Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Hearts stopping drama
North of the Border looks at Hibernian's painful 5-1 Scottish Cup final defeat against Hearts, matters settled in the Scottish Football League promotion and relegation battles and Donald Trump's "thoughts" on Rangers.
111 AND COUNTING...
Cup finals and derbies. The form book goes out of the window, right? A cup final derby? The form book could be gone for good, lost on the winds of a fixture so cataclysmic that it shifts the balance between two teams forever. Such were the sandy foundations upon which the Scottish Cup hopes of Hibernian were built before they met their arch rivals, Hearts, in a bid to break a 110-year curse in that competition.
Well, it turns out that the two forces pushing the form book toward the window cancel each other out. The form book was in the room, in a box, sealed hermetically against any particles that may degrade it.
The torturous nature of the 5-1 defeat suffered by Hibs made for sadistic entertainment for those without a stake in what was happening in Hampden. And, of course, for Hearts supporters.
Both these teams will look very different next season. Hearts, who paid their players late on several occasions this campaign, have promised swingeing cuts in the summer and as the celebrations continued in Gorgie, to the west of the capital, Stephen Elliott, the starting centre forward of the cup final team, and Gary Glen, an academy graduate, were told their contracts will not be renewed. That news had already been broken to Ian Black, the man of the match at Hampden, David Obua, Adrian Mrowiec and Marian Kello. After scoring two goals in the final, Rudi Skacel said he was "99% certain that was my last game for Hearts". Suso Santana, another cup winner, another high earner, is likely to go, as well and there may be more. The pathway from Hearts' academy to the first team is now as wide as the river Forth.
At Hibs, Pat Fenlon had reconstructed the side he inherited around loan signings made in the January window. Yet they only survived in the SPL on the second last game of the season and the patchwork nature of the collective and perhaps something of the mentality of a team made up of temporary recruits was revealed in a meek surrender at Hampden.
At the start of the week, when their supporters were still struggling to come to terms with a humiliation that is hard to wash off, Hibs released a club statement recognising the impact of the defeat and promising to undertake the rebuilding task that is evidently necessary. With seven loan players and several more out of contract in the summer, turnover at Hibs could be every bit as dramatic as across Edinburgh.
The teams are certain to change, perhaps more than they ever have during a close season, but those who watch the Edinburgh teams will not. What happened at Hampden last Saturday was always going to be more about them and it has left those in charge at Hibs in their debt.
Down the leagues, the promotion and relegation issues of the Scottish Football League were resolved in two-legged play-off finals.
Albion Rovers saved their place in the Second Division by defeating Stranraer in a penalty shoot-out, while Dumbarton follow Cowdenbeath into the First Division after a comprehensive 6-2 aggregate win over Airdrie United.
Two of their goals in a 4-1 win in the decisive away leg came from Craig Dargo, a striker who left a long career in the SPL behind him last summer and this season ended both transfer windows without a club before agreeing short-term contracts with Partick Thistle and Dumbarton, AKA The Sons. Since joining the promotion-chasing Second Division team in March, he has been prolific.
The 34-year-old played at Airdrie with a damaged hamstring and at the end of his contract, and ended with, as he said: "the first promotion of my career - the first thing I have won".
A career that peaked with a solitary cap for Scotland B may now be that of lower league hired gun, but Dargo has proved that his aim is still true.
THE DONALD DITHERS
This week at Rangers, there was some interesting side action. The most attention-grabbing line of the week came from "sources close to" Donald Trump. The Donald is building a golf course and resort near Aberdeen that he hopes will be championship standard. He has roots in that area and we're not talking about the prehistoric origins of that incredible weave. Now it turns out he came very close to having his new Xanadu invaded by angry, pitch-fork baring locals.
The Donald "thought hard" (thank you, sources) about making a move for Rangers, both before and after they entered administration. Depending on how "hard" he "thought", one of the reasons for not buying the Glasgow club could have been their low standing among the football supporters of Aberdeen, who have been known to taunt visiting Celtic supporters with a chorus of "We hate Rangers more than you".
Elsewhere on Planet Rangers, the SPL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, appeared to be doing some groundwork with comments suggesting a newco Rangers should be treated no differently than if the club emerge from administration via a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA). The latter route involves creditors agreeing to a deal that sees them receive a small percentage of the debt they are owed, the former bypasses them - one of the reasons UEFA suspend all newco organisations for three years.
The big dates in this story are next week: the SPL meet on Wednesday, May 30 to rule on the sanctions Rangers will face as part of their financial fair play regulations; the following Friday, the wages of the players who accepted pay cuts of up to 75% revert to their contracted amounts. The majority will be sold for reduced fees as part of those agreements and with a 12-month transfer embargo enforced by the SFA preventing their replacement, this remains a crippling punishment to Rangers for next season.