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  1. Table as at Sunday 24th November 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Glasgow Rangers 13 10 2 1 37 12 32 25 Glasgow Celtic 13 10 2 1 30 10 32 20 Heart of Midlothian 13 8 2 3 29 20 26 9 Aberdeen 13 7 2 4 19 20 23 -1 Kilmarnock 13 5 4 4 16 14 19 2 St Mirren 13 6 1 6 19 23 19 -4 Motherwell 13 5 2 6 18 19 17 -1 Hibernian 13 4 4 5 22 21 16 1 St Johnstone 13 3 3 7 13 20 12 -7 Livingston 13 2 4 7 14 28 10 -14 Ross County 13 2 2 9 9 22 8 -13 Hamilton Academical 13 1 2 10 8 25 5 -17 Friday 22nd November Rangers 4 2 Hearts Saturday 23rd November Hibs 1 1 Motherwell Livingston 3 2 St Johnstone Ross County 3 0 Hamilton St Mirren 2 0 Kilmarnock Sunday 24th November Aberdeen 0 1 Celtic
  2. Friday 22nd November 2019: Glasgow Rangers v Heart of Midlothian Venue: Ibrox Park Att: 50,817 A first ever visit to Ibrox Park, one of Glasgow’s three great footballing stadia steeped in history. It was important, as it had been when we visited Parkhead at the end of September, not to allow ourselves to become too overawed and, by and large, I hadn’t been until the pre-match interviews in the tunnel, hosted again by Leah Young. I was just hanging back waiting for her to finish her talk with Steven Gerrard when I heard her ask. “Would you agree that today is a big day in the title race, Steven, with Hearts able to draw level on points with you if they win?” I didn’t hear what my opposite number’s answer to that was, this girl had a habit of taking me aback, of surprising me, something that not too many people had been able to achieve on a consistent basis up until this point. Of course, I knew that our run of form had taken us to within three points of the Glasgow sides, who were neck and neck, but I’d never entertained the thought that we might be considered title challengers by anyone at all. Shaking my head and dismissing the idea out of hand, reckoning that she’d only asked the question to provide an angle for the watching public, I slid into place as Steven wandered off down the tunnel, and waited to see if Leah was going to floor me again out of nowhere. She didn’t, it was mere banalities around keeping the league’s most potent attack quiet and breaching the league’s meanest defence, plus something about our recent good run of form. I can’t remember what I said, aside from the fact that they were mostly empty and meaningless responses. She gave me a warm smile when we’d finished and wished me luck, just as she had Steven, and I wandered off to clear my head before things began. The cold air outside the tunnel and electric atmosphere sorted me out, although seemingly not the players since before one of them had touched the ball in anger, Sheyi Ojo had knocked Alfredo Morelos’ cross back to the edge of the box where Ryan Jack arrived to measure an effort no more than six inches wide of Pereira’s left hand upright. If that was to set the tone, we were to be in for an awfully long 90 minutes. I’d set us up in our natural attacking manner rather than aiming to contain, as I had at home on the opening day of the league campaign, even though that was likely to leave us open and provide them with gaps to exploit. It was fighting fire with fire. Or trying to, at least. In the 6th minutes, Joe Aribo met a James Tavernier corner at the near post, only to see Michael Smith do his job on the post and stab the ball clear from the line, Glenn Whelan completed the clearance to safety. Ricci Montolivo then received the ball inside his own half and sent a peach of a ball in behind Tavernier for the overlapping Aidan White to chase onto. His cross was met by the head of Washington, who could only guide his effort against the head of Connor Goldson. However, as the ball dropped onto the striker’s right foot, he whipped a superb strike from 8-yards out that sent Alan McGregor the wrong way and ended up in the back of the net to give us the most unlikely of early leads. That silenced the home faithful. Momentarily, anyway. Less than three minutes later and Ojo got down to the by-line on the left-hand side, stood a cross up to the far post where Rhian Brewster headed back to the express train that was Tavernier and the full-back didn’t have to break stride as he fired a fearsome volley across Pereira and into the bottom corner to bring the home side level. A superb goal that left me reflecting on that brief couple of minutes unbridled joy I’d had with us ahead. Five minutes later and Halkett intercepted a pass from Ojo on the edge of the penalty area. For a fatal second, he dithered, not sure whether to clear or pass. Choosing option C, getting dispossessed by a lurking striker, Morelos did that and finished beyond Pereira simply to make it 2-1 to the hosts. A quarter of an hour had elapsed and we were facing a real test of character now. Ojo had a header saved by Pereira before we broke well, and with purpose and Mulraney forced a save from McGregor to show that we weren’t completely dead. Indeed, Ikpeazu was then released by a Smith pass and only denied by an excellent save from Rangers and Scotland’s number 1. We were growing in confidence and belief, in the 28th minute White did astonishingly well to reach a reverse diagonal pass from Walker and cut the ball back from the by-line. Washington was waiting, took a touch to steady himself and then trove the ball inside McGregor’s near post for his second of the evening, 13th of the season and, most importantly, the equaliser. I had no idea what the folk at home were making of the encounter, they ought to have been enjoying it though. Just beyond the half-hour mark and Ojo, who we never got to grips with, sent a cross in from the left that Brewster met at the far post, heading back across goal – he was unfortunate to see his header glance off the face of the upright. Then, from the header, which was cleared by the head of John Souttar, Jamie Walker went on a 60-yard run, evaded the challenge of Dimitri Foulquier and with only McGregor to beat, saw his effort pushed wide of the post by the Rangers goalkeeper. Brewster then volleyed over the top from Foulquier’s left-wing cross from just outside the penalty area and two minutes before the break, a lovely exchange of passes between Morelos and Ojo saw the former through. His effort beat Pereira, struck the post and as the Colombian moved to tap in the rebound, Craig Halkett came across and cleared superbly. HALF TIME: Glasgow Rangers 2-2 Heart of Midlothian Absolutely breathless stuff and a first half in which we’d played a full part. Sure, Rangers had dominated possession and had more openings, but we’d played well and could conceivably have held the lead ourselves. We were at full hack though, trying to stick with them and whilst I gave the boys plenty of praise and urged them for more of the same, I was fearful that we’d run out of steam. Somehow it took almost eight minutes for the first chance of the second half to arrive, our boys looked as though they’d momentarily taken it upon themselves to play an out and out 4-2-4 formation and Rangers exposed the gaps – Morelos slipping Ojo through and his low drive forcing a fine save from Pereira, low to his left pushing the ball firmly behind for a corner. Five minutes later, Tavernier swung in a free-kick from the left-hand touchline, maybe 15 yards inside our half. Connor Goldson met the set-piece with a header that was blocked by the unwitting Halkett, and before the centre-half could react Sheyi Ojo had lunged in and stabbed the loose ball into the net to restore his side’s advantage. That certainly winded us, less than a minute after falling behind and Ojo should have hit the target when played through by Morelos – this time Pereira was untroubled as the winger scuffed his effort somewhat and it dribbled beyond the far post. Ojo then did better from 25-yards out, forcing a good save from Pereira who was then able to gather at the second attempt. That led to defensive calamity for a second time. I knew that my insistence on wanting to build from the back would occasionally put us in strife and so it proved here. Pereira’s roll out to Souttar was fine, but the elegant centre-half’s pass towards Michael Smith was casual in the extreme. Indeed, so casual that he only found Ojo, some three yards away. The Dutchman, and man of the match slipped the ball inside for Morelos who had an empty net to slot the ball into, Pereira’s desperate scrambling dive in vain. I caught a lot of flak for that after the game from the experts in the Sky studio, but I remained unrepentant. My sides would continue to build from defence come what may. 4-2 behind and I knew that was probably curtains for us. I think the players knew that too. On both sides. Aside from Matias Kranevitter’s glancing header just over, neither side really came close to adding to the scoresheet. Ultimately, the second half had been too much for us and we were comfortably beaten. Unlike the home game, there were a few positives to be taken, but our ten-match unbeaten run had come to and end. I’d never enjoy a run as good at Tynecastle again. As for any title challenge? Pah! Not in a million years. FULL TIME: Glasgow Rangers 4-2 Heart of Midlothian Team: Pereira, Smith (Hickey), Souttar (Berra), Halkett, White, Whelan, Montolivo, Walker, Mulraney (Meshino), Washington, Ikpeazu
  3. Table as at Sunday 10th November 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Glasgow Rangers 12 9 2 1 33 10 29 23 Glasgow Celtic 12 9 2 1 29 10 29 19 Heart of Midlothian 12 8 2 2 27 16 26 11 Aberdeen 12 7 2 3 19 19 23 0 Kilmarnock 12 5 4 3 16 12 19 4 Motherwell 12 5 1 6 17 18 16 -1 St Mirren 12 5 1 6 17 23 16 -6 Hibernian 12 4 3 5 21 20 15 1 St Johnstone 12 3 3 6 11 17 12 -6 Livingston 12 1 4 7 11 26 7 -15 Hamilton Academical 12 1 2 9 8 22 5 -14 Ross County 12 1 2 9 6 22 5 -16 Friday 8th November 2019 Kilmarnock 3 1 Ross County Saturday 9th November 2019 Hamilton 2 2 Livingston Hearts 3 0 Aberdeen Motherwell 2 0 St Mirren Sunday 10th November 2019 St Johnstone 2 2 Rangers Celtic 4 2 Hibernian
  4. Saturday 9th November 2019: Heart of Midlothian v Aberdeen (SPL) Venue: Tynecastle Att: 20,099 The fixture list was a complete ass. Having had a blank weekend because of the League Cup final, we hosted Aberdeen before having another blank weekend due to the final international break of 2019. That was all well and good, but we then had seven matches scheduled throughout December when the weather was likely to be close to its worst. I’d never been able to fathom why, when the League Cup final only involved two clubs, the rest of us had to kick our heels and yet, come December they’d throw match after match after match at us. No-one was ever able to give me a straight answer, either. With Aberdeen’s 9-match unbeaten run having come to a shuddering halt at home to League Cup champs, Rangers, losing 5-1 at Pittodrie, we’d gone above the Dons on goal difference and were looking to gain a degree of revenge for our early season humbling at their hands whilst cementing our 3rd place in the table. Michael Smith was missing through suspension meaning a rare start for Jamie Brandon at right-back, whilst Andy Irving’s outstanding performance at Livngston saw him keep his place alongside Glenn Whelan in midfield, Ricci Montolivo only making it as far as the substitute’s bench. Conditions were miserable, it was wet and windy, driving rain being blown across the pitch right into the dugouts making it impossible for us to remain dry, despite the best efforts of the bus shelters we had to provide ‘cover’. It also made it difficult for the players to adjust in the early stages. In the 12th minute Mulraney picked up possession on the left flank, drifted inside and sent the ball through for Uche. Just as the big man took his first touch to set up a second, a shot at goal, Scott McKenna came across and produced a superb sliding challenge to deny the striker and send the ball out for a corner kick. From the delivery by Irving, Uche jumped highest but headed straight at Joe Lewis who collected comfortably. 10 minutes later, a White cross from the left was headed partially clear. It fell nicely for Irving who found Walker, level with the penalty spot and the attacking midfielder volleyed the left-footed between Lewis and his near post to give us a deserved lead. Jake Mulraney and Conor Washington were denied by good defensive blocks as we looked to add to our lead before the break, defensively we were excellent and kept the visitors very much safe from harm. Half time came and concluded nigh on the perfect first half from our point of view. HALF TIME: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 Aberdeen The half-time message was very simple – don’t change a thing. See out the first quarter of an hour or so, take the sting out of any reaction and get a second goal as soon as we were able to. Shortly after the restart, we very nearly undid all of our good work from the opening 45-minutes, when John Souttar’s attempted headed clearance from a speculative ball forward fell nicely for James Wilson to pounce on. He made it to the edge of the penalty area unhindered before shooting, thankfully Joel Pereira was still concentrating and he got down to make an excellent save, pushing the ball behind. A couple of minutes later and Niall McGinn crept in behind Brandon down the Aberdeen left and Pereira once again had to be at his sharpest to turn the Dons’ winger’s angled drive over the crossbar. I was out at the edge of my technical area roaring at my boys to be better, much better all over, before sending out the subs to warm up in full view of those on the field. Pereira made another good save, again as McGinn got in behind Brandon and looked to sneak one in at the Portuguese goalkeeper’s near post and then Wilson was found clear on goal for a second time, this time Pereira made a good smothering save, holding onto the ball. Meanwhile, every time we got possession we panicked, whacked it downfield and allowed Lewis to build again from the back for the visitors. It was infuriating. Enough was enough, I called over Craig Wighton and told him to get changed. “Start to knit the play together, Wighty,” I told him. “Find those little pockets, keep the bloody ball for heaven’s sake. Okay?” Okay. Conor Washington was the man who got the hook after an unusually anaemic display, a move that brought murmurs and more of discontent given the fact that he had been my most likely source of a goal for most of the season. But this required something a little different, I felt, and so with an apologetic shrug, I shook the Northern Irishman’s hand and patted him on the back as he passed me to take his place on the bench. The move seemed to have an impact. WIghton’s ability to drop off the centre halves and offer an option to feet saw him become involved and it was this that saw him, midway through the half, pick up a loose ball after a Glenn Whelan free-kick was headed clear, find himself in space and deliver a cross into the box. Walker took a touch and just as he was about to turn, found his left leg taken from underneath him. It was a penalty, no doubt and the official duly pointed to the spot. Picking himself off and metaphorically dusting himself down, Walker stepped up, coolly sent Lewis left and the ball right to double our lead and give us a little breathing space with his fifth goal of the season. Ricci Montolivo had come on a couple of minutes before the goal and he also gave us rather more control than we’d had in the opening stages of the second period. White released Mulraney down the left flank, in behind the Aberdeen right back and the Irishman made tracks into the penalty area, his low shot was destined to nestle just inside the far post, but Lewis got his big frame down sharply to make a fine save, McKenna followed up to clear the loose ball. Three minutes from time, a Whelan free kick towards the far post was met by the unmarked Christophe Berra and, exacting even more revenge given the manner in which we conceded our two goals at Pittodrie back in August, planted his free header into the net from all of 5-yards out. There was still time for Lewis to make an excellent save to deny Uche a goal and Pereira to make his fifth good stop of the half in stoppage time but, that third goal had ensured a deserved win in a game that we’d been the better side for 75% of the time and as such, Derek McInnes’ heartfelt congratulations on the whistle were gratefully received. Ten matches unbeaten and, third place cemented most likely even in the event of a defeat to Rangers after the international break. I was pretty happy with things, barely able to keep the smile off my face during the post-match interviews and press conference. Life was good, football was good. Long may it continue. FULL TIME: Heart of Midlothian 3-0 Aberdeen Team: Pereira, Brandon (Hickey), Souttar, Berra, White, Whelan, Irving (Montolivo), Walker, Mulraney, Washington (Wighton), Ikpeazu
  5. The phone rang, waking me up. Momentarily disorientated, I realised I’d fallen asleep whilst watching a film on Mubi. Clearing the dribble from my cheek, I picked up the call. “Yes, Jones Patterson.” I answered, groggily. “Jones, I’ve got a proposition for you,” came the voice on the other end. In my head it sounds a lot more sinister than was actually the case, especially as the fog cleared from my mind. “What? Who is this?” There was an amused chuckle. “Oh, come on Jones, surely you recognise my voice by now?” I took the phone away from my ear and checked the ID on the screen. All became clear, at last. “Ah, Leah, of course, sorry.” “Woken you up, have I? You know it’s only quarter to six, don’t you?” “Yes,” I spluttered. “Umm, it’s been a long week. Anyway, what can I do for you?” “We’ve had a bit of a problem ahead of tomorrow’s League Cup Final, one of our studio expert guests has had to pull out due to illness and, well, I was wondering whether you might be available to step in?” I blinked twice. “Me?” I exclaimed. “Surely you can find someone more qualified than me to do it.” “But why?” She replied. “You know both opponents well, you’re not attached to either side of the old firm divide and you’re highly respected in the Scottish game.” That last point was stretching the truth somewhat, I felt, but I let the flattery wash over me. And then shuddered with mild horror. “What would it involve?” She explained that I’d be part of the 4-man studio set-up for live coverage of the League Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden Park the following day. Alongside a ‘Celtic’ man and a ‘Rangers’ man, there’d be me in the middle plus the pearly-white toothed presenter asking us all inane questions before, during and after the game. At the mention of a fee I replied, “I won’t be needing that.” “But, of course you will. We always pay our guests an appearance fee.” Leah responded. “Not me, I don’t want it and won’t accept it.” I said. I didn’t need the money and I felt fraudulent accepting it whilst people would be in their homes and pubs and bars listening to us three sad cases pontificating aimlessly about the game. “But…” Leah spluttered, acting as if my request didn’t compute and had messed up her wiring. “We pay everyone that appears. It’s an appearance fee.” “And I understand that. But I don’t want it and won’t accept it. I’m happy to come on and be the middleman in the studio, but I don’t want to be paid.” That prompted a silence for a moment. “Let me speak to the producers, I’ll let you know.” And with that, she rang off. An agreement was reached whereby I would receive the appearance fee (they were most insistent, bizarrely), but that I would then use it as I felt it could be best used which was, for me, giving it to a local mental health charity. So, that’s how I found myself sat between big Kris Boyd one my right and Kris Commons on my left with Eilidh Barbour asking the questions in one of the media boxes overlooking the Hampden Park arena. This was my first visit to the home of Scottish Football, and it’s quite the arena. I was able to take a quick peak out through the tunnel before we went to air, wished Neil Lennon all the best as I came across him in the corridor outside the dressing rooms and then settled myself into my pundit’s chair. I haven’t a clue how I came across on air, maybe a little contrary which wasn’t my intention at all, it’s just that I didn’t think the game was particularly great to watch. “I know that the vast majority of people watching this game will be either delighted or extremely disappointed with that,” I said at half-time with Rangers leading 3-1, “and whilst it’s had moments – Kent’s goal in particular was very good – I don’t think it’s been a great game.” I could feel Boyd bristling to my right as I said that. “I disagree,” he said addressing me directly. “I think Rangers have been excellent and full value for their lead.” “Ah, now I didn’t say they weren’t. I think they’ve defended well and countered well, they’ve been efficient in front of goal and yes, fully deserve to be ahead. What I said was, I don’t think the overall quality of the game has been particularly high and I stand by that. Three of the goals have come from poor defending or individual mistakes and, I understand it’s a high-octane and passionate local derby, but I don’t think we can really sit here in all honesty and tell the viewers that what they’ve just witnessed was a 45-minutes of outstanding football. It might have been absorbing, or even exciting in patches but not because the overarching quality has been high. It’s been an error strewn affair with Rangers ahead because they’ve made fewer fatal mistakes.” There were no further goals after the break with the quality getting, if anything, even worse than before but there was no questioning that Steven Gerrard’s side deserved the season’s first silverware. Celtic simply hadn’t turned up and there seemed to be a simmering anger written all over Neil Lennon’s face as he was interviewed by Leah after the game on the pitch. In the studio we aimlessly talked some more, provided platitudes for Gerrard and his men, identified some areas for improvement for Lennon’s side for another half an hour before we came off air, finally at 5:30pm. “Well, how was it?” Leah asked me after the game, coming to join me at a table in the media lounge where those of us in the broadcast media were mingling and enjoying a drink whilst those in the print media tapped away at their laptops to file their reports and post-match quotes in a frenzied manner, almost as if each one was in competition with the others to type faster and finish quicker (not necessarily better, knowing the usual output of one or two of them). I’d simply been tapping a quick WhatsApp message into our management group about Rangers since we were playing them at Ibrox two weeks later. “Oh, hey! It was good, thanks.” I said, “Do you want a drink?” I motioned to a passing waiter. “Thanks,” Leah said. “Gin and slimline, please.” “And I’ll have another medium Pinot, please.” I said. “Yeah, I enjoyed it. I’m not sure Kris Boyd and I saw eye to eye particularly.” “Oh yeah, I heard all of that over the feed down in the tunnel,” she replied smiling and running a hand through her short dark hair. “That’s what you were there or, to provide a counterpoint to the other lads. They’re great lads and know their stuff, but sometimes let their cloak of neutrality slip and so it’s always nice to have someone without a vested interest in between.” The waiter brought our drinks over and we fell into conversation about football, her Dad, my family for an hour so before my taxi arrived to take me back down the M8. “Thanks again, Jones,” she said as she accompanied me to find my jacket. “I really appreciate you stepping in at such short notice.” “Ah, not at all. When are you next down at the ‘Castle?” I asked. “Friday, I think. The presser before Aberdeen.” I nodded. “In which case, I’ll see you then.” “You certainly will.” She replied, flashing me a winning smile.
  6. Facts and Figures – 30th October 2019 Results Date Venue Opposition Comp Score 17/07/2019 H Alloa Athletic LCGB 2-0 21/07/2019 A Cowdenbeath LCGB 2-0 24/07/2019 H Elgin City LCGB 5-0 27/07/2019 A Arbroath LCGB 0-0* 04/08/2019 H Glasgow Rangers SPL 0-3 11/08/2019 A Aberdeen SPL 1-2 20/08/2019 A Motherwell LC2 0-1 23/08/2019 A St Johnstone SPL 5-2 31/08/2019 A Kilmarnock SPL 2-2 14/09/2019 H Hamilton Academicals SPL 2-1 20/09/2019 H Motherwell SPL 4-1 28/09/2019 A Glasgow Celtic SPL 1-1 04/10/2019 A St Mirren SPL 3-1 18/10/2019 H Hibernian SPL 2-1 26/10/2019 H Ross County SPL 1-0 29/10/2019 A Livingston SPL 3-2 Appearances & Goals League League Cup Total A S G A S G A S G Pereira Joel 11 0 0 5 0 0 16 0 0 Washington Conor 10 1 7 5 0 4 15 1 11 Souttar John 11 0 0 4 0 0 15 0 0 Whelan Glenn 11 0 0 4 0 0 15 0 0 Smith Michael 11 0 0 3 0 0 14 0 0 Walker Jamie 10 1 2 3 1 1 13 2 3 White Aidan 9 0 0 4 0 0 13 0 0 Mulraney Jake 9 1 5 3 2 2 12 3 7 Ikpeazu Uche 10 0 6 2 1 1 12 1 7 Montolivo Riccardo 9 0 0 2 1 0 11 1 0 Berra Christophe 5 1 0 4 0 0 9 1 0 Halkett Craig 6 2 0 2 0 0 8 2 0 Clare Sean 2 3 0 3 1 0 5 4 0 Damour Loic 2 4 0 2 1 0 4 5 0 Meshino Ryo 2 5 0 1 1 1 3 6 1 Hickey Aaron 2 3 0 1 0 0 3 3 0 Irving Andy 1 1 0 1 2 0 2 3 0 Brandon Jamie 0 1 0 2 0 0 2 1 0 MacLean Steven 0 4 0 1 3 0 1 7 0 Wighton Craig 1 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 2 McDonald Andy 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 Naismith Steven 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 Bozanic Oliver 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 Record Home Away Total P W D L F A P W D L F A P W D L F A SPL 5 4 0 1 9 6 6 3 2 1 15 10 11 7 2 2 24 16 League Cup 2 2 0 0 7 0 3 1 1 1 2 1 5 3 1 1 9 1 Total 7 6 0 1 16 6 9 4 3 2 17 11 16 10 3 3 33 17
  7. Table as at Wednesday 30th October 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Glasgow Rangers 11 9 1 1 31 8 28 23 Glasgow Celtic 11 8 2 1 25 8 26 17 Heart of Midlothian 11 7 2 2 24 16 23 8 Aberdeen 11 7 2 2 19 16 23 3 Kilmarnock 11 4 4 3 13 11 16 2 St Mirren 11 5 1 5 17 21 16 -4 Hibernian 11 4 2 5 19 18 14 1 Motherwell 11 4 1 6 15 18 13 -3 St Johnstone 11 3 3 5 9 13 12 -4 Livingston 11 1 3 7 9 24 6 -15 Ross County 11 1 2 8 5 19 5 -14 Hamilton Academical 11 1 1 9 6 20 4 -14 Tuesday 29th October 2019 Aberdeen 1 5 Rangers Hibernian 0 1 Kilmarnock Livingston 2 3 Hearts Ross County 0 0 St Johnstone Wednesday 30th October 2019 Celtic 2 1 Motherwell St Mirren 2 0 Hamilton
  8. Tuesday 29th October 2019: Livingston v Heart of Midlothian (SPL) Venue: Tony Macaroni Arena Att: 6,939 It was only a half an hour drive from home to the wonderfully named Tony Macaroni Arena. Named after a chain of Italian restaurants in Scotland set up by the eponymous chef, Tony Macaroni who, I suppose was feted into the industry almost from birth, the name had been lent to the ground where Livingston (formerly Meadowbank Thistle) played as part of a long-standing sponsorship arrangement. A strong travelling contingent also made the 16½ mile trip westward on the M8 for a rare Tuesday night match under the lights. Although we’d had some Friday evening kick-offs, there was something alluring about an autumnal evening kick-off on a school night, something different. Rain had left the surface nice and slick, and with the temperature beginning to drop, the breath turned steamy when it left the warmth of one’s mouth and touched the chilled air. I’d packed my gloves and club bobble hat to wear on the bench – I’m pleased I did, come just before 10pm when I finally disappeared down the tunnel I was almost frozen to the bone. Four changes to the side, partially down to needing to manage a few creaking joints and aching muscles saw starts for Craig Halkett alongside John Souttar, a rare start for young Andy Irving alongside Glenn Whelan, Jamie Walker coming in down the left flank for the rested Jake Mulraney and a return for Uche Ikpeazu alongside Conor Washington, Craig Wighton being given a rest. Livingston began strongly, employing the long diagonal balls from back to front and then looking to pick up second balls putting us under some early strong pressure. It was all very frantic and 100mph, though and more than once crosses were wildly overhit. From one such ball that eluded everyone in the penalty area, Jamie Walker picked up possession on the left flank, level with our penalty area and knocked it back for Aidan White, who played a ball up the line. It reached a defender who lofted a ball towards our penalty area, Souttar won the header and then Whelan launched such an up and under that it would have been better suited for Murrayfield, the ball landing with snow on it. Marcus Bartley was the brave soul that got underneath the ball, but his header landed at the feet of Uche Ikpeazu. He knocked it back to Whelan and then spun in behind. This time the Irishman’s pass forward was rather more authentic and found Uche, now galloping towards goal. Ross Stewart came out to narrow the angle but the striker, smarting having been left out at the weekend, finished with aplomb, driving low across the goalkeeper into the bottom corner. Washington then struck an effort wildly wide before Andy Irving went perilously close with a super left-footed effort that beat Stewart but shaved the far post on its way wide as we threatened to cut loose and show the kind of intensity that had largely been absent during the previous couple of games. So, when Ricki Lamie was given time to edge forward from left-back, cut inside and unleash a strike from 25-yards that produced a fine save from Joel Pereira it was a surprise. What followed was inexplicable. The ball fell for White who had no yellow shirt within half a dozen yards of him. For some reason (he claimed he heard a call from his goalkeeper, Joel insisted he made no such call), without looking he knocked the ball backwards towards goal. Joel was still on the ground and the ball simply dribbled over the line at such a pace that it seemed almost sarcastic. I think almost everyone in the ground was dumbfounded, struck dumb by what had happened and certainly, for the next ten minutes we were absolutely rocking, on the ropes. So, it wasn’t a great surprise when one of our attacks foundered on the final ball and Livingston broke with purpose. They worked the ball nicely from side to side eventually releasing Steven Lawless on the overlap down the inside left channel. As he reached the corner of the penalty area he unleashed a stunning strike that arrowed into the top corner beyond a startled Pereira, giving the hosts the lead in the process. That was a shock, and five minutes after that we finally managed to shake ourselves out of the stupor we found ourselves in. All of a sudden, Walker cut in off the left flank and hit a howitzer of his own that beat Stewart but cannoned off the post. Three inches to the side and it’d have ended up in the top corner, such fine margins. On 31 minutes the absolute carnage and catalogue of errors took another turn. Irving slid a lovely ball through to Uche and although Stewart made a good save with his legs, when the ball fell for Nicky Devlin to clear, he did so only against the face of his own team-mate Hakeem Odoffin and looked on in abject horror as it flew into the net off the startled centre-half who immediately held his head in his hands, either in pain, embarrassment or a combination of the two. Uche wheeled away as if it had been he that had scored with a bullet header of his own and later tried to claim the goal, it didn’t need a dubious goals panel to clear that one up, just a simple and incredulous shake of the head. With half-time approaching, Sean Clare did well to swivel and send a volley from Washington’s knockdown goalward, but Stewart fell to his right and held on well. We were certainly beginning to get on top in the closing stages, Smith sent Uche clear but Stewart made a magnificent stop this time, turning the ball over the top. Then, in stoppage time a corner on the left-hand side was swung in by Whelan and found Uche at the far post, although there were two defenders in the vicinity, neither challenged and the striker was able to rise on the edge of the six-yard box and bury a header beyond the helpless Stewart. This one he was free to claim, so he did and after a first-half that had packed more incident into it than the previous two matches combined, we retired to the sanctuary of the dressing room. HALF TIME: Livingston 2-3 Heart of Midlothian The second half began well, Halkett sent a ball over the top of the increasingly porous home defence and as it dropped, Washington struck a left footed volley that beat Stewart. It was a fine strike but, celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag, Washington had strayed half a yard offside and the goal didn’t count. Despite the slender advantage, we were controlling things pretty well. With 20 minutes the influential Andy Irving, who put in a masterful display in midfield, sent Washington through again. This time there was no flag, this time the finish was poor, a couple of yards wide of the post. 7 minutes from time the same combination saw Washington through again, again there was no flag, the effort was on target, however it was also straight at Stewart, who saved very comfortably. Four minutes later the young midfielder sent Uche scampering through, again Stewart stood up well and again he made a good strong block, sending the ball behind for a corner. With more composure, we’d have been looking at a score-line not too unlike that we’d produced in Perth against St Johnstone. We were looking like scoring every time we went forward yet with the clock literally just ticking into stoppage time, we were nearly made to pay for our profligacy in front of goal. A counter attack from the hosts saw a slick four-man move find Lawless in space, this time his effort was too close to Pereira who made a decent stop of his own. That chance saw the hosts find their second wind, yet they only had three minutes in which to find a leveller. They tried, by god they tried, bombarding us with high ball after high ball after high ball. Credit to the two centre halves, they stood up to the barrage magnificently and saw us over the line. Another win to round off the month and with Aberdeen being hammered 5-1 at home to Rangers, the result saw us move up to 3rd place in the table above the Dons on goal difference. Those days of struggle felt a very long way away. Yet, even though we now had a 10-day break because of the League Cup Final at the weekend, there would be no let up. Next up we hosted Aberdeen at Tynecastle. A win would see us come into our own behind the Old Firm and, of course, dish out a little revenge for our early season defeat. FULL TIME: Livingston 2-3 Heart of Midlothian Team: Pereira, Smith, Souttar, Halkett, White (Hickey), Irving, Whelan (Damour), Clare (Mulraney), Walker, Ikpeazu, Washington
  9. Table as at Sunday 27th October 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Glasgow Rangers 10 8 1 1 26 7 25 19 Glasgow Celtic 10 7 2 1 23 7 23 16 Aberdeen 10 7 2 1 18 11 23 7 Heart of Midlothian 10 6 2 2 21 14 20 7 Hibernian 10 4 2 4 19 17 14 2 Kilmarnock 10 3 4 3 12 11 13 1 Motherwell 10 4 1 5 14 16 13 -2 St Mirren 10 4 1 5 15 21 13 -6 St Johnstone 10 3 2 5 9 13 11 -4 Livingston 10 1 3 6 7 21 6 -14 Hamilton Academical 10 1 1 8 6 18 4 -12 Ross County 10 1 1 8 5 19 4 -14 Friday 25th October 2019 Hamilton 1 3 Hibs Saturday 26th October 2019 Aberdeen 1 0 Motherwell Hearts 1 0 Ross County Rangers 3 0 Livingston St Johnstone 0 1 St Mirren Sunday 27th October 2019 Kilmarnock 1 1 Celtic
  10. Saturday 26th October 2019: Heart of Midlothian v Ross County (SPL) Venue: Tynecastle Att: 17,182 Ross County, off the back of both being the first club to be beaten by Livingston and as a result, falling to the bottom of the table, were the next lambs to the slaughterhouse that Tynecastle had become. Flippancy aside, I shuffled my back a little ahead of the game, two players having played themselves into the starting line-up and a third change coming necessitated by injury. Sean Clare and Craig Wighton unsurprisingly started following their part in the derby success 8 days previously whilst a little more seriously, certainly in the short-term, Ricci Montolivo had suffered a nasty gash on his leg in a challenge with Andy Irving in training and had been ruled out for at least a week, possibly two, just to ensure it didn’t become infected. That provided a rare chance for Loic Damour to start alongside Glenn Whelan in midfield, with Irving himself gaining a place on the bench. The youngster swore blind he didn’t deliberately ‘do’ Ricci, in spite of some firm ribbing from his team-mates. We started the game full of confidence as, to be fair, did Ross, both sides passing the ball with confidence and an absorbing opening period brought with it the opening goal of the afternoon. Some smart build-up involving Damour, Wighton and then Clare saw the latter send a ball into the box which looked to have given Conor Washington work to do as it sent him a little wide. Our leading scorer made light work of the increasingly acute angle, however, catching Marian Keleman napping a little and firing a snapshot left footed that beat the visiting goalkeeper at his near post to take the Northern Irishman to 11 goals for the campaign. I wondered if that early sucker punch might wind the visitors, but no, they continued in the manner they’d begun. It quickly became clear why they were struggling though, they had absolutely no end product at all. Michael Gardyne’s strike from the edge of the box that went about six-yards wide was their best effort of the opening half. Every other time they got into a good position, you could almost see the cogs working in the player’s brains and the wrong option was selected. On the half hour mark, we showed rather more decisiveness as Wighton, who was dropping into the pocket of space just behind Washington turned and played a lovely slide-rule pass for the marksman to run onto. This time, Keleman got down really well to his left to push Washington’s effort wide of the post and keep his side alive. One got the feeling that a second goal for us probably would finish off any threat from the visitors. So, for all the truth in the fact that Ross lacked quality in the final third, so, for the most part aside from those two flashes, did we. We weren’t great – in control – but not great at all. HALF TIME: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 Ross County It was a case of telling the boys to remain watchful but to go all out to get the second killer goal at the break. If we did that, I was sure further goals were likely to follow. The spirit in the dressing room was good, I wasn’t going to unduly upset the apple cart. 30 seconds after the restart and we’d gone close to doing just that, Glenn Whelan unleashed a raking through ball over the top and in behind which once again saw Washington clear on goal. This time his driven effort beat Keleman, but also the goalkeeper’s left hand upright on this occasion too and thudded into the advertising hoarding behind the goal. And that would have saved us having to endure the next 44½ minutes of absolute rubbish. From the way the game opened in the first 10 minutes or so, I thought we were going to be in for a real treat. That was the high point though, everything else was insipid, uninspired, simply dreadful. The only two positives were a first clean sheet of the league campaign and the fact that what precious little quality there was on show had come from us. Three more points, a fourth consecutive win and now the unbeaten run was up to eight matches so it felt a little churlish being too critical of the boys, but we’d smuggled a couple of results in the run and I wanted more. I wanted better. Something to look at once again in training on Monday ahead of the midweek visit to Livingston. FULL TIME: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 Ross County Team: Pereira, Smith, Souttar, Berra (Halkett), White, Whelan, Damour, Clare (Walker), Mulraney (Meshino), Washington, Wighton
  11. Table as at Saturday 19th October 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Glasgow Rangers 9 7 1 1 23 7 22 16 Glasgow Celtic 9 7 1 1 22 6 22 16 Aberdeen 9 6 2 1 17 11 20 6 Heart of Midlothian 9 5 2 2 20 14 17 6 Motherwell 9 4 1 4 14 15 13 -1 Kilmarnock 9 3 3 3 11 10 12 1 Hibernian 9 3 2 4 16 16 11 0 St Johnstone 9 3 2 4 9 12 11 -3 St Mirren 9 3 1 5 14 21 10 -7 Livingston 9 1 3 5 7 18 6 -11 Hamilton Academical 9 1 1 7 5 15 4 -10 Ross County 9 1 1 7 5 18 4 -13 Friday 18th October 2019 Hearts 2 1 Hibs Saturday 19th October 2019 St Johnstone 1 2 Celtic Aberdeen 1 1 Kilmarnock Hamilton 1 2 Motherwell Livingston 2 0 Ross County Rangers 3 1 St Mirren
  12. Friday 18th October 2019: Heart of Midlothian v Hibernian (SPL) Venue: Tynecastle Att: 20,099 It was a full-house, of course, a sell-out and the place was absolutely bouncing. The roar from both ends was deafening and more intense than any I’d experienced so far at Tynecastle. The difference between the atmosphere for this game and the one against Rangers was the air of expectation from the visiting support on opening day. This time, both supporters of both sides sensed the opportunity to win and, more importantly, to get one over their cross-city rivals. In the twenty minutes between me being outside watching the warm-ups and coming out again, the heavens had opened but as ever, as soon as the whistle went, I blocked out all of the hubbub around me, put on my glasses and watched the action intently. The opening five minutes were predictably frenetic and ‘playground’ in style. Everyone haring around after the ball and launching into improbably challenges. It all quickly settled down though and a ball in behind Chris Berra saw Florian Kamberi was onto it in a flash. He tried to drill it beyond Pereira and the goalkeeper got down a little slowly, making a half save but taking enough pace off the ball for Souttar to sweep up behind and get the ball clear for a throw-in. 10 minutes later and a left-wing corner was swung into the heart of our penalty area to be met by Adam Jackson, up from the back for Hibs. His header, which was more or less free and from inside the six-yard box was thumped over the bar, though, as he was just unable to get over the effort. He did rather better in the 26th minute, however, as a Stevie Mallan free kick from the right aimed towards the far post was won by Melker Hallberg and his header back across goal found Jackson with the freedom of the entire six-yard box to tap the ball home from a couple of yards out and give the visitors a deserved lead. It was the 41st minute before we created anything worthy of the description ‘opening’, Conor Washington crossing from the left and Uche Ikpeazu glancing his header harmlessly over the top. As the whistle went for half-time, we were accompanied down the tunnel by a cacophony of boos and jeers. “Hear that?” I said, as the players traipsed in, heads down. “I shouldn’t need to say anything to you. They’ve told you all you need to know about that travesty of a first half and what’s required now. Down to you, lads. Austin, JD, Foxy, Paul, Tommy – we spent all week busting our balls to prepare you for this and that’s how you decide to perform. You should be bloody ashamed and embarrassed. Sort it out, I’m off for a cuppa.” And with that I exited the room, slamming the door behind me and went for a little walk to cool my jets a little before the restart. HALF TIME: Heart of Midlothian 0-1 Hibernian Things didn’t improve in the opening quarter of an hour of the second period and after Jackson had narrowly planted another free header just over the top I felt compelled to act. Sean Clare and Craig Wighton came on for the totally ineffectual Jamie Walker and the service starved Uche Izpeazu. I felt that Clare was a little more tenacious than Walker and that Wighton would go searching for the ball a little more than Uche, maybe make things happen. “Make yourselves heroes, boys,” I said as they wandered over to where the fourth official was holding up the board. Within six minutes, a very dangerous Hibs attack floundered when Daryl Horgan lost his footing just as he was going to deliver from the right-hand by-line. Aidan White picked up the loose ball and sent if forward to Jake Mulraney, midway inside his own have. He knocked it back to White who looking up, saw Washington making a run off the shoulder of Jackson down the inside left channel. The lofted pass was good, Washington’s cross wasn’t. However, Mulraney had busted a gut to get forward in support and picked up possession, dinked past a challenge and stood the ball up towards the penalty spot where Wighton climbed, and managed to loop a header across Ofir Marciano and just inside the post to equalise. It was the forward’s first goal for the club and greeted by mild delirium in the stands. Not a bad way to silence the doubters, that. We were much the better side after that for the next twenty minutes and looked by far the more likely side to go on and grab a winner. Shots peppered Marciano’s goal, but not without unduly extending the Hibs keeper. The crowd urged us forward, we’d gotten them back onside with that equaliser. 50/50s were beginning to go our way, loose balls finding themselves at the feet of Claret shirted players. As the game passed into the 87th minute, Aidan White went on a surge into space down the left flank and then passed it on to Mulraney. The Irishman had plenty of space to get a cross in and Washington flicked it on at the near post. Arriving on the scene at the right time once again was Wighton, and he met it with is head at the far post and bulleted his header into the net. The place erupted on three sides, only behind Pereira’s goal was there stunned silence, everywhere else the place was absolutely jumping. No matter what happened in Craig Wighton’s life beyond this point, he’d written himself into Hearts folklore with those two headed interventions. Assuming, of course, we could see out the final few minutes without acting like pillocks. From the restart, we regained possession but then Jake Mulraney, who had done so much good work to help us overcome our deficit chose this to be the moment at 2-1 up in a derby to unleash an outlandish back-heel inside his own half.. Possession turned over and former Manchester United youngster David Gray found himself able to shoot, very nearly finding Babylon as his effort beat Pereira at his near post but thundered back off the upright and out of play. I breathed a sigh of relief and was heartened to see Mulraney’s skipper, Christophe Berra, launching a volley of invective at his winger’s stupidity to save me the effort. Very nearly a case of say hello, wave goodbye to three points. Mulraney’s next touch was rather more like it, meeting a cross into our penalty area with the biggest of big boots into row Z as we weathered some intense Hibs pressure. The corner was headed clear by Souttar and we managed to regroup and see out stoppage time relatively comfortably to secure a huge and barely deserved three points. Not that the fans cared, the reception at the final whistle couldn’t have been more starkly different to that which had greeted half-time. I shook hands with Jack and commiserated with him. “We got away with that.” I confessed. “Ah, you have to take your chances,” Jack said. “Your sub did, our boys didn’t.” I could tell he was deflated and understood fully. We’d ridden our luck, hadn’t played well aside from that 20-minute spell between our two goals and come away with the three points that kept us in fourth for a little longer. I decided to let the boys enjoy the moment, choosing to congratulate them for turning things around and picking up the points rather than dwelling on the less pleasing aspects of the performance. That could wait for Monday morning. I did make a special effort to speak to Craig, congratulate him on his efforts and goals that turned the game. “Hopefully that’ll give you a bit of confidence now.” I said. “Thanks for giving me the chance, boss. Aye, hopefully that’ll kickstart me here now.” He was wearing a smile as wide as the Forth and who could blame him, he’d not had the easiest of starts to his career at Tynecastle, failing to score in more than a year since joining from Dundee. A good lad with a great attitude, I really hoped this would fire him onto bigger and better things. With that, I took my leave and made my way down to the press room to face the cameras and questions from the waiting scribes. The final ball-ache before going upstairs and rubbing shoulders with the sponsors and sharing a glass of wine with Jack. FULL TIME: Heart of Midlothian 2-1 Hibernian Team: Pereira, Smith, Souttar, Berra, White, Whelan, Montolivo, Walker (Clare), Mulraney, Washington, Ikpeazu (Wighton)
  13. The next afternoon, as the boys congregated in the player’s lounge for the pre-match meal I pulled Aaron Hickey to one side and sat down with him on one of the sofas. “Aaron, how are you doing?” I asked. “Good, boss, thanks. Yourself?” The young full-back replied. “I’m good thanks. Listen, I just wanted to say that I’ve been really impressed with your efforts in training over the past few weeks. Your attitude has been excellent and you’re really showing signs of improving all the time.” A coy smile came over his face. “Thanks, boss, that’s good to know. I’ll keep doing my best to work hard and impress.” “Keep doing what you’re doing and your playing time will only increase. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you and I really want to be someone that brings lads through the ranks into the first team so there’s an opportunity here for you to become a real trailblazer for other youngsters, not to mention a favourite with the supporters.” “Cheers, boss. I appreciate that.” “Top man, you’re on the bench today, I want Aidan’s pace to help deal with the threat of Daryl Horgan, but your chance will come. Go on, get some grub and I’ll catch you later.” He skipped off, a little spring in his step. I didn’t know who Sky’s sources were, I knew enough by now to know that agents knew when they had a saleable asset under their wing and that they wouldn’t be adverse to touting them around, drum up some interest from time to time – I had plenty of them doing to me with free agents, players who were unsettled elsewhere, promising youngsters from the Championship or below and whilst I knew that football was a dog-eat-dog world, I really wanted to try and maintain as moral a stance as possible. Whether or not that’d be possible in the long run, I didn’t know – I might just be passing myself off as hugely naïve. Time would tell on that count. After the pre-match meal, the boys had an hour’s down time where they were free to do what they wanted – listen to music, go for a wander, do some stretches or a little gentle ball work, sit down and read, have a nap – then we congregated in the changing room and I announced the eighteen man squad for the afternoon. Stevie Naismith was still unavailable and Steven MacLean had also picked up a tweak in training, so there was a call-up to the first-team squad for the first time under my tenure for 22 year old forward Craig Wighton, the former Dundee man whose professional goal-record stood at approximately 1 goal every 10 games. Someone on the coaching staff, who shall not be identified by name, cruelly described Craig as a ‘false 9’ on the basis that ‘he’s more likely to score in a monastery than on the pitch.’ Aside form that, it was pretty much as you’d expect line-up wise. Whilst the boys got stuck into their pre-match routines, I wandered out for a look at the pitch and bumped into Jack Ross who was chatting to Jocky, the groundsman on the perimeter track at the mouth of the tunnel.. Jack, the young former St Mirren and Sunderland boss, was someone I’d got a lot of time and respect for. He’d taken the Hibs job after losing in the League 1 Play-Off final with the Mackems, a 94th minute winner for Charlton doing for him. Ross was well known around these parts having spent 15 months as boss of the Under 19s here at Tynecastle between 2014 and 2015 and clearly a popular figure still. “Aye, here he is,” Jocky said as I approached. “A wee man with almost as much class as yerself, Jacko.” “Almost?” I enquired with mock incredulity. “This fella here,” Jocky replied, pointing at Jack, “he know how to pick a bottle of scotch. Yer’ve got a something to live up to, wee man.” “Jack, it’s good to meet you.” I said, offering a handshake to my opposite number which he gladly accepted. “Jones, hello. You too.” “I’ll be off,” Jocky said, hoisting his pitchfork over his shoulder with a great effort. “I’ll make a final check on the carpet fer yer both.” “Quite a character isn’t he?” Jack said. “Yeah, he’s a great guy, always in high spirits. Seems to live here though,” I said. “Never takes a day off, always here when I get in, still here when I leave.” “I think this keeps him going to be honest, his wife died four or five years ago, I forget which, but it was while I was here. Really sad time. I think he took a day off and was back the next day.” We both looked at the figure, slightly crooked with age now, forking one or two areas on the far side. “Being here gives him a reason to get up every day.” We chatted until the players began to filter out for their warm up, about our seasons so far, expectations, other teams we’d come up against before shaking hands again and agreeing to a drink afterwards, once we’d settled down. The warm-up happened in front of an increasingly warm atmosphere as the stadium filled up. I popped back into the dressing room to put three points on the white board and grab myself a cup of tea. I’ll be honest, I felt a little more nervous than usual, where I’d normally be sat down calmly on one of the benches at this stage, I simply couldn’t sit still without my leg nervously jiggling up and down. I had to pace, began to sing to myself under my breath, bizarrely choosing a Yo La Tengo track. Nothing like a bit of obscure US Indie to settle one’s heart rate. Twelve minutes before kick-off and the players began to file back in. I settled them down, went through the three points on the board for a couple of minutes, just re-emphasising everything we’d gone through over the previous four days, wishing them luck and telling them to believe in themselves. Do it for the fans, do it for the club but most of all do it for themselves. The boys went on to their final pieces of preparation and I went round each one, giving them a high five and wishing them well when there was a knock on the door. Austin opened it. “Patsy, the cameras are ready for you outside.” “On my way,” I replied, as I fist-bumped Uche. Jack Ross was just finishing off his chat with Leah when I arrived, I waited for him to vacate the spotlight before taking my place. “Nice to see you, Jones,” Leah said, flashing me a half-smile that displayed a dimple in her left cheek. I realised then I hadn’t ever seen her without her stony business-like look on her face. “And thank you again.” “You’re very welcome,” “Okay, we’re on in 5,” came a voice from behind the camera. Leah Young: Jones, it’s derby day. How much do you look forward to playing your local rivals? It’s my first experience of this or any derby day as a manager, but I’ve been looking forward to it since we played St Mirren. There’s been a buzz at training, there’s a buzz around the city and now it’s down to us to put on a show for the paying and watching public. LY: How do you intend to seize the initiative against an opponent who, like Hearts, enjoy dominating possession? I think we’re in for a fascinating contest between two sides that like to try and get the ball down and play. We’ll have to be at our best when we don’t have the ball, make sure we adjust and react out of possession, I think that’s likely to be where the game is decided. LY: Daryl Horgan is acknowledged as one of the best dribblers in the league. Do you have a plan to stop him? We are definitely aware of Daryl and the danger he can present. He’s not their only danger but we’ve worked on a few things on the training ground to counter the threat that Daryl and others are likely to pose. LY: On that, Stevie Mallan comes into the game having been outstanding of late in recent weeks in the Hibs midfield. Do those plans include him? Of course, and again, not just Stevie or Daryl, but everyone. Hibs, like every side in this league, have plenty of threat and I think we’ve prepared well for all of them. LY: Thanks, Jones. Good luck. Thanks. She turned away, making sure everything had come through okay on-air and I excused myself as the players began to line-up in the tunnel, ready to go into battle.
  14. Whilst the players and coaching staff were all off enjoying their new-found freedom for a few days, I enjoyed a quick flight back home south of the border to see my parents and brother, before heading back up on the Monday morning to catch up on admin that I hadn’t had a chance to go through. There were coaching reports to review, scouting reports to read and then categorise into ‘thanks but no thanks’, ‘hmm, maybe…’, ‘hell yeah!’ and finally ‘chance would be a fine thing!’ There were a few dozen to read, some video clips to watch and decisions to be made. The main one that caught my eye was for a young lad at Chelsea, that could play at either full-back called Tariq Lamptey. He was out of contract in the summer, so even though we’d have to pay a fee for him, I wouldn’t have thought it would be much. I made a call to Pat and asked him to make sure that he was being monitored closely between now and the end of December, at which point we’d be able to approach him if he didn’t sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge. That all took the best part of a day, then on the Tuesday afternoon I attended a fans’ forum at Tyncecastle organised by the Independent Supporters Association. It was an opportunity for me to talk to 100 or fans, about what I’m trying to do here, how I think things are going and what the future holds. It was an opportunity for the supporters to judge me at close quarters, to ask me questions and find out reasons why I’d made certain decisions or why, for example, investing in the squad isn’t likely to be able to happen in January. As with any group of people, you’ll never please everyone, but I think on the whole, it all went okay. Certainly, I’m pleased the evening took place on the back of half a dozen matches undefeated rather than six without a win though! Thursday and Friday were fairly light days on the training ground, some gym work, a few 5-a-side competitions, a penalty shoot-out competition in which Jamie Walker once again reined supreme and a working on a few set piece ideas that, if I’m honest, I had to can since they looked much better in my head than they did in action. I gave the boys the weekend off again and spent a good few hours at home watching videos of Hibs’ first eight league matches, making notes and identifying their apparent strengths that we needed to be aware of and weaknesses that I felt we could exploit. More than any other game, I knew this one meant the most to the supporters. Bragging rights at work and in some places, at home, were at stake. The rivalry was every bit as keen as the Old Firm, albeit with less media glare on it. Trouble was mercifully rare at the matches, but make no mistake, there was no love lost between fans of the two clubs. Come Monday morning and it was time to get down to serious business. We began by going through some clips of Hibs that the Geek Squad had put together and with the spiffy interactive touch-screen that would make Andy Gray, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher amorous, Austin took the boys through three things to be fully aware of with Hibs, and three things that we felt we could exploit. They would be six points that would be hammered home to them throughout the week and that our training sessions would largely focus upon. The focus from the boys was good, they knuckled down and worked hard. Of course, there was still space for banter and mickey taking, especially when Glenn Whelan had a shot ‘at goal’, but they were taking on board what we were looking for and commitment levels were spot on. JD, Austin and I took time out with individuals every so often just to give them a little bit of extra information regarding their immediate opponents, how we felt they might be able to get an edge or just something to be aware of – for example, the tendency of Swiss target-man Florian Kamberi to try and bully his marker when jostling for flick-ons, but how he prefers to receive the ball into feet or onto his chest, lay off and spin in behind. So, then using Uche as a pseudo-Kamberi, we were able to try and work on some ways of countering that whilst being aware of the runners from midfield. It wasn’t the most exciting of work, but with patience and hard work, hopefully it’d pay off. On Thursday morning, the day before the big derby, the players weren’t expected in until 2pm for an hour and a half session. I was in my office, looking at some reports on some of the Under 19s when the phone rang. “Jones, It’s Leah Young.” “Oh, Leah, hi. What can I do for you?” “Our sources tell us that Manuel Pellegrini is very interested in signing Aaron Hickey in January.” A pause. “Well?” She prompted. “Well what?” I asked. “What’s your reaction?” “Who’s your source?” “You know I can’t tell you that,” she laughed. I rolled my eyes. “Presumably, if I was to find myself with absolutely nothing better to do and switched onto your silly news channel, the words ‘Sky Sources’ would appear on the red bar at the bottom alongside BREAKING in capital letters?” “We’re not breaking the news until we have your reaction.” She replied. “It’s not news, though.” I said. “Sure it is” “It’s not, news has to have some basis of fact attached to it, not someone putting two and two together. West Ham might be watching Aaron, I don’t know, maybe his agent is touting him around, I don’t know. What is irrefutable fact is that the boy is under contract here. We’ve no contact with any club about him so anything that goes out on the airwaves to the contrary is just tittle-tattle.” I enjoyed being able to use ‘the boy’ in relation to Aaron since he was one of the few lads that was younger than I was, everyone else was either in ‘Uncle’ or ‘Grandad’ territory by comparison. “So, that’s a no from you?” She asked. “Well deciphered.” I responded, sarcasm at mild levels. “Got it, thanks Jones. See you tomorrow.” There was half a second’s pause before her tone switched from business to something more casual. “By the way, thank you for the flowers, card and tickets for my Dad.” “Oh, it was nothing.” I replied. “How’s he doing?” “He’s improving, thank you. Still in intensive care but stable. It was really thoughtful of you.” “I’m pleased to hear it, I hope he makes a speedy and full recovery. It’s good to hear you’re back at work.” “Thanks, Jones.” Another heartbeat’s pause, then back to business. “See you in the tunnel tomorrow then.” I chuckled lightly. “See you there.”
  15. Table as at Sunday 6th October 2019 P W D L F A Pts GD Aberdeen 8 6 1 1 16 10 19 6 Glasgow Celtic 8 6 1 1 20 5 19 15 Glasgow Rangers 8 6 1 1 20 6 19 14 Heart of Midlothian 8 4 2 2 18 13 14 5 Hibernian 8 3 2 3 15 14 11 1 Kilmarnock 8 3 2 3 10 9 11 1 St Johnstone 8 3 2 3 8 10 11 -2 Motherwell 8 3 1 4 12 14 10 -2 St Mirren 8 3 1 4 13 18 10 -5 Hamilton Academical 8 1 1 6 4 13 4 -9 Ross County 8 1 1 6 5 16 4 -11 Livingston 8 0 3 5 5 18 3 -13 Friday 4th October 2019 St Mirren 1 3 Hearts Saturday 5th October 2019 Hibs 1 1 St Johnstone Livington 1 1 Aberdeen Motherwell 1 0 Kilmarnock Sunday 6th October 2019 Ross County 1 3 Rangers Celtic 2 0 Hamilton
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