There are broken Hearts at Tynecastle as Spurs win with ease, Rangers flounder in Maribor and Celtic draw a blank against Sion. Another night of European Football for Scottish clubs has brought the mediocrity of our game to the fore.
The obligatory Battle of Britain tag was imposed on the match between Hearts and Tottenham Hotspur when the draw was made, however it was far from a Battle more like a capitulation. Despite a ball competitively in anger, Spurs were just far too good for Paulo Sergio’s Hearts side as the visitors ran out easy 5-0 winners.
Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring after just five minutes after Hearts failed to clear their lines. Jermain Defoe and Jake Livermore scored to put the tie well and truly beyond the Tynecastle side. Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon then piled more misery on the Jambos as they scored in the Second Half.
Hearts manager Paulo Sergio commented after the match: “In the first half we played like someone buying a ticket to watch the match. We didn’t press the ball and if you give spaces like that to Tottenham it makes it difficult. We improved in the second and we were more aggressive on the ball. There is a huge difference in quality between the two teams but we should have done better in the first half.”
While Spurs boss Harry Redknapp said: “The first half was fantastic. We moved the ball around quickly and that how I like to see us play. They came out second half stronger but in that first half we could have been even further in front. I just enjoyed watching us play. Niko Kranjcar and Rafael van der Vaart, their link-up play was great. You have to be fair and realistic, we have obviously got better quality players who earn a lot more than their players. We go to Old Trafford on Monday and we will see a different game.”
Over in Slovenia, NK Maribor came from a goal down to beat Rangers 2-1 thanks to a Etien Velikonja injury time back heel. Rangers were comfortably in control in the first half of the tie as new signing Juan Manuel Ortiz scored after 31 minutes.
But the Slovenian Champions fought back in the Second Half as Agim Ibraimi scored seven minutes after the restart, and substitute Velikonja grabbed a late winner, which has piled added pressure on manager Ally McCoist as his side were booed off by the away support at the end.
Rangers do have the incentive of an away goal, but in the return leg at Ibrox next week they will have to up their game, otherwise the reigning SPL champions will crash out of Europe altogether.
Speaking after the match a shocked Ally McCoist could not believe the collapse of his side. He said: “We created our own downfall. We weren’t protecting Allan McGregor or our defence nearly enough. It’s a poor, poor result for us, but I still believe we’ll go through.”
“We weren’t good enough in the middle of the park. The number of times that their midfield were having free shots at goal was there for everybody to see. We stood off them, we let them play, we let them come back into it in the second half and we effectively got what we deserved.
“It’s crazy. I would’ve been disappointed with 1-1. I’m actually a little bit shocked. I couldn’t see us losing that game at all. We have to learn from the result, learn from the defeat and come back and win the second leg and I believe we will do that. I honestly believe we’ve got the firepower and we certainly created enough chances to score goals and I think we’ll do that at Ibrox.”
Meanwhile Celtic played host to Swiss Cup winners FC Sion at Celtic Park and were held to a 0-0 draw. It was a frustrating night for the Celtic Park side who dominated possession but struggled to find anyway through a stubborn defensive-minded FC Sion side.
Missing key players such as Beram Kayal, Emilio Izaguirre, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson – Celtic had to make a number of changes, including the return of goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Overall the game was poor from Celtic’s point of view as once again Greek striker Georgios Samaras failed to show why he should have been given a new three-year deal, while the influential players of Kris Commons, Scott Brown and Anthony Stokes failed to deliver on the night.
Despite not conceding, the Celtic players were booed off at full-time by the home crowd, who will now look towards next week’s clash with some fear after last season’s performances away to Braga and FC Utrecht still fresh in their minds.
FC Sion coach Laurent Roussey was pleased with his side’s performance, he said: “We played the way I wanted them to, we kept the ball. I think we played better as the match went on and I felt Celtic were under pressure near the end.”
He added: “It was very physical and intense game, not what we are used to in Swiss league. We looked at Celtic before the game, we knew we had to be organised and we were. It was a 0-0 draw, so it is 50-50, although there is always a bit of a home advantage if it goes to extra time. So I am satisfied with the draw and looking forward to next week.”
Meanwhile Celtic manager Neil Lennon was far from impressed he commented: “Our play in the final third was poor. The chances we did create were decent chances that we should have had somebody on the end of. We missed some really good chances tonight.”
Asked about the return leg, Lennon commented: “My expectation is that it is going to be difficult. I think we can score, but we’ll have to better in the final third than we were tonight. We’ll have to be resolute, but I think Sion will probably change the way they play and probably be a bit more open, so that may plan into our hands.”
He added: “The plus side is that we kept a clean sheet. We hopefully will have Hooper, Kayal and Wilson back, so we may be stronger next week going into the tie. But some positions we took up were poor, our final ball was poor and some of our decision-making was poor. That’s the frustration of it and you want to take some sort of lead to Switzerland, particularly with our away form in Europe, but the tie is far from over.”
What are your thoughts of the nights events? Is it a sure sign of Scottish Football being at its lowest ever level? Is it just a blip? Or is Scottish Football doomed to a level of mediocrity for the foreseeable future?