberdeen), Virgil Van Dijk (Celtic), Jason Denayer (Celtic), Graeme Shinnie (Inverness CT), Ryan Jack (Aberdeen), Greg Tansey (Inverness CT), Greg Stewart (Dundee), Stefan Johansen (Celtic), Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United/Celtic), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen)

2015/16: Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Igor Rossi (Hearts), Andrew Davies (Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen), Nir Bitton (Celtic), Jackson Irvine (Ross County), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), Kenny McLean (Aberdeen), Marvin Johnson (Motherwell), Leigh Griffiths (Celtic)

As for this season, this lot is all on me.  I didn't ask for other opinions, partly because of time constraints and partly because I don't trust my fellow collaborators - Martin would have been biased towards Aberdeen players, while Iain would have picked Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn out of sheer vindictiveness.  And Andrew is just too depressed by Caley Thistle's season.  So any criticisms should be directed at yours truly...although I'll probably ignore them.

So here's your keeper and your back four...

Honourable mentions: Craig Gordon (Celtic), Wes Foderingham (Rangers)

A toss-up between Lewis and Gordon, but the former gets the nod simply because he was worked harder over the course of the season.  Aberdeen's erratic central defenders provide him with plenty of action, but he has not disappointed.  Gordon has spent too many matches basically jogging around his box keeping warm, though he has been the epitomy of reliability since proving to Brendan Rodgers that he can be an adequate sweeper-keeper.  There will be lots of squad turnover at Ibrox this summer, but goalkeeper is the one position that Pedro Caixinha can be satisfied with; Foderingham has been one of the few positives at Rangers this season.

Honourable mentions: Shay Logan (Aberdeen), Mikael Lustig (Celtic)

"But Paterson's been injured for months!", I hear you shout indignantly.  That's true, but he'd started 20 league games before he wrecked his knee, and at that point he was playing like a man possessed.  The boy was Hearts' leading scorer at the time too.  Hopefully he bounces back to become the player he has the potential to be.  Celtic's regular deployment of a lop-sided back four means that Lustig has spent plenty of time more centrally, but he's thrived under Brendan Rodgers.  Logan has been a consistently good performer for Aberdeen all season at the back and has chipped in with plenty of assists and a few goals too.

Honourable mentions: Lee Wallace (Rangers), Carl Tremarco (Inverness CT)

Mark my words: Tierney will at some point become the most expensive Scottish footballer ever, when the time comes that he wants to test himself at a higher level week-in, week-out.  In the meantime, he still has plenty of scope to improve under Rodgers' coaching, even when playing against domestic dross most weekends.  My 'honourable mentions' will probably cause some controversy, but I think Wallace has had a decent season, while Tremarco has been the only bright light of Caley Thistle's dismal season (and their top scorer to boot).  Besides, it's my blog, and I can be horrendously biased if I want to.

Honourable mentions: Erik Sviatchenko (Celtic), Liam Lindsay (Partick Thistle), Clint Hill (Rangers), Steven Anderson (St. Johnstone)

It's hard to believe that Simunovic was nearly punted to Torino on deadline day last summer; the Croat has strolled through the campaign at the heart of Celtic's defence.  Whilst he's no Virgil Van Dijk, the 22 year old has the best chance of any of the club's central defenders of making it at a higher level.  Some might see Shaughnessy as an odd pick, but he's been ace whenever I've seen him.  He's a proper no-nonsense defender who has actually eclipsed stalwart teammate Steven Anderson this year, and Tommy Wright has done really well to hold onto him.

Liam Lindsay would have been the more fashionable 'diddy team' choice, but whilst he's developing into a very decent player I feel all the Scotland cap chat is a bit over the top.  Sviatchenko has been very solid but seems to have now dropped below Dedryck Boyata in the pecking-order at Parkhead.  It says something about Rangers' other defenders that Clint Hill, ace for me in a Championship Manager 99/00 game once, outplayed them this season despite turning 38 in October.

The midfield and attack will be up in a few days, when I've got the time.  And when I've decided who my central midfielders will be...

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just how rotten is Richie Foran's record?

It's five days since Caley Thistle's Highland Derby disaster.  Seven points adrift with four games to go, relegation is pretty much a certainty.  The performance in Dingwall was simply dreadful, with the side completely devoid of confidence, discipline or leadership.  Commentator Derek Rae later stated it reminded him of Dundee United at the end of last season, which is a pretty good comparison.

But despite that nightmare, which follows on from conceding four at Motherwell and three at home to St. Johnstone, and the current run of just one win in twenty-three league games since the end of October, Richie Foran seems to be remarkably immune.  Either the board have remarkable faith in him, or they are simply paralyzed by the horror of it all; regardless, it seems that he will remain in the dugout at least until safety is mathematically impossible.

But just for the record, how rotten has Foran's tenure been?  And how many other managers with such a poor record have lasted so long in a job?  Well, here's some food for thought.

Here are the twenty managers with the worst win percentage in Scotland's top flight since 1998-99, when the SPL era (and therefore all football) started.

PWDLFAPTSWin %Pts/gameFate
1Gerry CollinsPartick Thistle 2003140212123120.00%0.14Sacked
2Franck SauzeeHibernian 2001-021105681950.00%0.45Sacked
3Craig BrewsterDundee United 2006-0728211152756177.14%0.61Sacked
4Paul LambertLivingston 2005-062626181355127.69%0.46Resigned
5Barry SmithDundee 2012-1326351814461411.54%0.54Sacked
6Richie ForanInverness CT 2016-17344131736662511.76%0.74?
7Davie IronsGretna 2007-0825341822571312.00%0.52Resigned
8Eddie MayFalkirk 2009-1023381217361713.04%0.74Sacked
9Tommy CraigSt. Mirren 20141522111026813.33%0.53Sacked
10Allan PrestonLivingston 20041523101227913.33%0.60Sacked
11Jim McIntyreDunfermline 2011-1230471930661913.33%0.63Sacked
12Mick WadsworthGretna 20081324710261015.38%0.77Club went bust
13Terry ButcherHibernian 2013-1425481322372016.00%0.80Sacked
14John RobertsonLivingston 20061220101224616.67%0.50Managed club in division 1
15Billy StarkSt. Johnstone 2001-0230532219461816.67%0.60Managed club in division 1
16David HayDunfermline 2004-05356101928562817.14%0.80Sacked
17Steven PressleyFalkirk 20101535714211420.00%0.93Managed club in division 1
18Tom HendrieSt. Mirren 2000-0138862432723021.05%0.79Managed club in division 1
19John LambiePartick Thistle 2002-03388111937583521.05%0.92Retired
20Stephen KennyDunfermline 2006-0727661518392422.22%0.89Managed club in division 1

Some of those names bring back memories, and not good ones.  Gerry Collins and Franck Sauzee have become synonymous with failure, while it took a special level of incompetence to achieve what Brewster managed with Dundee United.  Paul Lambert of course went on to much better things in management but his spell with Livi was a disaster.  Barry Smith was on a hiding to nothing with a Dundee side who only ended up in the SPL because Rangers were chucked out.

Foran ranks sixth-worst.  Among those with better win percentages are Eddie May, Tommy Craig and Allan Preston.  Both the guys who managed Gretna during their march to liquidation have a better win percentage.  Even Terry Butcher's spell at Hibs wasn't as bad than this.

It's worth noting the Irishman is the only manager in the top 14 to last more than 30 Premiership games in charge.

What if we look at points per game instead?  Well, here's what we get.

PWDLFAPTSWin %Pts/gameFate
1Gerry CollinsPartick Thistle 2003140212123120.00%0.14Sacked
2Franck SauzeeHibernian 2001-021105681950.00%0.45Sacked
3Paul LambertLivingston 2005-062626181355127.69%0.46Resigned
4John RobertsonLivingston 20061220101224616.67%0.50Managed club in division 1
5Davie IronsGretna 2007-0825341822571312.00%0.52Resigned
6Tommy CraigSt. Mirren 20141522111026813.33%0.53Sacked
7Barry SmithDundee 2012-1326351814461411.54%0.54Sacked
8Allan PrestonLivingston 20041523101227913.33%0.60Sacked
9Billy StarkSt. Johnstone 2001-0230532219461816.67%0.60Managed club in division 1
10Craig BrewsterDundee United 2006-0728211152756177.14%0.61Sacked
11Jim McIntyreDunfermline 2011-1230471930661913.33%0.63Sacked
12Richie ForanInverness CT 2016-17344131736662511.76%0.74?
13Eddie MayFalkirk 2009-1023381217361713.04%0.74Sacked
14Mick WadsworthGretna 20081324710261015.38%0.77Club went bust
15Tom HendrieSt. Mirren 2000-0138862432723021.05%0.79Managed club in division 1
16Terry ButcherHibernian 2013-1425481322372016.00%0.80Sacked
17David HayDunfermline 2004-05356101928562817.14%0.80Sacked
18Stephen KennyDunfermline 2006-0727661518392422.22%0.89Managed club in division 1
19Jim LeishmanDunfermline 2005-065212112947884723.08%0.90Became General Manager
20John LambiePartick Thistle 2002-03388111937583521.05%0.92Retired

Aye, so it's not much better reading.  A high number of draws means that Foran 'improves' to twelfth, but look at the names above him.  It's still grim.  And again, no-one else with such a bad record lasted as long.

So, as regards the question "just how bad has Richie Foran's spell in charge of Caley Thistle been?", I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Worst Signings of the Premiership season (part 2)

Part 1, counting down from 25 to 11, can be found here

Right, here's the top ten.  And I'm well aware that you have all long since guessed who is at number one, but how about you humour me and read about the other nine first, huh?

Image result for miles storey aberdeen
It's easy to forget that Storey got into double figures for Caley Thistle last season...especially after his infamous miss against his former club recently.  Storey isn't the sort of centre-forward that Derek McInnes tends to use up front, nor is he accomplished enough on the wing to displace Niall McGinn or Jonny Hayes.  So he's spent most of the season sat on the bench, presumably wondering like the rest of us why the Dons signed him in the first place.

Image result for richard roy hamilton
I suppose this was a low risk, high reward signing, but stepping up from Trinidadian football to the Scottish Premiership was always going to be a bit of an ask for Richard Roy (who, just to add to the stereotype, really did go by the nickname Shaka).  He managed 21 minutes of action in 2 sub appearances, and found himself clean through in the latter, with Accies needing a goal against Kilmarnock.  He shot straight at the keeper, and was never seen again in Hamilton colours.  He was quietly let go in January when his short-term contract expired, and promptly pitched up at Broughty Athletic where he has scored 4 goals in the Juniors.  Perhaps that's more his level?

Image result for avlonitis hearts
For me, the worst of the plethora of January arrivals in Gorgie, though there was plenty of competition.  Avlonitis had been without a club since September but actually started okay, debuting in a thumping of Rangers and following that up with consecutive clean sheets.  It was all downhill from there; Hearts conceded 18 goals in his 7 most recent starts.  Not all of that is down to the Greek, but he doesn't look like he knows how to defend at all.  His biggest achievement has been to make fans at Tynecastle appreciate John Souttar more.

Image result for joe gormley st johnstone
Tommy Wright thought that the loan signing of his countryman Gormley was a bit of a coup; the striker had missed almost a year with a knee injury at Peterborough but prior to that was a goalscoring machine in Northern Ireland.  This was the man to lighten Steven MacLean's load, surely?  Not so; something was clearly up when he was subbed early in the second half of his debut, and he managed only one further sub appearance.  That something became apparent at the end of October, when he decided to quit football altogether due to being "disillusioned" (according to his parent club).  Having negotiated his release from both his Saints loan and his permanent deal with the Posh, he has reversed his decision and will rejoin old club Cliftonville next season.

Image result for callum mcfadzean kilmarnock
In mid-March Alfreton Town (who play in England's sixth tier, if you're asking) announced the signing of McFadzean, which was a surprise to most folk since Kilmarnock hadn't even mentioned that he'd left.  Mind you, they still haven't confirmed Michael N'goo's departure...When he arrived at Killie, McFadzean was a player who could do a job in defence or midfield, who some English League One experience and was part of Scotland's under-21 squad.  Not bad on paper.  He started a single league game and played one minute of first team football after mid-August, and for him to sign for a new club in March he presumably either left Rugby Park in January or had to join Alfreton on amateur terms.  Either way, it doesn't reflect well on player or club.

Image result for joe garner rangers
I imagine that Garner - or Joe Garner Booked, to give him his full name - scores a 20 for his 'winding the hell up out of everybody within a 20 mile radius' attribute on Football Manager.  Sadly his finishing attribute is nowhere near that.  At this level, a £1.5million striker should be well into double figures and a menace to any defence; Garner has five league goals so far.  He did manage a hat-trick against Accies in the cup, but only after inexplicably avoiding a red card for trying to amputate Dougie Imrie's foot.  If there is a single reason to justify forcing Mark Warburton out of Ibrox, it is probably blowing the entire transfer budget on a guy who wouldn't get a game for most English Championship clubs.  Still, Rangers fans have taken to him, in the same way that they took to the infamous Filip Sebo back in the day.

Image result for tony watt hearts
Some might say he's too high on this list, given he was a loan signing.  But it's just so disappointing to see such a natural fail to make the most of his abilities; this guy made a Scotland squad at the start of the season, after all.  There have always been concerns about Watt's attitude, but at first he put in a hell of a shift for the Jambos...but it always looked like he was trying to do too much on his own (to be fair, you can't blame him for having no confidence in his strike partner Connor Sammon).  But the performances dropped off a cliff and Ian Cathro quickly discarded him.  What now for Watt, still just 23 and back on Charlton Athletic's bench?

Image result for scott boden inverness
Boden's move to the Highlands was confirmed so soon after Richie Foran's appointment that one wonders whether it actually had John Hughes' fingerprints all over it.  In an ideal universe, a team who monopolized possession like Yogi's ICT might (note the italics) have been able to take advantage of a fox-in-the-box's skills.  Foran's direct style was no good to Boden, and the forward's inability to hold the ball up made him no use to Foran, who has subsequently signed four other strikers.  Despite making only sub appearances since August, Boden is still there, seeing out the first year of a three year contract.  Who knows, maybe he'll tear up the Championship next season after Caley Thistle are relegated...

Image result for senderos rangers
The world and his dog could see a mile off that Senderos would be crocked most of the time and hopeless when he actually played; Rangers had the Swiss on trial for so long before signing him that surely they could see that too?  And yet they signed him on a £12,000/week contract!  And parachuted him straight into an away game at Celtic Park.  His debut will go down in infamy; tortured by Moussa Dembele, he was eventually shown a second yellow card with 15 minutes to go, which to all the world looked like an attempt to remove himself from his personal nightmare.  He has made only three further appearances.  And, in case I forgot to mention it, he's getting twelve grand a week.

Image result for joey barton rangers
Let's face it, Barton is the clearest winner of the award we've ever had.  Rangers' marquee signing last summer on an estimated twenty grand per week, he boasted that he'd breeze through the Scottish Premiership but made only five league appearances, the last of which being the 5-1 thumping at Celtic Park where his lack of mobility was woefully exposed and he then had to spend the last 15 minutes filling in at centre-back.  Within days he'd been suspended after a training ground fight with a teammate, then in October he was charged with betting offences.  After returning to the club he was banished to train with the kids; he got signed off with stress, which Rangers were dopey enough to make public.  By November he had been paid to go away quietly, with rumours that the whole of his two year deal is being paid off.  Still, any publicity is good publicity, eh?