Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Power Of A Seagull


Your intrepid correspondent is away on a stag do this weekend and, inspired by a blog entry from 2011 (check the archives) has been asked by those attending to write up a betting preview, featuring many of the runners, riders and typical stag do shenanigans that can be written about without serious risk of libel

THE HURLING BY THE HORN AWARD - to be awarded to the first person to throw up (the start of the stag do will be considered the bus departure from deepest darkest Aberdeenshire). The fireball start puts Duguid (the stag), Brucey and Danny at an immediate disadvantage, while Lee could be in a perilous position depending on which way his bus seat faces
Duguid 7/2, Danny 5/1, Brucey 11/2, Lee 6/1, Rory 10/1, Shifty 12/1, Jamie 16/1, Pud 20/1, the field 33/1

THE NATHAN PETERMAN AWARD - to be awarded to the person whose weekend performance is considered the most shambolic. Given the level of punishment he's in line for, the stag simply has to feature prominently in this one, while Mr Friday Night Kyle has to be careful not to peak too soon
Kyle 3/1, Duguid 4/1, Shifty 11/2, Stu 8/1, Lee 10/1, Rory 12/1, Brucey 12/1, Jamie 20/1, either Malcolm brother 28/1, the field 33/1

THE JEFFREY DE VISSCHER AWARD - to be awarded to the first person to commit a non-specific act of public relief. Based on (alleged) previous actions, there are really only 2 realistic contenders here:
G 7/4, Pud 7/4 the field 10/1

THE BUGSY BROWN AWARD - to be awarded to the first person during the inevitable gentleman's club visit to take a dancer into a private booth
Brucey 6/4, Kyle 4/1, Lee 8/1, Jamie 12/1, Stu 16/1, Rory 20/1, Duguid 25/1, Shifty 40/1, the field 50/1

THE FRANK DREBIN AWARD FOR POTENTIAL ARREST - hat tip to my boy Brucey for supplying some background here. While obviously everyone hopes for some well-behaved, good, clean fun this weekend, this "award" is on the off-chance anyone manages to find themselves on the wrong side of the law. I've been told "Dave has fire-starting tendencies, Ryan is potentially a KGB spy and Lee is an outlaw who makes his own rules", while Pud in a bar called Blackie Boy is just asking for trouble
Any member to be arrested 20/1

THE TED DIBIASE AWARD - to be awarded to the person who has the most profitable day at the Fighting Fifth race day at Newcastle on Saturday. Like many of the races, this one is wide open. Keen students of the form of the fillies G and Shifty will fancy their chances of witnessing some strong rides, while a big-priced outsider could easily come away with a result
G 5/1, Shifty 6/1, Brucey 13/2, Pud 8/1, Duguid 9/1, Kyle 11/1, Danny 12/1, Lee 14/1, Rory 20/1, Jamie 25/1, the field 33/1

THE FRANK MCAVENNIE AWARD - to be awarded to any of the Dons fans planning an early departure on Sunday morning in order to make it to Hampden failing to make it
Any of the members planning it failing to make it 7/2

THE TONY STARK AWARD - to be awarded to the general Man of Steel of the weekend
G 4/1, Jamie 9/2, Danny 5/1, Pud 11/2, Rory 8/1, Doug 10/1, Stokesy 11/1, Shifty 12/1, Lee 14/1, Brucey 20/1, Stu 25/1, the field 33/1, Duguid 5000/1

Some sort of follow-up may or may not follow next week

Monday, 19 February 2018

Austin Backlash 2000


Let's give this blog some attention again (and hopefully get it up in time for Go 8 Bit), and we'll start with an old favourite (naturally). Grand National weights were unveiled (eventually) last week, so what better place to start than by having an early gander at a few of the likely contenders. It does feel a bit like cheating to pick out the 3rd favourite in a 40 runner handicap, but Cause Of Causes surely has a massive chance. He should warm up in style with a big run in the fabulously bonkers Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham next month and isn't unduly burdened with the sort of weight the 2 market leaders Total Recall and Blaklion have to contend with (although the latter is likely to go close again after placing last year). A bit further down the weights, Regal Encore should enter calculations after winning at Ascot on Saturday, while I'm sure Carole's Destrier was on my long list last year but can't remember why, so you'll have to trust me on that one

From one 40-runner sporting institution where just about anyone can win and carnage is never far away to another: last night saw the NASCAR season start with the Daytona 500. Based on what we've seen so far, one story we're likely to hear a lot of is the emergence of Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr, the first NASCAR African-American driver in a generation. Somewhere in North Carolina, series bosses are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee after Wallace's highly impressive run to finish 2nd last night (indeed, he's already landed a new sponsor for this weekend's race in Atlanta). It could quite easily be argued that he was the true star of the race, ahead of the unfortunate long-time leader Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon, who won the race with a rather crude last-lap move on Aric Almirola. After the relative insanity of Daytona, expect a somewhat more routine race at Atlanta's 1.5 mile intermediate track, which based on last season's form means a victory for Martin Truex Jr

Staying with 4 wheeled matters, that new Red Bull RB14 livery looks a bit snazzy, eh? Officially, it's supposedly only an interim livery, however let's see what a few positive tweets will do to that plan. Obviously the main blot aesthetically on all the cars this year is the halo- it's something of a shame that F1 is (or at least has been) so reluctant to learn from (and even acknowledge the existence of) other series, as Indycar are developing the much better looking Aeroscreen as a means of cockpit protection (and they very much are developing it- it won't be hitting the track until it's been properly tested and tweaked as required)

Great to see Marco Reus back playing for Borussia Dortmund, and scoring a lovely goal at Gladbach on Sunday, after an injury layoff of no less than 259 days (that's nothing, we've been away 432 days- Ed)

England's representatives in the Champions League may have all enjoyed success last week, however don't expect that trend to continue this week. Barcelona should see off a malfunctioning Chelsea comfortably over 2 legs, and can claim a first leg victory tomorrow night- you'll get a shade over even money with most decent bookies. Manchester United face Sevilla on Wednesday and despite Sevilla's porous defence, don't expect Jose Mourinho to let United off the leash in the first leg- under 2.5 goals is the call here at around 8/11- a helter-skelter goal-laden encounter is about as appealing to Mourinho as a free pizza is to Connor Sammon


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

She Should Have Died Hereafter

Wellity wellity. No Simpsons quote or metal lyric for the title today. There may not be any training sessions for me to pull off this laptop, but let's ramble on about a few issues anyway

So still no news regarding whose derriere shall be filling the 2nd Mercedes for 2017, although it seems we can whittle down the shortlist further still from where we were this time last week; it would be a major surprise if the seat was occupied by someone other than Valtteri Bottas or Pascal Wehrlein, both of whom were discussed on here last time

Were Mercedes faced with a straight choice based purely on who'd be more likely to get the better results on-track in 2017, one would tend to lean towards the laconic Finn Bottas (are there any non-laconic Finns out there? I'm struggling to think of one) thanks to his greater experience (the true money-no-object, free-of-contractual-obligations choice would actually be Max Verstappen, however that's not a realistic proposition right now. Someone at Mercedes might make the call, though, just to tick a box). Relative to Wehrlein, though, his contractual situation is far more complicated than first seems. While Mercedes junior Wehrlein obviously currently has no deal in place for 2017, Bottas is not only tied into his own contract for 2017, but he's also supposedly a key part of a number of other Williams deals, including their title sponsor. With 18 year old Lance Stroll (more on him later) in 1 car, Williams need an experienced driver in their lead car for numerous reasons on and off the circuit (they simply cannot rely on Stroll to be a regular, consistent points scorer from Melbourne even with his considerable not-so-secret testing miles from this year, and Martini can't use someone who's not old enough to drink their products in many countries to promote them).

On Stroll, there's no escaping the fact that his place in Team Willy is at least partially due to the not entirely unconnected truck full of cash (pictured below) that has been sent their way courtesy of Mr Lawrence Stroll. It would also greatly aid his development were he to be paired with an experienced driver whose setup he could nick as and when required- it would also help with expectation management, as nobody expects Stroll to consistently beat Bottas, whereas if he were routinely trounced by a fellow rookie, it might hurt the poor lad's feelings. It's quite fitting, though, that he's picked 18 as his driver number- not only is it his age, it'll also make for a smooth transition for a couple of years down the line when he's renting a drive from Dale Coyne

Elsewhere on the grid, the 3 remaining seats (2x Manor, 1 Sauber/Team Ericsson) almost certainly won't all be filled until the 2nd Mercedes seat is filled (Wehrlein will almost certainly end up in 1 of the 4). All 3 seats will primarily be determined by the size of the bag of wonga the driver can bring. Esteban Gutierrez may have burned his bridges at Sauber after his previous stint (and he's certainly done so with Haas this year) but assuming he's still in Carlos Slim's good books, he could land himself one of the Manor seats. The prospects for Felipe Nasr (not to be confused with Felipe Massa- that's literally the first line of his Wikipedia entry), however, look less promising, as he's lost his Banco do Brasil backing, and in 2 years with Sauber didn't outperform Marcus Ericsson by a sufficient manner to warrant a move further up the grid. Perhaps he's destined to be this decade's version of Pedro Diniz - well-backed, semi-competent lower end of midfield runner who disappeared from view as soon as the sponsors' cheques dried up

Not yet sure what to make of Arsenal centre back Gabriel. Give me a little more time

There's been no shortage of howling (at the moon?) recently about possible Russian influence in the recent presidential election. If (and given the lack of any actual evidence it's a sizeable if) true, then manipulating an event as relatively trivial as the World Cup (being played on their own patch no less) is surely within their capabilities. Therefore, even accounting for the fact that Leicester City have broken ante-post gambling, the 40/1 currently available on them to win their own tournament is worth a sniff


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

They Didn't Have Lord Huggington?


As if 2016 hadn't seen enough uncertainty, newly crowned World Champion Nico Rosberg decided he'd lob some more of it into the 2017 F1 driver market by announcing his retirement. therefore, as advertised in this week's Autosport magazine (no, really) there's a vacant cockpit next to Lewis Hamilton for next season, which seemed as good an excuse as any to jolt this bad boy back into life and have a looksee at some of the likely (and less likely- I'm looking at you, Fernando) contenders for the drive, factoring in not just driver capabilities, but also their relative levels of availability

Certainly the most "available" of all the contenders (without a 2017 drive locked in anywhere and part of the Mercedes junior programme) and has already tested for the team (and, not insignificantly, on the larger 2017 tyres), Wehrlein had a very good first half of 2016 with Manor, blowing away rent-a-ride Rio Haryanto (who obviously won't be part of the Merc discussions, but may yet reappear somewhere on the grid in 2017) and scoring the team's only point in Austria. However, when fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon (more on him later) took over from Haryanto, Wehrlein suddenly found himself with a much stronger team-mate, who ended up showing him the way home by the end of the season and indeed earning a considerable move up the grid next season to Force India- it's understood Force India had their pick of the 2, and opted for Ocon- given his availability, one can't help but feel the longer the seat remains vacant, the less likely it is that Wehrlein will fill the cockpit, as there's no other loose ends that need tying up. Wehrlein does tick many of the boxes, and even if he doesn't land the grand prize of the Mercedes drive, the ensuing market upheaval should land him in an F1 seat somewhere for 2017

Has the advantage over Wehrlein in terms of experience and only has 1 year left on his Williams contract (and unlikely to be earning close to Rosberg/Hamilton money there), so while obviously not as completely available as Wehrlein, it's hardly unthinkable that he could be available, particularly given the presence in his management of one T Wolff (yes, that one). However, he's not exactly been blowing away a winding-down Felipe Massa over the last 3 years in what has admittedly been a poor car and probably wouldn't be a huge threat to Hamilton and while at 27 is hardly a veteran, he's perhaps not seen as having the development potential of some of the other contenders. His departure would also leave Williams in a potentially very weak position, with 18-year-old Lance Stroll making his debut for them in 2017, although turning down the advances of their engine supplier may leave them in an awkward position further down the line, although running Wehrlein for a year could help placate Lauda and Wolff

Another Mercedes junior, won European F3 (beating Max Verstappen along the way) in 2014 and GP3 in 2015. Graduated to F1 with Manor midway through 2016 and before long was matching (and beating) Wehrlein (was particularly impressive in challenging conditions in Brazil), to such an extent that he's landed a very decent drive for 2017 with Force India where (assuming he doesn't land the grand prize) he should give Sergio Perez a very hard time indeed. Has that Force India contract for 2017 (possibly longer) but said contract does supposedly have a release clause should Wolff and Lauda come calling- Force India could easily be compensated through a combination of money off their (considerable) Mercedes engine bill and/or the services of Wehrlein. Has arguably shown more in F1 than Wehrlein- not bad for a kid who was driving a touring car 6 months ago. Whatever happens, this guy is going to be worth watching in 2017

We'll keep this one short- not going to happen. Alonso has a redonkulously big contract with McLaren which, even if the team were willing to break (and they're not) Mercedes simply have not budgeted for. It's important to factor in the wider context here- a few weeks ago Mercedes announced they were reducing the number of cars they were fielding in DTM from 8 to 6. They'll have budgeted for 2017 some time ago and, if anything, will be minded to reduce the expenditure that they had budgeted for Rosberg's salary (which was said to be considerably less than that of Alonso and Vettel, for that matter). And that's before we consider how McLaren would fill the hole that would create alongside their new number 2 Stoffel Vandoorne (that's not his status, it's his new driver number)

Never mind not available, Kimi probably doesn't even know yet that Rosberg has retired. After the final race, Kimi traditionally embarks on a 2-month long period of vodka-induced hibernation in the far north of Finland, and then about a week before the first test of 2017, Ferrari send an enormous vat of coffee to sober him up in time to get impressively close to Vettel. Allegedly

All the "big" names are under contract, therefore making any bid to extract a Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren driver extremely costly. Carlos Sainz has been mentioned, and is a vastly under-rated driver with little immediate prospect of a promotion from Toro Rosso to the senior Red Bull squad, but Renault have already had an approach for his services rejected- if Horner and Marko are prepared to rebuff their own engine supplier, what chance have Mercedes got? Neither Jenson Button nor Felipe Massa are likely to be coming out of retirement (and, frankly, neither delivered performances in 2016 that would merit being rewarded with such a drive). These are far from ideal circumstances for Mercedes- they've also got to hedge against the possibility of Hamilton himself retiring should he secure another title, to pursue his hip-hop career (or whatever it is that he does), and they also need someone who can push him for results now

Your move, Toto


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Oh My God, We're Back Again

In a strange coincidence (honest) this post, like the last one, is being made amidst intense speculation regarding the Manchester United manager's job. But we'll leave that to one side and instead look forward to Euro 2016 (no promises about big long mahoosive detailed guides to each team)

As regular readers (both of you) will know, we do enjoy looking for some outsider bets, so let's have a look at some of those further down the Top Scorer betting odds (as well as a few ramblings about the tournament itself):

With this being possibly his last major international tournament (certainly his final Euros), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (33/1) might never have a better chance to claim a tournament Golden Boot. He spearheads a Sweden side that features plenty of young talent to supply him (watch out for Jimmy Durmaz cutting in from the flanks) and they should progress from a Group E which features a talented Belgium side missing their best centre-back, a deeply uninspiring Italy side (potentially with gaping holes in its central midfield) and a frankly rotten Ireland side, so he should easily get amongst the goals early on before progression to a potentially winnable Round of 16 game (more on that later)

It's safe to assume that Germany will go some way into the tournament, thereby rendering any number of their players as possible contenders. Rather than the obvious Muller/Reus/Gomez/Ozil (all the very best in your retirement, Miroslav Klose) shouts (all of whom after busy club seasons are likely to be rotated at some point), it's worth instead having a small wager on Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder Karim Bellarabi (80/1), who could force his way into Jogi Loew's starting XI with a place on the right flank likely to be available if Muller plays centrally in Mario Gotze's absence

And because any article on here featuring betting tips wouldn't be complete without a >100/1 shot, Group D is exceptionally wide open behind Spain (and perhaps even including them- this is still largely the same side that looked so lethargic in Brazil 2 years ago, a tournament also immediately preceded by an all-Madrid Champions League final), thus any number of players could rack up a few goals. Worth a punt in that regard is Turkey's leading marksman Burak Yilmaz (125/1), as prolific as anyone on his day and with a very decent selection of attacking midfielders behind him

How's everyone getting on with their Euro 2016 sticker books, by the way? About 70% completed over here. Most importantly, Liam Boyce has been acquired (although still a long way short on shinies. Get in touch for swapsies)

Hosts France suffered a significant blow today with the news that Raphael Varane will miss the tournament (possibly to spend more time with his brothers Donatello, Leonardo and Michaelangelo), with Sevilla's Adil Rami called up as a replacement. This leaves Didier Deschamps with 2 likely central defensive partnerships: Laurent Koscielny and Jeremy Mathieu (downside: slow and inexperienced) or Koscielny with Eliaquim Mangala (downside: features Eliaquim Mangala). They should still easily top their group though (with Romania, Switzerland and Albania likely to play out some dreary, low-scoring affairs between themselves)

Finally, one can't help but wonder what Portugal will be thinking going into their final Group F game with Hungary in Lyon on June 22nd. A win will most likely see them top the group, setting up a Round of 16 clash with Group E's runner up (almost certainly Sweden, Belgium or Italy), while any other result could leave them in 2nd place, setting up a clash with the 2nd placed team from Group B (likely to be Russia- that group finishes on the 20th). One can't help but think the latter assignment could be the more appealing


Monday, 21 December 2015

Almost As Intense As the Time Peter Forgot How To Sit Down

After an extended period of this blog being dormant, it was always likely to take something big for that to change, something like, ooh, a potential change of manager at Manchester United?

The situation is, of course, fluid, but let's go back to Friday, December 5. An inebriated Ed Woodward (your daily reminder that, yes, the Chief Executive of Manchester United really is called Edward Woodward) takes Fleet Street's finest out for a few drinks, and proceeds to tell all concerned that Van Gaal is considered a "genius", that the job is his as long as he wants it, and doesn't rule out the option of his contract being extended beyond its current end in 2017. Yet a mere 4 games later, said press pack is practically baying for his blood, and seems convinced their view is shared at board level- without wishing to dwell on it, one has to re-iterate that, for reasons unknown, the media really don't like Louis Van Gaal. Want some evidence? Look at how most non-English managers get quoted during their press conferences, then read a report on a Van Gaal one. Journalists are usually kind enough to their subjects to tidy up the sort of minor grammatical, subtle errors they naturally make in a foreign language, a luxury that they don't afford Van Gaal. Anyway, moving on to the main question- will he actually be sacked? And who would replace him?

The Glazers are based in the USA and delegate the entirety of the day-to-day running of the club to Woodward (who works out of MUFC's commercial offices in London. Yes, really). There will be input from Sir Alex Ferguson (still trousering in excess of £2 million per annum from the club for a largely ceremonial ambassador role) and Sir Bobby Charlton (both of whom objected to the potential appointment of Jose Mourinho in 2013) and the 6 Glazers themselves (Malcolm having died in 2014), but the final decision will ultimately be Woodward's. He's a physics graduate with a background in mergers & acquisitions activity and not what one would normally call a "football man", so the current complaints about the playing style under Van Gaal will not bother him or the Glazers one iota, so long as the money keeps rolling in- remember back to 2014, when David Moyes was only sacked when Champions League football the following season became mathematically impossible. This is a board of cautious bean counters looking to protect their investment and dreaming of yet another new bumper TV deal, not a bunch of football fans wanting to be entertained every Saturday and dreaming of silverware in May.

The financial situation is key here. The headline figure of £250 million of spending under Van Gaal is technically accurate, however it tells far from the full story. A number of high earning, experienced players have been moved on from the club over the last 18 months, with the vast majority of new signings being young, on relatively low wages and with significant potential resale value, a point Van Gaal himself effectively admitted when announcing the signing of Anthony Martial. It's worth also noting that the Glazers were fully prepared to sell David De Gea to Real Madrid on transfer deadline day to leave United with only Sergio Romero and Sam Johnstone as senior goalkeepers, Van Gaal having effectively jettisoned Victor Valdes. In terms of the criteria given to him by the board, Van Gaal isn't actually failing- commercial revenue is ever increasing, the average age (and wage bill) of the squad is dramatically lower than it was when he took the job and a top 4 finish is still well within United's reach (it's far from inconceivable that one or more of the 4 teams currently above United in the league may not maintain that position) even, as seems overwhelmingly likely, without reinforcements arriving in January.

Which brings us to the question of, if he goes, who would replace him. The widely touted favourite (and, to go back to my earlier point, media darling) Jose Mourinho is of course now available. Well, sort of. Mourinho only signed a new 4 year contract with Chelsea in August- he'll be paid that contract in full until its expiry in 2019 or he takes another managerial role. Therefore, in order to appoint him now, the board (who would need to seek the approval of Ferguson and Charlton, who overlooked him in 2013) would need to pay up the remaining 18 months of Van Gaal's contract (just days after publicly signalling their willingness to extend it), offer Mourinho a better contract than his existing Chelsea one and no doubt agree to give Mourinho an expansive "transfer war chest", along with carte blanche to ignore the club's preference of signing (and developing) younger players with resale value. All of these actions simply do not tie in with the behaviour we have witnessed from the Glazers during their ownership of the club, a 10 year period during which they have taken over £1 billion out of the club.

Let's briefly also touch on another potential replacement, Ryan Giggs. What works in his favour is that he's already on the payroll, and has (briefly) done the job before. However, given his current role as Van Gaal's assistant, he's either being completely over-ruled and/or ignored by Van Gaal, or he's complicit in United's current playing style (or lack of it).

It's clear that there are serious issues at Manchester United right now. However, as much as Louis Van Gaal has erred (not that he'd ever admit it), it is important to remember the constraints under which he operates- the frankly larcenous nature of the Glazers' ownership of the club doesn't get anywhere near enough scrutiny. Which is, of course, exactly the way they want it, and allows them to sit back and watch as Van Gaal is portrayed as the scapegoat.

Personally? I'd rather stick with Van Gaal for now- in a stick or twist situation like this, the cautious play is generally preferred. At 64 he's not the long-term, legacy option- but then again, neither is Jose Mourinho (look through his career history- the drop-off of his teams in his 3rd year is staggering). The nature of the league this season is such that a credible finish is still very much achievable, maybe even a cup too. The summer of 2016 will see numerous changes in management at many of the top clubs, at which point, should one or both parties feel a change is required, they will both have the maximum number of options available


Saturday, 1 August 2015

There's No Mistake, I Smell That Smell

Gadzooks! It's almost time for the season to start again (although with the European "Under 21" Championship, the Copa America and an Eastern European pre-season adventure with my beloved Staggies, it doesn't much feel like I've had a break). With that in mind, here's what to expect (or not) in the SPFL Premiership this season (also, if you want some EPL fantasy football action, join our free league at fantasy.premierleague.com with code 738646-183823):

Celtic will win the thing. There, I said it

Aberdeen will once again finish 2nd, quite some way ahead of the rest but still some way off Celtic. Manager Derek McInnes didn't really need to change a successful team much, with Danny Ward and Graeme Shinnie providing the only necessary upgrades at goalkeeper and left-back respectively, and Paul Quinn (which incidentally means they signed the captains of both Inverness CT and Ross County) useful cover across the back line

Next up could well be St Johnstone. There may be more exciting teams in the league than Tommy Wright's battle-hardened bunch of thirtysomethings but they're a well-organised, disciplined mob with some decent wingers and, in the cumbersome but effective John Sutton, a proven goalscorer at this level. Young keeper Zander Clark impressed on loan at Queen of the South last season, and will provide genuine competition for regular number 1 Alan Mannus

One of those more exciting teams could be Dundee United, who were quite the Jekyll and Hyde proposition last season- spellbinding at times in the first half of the season, but utterly recalcitrant from January onwards, Jackie McNamara undoubtedly has some talented youngsters to develop before selling them to Celtic (taking a cut for himself in the process), but serious questions remain over them as a defensive unit (somewhat bizarre given McNamara's playing career as a sturdy full-back). That cost them last season and could do so again

Next up- don't be surprised if Ross County make an appearance in the top 6. Since arriving at the Global Energy For Make Benefit Glorious Republic of Ross-Shire Stadium, manager Jim McIntyre has transformed the Staggies into a direct, adventurous outfit. He has stuck with the County tradition of signing half a new team each transfer window, with this summer's most noteworthy additions being the impossibly blonde centre-back (and new captain) Andrew Davies, the Brobdingnagian centre-forward Brian Graham, the magnificent flowing locks of all-action Aussie Jackson Irvine, and Amy MacDonald's boyfriend

Where, you, ask, does that leave Hearts? One has to wonder, with a squad comprising many of the same players Gary Locke led to relegation 2 seasons ago, just how good Robbie Neilson's side really are, given how even a wretched Motherwell side comfortably dispatched with Rangers (2012-) to demonstrate the significant gulf between the Premiership and the Championship, and how the Jambos themselves were gubbed in both cup competitions by Celtic last season. A top 6 finish should be theirs, but that could be as far as they get in their first season back in the top flight

It'll be a close run thing with the 2 (or maybe even 3) teams directly above them, but Dundee could be the ones to narrowly miss out on a top 6 place. Manager Paul Hartley has again raided the lower leagues and has made some astute signings- Kevin Holt and Rory Loy should cope with the step up, although they do have a real lack of width, which could cost them points against the stuffier defences of the league

Another team set to be involved in the scrap for the top 6 are Inverness CT. Last season's Scottish Cup win covered up something of a drop-off in John Hughes' side's league results after the sale of Billy McKay- it remains to be seen if he, or captain Graeme Shinnie (or indeed the pacey Marley Watkins), have been adequately replaced

Let's file Motherwell and Kilmarnock together in 9th and 10th. Stayed up last season despite having a wholly unconvincing manager (Ian Baraclough and the Bonnyrigg Bielsa, Gary Locke)? Check. Have this summer re-signed a club legend portly centre-forward lethal in the 6 yard box but useless outside it (David Clarkson and Kris Boyd)? Check. A decent crop of youngsters who should get some game time? Check. Killie might have the edge come the season's end owing to having a goalkeeper who is competent (Jamie MacDonald) rather than the calamitous Dan Twardzik, but both are likely to be mired in the bottom 6 for the duration of the season

I really hope Kingsley isn't reading this, as I'm tipping Partick Thistle for 11th place. There was good news for the Jags today, as they completed the signing of Pogba: unfortunately for Kingsley and co, it's Mathias Pogba, the older, journeyman striker brother of the Juventus superstar. Key men such as goalkeeper Scott Fox, the under-rated rampaging full-back Stephen O'Donnell, the Brilliant When He Can Be Arsed Kallum Higginbotham and Lyle Taylor have all departed leaving Alan Archibald's squad looking a tad thin- he'll have to rely on youngsters to cover in certain positions, most notably at the back

That leaves us with Hamilton Accies finishing 12th, which looks plausible given the dramatic in their form after losing both manager Alex Neil and top scorer Tony Andreu to Norwich mid-season. Neil has at least sent them young striker Carlton Morris on loan, where he will be competing for a place with the rotund Christian Nade, who wasn't exactly a standout for Championship mid-tablers Raith Rovers last season- why manager Martin Canning believes he'll be able to find the net on a regular basis in a higher league is anyone's guess. At least he won't have lost any pace- he never had any to begin with!


Monday, 20 April 2015

Tom Keen (Number 7)

Yeah, about those Grand National tips......

Time to get back to what I actually know, and leave the nags for about 10 months (5 furlong dashes over the flat doesn't interest me nearly as much):

Obligatory Champions League Quarter Final 2nd Leg Previews
The Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon was a predictably scrappy affair (going 7 matches without beating your neighbours tends to do that to you, eh Mr Ancelotti?), with the No Disqualifications Match between Mario Mandzukic and Sergio Ramos proving an amusing side story, even if there was a suspicion Mandzukic may have bladed after catching Ramos' stray fingernail. They reconvene in the Emirati Oil Company Bernabeu (laugh now, but it's happening) on Wednesday with both sides hit by injuries and suspension- factoring in this, Diego Simeone's side's record in this game, and the standard bookies' overpricing of Atletico, 13/8 on Atletico to qualify is the call here (as is 9/2 on Monaco to qualify in Wednesday's other game)

He May Talk The Talk, But Jose Will Never Walk The Walk
Chelsea's youth team won the UEFA youth league last week, and they contest the 1st leg of the FA youth cup tonight. Jose Mourinho has spent some time this season talking up the progress being made by the club's academy, but how has this translated into actual minutes on the park for these players? It, er, hasn't. Witness the last 2 league games, where due to not-exactly-unpredictable injuries to Diego Costa and Loic Remy, Mourinho has deployed the geriatric Didier Drogba in attack. Lo and behold, in both games, Drogba's contribution has been, as one would expect from a 93-year-old centre-forward, minimal, especially past the 60 minute mark. And has Maureen deigned to use young strikers from the bench like Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke? Of course not. By way of comparison, it's interesting to note that 19 year olds Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw were arguably Manchester United's best players on Saturday. Amazing what happens when you actually trust them, eh Jose?

Welcome Back, GP2
The hidden gem of the Sky Sports F1 channel, the GP2 Series started again in Bahrain this weekend, with all the fun, overtaking, and Sergio Canamasas crashing into people that we've come to expect from F1's main support series. Pre-season favourite, McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne duly lived up to expectations, recording pole position, the race win and fastest lap in Saturday's feature race, following it up with a 2nd place in Sunday's sprint race. As ever in single-make formulae, he's unlikely to have it all his own way, though: likely contenders include Alexander Rossi, who finally has a good seat at Racing Engineering after a patchy 2014, and scored a feature race podium. Honourable mention, too, for his team-mate Jordan King, who was just behind him in the feature race before having the misfortune to be run into by the ever-dangerous Sergio Canamasas. Ferrari-affiliated youngster Raffaele Marciello, meanwhile, is making a play for Unluckiest GP2 Driver. After numerous instances of bad luck last season, his 2015 started with gearbox issues during qualifying, before being taken out of the feature race by Norman Nato, effectively ruining his weekend. If this guy can catch a break, he's sure to challenge Vandoorne, who should also face a greater challenge from the other side of his ART garage, with Nobuharu Matsushita taking to the series much more quickly than 2014 pilot Takuya Izawa, scoring points in both races


Friday, 10 April 2015

Rollins! Rollins Wins the Title!

It's almost here, folks- the Grand National!

As tradition dictates, let's go through a couple of general pointers, along with some of the possible contenders:

It Pays To Go Each-Way
I'm going to assume that, if you're reading this blog, you know what's meant by each way, but with so many horses in with a chance of at least placing, and so many runners at biggish prices, it really is worthwhile covering yourself by going each way on your runner(s). Scout around for the bookies offering 5 (and even 6) places, as well as scouting around for the best prices (we'll touch on that again later)

Beat The Crowd- Get Your Bets On Early
The casual punters will all be in your local Ladbrokes or Hills on Saturday morning, and their flood of fivers and tenners will only send the prices downwards, diminishing your returns (although the disappearance from this year's race of Shakalakaboomboom does mean there's no risk of the Ooh, Let's Pick Him Because He has A Funny Name LOLZ crowd adversely impacting on a horse's price). With the final declaration stage having been Thursday (once all the horses had been to the horse dentist), get in there quickly after that to get your runners (because you're taking more than 1; come on, there's 40 horses in the field!) at the best available price. Remember and shop around for the best prices, too- consult Oddschecker to compare bookies and their odds and offers

The Runners (well, some of them)
We'll not get through all 40 of them, but let's start from the top of the betting

The 7/1 favourite and mount of AP McCoy in his final ever Grand National- it's worth looking elsewhere for value, though. Won the 2014 Irish Grand National, however that's not really proved a springboard for horses to go on to greater things, and hasn't been seen since triumphing over a middling field over 3m 1/2f at Carlisle in November- 8 year olds have a poor record here, too

5th in last year's running of this race, there's every chance the 10/1 2nd favourite could place again this year, having romped a warm-up race at Kempton. 9 years old and coming into his prime for Paul Nicholls, very much one to consider despite carrying plenty of weight

Romped a competitive handicap at Cheltenham last month, which saw his price for this tumble from 33/1 into its current 12/1. His jumping was fluent in that, plus he appeared to have plenty in hand, and goes off a decent weight in this. Concerns are over his stamina (has never won over more than 3m 6f) and his age (it's 13 years since an 8 year old won this), but if he can stay clear of trouble early on he's got a real chance

Given a new bad-ass attitude, show him some latitude and you'll win his gratitude. Unfortunately hasn't made the cut for this year's running, due mainly to the fact that the Springfield Derby doesn't count as a qualifying race
Image result for Furious D

A real mudlark who has experience round these fences before, finishing 7th here last year under a similar weight and a former Welsh National winner. Unlikely to get the ground he needs, though, and while he should stay the distance, there's faster horses in the race over the distance

Last year's winner lines up again aiming to become the first horse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals since 1974. He's had a low-key build up to this year's run, just as last year, under Dr Richard Newland. Now 12 years old (it's 11 years since a horse that age triumphed here) and carrying 8lbs more than last year, you'd fancy him to have a decent chance of getting round again, but will probably be outpaced by others

The real veteran of this race at 14 years old, he has a tremendous record in this race, placing 2nd in 2011 and 4th in 2013, as well as winning the Becher Chase at Aintree back in December. Were he any younger than 14 (nothing that age has won since 1853) then the 50/1 currently available on him would be genuinely outstanding- as it is, while he should run well for a while, he may just be found wanting at the end

Hugely unlucky in both 2013 and 2014, where loose horses hampered him when leading onto the 2nd circuit- was unfortunate again at Cheltenham when brought down by another horse. This year sees him carrying less weight than both his previous 2 Grand National attempts- he's also fond of front-running, so may be worth backing for a bit of interest in the 1st half of the race- stamina won't be far off, and he's surely due a change of luck

An interesting 100/1 outsider. Was in decent form before Christmas before a slightly disappointing showing at Haydock in February- when you're only 4th in a race won by Harry the Viking, something's not right. Has demonstrated he's a decent stayer, but it would be a big ask for his jumping to hold up over 30 fences in a 40 horse field

There you have (some of) it, folks. Enjoy the big race

Image result for mutual of omicron

Sunday, 8 March 2015

And If You Don't Love Me Now, You Will Never Love Me Again

A big sporting week is coming up: there's some Champions League last 16 action, the Formula 1 Chasing After Mercedes season gets underway, but most importantly, there's The Greatest Show on Turf, Cheltenham!

2 types of tips for y'all. First off, some general pointers on how to get the best out of this week:
  • Shop around for the best bookies. They're all queuing up with special offers and free bets to get your custom. Take care to read the full terms and conditions, though- generally, there'll be a promo code to enter, or your first bet will need to be of a certain size and/or price
  • Shop around for the best prices. It's well worth taking up a few of the offers above and having accounts with different bookies in order to be best placed to take advantage of any differences in price- we'll get to tips for the individual races shortly, but in the opening race, Tuesday's Supreme Novices Hurdle, Shaneshill is currently priced at 10/1 with some firms, and 12/1 with others- that's a £20 difference to your return off a £10 bet
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Don't blow everything on the 1st day. You can top up your budget with the myriad of free bets and enhancements that are out there. There's 27 races across 4 days, so there'll be plenty to get your teeth into- don't feel compelled to bet on every single race
  • Have a look at the previous runnings of each race. Certain races, such as Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase, have tended to be dominated by the favourites, while others such as the Supreme Novices Hurdle, have been something of a graveyard for the market leaders
  • Play the long game. The Grand National weights have been announced, and the field for Aintree is starting to take shape. Many of the runners will be in action at Cheltenham this week, so keep a close eye on any horses in action this week to get some pointers regarding their chances next month
Now, for some actual tips:
  • On the opening day, all the current talk is regarding trainer Willie Mullins, and his 4 favourites in the Supreme Novices Hurdle (Douvan, 7/4), Arkle (Un De Sceaux, 8/13), Champion Hurdle (Faugheen, 5/4) and the Mares Hurdle (Annie Power, 8/13). There are numerous specials out there on just how many of them will triumph (Bet Victor have a particularly enticing one), but personally, I'll be backing only the latter 2
  • It's AP McCoy's last ever visit as a jockey to Cheltenham- there will no doubt be plenty of media attention on him and anything he mounts. That, however, can often erode any value in backing him- don't be tricked into backing mediocre horses just because of the name on its saddle
  • The impressive Champagne Fever goes on Wednesday in the Queen Mother Champion Chase- back him to win at 6/1 with Paddy Power
  • The big showpiece event of the week is of course the Gold Cup on Friday- the class of the field appears to be Silviniaco Conti, who gave a very encouraging showing in last year's running, only to finish 4th. He's arguably in even better form this year after romping home against much of this field in the King George, and can be backed at a best price of 10/3


Friday, 27 February 2015

You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

Welcome back, dear readers

Maureen's Meltdown
So, Jose Mourinho decides to pop up on Goals on Sunday for a little rant. Had "The Special One" lost it? Nope, the exact opposite. Indeed, he probably had it scripted on the autocue (close your eyes, give Jose a Jewish New Yorker accent and you'd think you were listening to a Paul Heyman promo). This was classic Maureen, attempting to create a siege mentality, us-against-the-world mindset in his dressing room. "Look at the lengths I've gone to in public to defend you guys", he'll be telling his players. "Look at the loyalty I've shown you. I expect the same back". It's a mindset that can, and has, delivered Maureen some incredible success, but backfired spectacularly when he tried the same schtick at Real Madrid- it's difficult to portray the world as being against you when you're at one of the biggest clubs in the world, that demands success but at the same time has underlying honourable traditions to defend. But there's no way that his rant was timed deliberately to take media attention away from the altogether less pleasant news story that has engulfed Chelsea FC in the last week. Oh no. Absolutely not

Stand Back, There's A Harry Kane Coming
With a total of 24 goals in all competitions so far this season, it's no surprise to hear chat that Harry Kane will be included in the next England squad. However, with the dearth of top quality, experienced players available to Roy (was gonna go with Woy, but decided against a speech impediment joke) Hodgson, Kane probably won't be the only previously unheralded player making their international bow soon: while the inclusion of Burnley's Danny Ings wouldn't be a huge surprise, given the travails of centre-backs Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka,  Chris Smalling and Phil Jones with game time, form, fitness and being Phil Jones, there could be a call-up for Ings' club team-mate (and England Under 21 regular) Michael Keane

Playing To Your Strengths
Right, enough random Comment Is Free-esque nattering from me, let's do some betting tips for football matches!
Why not try something different in the Premier League this weekend? Rather than trying to predict the straight outcome of the Saturday 3pm games, here's a little over/under total goals acca:
Burnleh v Swansea: Over 2.5
Man United v Sunderland: Over 2.5
Newcastle v Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa: Under 2.5
Stoke v 'Ull: Under 2.5
West Brom v Southampton: Under 2.5
North of the border (let's get back to traditional, predicting winners), Dundee United, despite some iffy recent results, can get their groove back by beating a recalcitrant, disjointed Partick Thistle, while Inverness should have no trouble recording another win away at Ian Baraclough's wretched Motherwell side. In the Championship, meanwhile, Hearts -1 at home to Cowdenbeath are worth taking if you want to bulk up an accumulator (keep them at a sensible length, mind), while Queen of the South are very well priced to record another win away at an out-of-form Dumbarton side whom they have already beaten 4-0 and 3-0 this season. Happy punting


Monday, 29 September 2014

Always Be Yourself, Except When You Can Be Raymond Reddington. Then Always Be Raymond Reddington

What's happening!

As ever, this blog entry begins with my excuse for not putting up more stuff on here- this time, it's that I'm busy writing for the good folks at Bettingexpert.com. But let's get some good old-fashioned tips up:

  • There's another round of Champions League games this week. There's not all that much value in sticking a traditional accumulator on across either Tuesday or Wednesday, but there's plenty of fun to be had in some of the games, particularly Manchester City v AS Roma, arguably the highlight of Tuesday night's games. One should expect goals in this game with the way both sides are set up. Roma will attack city's somewhat questionable defence with a 4-3-3 formation- the interest here is in that front 3, with their likely starters in those front 3 positions all well priced at over 3/1. As ever with goal scorer bets, wait until the team sheets are published, but level stakes across the 3 forwards starting (likely to be any 3 from Gervinho, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Florenzi, Juan Iturbe, Mattia Destro or Adem Ljajic) should yield a profit
  • Away from the Champions League, there's the standard full Championship card. The whole "opposing Blackpool" trick is not one I'm particularly keen on blindly backing, but Middlesbrough demonstrated v Liverpool that they are a fine side, and should be backed here/ Norwich have also hit the ground running, and should maintain their excellent run of form at home to middling Charlton, while Aberdeen should comfortably see off St Mirren in the SPFL Premiership
  • One of my favourite gambling weekends of the year is approaching: it's Scottish Cup 2nd Round time! This round, where the SPFL League 2 teams join the competition alongside the best non-league teams in the country always provides opportunities for profit as the bookies frequently misjudge the game between League 2 and the leagues below- the Highland League, Lowland League and Juniors all feature players who could comfortably play at a higher level. Moving on to Saturday's matches, Brora, East Fife, Hurlford United and Nairn County should all be bankers for your coupon, while there certainly could be upsets at Turriff (Mon I Turra), Berwick, Cove and Whitehill


Friday, 8 August 2014

Well, It Can't Be Any Worse Than Ewan's

Less than 24 hours before the SPFL season starts-time for a quick Q&A:

Have I written up everything I had planned to? Of course not

Do I want to get this here blog a slightly higher profile? Here's hoping

Will I suggest a few wildly optimistic bets your way? Yeah, sure

In an attempt to get every team written up, will I compromise the quality of my writing? Quality? What quality?

Eagle-eyed observers will note that I tipped Hamilton for a place in the bottom 2 of the SPFL Premiership (whoever came up with the idea having Unicef sponsor the league might be on to something- even I don't want to get into a bidding war with those guys) in my previous entry- joining them could be any one of a number of sides. Kilmarnock are this writer's pick- losing Kris Boyd and replacing him with Josh Magennis is a joke that doesn't even need a punchline. Manager Allan Johnston's baffling decision to play the hapless Craig Samson in goals ahead of the talented Antonio Reguero has seen the Spaniard decamp to Ross County (who themselves should be clear of the relegation places while not quite having enough to seal a top 6 place), while the rest of the squad looks short on depth and somewhat callow- fan favourite Alexei Eremenko has returned, but looked well short of full fitness last season. There are some talented youngsters coming through, and the experienced Lee Miller should plunder a respectable number of goals without getting close to Boyd's tally, but a tough season looms. St Mirren aren't much better- they'll probably be a decent watch, but surely cannot keep relying on 78-year-old Steven "elbows" Thompson in attack, while Jim "the Ghost" Goodwin is still far too undisciplined to be relied on in central defence. Keeping hold of their own talented youngsters, as well as unearthing a hidden gem or 2, will be key to their survival. Partick Thistle lack an out-and-out goalscorer, and the departure of the excellent Aaron Taylor-Sinclair is a (not unexpected) blow, but they've recruited sensibly, favouring quality rather than quantity (Ryan Stevenson is a very decent signing, and should contribute goals from midfield, while Abdul Osman should find the Premiership to his liking), as manager Alan Archibald trusts his side, which still chiefly comprises of members of 2012/13's 1st division winning squad, to learn from their 1st season in the Premiership.

Ahead of them, expect last season's top 6 to be this season's top 6. Or at least expect it to be last season's top 4, St Johnstone and a team from the Highlands- John Hughes did nothing to advance ICT's prospects upon taking over, they've so far failed to recruit anyone, and there's inevitable interest in talismanic striker Billy McKay- lose him (or even if he fails to rediscover last season's top form) and they could finish some way below last season's 5th place. Ross County once again have had half a new team arrive in Dingwall- the return on loan from Cardiff of Filip Kiss is a considerable coup. Another 7th place finish is probably as far as they could hope to finish, but any slips from the top 6 and the Staggies can challenge. The loss of Ryan Gauld won't actually be that keenly felt by Dundee United- Gauld was in and out of the starting XI at Tannadice for much of last season. The departure of Andy Robertson will be much more keenly felt- the former Queens Park youngster firmly established himself even in only 1 season as arguably the country's outstanding left-back. Many of Dundee United's signings are something of a gamble- much will  depend on how they settle in along with what is already a pretty strong side. Aberdeen should beat Motherwell to 2nd place- Motherwell's defence simply looks too porous to sustain a challenge to Derek McInnes' impressive outfit, who are arguably the pick of the handicap market at +25

Moving on...

What I've Seen At The Festival So Far
Because you get modern culture on this blog too, now

Quick rundown of the shows this writer has been to see so far at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, along with handy /10 marks

Bob Graham's Travel Guide For Agoraphobics
A nice, pleasant, relaxed way to start an afternoon at the festival, as Bob regales the audience with tales on the perils and horrors of flat-sharing, growing up in the countryside and, well, travelling. Doesn't have the intensity of some of the feistier comics on the circuit these days, but that arguably works in his favour in the time slot. A perfectly enjoyable hour. 7/10
1:40pm, the Beehive (not Tuesdays)

Rauls Are Made To Be Broken
Geordie whippersnapper Rahul Kohli has an intoxicating brand of youthful energy and cynicism, drawing on many of his own tales of racial prejudice. It's a more intense 40 minutes than the previous show, and despite only being 22, Kohli has plenty of amusing anecdotes to draw on, as well as proving himself adept at interaction with the (admittedly small) crowd. One to keep an eye on for the future- it would be interesting to see him on a bigger stage. 8/10
3pm, Espionage

An Irish hip-hop improv show doesn't necessarily sound like a recipe for success but somehow it works, thanks largely to the 3 extraordinarily talented performers. The show, where the trio have 1 hour to write a number 1 song for P.Diddy (really) is heavy on audience interaction and participation. The show does start to repeat itself a bit in the 2nd half (they could cut 10 minutes out without leaving the audience short-changed), but a rip-roaring conclusion rounds off a very enjoyable hour. 8/10
9:10pm, Udderbelly (not Mondays)

Brendon Burns and Colt Cabana Sit in a 150 Seater and Provide the Commentary to Bad Wrestling Matches
The title is fairly self-explanatory- Aussie comic Brendon Burns, something of a fringe veteran, teams up with a relative newcomer, profession (and ex-WWE) wrestler Colt Cabana, along with a special guest each night (Daniel Sloss on this occasion). The show was an absolute riot from the get-go, with a noisy and knowledgeable crowd who clearly knew their wrestling (it's beneficial, but not essential, to have at least a modicum of wrestling knowledge going into the show). The performers go over various wrestling clips, mixed in with hilarious, unscripted material- Burns frequently goes off on tangents, while Cabana seems totally devoid of any restraint on his inner monologue, and is only too happy to point out the faults of his industry. It's very rare to go through an entire show with regular moments of stitch0inducing hilarity, yet that's achieved here easily. An absolute must-see. And that's the bottom line, because Stone Cold Shifty said so. 10/10
10pm The Stand at St Andrew Square (not Sundays)


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Maybe This Battle Is To Fight Indifference


We're into August now so probably time for some gloriously disjointed pre-season previews, along with some other random musings

There will be more previews (probably) from me before the season starts, but for today let's have a quick look at the 3 teams promoted to the EPL, along with Dundee and Hamilton

Very much a surprise package in last season's Championship, and as such not massively equipped with Premier League experience and quality , but high on enthusiasm and youthful endeavour- not unlike the position Crystal Palace were in 12 months ago (signings such as Marvin Sordell, Michael Kightly and Lukas Jutkiewicz very much fit that bill). They have to start as favourites for relegation and indeed that will probably be where they end up, but they're a well-run club who won't bankrupt themselves chasing the impossible. They should be a decent watch, too

QPR and Leicester
These 2 are getting lumped together as there are numerous similarities between them. Both have spent (and will probably spend more yet) squillions on their sides thanks to not-at-all-dodgy Asia owners, both based their Championship successes of last season on strong, robust defences, expect to see some eye-bleedingly bad football from both sides, and both will probably survive by the skin of their teeth on the final day, thanks to some frantic January transfer window activity and maybe a change of manager or 2

Last season's 1st Division winners have added a good mix of youth and experience to their side- fine young talents from the SFL such as Paul McGinn, Greg Stewart and Scott Bain come in along with old heads of the SPL such as James McPake, Kevin Thomson and Paul McGowan as part of a comprehensive squad overhaul by up-and-coming manager Paul Hartley. Their squad is as strong as any outside the top 6, and they should therefore avoid the relegation places quite comfortably. Being on a more sound financial footing these days, thanks on part to having a larger support base than many of their direct competitors, should ensure there's funds available should Hartley feel the need to strengthen further

Not unlike the aforementioned Burnley, Hamilton's promotion was a tad unexpected, but they capitalised on the fact that Hibs are shite to seal their place in the Premiership. They have a very successful youth system, which makes up a significant part of their side. They've added a quality goalkeeper in Michael McGovern, who finally gets a chance to play regularly in the Premiership, along with experienced winger and all-round pest Dougie Imrie, and player-manager Alex Neil will still pull on his boots when required. There's a startling lack of Premiership experience outside those 3, though, and they don't have the supporter base of Dundee to finance extra signings if they're required come January. They'll play some decent stuff and work hard for each other, but that alone probably won't keep them out of the bottom 2 come May. Another adventure through the play-offs is a possibility. And now...

A Day Out at the Commonwealth Games
Earlier this week, this intrepid reporter decided to take in some action at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. This involved a trip to the newly-converted-and-soon-to-be-converted-back-again Hampden Park.

The weather was pleasant enough, and the route from the city centre well signposted to allow us to walk from George Square out to Hampden. 45 minutes later, we were in the International, a regular pre-match haunt for Scotland games. A very reasonably priced pint and a game of pool took us to just past 5pm, at which point the games to Hampden opened ahead of a 6:30pm start for the athletics. The route from the pub to the stadium was exceptionally well-marked, with enthusiastic volunteers every few hundred metres pointing folk in the right direction- this was the case inside the stadium too. The security at the games had been much talked about, but in reality it was nowhere near as onerous as it was made to sound, and certainly nothing like what one can expect at an airport these days.

Once inside the stadium (security was cleared in 5 minutes, with plenty of lanes run by staff as friendly as you're ever likely to get running these operations), the catering facilities were a significant upgrade on the usual Hampden fare- a wide variety of hot and cold meals and snacks were available, along with a selection of beer, wine and cider. Admittedly, the prices were on the high side, and there were understandably some queues at some outlets (15 minutes was the longest wait I personally had for some fish and chips), but it was massively refreshing and encouraging to see such choice.

After the athletics (£40 for 3 1/2 hours of top-end competition), the weather again was forgiving enough to allow a walk back to Queen Street (shout out to Scotrail here for putting on extra trains on many routes). There were, however, shuttle buses as far as the eye could see to ferry spectators back to the city centre, with ample staff again on hand. I could go on, but won't and will instead get to the point.

Why can't we have this for football matches at Hampden? Why do we not get extra catering facilities at Hampden for cup finals 9and semi finals) and Scotland qualifiers? Where are our extra shuttle buses? Outside of the services between Central Station and Mount Florida (which are at the behest of the police more than anything) where are our extra trains? On the pitch, the Scotland national team are doing as well as they have done in a long time. Off the pitch, however, there's plenty of room for improvement


Monday, 30 June 2014

Pain Is Brown, Hate Is White, Love Is Black, Stab The Night

2 more last-16 games for me to preview (totally not rushing here. Honest)

Argentina v Switzerland
I'll get the headline out of the way first: Switzerland are going to win. Now, to explain: Argentina as a TEAM have simply not been all that impressive so far- far too reliant on Messi in attack, uncertain defensively and far too cautious in midfield- witness coach Alejandro Sabella's insistence on retaining 2 defensive midfielders (Mascherano and Gago) when striving to break down a resilient Iran defence. With Sergio Aguero set to miss this game, Sabella will be forced to look to his bench where, quite frankly, he does not have the same quality of replacements. Ezequiel Lavezzi is Aguero's most likely replacement and while he does offer considerable pace, his finishing lets him down far too often. Sabella's other options include the workmanlike but limited Rodrigo Palacio, or a return to the 5-3-2 shape with which they looked distinctly unimpressive in their opening game v Bosnia. Switzerland, meanwhile, have flown under the radar somewhat in Brazil. As expected, they qualified in 2nd place from their group, edging past Ecuador, being picked off ruthlessly by France, before making light work of Honduras. Ottmar Hitzfeld has a very neat, tidy, well-balanced side with plenty of youthful endeavour and, in Xherdan Shaqiri, a genuine world-class attacker. Lionel Messi isn't the only top-quality diminutive left-footed playmaking genius on display here. There's another big shock coming in this tournament
The verdict: Switzerland will eventually beat Argentina- or Argentina will beat themselves (their World Cup knockout stages record is awful)
The bet: Switzerland to qualify at best odds of 7/2 general

Belgium v USA
Much-hyped (over-hyped in this writer's humble opinion) before the tournament, Belgium cruised through their group as expected, although it took some considerable time, and a switching to plan B, to do so in each game- 4 goals from 3 games is also less than the return than many were expecting from such a talented attack. The USA lack the individual quality of Belgium (and indeed arguably any side still in the competition bar Costa Rica). However, there's an outstanding team spirit in their side fostered by Jürgen Klinsmann (one can easily picture him being quite the motivational speaker), plus some players of genuine potential- tireless right-back Fabian Johnson has been a real find, while Clint Dempsey has excelled all across the front line. This could be a slow-burner.
The verdict: For various reasons, it'll take more than 90 minutes to separate these two
The bet: The draw is available at 5/2 general. You'll get 11/10 with Youwin on a draw at half-time too


Sunday, 29 June 2014


Now, to continue what I started yesterday:

Costa Rica v Greece
Let's be honest: who expected this to be a last 16 match? While Costa Rica were never going to simply roll over as whipping boys in Group D, their progress as group winners was still a sizeable shock. Greece, meanwhile, were, well, Greece- for the most part as exciting as watching paint dry, but remorselessly effective at frustrating stronger opponents. This Greece side are actually slightly more proactive than in previous years (watch for Torosidis and Holebas venturing forward from full-back). With both sides in unchartered territory, and in with a chance of progressing even further, one has to expect both sides will favour a cautious approach, at least to begin with.
The verdict: it might take extra-time and penalties, but Greece's tournament nous might just take them to the last 8
The bet: half-time score 0-0 at 5/4 general

France v Nigeria
This game has the potential to be just about anything- a wild, end-to-end classic, a demolition job by either team, or a cagey, nervy snoozefest. France rung the changes for their final group game v Ecuador, so a) they have fresh legs to bring in to face Stephen Keshi's mobile, athletic Nigeria side, and b) don't read too much into their slightly below-par performance. Nigeria impressed in their 3-2 defeat to Argentina, only eventually being undone by 2 moments of magic from Lionel Messi. They can run France close in this one, but there's a suspicion that their outstanding goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama will have just a bit too much work to do behind a somewhat porous defence. Slightly depressingly, the usual worries over bonus payments have started up, too
The verdict: France to edge an entertaining encounter
The bet: Both teams to score at 11/10 general

Germany v Algeria
Algeria were vastly underestimated by many- they frustrated Belgium for long spells, impressively brushed aside South Korea and then did the job required of them against, it has to be said, a disappointing Russia side to progress from Group H. Germany comfortably topped their group- with their vast array of attacking options, they shouldn't struggle for goals. The call for Jogi Low for this game should be to bring in Miroslav Klose from the start- Algeria's eventual undoing against Belgium came as a result of an alarming inability to defend against crosses, and it's that glaring weakness that, even with a talented midfield, will prove their undoing here
The verdict: Germany to win a gaols-laden match
The bet: over 3.5 goals at best odds of 13/8 with Coral

Friday, 27 June 2014

Am I Insane? I Ask Myself Over And Over Again

32 came. 16 have been sent home with their tails between their legs. How will the remaining 16 do? Let's have a gander at some of the 2nd round games: (that 1st bit works really well if you imagine Gerard Butler reading it in a deep, serious voice. The 2nd bit less so)

Brazil v Chile
Brazil topped their group, but looked far from impressive for long spells, most notably versus Croatia (where a couple of questionable refereeing decisions went their way) and Mexico (who were full value for their draw), before comfortably dispatching of a clearly demotivated Cameroon. It's clear that, Neymar aside, this is a functional unit that lacks real quality in attack- were they not called Brazil and playing on home soil, there's no way they'd be anywhere near as heavily fancied as they are. Chile, on the other hand, have been genuinely thrilling, dispatching of Spain with an eye-catching intensity and all-out commitment to attack. Their "meh" attitude to defending will most likely prevent them from winning the tournament at some point, but, having already seen off the reigning champions, there's every reason to reckon they can put the hosts out too.
Verdict: Chile to triumph in a topsy-turvy, wild and wacky match
The bet: Chile draw no bet at best odds of 15/4 with 888sport

Colombia v Uruguay
Arguably the best team of the tournament so far, with arguably its best player (James Rodriguez) as its creative fulcrum, Colombia were extremely impressive in making light work of their group. They have a plethora of quality striking options, with plenty of support from midfield (the aforementioned James is the star, but don't overlook the tricky, direct, powerful Juan Cuadrado on the right, and the wonderfully talented diminutive playmaker Juan Quintero) and adventurous full-backs, they could be at this tournament for some time. Uruguay, meanwhile, only just managed to scrap their way out of their group- this looks like the end of the line for some of the more experienced among their rank, while apart from the impressive young centre-back Jose Maria Gimenez, there aren't yet the quality of replacements coming through. With their main attacking threat now muzzled, they're on their way home.
Verdict: Colombia to break down stubborn Uruguay resistance
The bet: Colombia to win at best odds of 21/20 with Paddy Power

Holland v Mexico
This should be a fascinating tactical battle. Louis van Gaal has arguably been the best coach of the tournament so far, shifting his side effortlessly from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3 and back as circumstances require. His players have shown remarkable commitment to his ideals, too- witness Wesley Sneijder chasing Chilean midfielders all over the park, and Dirk Kuyt putting in a shift at left wing-back. Mexico, too, will use 5-3-2 initially, also with a significant degree of flexibility- both wing-backs will bomb on at will, while Rafael Marquez is more than capable of carrying the ball out of defence. Giovani dos Santos should again operate just off Oribe Peralta in attack, which will pose plenty of questions for van Gaal.
Verdict: Holland to just edge an intriguing encounter
The bet: Holland to win at best odds of 23/20 with Bet Victor