Hibernian: Ross unsurprised at McNulty ban

 

Hibernian manager Jack Ross was unsurprised at Marc McNulty’s two-match ban after the club accepted an SFA charge against the striker.

The on-loan Reading man was cited by the governing body’s compliance officer after stamping on the back of Hearts’ Sean Clare in the first half of Tuesday night’s Edinburgh Derby defeat at Easter Road.

With Hibs accepting the ban in time for the weekend, they will be without McNulty for tomorrow’s trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen, and against St Johnstone at home seven days later.

“I wasn’t even aware of the incident when I came to do my initial post-match interviews,” Ross said before the club accepted the ban.

“I don’t want to prejudice anything we do moving forward but when I say I’m not surprised that we’ve received a notice of complaint, I think that gives you my best indication of [his views on the incident] because the footage speaks for itself in that respect.

“You can’t get inside people’s heads, but football is a very emotive game and things happen in split seconds. But in terms of what the footage shows, it’s not great.

“If [a ban] is the outcome then it is a blow for us as we don’t have a plethora of striking options.”

With a gap now appearing in Hibs’ already thin forward line, there is a chance for young striker Jamie Gullan to make his first start for the club as Ross claimed he is now a legitimate first-team option.

The 20-year old scored his first senior goal for the Hibees in last week’s Scottish Cup quarter-final win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and came on as a substitute against Hearts, but is yet to start a game for the club.

“He’s ready to start games,” Ross said of Gullan. “The only reason he hasn’t started is because we’ve been doing well in an attacking sense.

“He came on in difficult circumstances [against Hearts], I think we had just conceded the second goal, and I think with his first or second touch he put the ball out of the pitch.

“I look at things like that to see how players react to it, and he was good after that. He’s involved in our goal and he was bright in difficult circumstances.

“If and when he’s required, and the opportunity presents itself, I have no qualms about using him.”

Ross’ side will travel up north still without the services of midfielder Joe Newell, who hasn’t featured since an injury away to Kilmarnock last month.

Hearts: Stendel predicts relegation fight will go down to final day

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has predicted that his side’s fight for Scottish Premiership survival will go down the final day of the season.

The Jambos’ emphatic 3-1 derby win over Hibernian on Tuesday night lifted them off the foot of the table for a mere 24 hours, before Hamilton’s shock victory over Rangers the following night dragged them back to the foot of the table.

Stendel believes that his team will need to drag other sides into the basement battle and thinks that the fight for survival will go right down to the wire despite an upturn in form.

“We have five games left [before the split]. The situation is not comfortable for us, but it hasn’t changed,” he said. “We knew it would be good if we won this game, but it still hasn’t changed for us.

“It’s important we collect more points; not that we look to Hamilton every time, but we collect our points. We let a lot of points slip, and the time is over for us to do this again. When we win our points, we don’t depend on the others.

“We need more results. Sometimes we will win games and other times the other team will win games. I think it will be decided on the last game.

“The first time all season we won two big games in a row. It’s a good sign that we can do it.”

Stendel has recently abandoned his favoured gegenpressing approach for a more disciplined style of play, and impressive victories over the Hibees and Rangers have renewed optimism in what has been a disappointing season so far.

“I think this is the first time this season we won two big games in a row. It shows we can do it,” he said.

“The kind of play in both games is the main point for me to take from the games. We showed a mentality on Tuesday, and our discipline was important.

“The situation is good for me and the players. We have more experiences when we work together, and when we do work together and have the right discipline and behaviours on the pitch, we will get the chances to win the game.”

Hearts face a Motherwell side who claimed an impressive 4-1 victory over Ross County on Wednesday. The Jambos will still be without Toby Sibbick as he remains out through illness, though the defender may be back in training next week.

Scotland Women: Crichton believes Pinatar Cup is essential preparation for qualifiers

Scotland Women’s international Leeanne Crichton says that the Pinatar Cup is a chance for players to show off their credentials heading into the Euro 2021 qualifiers next month.

The Spain-based tournament serves as a refresher ahead of Scotland’s return to competitive matches in April, having already secured two wins in qualifying against Cyprus and Albania.

The Scots opened their tournament with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Ukraine on Wednesday and can retain their top spot in the group with victory over Northern Ireland tomorrow.

Speaking exclusively to EN4 News, Crichton said that it will be a chance for other players to stake a claim in the team.

“It is a chance to show what you can do over the nine days where you’ve got three games and the four or five training sessions,” she said.

“There are players that are the main part of this squad who are missing, so there won’t be many chances like this where you can actually get in the team. This is a really big opportunity for everyone to show what they can do and basically stake a claim in the camps that are coming up.”

Scotland boss Shelley Kerr handed a number of Scotland debuts in Murcia, including Martha Thomas, who opened the scoring against the Ukrainians.

Despite the new system and players, coupled with a lack of preparation time, Crichton was impressed with how her teammates have adjusted.

“It’s hard to gauge in terms of the performance because there have been so many changes in the team,” she admitted.

“It was pretty much a new backline, a new midfield and we changed the formation. We literally arrived on Monday, trained Tuesday and played the game on Wednesday, so there hasn’t been much prep time.

“I think that everybody did really well, and the clean sheet is always a bonus as well.

“It is absolutely about winning, but performances will be a big [aspect]. Individually, I think players will be focusing on their own performances. It’s just about keeping that continuity within the squad and looking to build that confidence. I think that is what we need heading into these big matches that we’re going to have in April and June.”

A win in the tournament would serve as Scotland’s perfect warm-up before a return to competitive action next month, with matches against Cyprus and Portugal to come.

Cup replay between Hearts and Rangers could postpone Tuesday’s Edinburgh derby

Tuesday night’s Edinburgh Derby at Easter Road could be postponed should Hearts’ Scottish Cup quarter-final against Rangers tomorrow go to a replay.

The Scottish FA has announced that a draw at Tynecastle will result in the teams facing again on Wednesday, March 4 at Ibrox.

With Rangers playing their Europa League round of 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen over the following two weeks and the Scottish Cup semi-finals on the weekend of April 11, next week remains the only free slot to contest a replay.

Hearts are also facing the prospect of a fixture pile-up after their crucial game away to St Mirren was postponed last week due to heavy rain.

The relegation strugglers host Rangers in Gorgie tomorrow after upsetting Steven Gerrard’s side with a 2-1 victory in January, which remains manager Daniel Stendel’s only league win with the Jambos.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Stendel said he hopes his team can take inspiration from that January performance.

“Rangers will be more focused for this game,” Stendel said. “The cup is always a good chance for everybody to win a title, especially after the first game.

“For us it is important that we know we can win. If we play at Tynecastle then we have the support that we need against Rangers. In our situation, every game is important.

“The difference is that this is a cup game and doesn’t change anything in the league, but it can give us a positive lift for the next couple of games, especially on Tuesday night. We need better results.”

Stendel claimed that he saw a big lift after beating Rangers, however he regretted his side’s failure to capitalise on that as they only won one of their next five games – a 1-0 victory over League One Falkirk in the previous round of the cup.

This quarter-final tie gives Hearts a chance to switch their focus from Premiership duty, where they find themselves two points adrift at the foot of the table.

The St Mirren postponement has resulted in the Jambos having an extra week to prepare for tomorrow’s game, but it may have been an unwelcome break as Stendel admitted time is running out for them to turn the tide.

“All that we do in training is good. The motivation is good. The only thing that doesn’t change is the results,” he said.

“We can look to other games and other teams, but the only team that we can change is us.”

“I said to the players, ‘we cannot score three goals every week’. The other team doesn’t get a lot of chances, but every chance is a goal. Every week it costs us points. We want one goal to be enough to win a game.”

The German will be boosted by the return of striker Liam Boyce, who struck the winning goal on his debut when the teams met in January, however he is still awaiting the return of defender Toby Sibbick after illness.

Hibernian manager Ross praises owner’s ambitious plans ahead of ‘exciting’ time for the club

Manager Jack Ross says it is an “exciting” time for Hibernian after owner Ron Gordon unveiled an ambitious five-year strategic plan for the club this week.

Speaking at the club’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, Gordon said he wished to double spending on players by 2023 and for Hibs to firmly establish themselves as a top-four side in Scotland.

“I’d heard Ron’s presentation prior to last night and it was part of the attraction for me coming to the club in the first place,” said Ross, who took over from former boss Paul Heckingbottom in November.

“When I met him initially, I had a feel for what he wanted to try and achieve for the club. I don’t view my position as being able to spend lots of money; it’s about trying to be part of a club that progress and becomes better.

“But, naturally, if we find ourselves in a position further down the line where we’re able to recruit even higher quality players in one or two positions then there’s an obvious benefit to do that, but you have to use the resources in the right way as well.

“His ambition and his plans for the club are exciting for everybody involved – those who follow the club and those who come to work with it.”

Gordon also outlined his vision for Hibs to consistently challenge in Scotland’s two domestic cup competitions, as well as securing regular qualification for European competitions.

The capital club face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals tonight at Easter Road, while their push for a Europa League spot will continue with Tuesday night’s Edinburgh Derby at home to Hearts.

Ross insisted that his team’s focus is solely on tonight’s match against Championship side Inverness, and said that Hibs will be targeting further glory in the Scottish Cup following the club’s famous triumph in 2016.

“The fixture on Tuesday has no relevance to us at the moment,” Ross said.

“Our preparation this week has been all about this game on Friday. We spoke immediately after the game on Saturday [against Livingston] about the significance of this game and the prize at stake for us if we win it, and the potential prize if we keep winning games in the tournament.

“We set out from the first match we played in the tournament against Dundee United to try and win the competition.

“It’s a realistic aim for us and so far we have navigated ourselves well through the tournament, and hopefully we can continue that on Friday.”

Europa League: Rangers to face German side Bayer Leverkusen in round of 16 tie

Rangers have drawn Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League round of 16 draw, in their first trip to Germany since facing VfB Stuttgart in 2009. They were also the last Scottish team to win on German soil, having defeated the same side 2-1 in 1998.

Leverkusen sit fifth in their league and comfortably swept away Porto 5-2 on aggregate in the last round, having dropped down from the Champions League after finishing third in their group.

The Light Blues reached the last 16 of a European competition for the first time in nine years earlier in the week, beating Braga home and away in the previous round.

The Portuguese side took a two-goal lead in the first leg at Ibrox before Iannis Hagi inspired a 3-2 comeback with two strikes. Ryan Kent’s goal sealed a comfortable 1-0 win on the continent for Steven Gerrard’s side in Wednesday’s second leg.

The Rangers manager believes his side are capable of producing a similar result.

“I think the team are suited when they are in the zone and focussed,” he said. “If they have the right mentality, we can compete and show what we are about in any opposition against any teams.

“We have every right to be excited that we are still involved in the draw. From the first qualifying round, the boys deserve great credit for coming through.”

The first leg takes place at Ibrox on Thursday, March 12 with the return leg taking place seven days later – Rangers also host fierce rivals Celtic in between.

With a Scottish Cup quarter-final to come tomorrow, any further progression could see a fixture pile-up for the Gers.

“We can’t wait to get started” – Livingston Women’s FC look for dream debut as team prepare for first competitive fixture

Credit: VFSportsPix

 

Livingston Women’s FC head coach Paul Jaconelli has told EN4 News that he “can’t wait to get started” ahead of the club’s competitive debut this weekend.

The club was only created in December 2019 after a partnership was formed with fellow West Lothian side Blackburn United.

Head coach Paul Jaconelli is the first ever manager in the new side’s dugout and he believes there is a gap for the club to take advantage of.

“There has been a lot of restructuring over the last year within the women’s game in Scotland, and we feel we have a really good opportunity to get ourselves to a level above,” he said ahead of the big kick-off.

“We have signed some very good players from the highest level in the game, and we can’t wait to get started competitively.”

The Lionesses will compete in the Scottish Women’s Football South Division, which will see them take on Edinburgh City Ladies at the Tony Macaroni Arena on Sunday.

Their alliance with Blackburn United means that the most senior players from The Burnie will play under the Livingston WFC banner along with some new signings.

Credit: VFSportsPix

Speaking on the link-up, Jaconelli said: ‘’This alliance gave not only Livingston, but also Blackburn a stronger brand and a very good pathway, which is a great attraction for potential new players as well as our loyal players who have been with us through thick and thin.”

But they are not underestimating their opponents come Sunday.

“Edinburgh City are a brand new team, so are very much an unknown quantity right now. They have kept themselves well under the radar, so we aren’t sure what to expect from the weekend.”

Women’s football has seen a significant growth in Scotland over the past few years, with the national team qualifying for the World Cup in France last year.

Captain Vicky Wood, who will be the first player to lead out the new side, says the effect is being felt at all levels.

She told EN4 News: “For me personally, it’s had a massive impact. Girls’ football was almost non-existent when I was growing up.

“Now you can see how far it’s come with the number of girls and women who play.”

Hearts boss Stendel calls for more consistency in relegation battle

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel has urged consistency from his side as they bid to bring themselves off the bottom of the Scottish Premiership table.

They go into tomorrow’s game against eighth-place St Johnstone just a point behind Hamilton, who host Celtic on Sunday, meaning a win would take Hearts off the bottom and within three points of the Saints.

The Tynecastle side go to McDiarmid Park off the back of a fine 2-1 win over title challengers Rangers and Stendel is looking to build on his first victory in charge.

Stendel said: “After Sunday, we had a good result, but it doesn’t mean that the next game is the same. We need to do the same again.

“We have done a lot of things in the past three weeks in training and outside of the pitch with team building events but the most important thing is that we win games, that we have positive results and I hope this was the last step for what we need to play consistently in our style.”

Both of the meetings between St Johnstone and Hearts have ended in 1-0 wins for the Perth side. The first match in October was former manager Craig Levein’s last while their meeting in December, was Stendel’s first. The German is expecting a different Hearts side from the one that played that afternoon.

He said: “My first experience was St Johnstone. I think it was our worst game from when I started here. I wanted to change things, the players were motivated to do this, but the idea wasn’t so clear at that moment and I think St Johnstone deserved to win the game.

“I think this is a different game on Saturday and we have a different team.”

One of the new recruits, Toby Sibbick, had his first experience of Scottish football on Sunday and said that Stendel sold him on a move to Hearts, having worked with him at Barnsley.

Sibbick said: “The manager was a big part in me coming here, because he brought me into Barnsley and there, he played me in every game and really trusted me. For him, putting faith in me as a player gives me all the confidence in the world to perform for him.”

Sibbick believes that his experience at AFC Wimbledon has prepared him for the challenge of a relegation battle.

The 20-year-old said: “I was ten points adrift in January with Wimbledon and we stayed up on the last day. I’ve been in that position before and it’s not the best feeling in the world, knowing that you could go down.”

Peter Haring, Jamie Brandon and Aaron Hickey are definitely out of Saturday’s match in Perth while Michael Smith is a doubt.

Bonnyrigg Rose manager dreaming of Scottish Cup upset against Clyde

Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic manager Robbie Horn says it would be like a “dream come true” if his Lowland League side were to beat Clyde in the Scottish Cup on Saturday and reach the fifth round of the competition for the first time.

The “Rose” host their League One opponents at New Dundas Park and are underdogs for the fourth-round clash, although the Lothian side come into the match having already beaten a team ranked two divisions above them in Montrose in the previous round of the tournament.

Horn says his side have taken confidence from the upset and revealed that Bonnyrigg are using a potential glamour tie against Celtic or Rangers as motivation for Saturday’s game.

“It’s massive,” Horn told EN4 News. “There’s the carrot dangling in front of you of another big tie against Rangers or Celtic, or Hearts or Hibs. That’s what you dream of and that’s what we keep feeding to the player.

“It’s a dream, but dreams come true and hopefully we can reward everyone with a good performance and a good result on Saturday.”

Horn insists his side are keeping their feet on the ground, with preparations for the game going ahead as normal in order to create a relaxed atmosphere in the camp.

But Scottish Cup fever has swept around the town and a sell-out crowd of over 2,000 fans will be at New Dundas Park for Saturday’s game.

“The community has really got behind the Scottish Cup games so far and it’s been great,” Horn said.

“Hopefully there will be another great atmosphere on Saturday. I’m sure the Clyde supporters as well are very loyal and very vocal and I’m sure they’ll get behind their team as well, so it should be a good Scottish Cup atmosphere.”

Bonnyrigg will also take confidence from their league form. The club are second in the Lowland League with a game in hand on leaders Kelty Hearts, and have won 15 of their 17 league matches this season.

Bonnyrigg Rose’s journey to the Scottish Cup fourth round (Credit: EN4 News)

A promotion push will be the aim for Horn’s team come the end of the season, but for now, all focus is on keeping this Scottish Cup run alive.

We’ve done it before and I’ve got 100% confidence in the players that we’ve got,” Horn added.

“We’ve got to be at our best and Clyde may have to have an off-day, but the pressure is all on Clyde. They are a League One team and, on paper, they should be beating a Lowland League team, so the pressure is all on them.

“We’ll go out and enjoy the occasion. Hopefully the supporters will get behind us and make it as difficult for them as possible, and hopefully we’ll get the victory.”

Bonnyrigg Rose defender Euan Moyes (left) and captain Jonathan Stewart (right) explain how the Lowland League side are preparing for their Scottish Cup fourth round match against Clyde.

Hearts name Steven Naismith as new club captain

Heart of Midlothian manager Daniel Stendel has announced Steven Naismith as the new club captain.

The Scotland striker joined Hearts on loan from Norwich City in January 2018 before committing his long-term future to the club in the summer of 2019. He will take the armband from axed skipper Christophe Berra, who was told by the manager that he is free to find a new club.

Naismith has scored 16 goals in 41 league appearances for Hearts. He has proven to be a talisman for the Gorgie side time and again, especially in last season’s run to the Scottish Cup final. His run as captain will begin with a home tie in the cup against Airdrieonians on Saturday.

The three other candidates for the captaincy were Craig Halkett, John Souttar and Michael Smith, but Stendel has ultimately opted for the experience of Naismith to try and get Hearts back on track this season.

Despite missing out on the captaincy, Stendel made the decision to maintain John Souttar as club vice-captain.

Next week, when the league restarts following the winter break, the new skipper will be trying to chase down the five-point gap that has Hearts sitting adrift at the bottom of the table.

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