Sport Paper Review, Tuesday 23rd October

Bryce Donaldson, John Menzies and David Ronney discuss the sport in today’s back pages.

Edinburgh Rugby’s Chris Dean hopes to make an Impression against Zebre


Chris Dean is relishing the chance to cement his place in the first team at Edinburgh Rugby.

With 17 players from the capital side now away at the Scotland camp ahead of the autumn internationals, Dean and other young players will be stepping into the fold against their next opponents.

Dean did not make the starting lineup at the weekend in Edinburgh’s emphatic 40-14 victory but did come off the bench to score the final try for his side. He is keen to prove that last weeks performance was not a one off for the squad.

Edinburgh will face Zebre in the Pro 14 on Friday. The struggling Italian side will be looking to capitalise on the depleted Edinburgh squad.

Head coach Richard Cockerill said:

“It will be difficult we have guys away training with Scotland … but we have a good squad and we have to utilise that squad.

“We have got some young Scottish players that will come up and step up and we just have to trust in the academy system.

“We have to get as well prepared as we can and go with the mind-set to win. It’s important to be consistent.”

Girls With Goals

Women’s football has never been so popular.

Scottish Women's Football Team. Credits to Anders Henrikson

Scottish Women’s Football Team. Credits to Anders Henrikson

It may not be the official sport of our nation, but football’s following in Scotland is one of the most passionate around the globe. Sorry, golf fans. However, while off the field problems can blur the importance of what’s happening on the pitch, one section appears unfazed by these issues: the women’s game.

Support for women’s football is on the rise in Scotland with match attendance and viewing figures growing every season.

One of the leading teams in Scotland, Glasgow City, is on course for what could be their 12th consecutive league title, beating league rivals Hibernian in the closing stages of the league campaign.

You could argue that City’s dominance in the division doesn’t make for the most compelling league to watch, but their style of play is up there with the best. Hibernian can give Glasgow a run for their money at the best of times – with both sides having some success in the Women’s Champions League in recent years.

The success of teams domestically has somewhat transitioned to the national team as well. The Scotland women’s side qualified for their first ever World Cup earlier this year, having played in their first finals tournament in the European Championships in 2017.

It’s been more than 20 years since Scotland’s men’s team qualified for a major football tournament yet the women’s team have restored faith in Scottish football. When the team arrives in France for the World Cup, they may feel slightly out their depth.

There’s no beating around the bush, the funding for Scotland’s women’s team is far behind the wages of other national sides. But, leading into this tournament, out of the 23 players in the Scotland squad, 19 are professional.

The remaining four non-professionals may have to leave Scotland and head south of the border – where there are no amateur clubs in the top flight – to pursue their dream of becoming full-time players; something which their male counterparts probably would not have to do.

However, the success of the national team has struck a chord with young girls across Scotland. Participation in women’s football has risen from 6,500 to 12,000, bringing the goal of a professional women’s league in Scotland a lot closer.

It’s shocking to believe women’s football was once banned in Scotland. During World War One, the attendances for women’s football exceeded 50,000 but came to a halt when the men came home. One hundred years later, it’s women who are bringing football home.

The peak in interest has prompted UEFA to provide women’s football with 50% more funding from the year 2020. An additional £2.4 million will be given to women’s football projects per year, provided by profits from their male counterparts.

The rise in funding aims to take football right to the top as Europe’s biggest female sport but to get there they also need to fund coaching development. Something UEFA assured they would do, as they announced plans to increase the number of qualified female coaches.

Scotland has a national side playing in the World Cup next year, something we haven’t seen with the men’s side for over two decades. We should be excited about the future of women’s football – it’s certainly about to kick off.

Hearts “unlikely to make wholesale changes” ahead of Dundee clash

John Menzies - Craig Levein1

Craig Levein (credit: ENRG Sport)

Heart of Midlothian manager Craig Levein revealed in yesterday’s press conference that he won’t be drawn into making too many changes for tonight’s SPFL Premiership match against Dundee.

The league leaders face the Dees at Dens Park, with the opportunity to go six points clear at the top of the table, before playing Celtic in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield. Despite the game against Brendan Rodgers’ side being a massive occasion for the club, Levein is wary of changing too much.

Levein joked; “I look at it fairly simply: to go into Sunday feeling good, we are better having won at Dundee than me messing about and trying to be clever, because trying to be clever is not one of my biggest strengths.

“The game on Tuesday night is hugely important and we can only help Sunday by putting on a good performance and trying to get three points.

“I started looking at maybe changing it but they had a break already with the international break so we don’t want to do an awful lot different. There might be one or two changes but that will be the maximum.”

Levein, who turned 54 yesterday, also revealed that the club is trying to work on extending the loan spell of Irish defender Jimmy Dunne. The 21-year-old, who has filled the void left by injured captain Christophe Berra, is currently on loan from Burnley until January, but Levein wants to extend his loan until the end of the season, especially with the news that Scotland international John Souttar will be sidelined for the next five to six months.

“I’ve already spoken to Jimmy and I just need to get in touch with Burnley and I will do that in the next couple of weeks,” said Levein.

I’ve been pleased with him. For a young guy, he has brought quite a lot of calmness to the team, along with his obvious attributes. He is a good passer of the ball and is good in the air and has decent pace. He is a calm boy, low maintenance and is not difficult to deal with at all.

New Stadium could give Edinburgh a Fortress to Defend


A new stadium planned to be built next to the Scottish national Stadium, Murrayfield, has been given the go-ahead by Edinburgh council.

It is hoped that the new build will be completed next year in time for Edinburgh Rugby to make it their new home.

With just under 8,000 seats it is hoped that sell-out crowds will gather to watch a revitalised capital side. With significantly less seats to fill than Murrayfield’s 67,000.

Less seats mean a more intense atmosphere can be achieved making Edinburgh a more daunting opponent, allowing them to build a club identity and creating a closer connection with fans.

Edinburgh forward, Rory Sutherland said:

“We would like somewhere we can call a home.

“It’s going to be important for creating an atmosphere, getting the support in … it can make a big difference.”

Head Coach Richard Cockerel added:

“It’s great to have your own home. we had over 7,000 here at the weekend and with the new stadium holding 7,800, we can start to get sell-out crowds like they have at Scotstoun.

“It then becomes our own atmosphere, our own pitch, our own stadium, our own branding, all those things. We can build our own identity and move forward.

“Edinburgh will have a permanent home that we can build a team and a club around.”


Opinion: What now for Partick Thistle?

Alan Archibald

Alan Archibald was sacked after a poor run of form. Credit to Lauren Archer.

On Saturday, Partick Thistle sacked their manager, Alan Archibald. Archibald was the second longest-serving manager in Scotland, after being appointed by the club in 2013.

Archibald began his managerial career after the departure of Jackie McNamara in January 2013, although this was purely an interim basis. In March, Archibald and former player Scott Paterson were given the job on a permanent basis, signing a one-year rolling contract. In his first season, Archibald guided Thistle to the Scottish Premiership, after winning the First Division – now known as the Championship. In the same season, Archibald took the team to the Scottish Challenge Cup Final, narrowly losing to Queen of the South on penalties.

Archibald’s Thistle had a rocky start to their time in the Premiership. The club went seven months without a win at home but their record away from home proved they were more than able to stand toe-to-toe with other Premiership teams. The 2015/16 season saw the team go on a run of success, picking up seven points out of nine, resulting in Archibald being awarded the Premiership Manager of the Month award for November.

Speaking in 2016, Archibald hailed his side for consistent improvement over the years of his managerial reign.

Partick Thistle host Dundee United this weekend at Fir Hill. Credit to Lauren Archer.

He said: “I’ve always had a good group of players here underneath us and with a bit of success, winning the Championship. We’ve stayed in the league and that’s judged the success here because of our smaller budget. We’ve always progressed and gradually we’ve gotten better and better.”

Archibald kept Partick in the top flight for five consecutive seasons, finishing in the top six of the 2016/17 season for the first time since the post split fixtures were introduced in 2000/01.

Thistle suffered in the 2017/18 season, finishing in 11th place, meaning the team went into a relegation/promotion play-off with Championship runner-ups Livingston. Partick Thistle lost the two games, resulting in the club being relegated. At the time, the Thistle board were happy with Archibald and decided to stick with him. After a poor start to the 2018/19 Championship season, Archibald was dismissed by the club.

“I’ve always had a good group of players here underneath us and with a bit of success.”

So what now for Partick Thistle? Well it’s been all quiet on the Western front of Glasgow as there has been next to nothing with regards to candidates to take the managerial role.

The team face Dundee United on Saturday, who appointed Robbie Neilson as their head coach on Monday. Neilson himself was linked with the Thistle job, reportedly staying not too far from Fir Hill.

However, The Jags missed out on the former Hearts manager leaving them in a race to appoint a successor ahead of their Championship fixture this weekend.

Dobbie would score anywhere says Naysmith amid Scotland link

Queen of the South Arena

Queen of the South Arena. Copyright credit to Hugh Close.

Queen of the South boss, Gary Naysmith believes ‘on fire’ striker, Stephen Dobbie could do it for Scotland, however, he doesn’t expect Dobbie to receive the call of duty anytime soon.

The 35-year-old has scored 24 goals already this season, more than the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe put together.

With Leigh Griffiths pulling out Alex McLeish’s Scotland side to ‘focus on fitness’, it leaves a vacant space up front for the national side.

While Naysmith was open to allowing the Scottish Championship striker to be included in the match squad for Scotland’s matches against Israel and Portugal, he doesn’t expect a ring from the Scotland boss.

He said: “Well you’ll get the cynical people who’ll say that it’s just the Scottish Championship and it doesn’t really count but to score that amount of goals at any level it takes some doing. And he’s done it consistently at his time at Queen of the South.

“There’s no doubt he’d be available, yes I would be surprised. I think Stephen answered that question himself in the papers at the weekend that he thinks his time has passed.

“He’s quite happy to be playing for Queen of the South. But what I would say is to anybody is Stephen Dobbie will score goals at any level. He’s done it while he was in England, scored in play-off finals. Stephen Dobbie will score goals wherever he plays.”

The Queen of the South manager added that it would be a step up for Dobbie to cope fitness wise, but he believed he could cope with the challenge.

“I do think he could cope with it. Obviously, it’s just speculation, people are putting two and two together and trying to make something happen but it is just speculation.

“It’s a big step up to try go through Scotland Championship to international level but like I said previously, he would score goals at any level he plays at.”

The Doonhamers take on East Fife in the third round of the Irn Bru Challenge Cup this weekend, a side Naysmith managed for three years up until 2016. The League One side have won their last six fixtures and Naysmith was weary of the threat they pose.

“Stephen Dobbie will score goals at any level. He’s done it while he was in England, scored in play-off finals. Stephen Dobbie will score goals wherever he plays.”

He said: “They’re a team that are in form. They never started the season too well, but they’ve picked it up in recent weeks.

“They’re going to be a tough game. They’re a team playing with confidence and any team playing with confidence become harder opponents. They beat Partick Thistle in the last round in the cup, it wasn’t like Partick played a really weakened team. They made one or two changes, but they still had a really strong team out. So, it’s going to be a very difficult game for us.”

East Fife have kept four clean sheets in those six wins but Naysmith was confident that his side have the firepower to break them down.

He said: “I’m always confident we’ll score with the attacking players we’ve got in the team. I think we’ve scored something like 40 odd goals in 15 games this season.

“That’s how we set the team up, to go and try and score and sometimes it goes the other way and you concede a few but we do generally fancy ourselves to score.”

Griffiths rules himself out of Scotland squad


Griffiths wants to focus on his fitness. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has withdrawn from Alex McLeish’s Scotland squad in a bid to improve his fitness.

The forward, who has scored four times for his country, was named in the initial squad that will face Israel on Thursday on the UEFA Nations League.

There had been reports that the 28-year-old striker had fallen out with McLeish after he was left on the bench in last month’s contest against Albania, but the Scotland manager insists the decision to withdraw was entirely down to Griffiths.

In a statement released by the Scottish Football Association, Griffiths declared he’d love to play for Scotland again should he be selected.

He said: “I had a good discussion with the manager to explain my decision. It’s not one that I’ve made lightly.

“It means a lot to me to play for Scotland and I hope to be part of Alex’s plans again in future, if selected.”

Scotland will play Portugal at Hampden Park on Sunday following their away trip to Israel. The side sit top of Group One in the UEFA Nations League courtesy of a 2-0 win over Albania in September, a game in which Griffiths was dropped to the bench.

Cockerill calls for ‘ruthless’ Edinburgh side ahead of Montpellier clash


Cockerill ready for tough encounter (Photo Credit: Ross Cowper-Fraser)

Edinburgh Rugby head coach, Richard Cockerill believes it’ll be a tough fight for his side to get a result against Montpellier this weekend.

The two meet in the Champions Cup on Saturday and despite coming off the back of two consecutive home wins, the 47-year-old was realistic about their chances against the French side.

The Scottish capital side are back in the competition for the first time in five years and will be facing off against a former Edinburgh Rugby coach, Vern Cotter. Cockerill welcomed a challenge from a familiar face.

He said: “Our paths have crossed over the years, and he is a great coach, one who knows what he wants from his team. I can’t imagine Vern not having a motivated team this weekend and I don’t think he will want to be beaten by an Edinburgh side at home.”

Cockerill is on record previously stating that the Champions Cup is a competition that his team are not equipped to go on and win. But when asked what he thought Edinburgh’s chances of getting out the group, he remained as realistic as ever.

He said: “Getting out of this group a big ask. If we are going to win in the next 2 weeks we’re going to have to play a lot better than we have in the last 15 months, and if we get four or five opportunities to win the game against Montpellier we need to take them. I think in the past that we have let teams back into games, take the Cheetahs game for example, but on Saturday we can’t let that happen. We need to be ruthless.”

Murrayfield_Stadium_edit credit to vclaw

Edinburgh will face Toulon at Murrayfield in 2 weeks (Photo Credit: Vclaw)

However, when asked if Edinburgh were to come away from Saturday’s clash with a win, Cockerill made note that his emotions would be on show.

He said: “Montpellier are a phenomenal club, it’s the European equivalent of playing a team like Saracens. If we come away with a win I will be more than delighted.”

Cockerill, in rare spell of optimism, said that his side were going to Montpellier not just to keep the score down to a minimum, but to go and play their own style of rugby and try to win.

Edinburgh have been known to perform at their best when nothing is expected of them and they are considered underdogs against the team currently sitting in 4th place in the Top 14 League. The Edinburgh manager hinted that the lack of expectation about the Montpellier game could suit them.

“I think in the past that we have let teams back into games, take the Cheetahs game for example, but on Saturday we can’t let that happen. We need to be ruthless.”

He went onto describe the Champions Cup as a great opportunity for himself and his players to gain experience at the very highest level. And his mood was only boosted by having a virtually fully fit squad from the game against Cheetahs. Admitting that winger, Van Der Merwe had a slight hamstring tweak from Friday night and would be touch and go right up until the weekend.

After losing three out of four of their first matches in the Guinness Pro14 this season, Edinburgh now have three wins under their belt to add a bit of confidence heading into the weekend. Edinburgh rugby fans will be looking forward to seeing their team tested against one of the best sides in Europe that Cockerill himself said could easily win the Champions Cup.

Murrayfield set to host Betfred League Cup Clash – Football Podcast

Murrayfield is set to host Hearts and Celtic in the Scottish League Cup. Photo Credit to Vclaw via Wikipedia

After an initial controversial decision to host both Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden on Sunday 28th October, the SPFL have decided to move the Hearts and Celtic fixture to Scotland’s home of rugby.

However, the decision hasn’t be taken lightly. David Ronney is joined by Paige Beresford, Lauren Archer and John Menzies on the football podcast.

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