UNDERDOG

Terry Christie’s duffle coat. Never has a coat seen so much press as wee Terry’s did during Stenhousemuir’s high profile cup run in the late 90’s. I’m sure, as a football fan, the images are now ingrained in your mind of the Stenny manager’s thick, light brown coat which in truth, looked heavier than the wee man himself. A ‘good luck charm’ he called it and, by the time we played them in the quarter finals at Ochilview, when it must have been a balmy early March, Terry was sweating more than a Weight Watchers class in a Cadbury’s factory. He had made his bed though and, because they had already beaten Aberdeen and St Johnstone, there was no way that duffle coat was going back on a hanger until they were out of the cup. Being Hibernian and playing three leagues higher in the SPL, we were strong favourites. Had our attitude not been spot on, we would be in trouble.

With the FA Cup results this weekend, for the first time in a long time there were shocks galore and underdogs turning over the big boys. It doesn’t happen very often. Believe it or not, the big ‘cup shock’ is something that doesn’t actually occur that much. Statistically, very few of the bigger teams are turned over by a team from a lower division. It is only because it’s such a rarity, that it inevitably makes the headlines.

But it’s the reason WHY the bigger teams lose that is the fascinating issue. Why Chelsea lost to Bradford, why Man City lost to Middlesbrough and of course, the reason why Celtic, in the League Cup Semi-Final this Sunday, should NOT lose to Rangers. Kenny McDowall may well borrow Terry Christie’s coat, but if Celtic approach the game correctly, not even the Technicolor Dreamcoat is likely to make a difference.

Desire

Jose Mourinho described Chelsea’s defeat to Bradford as “humiliating.” it may well have been, but I’m sure the aftermath in the coaches boot room will have been examining individual players’ attitude. I know it wasn’t Chelsea’s full strength side, but it was a side packed with internationals, ‘fringe’ players in the loosest sense of the word. When you are playing a team from a lower division, ‘respect’ is always a word that is thrown into the mix, but it’s not a lack of respect that loses you the game, because Chelsea were not being disrespectful to Bradford by playing a weakened team. That team was put out in the belief that it would have beaten Bradford (and it should have). It was a poor attitude and approach to the game by some, or all of the players that meant the game was lost.

Attitude encompasses a lot of factors; desire, commitment, will to win, character and complacency. If any of those factors drop below a level where they overcome the ability to perform to something near their best, the “big” team are in trouble.
You’d have to ask Jose or Manuel Pellegrini, or indeed Louis Van Gaal, if they felt their team’s attitude’s were correct during their FA Cup ties, but if you have better players than the other team, rarely is it your ability to pass the ball that fails you.

Formula

It’s a simple equation. If your team has better players than the underdog, then you should win. That statement is fairly sweeping, but it stands across the board. It is only a matter of matching the smaller teams on what they could possibly beat you at on the day, to get a result.

I was fortunate throughout my career that I treated every game the same. Whether it was Forfar at Station Park on a cold Monday night in the reserves, or Rangers at Ibrox, I gave my all and snarled and ploughed my way through reserve players just as readily as I did Paul Gascoigne. It was just the way I was, and the way I had to be to survive as a footballer. Other more technically gifted players, like Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s players were this weekend, can occasionally find it difficult to mentally ‘get up’ for a game against weaker opposition, just as I could never have manipulated the ball well enough to cope at THEIR level.

It’s difficult for fans to understand this, as we expect our players to be up for every game, but it is unfortunately a natural human facet (even weakness), that is difficult to overcome. It’s also important to stress that these top players very rarely let their team down and those who do it more often, are those who do not survive.

Clearly Cambridge and Bradford showed higher levels of commitment and determination than their illustrious counterparts at the weekend. There can be no other reason they were able succeed, let alone have a chance.

Hampden

So what of the big game this weekend. Rangers are without question this week’s Bradford, but as I’ve already said, this is something that will have to be guarded against. For Celtic to win, they will have to match the strength of the underdog. There will be Rangers players in this match with energy, desire and commitment, never seen before this season. They will find reserves of fight and a willingness to run until they drop. If Celtic approach the game thinking “we’ll win this four or five” or thinking they’re all going to score a hat trick, it’s a dangerous mindset. And of course, there has to be a level of control to the desire. Temperament is key, as 11 vs 10 makes things more difficult, even if the gulf between the teams is so great.

A great, sports psychologist friend of mine once told me the key to winning big football matches was “fire in the belly, ice in the mind.” Never has a phrase been more appropriate, than this Sunday, both on and off the pitch. There is no doubt Celtic have much better players than Rangers, but they are going to have to win the mental and physical battle first, to prove it.

Ochilview

Our approach to that game at Stenhousemuir was spot on. We had gone away to a hotel to prepare and were well warned about how physical and energetic Stenny were going to be. As a team, it is almost impossible to start a game slowly and ‘grow’ into the match. If you start at a high tempo it is much easier to maintain that, than raise it to a high level during the game. That’s why it is so difficult for teams, who don’t start a game well, to get into their stride.

We started like a whirlwind and the first half became more of a Royal Rumble than a Scottish Cup Quarter Final, but by the start of the 2nd half, we knew we’d taken the sting out of them. We got an early goal and as much as it deflated them it invigorated us to the extent we ran out comfortable 4-0 winners. It was a lesson in taking on the underdog and, fortunately, wee Terry’s duffle coat was never to be spotted on Sportscene again. Although given that it was a warm, Spring Saturday afternoon in March, and sales of Right Guard weren’t known to have been  anything out of the ordinary in Larbert around the time, it’s probably just as well.

…Onto this week’s treble and after a magnificent 12/1 winner last week, ex Hamilton legend Wolfie McKenzie, bids for two-in-a-row with Dundee (6to4), Inverness (2to5) and Annan (11to10) for a 7/1 treble

Good Luck

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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ONE UP TOP

It’s that time of the year again, when clubs decide whether or not to go for it. When heads come out of the sand and the realisation dawns that they might not be where they hoped. Their league position at the end of January could determine their season; is it to be play-off’s, can they get promotion or is it to be the dreaded relegation? Can they squeeze every inch of ability out of their team and win enough games to achieve their pre season goal. All manner of thoughts will be racing through a manager’s head; systems, tactics and formations at the forefront, but ultimately it comes down to players. It ALWAYS comes down to players and how they perform.

Tactically, league position and club ambition can dictate an awful lot about how a coach approaches the final third of the season. Contrary to popular belief, very few managers and coaches ‘wing it.’ There is always a lot of thought and individual planning goes into tactics and formation and, depending on league position, approaches to that crucial period can be very different. There is no doubt the higher position in the league and the better players you have, will allow you to play more open, expansive football, whilst trying to protect a team from going down, will generally result in a more pragmatic, even negative approach. As a rule of thumb, if your team is going down, they’ll rarely have been great to watch.

You may not be aware though, that you could have saved yourself a lot of end of season heartache. If you’d checked the league table after 12 games, you’ll probably find your team were not that far away from their finishing position at that point. It’s a little known fact that the table changes very little from that point until the end of the season. Clubs fairly quickly find their level.

Just don’t blame me if you realise your team are going to be relegated after 12 games.

The Sky Factor

Andy Gray has a lot to answer for. I had rarely heard of “one up top” until Andy started spouting it on Monday Night Football. Now they’re all playing it. My coaching philosophy and therefore that of most of the teams I coached was based around being compact, difficult to beat, playing high up the pitch and playing with two strikers. The ‘lone striker’ was something rarely considered and only in certain circumstances when you wanted to become REALLY difficult to break down. But I’m aware times have changed and more flexibility in your system is an essential these days for success.
In our second season at Dundee we had one particular occasion were ‘one up top’ became a requirement, a League Cup tie against Celtic at Dens. Our particular lone raider was a relatively unknown Czech, Jan Zemlik, all 6ft 7in of him. In truth, big Jan wasn’t a great footballer, but on this occasion, his size and strength proved the foil we needed as he was able to hold up and retain possession, whilst occupying both centre backs, allowing us to play an extra man in midfield to stifle Celtic’s obvious quality in there. He buffeted and bruised his way through the game and gave us a tremendous platform to contain and counter. As it was, we lost 2-1, but we gave them an enormous fright and proved to us that we could change and adapt our style when required.

Change

But that’s ok in a one-off game, a situation where you can try something different. It’s far more difficult to convince players, and indeed yourself, half way through a season to sway from the norm. Most teams set out their stall depending on objectives and budgets. If you want to win titles, gain promotion and win games, you have to score goals. If you want to avoid relegation, you have to stop losing them. It is very, very rare – unless you are coaching at the very top level – that you are able to combine the two in equal measure. It’s one of the reasons why the top players and top coaches are highly paid and highly sought after. They are able to adapt equally at the very highest level.
In Scotland, we just have to do our best with the players we have at our disposal. There is no option to buy your way out of trouble.

That second year at Dens, we were able to play with more flair and freedom. Some of our players had matured into better players and we were able to bring in some quality due to budget constraints being ‘loosened’ a little. But it was only possible due to the building blocks we had put in place in our first season. A testing, brute of a season, where we had to sacrifice quality for functionality and do the best with what we had. The foundations were laid on the pitch, but in a rather different way than you might expect.

Narrow minded

When Alex and I got the job at Dens, we had a point to prove. We took over a team who had finished 7th in Division One, and had been ravaged by administration. We had a threadbare squad with nine signed players and a budget which was never going to allow us to compete at the top end of the table, but, for the sake of our football futures, we had to fight and show people we could do something with that squad. We knew if we could get them into a competitive position, the board would trust us for a second season and we could have a go at promotion. Expectation levels were high at Dundee, but at this point after the trauma of administration, they were happy to still have a club IN the division and, had we managed to get that band of Bosman’s and strays into the SPL, our next task would have been to turn water into wine.

We set about our task, knowing that realistically, a top four finish, would be an achievement given our squad. We trawled DVD’s of the previous season’s games and it became glaringly obvious, we were going to struggle. We had to find an angle, something that would give us an edge, an advantage, anything. Everyone seemed to enjoy playing at Dens – a big, wide bowling green of a pitch. It was an opponent’s dream. Watching those DVD’s, our players couldn’t get near the opposition and when better players are given room to play, they excel. We had to deny space and snarl our way through games. So we shortened and narrowed the pitch. A lot.

Not only that, we let everyone know, the press, opposition coaches, the fans, everyone. It was great watching experienced managers come and the first thing they did was pace out the pitch and scratch their heads. We had got into them and as well as a slight psychological edge, we had given our players a better chance. The football we played may not have been great that season, but it allowed us to bed in our philosophy of high tempo, aggressive, pressing football. A finish of 3rd was enough to give us another year in the job and with priorities (and budgets) now changing, we could afford to add some flair to the eclectic mix of endeavour and organisation.

Rarely do teams get the opportunity to change their philosophy at the business end of the season. Priorities are assessed and targets set at the beginning of the season. Money can change a lot of things, but when you’re at the nuts and bolts of the game and you don’t have it, you’ll find that those at the top score more goals and those at the bottom lose more. If only it were always so simple.

Finally… Kevin Mirallas. Unfortunately, his action in taking that penalty the other evening, epitomised many fans’ perception of the current type of player being imported to the English Premier. It was selfish and self motivated, with complete disregard for the team, although contrary to many people’s thought, I don’t believe it would have been pre-meditated for a ‘cause.’ He wanted the glory of scoring the penalty for himself. It’s alien to us a nation, but it’s very much in the nature of the ‘European’ footballer. Thankfully, Roberto Martinez put the player firmly in his place by taking him off, a move which will have gained him the respect of the rest of the players AND Mirallas himself and guaranteed a nurturing of team spirit. Mirallas may have to be sold in the end, if he doesn’t buy into Martinez’s play, but it will be worth it in the manager’s eyes for the sake of the club and for the morale of the group as a whole.

One thing I would like to add though is to question the mentality of Leighton Baines. With his record from the spot and his undoubted set piece ability, I know I wouldn’t have allowed Messi to take the ball off me, never mind the bold Mirallas.

Onto the return of the Guest Tipster treble. With the opportunity of the job in football not coming to fruition, I am free to give the chance for my old pal and ex Hamilton legend Paul ‘Wolfie’ McKenzie the chance to be the first guest to bring home the bacon. His selections this week are – Inverness (8to5), Dundee (6to4) and Hibs (11to10) for a tasty 12to1 treble

Good Luck

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

SPECIAL EFFECTS

Confidence. It’s an overused word in football. How do you measure it? Is it quantifiable? Well in my opinion, it’s rarely called into question unless a team is doing poorly and only then do we hear the cries of “lacking in confidence.” It’s one of those things in football you can’t actually SEE. Like ‘concentration,’ it’s the great immeasurable. I’ve seen both sides in the last week. I was at a Championship game at the weekend and watched a team, whom I came away thinking were “lacking in confidence,” before quickly chastising myself for talking nonsense. What they were lacking in was ability and a mentality to deal with all that the game was throwing at them.

I then watched Hamilton v Dundee United on Monday and saw the great “lack of concentration” myth.

What do children do when you ask them to concentrate? They frown and look serious, the great universal sign of concentration. How often have you seen a coach, after the team has scored a goal, bellow to his defenders, both index fingers pointing to the temple to “concentrate?” I’ve done it many, many times myself and you always hope that it has some sort of magic effect. The centre backs respond with a nod, an “ok” and the inevitable serious face.

Hamilton, had shown great spirit and determination to come back from two goals down the other night and get back on level terms and then, a few minutes later, committed the ultimate cardinal sin of switching off at a corner and losing what turned out to be the winning goal.

Switching off? A lack of concentration? A dissipation of confidence? Or just poor defending? I know which one I think it was and, whilst these are two factors which can vaguely be blamed for certain situations and a loss of form, there are other things which undoubtedly do have an effect on players and team performance. One or two of them just happen to be going on in Scottish football right now.

The experts

I was listening to the phone in the other night; there, I’ve said it. The great sacrilege for players and coaches who continue to pretend they don’t listen to phone in shows or read the papers. Most will have a peek in at some point and most will have a pile of newspapers delivered to their Manager’s Office every day that would fill a normal household’s recycling bin quota in one morning. Another great myth perpetrated by the Gaffer’s is the old “I don’t look at League tables.” Seriously? I don’t know a manager who doesn’t know how many free kicks, corners and what nightclub their star striker was in the night before, never mind not knowing how many points they have.
Players are just the same. The daily dressing room, pre training ritual of checking match reports, transfer speculation, who’s going where and who’s been where with whom.  Monday mornings in particular were like an edition of ‘Hold the Back Page’ as players clamoured to see what mark out of 10 they had been given. Whilst dismissing the journalist’s opinion as “they don’t have a clue anyway,” I’ve known many players over the years who have called the journalist in question to protest why they had “only got a FIVE.”

Anyway, back to the ‘phone in.’ It was said that players only start bothering, or their level of performance only starts being affected when the wages stop going in the bank. The old nonsense about “once a player crosses the white line (I hate that phrase) he concentrates on the job in hand.” I have a lot of respect for most football journalists, indeed I count many of them as being friends, but I’m afraid on this occasion at least, the experts’ opinion was well wide of the mark.

Are we really to believe that the current Rangers team, with that group of players, would not be performing any better if the current pantomime that surrounds the club was resolved and they went back to being a ‘normal’ football club again?
Financial turmoil, both internal and external affects players. It affects morale, team spirit and togetherness. It affects, dare I say it “confidence.” Every morning, going in to your workplace, unhappy faces from the office staff, bickering, in fighting all affects the individual. Think about how that instability would affect you in your workplace and what your level of performance you could provide.

Regardless of how well paid those players are, the machinations of the current Ibrox regime, do not bode well for team performance. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, level of pay rarely equates to immunity from feeling. From personal experience of being at several clubs in financial difficulty, rarely does team in that position, perform well.

GMS

Another interesting scenario cropping up this week and a situation which undoubtedly affects players and more to the point, clubs, is that of the pre-contract. A difficult, farce of a position to be in and one I wholeheartedly disagree with. That a player should be allowed to see out his contract with one club whilst having signed for another is nothing short of ludicrous. I am aware of the rules, but Mr Bosman, you have a lot to answer for.

Take the current point in question with Gary Mackay Steven. A terrific prospect and one that Celtic are rightly interested in. From Celtic’s point of view they MUST sign him on a pre-contract. With his contract up at the end of the season and no fee agreeable, it is the only way to force United’s hand and, whilst being slightly unsavoury it is of course, the nature of the business (particularly with one or two clubs in England hovering). Whether United then accept a reduced fee to get a player who strictly speaking, is now someone else’s, is a matter for them. There are a lot of factors to consider – will it affect the player? Almost certainly. Will it affect the other players? Almost certainly. Will he be keen on going for the same tackles, risking injury and his new, lucrative contract…? As I said, it’s one for United to consider. But at least in doing so, they’ll have the small matter of £250k compensation to consider, something that never came into it when we had the same scenario thrown at us at Dundee.

Dilemma

We were going for promotion and we became aware our main rivals in the title race, Hamilton, who were only a few points ahead at the time, were trying to sign our best striker. Like Gary Mackay Steven, his contract was up at the end of the season. Unfortunately, in financial terms, we couldn’t match their offer and the player signed a pre-contract. With only two teams really vying for promotion, it was a very clever move by Hamilton, not only would it allow them to get a very good player but it was clearly designed to disrupt our promotion challenge.

Had we the cushion of a £250k compensation package it would have been a no brainer for us. But with that not being the case – and this is where United have a difficult decision to make – we had to balance up how the negative of keeping the player would affect the individual and the team, against the negative of letting the player go and how much THAT would affect the team. To consider that, it will be important to look at the strength of character of the player and whether or not he can handle the situation and maintain his form. Will £250k compensate for that? Over to you Mr. Thompson…

As it was, we felt that letting our striker go would not only strengthen Hamilton but would weaken our team. The player in question was a strong character and even though Hamilton still pipped us in the end, we certainly felt the “double negative” of letting the player go, would have been much more detrimental to our challenge, as keeping him was.

Ultimately, players and clubs are affected by all manner of situations, ‘crossing the white line’ is no barrier to some of the goings on at a football club. Whilst players at the top level are highly paid, and the rest are only doing it to make a living, it doesn’t follow that they should be impervious to all the natural feelings of negativity and strain associated with work when things aren’t going well. It may not be the commonly held belief, but in the end, they ARE only doing their job.

Still no treble this week as my negotiations are ongoing and it would be inappropriate of me to have anyone tipping in case anything changes before Saturday.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

CARETAKER

I had a horrible sleepless night last night, tossing and turning. All manner of thoughts going through my head. You see, last night I got a phone call, an expression of interest, nothing more, but an interest nevertheless. Someone has asked me if I would consider coming in to help them at their club, lend my experience if you like. Now it’s important for me to stress here, there are other candidates, probably lots of them. But in the football world, that expression of interest is the equivalent of the Hogmanay fireworks going off in your head, hence the return of the sleepless night.

Should I be lucky enough to be eventually offered the position and should my family circumstances allow me to take it, I know only too well, the insomnia is only just starting its well worn path through my insatiable football brain. It comes with the territory. But why would anyone continue to put themselves through that? It’s a question I have asked myself many times over the years and, other than a vaguely masochistic streak, it continues to become difficult to justify any reasonable answer to my family. Generally though, it keeps coming back to one thing. That this one will be the job that elevates me to greatness, that success in the next job will ensure the big boys take notice and I can step up to the big league, that in six months time I don’t have to return, tail between my legs, to the wonderful world of the Glasgow Hackney Carriage.

It’s in all of us; coaches, managers, players and fans alike, that intoxicating power of football, and we wouldn’t have it any other way would we?

Pillow talk

Fortunately, I don’t have exclusivity on the apnoea merry-go-round. Almost every coach and manager I have known will have continuous sleep-free nights whilst thinking about team selections, training, tactics and opposition. Indeed, Allan Preston told me when he was manager at Livingston, he kept a pen and paper at his bedside, for the inevitable night-time bump. I’m certain he wasn’t alone and if you look at Sir Alex Ferguson now in comparison to when he was at the coal face, it’s fairly obvious he no longer has to pay an extra 10p each time he passes the supermarket checkout for his two extra bags.

Yet all this pales into insignificance when you can gain the respect of the football world from being a manager or coach when your team carries out your instructions to the letter and wins. The euphoria and downright selfish pride gained from a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ performance where you’ve soaked up all they can throw and sucker punched them at the death to nick a 1-0, makes all the 3am scribblings worth it.

However there is one managerial position, one unenviable position rarely afforded the luxury of a memory foam pillow. That of the caretaker.

Taking care

The caretaker manager’s job is one that is fraught with complexities. The first one being that you will rarely be taking over a team that is on the up. There are many coaches (particularly in England) who seem to have stepped in and carried out the job on many occasions, indeed Tony Parkes at Blackburn was in interim charge of the club on SIX different occasions. A steady hand or a scything one? Clearly no-one at the club ever seen him as management material, but his “old head” has been deemed valuable enough to tide the team over whilst the search for a permanent suitor goes on. You can make your own mind up as to whether you think that makes any sense.

Kenny MacDowall, is currently going through the worst possible side of being interim manager, because not only has he been FORCED into the position, he has taken over a team that seems to be lacking in confidence. A double edged sword if ever there was one.

Now make no mistake, Kenny would love to be manager of Rangers, but under different circumstances. Not when his best friend has been removed from the position, not when the guy you have stood shoulder to shoulder with, through thin and thin, has been forced into falling on his particular double edged sword. But contracts have to be honoured and protected and in football, clubs are very quick to seize on an opportunity to do what suits them. Kenny HAD to take the job and, he will have done so with Ally’s blessing. That he had to demote Ian Durrant in his first few days in the position, would only have compounded his turmoil at being coerced into the tainted seat.

Caretaker is something I have personal experience of and, from my point of view, I can attempt to give you a small insight into why Kenny’s head would have been in more turmoil than a noroviral belly in Delhi.

Dun deal

There are generally only three types of interim manager; the senior player taking over to try and get the job, the assistant taking over to keep things ticking over and, the “Tony Parkes.” At Dundee I was caretaker manager for nine days and one game, but in truth it felt like an awful lot longer. Now the legal arguments and rights and wrongs of whether the manager should have been sacked will need to wait for another time, but the reality is that after two-and-a-half years, we were out and I was asked to take care of things whilst the club searched for a replacement. I was also asked to apply for the job, but my feeling was, that it was more out of courtesy than reality as I felt if the club wanted change, then a whole regime change was in the best interests of everyone.

I could never have taken the job anyway, not with my relationship with Alex. Indeed, throughout the nine days of my janitorial duties, I made it clear that I would keep my current office and not use the “Manager’s.” It was the least I could do for someone who had shown tremendous loyalty in appointing me in the first place.

One of the strange things about being caretaker is the underwhelming nature of it. I no longer wanted to be there. My friend and Gaffer had gone and the truth was I would rather have gone with him there and then, but I had a contract and there was nothing I was going to do to compromise that. I had to make sure everything was done by the book. In that sense, it is a very similar situation to Kenny’s and I heard him alluding to that very fact in one of his first interviews. It’s a common theme in the lonely world of the caretaker.

The tune

But I had a job to do and regardless of how I felt, I would do the best I could for the players. I put the face paint on and we trained as normal. I asked Paul Ritchie to take on Assistant Manager’s duties and we prepared for the next game, away at Morton. I felt it was important the players seen how seriously I was taking the game and put on my suit and tie at the side of the pitch. I was normally very much a ‘tracksuit’ coach, but in my ‘old school’ mind, I saw the manager’s position as one of authority and respect. I like to see managers dressed appropriately and, if I wanted the respect, I felt I had to give it. I had little option to change the team as with injuries we were struggling for players and there was very little I could do differently tactically. This was something else I heard Kenny talking about last week.

As assistants we do everything required of the manager, we support team selections and everything the manager does. If I had made six changes and tried to play a different way, that would have made me a fraud. Why would I not have suggested to Alex before now that we should do that? Do clubs think that we had some magic formula that we had been keeping secret from the manager?

As it was I did do one thing differently pre-match. I could sense flatness among the players and felt with the situation as it was, we needed to start the game brightly. Now Cappielow is a small ground and the away dressing room is one of the smallest in the country. Cramped and cold with a massage bench in the middle and no room for a push up never mind an impromptu First Division ‘Haka,’ I  gathered them round in a small circle just before we headed out and brought them to boiling point with a ‘running on the spot’ exercise. And do you know what? It worked… for 20 minutes. I got a tune out of them, I really did, but as the game settled and a team already lacking in confidence lost a goal, I could see the shoulders dropping. At that point I’m not sure Jonah Lomu could have got them going again. We went on to lose 2-0 and my foray into the world of the caretaker was over.

I was a disconsolate figure when interviewed by the Press afterwards. I got a sympathetic ear as we both knew I didn’t want to be in front of them under those circumstances. But I owed the players and the club that. I couldn’t walk away from my responsibility and refuse to talk to the Press.

Nor could I have left them dangling.

Win, lose or draw, the caretaker was leaving the building and as the new manager was appointed on the Monday, thankfully I had been made aware I was surplus to requirements. I cleared my assistant manager’s desk and the club was ready for the next regime to take over and allow a new broom to sweep clean in. Such is the wonderful world of football, it’s never long until the next caretaker takes the reins and the cycle begins all over again. And the perverse truth is, we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Finally…Some of you will be delighted to hear there will be no Guest Tipsters treble feature in this blog. Circumstances later in the week may, or may not, dictate whether it has to be banished to the substitute’s bench for good. Time will tell.

Happy New Year

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell