Here at Pure Fitbaw, we’re no different to most Scottish football fans in that, when we’re not at a game, we’re often glued to the TV for our fitbaw fix. Whether on SKY, BT Sport or the BBC’s Sportscene or Alba channel, radio coverage or social media; we all love to hate the pundits and coverage our game gets. Here, we’ll cast a critical eye over the live televised SPFL matches – all from the comfort of our favourite armchair.
Saturday 24th February – Kilmarnock v Hibs, live on SKY Sports.
I tuned in early, eager to catch up on the latest goings on in Scottish football. What better way to start than with SKY’s SPFL magazine show, SPFL Matters?
Matters? Well, yes, yes it does, SKY – matter, that is. Not that you’d know it from this show. It opened with Kris Commons presenting an on-pitch sketch with Andy Walker ‘disguised’ in a flat-cap with his line-roller. The ex-Celtic and Bolton Wanderers striker would have looked more at home in a Hovis advert rather than this insult to the modern-day professional groundsman.
And anyway, Rugby Park doesn’t have grass – oh wait, they’re in Dingwall, at Ross County’s home ground, Victoria Park. Ah, Ross County are maybe on TV later. Nope. They’re away to St.Johnstone. Ok, so far so weird, but I’m approaching this with an open mind, so what have you got for us, Sky?
An interview with Ross County chairman, and all-round good guy, Roy MacGregor. Hmmm. By now I’m realising that this is clearly a repeat, and has been filmed well in advance. But, again, let’s give it a chance.
Until Walker opens with a question about MacGregor’s own playing career. “You were a bit of a hammer-thrower, Roy.” Nice. What followed was a nice wee blether with the County chairman; clearly a passionate fan, first and foremost.
MacGregor recalled how he fell in love with the Staggies after a Scottish Cup tie against Rangers in 1966. A little bored and distracted, I turned to Google. MacGregor has an estimated personal fortune of £400 million through Global Energy Systems, his company that now lends its name to Victoria Park for sponsorship reasons. According to a 2013 article in The Herald, MacGregor’s fortune puts him just inside the top 100 on Scotland’s Rich List. Reading on in that article, we read how MacGregor fell in love with the Staggies in 1966…this is becoming a bit familiar.
Back on SKY, the intrepid presenting duo of Walker and Kris (WAK) are coaxing some amusing anecdotes from MacGregor about Fergus McCann, just as I read a quote from MacGregor on McCann from that same 2013 article – “he was a difficult wee guy.”
This was just a televisual rehash of a 5-year-old newspaper article. One of the WAK pair mentioned that the arrival of Owen Coyle as County’s manager was an excellent appointment. They went on to say that, along with Brendan Rodgers and Steve Clarke, these are they type of managerial appointments that give Scottish football some added credibility. On that point, they were not wrong. Unfortunately the same could not be said of this show. I learned that Roy MacGregor seems a thoroughly decent chap, but as a comedy presenting duo, WAK are, well, wack.
On to the main event then. A proper presenter, Hayley McQueen. Promising start. Now for the build-up I was hoping would befit a match between 6th and 4th, and was pitting together two of Scotland’s in-form sides. On pundit duty with McQueen; Commons, again, and Faddy. James McFadden, the erstwhile Scotland talisman, who will soon be back at Hampden as part of Alex McLeish’s new-look national team coaching set-up.
We were reminded of Hibs’ last visit to Rugby Park, a 0-3 win back in October. It was one of Steve Clarke’s first matches at the helm of the Ayrshire club after taking over from Lee McCulloch. Despite the comprehensive defeat, Killie fans applauded their side off the pitch at the end, such was the improvement in their general play. This was more like it, I was starting to think we could be in for a cracker!
Some background was provided, as we see the league table. There are 2 places between the sides, but 12 points – albeit that Killie have two games in hand. Talk inevitably turns to Killie’s magical resurgence. Of course, Clarke will get the plaudits, but will we perhaps hear about the talented Stephen O’Donnell or Jordan Jones? No? What about the English Premiership experience of Youssouf Mulumbu, or the ever impressive Gary Dicker in midfield? Nope. The emergence of Eamonn Brophy? Again, alas, no. The panel were all in wholehearted agreement that this was all down to the efforts of one man. The er, SKY Sports pundit, Kris Boyd.
Boyd would go on to score in the game, moving him level with Alfredo Morelos at the top of the scoring chart, and is indeed enjoying a renaissance in the twilight of his career (see radar, below). But when Hayley McQueen asked for the lads’ opinion on Boyd for Scotland, my jaw hit the floor. We know he’s your mate and all, but do us a favour!
Neil Lennon at least provided a little more insight in his pre-match interview; highlighting the aforementioned list of Kilmarnock players as the key to their strength and defensive structure. It was then nice to hear from Killie manager Clarke’s brother, Paul, who played at Rugby Park back in 1979 and was part of the side when Killie last managed 7 consecutive home wins in a row. Would they break that record today?
As kick-off approached, Jeff Stelling popped up with our obligatory reminder to get a bet on the match. An excited Jeff tells us that “the boys are about to self-combust.” When the ‘boys’ in question are Stelling’s Soccer Saturday pundits, including Charlie Nicholas and Paul Merson, I really wish they would, Jeff.
We returned to Rugby Park to see a minute’s applause for Sir John Orr, the former Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police. A local lad, Sir John was a former Chairman of the club and its Honorary President up until his recent death at the age of 73.
Murderous Hibs hungry for more
In the words of Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes, Hibs “murdered” the Dons last weekend. When the Hibees took the lead through new signing Florian Kamberi after just 28 seconds, it looked like Kilmarnock were going to be their latest victim. When 18-year-old Ryan Porteous doubled their advantage inside 10 minutes, Hibs were looking every inch the serial killer of the SPFL Premiership. Porteous was only in the side due to the birth of Paul Hanlon’s child, and the young centre half has a bright future ahead of him.
The Hibs fans were in fine voice as their side threatened to run all over Killie. There was noise coming from somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. The stand behind one goal was completely empty, but for some oversized advertising. Not a good look, Killie.
A quick word on the Hibs captain, or is it the Incredible Hulk these days? Darren McGregor’s dodgy knees mean that he doesn’t train normally with the rest of his teammates. He quite clearly spends all of that extra time in the gym, as he’s all upper body strength now. Someone should tell him you should’t skip leg day, dodgy knees or not.
It took a while for Killie to get going, but they did finally show some signs of life after a quarter of an hour or so. Hibs were showing some signs of the defensive frailty that has seen them conceding, on average, more than a goal per game so far this season. Clarke’s Killie don’t know when they’re beaten – as evidenced by a stunning ten-man comeback victory against Dundee a fortnight ago. Jordan Jones fired a warning shot to Hibs as his shot came crashing back off the post just before the half-time break.
During the interval, there seemed to be a bit of a mini-rave going on inside Rugby Park as Commons and Faddy gave us their analysis. Having had our appetite well-and-truly whetted by an absorbing first half, SKY were keen to push a ‘Super Sunday’ that for once lived up to its name. Tomorrow, we’ll be treated to Manchester United v Chelsea from the English Premier League, followed by Arsenal v Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final from Tottenham’s current home ground, Wember Lee (never heard of it.)
Not bad. We might give it a watch, but only after a blockbuster from Pittodrie, where it’s first against third as Celtic take on Aberdeen. That will also be live on SKY Sports, ko 13:30, but blink and you’d have missed the big build-up it was(n’t) given amongst the sensationalism of an English Super Sunday.
Steve Clarke has lost just three of eighteen matches in charge of Killie. He has instilled in them a confidence and belief that was utterly bereft under his predecessor, McCulloch. Yet Killie clearly have no shortage of talented players. The analytics guys on Twitter haven’t been surprised in the slightest by this up-turn in form. It seems all that was needed was some organisation from Clarke, and the underlying numbers suggested that Killie always had this in them.
His first-half rasper off the post having not been heeded, Jordan Jones curled a magnificent right-footed shot into Ofir Marciano’s net after 56 minutes, and it was very much game on. Just three minutes later, the home side were awarded a penalty. Kris Boyd had seen a free kick blocked by the wall in the build-up. He then saw his penalty saved by an in-form Marciano, but followed up to knock in the rebound. Unbelievable stuff as Killie equalised, and Neil Lennon predictably lost the plot. Sent to the stands by referee Kevin Clancy, we won’t have heard the last of that one.
Hibs held on after that. A string of excellent saves from Marciano denying Killie that record-breaking eighth successive home win. A share of the spoils was just about fair though considering Hibs’ lightning start. Steve Clarke will be pleased that once again, his players dragged themselves back from a seemingly impossible situation to take something from the game. Killie look to be in the top six to stay. As for Hibs and Lennon, discipline remains a problem. They showed everything that was good about them in the early stages of the first half, then everything that is bad for pretty much the entirety of the second half. As Lennon watched from his seat next to Hibs Chairman Rod Petrie, Steve Clarke casually threw on a one-time £4m player in Aaron Tshibola, on-loan from Aston Villa.
At the end, and obviously keen to get their money’s worth out of their star pundit, the SKY cameras turned to who else but Kris Boyd for his post-match thoughts. I would rather have heard from Ryan Porteous, after an eventful game for the Hibs youngster. Or Jordan Jones, architect of the Killie comeback. Maybe even Gary Dicker or Ofir Marciano who were both in with a shout for man-of-the-match for their respective teams. But for SKY, Boyd was still the only show in town.
This was a great game of football for the neutral to watch. I didn’t even have too much cause to mention Killie’s very own “Juicy Couture” trackie of a pitch, matching Hamilton Accies in the fashion stakes (hat-tip to my colleague, Owen Brown for that gem from his missus, Dawn.)
It was a pulsating, end-to-end, action-packed belter of a game – it had everything. All in all, it was a fantastic advert for the Scottish game. In the earlier interview, Roy MacGregor, the Staggies chairman told SKY that football clubs, like the broadcaster, are in the entertainment business. My message to SKY – there was certainly no shortage of entertainment on show this Saturday lunchtime. The SPFL is serving up a product to be proud of with matches like this. It would be great if you gave us, your customers, a product we could say the same about!