North of the Border

Houston: We have a problem

November 2, 2011
By Neil White
(Archive)

This week, the SPL has given us a study of managers under pressure. Several have been feeling the heat for a variety of reasons and dealing with it in a number of strange ways.

Peter Houston
GettyImagesPeter Houston: Wires crossed at Dundee

First up, a stand-off between the manager of Dundee United, Peter Houston, and his chairman, Steven Thompson. Both of these guys have been around Tannadice for a long time. Houston was Craig Levein's No. 2 before taking over when the former manager took charge of the Scotland team. Thompson is the son of the late Eddie Thompson, who bankrolled United in more prosperous times for the club.

Houston's team were knocked out of the League Cup by Falkirk of the First Division last week and had won one SPL game in ten before last weekend. Thompson had been on an international trip when reports emerged in Scotland that the chairman would consider his manager's future upon his return.

Houston reacted angrily, using a press conference to demand the public support of his employer. Thompson arranged to meet his manager upon his return, the day after a home league match against Dunfermline Athletic. United won 4-1. Houston spoke to reporters after the match and was in bullish mood, claiming he wanted to "get to the bottom" of where the stories had come from.

The following day, United released a statement giving Houston the total support of the entire board.

More important than that - although the whole thing was an entertaining diversion - was the reaction of the United players during all of this. Houston lost four key men in the summer and has no means to replace them, yet his young players are getting better with each match. Expect them to escape the relegation scrap and for Houston to remain top dog at Tannadice.

Forrest on fire

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, has been forced to confront similar questions in the face of a slump that makes administration for Rangers - and the accompanying points deduction - their best chance of winning the championship.

Celtic played Hibernian twice in the past seven days. They were a goal down at half-time in Edinburgh in the League Cup but destroyed their opponents in a blistering second-half performance. Then, at home in the SPL, they were suffocated in a 0-0 draw, leaving them three points behind Motherwell and 12 behind Rangers, with a game in hand over both.

Lennon said he will talk with his employers if he thinks the situation becomes "irretrievable" in order to "see what they want to do".

The manager remains popular with the men who run the club as well as the vast majority of its supporters and has an attack, in particular, capable of the kind of run they now need to make a fight of it this season. However, they need their best players firing and the form man at Celtic Park and the breakout Scottish player of the season so far, James Forrest, has Spurs on his trail. Forrest scored the first two goals in the turnaround at Easter Road and, after the home match, Lennon made a point of exempting only three players from his criticism of a failing team - Forrest was one.

At the start of the season - when it was almost impossible to find anyone who would tip Rangers for the title - nobody could predict how influential the academy kid in a team of internationals would become to his manager.

Sergio 'sends off ref'

Paulo Sergio
GettyImagesPaulo Sergio had another eventful week at Hearts

Managerial madness? There is one team in Scotland who do it better than anyone. At Hearts, Paulo Sergio is going almost as bonkers as the man who hired him, the club's owner Vladimir Romanov.

Sergio was already facing a touchline ban from the Scottish Football Association before last weekend, for comments he made around Hearts' defeat in the League Cup by Ayr United. According to Hearts, this was all the fault of mischievous journalists, and the club refused to speak to any media, at least until the case was heard at Hampden.

Before that could happen, Sergio was sent to the stands in theatrical fashion during Hearts' SPL defeat by Kilmarnock last weekend. Hearts' Ian Black had been shown an early red card and, later in the game, Sergio belted his bench in frustration at another decision. He was sent off, but then went toe-to-toe with the referee and appeared to try to send the match official to the stands, with what authority only he knows.

The result will be a lengthening of his ban from pitchside and, in all probability, of his club's refusal to speak to anyone outside of Tynecastle.