Pot 1 brings Group of Death
Easy and our club of choice don’t tend to mingle a lot.
It felt nice being in Pot1 along with some of those names, and the opTIMists among us had already paired us with three whipping boys, or three great destinations reminiscing about times of old.
But Dundalk et al it wasn’t to be.
Last year seen us draw the 8th in Serie A, the Champions of Romania and the tenth best team in France. The group was very enjoyable and we took scalps we were not expected to, always fun and what footballs about.
As a support we would have been forgiven for daring to dream of a better group considering we were going to avoid a ‘big team’ by way of entering Pot1.
Or so we thought.
I have our group as the hardest with group K also very hard to call.
AC Milan, FC Lille, Sparta Prague and ourselves.
It makes on query whether we gained and advantage at all being in Pot1 for that reads like a group we get regular, being usually third or fourth pot.
There’s no clear whipping boy, no team you can honestly say that’s three points, and when we do manage to get away from the big 5 leagues we find ourselves up against the always technical and quick Czechs, who will probably fancy their chances at giving us a doing, especially with no famous twelfth man.
To rub salt into the wound the poor Tims probably won’t make what would usually be an unmissable away trip to the beautiful city of Prague, pity for in normal times this one would be the pick of the bunch.
The mighty Milan are not the team they once were, and look a team in transition like ourselves, but few will expect anything out of this pair of ties.
Sparta sit top of their league with five wins from five, scoring 18 in the process.
Lille are also unbeaten in five with three wins and two draws, but have hit a mere six goals which gives some encouragement.
Last year’s group stage saw us produce some great results and when that group was drawn no one would have had us topping the group or ourselves and Cluj the two to go through yet that’s exactly what happened. Where we pulled those results from I don’t know, beating Lazio home and away simply doesn’t happen for a Scottish team these days, but yet somehow we were able to pull out eyebrow raising results.
Going out to Copenhagen when we had beaten teams many thought their betters was a bit of a blow, especially as our rivals managed to negotiate the last 32 stage, but no one had us there in the first place plus it didn’t knock us off our stride as we went on to achieve the seasons main target.
Quite why we performed so well is a matter last time out is a matter of conjecture. Dermot might want phycologists brought in, but as far as I’m concerned we are a second tier club so naturally feel more at home in the second tier. The Champions League is very punishing, which must be detrimental to morale, but we can approach the Europa League with a degree of confidence, or at least it seems that we do.
We cant ‘blame’ last year on the twelfth man either, with credible away wins, plus the fact we are unbeaten domestically with approx one quarter of the season left suggests the loss of home support isn’t affecting the team much, music to our ears and if some fans are there later in the season to roar on the Champions all the better.
Perhaps the Europa league offers a chance for players, especially those foreign born, to escape what must feel like a monotony at home sometimes, playing in the same stadia 4 or more times yearly, with the same bent refs ignoring what they wish, and generally cloggers and hammer throwers who have little interest in fine flowing football but are happy to clatter anything in their zone.
A better quality of opposition can spur some teams to raise their game, playing more or less at the standard necessary for the occasion, and let’s hope that’s the case for our bhoys.
We have a few players who probably fancy moving on once a certain target is hit, so providing a good platform to showcase the wares will be most convenient for a few, and perhaps that will benefit us also.
We could go out with a whimper, thinking there’s a much bigger target in the tenth title, but that just wouldn’t be our style and the fans wouldn’t accept it anyway, in the stadium or not.
Once again the underdogs will aim to surprise the world.
Speaking of surprising the world and to whet the appetite of what’s to come, here’s the ‘David Marshall game’ against Barca in the Uefa cup back in the day.
A star was born. Write off the Celts at your peril. By Mahe.