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Hibernian Hopes

mwichmann's FM11 career
Started on 5 March 2012 by mwichmann
Latest Reply on 2 May 2012 by mwichmann
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May 2011

Barcelona have eliminated Man United in the ECC semi with a 4-0 thumping in the second (home) leg, 6-2 on agg; Olympique Lyonnais beat Inter Milan 2-0 on aggregate so there are the finalists. In the Euro Cup, it's Dortmund and Atletico Madrid who prevail (Atletico are the holders). Incidentally, for Barca it's David Villa who is the big scorer, the one he potted in that 4-0 match was his 41st of the season overall.

We'll have to think lots about next year starting very soon. Some is already in progress; in addition to defender Ojala, we've made two other player transfer agreements, a goalkeeper Zacharie Boucher, 19, from Havre AC and a defensive oriented midfielder from ESTAC Troyes, Dialo Guidileye, 21. Both are very highly rated by our scouts, and we're pleased to have arranged the deals, each will cost us 70k, so we're still on the frugal track.

We should know by now who's done enough to earn a new contract, but we'll still give some of the players being considered a run out in the next one, against Celtic.

Match: Celtic - Hibernian (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 3-2 (Hooper pen 56, Ledley 89, Kapo 90+2 - Stevenson 47, McRobbie 59)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Wotherspoon concedes a penalty on a corner to put us in danger (looked pretty harsh from the way corners are usually officiated) but Maloney rolls if off the left post. With that exception, we had a more than decent start, unfortunately punctuated by Miller being found wide open and not even getting the shot close to on target. Miller is one who hasn't quite sold me on an expensive (for us) new contract yet. Things begin to swing Celtic's way but at the break we've still had 58% of the ball. Unfortunately, there doesn't even remotely look like there's a goal lurking for us, it's going to have to take something special. Two changed at the half as they're banged up. McRobbie looks out of his depth now, after good early performances. Ooh, we get a sudden goal on a bit of magic indeed, Zaluska is readying to collect a bouncing ball and Stevenson, just in at the break, comes out of nowhere, launching himself and getting a header that trickles in off the far post. Keeper holds his head, and with good reason. 1-0 in the 47th. The referee starting to give us trouble, a couple of unwarranted cards and now a second penalty, which he also shows a card on. Hooper almost misses, it's hit the underside of the bar and just barely bounced in over the line, but it counts. 1-1 on 56. McRobbie gets it right back after a quality passing sequence, although Celtic are screaming he was offside. As the game wound to its final quarter hour, we were playing superbly as a team, converging in pairs on a Celtic player when they stayed on the ball too long and every time taking it away. Stevenson (although he still can't shoot) and Wotherspoon finally giving us the kinds of performances that we absent in the pressure run-in. Darn, Agogo was breaking through but he fed Stevenson, open admittedly but he misses badly again. I know what we're working on there! Ledley gets the equalizer in the 89th as we fall asleep on a cross. And we're still asleep, Kapo scores in stoppage to steal a win we actually deserved on balance. Very disappointing to let it slip away like that even if it doesn't matter with the title already - it's an issue of pride. I don't yell at the players, though. Put in perspective, it's very hard to get a win at Celtic Park and there wasn't anything to gain but a bragging point by actually winning this one.

McRobbie follows his goal v. Celtic with a goal and excellent performance for Scotland U19s v Turkey. And a couple days later he's good again, getting on the scoresheet v. England.

Match: Hibernian - Aberdeen (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 4-2 (Riordan 16, 84, Hanlon 55, Douglas pen 66 - Brown og. 27, Paton 59)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Riordan gets us on the board with a pretty shot, 100th ever league goal. Very tough right angle. Brown, who's not been that great recently, lets one in that he shouldn't, and it ends up a disappointing first half, we've been outplayed in front of the home fans who came out for a party. My shooting-challenged wingers do me in again as Wotherspoon puts it wide when he has a break. We've got a play like the one that got Celtic the tying goal last time out, but for Aberdeen Diakba is alert, stays with Galbraith, and just gets a head to it. Two corners later, Hanlon of all people gets in to head home. That leaves Hart as the only field player not to score (other than a couple of limited-duty reserves), Hart is out injured today. Certainly wasn't classic technique, instead of keeping his feet moving forward, he leaned way over... lucky to get it. We get beat on the break following a corner, as some of the players who were to stay ready didn't hold back enough, and the finish was true from Paton, who's a good player. This is the same referee who was so fussy last time out at Celtic Park, and he's given us a penalty. It's Douglas who takes it, and he slots in in the left corner low no problem, 3-2. Riordan adds a fourth on an impressive volley of a long angled cross from Douglas. So we did in the end put on a bit of a show for the fans. And Brown really put on a performance after the early mistake; he's been named man of the match. It's Rangers over Celtic in the finale for those two, which jumps Rangers into second on the very last day after trailing behind Celtic for months.

Monthly match summary:
Celtic 3-2 Hibernian (SPL Championship Group) (Hooper pen 56, Ledley 89, Kapo 90+2 - Stevenson 47, McRobbie 59)
Hibernian 4-2 Aberdeen (SPL Championship Group) (Riordan 16, 84, Hanlon 55, Douglas pen 66 - Brown og. 27, Paton 59)

Final table:
Pos Inf  Team          Pld  Won  Drn  Lst   GF   GA   GD   Pts
1  ECC | Hibernian    | 38 | 26 |  7 |  5 | 68 | 29 | +39 | 85
2  EC  | Rangers      | 38 | 25 |  5 |  8 | 78 | 34 | +44 | 80
3  EC  | Celtic       | 38 | 24 |  6 |  8 | 77 | 39 | +38 | 78
4  EC  | Aberdeen     | 38 | 19 |  5 | 14 | 52 | 52 |  -2 | 62
5      | Hearts       | 38 | 18 |  5 | 15 | 60 | 46 | +14 | 59
6      | Dundee Utd   | 38 | 16 |  5 | 17 | 50 | 58 |  -8 | 52
--------------------- split ----------------------------------
7      | Motherwell   | 38 | 14 |  8 | 16 | 46 | 49 |  -3 | 50
8      | Kilmarnock   | 38 | 13 |  6 | 19 | 43 | 57 | -14 | 45
9      | Inverness CT | 38 | 14 |  2 | 22 | 47 | 61 | -14 | 44
10     | St Mirren    | 38 | 12 |  5 | 21 | 46 | 60 | -15 | 41
11     | Hamilton     | 38 |  8 |  8 | 22 | 25 | 56 | -31 | 32
12  R  | St Johnstone | 38 |  6 |  4 | 28 | 32 | 80 | -48 | 22

The Scottish Cup is Dundee v Rangers; Dundee take the final European spot if they win.

So the falloff from last year isn't that big at the top - Rangers had four points less than last season, Celtic three; we're responsible for those, I guess, and we just shot through with a 31-point gain (wow!!!). One of my concerns was could we make Easter Road a difficult place to play - and we did. Rangers were deadly at 17-1-1, but we were quite good at 15-4-0, so we were unbeaten although we dropped six more points than Rangers at home. It's what we needed. Our 11-3-5 away record topped the league with 36 points, over Aberdeen's 35. Aberdeen suffered troubles at home, was their downfall - only 8-3-7, 8th in the league. We were the best defensive side with 29 conceded, ahead of Rangers 34 and Celtic 39; our late scoring slump left us third in goals with 68 behind Rangers 78 and Celtic 77. My future target is for us to be getting into the 80-goal range.

For this time around it was really a team effort, Riordan's final day brace puts him joint 7th in the league with 13 goals, noticeably behind the top group who were 20-19-17-16 goals. We're not in the top end of any of the other individual stats except Bamba was 7th in average tackles. We only ended up with one player in the team of the year, the departing Sol Bamba - and for the most of the year he really was superb, sad to see him going.

£1.36m is our share of the spoils for the first-place finish. This for the moment leaves us at £4.3m in profit for the year, £6.6m balance.

For the full season, we've had these results:
Euro Cup 10-1-3, eliminated in 2nd knockout round
League Cup 4-0-0, winners
Scottish Cup 3-0-1, eliminated in semi final
League 26-7-5, winners
Total: 43-8-9 (60 matches played, eek!)

I go watch the Euro Cup, and the referee messes it up by inserting himself, giving a red card on 30 seconds to a Dortmund player. Dortmund don't let Atleti dominate though, and it's left to be a Diego Forlan show, will he or won't he? He's sliced through to head a free kick into the net, but it's taken away for an imagined foul; later in the half a chip is near-perfect, but when it clips the bar it goes down but not in. Dortmund sneak a goal at the end of the half. The keeper denies Forlan in the 2nd half. The referee decides to insert himself again with a phantom penalty, it's finally a way for Forlan to score. Aguero pots the winner in stoppage time.

Rangers beat Dundee Utd. for the Scottish Cup.

Sunday, Chelsea need a win v. league champions Liverpool to have even a chance at the final ECC spot, and to save Ancelotti's job. Too many draws. They don't get it (2-1 loss), finish fifth, and he's gone (Everton got 4th, and with their win would have gotten 4th even if Chelsea managed a win). Unimaginably, they go with the other Italian "failure", Roberto Mancini, who's been sacked after a poor Man City season, where it took a late surge to even finish 12th. So they've sacked an Italian who took them to 5th and replaced him with a sacked manager who finished 12th. This makes sense how? Yeah, I'd have taken the Chelsea job if they offered, but there wasn't any realistic expectation of that, even if I let them know I'd be interested if they were. For that job, I'll concede I'm not experienced enough. My slight interest happily doesn't cause any problem back home, in fact the board offer a contract extension at a slightly improved rate. It's not much, but I want to stay on their good side so I accept quickly.

League leaders:
Goals: Calum Elliot, Hearts 20; Kenny Miller, Rangers 19; Georgios Samaras, Celtic 17; Adam Rooney, Inverness 16
Assists: Vladimir Weiss, Rangers (loan) 19; Shaun Maloney, Celtic 18

A little scout around the world:

English Premier:
ECC: 1. Liverpool 82, 2. Arsenal 74, 3. Man United 68, 4. Everton 64
EC: 5. Chelsea 63, 6. Aston Villa 60, 7. Bolton 60
Relegated: West Brom, Newcastle, Blackpool
Promoted: Nottm. Forest, Middlesbrough, Hull City
FA Cup: Aston Villa (2-0 over L1 Huddersfield, if you can believe it!)
League Cup: Aston Villa (1-0 over Newcastle)
Top Scorers: Steven Fletcher 26, Bobby Zamora 21

Spain La Liga - closest race imaginable:
1. Real Madrid 85 +57, 2. Barcelona 85 +50, 3. At. Madrid 82

Italy Serie A - also very very close:
1. Roma 79, 2. Napoli 78, 3. AC Milan 76, 4. Juventus 73

Portugal Liga Sagres - rather close:
1. Sporting CP 66, 2. Porto 63, 3. Maritimo 61

France Ligue 1 - again, close:
1. Marseilles 71, 2. Lyon 67 +32, 3. PSG 67 +20, 4. Rennes 67 +10

Germany Bundesliga - again astonishingly close:
1. Leverkusen 63, 2. Bayern 62, 3. Wolfsburg 61, 4. Dortmund 60, 5. HSV 59, 6. Schalke 57, 7. Hoffenheim 56 - only seven points 1st to 7th!

And in the final interesting match of the season:
Barcelona 2-0 Olympique Lyonnais for the European Champions Cup.
June/July/August 2011

Looking forward to second season: what can we build here?

Getafe's Juan Angel Albin turns down a contract offer from his club, this is a player who tortured us and I'd love to have for his creativity, but even if we can get him for free, there's no chance on the salary issue, nor is he interested in the dismal climate and poor attendance (outside Glasgow that is) of Scottish football. I'm looking at two options for a creative central player, Rostock (Germany) youngster Kevin Pannewitz, 19; and Dundee's Danny Swanson, 24. Both look good; Pannewitz is less developed and will cost more but has more upside according to scouts. Swanson would help us maintain a more Scottish flavor to the club. There's another Dundee player being looked at too, Craig Conway. He'd probably shore up the wide-player issue, with him, Galbraith and Wotherspoon sharing the three roles (Conway can play both sides and pretty soon the other two will be able to as well), and I can leave Stevenson in the middle where he seems to be happier. Advantage here: his contract is up, so if he doesn't take an offer from someone else he's free. Question is, would I be overloading on wide players now? And as there is another offer, I'd have to move now, early June, before the new budget is in place. Hmpf, I waited too long making up my mind, Conway is gone to Motherwell.

And as far as our own players, Nish, Miller, Hogg, McBride have some cases for winning new contracts. Rankin played well in a stretch when I finally gave him games, before tailing off a bit; it's my fault he doesn't have enough of a body of match work for me to completely judge him. Trakys, Stack and Smith have no chance of earning new deals. McCann seems like a youngster who should get another chance - he wasn't around when I signed on, already being out on loan - but he's already 23, and just doesn't seem good enough, I need a different way forward at right back. Hart will be turning 32 in the middle of next season, so that's not a long term answer, but I need something more like Douglas on the left, young and potentially very talented, and with a bonus scoring ability that can be tapped when other things go dry. We did very very well with spreading out the scoring this year, we didn't light up the league in goals but there was generally something there when the "scorers" didn't produce, with 22 players scoring at least one and 16 scoring at least three. So there's the 11 on expiring deals that aren't already accounted for. I've offered new deals to Hogg and Miller - Miller's isn't that long as he's now "on the wrong side of 30". He accepts, but I do expect a bit more from him (fortunately, he came off his salary demands of earlier in the season and takes just a small raise over his current £4000 to £4200). There will have to be some impactful play, or I'll be looking to strengthen the more attacking-oriented MC role - I'm looking at that anyway, to be honest.

Hogg I figure is strength-in-depth insurance, and we're having to pay a little much than we'd want for just insurance, but it's better that then get caught short in the back, and his influence, teamwork, etc. make him a good man to have around. He should have sale value now if we decide in some time that he's not needed. The deal is if we end up with Dickoh, Ojala and Hanlon filling between them the two central spots, which can only happen if I don't use Hanlon so much at the two fullback positions, then Hogg looks surplus. But that's not proven yet. We're not sure if Welsh (who was adequate in the role this season) and Booth (who was out on loan and did not force his way in after coming back) are my backups at right and left back respectively, with Hart and Douglas playing most of the time as the starters... or if we'll have injury problem, if DR Hart will prove to not be enough as he ages (will turn 32 in Feb.) and I need to find a new player there, or work Hanlon there. Looking back, that analysis sounds disorganized. Bottom like: the back line is unsettled, with jobs there for the winning.

Nish - what do I do? 11 goals - team 2nd. 11 assists - joint 1st. Passing, better than average, 79%, trailing only limited-duty McRobbie among forwards. 2nd best among forwards at putting his shots on target, behind very out of favor Trakys. And on the down side, a large number of memorable missed opportunities, 2nd worst in the club for yellow cards with 12 (Bamba leads, but as a rugged defender he's expected to get them, your forward isn't), and with a hand in 22 goals statistically, he still manages only a 6.84 rating for the season, emphasizing that it seems to be mostly famine, except when one or two plays a game go right and he gets a better rating to keep the average that high. Do I have enough confidence that the collection of Agogo, McRobbie and the new signing Garry O'Connor, back for his second spell at the club, will do the business and I don't need to pay Nish somewhere from £2500-2800 per month? He's been a reasonable bargain at half that rate, and I bet he gets what he wants from a decent club elsewhere, so I'm almost talked into letting him go. Which, indeed, does happen; McBride as well. It's a hard business. I'm nervous about making a mistake with these decisions, letting players go who could still make a contribution, but we already will be carrying a big first-team squad.

Our good season moves us up 105 places in UEFA club rankings, but we're still only 111th. We're at 22.240 coefficient points. It's the biggest jump of any team. More good news... our and Celtic's performances in the Euro Cup move Scotland up in the nation coefficient, and for the next season (2012/13), we'll regain a second ECC place, and better entry points into both the ECC and Euro Cup.

Our entry into the ECC is at the 3rd qualifying round - the Scottish champion will do better next year as noted above, but that's how it goes this time - we'd have to survive that round and a playoff round to get into the group play, or else drop into the Euro Cup sequence.

For the start of the season, as title holders, it would be silly to say we won't challenge for the title again. That sets our budgets at 2.9m for transfers, 89k for salaries. That's a lot when you consider 12 months ago it was a 200k transfer budget.

I'm fiddling around (okay, that sounds way too casual, but it is all exploratory at the moment) with creative midfielder types, someone who can launch the forwards into collecting more goals. There are some options that I don't want to mention yet.

We have signed some young players, who will work with the senior squad initially but since we have no regular reserve league in Scotland, will move to the U19 squad to get games for some period. These are: Kudus Oyenuga, 18, ST formerly of Spurs, free transfer; Jeffrey Monokana, 17, MR/AMR/ST from Arsenal for £35k; Pavel Rebane, 17, ST, Levadia (Estonia) for a rather hefty £140k, but the scouts are so high on him it's silly, and he's got bags of pace, an element that except for Galbraith we're really missing. The first two are English nationality, by the way, perhaps not obvious from the names. The youth intake was so-so, mainly one fairly decent keeper and some possible future squad players, and mostly players who have no hope of progressing, but we'll see how this all works out. We do need to improve the youth situation overall - better early recruiting, better academy and so forth, but the board wasn't interested when I asked the first time.

A rather interesting situation has come up; Chelsea, just after announcing their link with Vitesse has been terminated, set up a link with Aberdeen. At the same time, our board and Liverpool's happily announce a link. My own prejudices are pretty clear, I'd much preferred to have the Chelsea link! But Liverpool are the English Champions, and we could be given some good players. First off, they'd like to lend us Danny Ayala, a center back who I'm not sure would play too much for us. We'll see if he accepts 'Pool's offer, it seems I have little say in this transaction except the choice of if/when to play the player.

Colin Nish signed up for St Mirren.

Wow! In a stunning development, Barcelona's Thiago has gotten grumpy with the club, left them after turning down a new contract, and has signed for Hibernian!!!!. I'm not clear why he left them, we weren't privy to the terms offered but I assume it was around lack of first team opportunities. All I can think is we got consideration because we're in the ECC, and among the large number of clubs showing "major interest" we and Danish club Brondby were the best placed that way; Bayern are in the ECC and of course are a true big club as well but apparently they never really got around to expressing their interest in a major way, they were just listed as "minor" interest. Perhaps it was the same inability to offer key playing time. Despite this post-signing attempt to justify it, I'm still flabbergasted. There's basically a gentleman's agreement here, he's signed a two-year deal at more than we want and less than he wants, and we'd never be able to afford to re-sign him if he does well so his value shoots up. So after one year if he's proven his worth as a first-teamer playing in European competition, it's expected we'll let him move on, thus avoiding a free transfer after the second year. So we get a player who's skilled, but not yet great, almost "on rental" for only his salary for a year (most likely), and hopefully some cash at the end of that.

For our entry into the ECC, we've drawn the winner of Slovenian club Celje and Hungarian club Debrecen. Celje lead the tie 1-0 heading to their away leg. Debrecen win at home easily, though, so a trip to Hungary awaits us.

We're working through team issues in the friendlies, and I already have to juggle a little, I have to decide who's facing Debrecen on Wed. 27 July when we have a friendly at Leeds on Sunday 24 July. The squad that runs out against Leeds have a poor showing, we get a little better in the second half, but we'll need to do much much better than this to put in a showing in the ECC - we don't look ready, they players don't look like they really know what their roles are. Galbraith continues to play very poorly, he's not the only one but this has been a long stretch now dating back well into last season.

Match: Debrecen - Hibernian (ECC 3rd Qual Champs Leg 1 - Olah Gabor utca, Debrecen)
Commentary: We open our first ECC campaign in ages (ever? last appearance may have been back when it was the European Cup) as underdogs for the away leg, and with two new players in the lineup, a third on the bench. Thiago and Guidileye are the midfield in our new diamond 4-4-2 that's made mainly for them, as they're better at AMC/DMC respectively then as classical flat-four midfielders. Other newcomer Ojala is ready to spell Dickoh when he runs out of gas, he's looking a bit tired. The match starts well, although we looked a bit nervous, a goal can fix such things, and Riordan has scored from the edge of the area on 13. Bit of an odd looking sequence as we've got three inside the "D", facing only two central defenders, leaving the middle man Riordan completely unmarked. Thiago rolls it in for him to finish, there are yells for offside, but it counts and we've got an away goal. We look a little shaky on set play defending, especially corners, and have to survive some scares. On the positive side, Thiago looks full of confidence and purpose for the first time, the friendlies had been a little worrying. 1-0 at the break. There's a battle that almost gives us a goal early in the 2nd, but Debrecen are strong and get it clear. Thiago's perfectly weighted ball springs Riordan, but he puts it wide. That's one we may regret not scoring. As the half progresses, we seem to be losing our sharpness. Very late Agogo's put Riordan through again and this time he can't even get a shot. At the very death we escape disaster as a long shot clips off the bar. Well, I thought it was the death, Miller gets a try from the left which Farkas just tips and it clips off the bar too.
Score: 0-1 (Riordan 13)
Final Thoughts: We got what we needed, but there are some things to worry about. Knocks for Thiago and Galbraith, hope they're okay; clearly some rust. Agogo didn't make much impact, while Riordan was in position to make a lot but only converted the one; Thiago was super - "bossed the midfield" (and he's fine, no lasting injury). Galbraith, we're told, will miss three weeks, twisted knee, could have been a lot worse obviously.

The next friendly is a horrid bit of scheduling, we've got Burnley on only a day's rest, have to convince ourselves this is a fitness game only, even though there's of course stuff we're working on that we want to polish, so it's not /just/ fitness. It's the last official friendly, then there's two weeks until the season opener with Rangers - before that we have the second leg with Debrecen too. Boucher, coming back from injury, makes his first appearance, it will probably only be for a half. We're being made to look silly the first few minutes, then it improves - this really is a sub-standard lineup though. There's maybe a break in the game as O'Connor looks like he's put McRobbie through, just as he's about to come clear he's tripped, and the referee decides that's a red-card offense, but it's outside the box. 37th minute. Big switch on the hour, a half-hour of sharpening for many of the players held out of the starting XI. The first thing even looking like a scoring chance is shortly thereafter, a free kick for Burnley clanging off the bar. Agogo's suddenly through on a deflected free kick, but there's no room to get around the keeper. Then the through ball is there from Stevenson, but Koroma wasn't making a run. Scoreless, and I have to say the friendly season was... "undistinguished". Worrying is a lot of players don't look terribly happy.

Match: Hibernian - Debrecen (ECC 3rd Qual Champs Leg 2)
Commentary: A goal comes quick, and it's a pretty thing, Wotherspoon digs ultra hard to get a ball in the right corner he should never have won, and loops the ball into the box; and it's Thiago who has snuck free and absolutely crushes it into the upper right from the near side, about eight yards out, 4th minute. It's flowing beautifully in the first quarter of the match, and Hogg almost makes it two, his header bouncing down off the bar but not in. 70% of the ball for the first half hour. A moment of worry as Brown and the back line don't communicate on a looping ball, but even if it wasn't eventually safe, the flag went up. 2-0 in the 38th, Thiago is trying to create, he's down deep on the right side, sends it across, the keeper gets a deflection but that's enough to put it near Stevenson who bangs in. I'd been planning to go a little more attacking in the 2nd half but now I wonder if it's a good idea. A long shot from Guidileye, who's shown no shyness about shooting, goes in through traffic in the 51st and now there's not a shadow of a doubt any longer, 3-0; 4-0 on agg. Wotherspoon almost heads in another, superb recovery from the keeper to snatch it. A crowded box and the ball's in the net again on 62, it's Thiago celebrating but looks like it's credited an own-goal. Thiago and Guidileye come out, mostly to give the fans a chance to cheer, and boy do they ever, a packed house stands and roars. One more chance, a corner is knocked down right in the path of Riordan who fails to cash in.
Score: 4-0 (Thiago 4, Stevenson 38, Guidileye 51, Nagy o.g. 62) Hibernian 5-0 on aggregate
Final Thoughts: Convincing. Thiago... still don't know why he's playing for us, but it looks like European football is enough to motivate him, he's 9.0 and 9.1 over the tie, a goal and four assists - he was materially involved in every goal in the tie.

For the moment this looks promising, but honestly, I'm left in a little dilemma inside my own head: we're in the playoff to make the ECC group stage now, and I don't know if we ought to win it or not (of course we'll try, and we'll see who we draw and how we play). On the "no" side, I suspect it's better for us to win matches and build confidence in the lower competition. On the other hand, there's the Scotland problem: if we catch enough notice, we'll just get cleaned out of our good players and then it's build over, so what continuity? This close season has already seen Celtic and Rangers suffer huge losses in the transfer market: Celtic have lost 15 players so far, including Shaun Maloney, their most dangerous player (Liverpool) and right back Efrain Juarez (to Dynamo Kyiv, in what's the largest transfer of the season so far, £5m). Rangers have seen 28 (!) leave the squad (one a loan) including Steven Whittaker (West Ham), Andy Webster (Everton), top scorer Kenny Miller (Everton) and top prospect John Fleck (Man City). I know they were trimming massive squads of fringe players too, but there's no reason to think we can escape this in the long term: get good, attract notice, lose players. Already know Thiago is a rent-a-player, hopefully that's a profitable relationship, he gets to build his credentials so he gets a deal from a big club, and we get to benefit from his skills and pocket a large transfer fee. Seems so mercenary, but it's football.

Our backup left back, Callum Booth, has done enough to earn a contract extension, but we'd like to see him grow a bit so we accept loan bids from the top two First Division teams, and he goes to Partick. That means I'll use Hanlon as the backup, and fillin on the right as well. Hanlon, incidentally has disappointed me; I said I'd improve his contract when we came to the new season and had an improved budget - I don't have to, he's got three years left, but he's making very little and he deserves it. But he's not inclined to meet us there - he's asking for more than anyone on the squad, including Thiago, is making. Maybe we'll revisit, but it smells like we may have to eventually let him go.

There's 10 teams in the draw for the ECC Champions track, we're unsurprisingly not one of the five seeded, those are Austria Wien, Brondby (Denmark), Dinamo (Croatia), Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), Zeljeznicar Sarajevo (Bosnia/Herzegovina). The draw is: Gent v Dinamo, Brondby v Teplice, Helsingborg v Zelzeznicar, Hibernian v Red Star, Slovan Bratislava v Austria Wien. The best-placed track sees AEK v Valencia, Juventus v Wolfsburg, Club Brugge v Fenerbahce, Everton v Porto, Shakhtar v PSG. We're not without hope here, but see my musings from before.

The schedule has not been especially kind to us, our opener with Rangers was moved to Sunday 14th for TV then we host Red Star on the 17th. At least we didn't have to travel for that one, but we come home for a Saturday match then travel to Belgrade, so we get four matches, three of them very major, in just 10 days total.

The beefed-up U19 side show a lot more quality in their opener than last season's collection despite the youth intake from our own organization being generally poor, there is some quality to go with the five I've brought in, one last year and four this year. Still, it's a good thing we were able to add another youth coach and have been able to add a focus on shooting, because there were some woeful efforts at finishing. In fact, the U19 season starts with a bang, as there's a cup match and another league match in short order, all wins, and gratifyingly all involve a good haul of goals - it was a big problem last year, and they were scoreless in three progressively harder friendlies I arranged so there could be some preparation (an English BSP U18 squad, followed by a League 2 one, then a League 1 side) - those were all three 0-1. I don't care if there are titles as much as I care about getting a lot of games (which means not crashing out of the cup early) and a winning mentality for the kids to help prepare them for future senior activity. The early standout seems to be Monakana, the Arsenal reject. I have to make the decision on him whether he's ready to be a senior backup - moving to reserves is useless since I'll only be able to squeeze in a handful of matches for them. I don't think he is that advanced.

I've had a scout around for someone who could be a third keeper; we had a spate of injuries that left Brown playing virtually all of the pre-season until the Leeds match. Another one of the free kids I brought in last year, James Dunn, will be the third choice. He and Boucher are back healthy now, and no need to confuse the issue with another player at the position. I just got nervous for a while.

People have already started buttering Thiago up, but the reputation has some growing to do, a round of comments from a Ligue 2 French club for example - he should be beyond that level of aspiration. Just want to know that he'll play his socks off when it's snowing and there are 1200 fans in Inverness in January (hypothetical; haven't checked the schedule for that precise fixture!) and not just on European TV in a huge match.

As we prepare to face Rangers, they've brought in Denis Odol and Nikolay Dimitrov on permanent deals, Jack Cork and Nacer Barazite on loan, and also Vladimir Weiss on loan again, so while they'll be strong again it's looking more like on the backs of loan players this time.

Match: Hibernian - Rangers
Score: 2-2 (Wotherspoon 1, O'Connor 67 - McCulloch 64, Lafferty 84)
League Position: 5th
Final Thoughts: The start was as good as you can ask for, Wotherspoon slides inside and doesn't find any real challenge so he launches a bomb and it finds the upper right, only 33 seconds in. 30 yarder! If it wasn't for that play, I'd have called the early minutes somewhat disappointing, with Rangers dictating. By midway through the half we'd stabilised and with the half winding down it's a bit our way, although offense wise it's the charged up Wotherspoon banging long shots and nothing else. It's 1-0 at the break, and it's the motivated Chris Hogg who has exceeded my expectations this year and is really taking charge of this game as well. The second half is still not yielding any real breakthroughs until a lightning little play sees Wotherspoon locate Stevenson in a crack of space, and he fires but unluckily it's off the post (56). Off the same sequence, Rangers counter dangerously and Brown rescues what looked like a sure goal from McCulloch, who didn't do quite enough I guess - Weiss' pass didn't hit him in stride so it wasn't trivial. Rangers score on a play that was a horrid miss by the officials, Broadfoot has picked it off, sent it forward where Rangers have THREE players multiple yards offside, including the receiver Weiss, while McCulloch eventually scores. We get the goal back almost instantly, it's O'Connor, perfectly set up by his partner McRobbie (I gambled a bit on the forwards this time). Rangers level late, 84th minute, when we're too tired, despite some subs, to keep up, it's Lafferty with a tap-in. We almost get a very late goal but McRobbie, after being sent nearly clear by O'Connor, really doesn't do anything to evade the keeper, and on that the whistle went, and it's a draw where both sides left thinking they might have done just a little bit more to snatch the win. Probably the fair result, even if we led all but 10 minutes of the match.

Match: Hibernian - Red Star (ECC Playoff, Champs Track, Leg 1)
Commentary: It's looking like quite a battle early, but we can't actually beat Red Star in any of the skirmishes. It opens just briefly through, carved by who else but Thiago, but Riordan's shot is off the bar. It's very physical and the referee is letting it go. Now Wotherspoon has missed one... that was a tough shot though. Great action for a quarter hour. On the hour, we've still had a bit more of the play, but not managed a single shot on frame of our seven. Scoreless at the half, and this favors Red Star. Quick sequence actually looked threatening on our behalf on 52, but Agogo's snap shot is saved. And right after that - a throw after a panic clearance, Riordan has laid back for Wotherspoon and his shot finds a seam, and the corner, 1-0 on 54. Thiago up to Stevenson, on to Agogo, he's got his back to goal but Thiago's man errs and doesn't track him and Agogo just dumps it in Thiago's path and he's through to score, the European magic continues for the Spaniard, 2-0 on 58. I've had to pull the exhausted Hart, making his first appearance. Shortly after Red Star wake up, a good shot just beats Brown, but not the crossbar. We're doing better now, not just the goals, and Agogo nearly scores. No idea in the world how Brown keeps the clean sheet on 76, but he does - maybe the competition is good for him!. The only problem near the end was Red Star baited us into two dubious yellow cards which may yet come back to haunt us at a later date.
Score: 2-0 (Wotherspoon 54, Thiago 58)
Final Thoughts: Very nice clean win, we struck when the chance was there, no away goals conceded, and, well, Thiago is man of the match yet again.

We'll go into the Saturday match in 6th, as five of the six matches from the first round had winners. The table is led by our local rivals Hearts who smashed seven past St Mirren! Away at Motherwell, who are always mentally tough and determined, knowing we have a bunch of tired players and must rotate the squad, won't be easy - especially since we depend on the central midfield a lot and Miller/Murray don't seem to have gotten going. Maybe I won't start both. The staff suggest Motherwell struggle v. 4-5-1, not sure if I'm going to do that or not.

Match: Motherwell - Hibernian
Score: 2-3 (Murphy 16, 73 - O'Connor 48, 56, Ayala 68)
League Position: 3rd (after Sunday matches: 4th, gd behind Rangers 3rd)
Final Thoughts: 4-5-1 it is. We broke down at the back and Motherwell scored easily on 17 from Murphy and we had a lot of work to do. It had to wait for the second half, when we had the Garry O'Connor show, two goals in the first 11 minutes of the half, the second one all his own as he did his work pressing, pinching the ball off a back and curling in a shot from the edge of the box. It's almost level on a wild scramble after a corner, we looked a little unconvincing but in the end it would not have counted, as a foul was spotted in the box. Ayala opens his account heading in a corner, 3-1 on 68. Murphy gets one back with a shot that maybe Boucher, in his official Hibernian debut, could have had, 73rd. We've come close to a 4th, a scramble and it's off the post, then de Graf goes down, but he's booked for diving. That's not utterly convincing, but it's three points. Good stuff from Miller, who I hoped would get going.

Match: Red Star - Hibernian (ECC Playoff, Champs Track, Leg 2, Stadion FK Crvena Zvezda, Marakana, Belgrade)
Commentary: With a 2-goal lead and no away goals for Red Star, they must beat us by three to advance. Agogo comes through a challenge and chips the keeper, but it drifts just wide. Agogo replicated the form of last year's half-season in the pre-season portion, but now hasn't been as much a factor. This match he seems to be, tries to squirt through again, this time he's tripped and it's a yellow for Milotic. It's Agogo again on 10, he's dribbled his way centrally but then launches a shot which doesn't look dangerous. Stuff has to go right sometimes, though, it catches the far post and just squeezes in, 1-0! Somehow Wotherspoon's hauled in a free kick over the top, and his shot is on target but barely tipped over. We're giving Red Star all sorts of trouble and winning all the challenges. As we pass the one quarter mark of the match, they've sorted themselves out a bit, but down three in the tie they need more than parity. Both sides have some chances, it's Red Star who score to level the match just before the break, Vladavic sweeping in from the right unmarked. We're having to defend desperately while Red Star push for all they're worth, but then some more breathing room, out of a crowd a long free kick from wide right has been headed in. It's O'Connor, just in for an ineffective Riordan, and Thiago with the service. Not sure how the keeper didn't get to it, guess it was just out of reach. We let them back in quickly, Agirretxe receiving just behind enough to get a shot, and this time Brown, after a number of excellent saves, can't get it. Assist from Red Star keeper on a free kick. Red Star miss two chances in the 85th, to my relief, after a cross through the first shot hits the post, then the follow is astoundingly put wide from five yards out. The whistle goes, we're through!
Score: 2-2 (Vladavic 45, Agirretxe 64 - Agogo 10, O'Connor 59) Hibernian win 4-2 on aggregate
Final Thoughts: For better or worse (see my earlier musings on the subject), we're into ECC Group play. I guess I'll take my trepidation that this may not be the most long-term productive place for us this season and shelve them, and let us see what we can do on the biggest stage in Europe, certainly it will be exciting. The performance wasn't brilliant but certainly enough to see the tie out in a tough away leg. Seeing replays, Agogo's shot was a much better thing than it seemed at first, he was clearly aiming just inside that post and it was well placed. I withdraw my claims of luck! Here's the good part: for a club which has £7.7m in cash, we've been given an astonishing boost with £6.2m for qualifying for the group stage. Well, that's really big money for Hibernian, anyway!

The five Champions Track winners are Hibernian, Austria Wien, Dinamo, Brondby and Helsingborg. The five Best Placed Track winners are Fenerbahce, Paris Saint-Germain, Everton, Valencia, Juventus. My goal from the group stage has to be modest, as we await the draw... can we collect enough points for 3rd, so we can fall through to the Euro Cup competition when we're done and have at least one additional pair of matches? I'm also rooting for the other Scottish clubs to do well, as it will improve the league position. Celtic are already out of the Euro Cup, but Aberdeen remain alive with the home half of their tie v. Stuttgart to go in order to qualify for group play in the Euro Cup; Rangers have already qualified. Foo, Aberdeen lose out, so there's only one other team to collect points for Scotland. Our ECC draw is in a group with Barcelona, Sporting and Leverkusen - charming stuff. We've got some history with Leverkusen, whom we split a pair with in Euro Cup group stage last year. Barca are merely the world's best team, and defending champions, unlikely to be any points on offer there. Best chance for points I guess is Leverkusen, who make up the middle pair of the six match set. Three of the four participants are league champions, with the odd side out being Barca - who only lost out to Real Madrid on goal difference, level for the top on points.

The full draw is:
A - Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Zenit, FC Brasov
B - Austria Wien, AC Milan, Everton, Olympique Marseilles
C - Olympiakos, PSV, Napoli, Real Madrid
D - Bayer Leverkusen, Sporting CP, Hibernian, Barcelona
E - Zurich, Valencia, Arsenal, Galatasaray
F - Olympique Lyonnais, Dynamo Kyiv, Brondby, Juventus
G - Roma, Helsingborg, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United

A little easier on the mind is the League Cup, for the 3rd round we're entering with a home tie with division 2 Dumbarton.

Life's been exciting around Kilmarnock, their league season has been 6-2 Dundee United; 0-4 Rangers; and it took penalties for them to beat 2nd division Peterhead in the League Cup. The theme to look out for: the 6-2 was at home, where we're heading next.

Match: Kilmarnock - Hibernian
Score: 1-2 (Kelly 34 - Riordan 9, Agogo 90)
League Position: 3rd, pending later matches
Final Thoughts: A goal comes early, Thiago to McRobbie to Riordan who puts it in. Killie are playing very well, though, and seem to be very comfortable with the style we're playing. I actually prefer a faster tempo to put more pressure on the other side, but my staff keep telling me, match after match it seems, that the other side is vulnerable to slow play; so far I've been going along and the results have not been anything to sneeze at, but sometimes it's really damn boring. Oops, we let the defense collapse completely, Boucher was wonderfully alert to come out and slide out to push a big threat away, but it's of no help, because it flies to an unmarked man who puts it in. He's going to get the blame from most people for that play, but McKay was through and he rescued the goal, then it's up to his defense to make it stick. Thiago has been very quiet, however in he 59th he sets up McRobbie perfectly but the shot is utterly wasted. The long ball very late is in just the right place, the keeper is coming out but decides he daren't come further (to be fair, he would not have been first to the ball), and it's Agogo to it first and scoring the relatively easy goal. 2-1 in the 90th minute! That wasn't the most convincing win I've seen, but if we can keep picking up that kind away I guess it's good enough.

We're off for a while for internationals, but there's still a decision or two to be made with the transfer window four days from the end: do we need another player? We end up making two transactions on the last two days, first Max Ehmer, a German youth midfielder who comes for free after being dropped by QPR, it's hard to go wrong as he is liked by the scout who prepared the report, he cost nothing and only wanted a youth contract to prove himself. Second, much more interesting, we've made a deal for a young Argentinian kid, Hernan Lo Monaco. He's a central midfielder, really rather in the style of Thiago, and hopefully he'll take over the Thiago role. This isn't for right now, he'll not join until January 1, after he's turned 18; the transfer will cost a packet at +450k so this is a gamble, really, but I didn't really gamble transfer money one anyone else, have to roll the dice a little bit for the future.

Monthly results
Debrecen 0-1 Hibernian (ECC 3rd Qual Champs Leg 1 - Olah Gabor utca, Debrecen) (Riordan 13)
Hibernian 4-0 Debrecen (ECC 3rd Qual Champs Leg 2) (Thiago 4, Stevenson 38, Guidileye 51, Nagy o.g. 62) Hibernian 5-0 on agg.
Hibernian 2-2 Rangers (Wotherspoon 1, O'Connor 67 - McCullock 64, Lafferty 84)
Hibernian 2-0 Red Star (ECC Playoff, Champs Track, Leg 1) (Wotherspoon 54, Thiago 58)
Motherwell 2-3 Hibernian (Murphy 16, 73 - O'Connor 48, 56, Ayala 68)
Red Star 2-2 Hibernian (ECC Playoff, Champs Track, Leg 2, Stadion FK Crvena Zvezda, Marakana, Belgrade) (Vladavic 45, Agirretxe 64 - Agogo 10, O'Connor 59) Hibernian 4-2 on agg.
Kilmarnock 1-2 Hibernian (Kelly 34 - Riordan 9, Agogo 90)

End of Month table Summary (3 pld):
1. Inverness CT 9 +4, 5gf
1t. Celtic 9, +4, 5gf
3. Rangers 7 +7
4. Hibernian 7 +2
5. Hearts 6
6. Aberdeen 4

Month +£6.345M, year +£7.145M, balance £13.58m. This is cool, esp. the ECC windfall, but we're at a higher run rate now on salaries as well - it's part of why I let a number of players go, the re-signing would have driven it up quite a bit higher.

Summer Transfer Window Summary:
Graham Stack, John Rankin, Graeme Smith, Kevin McBride, David Love,
Soulemayne Bamba, Colin Nish, Valdas Trakys - out of contract, free
Callum Booth - loan to Partick Thistle Matthew Welch - loan to Llanelli

Out of the departures, Nish and Trakys get fan approval of being let go (as well as the March departure Zemmama); the others they felt there was still a role to play at the club but "understand", excepting Bamba, which everyone thinks was a bad piece of business. I tried, guys, but it just wasn't possible to keep him - and at the time he signed for Porto, we had no chance of offering serious money. He's said himself he really likes the club and hopes the fans understand why he had to take the opportunity. Bamba is doing just fine at Porto who did crash out of the ECC to Everton, but at a place where they dropped in to the Euro Cup group stages, and it looks like he's the starting league center back for them, so good job.

Of the others - Rankin is at Motherwell; Smith is at Derby; McBride at St Mirren, as is Nish; Zemmama is at Portugese side Olhanense; Trakys and Stack have not found employment yet.

U19s: Kudus Oyenuga, Courtney Husband, Max Ehmer all free
Jeffrey Monakana, Arsenal, £35k
Pavel Rebane, Levadia, £140k

Senior: Garry O'Connor, Thiago (formerly of Barca) both free
Zacharie Boucher, Havre AC, £70k
Dialo Guidileye, ESTAC Troyes, £70k
Juhani Ojala, HJK (Finland), £120k
Loan from Liverpool: Daniel Ayala

So really, we've not spent much money; Rebane was the extravagance as he cost the most and is just 17, clearly not a finished product and it's a gamble. We're committed to the January transfer of Lo Monaco as well, which is a bigger gamble on the fee, but he's a more polished product already. Thiago and O'Connor (O'Connor is technically classed as last season's transfer since he came on in May, but why not count him here) are pretty good business for free, and we've only spent a total of less than £450k to get 10 players in total (not counting the Lo Monaco deal). I think I've managed to stay frugal!
September 2011

As the month opens, we've got another 10 days till we play, for those players who are here, to work on team blending, we've been still getting reports on some players having a bit of trouble fitting in. We've actually evolved into a relatively determined squad, something I tend to look for in players. My other important policy is to build for a solid youth club, so I don't have to buy everyone as experienced players. We seem to have really improved that, it wouldn't have hurt to add some more back line prospects, but we really do have enough U19 players at the moment. I expect them to really learn how to compete.

As usual, I worry a bit about whether we've done enough for the transfer window. The squad is plenty deep for the normal case but we could really suffer if there happen to be some key injuries. However, we're not really a big enough club to completely insulate against that, assuming anyone actually can. In any case, the die is now cast for the first half of the season, other than loans and frees nothing more we can do. If we were forced to select a 25-man roster for the first half of the season in league competition, I know exactly who would be in it; though we only have to narrow down for European competition officially.

I go watch the U19's, seems like a great time to do (it's not my first visit of the season). Debutant Ehmer has an interesting first half, scoring twice - first for Hamilton, then for us! This group is still prone to horrid mistakes, as you would expect, but they don't hurt us enough to lose this time - indeed, Hibs U19's are looking to be exiting matches, and I hope some locals turn out to watch a few and give support. This one is a 5-2 win, which makes the official tally for the season 21 scored, 9 allowed in five matches (four group, one cup), that's over 4 goals a match scored, but also nearly two allowed! There are players in this group who think they should be getting consideration in the senior side, but I've told them all the deal is simple: whatever level, I want you playing as many games as possible. Once you show you can dominate at a certain level, you move up. I admit we're a little limited by not having an official reserve league but we'll still follow the progression. So if you think you should be playing above the U19 squad, prove it!

There's one more possible player on the horizon, Danish midfielder (mainly winger) Kevin Mensah (Ghanaian father). He's on a free, and the staff thinks he'll end up being a good player, but I'm having trouble seeing a productive role out of his characteristics, at the moment he's kind of average looking at a lot of abilities. And he wants a fair bit of money as a wage... There's an even more intriguing choice floating around, though little hope he could end up for us, former Newcastle defender Steven Taylor is a free agent. And extremely interested in joining. The problem is, he'd apparently be looking for a salary that is 4-5 times our current highest, and of course way beyond the board allowance.

Match: Hibernian - Aberdeen
Score: 5-1 (McRobbie 14, Dickoh 31, Galbraith 48, Miller 76, O'Connor pen 85 - Paton 80)
League Position: 2nd (pending Sunday match)
Final Thoughts: We've picked up a comfortable, but somewhat costly, win over Aberdeen. The first incident of note was when Dickoh was clattered by Rory Delap, although he's taken a bit of a knock, it didn't look enough to warrant the red card the referee shows, 11th minute. We cashed in pretty soon, McRobbie forward nicely to O'Connor, he's headed off at the pass but Aberdeen can't fully clear and we come back, McRobbie eventually putting in a nice long shot. Dickoh made it 2-0 on the half hour, heading in a corner. Brown saves a few minutes after on a break, while a couple of very good saves the other way keep things kind of close. It's not close much longer, Thicot somehow gets a pass through traffic for Galbraith who nets a longish shot. Thicot, who had a great game, almost scored - we made a great deal of our 12 shots in this one! Then the match kind of falls apart, five bookings and three goals in a span of less than 10 minutes, only one of those events in favor of Aberdeen; first Miller taps in a spill, then Wickham, Paton and Dikaba carded within second of each other for open-field tackles, then Paton's goal when we don't clear convincingly enough, then Larrea a card, then O'Connor tries to put McRobbie through and he's clattered by Considine in the box for a penalty and another card. The costly part is in Ayala, who went out injured, will miss two months with strained knee ligaments, and Thicot has a hamstring issue that will keep him out around four. These aren't the players I'm really scared of losing to injury, but it's the flavor of thing I was worrying about, when I wondered about depth. Celtic clobber Hamilton to remain perfect for four, leaving ourselves and Rangers two behind in the early table (we're behind them on goal difference).

Entirely unrelated, I see Chelsea under Mancini is even less convincing than Chelsea under Ancelotti... they've opened their league campaign 0-1-3, and the three losses are to Wigan, Stoke, Bolton. Wigan and Stoke at home! Doesn't look like Mancini will last long.

Match: Hibernian - Sporting Clube de Portugal (ECC Group D)
Commentary: It's an exciting time, Champions Cup action gets underway, and it's our fifth home date of the season with the previous four all being at least 90% attendance (the lowest was Aberdeen at 93% actually). Situation is not ideal; to play our diamond 4-4-2, we need a DMC, and first choice Guidileye is suspended, second choice Thicot is injured, third choice Dickoh is tired from the Aberdeen match as I didn't think I needed to spare him. Instead, we try a formation Sporting are reputed to have trouble with, a 4-4-1-1. We make a superb start, controlling all the play and passing excellently, for a quarter hour or so, then Sporting gradually assert themselves. Playing the somewhat unfamiliar formation, we're unable to get Thiago to be the fulcrum of play, largely this can be put down to Sporting's efforts, and it's Sean Welsh who is running the play, playing unusually in midfield (since I've been around and he came back from loan he's been almost exclusively used at right back, but he's a midfielder too). It's heading for a scoreless half when the referee lets a late free kick take place, he could have chosen to blow the whistle, I believe. This one is lofted to the far post, as per our general instruction, but floats and Timo Hildebrand goes to catch it - and inexplicably drops it. Players rush to the spot, it's Wotherspoon who gets a poke at it and it's in the net. What an utter gift! 1-0 at the break. Welsh has had a 28/29 passing half, where has that come from? After the restart, has it all gone south for us? The referee produces a second yellow for Hogg on 53, for a nothing foul. Murray sacrificed for Dickoh. But no, we've managed to keep our shape and pass just well enough to keep Sporting from really building anything, and it's down to stoppage... and then done, an improbable win.
Score: 1-0 (Wotherspoon 45+2)
Group Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: The combination of Thiago and Welsh completed 63/71 passes, and were the key to us surprising Sporting. We temporarily top the group as Barcelona have drawn at Leverkusen - lofty heights indeed. With Barcelona next, that won't last... One thing that was really pleasing, that we'd put some focus on leading up to the match, was we seemed solid on the set pieces we did have to face, and we managed to keep the number down, especially corners which we've had some problems defending, each side attempted only three.

I'm a little disappointed we didn't completely sell out although we were at about 97%. I'm trying to build the case for expansion or new stadium, and it's not quite strong enough yet, 97.2% total for the five home dates. Maybe I better ask now, Dumbarton in a cup match followed by St Mirren are probably not going to help the percentage.

Match: Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (Agogo 75)
League Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: The five-goal Aberdeen outburst is nothing but a distant memory, we struggled to create real chances, and when Agogo had 'em, he missed badly. Scoreless at the half, and on... only a quarter hour to make a difference. And it comes as Agogo fires a quick turnaround shot, 22 yards out. We had two chances on corners to put it away but put them over, and we had to defend desperately in stoppage for the win. Thiago came on when Wotherspoon was injured, and looked decidedly disinterested in proceedings. I'm not really that pleased; we continue to trail unbeatable Celtic, it's still another month before we face them and that will be at Celtic park. We've opened our league campaign with three one-goal away wins, plus a win and a draw at home. Rangers stumble to a draw at St Mirren leaving us alone in 2nd.

Match: Hibernian - Dumbarton (League Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 4-1 (Douglas pen 13, McRobbie 28, 50, McManus o.g. 81 - Gilhaney 72)
Final Thoughts: The cup match was pretty much sealed after a soft penalty, both won and taken by Douglas, 13th minute. It's a dominant half, but doesn't mean the goals were flowing, 2-0 at the break, 4-1 at the final (one of the four an own-goal). Rangers had an odd one, needing extra time to beat D2 Alloa 6-4, and that's who we draw for the quarter final. Doesn't help that it's away.

The mystery of Steven Taylor continues as he's still without a club. I'm itching to do something... but I have to be smarter than that, he would still need a large wage although his expectation has come down.

Match: Hibernian - St Mirren
Score: 4-0 (O'Connor pen 6, 49, Ojala 72, Agogo 82)
League Position: 1st (pending other 6th rnd matches)
Final Thoughts: We scored from an early, somewhat questionable, penalty. Then bad things happen as Thiago has to go off injured. We just missed a goal from a corner, then another, then a great play by Agogo sets up Stevenson but he blazes way over, we should have gotten more from the half. Watching David Barron, who's a potential transfer target for us; he gets an unjust yellow card when Agogo goes down like he'd been shot - but it was 30 yards or more from the referee, so no good look at it. Agogo again incredible determination to reach a ball he should never have won, and loops it across the goal where O'Connor scores his second - his 50th league goal for Hibernian, now in his second stint. It's close to offside, but in fact, Agogo did not pass it forward. It's an unhappy return to Easter Road for Kevin McBride, who is sent off. The far-post free kick works for Ojala, a header Gallacher tipped but just couldn't keep out of the net. First official Hibernian goal. Now I want us to finish it off as a clean sheet. Agogo's pretty chip makes it 4-0, keeper way off his line. And it was indeed a clean sheet, our 2nd in the league, which have come in the last two matches. We've at least temporarily gone top - pending a Sunday Old Firm match, Rangers could help us out. And in a surprise, Falkirk temporarily sit 3rd, an excellent start to their season. Thiago's not badly hurt, his thigh injury is diagnosed as only a deep bruise, but he'll miss the Barca match, which is unfortunate for him, I'm sure he's been waiting for it. And Rangers do give us the help we might have wanted, 3-0 winners.

For Barca, where we daren't even dream of a result, we'll definitely be a bit short as well: Thiago, Welsh, Thicot, Ayala injured; Hogg suspended. We'll try to set things up to protect ourselves, and it doesn't hurt that Messi, while apparently fit, isn't selected - he's recovering from a broken arm but could have played if really needed. Of course, lacking Thiago removes our biggest threat to cause them trouble, both because of skills and because he knows them so well. What Messi gives is the ability to drive/create everything, which other players can do, and produce moments of ultimate magic. What Thiago can do is drive/create everything... which we don't have anyone else to do to the same level. So given their overall quality is much higher, I think our key miss huts more than their key miss.

Match: Barcelona - Hibernian (ECC Group D)
Commentary: We get a goal very early on a Barcelona mental mistake, we have a left side throw, and nobody pays any attention to O'Connor down near the corner, perhaps his man flashed "offside" (which isn't possible on a throw) briefly and so didn't follow him. He heads for goal while it's still open, puts it in the middle where it takes a slight deflection, into the path of Miller who bangs it in, again taking a slight deflection off the keeper's hand. 1-0 Hibernian in the 4th minute! It takes Barca ten minutes to build a credible threat, and it comes in a somewhat predictable fashion, defending well we block a couple of attempted passes but Barca are quicker to react to loose balls and from the second a quick passing sequence sees Villa break through at and angle and receive, Boucher's save is good but Villa certainly should have done better. We're living on the edge for a long stretch as Barca keep making situations, we're making good plays to clear the danger (at least partly) but you know one is going to break down sooner or later. Pedro and Alves in particular are tormenting us from the right. Finally it comes, Busquets finds Villa, Boucher is out and looks like he's going to stop but Villa just powers through, the wily (and powerful) veteran too much for the youngster. Level in the 36th. We continue to resist as long as we can and actually have done well to hold down the number of chances in the second half to a small number until a pass finds Alves camped in the box on the right with nobody marking him, and he bangs in the go-ahead goal on 73. Pedro is close to the third, then a few minutes later Milito. I want a push, who cares if it's 1-3 vs 1-2? but quite simply, we can't get a hold of the ball. Agogo in late to add a more unpredictable threat, but we can't build anything at all, we have virtually no possession in our attacking half in the final 15.
Score: 2-1 (Villa 36, Alves 73 - Miller 4)
Group Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: A bit frustrating. We set up to be cautious, and yes, we were certainly the weaker team by a long ways. Is there such a thing as a good loss? The scoreline certainly didn't embarrass us, but Barca had the ball 69%, outshot us 16-4, and had a 91% passing performance. Still, it took a questionable goal - Alves looked offside - to beat us, as it was fairly late. It's no surprise to lose, but it does end a string of what is considered nine wins in a row (honestly it's nine unbeaten, but since the second Red Star leg, while a draw, resulted in an overall win it still shows a green dot).

Monthly Results
Hibernian 5-1 Aberdeen (McRobbie 14, Dickoh 31, Galbraith 48, Miller 76, O'Connor pen 85 - Paton 80)
Hibernian 1-0 Sporting Clube de Portugal (ECC Group D) (Wotherspoon 45+2)
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0-1 Hibernian (Agogo 75)
Hibernian 4-1 Dumbarton (League Cup 3rd Rnd) (Douglas pen 13, McRobbie 28, 50, McManus o.g. 81 - Gilhaney 72)
Hibernian 4-0 St Mirren (O'Connor pen 6, 49, Ojala 72, Agogo 82)
Barcelona 2-1 Hibernian (ECC Group D) (Villa 36, Alves 73 - Miller 4)

End of Month table Summary (6 pld):
1. Hibernian 16
2. Celtic 15
3. Rangers 14
4. Falkirk 12
5. Hearts 10
11. Dundee Utd 2
12. Hamilton 1

Goals: O'Connor 7, Agogo 4, McRobbie 2, Wotherspoon 3
Assists: Thiago 5, O'Connor 4, McRobbie 3, several with 2
Passing: McRobbie 84%, Agogo 83%, Miller 83%
Rating: McRobbie 7.67, O'Connor 7.48, Thiago 7.40, Agogo 7.40

Profit of £489k leaves us +£7.63m for the year. We're at a run rate of £61,422 salary per month, of a budget of £89,759. I want to keep it well under control as we've got more contract renewals to look at.
October 2011

We cleaned up in the September awards; player of the month is O'Connor with Galbraith and Dickoh 2nd and 3rd; Paul Hanlon is young player of the month with Galbraith 3rd (always love these - how's he 2nd best player, but only 3rd best young player?) with Vladimir Weiss in between in 2nd. I've got manager of the month.

Our next three are Hearts, always tough; Celtic, even tougher; and Leverkusen, a Champions Cup Group stage match after all. Of course, there are 11 days between Hearts and Celtic due to an international break. The Leverkusen match on the 19th is the home match, we'll head to Germany on 1st Nov. Hopes of finishing at least third would really be helped by getting something out of the pair; Sporting have lost their first two and now face a pair against Barca, but we still need to go to Lisbon for our 5th group match. The rest of the month is Hamilton, Rangers (league cup) and Dundee United, so it's a risky month - fortunately the Rangers match isn't as important as the board have decided they don't
really care about the League Cup.

Chelsea finally won after another couple of embarrassments - they got beat by Rubin Kazan in the Euro Cup, then by Millwall in the League Cup but then turned it entirely around in one fell swoop by beating league champions Liverpool at Anfield 2-0. Arsenal, Wolves and Everton are the top three after six rounds. The astonishing Steven Fletcher, a former Hibernian player, for what it's worth, is again tearing up the league, after 26 league goals last year (30 overall), he's got 10 in six league matches this year. Maybe he wants to come back :)

So a little noodling about playing staff. Late last year we started to get hints from staff that they thought Riordan was losing a little bit. This seems odd, at age 28 he should not be declining yet; staff now consider him our third best striker behind O'Connor and Agogo, and that's largely the way I see it too. McRobbie is coming along nicely, mostly a good start to the season but at 19 he has a bit to go. Agogo is 32 and likely to start dipping pretty soon, he's had a long career and is now on his 15th club (including loans). He has had the effect that I wanted, maybe more than I expected, but what do we plan for the future? Agogo at 32 with contract running out; Riordan at 28 and apparently declining; O'Connor at 28 and seemingly at the top of his powers; McRobbie at 19 and still growing. That doesn't seem like it's going to be exactly next year's strike force, probably I'll need to strengthen. I'm still not happy with our right midfield situation - I have to run Wotherspoon into the ground and if he were to get injured we'd definitely have issues; Van Graaf won't have his contract renewed as a backup I'm sometimes reluctant to use. I've got the kid Monakana, for next season he'll be 18 and maybe he's ready for the role, but I've also been poking around at what else is available, which includes a couple of interesting Scottish players in Danny Swanson and Craig Thomson. Whether I'd make any move for these players in January remains to be seen. We've also gotten word on some interesting striker prospects, a scout turned up a 17-year-old Marijn Troost at Feyenoord, and after a second look we have two opinions: "should sign Troost whatever the price". It won't be cheap for such a young player, and at his age, maybe a bit before he actually contributes to the senior team. And... it looks like we'd be battling with Man United for his services, a battle we're not too likely to win if they really did bid. The other turned up in a search of better players out of contract, 22 year old Argentine Milton Caraglio, he doesn't look like he should be unemployed, free (if there are no work permit issues) but he's on a slower progression track and doesn't have as much potential upside.

The 2-3-4 clubs are in action Sunday before our Monday match, and we've gotten more help: #7 Kilmarnock 3-3 #2 Celtic, #3 Rangers 1-1 #4 Falkirk. What in the world is up with Falkirk, who were expected to be in a fight to avoid dropping right back down all season... getting points v. Hearts would be a really good idea, though, because a win would assure we stay top no matter what the result in the following match at Celtic. The problem is, last year I had no answer for Hearts. In the four league meetings, we scored two goals - which was enough for two wins, one draw, one loss. Seriously, a goal every 180 minutes? Working it out, we averaged a goal every 46 minutes versus everyone else in the league.

Match: Hibernian - Heart of Midlothian
Score: 3-1 (Galbraith 9, 27, Riordan 12 - Driver 73)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: We took a gamble against Hearts, setting up a standard 4-4-2 but then at the kickoff, realigning it "temporarily" into something one might call a 4-2-3-1, three attacking midfielders. The information we have is Hearts are a little vulnerable at the start of matches, and actually play rather well against a 4-4-2, so we'd try to spike them early until there were signs of it giving us danger. Plan works, for once: two goals inside 12 minutes. That's after Agogo was booked for a dive trying to make something of a promising position right at the start. A desperate save by the post man off an Ojala header kept it at two goals, and I still didn't see a reason to drop back into a more normal set. Indeed, there was a third goal from a scrum on 27, Galbraith following up after his first effort saved well. Stunned Hearts settled after that, and we did look to have lost the edge. After saving a couple of Hearts tries, Driver slots one underneath Brown who can't get down fast enough, 3-1 with about a quarter hour left. We saw the rest out, and we've got our three points, which means we top the table by three going to the international break, and as I speculated, we should have enough goal difference over Celtic that we'll keep if even if we should (banish bad thoughts now!) lose to them after the break. Waiting on physio evaluation of Miller, who took a bit of a knock, and it's 3-4 weeks for a groin strain. Galbraith was effective, something I've been waiting for, but his best work was from the AMC position, a place I'm not sure I have much room for him at. Ah the small dilemmas are sometimes as interesting as the big ones.

Here are the players picked for international duty this time:
Paul Hanlon, D, Scotland U21
David Wotherspoon, W, Scotland U21
Daniel Galbraith, W, Scotland U21
Sean Welsh, DR/MC, Scotland U21
Thiago, AMC, Spain U21
David Stephens, DC, Wales U21
Omar Koroma, ST, Gambia
Garry O'Connor, ST, Scotland
Juhani Ojala, DC, Finland
Pavel Rebane, ST, Estonia U19

Exciting for Ojala, who has a chance at a first senior cap, he only collected three youth caps so there's been a progression here since he's come to Hibernian. I've looked to see if there are other Finnish players we could add, but it doesn't look like it at this point. He doesn't get in v. Sweden, where the Finns got a great result for them, but they're not going to qualify; what they've done is make it hard for the Swedes in a tough group, they must beat Holland to grab 2nd, with Hungary sitting top with one match left.

Thicot, who's had a depressing year, is injured again, it's the fifth time he'll miss time this calendar year, and this one is a hamstring that will cost three months. We'll be a little thin in midfield with him and Miller out, although Miller is back soon - the timing of his injury was fortunate, if there's such a thing, in that nearly two weeks of recovery were consumed by the international break.

Match: Celtic - Hibernian
Score: 1-4 (Rogne 73 - Agogo 5, 25, Dickoh 63, Stevenson 87)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Big match. Beforehand, we recognize the threat of Samaras, and Lennon prophetically says they're afraid of Agogo, who scores the opener early. Thiago completed the pass forward while tripping over Ledley, it looked a little theatrical and it's nice for us the referee let it all go. The early play otherwise favored Celtic, and we dodged trouble when a shot clanked the bar - before Agogo caused more Celtic headaches. I'm making some adjustments as we're not able to carry out our short passing game, but the progress comes on a set play instead, Agogo wonderfully heading a free kick in a heavy crowd under the keeper. Boucher very confidently takes in a crowd on a dangerous situation, he's starting to come along. Agogo utterly shreds the defense late in the half and only a wonderful save from Pernis rescued a goal. At the break, the Celtic faithful are stunned, they still think last year's result was a fluke and they're the better team; they may be right, but I'd love to see us close out the win at Celtic park, where we didn't win in three tries last season. Dickoh rises for a corner just past the hour mark, and nobody can match him, it's in for 3-0. Again, we can't complete the clean sheet as Celtic scored off a corner. Agogo makes his usual series of moves but then spots Stevenson breaking clear from the left and he puts it in for an exclamation point in the 87th minute. The crushing result is something we didn't do last year, Celtic had a chance to pull level and instead, in front of 52,000, we've pegged them back to six behind. Rangers' Sunday win leaves them 2nd, 4 points adrift of our pace. Falkirk's dream season goes a little further, they win Monday to jump over Celtic on goal difference.

And now some more pressure... really we should feel none and just be happy to be in the ECC Group Stage, but if there are any aspirations at all this is our best remaining chance to collect points. It's really worked out to be an intriguing group in the sense that all four clubs are leading their leagues, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Scotland in addition to three winners last year and the other level on points with the winner. I'm not going to waste time mining the data to see if any other group can match that, but it's doubtful. In any case Bayer Leverkusen are really a very good team, now I look at them it's not a total shock they did well at home v. Barcelona. We've got some experience with them, and both sides should be better. I'm really somewhat of a worrier as a manager; one way this could play is we'll take our recent good run, as well as knowledge of our 1-0 win here last season over them in the Euro Cup, and parlay it into a superior performance. Another outcome is we're not focused enough because things have gone well, and we lay an egg. An egg in a 38-game league season doesn't have to be fatal, but in a 6-match mini group it probably is.

Match: Hibernian - Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group D)
Commentary: Leverkusen want to play the same diamond setup we do, with Ballack driving from the holding role, one of the best keepers in the world in Adler, and Kiessling a danger up top. I think the key is very likely to be if Thiago is on top of his game, and if we're good enough to get it to him, because then we can dictate play. If they shut that off, or Thiago plays "average", we may be in deep. We try something unusual yet again, early it looks promising, then after a while Leverkusen seem to have the upper hand. We've got a scoring chance for Agogo, but Adler is just too good. Probably the best chance for us, and maybe for Leverkusen, will be a set play. Approaching the half hour we've done enough to earn five corners, always a good sign of attacking intent, but Leverkusen have looked very solid defending them. A goal comes from a set play though - it's Douglas banging in a free kick. At least we're able to have a few sequences where we work the ball well, and one is set up nicely for Murray, but it's that guy Adler again, going to take more to beat such a keeper. But having said that, the master almost gives us one, Agogo fires one net-wards from wide left, not sure the plan, but it's going to do no harm, going to miss the net to the left, but Adler dives on it and it squirts under him back into the field of play where O'Connor is waiting for a tap-in... Friedrich slides in front of him though and saves the day. So we lead at the half, but I'm not brimming with confidence. It's a defensive second half as the rain comes down. Brown makes a super save on a corner headed down late, then sends it out where Riordan can collect and chip the keeper, we're just missing that little bit of luck as it bounces on top of the crossbar. And from that, Leverkusen score.... Kiessling just barges through where it looked like we had it covered, and bangs in a cross. The final is a draw.
Score: 1-1 (Douglas 30 - Kiessling 88)
Group Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: Giving up two points from a winning position so late is just horribly disappointing. We remain 3rd, a point behind Leverkusen; after Barcelona demolish Sporting we do still have a prospect of 3rd - they've got Barcelona and Leverkusen away and us at home, so even if they beat us they might not have enough to pass our four points. We've got a tough schedule too with Leverkusen and Sporting away and Barcelona at home. In some senses my fear was realized - we just couldn't get Thiago involved enough to run the play, and indeed nobody managed a really standout performance (Douglas gets a good rating because of the goal, but otherwise he was just good, not great). With Thiago not available, things ended up going through Murray, and while he wasn't bad by any means, he didn't have enough to dictate play. Yeah, this competition is not something we're outclassed in, but we're not good enough to make an impact in it.

Match: Hibernian - Hamilton Academical
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Pretty much no surprise at this point that we start poorly, this is the worst team in the league, we're the best (I claim), and we should steamroller these guys, it's a home game, and half an hour in we were out-possessed, out-passed, and yes, out-played. At the break, scoreless. We can beat Celtic at Celtic park by a comfortable score, we can be extremely competitive with the German champions (and this year's leaders), and we can't score at home in a half against the bottom club in our own league. There's got to be some answer for this complacency thing, it's not in the character of Scottish football which is always determined, tough, etc. It ends scoreless, and I am not shy in letting the club know it was a horrid performance - this was a place where it was important to pick up points, what should have been free points really given that Hamilton had outright lost seven of their first eight in the league, drawing only once, to Hearts. Life is weird in the league though, Rangers could have established themselves firmly in second, but they lose badly - at home - to Dundee, who have had a horrid start to the season. Go figure. I had expected to run out Koroma, who was on the bench for once, and the circumstances didn't let me.

Match: Rangers - Hibernian (League Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-1 (Shinnie 4, Ness 82 - Riordan 74)
Final Thoughts: I wouldn't have played a terribly strong line-up, but the schedule falls that way; we have a league match in a few days, an ECC match in a week - and we need the best side available, but sharp, for that one. Didn't seem to be doing good, we give up a stupid early goal, then Agogo sets up O'Connor perfectly but he can't beat the keeper from five yards, in full stride. Sorry. O'Connor misses a second time, this time he's out in front. That's a pretty simple equation, Rangers took their chance, we've blown our first two. Thiago puts Agogo through, and he puts his shot right at the keeper as well. This looks like a loss. We're really lucky it's not 2-0 at the break as a clean shot went off our post. Riordan temporarily, at least, saves us from looking completely inept as he punches in sub Wotherspoon's centering pass. But we don't need extra time, honestly. Ness is going to fix that, as he punches in an 82nd minute shot from distance. A lot of injury time, but we don't approach it with enough composure, there were chances but we rushed them and didn't convert. So the League Cup is a title that won't be defended. Thiago eventually showed up to put in a good performance, but we didn't have what it took. And does that officially signal a slump now? That's winless from three, and all three a disappointment is how we performed; we gave up a win for a draw late to Leverkusen, failed to score to the worst team in the league, and underperformed noticeably v. Rangers.

Post-match, more bad news, Agogo's injury is serious, with a torn hamstring he's out three months or so, were hoping from on-field diagnosis it might just be a strain.

So we've got some problems now; new goalkeeper Boucher shows plenty of skills but there's a way to go for consistently good performances (he's still just 19); incumbent Mark Brown clearly stated his case early but has stumbled recently. We're shorter up top now with Agogo out for an extended period, possible for all players but more of a risk as they get older, and his loss really takes an element out of our game, that he can create a scoring chance out of nothing all by himself, whereas for the rest it either needs to be a case of being put through clear, or higher quality build-up play. The midfielders have been less impressive recently; Thiago started like a house afire, tailed off, then got injured, and hopefully is now getting back to form - we'll see; Miller had his own injury issue after starting slow, then coming on; Guidileye has been starter-quality when we play with a DMC, but not spectacular, just solid, and the others have been spotty - some great, some not so; when several combine it's good, else it's less so. Hard to complain too much; we've lost twice in 18 starts, and drawn four. Defense took a bit to settle, I complained early about too many conceded, but it's better now, for example, we're second in the league in goals conceded behind only Falkirk. Hogg seemed to have won a spot, but as we continue to rotate through the first 18, it's clear it's Dickoh and newcomer Ojala who are the best pair; and also clear that it took a bit to replace the departed Sol Bamba - maybe that's still not completely done.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (Ojala 56)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Patience is actually generally one of my virtues, friends say so, but I get into situations on the field where cumulative frustration beats it. Early, Dundee are picking us apart, and I'm trying to wait for it to turn around; when it looks like it might, Goodwillie pinches a ball off Hogg and should have scored, but is unlucky he hit the bar. For the first quarter hour we're being destroyed, we improve enough after that to get out of the half scoreless, but there's actually nothing positive to point to except they didn't score. We started the 2nd much better after, umm, not exactly a hairdryer treatment but they did hear I though it wasn't okay. Ojala comes out of the pack and heads in a corner to get the lead. It's enough for the win, in a match where we did not play well, again. Can we take something from a poor showing where we still got an away win? We were watching another one of our transfer targets, Danny Swanson, and he got sent off. The signs don't seem to be great. At the end, we were even on possession, but were outshot 18-13, out-passed 79-72, and committed more fouls - but they had the real disciplinary problems, five yellow cards and a straight red.

Monthly Results
Hibernian 3-1 Heart of Midlothian (Galbraith 9, 27, Riordan 12 - Driver 73)
Celtic 1-4 Hibernian (Rogne 73 - Agogo 5, 25, Dickoh 63, Stevenson 87)
Hibernian 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen (ECC Group D) (Douglas 30 - Kiessling 88)
Hibernian 0-0 Hamilton Academical
Rangers 2-1 Hibernian (League Cup Qtr Final) (Shinnie 4, Ness 82 - Riordan 74)
Dundee United 0-1 Hibernian (Ojala 56)

End of Month table Summary (11 pld):
1. Hibernian 26 (10 pld)
2. Celtic 22
3. Rangers 21 (10 pld)
4. Falkirk 19 (10 pld)
5. Aberdeen 18
11. Dundee 8
12. Hamilton 3 (10 pld)

Profit of £4.55m, £8.1m for the year, balance £14.5m. It's a question of wise use of that money...
November 2011

We open November in Germany, knowing Leverkusen are missing some key players - regular midfielders Ballack and Bradley are out due to injury, as is world-class keeper Rene Adler. The front line remains a handful in Kießling and Eren Derdiyok, we have had trouble dealing with both players the three times we've played now. Whether we can take any kind of advantage of the three replacements - Baltisch at DMC, Sam at MR (after Augusto moves into the middle to AMC), and Giefer in goal - remains to be seen. We couldn't muster a lot of attack back in Edinburgh, where Leverkusen had 59% of the ball. We have a big miss too, with Agogo our only player looking capable of creating a scoring chance "out of nothing", but unavailable for months now, and we're probably short on pace to contain a rather quick Leverkusen squad.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hibernian (ECC Group D)
Score: 3-1 (Augusto 2, Kießling 27, Derdiyok 49 - Wotherspoon 76)
Group Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: Outclassed... we let in the early goal to Augusto, and it was clear it was going to be a long night; a longish quick shot that caught Boucher backing up and he couldn't get as it snuck in just over his raised hand, a bit of a youthful mistake I think, as it wasn't to the side of him - in other words, he was not strained to get over to it, but couldn't judge it right or get back fast enough. Then Kießling added a second, and Derdiyok a third early in the 2nd half and there was no question; the consolation goal from Wotherspoon made no difference. We again struggled to contain Leverkusen's strike pair, and based on performances this year and last, they seem to have grown more than we did. Hart was absolutely absent, to the point I had to substitute him; I HATE to sub defenders unless they're tired. Boucher had a superb match to keep it as close as it was, which really wasn't very. We need Thiago to control play when we're playing this formation, and he didn't; his passing wasn't nearly good enough to set up up. We're pretty much out of a chance for qualifying for the knockout round (Leverkusen 8 pts, we're on four) but with Sporting still on zero, maybe we can stay ahead of them? They have us at home and Leverkusen away. It would be great if we could earn a draw in our match with them, that would seal it.

Down in England, the icon, Sir Alex Ferguson, is in major trouble as Man Utd have started terribly, winless in the first ten, seven draws and three losses - in the relegation zone. New Chelsea manager Mancini is in trouble too, he's a better 3-3-4 but Abramovich is not a patient man. The rumor is if they lost to Wolves, he'll be out.

For some reason... mind games effort, I guess, Rangers' Ally McCoist says we have the upper hand, even though the coming match is in Glasgow. On Saturday, Celtic have lost at Motherwell, that means we lead them by four points with two in hand; Falkirk are actually listed 2nd on the same points but better g.d., we have a game in hand on them; Rangers are the next spot five points behind.

Match: Rangers - Hibernian
Score: 3-0 (Jelavic 2, 49, 75)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: I'm hoping for a response after the disappointing show in Germany, but we don't get one. Rangers score early on a lovely sequence of play, the end of which was Jelavic giving up the ball to Weiss to the left, curling and heading towards goal and getting it back for a solid finish, just 1:06 in. On 10, a through ball is looking for de Jong, but Brown just dives on it before he gets a foot to it. de Jong and Jelavic are steaming in on goal after a steal, de Jong goes for it himself and puts it just barely wide. We've got the barest sniff of offense on 15 when Miller comes through a challenge on the right to fire one that misses by a lot, but it's because of a deflection, corner. Jelavic has had a ball ball to him near the penalty spot, with both time and space he snatches at it and fires over. Next, he's inside, and takes too much time so when he turns to blast, Brown can just get a body part in the way. Corner, just barely cleared off the line, but it's a good long one and the counter's on, Miller down the right, lovely cross in... and O'Connor had stopped his run. Why???? de Jong is heading down the left, inside the edge of the box Hogg times his tackle, and gets it wrong! Card, and penalty. Davis takes the spot kick... and puts it wide of the left post! We've been nearly steamrollered, but I try the old chestnuts, the've thrown their best at us and are only up one, there's evidence we can hit them on the break, there's always the chance of a set piece if we can contain them. All for naught, Riordan on what's looking like a break, he carelessly loses the ball, Rangers clear to the halfway line where Ojala can't control, and de Jong is off to the races. It's 2v1 and he plays it right to pick out Jelavic for the easy goal, so in just the 3rd minute of the 2nd, the half-time plans are blown out of the water. Riordan's speculative effort on 58 is our second shot of the match (and as it turns out, last). Jelavic receives in a pocket of space - he's split the two center backs up high, and with Brown in no-man's-land, he loops it over him (not quite a chip) to complete his hat trick (75). We've put on a torrid performance. extremely lucky for it just to be 3-0. Among other things, they missed a penalty. Rangers have outshot us 23-2, and we were honestly, utterly dismal. For the second match in a row we gave up a very early goal. Rangers 83% passing, Hibernian 66%. Possession 62/38. Truly bad.

Whatever may have been going on in the minds of players, fans, and others, these last two matches should serve as a substantial Bringing Back to Earth event, we have to work very hard to succeed in every match (this is the platitude I spout every time they ask something like it in a press conference, but it's actually the truth: we're not good enough to coast against just about anyone). We knew we weren't on a level with the best Champions Cup clubs in Europe, but here's a reminder too that there's a gap to the next tier as well, and even domestically we shouldn't get to feeling too comfortable.

Match: Hibernian - Motherwell
Score: 2-0 (Ojala 45+3, Galbraith 79)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: The visit of Motherwell brings another one of those "return of my former player" events. They don't all exatly love me, considering I let a number go after just a year in charge, and that looks like I rated them not good enough (we could say "if the shoe fits..." but could also say they just weren't a fit for the style of squad we are constructing, that's more polite). This one is John Rankin. Douglas goes close on a free kick early, then our least favorite referee shows Rankin a card (well, last year that would have been a problem when he was in a green shirt!). The resulting Douglas free kick requires a rescuing tip over, so in the first eight minutes, we've looked dangerous. There's another chance for O'Connor, but then as the rain begins to come down we seem to lose some edge, and it's Motherwell who come the closest to the opening goal as a header glances off the bar on 26. As the weather lets up, it starts clicking again, and we get a goal just before the half, Douglas free kick, this time he doesn't go for goal but lays it towards the far post where Ojala meets it with his run to head home. Heartbreaking for Motherwell to concede so late. Not much for a long stretch of the second, until Wotherspoon whips it in to Riordan, whose shot is blocked by keeper Randolph but sub Galbraith is steaming in from the left and he bangs in the rebound, 2-0. Boucher makes a really good tip save at the end of the 90 to preserve the clean sheet. It wasn't a spectacular game, but it was a decent one, and as we needed some kind of recovery from a pair of bad outings, it was a start. What we did do was exert control: after being out-possessed 38/62 last match, we turned it to 70/30 this time, and after being out-passed 66/83 v Rangers we were 83/58 here. So we performed well on both sides of the ball to control it and keep them down. In terms of the race, we're back on level games played with three of our four closest followers, and have a healthy lead over them - seven over Falkirk (!) and Celtic, eight over Aberdeen. Closest is Rangers, they're only five back and have a game in hand, which, if they win, will pull them back to the two point difference it was after they trampled on us at the weekend - that match will come in about two weeks, after the international break and a round of matches; they'll visit Hamilton Accies for that one.

The international break will bring us a couple of weeks closer to getting back our two best players of the season based on "average rating" (Thicot and Agogo), although that's not as meaningful as it could be, they've avoided some overall weak performances by the team which could have dragged down their ratings. Both are still at least two months away, though. We should, however, get a chance to heal up many of our tired players, and we can hope nobody on international duty comes back with any problems.

I've been so locally focused I haven't paid too much attention to international football, but qualification for Euro 2012 has been underway. We have no players in the Scotland senior squad, which in general is represented by players playing in other leagues. Qualifiers from group play were Austria (ahead of Germany!), Slovakia, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro (ahead of Wales and of England who finish third and are out), Portugal, Spain. The eight playoff-qualified second placed teams are meeting up in this break. The first legs are Belarus 2-1 Germany, Denmark 2-3 Wales, Holland 1-0 Scotland, Serbia 2-0 Israel. There are rumors that Craig Levien will lose his job if Scotland don't rescue the tie in the home leg - which I'll go watch, after all I'm supposed to be interested in football in general in Scotland. You'd have to favor Holland with the lineup they have... Scotland try, but can't make anything dangerous enough happen, scoreless draw and they're out. The second legs with WINNERS and (aggregate) are: Germany 2-2 BELARUS (3-4), Israel 1-2 SERBIA (1-4), Scotland 0-0 HOLLAND (0-1), Wales 0-3 DENMARK (3-5). So the British Isles are shut out completely (Capello was sacked after England failed to qualify, Ancelotti now manages them as somehow they went for another Italian).

Brazil and Germany are looking for new coaches, but I wouldn't be in a position to apply for either job. Indeed, over the next few days there are a whole bunch of job openings.

Match: Hibernian - Kilmarnock
Score: 3-2 (Queudrue o.g. 45+1, Douglas pen 50, Koroma 80 - Hogg o.g. 7, Silva 43)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Our start went bad-to-worse; I decided to gamble on player selection with the ECC match mid-week, then saw Hanlon get injured in the 2nd minute, then a corner pinballed around and went off Hogg for an own-goal on 7. Stevenson is injured but stays on, but on 18 de Graaf had to come off hurt. So far we were dominating possession, but missing quality. Killie scored a second late in the half, but we pulled one back just before the death - it's an own-goal on Quedrue, but O'Connor was going to tap in easily so there's not much blame that he recovered at the last second but couldn't direct it away. Early in the 2nd, Hogg goes to head a corner and is banged, although some feel it's dubious, the referee has awarded a penalty, which Douglas converts, 2-2. Rarely used Omar Koroma is finally over his injury, and he replaces an ineffective McRobbie, who's really tailed off in recent performances, he seems to be letting the pressure get to him. And go figure - it's Koroma who rolls in the go-ahead goal only moments later. We see it out, it was a VERY important comeback win - should help the morale, but more than that, it's key to collect maximum points at home whenever possible, and it was a good display of determination to come back. And for a little extra help, Rangers, who picked us apart in their previous home match, have lost at home 0-1 to Aberdeen. So it's pretty much a huge six-point swing - we could have seen our lead drop to 2 points, and after 44 minutes you could have bet on it, in the end it's eight points instead (pending the Falkirk-Celtic match Sunday).

Our injury roll is Hanlon for a few days (dead leg), Stevenson, who finished out the game, will miss four weeks, and de Graaf, who so rarely plays, has an ankle problem and will also miss about four weeks.

Sir Alex Ferguson, incredibly, is sacked by Man United after a quarter century, due to a bad start that has little to do with the manager.

So it's off to Portugal for the fifth of our six group matches. Even though we're at home for the final one, with the opponent being Barca we're unlikely to get anything out of it. Thus, this is where we see what happens in the group for the 3rd place spot which will let the team continue playing in Europe. You wouldn't think Sporting would win their final match at Leverkusen, but it could happen; and if they beat us, a draw in Germany should take it down to goal difference. We've got the advantage there for now, we're -2 while they're -9.

Match: Sporting CP - Hibernian (ECC Group D)
Score: 2-0 (Anderson Polga 44, Liedson 86)
Group Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: We started very brightly for maybe the first 10 minutes or so, but the tide rapidly turned and we were dominated by a very sharp Sporting side. I thought we'd escape the first half scoreless after Sporting's best chance went off the crossbar, but they scored very late on an impressive header back across the grain by Anderson Polga. We played a little better in the second half, but it was not enough a goal down to be just a "little better", and the killing dagger was sunk by Liedson in the 86th. We've gone down without enough of a fight, and I'm rather unhappy.

Unfortunately, the sequence of matches has now left us with a club that's reeling as far as confidence and happiness. We weren't expected to be a factor in the ECC, but it never helps to lose, and now in the last nine overall, we're three wins, two draws, four losses. I was hoping the two home league wins would help us recover, but now we have to battle through a tough next four - three away league matches sandwiching our home ECC match v. Barcelona, there's a very real chance that we'll be knocked so far off our game that we can't recover. Falkirk, Aberdeen and St Mirren are the league matches, based on the current table that's 5th, 3rd and 7th for the opponents. We have gotten a little more help: Rangers have tumbled again, this time 2-1 at (still) bottom club Hamilton Accies, their first win of the season!

It's that special day, the draw for the Scottish Cup at the round we enter, the 4th. Here's what's come out of the pot:

D1 Stirling v SPL Motherwell
D2 Peterhead v SPL St Mirren
SPL Dundee v SPL Falkirk
D1 Morton v D2 Albion Rovers
D1 Partick Thistle v SPL Kilmarnock
D1 St Johnstone v D3 East Stirlingshire
D3 Airdrie Utd or D2 Cowdenbeath v D2 Stenhousemuir
D2 Dumbarton or D1 Livingston v SPL Celtic
(non league) Turriff Utd or D2 Alloa v D1 Raith
SPL Hearts v D1 Queen of the South
SPL Inverness v D2 Brechin
D1 Ross v D3 Annan or D1 Dundee
(non league) Inverurie Loco Works v
SPL Rangers v (non league) Cove Rangers
SPL Aberdeen v D2 Ayr

So neither the best, nor the worst of draws... it's away, and it's an SPL opponent, but it's the worst one of the 11. Wish could have drawn something easier, so we could play more non-regulars, but it will just go as it goes. Matchday is 7 Jan. If it wasn't so nearby, we'd probably stay over in the area since we play there again in a regular league tie on the 11th. But it's a little silly when it's only 35 miles from home. Indeed, the distance to most matches is not a lot, as just in the valley we've got the two Glasgow clubs, St Mirren, Hamilton and Motherwell, Hearts are in town, and Falkirk is just at the head of the Firth. Kilmarnock is not lot further, and actually as the crow flies, the distance to Dundee is less than to Glasgow, but the driving distance is a bit more. Only Aberdeen and Inverness seem like "road trips".

Match: Falkirk - Hibernian
Score: 0-2 (Douglas pen 31, Rebane 37)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: It's a tricky start to the match, we've finally got a foothold past the half hour when there's a penalty, which Douglas converts. The kid Rebane uses his pace to latch on to a quick opener, and he slides it under the keeper to double the lead. We've shut things down, but then Hanlon makes a terrible tackle, I'm waiting to see if the referee shows him off. Luckily, only yellow. Falkirk think they've pulled one back, but rather fortuitously it's offside. Then we almost comedically fail to score a clincher twice in short order, first Koroma is behind but fails to score, then he hits a longer shot off the crossbar, and a defender heads the rebound back to the keeper - who's still prone after his desperate attempt to stop it. Luckily for them he gets up just in time. Then Miller coming from the right is unmarked but fires high and wide. In the end it's a 2-0 away win, valuable, but anything but an assured confident performance.

Three of the four home teams win convincingly in Scottish Cup replays, Alloa, Cowdenbeath and Dundee. Livingston lose to Dumbarton, so the fourth round is now set.

Monthly Results
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Hibernian (ECC Group D) (Augusto 2, Kießling 27, Derdiyok 49 - Wotherspoon 76)
Rangers 3-0 Hibernian (Jelavic 2, 49, 75)
Hibernian 2-0 Motherwell (Ojala 45+3, Galbraith 79)
Hibernian 3-2 Kilmarnock (Queudrue o.g. 45+1, Douglas pen 50, Koroma 80 - Hogg o.g. 7, Silva 43)
Sporting CP 2-0 Hibernian (ECC Group D) (Anderson Polga 44, Liedson 86)
Falkirk 0-2 Hibernian (Douglas pen 31, Rebane 37)

End of Month table Summary (14 pld):
1. Hibernian 35
2. Celtic 28
3. Aberdeen 27
4. Rangers 24 (13 pld)
5. Falkirk 22
11. Dundee 11
12. Hamilton 7
<out of character>Wow! It's for sure an Edinburgh side in the Scottish Cup this season, and both sides have double pressure: not just having made it all the way through to be just one step from the open-top parade, but for Hibernian it's the pressure of ending that 100+ year drought, and for Hearts it's the pressure of not being the side to let Hibs out of that rusted cage... </out of character>

December 2011

December is a big month for us: we're set to play seven times, and there are not a lot of distractions, six league matches to go with the home tie v. Barcelona. The menu is Aberdeen and St Mirren away; Inverness and Celtic at home; Hearts away and Falkirk home.

Match: Aberdeen - Hibernian
Score: 0-2 (Hogg 12, O'Connor 82)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Going to Aberdeen to try to sort out problems is not great timing; we've beaten them all five times since I've been in charge, but they're on a run of seven consecutive wins, conceding only one goal in that entire spell - they're hot and we're a bit shaky. We started well, a good bit of early pressure but nobody making runs into the box, then two excellent cracks to win a corner, then finally Hogg - an impulse of mine to start - heads in that corner. After the goal, though, Aberdeen wake up and dominate the rest of the half, we're back on our heels the whole way. Thiago has had to come off at the break. A further wakeup is a shot off the bar early in the 2nd. We're being real pests though, after some tactical adjustments, we keep poking the ball away and getting in the way of things, even if we're not actually winning the ball from those challenges. Suddenly there's a clash when Boucher doesn't hang onto a corner cleanly, and there are bodies in heaps all over. When the referee sorts it out, he's showing red to Zander Diamond, and Aberdeen will have to play a man short for the last half hour. With the ball starting to roll loose, he charged through Ojala - and Hogg, and Boucher went down too, pretty impressive. We try to push the advantage, but there's not much... until finally we break them down using some width, started by a great long header by Ojala sends Riordan and O'Connor on a break, although it's 2v4, but as the ball rapidly shifts from left to right Hanlon puts it in the box and suddenly we've got three there who could have gotten to it, O'Connor with the clinching (I hope) tap-in on 82. And it is.

The pair of 2-0 away wins make me happier about things. We're not done rebuilding damaged egos, but hopefully we're on the way - as long as we can have fun hosting Barca.

I'm not going to take this as a reason to develop too much hope, but Barca are missing a lot of players; all-world scorer David Villa will have to serve a suspension and important back liners Valdes, Pujol and Abidal will all miss with injury. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi won't, though. It will be our first appearance in front of expanded capacity at Easter Road. I never really understood; the seating capacity is 20,250 but I always got told it was 17,400 and some areas were just blocked off. Whatever has been going on, we now have the full capacity available and we certainly expected it to fill for Barca.

Match: Hibernian - Barcelona (ECC Group D)
Score: 0-1 (Jeffren)
Group Position: 3rd
Summary: Barca score early, and it's from something they don't emphasize, to make it sting more - Jeffren cuts in and heads home a corner in the 8th minute - is the rout on? Boucher makes a really good save to cut off Galvan when he looked through to score on 12. Barca probe but don't score, although Messi goes close in the 25th, hitting the bar. Really, there's nothing much more to report, the whole way it's Barca probe, probe, probe. They didn't find enough of a crack to beat us again, and the rare times we had the ball in the attacking half we didn't shoot right away, fatal because Barca hunt in packs and just take the chance away. 1-0 to Barca. We've been thoroughly beaten on one level, 27 shots to 3, but the possession and passing was relatively even from a statistical viewpoint - that's a deceptive viewpoint to be honest and watching the match they seemed to have the ball all the time. Do we take away good things from that? Mainly it's a mental thing, I hope we draw more from keeping the defending European club champions to 1-0 than that we mustered nothing against them. I made some particular choices to try to contain things - three central midfielders and one striker, and choosing not to use the more offensively minded - but far less disciplined defensively - Galbraith and Wotherspoon in the wide positions, who were pretty tired from the last match anyway. If you look at performances, that didn't work, among non-defenders only Murray and Guidileye graded out reasonably well. But this is down to the opposition, I don't think we need to be embarrassed.

It's kind of instructive to look at the pass charts: Barcelona's were rather evenly distributed, mainly in the middle third and down the two flanks in the final third as they looked for opportunities, ours were nearly all in the defensive half with a heavy lean to the left side, Hanlon in the left back role involved on 70 passes, while on the right Hart was only involved in 38. The midfield never got much on the ball, and Barca just shut Thiago out of proceedings entirely, for your playmaker to be involved in 18 passes shows they impose their style of play entirely. Not that any of this is a surprise.

We did fill the stadium to the real capacity, by the way. The real news of value to us - I'm happy we didn't embarrass ourselves vs. the best club in the world, but that's a moral victory only - is Sporting CP lost at Leverkusen, which means we hang on to 3rd place in the group, and we're still alive in Europe, although we drop to the secondary competition. The successful ECC Qualifiers are: Liverpool and Atletico Madrid; O.Marseilles and Everton (ahead of AC Milan!); Napoli and Real Madrid; Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen; Arsenal and Zurich; Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow; O.Lyonnais and Juventus; Man United and Roma.

In the Euro Cup, we have two categories of entrants - 3rd placed from ECC Groups: Zenit, AC Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Hibernian, Valencia, Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kyiv, Paris Saint-Germain. And Qualifiers from Group Stage: these won't be determined until the final group matches which take place next week. I'm glad to keep playing in Europe for at least one more pair of matches, but you can see just from the 3rd placed teams there are clubs here we're not yet on a par with.

Rangers pick up a win in their game in hand, which makes the top three look a little more familiar now; 1. Hibernian, 2. Celtic, 3. Rangers. At the weekend, though, the two will play each other, so somebody is going to drop points. From our viewpoint, a draw would be excellent, but we also have to take care of our own business too.

The U19's straightened out their form a bit - like the senior team, they wobbled a little after soaring to 12 consecutive wins to open the season, they lost two, now they've beaten St Mirren 4-3 with a hat trick by Pavel Rebane, which takes him to 16 goals - he's also just made a debut in the senior side. But... he's twisted an ankle, which will keep him out a month and miss the cup seminal.

Match: St Mirren - Hibernian
Score: 1-4 (Ramsay 43 - Riordan 2, 46, Miller 45+1, Hogg 52)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We scored early here, a corner headed nearly in, surprised it stayed out, but then Riordan got over to poke it in, 2nd minute. An opportunistic goal for a regular striker, what's the world coming to? However, after a few more minutes, our confident start peters out and St Mirren are completely bossing play. It's only a matter of time before the defense broke down, and it comes on 38 minutes, the score is level. They actually had two people breaking through on a diagonal cross, they almost knocked each other off the ball, but unfortunately for us Conor Ramsay took control and scored pretty easily, 43rd minute. But this seemed to wake us up and we worked our nicest sequence of the half which ended with Miller poking it in in stoppage, so we scored at the extreme ends of the half and, well, stunk for the rest. A good solid second half is required now. It starts beautifully, a well worked sequence ending with O'Connor feeding for Riordan's second. We've cracked for an easy goal by Ramsay set up by former Hibee McBride but we get lucky - the assistant flags for offside, and he was just about right although very close. Hogg rockets in a header off a corner and we're, amazingly, up 4-1 before the hour mark (52 minutes). We haven't had a four-goal burst since that marvelous Celtic match, strangely also on the road. Hogg is too eager to get another and pushes in the back. The game grinds to a conclusion, a good solid win for us, and that's three road wins in a row. We await Sunday's thriller to see what our lead will be. If our progress in measured by performance against St Mirren we've certainly improved on last year, we had a draw and two one-goal wins last year, this year 4-0 and 4-1 in the first two meetings.

Celtic dominate at Celtic Park, except where it counted - James Beattie rammed home two of only three shots that Rangers took in the first half and it held up for a 2-1 win after Celtic had a goal waved off for offside, three off the woodwork, and despite outshooting Rangers 21-5. So that leaves us eight points to the good of Rangers, 10 of Celtic.

Our U19's score a largely undeserved 2-0 win over Alloa in a Cup quarter final; the match was pretty even, we even conceded a penalty (which was missed) and then the late second goal made it look comfortable, which it wasn't. There's a familiar look to the semifinalists - Rangers and Celtic are there, plus Raith Rovers; the top three senior seeds are also in the final four of the youth cup.

The rest of the Euro Cup field is now determined, as the group qualifiers are Spartak Moscow and Lazio; AZ Alkmaar and Besiktas; Sevilla and Lille; Benfica and Palermo; Rubin Kazan and Chelsea; Inter Milan and Bolton; Wolfsburg and Villarreal; Ajax and Stuttgart; Hamburg and Athletic Bilbao; Shakhtar and Braga; Porto and Dnipro; Basel and Panathinaikos. So we're ready for the draw: I'm listening in with considerable nerves. Will we get a matchup we can survive? Inter are drawn, they'll face Stuttgart. The next nerve-wracker is Chelsea, they get Shakhtar Donetsk. AC Milan... get AZ Alkmaar. There are other good teams as well, but those were the ones I was most afraid of. We've completed the second last pairing, PSG v. Basel, and we're not in it, which means we get Greek side Panathinaikos - we're the very last ball out of the pot.

The second round draw is up as well; the winner of our tie will get the winner of Braga v Rubin Kazan. A Milan v Chelsea matchup is possible. I'd say neither one of our possible opponents if we advance is utterly impossible, but of course at this level nothing will be easy.

The ECC matchups, just for the sake of curiosity since we're no longer in it, are Everton v Barcelona, Leverkusen v Napoli, Real Madrid v Man United, Atletico Madrid v Bayern, Zurich v Liverpool, CSKA Moscow v Arsenal, Juventus v OM, Roma v OL.

Match: Hibernian - Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Score: 2-0 (Hogg 9, O'Connor 88)
League Position: 1st
Summary: This one got off to a good start, as Hogg came sliding in to poke home a free kick, he's not letting me leave him out of the lineup. 9th minute. Riordan draws a last-gasp save, he seems to have at least some of his form back. Thiago puts one in the side netting, those last two were a bit disappointing. The entire half ends up a bit disappointing, we're kind of sleepwalking through a match we should be dominating. Long ball, O'Connor wins the battle for it... and fails to score. He blows another gimme later, but then finally scores very late on a much tougher shot. So it wasn't anything to sing the praises of, but... we've gotten help! Celtic draw at Dundee and Rangers somehow lose at home to St Mirren.

Match: Hibernian - Celtic
Score: 3-2 (Dickoh 4, O'Connor 33, Riordan 82 - Kapo 30, Samaras 65)
League Position: 1st
Summary: With excitement at a fever pitch and the weather horrid - it's right at freezing and there's hail coming down - we excite the home fans by scoring early, comes loose on a corner and Dickoh hacks at it, looked like he mis-hit but it slithered in. A dubious penalty later Boucher has further cemented his credentials, he's saved the penalty and the followup, really it's three clear-cut chances in 20 minutes after they blew an earlier one. O'Connor nearly made it two with a snap shot. Celtic look somewhat shaky in the back, if we somehow can keep the ball in their end we'll be in good shape. Easier said than done, and a centering ball goes through several that could have got a foot to it, to Kapo who fires it in. Good counter, O'Connor is there... and it's in the net! We hit back right after Celtic's goal. The pressure is intense in the early parts of the 2nd, and Samaras caps it with a stunning header. Thiago, just on to shake things up, immediately finds O'Connor, how in the world did he not convert? Two more miracles from Boucher, as our back line is cracking badly. Thiago draws an equally good save from Pernis. Then we've got a goal... Ojala perfectly lofts a diagonal ball that Wotherspoon runs onto, crosses in, O'Connor goes sliding to poke it in but Pernis gets his body in front of it... not hands, though, and it's another sliding poke, this time by Riordan, to put it in. Celtic are on the attack for all they're worth and it's some desperate defending. It was such a great match the referee didn't seem to want to blow time, we went way beyond the minimum three minutes, but finally it's over. Wow, that was a super match, and it's another great result for us.

I'm a little disappointed we didn't sell out, but 19,833 is still our second crowd over the old capacity, and for the three home matches since the expansion we've sold more seats than we could have accommodated at the full capacity the old way. Good stuff. Still, we've got a ways to go to consistently draw larger crowds, we're just ahead of Hearts on average (15,980 vs 15,395) but way way behind the Old Firm, with Celtic at 50,055 and Rangers at 47,604 - that's average, remember. It's the curse of football in Scotland. We're living off of unreasonably low salaries, a fair number of the players are worth more, and we'll have to deal with that by either raising them, or letting them go, and keep trying to make a go with a young lineup. Do we actually have the ambition to get up to competing with other top clubs/leagues? That's going to take money; qualifying for the ECC really helps, but is it enough? Will we all stay happy making it, but remaining fodder for the big clubs?

Another measure of if we've progressed or not is our Edinburgh Derby. Last season we had four really difficult matches, there were only three goals total scored, the home side winning three 1-0's and one ending a 0-0 draw. We collected seven points to their four mainly through the schedule quirk occasionally caused by the Split where three of the four were at Easter Road; and one one this year has been home as well, but it as least partly broke the pattern by being a 3-1 final. So this is a test of some significance, even if Hearts are not having as good a season this year as last.

Match: Hearts - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (Riordan 21)
League Position: 1st
Summary: What a slog; it's much more like the Hearts games of last season than the one example this year, no matter what I tweak, we just don't do very well. Riordan brought down a high pass and slammed in a quality shot from distance for a first-half lead. Early in the second Boucher absolutely robs Hearts, and then he keeps doing it, although none as spectacular as the one, and in the end we've somehow survived for a 1-0 away win. We knew it was a fussy referee so we tried to be cautious, but he still whistled 15 fouls, and showed three yellow cards - less of both for Hearts. Boucher was deservedly man of the match, although Riordan was in contention as well, not just the goal but 17/19 passing. It seems we've been in a lot of battles, but we look up and have won eight league matches in a row, dating back to the Rangers thrashing almost two months ago. With Rangers drawing, we've soared to an impressive 13-point lead at the season's halfway point, 19 played.

Match: Hibernian - Falkirk
Score: 3-0 (Dickoh 38, O'Connor 43, McRobbie 85)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The match marks the return to action of Steven Thicot, a midfield option I'll be happy to have back in the mix. We'll get another option tomorrow with the arrival of Lo Monaco, but that's a different story. Thicot not expected to play the whole match. In front of restless home fans, we start weakly, then by 20 minutes we're starting to get a real foothold, but no measurable payback. It takes until our 8th corner before Dickoh gets one on target and we took the lead, 38th minute. A second nearly came when we flooded in front of the net and the keeper in desperation tipped up a shot that just barely looped onto the roof of the net. But then O'Connor did deflect in the second off an attempted shot by Ojala. After the break, we went close when a Falkirk defender intercepted a pass into the box, but Riordan took it off him and shot, tipped just wide but a good chance to have scored. Not unusually, we collect a late goal, with the other side chasing the match for so long and us constantly cutting off their attacks there was almost bound to be a breakdown. Thiago to McRobbie, and boy did he need that goal, he's had quite a poor run and was getting down on morale - and not getting much into games. The back line was just superb this time and good shows from O'Connor and Thiago.

The last day of the year brings carnage in Chelsea - Roberto Mancini gets the axe as although they got better they didn't get enough better, and still sit 14th - level on points with Man United who have recovered from their early terrible start after sacking Sir Alex and bringing in Quique Flores. I still have a hankering for the job, but it looks like they're going to bring in yet a third Italian manager, Fabio Capello so I'm not going to formally apply.

The calendar for the final round of 2011 is a little odd - four matches on 31 Dec, one on 1 Jan and one on 2 Jan. The "end of year" table report includes these two later matches.

It's been quite a good, if busy, month - we got in six league games, and won all six.

Monthly Results
Aberdeen 0-2 Hibernian (Hogg 12, O'Connor 82)
Hibernian 0-1 Barcelona (ECC Group D) (Jeffren 8)
St Mirren 1-4 Hibernian (Ramsay 43 - Riordan 2, 46, Miller 45+1, Hogg 52)
Hibernian 2-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Hogg 9, O'Connor 88)
Hibernian 3-2 Celtic (Dickoh 4, O'Connor 33, Riordan 82 - Kapo 30, Samaras 65)
Hearts 0-1 Hibernian (Riordan 21)
Hibernian 3-0 Falkirk (Dickoh 38, O'Connor 43, McRobbie 85)

End of Year Table (20 pld):
1. Hibernian 53
2. Rangers 40
3. Celtic 38
4. Motherwell 30 +7
5. Aberdeen 30 -4
6. Falkirk 29
7. Hearts 23 -1
8. St Mirren 23 -14
9. Dundee 22 -1
10. Kilmarnock 21 -8
11. Inverness 21 -10
12. Hamilton 7
January 2012

Okay, it's time to remember why it's a pain to coach in Scotland. We're going to lose at least one key player, Barry Douglas, and maybe more. Douglas because we had to accept a release clause to sign him, and at least one club is almost certain to meet that; Bolton, Hull and Nottingham Forest are after him. Bolton would be a great destination for Douglas, they've got the dubious, and aging, Paul Robinson at that spot. Given I can't keep him from leaving, I hope he gets the Bolton job, but I don't know what we're doing for a replacement; Hanlon is okay, although a step down (his is still developing, but even so, he doesn't have the attacking attributes of Douglas, he's more of a pure defender). Ojala is a hot target as well, with at least six clubs showing an interest (Werder Bremen, Stuttgart, Lazio, Getafe, Real Betis and Racing), hopefully we can hang onto him. There are other wanted players, too. Francis Dickoh is a target of several clubs, although most want him when his contract runs out; only Cesena seems seriously interested in an actual transfer. Omar Koroma is wanted by several minor clubs, I'd let him go if a real offer arrived, so far it's only showing interest in loans, which is fine too. Bolton are also showing "major" interest in Daniel Galbraith, and Wolves "minor" interest in David Wotherspoon. We'd be gutted if they all left, that's basically five starters, and even if I replace them, I can't make that many changes (limit three) to our Europe squad, so we'd be left in a hopelessly weakened position for the Euro Cup. If I somehow can't hang on to Galbraith and Wotherspoon, I'll just give up on trying to use wide players, and we'll go with the narrower formation (4-3-1-2 or 4-3-2-1) that we just sampled against Falkirk. But it couldn't be that bad, could it? The board has decided to "reset" our expectations, means more pressure but more money; we've now got 104k in salary room (spending 62k) and a 6m transfer kitty. The question is how much to offer in trying to keep transfer targets, knowing that with the low scale we were working with for financial reasons, everybody will want a raise if some got one. It could become a house of cards - raise one after the other to keep them happy, then not have enough for new players when/if some leave, then eventually fail to get ECC money, and it all collapses.

But for all the gloom I've just spread, in April 2010, three months before I arrived, the club had a cash balance of 2m, now it's hovering around 13m. Not bad, right?

Hamilton Academical have had a horrid season and are almost sure to go down, but we've not had an easy time against them: in four matchups since I took over, a 1-0 win, a 2-1 win, and two scoreless draws - and those were both at home, accounting for four of the 12 points overall we've dropped at home in the league in that time.

Chelsea do hire Capello, you think they'd stop and wonder before hiring a third consecutive Italian.

The Cup sees no surprises in the sense of a lower division side winning against a higher one - well, one, Inverurie Loco Works from outside the league force a replay with division 2 Clyde (update: they won the replay after going to penalties). We're delayed a day as we've been picked for a Sunday TV match.

Match: Hamilton Academical - Hibernian (Scottish Cup 4th Rnd)
Score: 0-2 (McRobbie 66, O'Connor 72)
Summary: Our match with Hamilton is a horrible bore for a long time, until just past the hour brand new sub Thicot hits the bar, then a few moments later McRobbie, who came in with Thicot, scores on a very nice long shot. That pretty much breaks the Hamilton resistance. O'Connor is through and should have scored; then Currie has a shot barely saved by Cerny but it's not enough to keep O'Connor from finishing the rebound. Then O'Connor and Ojala draw great rescues, one from the keeper, one from the post man, then O'Connor hits the woodwork. It's a match we utterly dominated (shots were 18-1, possession 65%) the score should have been more than 2-0.

We draw Greenock Morton for the next round.

Barry Douglas accepted an offer from Bolton - which we were powerless to stop as they met the release clause - but the deal fell through as they figured out they didn't have funds to complete it. I'm not sure this means yet that we'll be able to keep him - someone else could come in with an offer he likes and actually be able to afford it. So we're looking at left back possibilities that we can afford that would be good enough to merit a place. So far there are a very few, the two we know best, St Mirren's David Barron and Crystal Palace's Nathaniel Clyne, are really right backs who can also play left.

In the face of apparent serious interest from several big clubs, I figured we'd better put in a flyer for Feyenoord's young striker Marijn Troost, now 17, whom we've been following since last year after a scout said great things. For some reason, despite reported interest from Bayern and Real Madrid, he's come to us for a big fee, but so far a small salary. Unfortunate, if we'd had a little more backing a little earlier, we could have gone fishing early and got him for a lot less, but you work with what you have. Based on potential, he's now the highest regarded player at the club, so we've got two hotshot young strikers. How this will evolve while the three older guys - O'Connor, Riordan and Agogo - are still here is an open question, we've now got six strikers, three for the future and three that are good today. It's a good news / bad news problem (I can leave Rebane in the U19's for the season, but can't really do with Troost he's already in the best three on today's talent based on early reports).

Match: Hamilton Academical - Hibernian
Score: 0-2 (Ojala 49, O'Connor 51)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The second Hamilton game we try a bit of a different setup as we've got different personnel, but in some ways it's a similar result - we bossed the first half but got nothing out of it, finally Ojala got in for a headed corner on our 10th try at one, and gave us the lead. O'Connor potted the second just two minutes later - just like he poached our second goal minutes after the breakthrough first in the Cup tie. After that it's a cruise to the finish, our 10th SPL win in a row. Rangers and Celtic both win in this mid-week set of fixtures, but with 12 left to the split, we're maintaining the big lead, 13 points over Rangers, 15 over Celtic. Hearts are beginning to make a push to the upper half, they now sit 7th, 4 points behind both Falkirk and Aberdeen. We do have a problem, though: Michael Hart's collision late where he had to come out was more than just a bump, he's broken ribs and the physios want to keep him out for two months.

And there we are... Nottingham Forest have offered 2.5m for Barry Douglas, which way exceeds his buyout, so I guess he's going. I half hoped he could stay, but it looks like they can afford it, if he wants to go. And Francis Dickoh, who's now our second best DC, has been offered end-of-contract offers from a couple of clubs, and he takes the one from Sunderland (rejecting PSV). I wanted to re-sign him, but I couldn't come close to what his agent is asking, which includes a salary double what anyone (even rent-a-star Thiago, who isn't actually performing like a breakout star) is making, and a match-highest-salary clause. He's a good defender, but we can't keep him on those terms, and the agent wouldn't budge on those two provisions. At least he won't go until the season is over. The vultures are circling for Galbraith too. At least in his case, I can turn down any real offer. It's Bolton again... if Owen Coyle were still there maybe we could work a deal, but it's Phil Brown in charge these days after Coyle got the sack in early December.

Anyway, we've got the potential of being in big trouble on the back line here. With Hart out, if Douglas leaves, then we're playing Hanlon on the left, Sean Welsh on the right - and then players whose position is not naturally either of those as backup. Not good cover for cases when players get tired, injured, suspended. On the left side, we've got central MF's Ian Murray and Lee Currie, and ML Lewis Stevenson. On the right, Kevin McCann who's sort of been a reject in my regime is really a right back, as is youngster Scott Taggart, who's not nearly good enough - we have Euro Cup matches coming up, after all...

Next up are a pair of teams that aren't easy. Dundee United... well, they're a decent side but shouldn't really be troubling us; however they've beaten us twice since I've been here in seven matches and there's been one draw. Somehow the schedule, and the chance inherent in a cup draw, has had six of those seven at Tannadice Park, this one will be at Easter Road. Then Rangers who have been our biggest problem outside the European matches, we're 1-3-3 against them. There's a definite home-and-away effect in this one, all three losses are at Ibrox, while we're unbeaten in four tries at Easter Road while I've been the manager.

Luckily we've got until the Monday as we'd be a bit tired otherwise. On the Saturday, Hearts win away. There's a big rivalry there - more on that in a second - but there's an effect of lifting the overall popularity of football in the capitol that I'm concerned with so I want to see them do just well enough. They're now just two points shy of a group of three that shares the 4-5-6 spots; Motherwell, Falkirk and Aberdeen are all on 31 points while Hearts are on 29.

The "more in a moment" part is about Hearts right back (who is also an excellent right midfielder) Craig Thomson - he's going to get sold, but he's made it really clear he won't come to play for us, presumably due to loyalty and the rivalry (update: he's signed for Irish club Bohemians where he'll start when his Hearts contract ends). We also missed out on Steven Taylor, I had a look at him as he'd been out of contract for half a year... but something was wrong here, he refused to consider us for anything less than 12,000 per week, but he's gone to work for Kilmarnock for 1700 per week. Are we that unpleasant a destination?

Douglas accepts the Forest offer and leaves, and now people are very unhappy at me for "selling" a favorite. I didn't sell him; we could ONLY sign him if we accepted a buyout clause, the clause was met (doubled, even, in terms of the overall deal), and the club were not allowed to decline the deal. We had no choice. Derek Riordan has ripped into me, which is a lot worse than the fans getting pissy. On Douglas, on a purely financial basis it's a good piece of business - he came in January 2011 for 300k, and left in January 2012 for 2.5m. In between he appeared 46 times for us (30 league, 6 cup and 10 in Europe); barring the European matches he's averaged 7.26 and pitched in with 10 goals, in Europe he was a little more modest 6.92, but really all the players struggled against the steeper competition so that wasn't bad. The problem with the 2.5m is we don't get it all at once, we got a half million now and 85k/month for two years.

Match: Hibernian - Dundee United
Score: 4-1 (O'Connor 39, Troost 51, 88, Hogg 79 - Severin 45+2)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Coming home to face Dundee, the snow is swirling and while we for a while look substantially the better side, it's a very choppy game, with fouls, free kicks, corners, throws, and not a few cards - this doesn't favor us as we need some flow to break a side down - we do score from dead-ball plays but we've lost our free-kick specialist Douglas and we're not the biggest side to score aerially. The goal comes on 39, Thiago put it into space for O'Connor and he just gunned it past the keeper from the left. Three minutes later Riordan is released, but never gets control of the ball, disappointing. Severin breaks our nice scoreless run heading in a corner, 1-1 just before the half. Thiago creates some good stuff but O'Connor misses twice in short succession, the first one blocked, then the rebound deflected wide, when both look to have been sure chances. Galbraith also fails to convert, but halftime sub Troost, on his debut, puts it in through traffic. Guidileye, who's been struggling a bit to overcome a knock, puts in a gorgeous long diagonal that Troost catches, but he can't beat the keeper. O'Connor has pretty much run himself into the ground, and I can say I really appreciate the effort... he nearly got his brace there... but I can't sub him as Guidileye's knock eventually made me use the third sub. Hogg seals the deal with 12 to go (he's a sub for a very ineffective Dickoh, something that happens very rarely) heading in a corner. With the game breaking down late, O'Connor has found Troost in some space, but he still had to finish and the finish, from a ways out, was superb. Two for the newcomer in a half of play, an a 4-1 win. It was almost five as Troost backed in and dumped to Wotherspoon but the shot just eased past the far post.

So why am I nervous? We've been near flawless in the league, we're now 19-2-1; six goals clear of Celtic as the top scorer, one behind Rangers as the top defensive side, we've got the early part of the season's most effective attacker (Junior Agogo) almost back from injury (he's in training but not fully fit), we had a great debut from youngster Troost. Somehow, though, something doesn't feel quite right; we don't just take off and destroy people (this match being a bit of an exception), but then neither does anybody else seem to. Rangers scored four twice in August; they've done so only once since, that was a crazy 6-4 extra time win over 2nd division Alloa in a cup match in Sept. Celtic have been slightly more inclined, a pair of four-goal wins in Sept, then a pair of 5-goal thrashings 26 Dec and 1 Jan - indeed they've scored at least three in five straight. Anyway... a dip is not hard to come by, we had our problems when getting beat several times in the ECC caused a morale problem. We're poised on the edge of problems on the back line if we can't find another player - a bid is in for Jean-Alain Fanchone and it's been accepted, now we'll see if he wants to come. O'Connor has come on a bit, and we'll see what Troost and Agogo bring, but we weren't getting much help from the forwards. The back line has been super, but with the midfield only so-so, and not enough contribution when we play wingers the attacking contributions from the fullbacks is key, and that's the place we've been decimated.

Okay, so Fanchone agrees to come. Now I'm at least a little more comfortable. We've also got in a bid for a young Scottish central defender, Ross Bradley of Aberdeen, this is one for the future, although with the departure of Dickoh maybe will be needed earlier. I wouldn't have gone after him yet, but several English clubs are bidding (and it's a good chance we'll lose out as a result).

Well, this is cool, pre-match with Rangers, Ally McCoist warns that he "wants Rangers to replace Hibernian as the dominant force in Scottish Football". Right... it's only been one title winning season plus this one, I think it's a little early to call us a dominant force, but I think I'll take it as a compliment!

Match: Hibernian - Rangers
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: It was an even matchup in rotten weather (it hailed, and it came down worse as the match progressed). Boucher snuffed out any chances Rangers had, and was named man of the match; we took some injuries and the closest we came to scoring before the frantic end was sub Agogo again making himself a chance out of what looked like nothing, but he's not back to match sharpness yet. Good thing we worked on defending set pieces in the days before, because Rangers had a lot of corners; we finally created some of our own at the very end. With 15 matches to go in the season we've got 13 points clear on Celtic and Rangers who are now level on points.

The young defender Ross Bradley comes as well, nice to still be able to bring Scottish talent, we're in danger of becoming a French side :) We've now got four French players, Thicot, Guidileye and Boucher to help welcome Fanchone and help him settle in.

Falkirk beat Aberdeen 3-1 in one League Cup semifinal, while Hearts stun Rangers 3-0 in the other.

I've managed to get a couple of reserve games scheduled, as we've got several players in need of match fitness. This particularly as we're out of the league cup, and don't have that match to use for some rotation.

Before the U19's square off against Rangers in the youth cup semifinal, the commentary is Rangers are the better side and should win it, but our lads absolutely take them apart, 6-2 the final and that's only because Rangers put in two excellent crosses headed home in their total four shots, while we wasted a number of early opportunities on the way to taking 25 shots, it could easily have been 9, 10 or more.

Match: Kilmarnock - Hibernian
Score: 1-2 (Dyankov pen 83 - Riordan 31, 60)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Killie start very well, although I think we're going to grab a score when a long diagonal finds Riordan, he draws three defenders but loops the ball over them to O'Connor all alone, however he can't seal the deal. Riordan found him again all alone, this one saved for a corner. Finally on the half hour, Riordan puts it in after previously missing two promising free kicks, this one a shot from a fairly steep right angle. It's a landmark goal, his century of league goals for Hibernian. Killie look to have equalized, but Rui Miguel was offside, it's why he got the space. In the second half, Boucher saves our bacon twice in rapid succession. Riordan finally gets the range right, bending in a powerful free kick, 2-0 on the hour. Hogg concedes a penalty to make it interesting. Riordan certainly had his chances for a hat trick, a couple more free kick tries and an opportunistic shot that clipped the crossbar. It wasn't our best performance ever but pretty solid, we made good tackles and got to balls first, so the effort was there.

Monthly Results
Hamilton Academical 0-2 Hibernian (Scottish Cup 4th Rnd) (McRobbie 66, O'Connor 72)
Hamilton Academical 0-2 Hibernian (Ojala 49, O'Connor 51)
Hibernian 4-1 Dundee United (O'Connor 39, Troost 51, 88, Hogg 79 - Severin 45+2)
Hibernian 0-0 Rangers
Kilmarnock 1-2 Hibernian (Dyankov pen 83 - Riordan 31, 60)

End of Month Table Summary (24 pld):
1. Hibernian 63
2. Celtic 50
3. Rangers 50
4. Aberdeen 37 (25 pld)
11. Inverness 21
12. Hamilton 9

Financially, it's better not to talk about it in too much detail. But I'll give a few... We brought in four players for a total of £3.175m which is massive for a club this size - and would have been unthinkable given the budget of as little as two years ago. They're all investments for as long a term as you can get for a Scottish club (meaning someone will probably buy them off us eventually) - Lo Monaco is 18 (the transfer had to wait for this by rules of Argentina); Troost is 17; Fanchone is 23 and Bradley is still just 16. Meanwhile we sold Douglas for £2.5m, unwillingly, but only got £550k of the money up front, the rest is paid monthly. In terms of club finances it's fine, but in terms of running cash figures, it would only have looked fine if we got the whole £2.5m up front - then the outgo would have looked like £675k. Anyway, January looks bad, but overall we've not hurt the club.

Due to contracts signed, we've now got four players leaving the club at the end of the season - Dickoh, whom I'd have preferred to keep, and Flynn, Moyes and Scott Smith, younger players I'm not bothered about, they're "not good enough" anyway (Smith could have been a decent backup central defender, but he wanted out).
February 2012

Match: Motherwell - Hibernian
Score: 1-3 (Abdulla pen 47 - Ayala 2, O'Connor 31, pen 67)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Motherwell are a club that has only really given us a battle once in five tries, but that was at Fir Park earlier this season, so I'm not inclined to take it too lightly. Still, we've experimented a bit with the tactical setup, while still playing our fairly common diamond 4-4-2. Ayala got a start because he played a starring role in the aforementioned close match (that was a 3-2 win), and what do you know, O'Connor heads a corner, it's off the post, and Ayala is there to poke it in, 2nd minute! Mysteriously, Motherwell make a substitution right away. The players look a little disconnected, as if they're not on the same page, and Thiago is banging away wild shots from outside, not sure what's going on. I'm in the technical area trying to calm them down. It's really odd, we've got 72% of the ball through the first quarter of the match, and 8 shots to nil, but haven't done much with it. On the half hour, Galbraith, lurking on the opposite side of the field from his usual left, does a wonderful run through three defenders and puts a ball in that was almost knocked in for an own-goal. We've scored off the following corner, it's Dickoh who heads it vigorously but it's come off O'Connor and is ruled his goal. Bounced off his head when he didn't know much about it, had his back turned! Okay, let's give him credit, "marvelous redirection" :) What's Thiago doing back in the box defending? That was unexpected but welcome! Motherwell started with a 3-5-2 formation but by the half they've dropped into a 5-3-2, very defensive. As the half opens, careless play by Welsh lets Motherwell attack into the box, and you can see the play evolving from a mile away, the Motherwell player is looking to bait Guidileye into a tackle, and he was ready to go down... the youngster took the bait, and it's a penalty. Very soft given you could see the gears turning, it was never a real foul. Salem Abdulla nets and it's a one-goal game. Troost takes the lesson to heart, and some minutes later manages to fall over Peers, that didn't look much of a foul either, and it's not clear it was actually inside the box, but the penalty is given here too. Seriously, it's a better game if the referees don't give people license to do that stuff, which he did by giving the first one. It's O'Connor, and the big guy is back on his scoring roll now, he'd netted in six of seven matches before being a bit off against Rangers and Kilmarnock. Agogo just hustles like mad and takes a hopeless ball away and gets a good shot, but Motherwell survive due to keeper acrobatics. I'm already figuring that the Law of All Things means we're about to see a Motherwell goal, and it actually nearly happens on 78 as we let them through too easily. After that we're able to see it out. Speaking of Rangers and Kilmarnock as I was in the O'Connor discussion, those two played each other to a draw. O'Connor is up to second in the scoring chart, with 14 in the league, one behind David Goodwillie.

Match: Hibernian - Greenock Morton (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd)
Score: 0-0
Summary: Some complacency is evident against SD1 Greenock Morton, where there's a real absence of precision. The game winds down without any apparent sign there's a goal in it. One almost comes in stoppage time as McRobbie's shot, which was going to be caught, is deflected and the keeper has to fly to tip it behind. Sadly, that's it, we'll have to go to a replay. That was really poor.

The draw for the quarter final round takes place, and assuming we can secure the win in our replay, it's been fairly kind to us. It's SD1 Raith v Hibernian or Morton, Motherwell v SD1 St Johnstone or SD1 Dundee, St Mirren v Hearts and.... Rangers v Celtic!

Match: Greenock Morton - Hibernian (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd Replay)
Score: 2-2 (Kean 26, 90+1 - Thiago 7, Ojala 60), Hibernian win 3-2 on penalties
Penalties: H-Thiago, M-Monti miss, H-McRobbie, M-Kelbie, H-Hanlon, M-Kean, H-Riordan miss, M-Smyth miss, H-O'Connor miss, M-Tidser miss
Summary: After Morton look like they're going to completely take the game to us, Thiago places a shot for a rare goal, 7th minute. The lead doesn't hold up, Stewart Kean makes a nice turn inside the 18 and fires home into the upper left. We've certainly played better this time but still it's level at the half. Ojala got us the lead back on the hour, heading home a corner. O'Connor twice fails to seal the deal with headers over, then McRobbie has a chance but can't score, and it costs us, a weird glance of a header sends Kean in pursuit of a ball, and there are no defenders! He scores, stoppage time goal to even it up. Brown saves our blushes as Kean immediately has a chance in stoppage, then we control the whole first period; the second is rather even and though I really don't want them - I have very few good penalty takers - it's on to penalty kicks. I arrange the order so Riordan and O'Connor are 4th and 5th to better deal with the pressure, but the first three (Thiago, McRobbie, Hanlon) make while those two miss. We've still come through, the first Morton kick hit the far post and Brown saved the 4th and 5th, 3-2. How come... Greenock Morton have played us tougher than most SPL teams do, and they're nowhere near the promotion places in division 1 either.

There are weekend matches which we're not part of, we have a Monday visit from Aberdeen. Then there's Euro Cup action Thursday/Tuesday, so we have no league match next weekend. Down in England, Chelsea are still staggering, under Capello they're 1-1-5. Man United's managerial change, on the other hand, did some good: they're unbeaten in all 21 since Ferguson was sent off to retirement, with only four draws in that time, and up to 5th in the league after being in the drop zone.

Match: Hibernian - Aberdeen
Score: 1-0 (Riordan 70)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Aberdeen start out playing way better than us, and only very good last-ditch defending keeps it scoreless through the half, we did start to come on a bit in the latter stages. Aberdeen scored one, but it was disallowed for offside. It's only well past the hour mark, after a couple of substitutions, that we begin to make some serious inroads, and it's sub Riordan who gets us a goal on 70. It's a slog out to the very end, but we did really improve our play and kept the clean sheet.

We've made kind of a weird move... CFR Cluj offered a loan-to-buy deal on Steven Thicot. He fell out of the rotation when he had an injury, a torn hamstring that took three months to heal up, but I don't want to lose him. We countered with just an offer to loan, no purchase option, and he sealed it on his 25th birthday, St. Valentines day. He was going to have to continue to battle for matches here and we have no reserve league, but with Dickoh leaving at the end of his contract, and Ayala returning to Liverpool after the season, there is certainly a need for a competent center back - because of the crowding there he's generally played only in midfield. His skills are definitely sufficient, and hopefully this will get him lots of minutes and not hurt us by missing a sub.

So now it's back to European play... can we do anything here? Unfortunately, our replacement left back, Fanchone, is ineligible after playing plenty for his Belgian club. You can sub in one player who played only in qualifiers, but Gent was in the Euro Cup group stage, he's appeared 10 times for them in European competition. Gent just missed out on making it to the knockout round, level on points with Besiktas but lost out on goal difference, which indeed happened in the head-to-head: Besiktas won at home 2-0, Gent 2-1, and that accounted for the one goal of GD overall. Anyway, I'm getting a little excited about trying our way in this competition, which is to be honest a little closer to our level than the ECC, although at knockout stage it's starting to get tough.

It's no secret... I really want us to win this tie. Of course, always want to win, but this is a question of taking a chance that's there in front of us, that may not be presented again. Even though Panathinaikos are a "bigger club" (and regularly average 30,000 spectators, while we get half that), I think this one is in our reach. Do we have the right horses, can I give the right instructions, can we get the right performances? 180 minutes of football played over five days. The only real selection issue is fullback. I'd do Fanchone left, Hanlon right given current squad, but Fanchone is ineligible, as noted. Welch is too tired after the last game, so it's Callum Booth, recently returned from loan, who will take the left with Hanlon on the right.

Match: Panathinaikos - Hibernian (Euro Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 1-1 (Bajrami 14 - Riordan 49)
Summary: We look solid enough early, but then it's just that... early. It breaks down not too far in, as Bajrami scores from the Panathinaikos left in the 11th. We played, I thought, rather well after the goal, but it was 0-1 at the break. After the restart, we didn't look as confident, but got a nice equalizing goal, Dickoh to Agogo out wide, he feeds Thiago who cranks up a cannon shot... blocked by the keeper but it ricochets straight to Riordan who clangs it back in. It's a gripping, compelling match the rest of the way, each side seeming like they've seized the initiative several times and then on the stroke of 90 minutes Panathinaikos are granted a very dubious penalty... but it's missed!!!! It's hard to see if Boucher got it or it clipped the post but in any case, we've drawn in Greece, and got an away goal, no real complaints here, we know what we need now, it's a home win of any sort, or alternatively a scoreless draw would do it. Unfortunately, we'll have to do it without Garry O'Connor, who's suffered a broken wrist and will miss the second leg and apparently about four weeks in total... seems a bit strange, just put a cast on it and play, right?

Super for us, Celtic take a 1-1 draw at home to Dundee Utd on Saturday, then Rangers draw 1-1 at St Mirren. Both challengers have dropped points here while we're off....

Match: Hibernian - Panathinaikos (Euro Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 2-1 (Hanlon 19, Ojala 66 - Gabriel pen 26) Hibernian 3-2 on aggregate
Summary: It's an absolute downpour at Easter Road as the match gets underway. The Greek side seem to be dealing with it better and dominate proceedings early. We've got a ball in the net after a corner, I'm trying to see who scored it. It's Hanlon of all people, he's not a frequent entrant on the scoresheet. That's an important buffer. But Panathinaikos score from a penalty that probably shouldn't have been given, Booth falling theatrically over Murray on a corner try, but the referee bought it. McRobbie has to come off injured; Wotherspoon is trying to shake a knock of his own. The tie is completely level at the break; the danger is if Panathinaikos score we'll need two because of away goals. Murray is having a howler of a match, I bring on Lee Currie in a bit of a gamble, he's a way better penalty taker than Stevenson. We almost scored off Riordan's free kick - off the post - then Currie nicely put Troost through, but be blows the chance by putting it wide. It's a game for defenders, as they pinch off things that look to be developing into chances. Very clever play by Riordan draws a foul, after he half got around his marker he put his body where the bump would come. Can we capitalize? Riordan curls it nicely to the far post, but nobody gets there and the chance is wasted. Moments later you can see how the youngster Troost doesn't have that craft, he lets himself get caught in possession in about the same spot - but the result comes out okay anyway, the tackle takes the ball behind for a corner. The corner after that one, we've grabbed the lead as Ojala heads in! Okay, that's important information, now the match cannot go to extra time/penalties, that has an impact on using the third sub. Troost hits the crossbar! Oh, 85th minute, it looks like Renteria has gotten onto a long ball, but Hogg recovers marvelously, and the flag is up anyway. Just three minutes of stoppage now... and we're through!

It's kind of odd since we had a Greek club at the same stage last season, before we got steamrollered by Getafe in the 2nd knockout round. Hope we can do better this time.

We have 13 players called up for international duty, including a senior callup for David Wotherspoon - congratulations to him! We've got a league match on the day of these, so I'm hoping that gets pushed out... or not, the schedule could get kind of busy.

I wasn't overly happy about getting the Euro Cup "TV Tuesday" assignment, but it turns out there's a bit of an advantage: we already know we'll face the winner of Rubin Kazan v Braga, which Braga lead 1-0 after the first leg, so I can go watch that one. Whee, that was fun, Kazan is not that easy to get to, it's Aeroflot from London to Moscow, then a plane change to Kazan, and then an interminable trip from the airport in. Three airplanes, lots of sitting around.

Not sure if I have a preference, although Rubin do have a formidable strike partnership in Obafemi Martins and Sergei Kornilenko - a high powered pairing gave us lots of trouble when we played Bayer Leverkusen, so this is a bit of a concern. Weather-wise, it's familiar, it's cold and snowing. Come to think of it, playing in Portugal might be a better break for us than Russia! Unfortunately, Rubin score five, and the strike pair did indeed look deadly. We're in for a tough one. And we've got the Thursday/Tuesday scheduling again.

We go into the 28th round of matches (although it will be our 27th - the make-up with Inverness is the one the date of the international friendlies) with a healthy lead still. Ah, just after reporting this, they've taken pity on us and moved the Inverness match to early April. Actually, our league campaign has been rather interrupted, if you stop and look: we played Motherwell on the 1st of the February, then until we host Hearts on 19 March, we will have played only two league matches, along with three (or if we're unlucky, four) domestic cup matches and four Euro Cup matches.

Down in England, the Capello regime has improved for Chelsea, after losing five on the trot now they've won their last five (two in the Euro Cup, so it's only three league wins).

Match: Hibernian - St Mirren
Score: 1-0 (Agogo 67)
League Position: 1st
Summary: After five minutes of good work, the side apparently decide it's not worth playing hard. The Saints outplay us for long stretches, then a few determined players begin trying to raise the tone as individuals. Maybe it will float the entire boat eventually. No, guess not. I've hooked Riordan, who didn't seem to think he needed to show an interest, and as I'm trying to sub out Miller he goes ahead and collects his second yellow. The fans are not pleased by the display. One player who's working very hard is poor Omar Koroma (the sub for Riordan), who's had his Hibernian career sabotaged by injury, whenever he might have had a chance he's hurt, and now he's probably sixth in the forward pecking order if I'm honest (although I'm still leaving Rebane in the U19s). O'Connor and McRobbie are hurt at the moment though. He's created the situation that gets us a goal, leading a break, then slowing a bit to let reinforcements arrive, picking out sub Stevenson who cannons a shot off the bar which leaves the keeper out of position, Agogo loops the header over him and in. We're able to hang on for the win, and indeed were the more dangerous side the final 20+4 minutes. Still, it's not much of a show at home against the 10th placed side. We're tired both physically and mentally and I guess it was just too hard to get fully up for this one.

Great news for us: Sunday brings another Old Firm derby, great because it means someone is dropping points. This time it's Celtic, as Rangers win 1-0 on their home ground and move into 2nd - we've got a 14 point lead, and a game in hand, with only ten to play.

Monthly Results
Motherwell 1-3 Hibernian (Abdulla pen 47 - Ayala 2, O'Connor 31, pen 67)
Hibernian 0-0 Greenock Morton (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd)
Greenock Morton 2-2 Hibernian (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd Replay) (Kean 26, 90+1 - Thiago 7, Ojala 60), Hibernian win 3-2 on penalties
Hibernian 1-0 Aberdeen (Riordan 70)
Panathinaikos 1-1 Hibernian (Euro Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Bajrami 14 - Riordan 49)
Hibernian 2-1 Panathinaikos (Euro Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Hanlon 19, Ojala 66 - Gabriel pen 26) Hibernian 3-2 on aggregate
Hibernian 1-0 St Mirren (Agogo 67)

End of Month Table Summary (28 pld):
1. Hibernian 72 (27 pld)
2. Rangers 58
3. Celtic 57
4. Hearts 41
11. Inverness 21 (27 pld)
12. Hamilton 15

In the first division, it's Dunfermline 53, Dundee 51, St Johnstone 48 all with 28 played (of a 36-game schedule).
March 2012

Frenchman Fanchone (actually of Guadeloupe stock, as a number of more famous French players have been), is a newcomer, he's not the most outgoing type, and he's not an English speaker. Still, we're trying to get across to him that we think he's got more offensive skills than he's using, and so, with the help of his compatriots, we've encouraged him to take more chances to go forward.

The U19's break out of a mini-slump by scoring seven and solidifying their 1st place position, it's a seven point lead over Rangers and Hearts with three to play; also in a week they're in the cup final v. Celtic.

I'd like something similar for the senior side, we need a match where we put some balls in the net, we've scored only seven in the last six (and that includes 30 minutes extra in one). The goal scoring touch is not with us. So isn't Raith in the Scottish Cup the ideal way to get that back?

Match: Raith Rovers - Hibernian (Scottish Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-1 (Barrowman 43, 61 - Finnis o.g. 55)
Summary: Answer to the question just posed: No. for 20 minutes, they're clearly the better side, but then we wake up and start to boss play. Until disaster strikes, Barrowman loops in a long shot late in the half, is it going to be yet another Scottish Cup crash out? The competition the club have only won twice in history, 1887 and 1902? Okay, if we get beat by Rangers or Celtic I'll accept it and move on, but this is just ridiculous. Where's the pride? I make sure the lads hear that very question at the break. We go all out attack and it's not helping, but then Raith help us out, a cross from de Graaf with nobody home is helpfully tapped in to the goal by a defender. Raith score from a corner soon after and we're back in the hole, and it's a hole we can't get out of. And now I'm looking for a hole of my own to crawl into, because I don't think I can deal with the fallout we're going to get from this one. How do we get ready for an incredibly challenging European match on the heels of this?

So much for a Chelsea revival, 2-3 at West Ham (the Hammers are 4th, go figure!) then 2-4 home to Wolves (who have otherwise slipped down the table, now 11th even if former Hibs player Steven Fletcher still tops the scoring table). And the ManU revival took a bump as well... 1-1 draw at Everton, 3-1 loss at Real Madrid in the first leg of ECC knockouts, needing penalties to beat Man City in the league cup - but that does guarantee a European spot of some sort, then most damaging, a 2-1 defeat at bottom club and relegation certainty Nottingham Forest - where my lad Barry Douglas is toiling, wonder if he's still happy, they're 10 points from safety with nine matches to go.

Another unlucky player of ours is Steven Thicot, his loan started very well, then he dislocated a shoulder. I don't quite understand why a dislocated shoulder is a three month injury absence, but here we have to trust the Cluj trainers. We'll have a discussion about whether he should come home to rehabilitate or stay out in Romania.

It's kind of hard to keep track of the ping-ponging ECC matchups in this round, where things happen alternating weeks and days, but on Tuesday Barcelona eliminate Everton and Liverpool take out Zurich. Wednesday, Arsenal knock out CSKA Moscow and Napoli beat Leverkusen.

And now it's our turn. There are eight matchups left, Inter have already led off beating Dynamo Kyiv 1-0, not all that convincing. The others are ours, plus Milan v Chelsea, Atletico Madrid v Ajax, Palermo v Zenit St Petersburg, Spartak Moscow v Besiktas, Valencia v Villarreal, Wolfsburg v Paris Saint-Germain. There's a line of Russian clubs here, from St Petersburg (Zenit) on the Baltic coast, to the capital Moscow (Spartak), and on to Kazan (Rubin) a bit further east. It's not a great situation; left back and Douglas replacement Fanchone is ineligible, O'Connor is injured, Agogo is recovering from a concussion, left (and right, and center) back Hanlon is suspended. I'm not at all convinced that going with all youth is the answer against a club like Rubin, but I guess it's who we are, players like Murray and Miller are on poor form to compound the issue.

Match: Rubin Kazan - Hibernian (Euro Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 2-1 (Kisliak 33, Kornilenko 46 - Miller 78)
Summary: It's almost gone bad right away as Martins slides a shot in that's going to go in unless it hits the post, but we're fortunate this time, 3rd minute. For 15 minutes we look in big trouble, only really strong work by our central defensive pair keeping it clean. I'm having the usual problem I have with Thiago - he's really good when given space, but playing the advanced playmaker role he often has to receive when it's crowded, and he just gets it tackled off him way too often - more often, of course, by the clubs with more skilled midfielders. WAY too often. I bet this doesn't happen to him when he's 24, but right now he gets caught (if it does keep happening, he'll have to be used an entirely different way, or not be a top flight player people are expecting). We've got the ball a bit during the next few minutes, even win a corner, then on 21 Nenad Tomovic is shown red for a challenge on Galbraith where he certainly went in high and took out Daniel - it's right in front of the coaches boxes so of course we're up waving our arms, but the assistant is out of position and the referee is 30 yards away seeing it from behind so I'm surprised the severe punishment is given. Rubin are furious and surround the referee. Unfortunately for us, the change has little effect... for a few minutes we have extra possession, then Rubin's better quality begins to assert itself again and it's they who score first on a strike from distance by Kisliak. No doubt it was a quality shot but that's a really disappointing outcome. Nobody would have stopped the shot, but with a man advantage, there's no excuse for him being left the space to take it. We've kept it to 1-0 at the break, outshot 15-5 in 45 minutes of which we had a man advantage for more than half. As I feared, we're just not ready for this level yet - esp. not with as young a group as this. It takes 30 seconds of the 2nd to become 2-0, now we just somehow have to keep from being completely embarrassed. The insertion of Miller and Stevenson into the midfield to replace Thiago and Guidileye leads to an improvement in play, in my opinion - and with Miller, we have gotten a crafty veteran in the mix (if his recent form wasn't so bad I would have picked him on the experience basis). Then, to my delight, we actually work a good play which ends with Miller feeding out wide to Welsh who sends an inch-perfect pass back in to Miller who drills home the goal, it's 2-1 on 78. Sub McRobbie actually had a chance to level on a stoppage-time break following a Rubin free kick, but fires right at the keeper, who was out reducing the angle. Rubin concede a corner, then a throw in the last few seconds but it ends as a loss. The lads did put in a response though, and I can't fault them for making a game after it looked like we might get blown out even with a man advantage. There's still a slim chance of salvaging the tie. Lucky, I guess, over the Rubin red card but at least we didn't concede the five Braga did here. Final shots 22-13 for Rubin, so we actually outshot them 8-7 in the 2nd. I don't think Rubin will be happy after this one - first the foolish card, then failing to completely knock us out when we were reeling.

The U19's run to the Cup ended in the final where Celtic have prevailed in extra time, a match notable in the best players not putting in their usual performances, really none of them - Rebane, Oyenuga, Ehmer, Husband, Tough. Frustratingly we scored in the very end of extra time but it was waved off for a phantom offside.

It's a weekend off for most with the league cup final. That one is won by Hearts, congratulations to them, that's the end of another long drought, they won it four times from 1955 to 1963, then not again until now, 2012, that's 49 years.

We've realistically only got one competition left now, being out of both domestic cups and clearly lacking the quality to go all the way in the Euro Cup. However, we will keep battling in that one as long as we can.

Match: Hibernian - Rubin Kazan (Euro Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 0-1 (Kornilekno 18) Rubin win 3-1 on aggregate.
Summary: For this one our average age is 25, as we're able to trot out a bit more experience. Doesn't help, Kornilenko gets free to head in a corner on 18, and the hole is deep - we've lost our away goal advantage and are down 3-1. There was a second in the net from Amrabat, but he was offside on the rebound of a shot off the bar. Ojala has to take a yellow when Martins was going to burst through after Thiago had another one of his caught on the ball problems. We have our best chance late in stoppage, but no product; now 45 minutes where we need a 2-0 advantage to rescue the tie. With 15 minutes left it's bleak in the extreme, we've had two good chances, both blown by shooting straight at the keeper. We're taking lots of risks, the odds are we'll ship another but there's no point in sitting back. It's some sight to see Juhani Ojala steaming forward on a break, furthest man up the pitch... there's a man who doesn't want to lose. We do, however, and we're knocked out. I wanted us to at least offer a goal to the home fans, almost 20,000 of whom came out in support.

So now the road the rest of the season is clear: we've got 11 league matches consisting first of six before the split: Hearts (H), Falkirk (A), Celtic (A), Hamilton (H), Inverness (A) and Dundee Utd (A); then the five after the split which will be Rangers, Celtic, probably Hearts and Aberdeen, and then one of Motherwell, Falkirk, Dundee Utd or Kilmarnock, those latter four have now clumped up for 6th-9th with just two points between them. It's irritating to have the breakdown be 2 home, 4 away; hopefully we'll get a 3/2 split after the break since we'll have played one more away match.

And, I have to decide to do with contract renewals for a few players.

In the ECC, the third of four knockout days sees Real Madrid over Man Utd 5-2 agg, Juventus over OM 3-2 agg. Guess I didn't report the first two, Tuesday 6th saw Barca 5-0 Everton agg, Liverpool 3-2 Zurich agg; Wednesday 7th Arsenal 2-1 CSKA agg, Napoli 2-1 Leverkusen agg. The fourth knockout day is At. Madrid 2-1 Bayern agg, OL 2-0 Roma agg. The draw takes place Thursday and there's a glamor matchup - Real Madrid v Barcelona; the others are Arsenal v Napoli, At. Madrid v Juventus, OL v Liverpool.

Chelsea - AC Milan are contesting a spot in the next round of the Euro Cup, Milan led 2-0 after the the leg in Italy. Chelsea started well from Kalou but Robinho's goal just before the half sealed it since the away goals rule meant Chelsea would have needed three. They made a go of it but got only two, both from Kalou. Other winners were Athletic Bilbao, Spartak, Intr, Wolfsburg, Villarreal, Palermo.

We'll go into our Monday derby with Hearts knowing Rangers and Celtic have won behind us - and knowing a win here is especially important as we'll follow with four of five away, including one at Celtic. We've had some hard-fought matches, but we are coming off three consecutive losses, and you can see the side struggling with confidence. Not sure whether a derby match helps or hurts that. I do know they're invariably nail-bitingly close, five of the six have had no more than one goal in the match.

Match: Hibernian - Hearts
Score: 1-0 (Agogo 10)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Our leading scorer O'Connor is back fit after injury for this one. It's a beautiful sequence to get Agogo a goal on 10, we needed that... now keep going! Urgh, header off the bar, could have had a nice lead. There's little to report of the 2nd except an injury to Fanchone. A late spurt by Hearts has us on our heels for a while, but it's a 1-0 win. Again. Better than 1-0 the other way of course, but I just can't crack the code of this side.

O'Connor was horrid, continuing our trend of not being able to find a working strike arrangement. Troost made a wonderful start, but has done nothing of use for the senior side since. Here are the six forwards who have played, ordered by Average Minutes per Goal:

Player    |Min/G|G/Sh |Targ | MLG |  G |
O'Connor  | 165 | 21% | 59% | 310 | 16 |
Agogo     | 170 | 15% | 52% |  80 |  8 |
Riordan   | 203 | 13% | 36% | 335 | 12 |
Koroma    | 234 |  9% | 45% | 193 |  1 |
McRobbie  | 258 | 13% | 37% | 429 |  5 |
Troost    | 274 |  6% | 31% | 505 |  2 |
Those columns are: Avg Minutes per Goal, Goals / Shot Attempts, Shots on Target / Attempted, Minutes since Last Goal, Goals

Agogo had a good chunk of season ruined by injury, and now he cant seem to get back to a consistently good form. Recovery time apparently slowed by being a bit older; since he's come back he's not able to give consistent minutes without getting tired, and hasn't regained the same form yet.

The U19's have a chance to immediately redeem themselves in a group match v. nearest competitor Rangers U19 - and with a smashing 6-0 win, they sew up the league title.

Falkirk are new to the league, so we don't have as much track record with them; what we have is 2 wins from 2 with a 5-0 aggregate. Falkirk have done well in the first season on, and while they've tailed off after their early good start, they're in no danger of going back down again. We're without Fanchone for a couple of weeks, as well as Murray, who has a virus.

Match: Falkirk - Hibernian
Score: 0-0
League Position: 1st
Summary: Okay, scary start, a shot went whizzing just past the post in the 6th. I've decided to go for a counterattacking 4-4-2 for a change up, and it's not working - Falkirk are attacking all right, but there's no counter at all happening. Brown saves two near goals, then Falkirk have one in the net but disallowed for offside. Troost isn't really picked up so he heads for goal, but gets off a terrible, weak effort. Then Thiago puts it through for McRobbie - who doesn't chase it, forcing Galbraith to come after the ball, in turn drawing a flag. Decent effort by Stevenson on Thiago's angled free kick, but the keeper fields. At least we've found our feet, a bit. Sub Agogo caused the most danger for us, but it wasn't enough, scoreless draw, and a disappointing one. It's good news bad news here... we haven't conceded in the league since the 47th minute at Motherwell on 1 Feb (and that was a penalty), it's now 24 March, although that time span only encompasses 403 minutes of league football. And we're unbeaten in 18 consecutive in the league. On the other hand, in all competitions since a 4-1 win over Dundee Utd. on 16 Jan, we've gone a decidedly unimpressive 5-4-3 (one of those draws considered a win on penalties). And we've only scored three goals in the last four in the league, four in six in all comps.

Rangers and Celtic have both won in this round, so we lead Rangers by nine with two in hand, Celtic by 13 with one in hand. Sixpointer with Celtic next... Celtic are a side we have much more track record with, 4-1-2 in seven meetings. Oddly all three meetings at Easter Road have been 3-2 wins for us; in the four at Celtic Park we're 1-1-2. Thus, we know this one will be tough. Staff reminds me we need 12 points to win the league, although it's actually 13 (maximum points for Rangers would leave them level with us if we got 12, then it's down to goal difference). Put one way, 13 points from 9 should be easy; put another we know those nine will involve Celtic twice, Rangers, and if things fall out in the most balanced way, 4th and 5th Hearts and Aberdeen both away. All five of those could easily be losses if we continue to play below our capabilities; in case of that outcome we'd need the 13 points from the remaining four matches... oh, wait - can't get 13 points from four. So despite the comfortable sounding lead, and mathematically (i.e. points per match) being on a pace for 99.6 points, things are still very much not settled.

Match: Celtic - Hibernian
Score: 1-4 (Samaras 45+1 - Agogo 50, Ojala 68, 77, 83)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Usually these summaries are a bit narrative and keep up the suspense but for this one, let's just start with WOW! We've needed a match like this terribly badly, I'd also like one where we're completely dominant, but in this case we've had a fairly even match, if you put it in terms of statistics, in front of 57,289 at Celtic Park - and come out with in the end a crushing win. For the home team first: shots 15-13, on target 7-5, possession 53-47, free kicks 14-15, corners 5-5, throws 13-13, fouls 10-11, offsides 5-3, passing 84-75, tackling 58-68, headers 75-42. Of that all you'd see was an advantage in the air for Celtic. We managed to exploit one very specific weakness: they did not defend corners properly. McDonald got the first dangerous shot, but Brown, playing off last game's good performance and to relieve the mental pressure on the young keeper Boucher, pushes it away. Thiago's had a good try a few minutes after, it goes high. Celtic attack with that man Samaras squirting free with a move to the left, with time and space he blasts but Brown acrobatically saves... it's collected, put into the middle, and headed by Samaras, but not enough power to beat Brown. We're just at the end of the half when Galbraith's pass to Guidileye misses him, Samaras sneaks back to steal it, it's passed around then Samaras comes forward, goes right, and angles it past Brown at the far post. Could have been a disaster, goal just on the edge of the break. Again, we've had problems with a "star striker", of the kind I want mine to be causing. And it's only five minutes into the second before one does, Galbraith works the sideline, sends an angled ball in which Agogo runs onto, and this time he scores it cleanly, elegantly even, in at the far post. The Wotherspoon is on corner duty (Thiago often takes them), and his sets up Ojala for the far-post header for a 2-1 lead. Celtic try the same, Brown is beaten but it's within reach of Dickoh on the far post and clears off the line. In the 77th it's the Wotherspoon to Ojala combo again, 3-1. Then there's one more of the same, this is officially a free kick, but it's just a few yards in from that same left corner, and Ojala has headed this one home for a high profile hat trick. Samaras barely misses two late tries, it's a glorious win... and sadly, it might signal the death knell to our ability to keep Juhani Ojala, as suddenly several coaches are expressing admiration.

So now I can look at the title race in a completely different way than I did a few days ago. We've shown we CAN win a high profile away match, and, well, "need 10 points from 8 with four tough" is a quite different proposition than "need 13 points from 9 with five tough". And as I look at the next two, we should come very close to putting it away soon... we've got bottom-feeder Hamilton at home, then in our remaining makeup game, we've got #11 Inverness away. Hibernian and Rangers are already guaranteed spots in Europe next season, but of course the aspirations are to qualify for the ECC. As reported earlier, with our improved league results, the top two will make it this time.

With the U19's wrapping up the title, I want to try to blood some of the best of the young players. Four of them move up, there's still plenty of players in the overly large U19 squad.

Match: Hibernian - Hamilton
Score: 3-0 (Miller 28, Riordan 45+1, Lo Monaco 89)
League Position: 1st
Summary: Two of the new kids, Ehmer and Monokana, start in the midfield for tired players, and Ehmer blows his debut by picking up two yellow cards in 22 minutes. Miller and Riordan score in the first half, though, so despite being down a man we're relatively comfortable at the break. Inches from a third early, then after Lo Monaco makes his debut as a sub, two more near misses. Plus Riordan has nearly scored off three different free kicks. And then Troost late has one snared by the keeper. Then near the end of the 90, Troost cuts one back and finds the slicing Lo Monaco who's jubilant to score on his debut! Troost launches Riordan, who decides to go from distance, and it's off the base of the post. What a wild match, 40 total shots (26 for us), for the first time in ages, even with 10 men most of the way, we've opened up and really made an offensive show. True, Hamilton aren't very good, but we've played weaker teams (notably, the three Scottish Cup matches against D1 clubs, none of which we got a clean win against). Have we now made the shift, with the Celtic match and this one? We didn't convert efficiently, there were maybe 8, or even 10 goals out there (14 shots on target, another two off the woodwork) if things had gone swimmingly well. Refereeing wasn't great, Tumilty, who's been a problem more than once for us (he's on my "list" but I was so focused on the side I forgot he was going to be the guy) made some odd calls, but they went both ways.

Monthly Results
Raith Rovers 2-1 Hibernian (Scottish Cup Qtr Final) (Barrowman 43, 61 - Finnis o.g. 55)
Rubin Kazan 2-1 Hibernian (Euro Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Kisliak 33, Kornilenko 46 - Miller 78)
Hibernian 0-1 Rubin Kazan (Euro Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Kornilekno 18) Rubin win 3-1 on aggregate.
Hibernian 1-0 Hearts (Agogo 10)
Falkirk 0-0 Hibernian
Celtic 1-4 Hibernian (Samaras 45+1 - Agogo 50, Ojala 68, 77, 83)
Hibernian 3-0 Hamilton (Miller 28, Riordan 45+1, Lo Monaco 89)

End of Month Table Summary (32 pld - includes a match each Sun/Mon 1/2 Apr)
1. Hibernian 82 (31 pld)
2. Rangers 70
3. Celtic 66
4. Hearts 46 +7
5. Aberdeen 46 -1
6. Motherwell 42
7. Dundee Utd. 41
11. Inverness CT 22
12. Hamilton 16

Falkirk no longer have a chance to make the Champions group with just one left before the split. Motherwell host Rangers and Dundee Utd. host us in the battle for the last spot.

We've made a profit of £281k, largely due to prize money, but also some big gates; income stayed about the same (1.57m vs 1.62m) while expenses dropped a bit (1.29m vs 1.39m). We're 4.1m in the black for the season, with some prizes to come - league placement bonus, and presumably some TV money from the ECC.

Here's a switch: a couple of months after Douglas has left, and I expect to be totally toasted for months like I was over Bamba, here's what is reported now: "After Douglas' performances of late, the fans feel the club has done well to get £2.5m for him. They are also pleased that the club may financially benefit from any future sale of Douglas". Confidence level: Superb.

The final bit of nice news from the month, it's announced that Ojala has signed a new deal. We have to pay him lots, but there's an argument that he has been our best player of the season, and not just because he's pitched in 9 goals from the center back position. He was nowhere near the end of his contract but I could see the vultures circling, hopefully if this doesn't squash that, it at least places the bar much higher for any purchase.
April 2012

Crunch time in the ECC... the quarter final ties on Tuesday end, Juventus 4-0 At.Madrid on agg; Napoli 2-1 Arsenal on agg. Wednesday, OL 3-2 Liverpool on agg; and the two Spanish rivals battle it to the very end, Real Madrid 3-3 Barca on agg, with Real taking it on penalties 6-5 after nine rounds - a surprising seven of the total 18 taken were missed. The semis will be R.Madrid v OM and Napoli v Juventus.

A win here eliminates Celtic, and thus would lock up a return to the ECC for us.

Match: Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (O'Connor 52)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We start with panache, but by the half hour our haul is - a disallowed goal from O'Connor, another amazingly blown chance by Troost, a knock to Dickoh he's trying to shake off, and one to Galbraith that requires a substitution. Wonderful. At the half, it's clear Dickoh needs to come off as well. But we open the second with a really nice sequence, after encouragement to a nervous Fanchone he started it with a nice pass and in the end O'Connor has finished. That's all; we played a wonderfully flowing game and got off 23 shots in an away match, but couldn't cash in any more. Dickoh's ankle is going to need a month to heal up, and Galbraith has done his hamstring fairly seriously, he's done for this season, hopefully we'll have him back for nearly all of next season's training camp.

The four Euro Cup semi winners are Wolfsburg, Palermo, Inter and Rubin. Inter and Rubin seem to be in high gear, they had aggregate goals of eight and six respectively.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian
Score: 2-2 (Goodwillie 10, 57 - Agogo 6, Lo Monaco 88)
League Position: 1st (winner!)
Summary: Staff wants us to play 3-3-2-2 because Dundee Utd. are reputed to struggle against it (we actually hear this report about several Scottish sides), but I decide on something different - not least because the formation requires wingbacks and we don't really have them; I've not recruited for it. I'm going to try it as a 4-3-3 instead - giving a little less attacking responsibility to the fullbacks. We get a nice early goal from a long shot by Agogo, but the plan isn't working as I drew it up. Goodwillie works through and levels it up on 10, just four minutes after Agogo's goal; then we have a struggle to mount anything. Into the 2nd half and Goodwillie gives United a lead, and we've switched to a 4-5-1. Not much seems to be helping, but finally Lo Monaco, on late for the tiring Thiago, sneaks through and scores the equalizer. We've been outplayed in this one.

As the players come off the field, we get news of the final whistle from Fir Park - Motherwell have upended Rangers 2-0 and the title is ours! Two in a row for Hibernian, second time that's ever happened. We're no threat to the league record, Celtic have done it nine in a row (1966-74) and Rangers, who have won more league titles than anyone anywhere in world football, did nine from 1989-97. It means we can look back on the season as a success despite various cup disappointments. It's nice to have the pressure of the somewhat unknown Championship Group - what order will the matches come and what will be their locations - since we're already the Champions!

The split is now clear; the Championship Group are Hibernian, Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Aberdeen and Motherwell; the Relegation Group are Dundee United, Falkirk, Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Inverness CT, Hamilton.

We've got our schedule for the final five:
Sat 21 Apr Hibernian v Motherwell
Sat 28 Apr Celtic v Hibernian
Wed 2 May Aberdeen v Hibernian
Sat 5 May Hibernian v Rangers
Sun 13 May Hearts v Hibernian

We ended up with the "unfair" schedule, 18 home and 20 away, and we get Celtic away three of the four on the season while we get Rangers home three of the four. Fortunately, this hasn't hurt us; the early title win is largely due to us crushing Celtic twice by 4-1 scores at Celtic Park, had those two gone the other way they would be close on our heels and the Championship Group would have real meaning with another sixpointer at Celtic Park.

It gives us at least a bit of a chance to work on some player decisions. As the club is now constituted, we have too many players - with moving up four youngsters, we've got 42 in the senior plus reserve sides, and without a regular reserve league, the reserves don't get to play many matches. I'll try to arrange more friendlies for them for next season, but still...

Tough choices in four senior players whose contracts will be up: Hart, Brown, Murray and Agogo. In all we have 15 players going out of contract from the senior side; Dickoh (who will be a loss) and youngsters Flynn, Moyes and Smith have already signed deals elsewhere for next season. I'd like Brown, Agogo and Hart all back if it can be done economically, meaning they'll accept what will definitely be backup roles. Murray I'm less sure about, probably the same deal. He's a long-time player who, although he was gone for 2.5 years (Rangers, then Norwich) has a ton of miles for the club - 141 league games in his first stint, 121 (so far) in his second. Currie, Welsh and McCann all are good enough to get new deals, but Welsh and McCann are essentially competing for the same position, right back, and Welsh wins out there. McCann has already shown a tendency to get grumpy.

We ended up offering contracts to the six players mentioned - Hart, Brown, Murray, Agogo, Currie and Welsh. All six accept on terms we consider reasonable. I've probably got us committed to too many players now, but I've seen the dangers of us getting too young too fast, when some of the experienced guys were out. There's one more shock: we've changed our mind on the Thiago rent-a-player status. He's expressing happiness at being at the club, and there are no suitors on the horizon. He takes a new contract. We're paying him more money than he's yet shown, but now he's either locked up for a while, or we have much more leverage when he does get offers.

Scottish Cup - Rangers beat Raith (which we couldn't do), Motherwell wreck Hearts' dream of a cup double in the other semi. This causes an odd schedule blip: since Rangers and Motherwell are both in the Championship Group, and the Cup final is set for the final day of the season, all three of the Championship group matches are moved to the Wednesday before.

We run a friendly with the reserves on Sunday to get action for a number of players, as otherwise it would have been two weeks off.

Both ECC Semi first legs end in draws, Juventus are a little better off than Real Madrid as they got an away goal. In the Euro Cup, Inter win 1-0 and it's a wild one in Germany, Wolfsburg 7-3 Rubin Kazan. and hopefully won't carry over to next season.

Match: Hibernian - Motherwell (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 2-1 (Hanlon 50, Ojala 82 - Moore 58)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Should have been easy, right? First match, and it's in front of the home fans, after locking up the title, it's against a side we're clearly better than, and after an early chance that Boucher manages an excellent effort to get out and kick away the shot by Jamie Murphy, Murphy gets himself sent off for completely mistiming a tackle and clattering Hart from behind as he was breaking down the flank on the left. 7th minute. Should be easy, but of course, it's not easy... despite dominating play, we've only made one chance after the sending off, it's Fanchone taking initiative, getting clear and crossing for O'Connor who misses the target high. Thiago crossbars shortly after. Scoreless at the break. Five minutes in, it's gone in for us off a corner taken to the near post area, it's either Hanlon who got in front of Hateley and directed it in with the head. Motherwell level just before the hour, Hateley collected a Hibs corner and motored down the field with nobody catching him, finally he curls a ball into the middle which was teasingly there for a recovering defender but none reached it and on the other side Moore tapped it in. Fortunately, we had a winner in us or we might have been booed off the pitch. Agogo had a chance on a cross, but headed over. After quelling a counter, we won a corner, again it's near post and again it's Hanlon, this one off the crossbar but falls to the ground where Ojala taps in, 82nd minute. There's nearly another in somewhat reversed circumstance: a free kick headed by Ojala far post, just skims over the bar, had it hit it and fallen down like the previous, Hanlon would have been there for the tap-in. Statistically we looked good, but we should have had most of possession with a man up at home, we didn't to a whole lot with 23 shots (17 were off target or blocked) though.

Juventus have eliminated Napoli to win one ECC finals berth, Real Madrid edge Olympique Lyonnais in the other on away goals (1-1 agg). Palermo and Wolfsburg advance to the Euro Cup final - Rubin Kazan put on quite an effort getting it to 6-7 on aggregate, I'm sure that series was something to watch for the fans.

Suddenly we have a spate of injuries, first Monakana in a reserve match, a broken ankle, then de Graaf in training, then Ojala in training with a groin tear. The third one of those is certainly a problem for us,

Match: Celtic- Hibernian (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-0 (Hooper 78)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Agogo is sprung on a counter move, and he almost scores, it edges just wide. The only other real chance in the half is Agogo again late, this time he goes near post and it clips off the post. Too bad... could have snatched a lead. Even at the break. We weren't completely outplayed, but Celtic had the tempo. We're a little better in the 2nd but chances aren't coming. Celtic have hit the woodwork near 70 minutes (we'd already had two of those), then Hooper breaks the deadlock when a corner is cleared up top and he has space for the long low drive. We fail to cash in a late corner... it's a 1-0 loss, and in truth we had enough chances to score at least one that it's a disappointing result. Well, philosophically, it's only our second league defeat of the season, it's come in a place we can't be expected to win every time (Celtic Park - we've already won more often than one should hope), and it comes at a time when the result doesn't matter to us at all as far as the table. So... bank it as a lesson.

Monthly Results
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0-1 Hibernian (O'Connor 52)
Dundee United 2-2 Hibernian (Goodwillie 10, 57 - Agogo 6, Lo Monaco 88)
Hibernian 2-1 Motherwell (SPL Championship Group) (Hanlon 50, Ojala 82 - Moore 58)
Celtic 1-0 Hibernian (SPL Championship Group) (Hooper 78)

Looked at from the outside, pretty uninspiring month: 2-1-1, 5gf, 4ga. But... the title was won in there!

End of Month Table Summary (35 pld):
1. Hibernian 89
2. Celtic 75
3. Rangers 74
4. Hearts 50
11. Inverness CT 25
12. Hamilton 20

The race for promotion has Dunfermline 1st (63 pts), and hosting 4th placed Partick Thistle (55 pts), with 2nd placed St Johnstone (60 pts) clinging to a glimmer of hope as they visit #3 Dundee (59 pts) - the goal difference is in St Johnstone's favor if somehow the results otherwise fall right.

In the realm of assorted team landmarks, we've already surpassed last year's point total, and scored five more goals - with three matches to go. Whether we can be the top scoring team in the league is questionable - we were level with Celtic so now one behind. We could end up conceding the fewest again, we've got a three-goal advantage on Rangers.

Our financial story wasn't so great, mainly due to an irritating drop in turnover, and it was due to hosting only a single home match, a relatively poorly attended visit by Motherwell. We'll only have one in May as well, but at least it's Rangers - here's where it's hurt to lose out on one home match with the 18/20 division given us this time.
May 2012

Match: Aberdeen - Hibernian (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-3 (Mackie 61 - O'Connor 16, pen 32, 84)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Despite our overly large roster, we have a little trouble picking a team for this one, as we're short in the midfield with injury and tiredness - Galbraith of course is out, but some others who could have gotten a run out, such as Currie, Monakana, Lo Monaco, even de Graaf, are unavailable; and I have to use Welsh at right back. In the end we went 4-3-3, and at least early there were rewards, McRobbie out wide left puts it in the middle for O'Connor who sees the opening and chips the keeper, a nice goal on the quarter hour. Caught the keeper off his line, then it was just a question of execution, and it was flawless. Aberdeen look the more likely side for a stretch, then O'Connor's promising shot is denied on a great save - it's been McRobbie and O'Connor looking very good for us. Very nice long ball for McRobbie, Dikaba wasn't in as much trouble as he thought though, and pulling McRobbie down for a penalty looked a little needless, it was at the right edge of the box and McRobbie wasn't going towards goal yet. O'Connor converts from the spot. Nothing happens in the final 15 minutes of the half, and we've got a decent lead at the break. It's not going to be comfortable, though: the Rory Delap effect strikes, as his long throw finds Mackie and he turns and fires in beautifully. Really a class shot to be honest. We're under pressure now, and it's not helping that I made substitutions - I'm irritated at one of the subs, Thiago, for again getting caught on the ball and giving up a break the other way. McRobbie is hurt and Agogo comes on for him, and nearly makes something out of nothing again - it's an admirable talent of his, but unfortunately the shot goes wide of the far post. Then there's a break - no there isn't - yes there is, O'Connor's taken it back again at the mid line, towards goal he goes with two chasing, and the shot he scores is amazing, although maybe some questions on keeper positioning. Whichever, it's a glorious hat trick for O'Connor, taking him to 20 goals for the season. McRobbie's injury is moderately serious, he's expected to miss two months so it shouldn't really have an effect on the team though.

Match: Hibernian - Rangers (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-1 (Troost 18 - Naismith 5)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: Next to last match of the season, we host Rangers in front of what should be a sell-out. Rangers problem this season has been scoring; we've got three players (O'Connor, Riordan, and Agogo (who missed a big chunk of the season due to injury) who have scored more than Rangers' three joint top scorers; after striking for a league-leading 78 last year, they've only got the third-best total of 64 this time (from 36). The strange way this works out, we're changing nine starters from the the Aberdeen match. It looks like Troost has created something special going by himself through the middle, but his finish is right at the keeper. Dickoh's sure goal is saved off the line on a corner. And then Naismith scores from a corner, so a very disappointing first five minutes, we blow our chances and then go behind. Alexander snatches another "sure goal" from a corner. Troost side netting. He's just not got the touch right now. Now it's O'Connor... but he gives it up to Troost, and even though it's a ways out, he doesn't miss the empty net as the keeper had over committed. We played a better first half than Rangers, but in the second it's not working out that way. Lovely long ball puts Troost behind on the left, though, can he score? No, his normal right at the keeper. We've battled hard but can't find another goal, and it's a draw.

Down south of the border I see Arsenal have won the title in a year with no outstanding teams. They've triumphed with the second lowest point total in the Premier League era, 76, yet they're nine points clear. Spurs snuck in for 2nd (67), Liverpool 3rd (66) - failing to defend their title a year after becoming only the 5th side ever to win the Premier League. Man City edged Man United for the final ECC spot, both on 65 pts but City slightly better on goal difference. Chelsea have finished 10th, well off the pace. Relegation came to Fulham, Wigan and Nottingham Forest, and the Wigan drop costs Roberto Martinez his job - the press speculate that I'm in the frame for the job, although it seems they've anointed Gareth Southgate the favourite. Not clear I'd want that job anyway.

I guess it's tough managing an Old Firm clubs and having someone else win the title! First we get reports that Celtic's Neil Lennon is under pressure and could get the sack, esp. if they didn't get a result against Hearts. They didn't really get one, a 0-0 draw at home won't have made the supporters happy - but, with Rangers only able to take a point against us, Celtic are sure of the other ECC qualifier spot. So that apparently puts Rangers' Ally McCoist on the hot seat - and as they're locked into 3rd, the pressure is worse, with suggestions he needs a win against Aberdeen to save his skin. To be honest, I'm not sure what that match will prove - by winning the meaningless match they'd stay third, and have beaten up on a decent side that really struggled to score this year (Aberdeen have only 41 goals from 37, 9th in the 12-team league, ahead only of the three bottom-feeders). If they're going to pull the plug that match should not influence things. I think both have done okay.

Hamilton have made a late season run and have now passed Inverness who sit in the relegation spot. The final day will see Hamilton at Dundee Utd. and Inverness at St Mirren (that is several days after the finale for the Championship group, as noted earlier).

Match: Hearts- Hibernian (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-4 (Bouzid 68 - Agogo 8, O'Connor 32, Stevenson 55, Riordan pen 81)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: I'm still searching for an answer for Hearts... we have, I think, been fortunate to go 5-1-1 with them over the two years, but we've only scored seven goals in those seven matches. Staff continue to tell me Hearts are taller, more aggressive and more determined. We haven't really found a way to turn that against them, assuming there is a way. We're going to try to be quick and as creative as possible. And we've got Agogo loose on the left, and he scores, in the 8th minute, that's a nice bonus. I'm very pleased with the amount we've kept the ball, but it's looking like a typical Hearts match with so little scoring, but then we hit them on the break, O'Connor set up nicely by Agogo and scoring it for 2-0. Thiago has a half-break at the death, but his chip doesn't work. Lovely sequence of play in the 55th, we moved the ball quickly after a free kick, Fanchone eventually feeding Stevenson who bangs in a shot from the edge of the box, finally we've had a bit of a breakthrough against Hearts, if we can keep it going the final half hour. Hearts get one back, I guess it was asking too much for the clean sheet! Then on 80, Bouzid, the goalscorer from the Hearts corner, has pushed over Hogg on a corner of ours and the penalty is given. It's Riordan to take, and he nets for 4-1! Given how tough Hearts have been on us, I give the players a big cheer post-match, for a combination of this performance and of course for the whole season.

Celtic have beaten Motherwell scoring three so we've finished level with them on team goals scored at 81. Rangers concede two in an unfortunate home loss to Aberdeen, so we've comfortably won the "fewest conceded" title, 27 to 34. We've finished on an excellent 96 points, that's more than I could have imagined; 30 won, 6 drawn, 2 lost. The breakdown was 14-4-0 at home, 16-2-2 away. The away record clearly was the key to the title, we has 50 away points from 20, while Celtic had an also very impressive 41 away points from 19 - and we took six points off Celtic in Glasgow.

Palermo win the Euro Cup, 2-0 over Wolfsburg.

I don't really have any particular interest in Rangers v Motherwell for the Scottish Cup, but it's expected of me to be there, and there is the issue of looking once more at Craig Conway, who's going out of contract. Clubs are starting to circle for David Wotherspoon, who's a bit grumpy we gave Thiago so much money. I'll give him a raise, but not that much. If we had to let him go, Conway would work as a replacement; I'm no longer sure if I want to just add him to the squad, even though he looks like he could end up on a free. Conway plays decently but is subbed before the match is decided, which Rangers do with a relatively late goal; Motherwell should have had the equalizer a few minutes later but hit the post with the net open. Rangers have won their 35th Scottish Cup, by winning four of the last five cups they've now moved one ahead of Celtic all time.

It's Inverness who go down, too bad, it was a nice town to visit. Dunfermline will replace them even though they didn't win their finale; St Johnstone could only draw with Dundee.

Garry O'Connor wins Football Writers' Player of the Year, while Thiago has won Young Player of the Year. I've got Manager of the Year again. Our center half rotation has been recognized in the Team of the Year - a 3-1-4-2 is picked (three center halves, no fullbacks), and the three are Ojala, Hogg and Dickoh; O'Connor also makes the team.

All that's left is to name the club champion of Europe. The pre-match prognostication is it will be close between Real and Juve and probably go to penalties, but that pick is wrong; Juve are outclassed as Real score three in the first (should have been five as they broke down the back line twice more) and ends 4-0.

The moment I've been waiting for since we were knocked out: what do we get? It turns out to be a juicy £4.35m as our share of the TV revenues.

Monthly Results
Aberdeen 1-3 Hibernian (SPL Championship Group) (Mackie 61 - O'Connor 16, pen 32, 84)
Hibernian 1-1 Rangers (SPL Championship Group) (Troost 18 - Naismith 5)
Hearts 1-4 Hibernian (SPL Championship Group) (Bouzid 68 - Agogo 8, O'Connor 32, Stevenson 55, Riordan pen 81)

Final Tables
Premier League
Pos        Team            | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag  | G.D.| Pts
1st   ECC  Hibernian       | 38  | 30  | 6   | 2   | 81  | 27  | +54 | 96
2nd   ECC  Celtic          | 38  | 26  | 4   | 8   | 81  | 36  | +45 | 82
3rd   EC   Rangers         | 38  | 22  | 9   | 7   | 66  | 34  | +32 | 75
4th   EC   Aberdeen        | 38  | 15  | 9   | 14  | 43  | 47  |  -4 | 54
5th   EC   Hearts          | 38  | 15  | 7   | 16  | 51  | 47  |  +4 | 52
6th        Motherwell      | 38  | 12  | 11  | 15  | 43  | 41  |  +2 | 47
7th        Dundee Utd      | 38  | 15  | 8   | 15  | 58  | 62  |  -4 | 53
8th        Kilmarnock      | 38  | 12  | 11  | 15  | 52  | 57  |  -5 | 47
9th        Falkirk         | 38  | 11  | 10  | 17  | 42  | 51  |  -9 | 43
10th       St. Mirren      | 38  | 8   | 10  | 20  | 33  | 65  | -32 | 34
11th       Hamilton        | 38  | 6   | 9   | 23  | 25  | 70  | -45 | 27
12th  R    Inverness CT    | 38  | 7   | 4   | 27  | 30  | 68  | -38 | 25

First Division
Pos        Team            | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag  | G.D.| Pts
1st   C    Dunfermline     | 36  | 19  | 6   | 11  | 48  | 38  | +10 | 63
2nd        St. Johnstone   | 36  | 17  | 10  | 9   | 58  | 33  | +25 | 61
3rd        Dundee          | 36  | 17  | 9   | 10  | 56  | 44  | +12 | 60
4th        Partick Thistle | 36  | 18  | 4   | 14  | 53  | 46  |  +7 | 58
5th        Morton          | 36  | 15  | 9   | 12  | 55  | 46  |  +9 | 54
6th        Raith           | 36  | 15  | 8   | 13  | 48  | 56  |  -8 | 53
7th        Ross County     | 36  | 15  | 6   | 15  | 50  | 47  |  +3 | 51
8th        Queen of Sth    | 36  | 14  | 8   | 14  | 49  | 41  |  +8 | 50
9th        Livingston      | 36  | 7   | 6   | 23  | 29  | 64  | -35 | 27
10th  R    Stirling        | 36  | 6   | 8   | 22  | 25  | 56  | -31 | 26

Statistical Leaders
Goals - O'Connor 21, Riordan 14, Agogo 11, Ojala 10
Assists - Wotherspoon 15, Thiago 12, O'Connor 12
Rating - Ojala 7.28, O'Connor 7.19, Dickoh 7.19, Agogo 7.18, Hogg 7.13
Passing - Troost 85%, Currie 84%, Agogo 83%, Thiago McRobbie O'Connor Miller 81%
Appearances - Stevenson 45, Thiago 44, Hanlon 43, O'Connor 42, Guidileye 42, Riordan 41

Now at the end of the the season, it's always time to look at squad strengths. With the arrival of Thiago and Guidileye, we've played a lot of diamond 4-4-2 - usually a wide diamond but sometimes a narrow one. When we're not using those two, we mostly drop back to a flat 4-4-2, with Miller and Murray in the middle. So looking at the midfield, we're fairly well covered; several of the players are versatile and can play elsewhere - Miller can fill in at AMC and MR, Murray at DMC and ML. The preferred MLs are Galbraith and Stevenson, and MR Wotherspoon. The positions that feel least covered are MR where neither Miller moving over from the middle, O'Connor dropping back from forward, or de Graaf, really make the position as strong as it can be if Wotherspoon is out. Monokana is hopefully the answer here - but he's not yet ready ready for the top level in 2012, needs one or two more years of development. Is it worth adding another player here? Maybe. The second position would be DMC. Again, one of the kids I've recruited here, Ehmer, is an answer, and again, not convinced that will be the case yet in the 2012 season.

On the back line, Oyala has been great and is now tied to a new lucrative deal. Ayala is going back to Liverpool, although I bet we could have him if we wanted. Hogg has been a loyal servant, and he usually plays well, but I don't want him penciled in as one of the top two. Hanlon has both a blessing and a curse as he can play all the back line positions, and so hasn't really been able to make any one his own. He is considered best in the middle, maybe this is the time? Thicot plays okay in midfield, but is best in the back, maybe if he can stay healthy he can stake more of a claim - all of this an issue because of Dickoh's impending departure, just like we had to have a plan a year ago for Sol Bamba leaving. Fanchone is the left back, and I think Booth will work fine as the backup, while Welsh and Hart battle on the other side - as noted Hanlon works well at either fullback position as another option. One could maybe question whether as a group this is a championship back line, some teams have trouble defending if you keep slicing and dicing but I've gotten away with it so far. If a wonderful right back came available at a very economical price, we could make a move despite having extended Hart's contract.

At keeper, Boucher made his case for being the #1 already at 20. But I intentionally got Brown a lot of games, and he's been signed to a new contract, the two make a good pairing as far as I'm concerned, and I'm trying not to stress the youngster, or burn him out, so I'll probably continue rotating. Boucher appeared in 32 (6.97), Brown in 26 (6.88). No worries here, except if you're a young keeper working for Hibernian - Brown is only 31 as the backup, although I may let him go if he decides he wants a more regular role and his role here decreases. The man's had an interesting career, he was part of two title winning seasons with Rangers, two with Celtic, and now two with us, although only last year was he the full-time starter on a title winning club. Still, to have SPL medals six times from three different clubs is something probably very few players can say.

At forward, as I've said before, we have plenty of potential and plenty of experience. The question is if the transition works: if as O'Connor, Riordan and Agogo continue to age, McRobbie, Troost and Rebane (and perhaps hard-luck Koroma) start producing at the level where they start taking over in an orderly fashion as you want. I can't conceive of adding another forward to the mix now unless an utterly stunning deal falls in our laps, and then someone would have to be leaving.

So I guess for ambitions similar to this year's, we don't have to make a move at all. Personally, though, I'd prefer to have a more attacking right back available, and I'm not sure that Hanlon's rather diminutive physical attributes will be enough for a permanent place in the middle (Ojala is 30 pounds heavier and 5 inches taller, as an example). Although, if we end up facing more 1-forward setups, he has the possibility to be a ball-playing centerback in the style being popularized in Spain. I think that might work for us, Ojala stays home and Hanlon plays out, but will we face such setups? Aberdeen have played that way, and sometimes Dundee Utd, but we don't see a lot of it.

Notice the disclaimer: is there a point in having higher aspirations at this stage? It's hard to see that I can sell that to the board. We should be able to compete for the title again, it would be arrogant to assure winning it, but Celtic and Rangers don't seem to have been making the most solid moves so if we can avoid losing a few key players (either transfer or injury), we'll be in the mix again. Meanwhile, it's hard to see how we could strengthen enough to compete at a higher level in Europe in the near future. Better teams in Spain and Germany have proven they're a level above, and while we haven't encountered them in competition, that's assuredly true for England and Italy as well.

I have a little thinking to do personally, too. What is it I actually want out of my career? This has been a great place to manage at the beginning of a career, as there's been plenty of potential upside and little pressure due to the long history of poor results. But there have been frustrations. I shouldn't be so impatient about the fact that that in the second season, Europe took a toll on the club. The success that came in the first year, progressing in the Euro Cup, left us mostly with a "we're living on borrowed time, and every success is an unexpected benefit" attitude - we weren't even expected to qualify for group play. The second season the circumstances weren't much different (yes entered at a higher level, but not expected to succeed, which put us back in the Euro Cup knockout stages) but it seems the attitudes were - we were in a tougher competition, and after the excitement of the first group stage match, each setback seemed to just drain the morale of the side, and spill over to other things. So that's one concern - if we're not going to be able to make any significant step up, and whenever we pull in a good player (and I've been fortunate to recruit several after the tough beginning when there was no money) the poachers will circle, I'll continue to have a level of frustration. And many players don't really want to stay; now we have more money I can offer improved contracts, but they invariably want stipulations like guaranteed match highest earner. And we've had more than one who have been completely uninterested in extending their stays when we came to talking about it - that's why the Thiago exploration was nice, he actually seemed to want to stay.

There was one great period of success in Hibernian history which we have not yet matched: that saw a league winner in 1948, 1951 and 1952; runner up in 47, 50, 53; 3rd 49 (so top three 7 years running); Scottish cup runner up in 47; League Cup runner up in 1951. And... memorably, Hibernian reached the semi-final of the very first European Cup in 1956, despite not really earning it off their 1955 performance (league champion Aberdeen declined to participate so Hibs were invited).

So... do I want to consider someplace "bigger", where we're not really limited by the finances and other realities of Scottish football (for example, the fact weather is dismal almost every match, and not all players love that? Or that you can play in front of 50,000 screaming one week in Glasgow, the next in some small place where 8000 show up)? Or do I want to seek missing honors - namely winning the Scottish Cup for the first time in over 100 years, or the first-ever three-time league titles? Yeah, I want to do that, but will I stick around to try to build a similar dynasty to that late 40's, early 50's run if someone else comes offering? So far, nobody has come offering, and I'm not going to go applying randomly for various jobs.

Having had my discussion of players, we by chance find out about a young Ghanaian midfielder, Jonathan Owusu, a mostly defensively oriented type, and after some discussions we offer him a deal which he accepts. There's 5k compensation due, so that's almost free. He'll join in January 2013, after he's turned 18, so there's no immediate impact. Oh... he's got German citizenship too, so we didn't have the work permit issues that normally would have killed a deal like this.

You are reading "Hibernian Hopes".

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