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When We Were Lions (Lisbon Lions Challenge)


Faramir

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The deeply lined face glanced at the journalist, "So, you want to know what it was like? For me it started as the worst of times, but..."

***

I was bitter.

Oh, was I bitter. A lifetime of playing football- down the drain. Bryan Bellhorn- banned from International Football.

Oh sure, the Federation threw me a bone. 'They' wouldn't stand in the way of my coaching- in fact here is your certificate. Bah, they knew what the chances of anyone hiring me were. Everything was in ruins- everything. My own personal hell as I knew it.

Amazingly, someone gave me another chance. Maybe not so amazingly as divinely, whatever it was it turned out to be a lifeline. Not that coaching at East Stirlingshire was exactly a peach of a job- but during my two years, we improved and though Brian Ross got the majority of the credit- I got enough to be noticed for something besides my past.

Another huge break came. Pat Nevin was managing Motherwell and knew me from playing on the National side. He asked me to come aboard as Assistant Manager when Miodrag Krivokapic was selected to manage the Yugoslavia National Side. Ah, I see you remember some of the circumstances now. Yes, that was when Pat got sick. I still don't think they know quite what ailed him- but he was certainly out of it for a long time- glad to know that he has fully recovered now.

I had only been at Motherwell only a month when that happened. I wasn't sure what would happen with Nevin completely out of the picture, but lacking alternatives the Board decided to turn the club over to me on an interim basis.

Was I still bitter? Oh, yes- it was still eating me up then. It took me a long time to drain away that particularly dreadful fruit of anguish. The two years at East Stirling had not taken the sting away, the pain and feelings were still as fresh as salt on a wound.

You have to understand I was one of the few Scots that really enjoyed playing in France. I was mostly happy on the pitch, since the country still wasn't too hospitable- but I was content there and we were successful- playing for the title and in Europe for those several seasons. It was my own pride that blinded me I guess, but it wouldn't have mattered in hindsight. They wanted more Frenchmen in the side- I guess they were catching some flak in the press on it- and they started with me. I thought I was doing great, but when I came to summer training, I was suddenly an outcast. Didn't understand it a bit- I wasn't overly popular- but I also wasn't disliked.

It would have been bad enough to have just lost my starting role, but that didn't satisy the Manager (sorry, I refuse to dignify him with a name). He took it upon himself to assassinate me- my reputation as a player- my ability- my determination- my heart. By the time he was through, not only was everyone doubting me- I was doubting myself. It was bad.

The incident? It is painful, but I think the brooming from France was worse. No excuses, what I did was wrong, and it certainly ended my playing career- but..and I don't care if you believe my side or not..I would do it again. It wasn't my intention to confront that referee after the match, it just sort of happened. When he told me that all Scotsmen were dirty lying ****...well, at least I broke his jaw. Created quite an International incident too, didn't I? Of course he wasn't about to tell the truth on his comments. And of course with my word against his- they were going to take his. Especially after the hatchet job on my reputation.

Anyway, by the time I wound up at the helm of Motherwell, you might have called me xenophobic. If it wasn't Scottish- I wouldn't have anything to do with it. That was true when I got control- you might remember the initial stir when I sold off all the non-Scottish players? It upset the squad for awhile, but they actually believed me when I told them we were now the lions- the hunters...

***

Game Notes- CM 01-02 with Scotland and England (down to Division 3) active- Large DB

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The deeply lined face glanced at the journalist, "So, you want to know what it was like? For me it started as the worst of times, but..."

***

I was bitter.

Oh, was I bitter. A lifetime of playing football- down the drain. Bryan Bellhorn- banned from International Football.

Oh sure, the Federation threw me a bone. 'They' wouldn't stand in the way of my coaching- in fact here is your certificate. Bah, they knew what the chances of anyone hiring me were. Everything was in ruins- everything. My own personal hell as I knew it.

Amazingly, someone gave me another chance. Maybe not so amazingly as divinely, whatever it was it turned out to be a lifeline. Not that coaching at East Stirlingshire was exactly a peach of a job- but during my two years, we improved and though Brian Ross got the majority of the credit- I got enough to be noticed for something besides my past.

Another huge break came. Pat Nevin was managing Motherwell and knew me from playing on the National side. He asked me to come aboard as Assistant Manager when Miodrag Krivokapic was selected to manage the Yugoslavia National Side. Ah, I see you remember some of the circumstances now. Yes, that was when Pat got sick. I still don't think they know quite what ailed him- but he was certainly out of it for a long time- glad to know that he has fully recovered now.

I had only been at Motherwell only a month when that happened. I wasn't sure what would happen with Nevin completely out of the picture, but lacking alternatives the Board decided to turn the club over to me on an interim basis.

Was I still bitter? Oh, yes- it was still eating me up then. It took me a long time to drain away that particularly dreadful fruit of anguish. The two years at East Stirling had not taken the sting away, the pain and feelings were still as fresh as salt on a wound.

You have to understand I was one of the few Scots that really enjoyed playing in France. I was mostly happy on the pitch, since the country still wasn't too hospitable- but I was content there and we were successful- playing for the title and in Europe for those several seasons. It was my own pride that blinded me I guess, but it wouldn't have mattered in hindsight. They wanted more Frenchmen in the side- I guess they were catching some flak in the press on it- and they started with me. I thought I was doing great, but when I came to summer training, I was suddenly an outcast. Didn't understand it a bit- I wasn't overly popular- but I also wasn't disliked.

It would have been bad enough to have just lost my starting role, but that didn't satisy the Manager (sorry, I refuse to dignify him with a name). He took it upon himself to assassinate me- my reputation as a player- my ability- my determination- my heart. By the time he was through, not only was everyone doubting me- I was doubting myself. It was bad.

The incident? It is painful, but I think the brooming from France was worse. No excuses, what I did was wrong, and it certainly ended my playing career- but..and I don't care if you believe my side or not..I would do it again. It wasn't my intention to confront that referee after the match, it just sort of happened. When he told me that all Scotsmen were dirty lying ****...well, at least I broke his jaw. Created quite an International incident too, didn't I? Of course he wasn't about to tell the truth on his comments. And of course with my word against his- they were going to take his. Especially after the hatchet job on my reputation.

Anyway, by the time I wound up at the helm of Motherwell, you might have called me xenophobic. If it wasn't Scottish- I wouldn't have anything to do with it. That was true when I got control- you might remember the initial stir when I sold off all the non-Scottish players? It upset the squad for awhile, but they actually believed me when I told them we were now the lions- the hunters...

***

Game Notes- CM 01-02 with Scotland and England (down to Division 3) active- Large DB

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Thanks PM7- I tend to like smaller clubs anyway icon_smile.gif

***

You know a lot of people, including some of the staff there at Motherwell thought I was nuts when I made my lions comment to the players. That didn't matter to me, because I had the belief that this group could be successful. We were young- very young- and that was certainly working against us, but I was willing to stake my club against any because I really believed this group of players could do wonders- given time and patience.

Here, let me show you some pictures from that first season. Oh, you didn't realize I kept mementos? All of that shelf is books filled with clippings-pictures and other foofarah from those years. Yes, certainly you can use whatever you need to tell the story- I don't mind.

Ah, here is a good one. Brownie, Connolly and Woods- my keeper trio. Mark was a fine keeper and a solid performer to build the club around. Connolly was a good pairing with him- he had talent too. In fact I know we wouldn't have had much success if we hadn't had those two to lean on- they allowed our young club to know they could usually get away with small mistakes- and that was important in the early going.

This one is the backline we started with- a very good core unit with depth as well. Our regulars were Steven Hammell at leftback, Alan Archibald and Richard Montgomery in the middle and Martyn Corrigan at rightback. Then there was Brian McAllister, Barry McLaughlin, Eddie Forrest, Steven Tweed, Tom Cowan and Scott McNiven. Paul Parkin and Brian Dempsie spent their time on the reserves because I wanted them playing all the time at their respective fullback slots. They were a good unit- I was really pleased to start my first season with this strong of a group- even if they were also pretty young.

Our midfield- yes a lot of people continue to comment on them. No, he wasn't here just yet- I will mention him shortly. This was taken before the first match. From the left is Stephen Pearson, Steven Nicholas, Keith Lasley, Martin Fotheringham, Willie Howie, Stuart Davidson, Doug Ramsay, Billy McKinlay, Scott Leitch, Billy Macdonald, Stephen Cosgrove and James McFadden. Pearson was a key player. I knew he could be the playmaker for us, but I needed to convince him of his ability- remember he was only 19 at the time. Paired with Nicholas and Lasley, they were a solid starting group. No, Fotheringham was 18 and I wanted him to develop into a more significant role- so he was an alternate back then. The midfield needed to be the strength of the club and even then I knew we were on the right track with these players.

Here is one with our forwards. Yes, that is Michael Craig on crutches- he had a bum ankle and was out for awhile to start the season. I was pleased that he was one of our first signees off the free list. There is our initial tandem up front- Kevin Twaddle and Martin Wood. Twaddle was underrated, he was our first captain as well. Wood had talent, but he was only 19 as well- so I wasn't sure how good he could be then. That one is Jermaine McSporran, the one we got from Wycombe. Those two are Jason Young and Sean Christie- they both came on cheap transfer purchases. Also there was Neil Tarrant, but he was on loan from Aston Villa and they wouldn't sell him when I offered and that one is John Fallon.

Privately, the Board had told me they would be pleased if we could avoid relegation this season. I listened and kept my mouth shut and nodded and smiled. Even then I was convinced that we could perform better than that expectation, but I certainly didn't want to suffer from 'hoof-in-mouth' disease at that point.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

GK

1 Brown, Mark GK SCO 20

25 Connolly, John GK SCO 20

13 Woods, Steven GK SCO 31

BACKLINE

3 Hammell, Steven D/DM L SCO 19

39 Cowan, Tom D L SCO 32

27 Dempsie, Brian D LC SCO 18

35 Archibald, Alan D LC SCO 23

5 McAllister, Brian D LC SCO 31

33 McLaughlin, Barry D C SCO 28

32 Montgomery, Richard D LC SCO 19

18 Forrest, Eddie D C SCO 22

29 Tweed, Steven SW/D C SCO 29

20 Wilson, Scott D/M C SCO 19

2 Corrigan, Martyn SW/D/M RC SCO 24

31 McNiven, Scott D RC SCO 23

- Parkin, Paul D RC SCO 18

- McGhee, David D R SCO 20

MIDFIELD

24 Lasley, Keith M C SCO 22

4 McFadden, James DM LC SCO 18

21 Harvey, Paul AM C SCO 33

22 McKinlay, Billy DM C SCO 32

8 Leitch, Scott DM C SCO 32

- Macdonald, Billy DM C SCO 25

28 Clarke, David DM LC SCO 18

17 Pearson, Stephen AM C SCO 19

6 Howie, Willie AM C SCO 19

12 Cosgrove, Stephen M RC SCO 20

7 Nicholas, Steven F RC SCO 20

36 Fotheringham, Martin AM RLC SCO 18

15 McDonald, Kevin AM/F R SCO 18

38 Davidson, Stuart M R SCO 22

23 Ramsay, Douglas M RC SCO 22

FORWARD

11 Twaddle, Kevin F RLC SCO 30

34 McSporran, Jermaine F RLC ENG/SCO 24

37 Christie, Sean S C SCO 21

9 Wood, Martin S C SCO 19

30 Craig, Michael S C SCO 24

10 Young, Jason S C SCO 29

26 Fallon, John S C SCO 19

- Harvey, Johnny S C SCO 19

- McShefferty, David S C SCO 19

GOING

- Ready, Karl D C WAL 29

</pre>

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Thanks BobBev- appreciate the comment icon_smile.gif First time I have tried telling one like this...

***

Losing that first match hurt a little- maybe more so since it was televised. Still we gave a good account of ourselves while losing 2-1 at Aberdeen. William Montgomery's header was our lone goal, but we had as many good chances as they did- it was just that Gundveit and Darren Young scored over Andy Dow- after I had to bring him on when Brian McAllister got hurt early in the match. I told them I was proud of the effort and that if they continued to play with that determination- the wins would come. I also reminded them that we couldn't afford to make mistakes against anyone in the SPL- mistakes were certain to cost us more, since we had less margin for error.

During the week that followed, we wound up with more turmoil. Andy Dow was miffed that I hadn't started him in the match and we had it out behind closed doors in my office. There wasn't much I could do at that point- I transfer listed him- knowing full well that it might seriously jeapordize the team chemistry I hoped to build. I was glad that Middlesbrough snapped him up so quick for 1.2 Million.

Our first home match at Fir Park was against Kilmarnock. Right from the start I could tell we weren't as nervous and were set to play a better match- and we did just that. We took the midfield completely away from them and Twaddle gave us an early lead when he went by Peter Canero and scored past Colin Meldrum. Keith Lasley was superb throughout the match, he certainly surprised the press with his performance. He fired in a long, low shot and then Nicholas scored on a volley off a pass from McSporran. Lasley scored another in the 2nd half on a pass from McKinlay and we had our first win, 4-0. The press were certain it was a fluke.

We gained a bit more attention when we went to McDiarmid Park and outplayed St.Johnstone to win 2-0 on early goals from Martin Wood and Lasley. Lasley earned his 2nd consecutive Man of the Match there.

The 500 strong crowd at Cowdenbeath was quite a change for us- but they were still vocal enough. They didn't have a lot to cheer about though as our 2nd line players had little trouble as we beat them 2-0 on goals from Jason Young and Fotheringham in that League Cup 2nd round match.

That next week was an exciting time. The club was a lot more convinced that their heart and talent could work in sync and challenge other clubs. *That* was the week that Mark Kerr joined the club. It took some negotiation after Falkirk was forced to accept our 1 Million minimum fee release bid on him. I had to give him a high wage- and he wouldn't come without having a minimum fee release- but I finally landed him. It was a bit hard on Keith Lasley, but I had a heart to heart with him and talked about the fact that I still considered him a key cog in our midfield, but that Kerr would be starting. That meant our midfield for the Rangers match was Kerr- McKinlay- Pearson- Nicholas. Derek Adams also went that week. He was much more professional than Dow, but told me that he was sure he wouldn't be a part of the plans- so I was able to sell him to WBA for a 1.2 Million.

How much had I spent to gather this club? With Kerr included? With him included it cost me around 3.5 Million in transfer purchases. The players we had sold gave us about 7 Million in fees- but several of those were over periods of time. No, we weren't a cash rich club because of that- because I had spent a lot in signing bonuses to get contract extensions on all the players I thought would be key contributors for the next several seasons. I think we had around 1 Million still available in transfer funds at that point and I wasn't considering any more pricey transfer purchases.

I can't quite describe the electric nature of the crowd at Fir Park for our match against Rangers. They came into the match unbeaten and in 1st place. The opening stages were difficult because I could tell the players were a bit in awe of them and weren't moving well- but fortunately Brownie was playing well. Stephen Hughes gave them a halftime lead, but we settled down and started much stronger in the 2nd half. Pearson scored his 1st goal and we were even at 60 minutes. Lorenzo Amoruso gave them the lead again and it certainly looked like we were done, but in the last moments Martin Wood drilled a shot past Stefan Klos, who had played great, to give us a memorable 2-2 draw.

The draw really showed the club that it could do things that nobody expected of them. Our next match was on the road against Hibs and we outshot them 18-6 in beating them 3-1 on a pair of goals from Twaddle and one from Wood. Their only goal was when Alan Archibald tried to knock a corner over the net, but instead deflected it past Brownie.

We were back on television for our next match as we hosted Dundee United. It was a much better showing and we used goals from Pearson and Michael Craig and a stifling defense to beat them 2-0. It was Craig's debut and he played well. We did lose Kevin Twaddle to a knee injury late in the match.

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The first manager casulty of the SPL season was Jimmy Calderwood. I am not sure why Dunfermline fired him other than desperation- because their Board shouldn't have had any great expectations going into the season. I was very interested and went to watch the Challenge Cup Final in person, because my scouts had identified some players on Berwick that warranted consideration. It was a fun match to watch and Berwick did wind up winning as they edged Clyde by a 2-1 score.

Our next match was another mountain to climb as we hosted Celtic. They were on a roll and had moved steadily up through the standings and I warned the boys we needed to be at the top of our game to play with them. John Hartson got loose and scored an early goal, but we battled back behind goals from Mark Kerr and Jermaine McSporran (filling in for Twaddle) and took a 2-1 halftime lead. Hartson proved too much for our defense to handle and equalized midway through the 2nd half. We fought and clawed with them the rest of the way, but both sides had to settle for the 2-2 draw. I was very proud of the effort we put forth- we really did outplay them in many stretches of the match and it seemed another stepping stone for the squad understanding they really could play with anyone.

We had to travel to St.Mirren for our 3rd round League Cup match. I went with our 2nd line against them, it seemed a good time to get them some playing time and also to rest the 1st line after the emotional match against Celtic. It worked a charm as they outplayed a pretty good St.Mirren squad and we sent them packing by a 4-1 margin. Keith Lasley gave us the lead, but Paul Mullen evened it right away. Scott Leitch and Michael Craig both scored on headers and we were back up 3-1 at half. We really clinched the match when Hugh Murray headed past Derek Scrimgour for an own-goal and that was the final tally in the win as we moved on to host Celtic in the Quarter-finals- that seemed a bit of an unlucky draw.

Why did I go with our 2nd line? You need to understand a little of my managing philosophy. With a club as young as we were- they were always ready to go and they all wanted to play. That is a great advantage of youth, but if you played them continually- as you can get away better with a veteran club, because they understand how to pace themselves over a long grueling season- then don't be surprised if they start to wilt down the stretch. I was committed to trying to keep everyone fresh for the season, and that meant there would be matches when I would be playing a less-than-best lineup. Now, as a Manager, my job was to make the proper judgements on when I could use my less-than-best lineup and still be successful. Also, injuries are a fact of life in football and the only way you can prepare to live with the occasional injury is to have your 2nd line player ready to step up and fill in. If you don't use them until that happens, they won't perform as well as you need- so I planned to try and keep everyone sharp through at least occasional play. I also had the luxury of depth on the club to allow that approach. Lasley, who I already mentioned, became a valuable slot-in as was Martin Fotheringham back then. Willie Howie would have started for many clubs, but he was content to be Stephen Pearson's fill-in. Those are just examples- we really did have a good 'team' feeling with that group.

It was back to League play with a trip to Livingston. Carlos Dario Aurelio scored an early goal, but really managed to enrage our entire squad with a particularly showy display following the goal. Mark Kerr showed a lot of class when he scored and refused anything other than a mild slap on the back from teammates- the kind of leadership we need on this club. Halfway through the 2nd half we were finally rewarded for the pressure we were applying when Jermaine McSporran scored off a through ball from Alan Archibald. We clinched the match in extra time as Keith Lasley scored his 5th of the year on a goalmouth scramble.

Dunfermline at Fir Park was next. Despite their poor placement, they gave us a tough tussle. Martin Wood boosted us to the lead, but Stephen Crawford nailed one for them to even it. Mark Kerr earned MOM honors when he scored the matchwinner as he headed a corner from Billy McKinlay past Marco Ruitenbeck- who had a terrific match and kept the score from being much worse. I was pleased when we put the clamps on them after we had the lead- something we had been emphasizing a lot in practice.

It was Tynecastle Park for our next destination as we faced Hearts. I don't know for sure if it was us playing really well or them playing really badly- but we rolled over them easily. We were up 4-0 at halftime thanks to a hat-trick from Martin Wood and a single marker from Stephen Pearson. We didn't give them any rally room in the 2nd half and added one more goal from Jermaine McSporran in the impressive 5-0 rout. This win caught some of the media's eye and we got a bit more coverage thanks to it.

We travelled to Rugby Park and Kilmarnock was set to take revenge for the 4-0 whopping that we gave them at Fir Park in the beginning of the season. Colin Meldrum almost earned them some points on his own this time as he was splendid in net. It looked like they were set to split the points with us when Mickael Pizzo evened the match after Steven Nicholson had given us a first half lead. We wound up stealing three more road points when Kevin Twaddle made a nice move around two defenders to score the match winner in the 2nd half.

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Thanks Terk- just like old times, eh? Glad to have you along for the journey (might be another lonnng one icon_smile.gif )

***

We hosted Celtic in the League Cup Quarter-final and you could not have fit one more person into Fir Park, it was that packed for the match. What they got to see was damm entertaining too. I was a bit worried coming off the humbling at Ibrox- on how we would handle this match- and we wound up in trouble early as Chris Sutton shook off tight coverage to smash a half-volley past Brownie. Stephen Pearson scored a fantastic goal to really bring the crowd back off their seats, but just as quickly Celtic counter-attacked and Dianbobo Balde fired another past Brown. That seemed to really cost us our concentration and Sutton added another goal in extra time to see us down 3-1 at halftime. It was a gloomy place during the break, but I have to give Billy McKinlay a lot of credit- he was serving as skipper because Twaddle was out- and gave an excellent talk before leading the boys out in the 2nd half. The fans could sense something had changed, we were out there fighting hard and were rewarded when Martin Wood scored to draw a goal back midway through. It still looked Celtic would run out the string on us, but Robert Douglass clipped Steven Nicholson's feet as they both raced to the rebound after Douglass had parried a hard shot from Mark Kerr. It earned him a red card and Martyn Corrigan converted the penalty to send us to extra time even at 3-3. It was horribly disappointing to wind up losing when Joos Valgaeren outleaped two defenders to deflect Bobby Petta's corner past Brownie. It was a learning lesson for our youngsters as Celtic was steadier in extra time with only 10 men than we were with all 11.

I had worried about the Celtic match, but I was doubly worried about hosting Hearts the Saturday after the loss. Because of the extra time, none of our first line was really fit- so we went with an entirely new lineup in the match. When Gary Wales scored early in the first half, you could sense the crowd were thinking 'Not again'. Still, I could see the heart was still there- there wasn't any quit- and when Keith Lasley scored to even the match- it was a like a big burden lifted from us. So much so that we went out and scored twice more on goals from Jermaine McSporran and Jason Young to take a 3-1 halftime lead. When the second half started, we started playing tentatively though and Juanjo scored to bring them back into the match. Willie Howie answered that goal, but after Juanjo scored his 2nd of the match to make it 4-3...well it was nail biting time for both the fans and me. John Connolly didn't play particularly well- with Brownie suspended for this match- but he came up with the game saver in the closing moments when he denied Scott Severin to help us cling to the much needed win.

It was a testament to what I was trying to accomplish with our youngsters when we claimed the 'Young Player of the Month' honors for the fourth month in a row -- Martin Wood, Richard Montgomery, Mark Brown and now Stephen Pearson have earned the honors so far this season.

The trip to Dunfermline seemed almost a respite after the last few matches, but they played us very tough. Though we limited them to 1 shot, we were fortunate to gain the 1-0 win on Martin Wood's first half marker. Losing Jermaine McSporran during the first half hurt us- both he and Twaddle were out which meant our forward depth was pretty thin. Still, it was a win to take us to the halfway point in the season. Amazingly, we were atop the SPL, though I am sure the boys felt a bit like the hunted and not the hunters as Rangers and Celtic were nipping at our heels.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

************************************************************************************************

Scottish Premier Division - Wednesday 5th December 2001

************************************************************************************************

================================================================================================

2001/2 Table

================================================================================================

Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1st Motherwell 19 8 2 0 27 9 6 1 2 19 11 45

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2nd Rangers 19 9 1 0 22 2 4 3 2 13 11 43

3rd Celtic 18 6 2 0 25 7 5 3 2 15 11 38

4th Dundee 18 5 1 2 18 12 7 1 2 22 12 38

5th Aberdeen 18 6 0 3 22 12 2 1 6 6 19 25

6th Hibs 18 5 0 5 13 14 2 1 5 9 16 22

7th Hearts 19 4 1 4 13 17 2 2 6 15 24 21

8th Kilmarnock 19 3 3 2 13 13 3 0 8 10 30 21

9th Dundee Utd 19 4 1 5 17 14 2 1 6 10 17 20

10th St. Johnstone 19 3 1 5 17 20 2 1 7 10 21 17

11th Livingston 19 3 4 4 16 14 0 2 6 9 22 15

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

12th Dunfermline 19 3 1 6 9 12 1 1 7 8 18 14

</pre>

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Billy Stark was the next coaching casulty. He decided to leave on his own terms- resigning from St.Johnstone.

Another difficult match was our first trip to Celtic Park. I talked to the squad a lot about maintaining composure and focus- and it paid off as we really did outplay them in the match. Unfortunately, outplaying them is not the same thing as winning and Robert Douglass earned MOM honors by keeping us off the scoresheet. We couldn't do the same as Alan Archibald was whistled for pushing Didier Agathe in the back and Chris Sutton converted the penalty kick to ensure a close 1-0 loss. I was disappointed at the outcome, but not at the effort we showed. The loss meant Rangers overtook us to move into 1st place.

I sold Scott Wilson to Dundee shortly after the loss. He wasn't happy on the reserves and I really didn't think he had a solid place in our future plans. The 300K would help us more was my thinking- after all we weren't a rich club.

About then we suffered another problematic injury when we lost Billy McKinlay to a twisted knee for three weeks. McKinlay had been the key player down our good stretch and with both he and Twaddle out- we were lacking in veteran leadership.

Well, I thought we were without leadership- instead I found myself mistaken as Scott Leitch took the role without qualms and provided steady and heady work in place of McKinlay. He scored our first goal in the home match against Kilmarnock and then Michael Craig crossed for Martin Wood to put us up 2-0. John Anderson brought them back into the match with his 1st goal of the season in the 2nd half, but a Steven Hammell cross to Stephen Pearson for Pearson's 5th of the season was enough to be certain of the 3-1 home win. Rangers could only manage a 1-1 draw while hosting Dundee and we moved a point on top of them in 1st.

I was surprised to see that Alex Totten was willing to leave Falkirk to take the St.Johnstone position. Falkirk actually looked like a better club at that point, but I heard Totten was sure that he could keep them from falling to relegation and he wanted to manage in SPL versus Division 1.

The long season seemed like a series of tests- I guess every season is like that more or less, but this first season it seemed magnified. So far, we hadn't passed our exams on the road against Rangers or Celtic, but now we had another key match against Dundee. They were 4th coming in and all four clubs were very close- so this was a big chance for us to do well. Martin Wood celebrated the return of Kevin Twaddle when Twaddle made a beatiful header across to allow Wood an easy goal early in the match. Young Argentinean Juan Sara is one of the top scorers in the SPL and he showed us way as he outraced Archibald and Montgomery to get to a long pass and then fired a rising shot past Brownie. It was a tight, exciting match after that as both clubs struggled for each loose ball. I remember bouncing on the balls of my feet at a couple of close calls. In the waning moments of the match, Keith Lasley (on for a tired Mark Kerr) turned the match into joy for us as he wheeled and scorched a shot past Jamie Langfield after Archibald found him in the area with a pass. The 2-1 win was encouraging- we had held our own on the road against a very good club.

We missed a golden chance to improve our lot when we marched into St.Johnstone and then lost. I couldn't fault the effort, we had a boatload of great scoring chances, but our only goal against Alan Main was Michael Craig's 2nd half marker when he chipped in a rebound. We had no defense against Kiegan Parker up front- he scored twice in the first half over Brian McAllister, before I swapped coverage and Alan Archibald did much better on him. The loss was frustrating after seeing Rangers upset 1-0 at Ibrox by Dunfermline and Celtic drew against Kilmarnock 2-2.

I let 3rd string keeper Steve Woods move to Rushden for 450K. That meant I would need to be scouting around for a solid keeper to pick up on Bosman or through a modest purchase.

We opened the new year with another key test- hosting the Rangers. We came away with another failing grade, though the referee had more to do that as his disputed penalty call on Richard Montgomery wound up costing us a 3-2 loss. Kevin Twaddle suprised the 'Gers with a goal in the first minute of play, but they rallied on goals by Neil McCann and Ronald de Boer. Steven Nicholas got us back to 2-2 at halftime with a curving shot that eluded Jesper Christiansen. In the opening moments of the 2nd half, Montgomery was whistled for a push on Claudio Caniggia and Tore Andre Flo easily converted the penalty kick for what turned out to be the deciding goal. Once again we outplayed a good club, but had nothing to show for it. The loss meant the top 4 spots were jumbled again, with Celtic moving into 1st for the first time this season.

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Scottish Premier Division - Tuesday 1st January 2002

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2001/2 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Celtic 24 10 2 0 33 8 5 5 2 17 13 52

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2nd Motherwell 24 9 2 1 32 13 7 1 4 22 15 51

3rd Rangers 24 9 2 1 23 4 6 4 2 20 16 51

4th Dundee 24 8 1 3 25 15 7 3 2 25 15 49

5th Aberdeen 24 6 3 3 25 15 4 1 7 12 22 34

6th Hearts 24 5 4 4 22 23 2 2 7 17 27 27

7th Hibs 24 6 0 5 16 16 2 3 8 12 25 27

8th Kilmarnock 24 4 5 3 17 19 3 0 9 10 32 26

9th Dundee Utd 24 4 3 5 18 15 2 3 7 12 21 24

10th St. Johnstone 24 5 1 6 22 23 2 2 8 11 25 24

11th Dunfermline 24 3 3 6 13 16 2 2 8 12 22 20

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12th Livingston 24 3 4 5 16 16 0 4 8 13 29 17

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ROFL- Thanks spurzgrrl- pretty small fanclub icon_wink.gif

***

As the transfer period heated up, I managed to grab a couple players I had heavily scouted during the season. Mark Gallagher was a 21 year old Striker that was the top scorer in Division 2 for Stranraer. They finally allowed a purchase after he wouldn't sign a new contract- he cost a modest 160k. Even less expensive was another defender I had my eye on- Mark Slater from Ross County. For 55K he was a bargain to add depth.

I remember wincing when I found out that Celtic had purchased Emile Heskey for 4.4 Million from Liverpool. I knew our backline would have difficulty dealing with him and he improved their frontline immensely.

It didn't help them in their first match though as Celtic was beaten 3-2 at St.Johnstone. We managed to pull off a nail-biting 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Aberdeen had early pressure and Darren Young came close a couple times, but Steven Nicholas scored late in the half to give us the halftime lead. Shortly after he subbed on for a tiring Martin Wood, Jermaine McSporran split the defense for a wonder goal and a 2-0 lead. Aberdeen rallied and Russell Anderson headed in a corner past Brownie to get close. We fended off their attacks in the late stages of the match and finally finished the win. The win, coupled with Rangers 5-1 win over Dundee, boosted both of us back atop the SPL- though we still had an edge because we are even on differential, but we have scored more goals. The win also featured the return of Billy McKinlay.

Oh yes, you did have to bring that up. I know, I know- it's your job to describe both the good and the bad. No matter, it doesn't mean as much in the course of time. Yes, it was a debacle and we were roundly chuckled at by the press. I can remember a lot of the discussion- Motherwell thinks they can contend, when they can't even beat an undermanned Division 1 Clyde at Fir Park. Not only not beat them- they swatted us good. I took full blame of course- and I deserved the heat I got. Remember what I told you about manager making choices on winning with less than his best squad? Well, my choice in that match was pretty poor. It didn't help that their keeper- Kevin Budinauckas- was on fire that match- he wound the MOM. A lot of people forget we outshot them 13-5, but that is easy to forget when 3 of those 5 went past John Connolly and we couldn't break Clyde's clean sheet. I did make a bad choice in throwing Paul Parkin into play at rightback. Martyn Corrigan had just suffered a knee injury that would keep him out 3 weeks and I thought this would be a good time to see what Parkin was made of. All he proved to me that match was that at 18, he wasn't ready for first team play. Brian Hagen gave them the first half lead when Connolly was yellow carded for pulling Brian Crawford down in the area. We had plenty of good chances to open the 2nd half, but Allan Grant scored for them- and we were getting a bit desperate. I pushed our attack and that allowed Crawford to break past and score the clinching goal for them. The 3-0 loss was tough for our Fir Park faithful to take- but I hoped our club had learned that heart and determination can take you to unexpected places as they watched Clyde celebrate the Scottish Cup 3rd round win.

It didn't help that our next home match against Kilmarnock was postponed because of heavy sleet- the pitch was just unplayable, so it was unavoidable. We dropped back to 3rd, as both Rangers and Celtic won while we sat idle.

Edinburgh was our next stop as we visited Hibs. It was another somewhat frustrating match for us. We held the halftime lead on goals from Martin Wood and Kevin Twaddle, sandwiched around a goal by Grant Brebner for them. We had been a bit unlucky, since if the posts had been kinder or Mike Franks a little less sharp in net, we would have had at least one more goal. It turned out we needed that other goal as Allen Smart caught Brownie a bit out of position and lobbed a ball over him for the equalizer. We wound up stuck with a 2-2 draw, when it could have been a win.

Our makeup match with Kilmarnock was a midweek affair and though it hailed the pitch was still passable- even at the end of the match. We struck for three goals in a six minute stretch early in the first half as Michael Craig, Stephen Pearson and Steven Nicholas all scored. We needed all the goals we could get as Iain Durrant was unstoppable for them. Durrant scored later in the first half and early in the 2nd half to bring Kilmarnock back to a one-goal deficit. Things were looking a little nervy, but Willie Howie (subbed on for tiring Pearson) made a spectacular run and his goal made the final margin 4-2. It wasn't our best effort, but at that point it was a much needed win.

That reminds me, do you want to hear a funny story? The day after that match I had to be away from training to attend a fundraiser. While I was there someone came up to me and asked me if I had heard that Archibald had been hurt- that he had broken his leg and would be out 6 months. I immediately rushed to the phone and called Mark Shanks my Assistant Manager. Shanks was roaring when he told me it wasn't 'Alan' that got hurt- it was his cousin Shaun- who was a leftback on Clydesbank. I was breathing a huge sigh of relief, even though the chuckles from the rest of the staff when I came back were a bit hard to take.

We had a televised Saturday night match against last place Livingston and I was really hoping for a strong showing to blunt the continuing criticism on the Clyde loss. The match started badly for us as Eddie Forrest was redcarded for holding Stephen Whalen at 14 minutes. We managed to adjust to playing with 10 men, but they had a lot of pressure on us in the first half. Brownie was very good though and we still clung to the clean sheet at half. Our superior talent made a difference as we started taking the play to them in the 2nd half. We may have been a man short on our attacks, but our swirling passing attack was giving them problems. But, it was another hot keeper we were facing and Gary McGlynn- who earned the MOM- kept our good chances out. The unlikely hero for us turned out to be Barry McLaughlin, who had come on for Jermaine McSporran when Forrest was redcarded. At 81 minutes he headed a Keith Lasley free kick and McGlynn could only get a piece of it- not enough to prevent it from going into the net for the match winner in our hard fought 1-0 win.

We had reached the February respite- European Cup play and International Play- back in 1st place thanks to the gritty win over Livingston. We still had a long road, but the squad did believe they were contenders now.

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Scottish Premier Division - Wednesday 13th February 2002

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2001/2 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Motherwell 28 10 2 1 36 15 9 2 4 27 18 61

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2nd Rangers 28 11 2 1 31 5 7 4 3 26 21 60

3rd Celtic 28 12 2 0 42 8 5 6 3 21 18 59

4th Dundee 28 9 1 4 29 18 7 4 3 25 19 53

5th Aberdeen 28 6 4 4 28 19 4 1 9 15 27 35

6th Hearts 28 5 5 4 24 25 4 2 8 21 30 34

7th St. Johnstone 28 7 2 6 28 27 3 2 8 12 25 34

8th Dundee Utd 28 6 3 5 22 17 2 3 9 13 31 30

9th Hibs 28 6 2 6 20 23 2 4 8 14 27 30

10th Kilmarnock 28 5 5 4 20 21 3 0 11 12 37 29

11th Dunfermline 28 4 3 7 14 18 2 3 9 14 25 24

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12th Livingston 28 3 4 7 16 18 1 4 9 14 32 20

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With Dunfermline next at Fir Park, I thought it was time to gain some rest for 1st line players with the stretch drive and Playoff Group play looming. I had also rested some in Livingston match. Stephen Pearson demonstrated how he could control a match when he was playing well- he was a force in the midfield as we stymied their attempts to attck. Pearson also scored our first goal of the day when he blitzed through and headed a cross from Scott Leitch past Andy Stewart for a quick lead. Despite having the better of the play, the score stayed the same until the late stages of the match when Keith Lasley half-volleyed a cross from Steven Hammell to make the final margin 2-0.

During the week afterwards I found myself in a dilemma. The Board had decided we were serious contenders at that point and upped the ante- placing an additional 12.5 Million in the transfer funds (was up to 13.5 with their additional funding). Almost to the moment they made it known to me- I received a transfer offer from the Rangers on Kevin Twaddle for 2.6 Million with another 525K after 50 appearances. If we hadn't received the additional funds, I likely would have found it impossible not to accept the offer- but with the funds in hand it was another story. Twaddle was 30, having his finest season by far, and likely at the peak of his value. He was also one of our team leaders and our forwards hadn't performed nearly as well when he wasn't up front. Take the money and possibly screw up the team chemistry and finishing up front? It was a tough call. No, I didn't consult anyone on it- it was my decision to make, and if anyone felt the heat- it should be me.

In the end, I decided to accept the offer conditionally. My conditions were to reduce the appearances to 10 before the 425K fee kicked in and to request they include rightback Maurice Ross on exchange. Yes, I remember well the furor that caused- the accusations of selling out on the title chances, etc... It was all a lot of bull. Why did I take the offer? Several reasons actually. One was Twaddle had already proven very injury prone during the season. He also had lost stamina and was turning into a 60 minute player. Lastly, I thought he wouldn't be effective against European competition and that was my ultimate goal in getting this young club ready. I felt if I could get Ross in the bargain- a rightback I had admired quite a bit and tried to get before- then it would work out for the best. I was somewhat confident that we could pair Michael Craig and Martin Wood up front. It was amazing how quickly it fizzled out- at least that is what I thought at the time. I heard later the only reason the Rangers made the offer was to see if they could tip the applecart a bit and stir up the players. They had the kind of money to throw around that way. Actually, both Kevin and I wound up relieved that the deal went sour- he really did want to stay with us.

With the funds from the Board, I had started an immediate pursuit of another forward in case the deal went through and found Steven Milne not being used by Dundee and ready for a chance. The 4 Million bid was a bit more than I wanted to make for him- but he was a well rounded youngster who had already started proving his mettle in under-21 competition, and it seemed a ripe time to get him if I could. He ended up agreeing to a not-too-exorbitant contract and I ok'd the money. At the very least it took away a weapon in Dundee's arsenal and gave us a young forward who already had more experience at high levels.

In the midst of that turmoil we hosted Dundee United. They were in a bit of turmoil of their own as Charlie Miller had been constantly criticized lately in the press and one way or another the entire club was embroiled in the dispute. I felt fortunate that Twaddle handled his whole situation with aplomb. I selected him as Captain for the match and he privately thanked me for the confidence and then went out on the pitch and set up Martin Wood for his 15th goal of the season to give us the lead. Dundee pressed us hard in the match- it was almost a bit of desperation spurring them on. Brownie was sharp and the backline did a good job in defensive coverage as we kept our clean sheet. Mark Kerr salted away the win when he volleyed a winner on a pass from Wood. We found out why they were so desperate after the match when Manager Alex Smith received the dreaded 'vote of confidence'.

Another milestone in the couple week stretch before our next match was finally signing Mark Kerr off a contract that had a minimum fee release. Despite the hefty fee he carried, I knew if I couldn't get that excluded from his contract we would likely have lost him in the next couple of seasons. The Board's additional funding gave me the funds to offer him a substantial signing bonus to get the clause removed.

Celtic won the League Cup final as they handily defeated undermanned Dundee United by a 3-1 margin, so they were on a roll coming into our match against them at Fir Park. The midweek tilt was an important test for us- as we neared the Playoff Group matches. Mostly what I was looking for was the determination and focus that we needed to have for an entire match against Celtic or Rangers. That was exactly what they offered and we stunned Celtic in a closely played 2-0 win. In this match, Brownie outdueled Robert Douglass and because he played better- the club played with more confidence. It was a scoreless first half with them having the better chances, but our players were fighting for every advantage and Celtic could tell they were in for a tussle. The 2nd half played much the same as the first, but we earned ourselves a goal when Martyn Corrigan blistered a shot past Douglass off a brilliant pass from Mark Kerr. When Abel Xavier was redcarded at 83 minutes, you could tell it was a hammer blow to their confidence. We put the match away when Stephen Pearson ran past Paul Lambert and Stilian Petrov to make the final margin 2-0. It was a tremendous confidence booster to play this well against Celtic and win.

In the last week before the transfer deadline, we managed another signing that I considered a bargain. Scott Ritchie, who had capped on the National side, was languishing on the bench at Manchester City. I offered them 600K and they were happy to allow him to move back to Scotland. I was not quite sure how to fit him in on the backline, but getting his kind of quality for what I considered a modest transfer amount was the kind of moves we needed to make to have the necessary depth.

Our last road match before the Playoff Group matches was a trip to Tynecastle to tangle with Hearts. Our midfield was superb in the match with Mark Kerr- Stephen Pearson- Steven Nicholas really smothering the Hearts attack. Antti Niemi really kept Hearts in the match in the early stages, as we had many good chances. We were finally able to get on the board when Kevin Twaddle skimmed a low shot that trickled through Niemi to give us the lead at halftime. We took firm control when Stephen Pearson scored early in the 2nd half. The down notes to the match were the loss of both Martin Wood and Steven Milne (who had subbed on for Wood) to injuries for the next couple of weeks. The loss insured Hearts would be playing with the bottom group and not the Playoff Group.

Do you remember all the controversy when Kilmarnock became a PLC? That was when it happened. They probably should have waited until after the season to announce it- but I guess it didn't make all that much difference in the course of things.

We were really playing well as we headed into the Playoff Group matches. It showed as we rolled over Dundee at Fir Park by a 4-0 margin. Billy McKinlay picked a fine time to score his first ever goal for us to give us the halftime lead. We stormed out into the 2nd half as Mark Kerr headed one in and then Kevin Twaddle converted a penalty kick after Gavin Rea fouled Mark Gallagher in the area. Keith Lasley, subbing on for Kerr, rounded out the win with another goal late. The loss made it very difficult for 4th place Dundee to finish in the a top 3 position.

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Scottish Premier Division - Monday 8th April 2002

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2001/2 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Motherwell 33 14 2 1 46 15 10 2 4 29 18 76

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2nd Rangers 33 14 2 1 40 7 8 4 4 28 25 72

3rd Celtic 33 14 2 0 49 10 7 6 4 29 21 71

4th Dundee 33 11 1 4 35 21 7 5 5 29 28 60

5th Aberdeen 33 8 4 4 33 22 6 1 10 22 32 47

6th St. Johnstone 33 8 2 6 31 28 5 2 10 18 31 43

7th Dundee Utd 33 8 3 6 25 18 2 3 11 14 35 36

8th Hibs 33 7 3 7 28 32 2 4 10 16 33 34

9th Hearts 33 5 5 6 24 29 4 2 11 21 38 34

10th Livingston 33 5 4 8 22 23 2 4 10 16 35 29

11th Kilmarnock 33 5 5 6 22 25 3 0 14 18 48 29

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12th Dunfermline 33 4 3 10 17 28 3 3 10 18 28 27

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Our first match in the Playoff Group was hosting 6th place St.Johnstone and it turned into a disaster. It was closely played and we went to halftime scoreless. It was easy to see the nervousness that we had- and it had shown in a lack of opportunities in the first half. We played better to start the 2nd half and after Marc McCulloch had clattered Steven Nicholas in the area, Kevin Twaddle converted the penalty and we took the lead. At 80 minutes, in what I believe was a make-up call, the referee redcarded Brownie for tangling with Darren Jackson in the area. Tommy Lovenkrands converted the penalty and we were back to 1-1, which is where it ended up. Worse for us was the fact that Brownie's redcard meant an automatic 1 match suspension- to be served against Celtic. I appealed the decision, but was declined in public and laughed at in private. His suspension meant that John Connolly would have to start the Celtic match and that we wouldn't have a proper backup keeper-- because I didn't have a 3rd keeper after the sale of Woods.

The match at Celtic Park had everything any fan could have wanted. We were heavy underdogs, especially without Brownie in net, and Celtic was 3rd place and needed the win to pull us down and for them to possibly move up on Rangers. I have to give John Connolly all the credit in the world. He stepped in to a difficult situation and really played well. We were trailing at half because Joos Valgaeren had again headed in a corner. I was mad as hell about that goal because I had spent at least a couple times talking about how he had beaten us in the Cup competition and that we had to pay attention to him. We were very fortunate not be down 3-0 at half as Connolly had stopped both Emile Heskey and Chris Sutton in key situations. Sutton again came close to open the 2nd half and Connolly again managed to tip it around the post. We stunned the huge Celtic crowd by striking for a pair of goals in a five minute stretch. Stephen Pearson headed past Robert Douglass for his 10th of the season and then Billy McKinlay drove a low shot home. Celtic came back with a furious rally and we just couldn't withstand them. Olivier Tebily headed past Connolly for his 1st goal of the season to equalize midway through the half. They wanted the win badly and we were tiring under the intense pressure. It appeared they had snatched the win when Sutton deflected a Heskey cross past Connolly at 83 minutes, but to the huge howl of the Celtic crowd- he was ruled offside and the goal taken away. By that point, I had decided we mostly just needed to survive and split the points- Heskey came close again to take everyone's breath away- but that was the last good chance and we wound up with the 2-2 draw. Rangers had beaten St.Johnstone 2-1 and we were now even, but still ahead of them on goal differential.

Kilmarnock fired Bobby Williamson that week. It was unusual to see a Manager fired at this time of the season, but I heard after the fact that it was pretty much a player's revolt. Yes, that was what I had heard too- that he ****ed off his co-captains by berating them. It pays to remember who your player's respect... They did name Jim Jefferies quickly as his replacement- he had been at Bradford City.

I was proud that Steven Nicholas earned his 1st Cap that week when he subbed on in Scotland's 3-2 loss to Greece. He was pleased as punch when he came back to Fir Park- though the loss had been a bit painful.

Our last home match was against 5th place Aberdeen and we dearly needed a win, as we still had Rangers and Dundee on the road as our final two matches. Kevin Twaddle repaid all debts with a stellar performance in the match as he led us to the win. He scored two goals in the first half in a span of two minutes and then completed his hat-trick early in the 2nd half to wind up with all 3 goals in our 3-0 win. The fans gave him a standing ovation when I pulled him not long after the hat-trick and his eyes certainly welled up a bit at the fans reception. In the other key match of the day, Rangers defeated Celtic at Ibrox 2-0 on goals from Lorenzo Amoruso and Stephen Hughes as they completly neutralized Celtic's powerful forwards. We have to face Dundee first and then hopefully will play them for the Championship in the final match of the season. They have to travel to Aberdeen, so I expected that we would need to beat Dundee to have a chance.

Dundee was already assured of a 4th place finish as they hosted us, so their real motivation for the match was both revenge and to knock us off our 1st place spot. I expected a very tough, physical match and that is what we wound up with. We played an excellent first half and held a 1-0 lead on Martin Wood's goal. Dundee rallied to open the 2nd half and Patrizio Billio split our defense before rocketing a shot past Brownie to even the match at 55 minutes. Keith Lasley, who had subbed on for a tiring Mark Kerr, then scored the biggest goal of his career- it was also his 10th of the season- with a volley past Jamie Langfield at 63 minutes. Dundee gave us their best shot in the late stages of the match- and Juan Sara saw his screamer bounce off the cross-bar- but Brownie was steady and we held on for the close 2-1 win. The win sets up our Ibrox showdown with Rangers for the Title as they easily thumped Aberdeen 4-1.

Ibrox was bright with a brilliantly sunny day- about the best you could ask for in early May. It was completely sold out for this title showdown, but you could sense the undercurrent of the home fans echoed that of the press- that it would be the powerful Rangers handling the upstarts for the title. I know the press considered us upstarts still at that point- but I was really convinced that despite our youth, we were a battle tested club by then. We had fought through the long season and had many ups and downs, but the squad had shown tons of heart and determination. I wasn't worried about that, but I was worried about early nervousness, and as it turned out- the entire match was pretty much a heart-stopper for both clubs.

We did have one advantage going into the match. We were one goal ahead of Rangers on differential, so they had to beat us to win the title- if we drew, then we would gain the title.

Rangers had a brilliant chance right away as Arthur Numan crossed to Stephen Hughes and he outleaped Alan Archibald- but Brownie snagged it and held on for the save. At 14 minutes, the referee whistled Brownie for bashing into Tore Andre Flo in the area and I held my breath when he reached for the card- it was yellow. I remember sighing with relief, despite the ensuing penalty, because a redcard there would have doomed us. When Brownie saved Shota Arveladze's penalty kick and Mark Kerr cleared the ball away- you could sense the huge cloud lifted off our club- and the stunned crowd of Ibrox. At 18 minutes, it was Stefan Klos to the rescue for the Rangers as he parried Kevin Twaddle's hard shot and then tipped Mark Kerr's rising rebound shot over the net. On the ensuing corner, Steven Nicholas soared above Ronald de Boer and though Klos got a bit of it- it trickled into the net to give us the 1-0 lead. Shortly after Martin Wood missed inches wide and Twaddle was very unlucky as his 25 yard blast eluded Klos, but bounced off the post. Fernando Ricksen missed just wide at 32 minutes, and Brownie denied a Barry Ferguson free kick, before Hughes drilled one off the post in a burst of Ranger pressure. In the 39th minute it was Klos again as he made a dazzling stop of Twaddle after Mark Kerr had zinged a nice pass in to him. Klos was also equal to the good chance we had on a corner in extra time, as he smothered the ball before Nicholas could do anything.

It was still a slightly apprehensive club at halftime- I could sense they couldn't believe that we were ahead of Rangers and that they thought the roof might fall in anytime. All I asked them to do was go out and play with the same kind of heart and effort they had shown all season- and let the chips fall where they may. Brownie again stymied Arveladze when he picked up a loose ball and came in alone in the opening moments of the 2nd half. Wood and Twaddle both missed over the net in middling chances for us as we managed a small amount of pressure. The huge crowd could sense the growing desperation on the Rangers part- but like me could also sense that our youngsters were starting to wear down under the pressure of the match. The whole damm place exploded when Neil McCann caught our backline looking the wrong way with a sensational cross that left Michael Ball with an easy tap-in for his 1st ever goal as a Ranger. The crowd, mostly quiet for much of the match, was now buzzing and every little nuance of play was generating enthusiasm or booing depending on the circumstance.

It was about as intense a glare as the spotlight could ever offer- would we wilt?

'Gers were piling on the pressure, but we were working hard on defense and denying them good chances. Ronald de Boer missed inches wide with a 20 yard blast at 83 minutes- but that had been their first real shot since the goal. Fernando Ricksen went by Kerr on the dribble, but when he boomed his shot- Steven Hammell was there to deflect it away off his body. With time running out in extra time, Rangers got a bounce and had one more corner. McCann's soaring, curving ball went into the near post, but when Stephen Pearson headed it back out to midfield and the whistle blew ending the match- it was very quiet in Ibrox. Our players just stood around a moment- most of them too tired to really realize it- and then there was bedlam as our reserves and the players not dressed for the match ran onto the pitch and began our celebration. The draw was our ticket to the title.

Apologies to readers- a bad floppy meant I lost the final table and stats

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Thanks Educated- the whole match was a nail-biter, because they have a lot of offensive weapons on 'Gers

***

What did the win mean to me? When? Oh, at the time. Well, to be truthful it took a day or so to sink in. The celebration after the match, the cavalcade back to Motherwell and Fir Park, the celebrations there- those were all grand and a good time- but it hadn't begun to sink in yet. I was proud as hell that we had fought and won, and in the back of my mind the justification for my Scottish bent was now partially fulfilled, but mostly I was thinking already about the summer and a chance to play in Champions League next season. Here are some pictures from Ibrox and the celebration in Motherwell after. We all looked pretty happy, don't we? The squad was so young back then I have a hard time believing it had sunk in for them either.

Yes, I did get a lot of criticism for beginning player moves so soon after winning, but people have to remember football is a business as well as a sport and the best time to begin thinning out your roster is as soon as your season has ended. We had quite a large fund remaining- since the Board's generous contribution, which I had really only used to get Steven Milne and re-sign Mark Kerr- so we were able to look seriously at some players that were now ready to consider playing for us, with us having won the SPL title and on our way to Champs Cup next season.

I remember being surprised as I watch Dortmund upset heavily favored Barcelona in extra time in the UEFA Final that season. Amoroso scored the lone goal and the German side held Barca away from their net- manhandled them to put it bluntly.

I actually went to see Lazio battle Real Madrid in the Champions Cup Final, since it was at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Lazio beat them 2-1 in extra time when Fabiano Liverani scored, but Hernan Jorge Crespo was the star of the match. I also was on hand to watch Celtic take their fair share of revenge against Rangers as they drubbed them 3-0 in the Scottish Cup Final. Heskey had a pair of goals and Chris Sutton the other as they rolled over the 'Gers.

In the awards, Heskey was inexplicably named Scottish Player of the Year- despite having come over midseason, with Chris Sutton runner-up and Tore Andre Flo finishing in 3rd. Motherwell players swept the ballot of the Young Player of the Year as Stephen Pearson won, Steven Nicholas finished 2nd and Richard Montgomery 3rd. We placed 7 players on the Players Team of the Year for the SPL. Kevin Twaddle, Stephen Pearson, Steven Nicholas, Mark Kerr, Richard Montgomery, Alan Archibald and Mark Brown were all named Starters on the squad.

The player moves started right after that. Tom Cowan was let go on free to St.Johnstone. Derek Clarke was off to Napoli in Italy for 550K. Paul Harvey signed on Bosman with Hearts. The two new players I brought in were Neil Scally 525K from Ayr and Ross Forsyth 725K from St.Johnstone. In effect we swapped a 32 year old Cowan for the 19 year old Forsyth as Hammell's backup at Leftback. Scally was brought on board because I wanted another younger DMC to apprentice with Billy McKinlay and Scott Leitch (along with Billy Macdonald that is).

Celtic raided us during that stretch. You don't remember who that was? It was Martyn Corrigan that they nabbed- he was about the last player on the club with a minimum fee release, so they bid it and I was forced to let him go. To be honest, I thought Maurice Ross might turn out to be a superior rightback, but he wasn't due to join us from Rangers until July 1st. That was why I pursued Craig McEwan- I had tried to land him before the season, but Ayr wouldn't part with him then. This time he was on the transfer list at his request- it was a bargain to land him for 230K and I believed he could develop into a valuable rightback at the time.

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After the summer respite, we were back to training for the new season. The Board was very optimistic and wanted to see us do well both domestically and in Europe. There was a 13 Million transfer fund for me to tap into- to fill any holes.

The announcement of the European placements surprised me- we were the sole Scottish representitive in Champions Cup competition. Apparently Rangers hadn't fared well in recent years. Rangers, Celtic and Dundee are all placed in UEFA Cup Competition. Aberdeen was the Inter-toto qualifier.

For some odd reason Dundee United waited until early July to fire Alex Smith. Despite the fact he had been on shaky ground for quite awhile, it was still a bit stunning to see the Chairman utter that it was because of "Poor League Position"- I mean that takes a lot of gall to call it that way, when the League hasn't even started. It was shortly after they named Graeme Souness as their new manager.

In a result that wasn't too surprising, but still was entertaining to watch- Brazil edged France 1-0 to win the World Cup. Ronaldo scored the lone goal before he had to leave with an injury.

To try to ease some of the exposure to Europe- we played all our friendlies against European Clubs. We did ok- I wasn't worried much about winning, more was worried about realizing the tempo of European clubs would be higher than they were used to against most Scottish Clubs. I wasn't worried too much in that regard, since we played an up tempo attacking-passing style, and our overall speed was good.

We made a couple 'rounding out' additions to the club before the friendlies. The most important of those was adding Kiegan Parker for 2.2 Million. I was convinced at the time that he was the best young forward in Scotland- he was only 20 and had Capped during the year- and was eager to add him. We also added Roddy McKenzie on Bosman as our 3rd keeper. I wasn't looking for one of the other young Scottish keepers- I already had two that I liked- so was instead looking for someone who could be content in the number 3 spot- yet still have enough talent to fill in if needed. McKenzie fit the bill nicely and was happy to sign. Maurice Ross finally arrived from Rangers and would be our starting rightback. Also arriving, almost a stealth signing, was midfielder Philip Creaney. Our last big signing before the friendlies brought another midfielder I liked a lot- Stephen Whalen on board for 1.1 Million. His cost was offset by the sale of Stephen Cosgrove to Luton for 1.2 Million. We also released a few of the youngsters, since they didn't appear to be working out and none of coaches were sold on their bright futures.

We found out early that we would be playing either NI powerhouse Linfield or Portugese side Benfica in the 3rd round of the Champions Cup. It looked like an unlucky draw- given some of the other powderpuff clubs that were also in the draw, but it also seemed like a worthy test for us to start with- and hopefully gain some confidence with.

What was the squad like heading into the season? Mostly I would say they were ready. Ready for Europe, ready for League play, ready for a long- grinding season. The previous season had proven to them that they could be a good club, now they needed to prove it again- like all good clubs do. I thought we had enough depth now to be able to handle the rigors of Europe added to the League play- but the proof would be on the pitch and not on paper.

Our keepers were again Brownie, John Connolly and new addition McKenzie. Our starting backline was going to be Steven Hammell, Alan Archibald, Richard Montgomery and Maurice Ross. Depth on the backline would come from Ross Forsyth, Paul Ritchie, Eddie Forrest, Brian McAllister, Barry McLaughlin, Mark Slater, Brian Dempsie and Craig McEwan. The starting midfield would again be Mark Kerr, Stephen Pearson, Steven Nicholas and Billy McKinlay. The midfield depth would be Keith Lasley, Martin Fotheringham, Stephen Whalen, Willie Howie, Stuart Davidson, Philip Creaney, Kevin McDonald, Paul Lindsey, Scott Leitch, Neil Scally and Billy Macdonald. Up front was new addition Kiegan Parker, Kevin Twaddle, Martin Wood, Steven Milne, Jermaine McSporran, Michael Craig, Jason Young, and Mark Gallagher. At that point I still had 11 Million in transfer funds- so had the option to get a player if I thought we needed him.

I remember hoping for a glorious start to the new season- or at least a win to help buoy our confidence...

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I was surprised at how many in the press were writing off the Rangers chances before the season. This was the same club that we went to the wire with and though there was obviously some discontent on the club- I figured them still as the club to beat.

I watched the first leg of the Linfield-Benfica 2nd round Champs Cup Group because it was in Linfield and came away very impressed with Benefica. They stomped on the Northern Ireland side for a 5-1 win and featured five different scorers- including explosive winger Simao and midfielder Beto. I knew we would have our hands full with them, as they were certain to get past Linfield now.

Our first match of the season was at Easter Road Stadium against Hibs in a televised tilt. We didn't put forth our best showing as we squandered a two-goal lead and let Grant Brebner score the equalizer midway through the 2nd half after we had taken the lead on goals from Kevin Twaddle and Stephen Pearson. Hibs looked like a stronger club this season, but there weren't any excuses for a 2-2 draw in a match we should have won.

I managed to catch the score of the Benfica-Linfield match and wasn't surprised that Benefica defeated them 3-1 to send them to play us. The first leg is at home, which I didn't know whether to regard as a big advantage- since it would have been easier to get them to focus on the road. Shouldn't complain I know- but the lack of experience was my main worry heading into Europe.

Our first home match wasn't any better than the Hibs match as we again gave away a two-goal lead and wound up with another 2-2 draw. Kevin Twaddle and Kiegan Parker (his first for us) had put us up 2-0, but Dundee United roared back when Steven Thompson and David Hannah scored for them. Brownie had saved a penalty kick in the opening moments of the match on Hannah, but we also had the match-winner ruled off when Stephen Whalen was whistled for offside. I was incensed on the call, since it was on a rebound and the initial shot wasn't offside. How in the hell could they make that call? Paul Gallacher stymied us in the closing stages- I wasn't unhappy with our play- we had played extremely well. I was unhappy with the refereeing though, I thought it was spotty work at best.

We were very jittery in the opening stages of hosting Benfica. Beto hit the each post once and Simao, Zlatko Zhovic and Mantorras all came close but Brownie was showing he was very sharp for the match with some excellent work. After their initial pressure we settled down a bit, but they weren't allowing us any good chances. They were doing an excellent job marking out our midfield and it was disrupting our passing game. It was an up-n-down battle on the pitch as we weren't allowing them much room either. It was a huge boost to us when Alan Archibald started with a sensational pass that Steven Hammell ran onto, Hammell then crossed beautifully and Mark Kerr headed past Robert Enke. The huge Fir Park crowd (it was a record crowd) exploded and though Benfica came close twice more in the closing moments- they were celebrating our 1-0 halftime lead. It had been a pretty rough first half and Benfica was already sporting three yellow cards, but that didn't seem to dent their aggressiveness in the 2nd half. It wound up working to our advantage when Paulo Medeira knocked Steven Nicholas off the ball. Fortunately it bounced right to Kiegan Parker and he blasted it home for our 2nd goal. Benfica lost a little of their concentration with that goal and we put together a spectacular passing play that saw Mark Kerr loft one for the streaking Parker and Kiegan deflected it past the out of position Henke- and just like that it was 3-0. I remember my main concern at that point was to try and keep them off the board. That was why I subbed on Steven Milne (for a tiring Twaddle) and outside my typical choices subbed on Scott Leitch for Steven Nicholas- I wanted both Leitch and McKinlay in the match for defensive coverage in the midfield. It wound up working a charm when Argel took down Milne in the area and Maurice Ross converted the penalty kick for his 1st ever goal. The celebration was wonderful when we ran the time out on our 4-0 win and left Benfica a huge mountain to climb in the 2nd leg.

It was a surprise to see Martin O'Neill leave Celtic for Leeds that week. Because of the coaching domino, David O'Leary had abandoned Leeds for Manchester United the previous week, the Celtic job is now open. It was interesting to see how fast and with who they filled it. Nobody expected Tommy Svensson of Tromso to wind up with the job- but he was who they tabbed.

Did you see much mention of the match after the win against Benfica at Fir Park? No? I thought so. Many people ignore what our match at Aberdeen showed, but if they had really looked at it- well the other contenders should have sat up and paid attention. In the match at Pittodrie I went with many of the 2nd liners and it paid off handsomely as we beat Aberdeen 4-1 for our first League win after the two draws that started the season. Mark Kerr gave us the lead and then Stephen Whalen finally got his first goal (after the one ruled off), but Darren Mackie brought them back to a 2-1 deficit at halftime. It was very closely played in the opening portions of the 2nd half but our bench led us to the win as subs Michael Craig and Willie Howie both chipped in with goals to close out the match. Why should they have paid attention? Because, if our reserves could respond like this- it meant we had enough depth to concentrate on both our Europe adventure and the League as well.

I also managed to negotiate new contracts with both Kiegan Parker and Maurice Ross during the week. Both of them had minimum fee releases and their new contracts were specifically to remove those from the picture. Both were happy at the dressing room atmosphere and the personnel- and were willing to tie their fate to ours for the next few seasons.

The weekend Fir Park match against Hearts was an important one as well. Stephen Pearson had scored twice in the first half to give us the lead, but Hearts came on strong in the 2nd half and Bobby Ford scored in his debut to put them only a goal down. We didn't crumble this time and played very strong defense as Brownie made a couple sensational stops to keep them at one goal. In the late stages our superior fitness won out and we held on for the 2-1 win. In the key match of the day Celtic stayed undefeated when they beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox. The match winning goal came after Michael Ball was redcarded for a two footed tackle on Mohammed Sylla in the area and Chris Sutton converted the penalty kick.

Our trip to Lisbon was both exciting and inspirational. I brought in a few of the original Celtic squad- the 'Real' Lisbon Lions to talk to our young squad about their experiences here- and how to prepare for European competition. After they left, the coaching staff went over every aspect of our plans for the match- we were going to be aggressive- I felt if we could gain a goal, advancement was assured. Even if we couldn't score, I wanted us to try and take the match to them- to put pressure on them.

Our execution of the plan was flawless and Benfica really disappointed the large home crowd by winding up on their back heels the entire match. We pressured and prodded them from the opening whistle and only good play by Robert Enke and kind bounces off the posts kept us from getting at least a goal. You can more fully understand how well we played when I tell you that they only had 2 shots on Brownie at the 80 minute mark- and neither were on net. At 82 minutes, Steven Milne finally headed one that Enke couldn't snag and his goal ensured our place in the Champions Cup Group Play. We finished out for the 1-0 win and an impressive 5-0 aggregate sending off of Benfica. In the Group draw- we wound up in Group 1. It appeared to be a challenging group including Manchester United, Galatasary and Dinamo Kiev.

We were right back into the fray with our trip to Celtic. It is hard to imagine how we played so well against Benfica and then turned around and played like a train wreck at Celtic. It was embarassing and humiliating. Things looked good when Robert Douglas clipped Kevin Twaddle's foot and earned a redcard. Twaddle converted the penalty to leave the crowd stunned. But they were roaring a couple minutes later when Didier Agathe cut through our backline like swiss cheese and easily beat Brownie. Things went from bad to worse. We got *another* penalty when Barry John Corr was called for pushing Kiegan Parker, but he saved Twaddle's penalty kick. We just plain lost our concentration and focus from that moment on. Neil Lennon and Bobby Petta both scored as they carved our defense up- despite having only 10 men. I tried to get us to be more aggressive, but that backfired as well when Brownie- who had his worst match ever- just plain missed two shots in the 2nd half and Lennon's 2nd goal and Chris Sutton's goal sent us back to Fir Park with a dreadful 5-1 rout. It was a long, quiet trip back from that match. As we discussed the match after we got back to Fir Park, I made my point that it wasn't the loss that was so disappointing- we knew going in that Celtic was going to be difficult to beat- but the loss of focus on our part handed Celtic an 8 goal differential advantage- something we certainly can't afford. At least the loss came early in the season- and we have time to shake it off- it would have been devastating to lose this type of match later in the season.

A brighter moment was when Kevin Twaddle earned his 1st Cap against Belgium. Steven Nicholas scored his 1st National goal, but it wasn't enough as Belgium dumped Scotland by a 2-1 margin. They went out and defeated weak sister Moldova by a 3-1 margin in their next European Championship Group contest.

Against last placed Dunfermline, I again went with the 2nd line- though I kept Brownie in goal- since I wanted him to get right back in the saddle after Celtic knocked him off. Brownie played well and kept the clean sheet. Marco Ruitenbeek earned MOM honors, but he couldn't snare a first half header from Brian McAllister. That was McAllister's first goal here and it was the lone goal in the match- that was much more uneven than the 1-0 margin would have indicated. In a shocker, St.Johnstone edged Celtic 1-0 to hand them their first loss of the season. Rangers, Dundee and us were all very happy to see Celtic lose- they were points ahead of all of us.

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Scottish Premier Division - Monday 9th September 2002

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Celtic 6 3 0 0 13 2 2 0 1 5 4 15

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2nd Rangers 6 2 0 1 8 2 3 0 0 8 3 15

3rd Motherwell 6 2 1 0 5 3 1 1 1 7 8 11

4th Dundee 6 2 0 1 11 8 1 1 1 6 5 10

5th St. Johnstone 6 3 0 0 3 0 0 1 2 4 6 10

6th Kilmarnock 5 3 0 0 7 3 0 0 2 3 9 9

7th Dundee Utd 6 1 0 2 6 7 1 1 1 7 5 7

8th Hibs 6 2 1 0 7 4 0 0 3 2 7 7

9th Aberdeen 5 1 0 1 2 4 1 0 2 3 7 6

10th Hearts 6 1 2 0 8 7 0 0 3 3 9 5

11th St. Mirren 6 1 0 2 4 8 0 1 2 5 8 4

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12th Dunfermline 6 0 1 2 2 6 0 0 3 1 5 1

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Thanks for the comments Terk, PM7 icon_smile.gif

***

It was quite a sight. Looking out onto the Fir Park pitch and watching storied Manchester United warming up. It certainly was intimidating for our young club- seeing Beckham, Keane, Giggs, van Nistlerooy, Cole, and last season's English Player of the Year Juan Sebastien Veron warming up to face us. We paid for that awe in the 4th minute when Varon caught Alan Archibald flat footed and knocked a header past Brownie on a cross from Beckham. They quickly found out we might be a young side, but we are plucky as we battled them and actually were taking control of the midfield for stretches. In the 28th minute it was Steven Hammell's brilliant looping cross that Stephen Pearson got a head on and deflected past Fabien Barthez to even the match at 1-1. The fans were buzzing at halftime as we had staved off a furious ManU rally late in the first half to keep it at the same score going to halftime. Kiegan Parker left with an ankle injury early in the 2nd half and that forced me to move Steven Nicholas up to forward to replace a tiring Kevin Twaddle. It turned into a divine move when Nicholas scored his first goal of the season at 78 minutes when Pearson chipped a pass to him. We couldn't withstand the ManU flurry to close the match and Veron got free to score his 2nd of the match at 86 minutes. We wound up with a 2-2 draw, a result that was certainly acceptable to me- but I couldn't help thinking how nice it would have been to actually beat them...

In the first round, first leg of UEFA competition- Aberdeen and Dundee both won at home by 1-0 margins. Celtic took an easy 3-0 win, but Rangers were stunned at Ibrox as Vitesse upset them 1-0 and put them in dire straights for their 2nd leg.

We continued our inconsistent play when we travelled to Dens Park to face Dundee. A hard fought first half saw us head to halftime even at 1-1 as Georgy Nemsadze scored early for them and Stephen Pearson drilled his 5th of the season later for us. Iain Nicholson and Juan Sara took advantage of poor defensive coverage, especially on the part of struggling rightback Maurice Ross, and scored to put Dundee up 3-1 and looking like they were home free. Desperate to generate some spark in our offense, Steven Milne came on for Michael Craig and Scott Leitch replaced Billy McKinlay. Every now and then you get lucky and make the perfect move at the perfect time. Milne scored right after Sara's goal to bring us back to 3-2 and then five minutes later Kevin Twaddle scored the equalizer as Mark Kerr was making exquisite passes to set up the goals. While Dundee tried to shake off the stunning development, Kerr had one more sensational cross and Milne headed it past Michael Atkinson for the match winning goal. Dundee lost most of their will when we took the lead and it was just a matter of us closing out the win.

Next in our Champions Cup Group play was a trip to face Dinamo Kiev. I knew we couldn't take them lightly, hell we couldn't take any club lightly- and win. They had gone into hostile Galatasary and emerged with a 2-1 win, so they obviously had talent. We had several players tired from the Dundee match, but the only one I held out was Kevin Twaddle. That meant with Parker still out- it was Martin Wood and Steven Milne up front for us. Little did I know that I had unleashed the dynamic duo for this match. Kiev hadn't seen the kind of pressure we applied in the midfield and we had gained some confidence from the 2-2 draw with Manchester United. It turned out they couldn't handle the pressure and our passing attack as Milne struck for a goal midway through the half and then made a pair of pretty passes as Martin Wood scored his first two goals of the season in a 7 minute span. Suddenly we were ahead of them 3-0 and really forcing the play. They were content to fend us off and try and change their gameplan at halftime. In the second half they were a bit more cautious and that kept us from attacking much- since we were content to contest the midfield at that point. At 65 minutes we got a bonus goal from Stephen Whalen after he subbed on for a tiring Stephen Pearson and he sailed past their defense before rocketing a shot past struggling Alexndr Filimonov. The 4-0 win was a key win in setting us up for success in the Group, especially when Galatasary surprised ManU at Old Trafford and fashioned a 1-1 draw.

Promoted St. Mirren was next to visit Fir Park, and it seemed a very good time to rest the regulars. Martin Wood made certain my choice looked good when he scored in the first minute of play off a cross from Marthin Fotheringham. Stephen Whalen scored midway through the half and when Sergei Baltacha was redcarded late in the half- our visitors looked like they had little life left in them. Neil Scally cemented MOM honors with the lone goal in the 2nd half as we finished off a solid 3-0 win.

Hosting Galatasary we had a golden chance to improve our chances of getting out of the group. Instead we committed a defensive blunder in the 2nd half and handed them a 3-2 win in a match that we outplayed them in. They scored first as Birdal Coskun fired a low shot past Brownie. We quickly rallied and went ahead on goals by Mark Kerr and Kevin Twaddle. Just as quickly they were back to 2-2 when Pavel Horvath sent a header home. It was a taut match in the 2nd half and both clubs were struggling to get some offense rolling. Midway through Richard Montgomery made a youngster's mistake and overplayed a header that allowed Umit Karan to get behind him. Karan made a good move and took it around Brownie for what would be the match winner.

The schedule sure was starting to pile up and our trip to St.Johnstone seemed all too soon after the loss to Galatasary. Martin Lauchlan stung us when he gave them an early lead, but we struck back quickly as Steven Milne and Stephen Whalen scored three minutes apart to put us in the lead. Steven Nicholas added another goal and we were up 3-1 at half. St.Johnstone was intent on making things interesting and pressed us in the 2nd half- getting back to within a goal when John Paul McBride scored midway through. We finally clinched the match when Kiegan Parker, just back from injury, scored in 2nd half extra time to finish off a 4-2 win. With almost a quarter of the schedule gone- Rangers and Celtic were dueling for the top spot and we had managed to move up and hang around just off their pace in 3rd.

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Scottish Premier Division - Sunday 29th September 2002

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Celtic 9 5 0 0 17 2 3 0 1 9 5 24

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2nd Rangers 9 3 0 1 12 3 5 0 0 13 4 24

3rd Motherwell 9 3 1 0 8 3 3 1 1 15 13 20

4th Aberdeen 9 3 0 1 7 6 2 0 3 5 9 15

5th Dundee 9 3 0 2 17 13 1 2 1 8 7 14

6th St. Johnstone 9 3 0 1 5 4 0 2 3 6 11 11

7th Hibs 9 3 1 0 13 5 0 0 5 3 13 10

8th Kilmarnock 9 3 1 1 9 6 0 0 4 6 18 10

9th Dundee Utd 9 1 1 2 8 9 1 1 3 9 10 8

10th Hearts 9 2 2 1 10 11 0 0 4 3 11 8

11th Dunfermline 9 1 1 3 6 11 0 1 3 2 6 5

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12th St. Mirren 9 1 1 3 6 11 0 1 3 5 11 5

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It was good to see that all the Scottish Clubs moved on in UEFA as Rangers rallied to beat Vitesse on the road by a 2-1 margin.

We travelled to Livingston with a place in the League Cup Quarterfinal awarded to the winner. Our first half play was not particularly sharp and the Division 1 side earned a 2-1 halftime lead as Quino scored in the opening moments and then Vincent Sullivan headed past John Connolly in extra time. Our goal in the first half was Martin Wood capitalizing on slipping his marker. We came out strong in the 2nd half and Martin Fotheringham scored his 1st of the season in the opening moments to even it at 2-2. Both clubs were struggling for the key next goal when I brought on Jermaine McSporran for a tiring Kevin Twaddle. McSporran's pace split the game wide open as he ran onto a long pass and then fired a looping shot past Marius Rovde to finally gain us the lead at 74 minutes. Fotheringham then sent a blazing cross the McSporran deflected for the match clinching goal at 83 minutes. The win gave us the wonderful opportunity to travel to Celtic Park and face off against them in the Quarterfinals.

Brownie earned a very tough first Cap for Scotland- as he was selected as keeper in their match in Paris against France. Predictably, France won the match- though the 2-0 score reflected well on his efforts in net.

Kilmarnock visited Fir Park next. They hadn't done too well this season, but remained a very tough foe- especially with Colin Stewart in net, someone who had stymied us before. Stewart and friendly posts and crossbars kept the visitors in the match in the first half. We swarmed around their net- but couldn't score. In one sequence Steven Milne hit the post and Mark Kerr drilled one off the crossbar. We finally broke through against Stewart when Stephen Pearson deflected a Craig McEwen looping cross over Stewart at 62 minutes. It looked like the match was over when Jermain McSporran (on for tiring Steven Milne) notched our 2nd goal at 84 minutes as he vollyed a winner on a pass from Kiegan Parker, but Kilmarnock didn't have any quit in them and came roaring back when Craig Dargo drove a low shot past Brownie. We didn't yield in the closing moments though and hung on for the 2-1 win.

Partick Thistle stomped on Stenhousemuir to win the Scottish Challenge Cup by a 6-1 margin. Their free flowing attack in the match looked very similar to ours and it was a bit surprising to hear veteran manager John Lambie comment that he taken some of our ideas and adapted them for his club.

Our return match against Galatasaray was next and with our loss to them at Fir Park, we had put ourselves in a situation where we almost needed a win to have a chance of advancing from our Group. The early portions of the first half we really put our best foot forward and Kevin Twaddle was our leader as he scored a pair of goals on blistering low shots past Inan Kerem. Our youth and inexperience showed then- as we relaxed and they were all over us. Capone and Umat Karan struck three minutes apart and suddenly we were back to 2-2 and into halftime with them having all the momentum. Starting the second half, you could see something different about the club. To my eyes, it looked like the grim determination of a seasoned club, and after losing to them in that close 2nd half at Fir Park it looked like we wanted to return the favor. Twaddle nailed his hat-trick with a header on a superb pass from Mark Kerr and we were back in the lead. Wanting to show them something different, we switched into a more defensive outlook- it was something I didn't do often. It confused them and seemed to throw them enough out of their rythym that they allowed Steven Hammell to break in on the left side with a blast. Kerem parried the shot, but Billy McKinlay picked a perfect moment to come up with his 1st goal of the season to make it 4-2. They came back at us, but when Umat Karan's goal was ruled off on his offside at 83 minutes- that removed the last vestige of heart from them and we finished out the match quietly. The win meant that if we could beat Dinamo Kiev- our chances of finishing 2nd to ManU were good- we had the goal differential on Galatasary due to our win.

Our weekend league tilt worried me as we hosted Aberdeen. They were right behind us in the standings in 4th place, but I still had to go with our 2nd line players in the match as most of the first liners were still knackered from the hard match at Galatasary. Depth is why you can succeed in both Europe and at home and it was an important test for us. Willie Howie scored at 30 minutes to send the Fir Park faithful into a frenzy, but Derren Young remained a nemesis for us- I swear he saved all his goals up to score against us- he wasn't that much of a scorer- and he evened the match by beating Brownie at 37 minutes. The second half was a struggle and we had several players tiring- but I felt I couldn't afford to remove them because of the way the match was playing out. It paid off when Howie found Keith Lasley alone and Lasley picked an opportune moment to score his first goal of the season at the 75 minute mark. We had to survive another close chance from Young and also from Derek Young before we could claim the close 2-1 win.

The announcement that Celtic had purchased young Spanish midfielder David Hernandez from Kilmarnock for 3.2 Million had me worried. He was a promising player and the last thing we needed was for them to get stronger.

Playing at Old Trafford was about as intimidating a place as you can imagine for our young squad. Still, we were ready to battle them and during the scoreless first half we gave them all they could handle. Fabien Barthez made a fantastic reaction save when Gary Neville deflected a hard Stephen Pearson shot. Mark Kerr had a wonderful chance when he broke in alone and beat Barthez with a rising shot, but it carromed off the upright and we were still scoreless at halftime. In the second half, we couldn't handle powerful Ruud van Nistlerooy. He gave ManU the lead at 70 minutes after Brownie made an excellent parry of an Andy Cole blast. He finished us off at 82 minutes when Gary Neville crossed to him at the far corner of the net and he knocked it past a diving Brownie. The loss was disappointing, but we gave a good effort and were in the match for much of the way. I thought that was a very encouraging sign of our development. We also got a huge boost when Dinamo Kiev crushed Galatasary by a 4-0 margin. It meant that if we could win or draw at Fir Park against Dinamo Kiev, we would advance as the 2nd place club in the Group.

Our road trip to Dundee United was spoiled by the hot goalkeeping of Paul Jarvie. He made several sensational stops and kept us off the board, which was enough to allow them to beat us 1-0 when Tassos Venetis chipped one over Brownie midway through the first half. Good execution, good effort- lousy result, it happens like that sometimes.

In UEFA Cup 2nd round Aberdeen and Celtic moved on, but Rangers were knocked out by Ajax and Dundee was crushed by CSKA Sofia.

We were off to a flyer as we hosted Hibs when Steven Milne deflected a Keith Lasley cross past Dirk Heinen in the 2nd minute. Hibs got theirs right back when Steven Tosh strolled through our backline and blasted it past John Connolly. Martin Wood put us back on top midway through the half as he pounced on a rebound and put it over Heinen. Hibs was rallying in the opening moments of the 2nd half when Willie Howie raced away on their defense. When Heinen was forced to pull him down as he went around him it earned him a redcard and Maurice Ross converted the penalty kick for a 3-1 lead. Hibs was demoralized at that point and we kept continual pressure on them- including Paul Ritchie's first goal for us on a corner to make the final margin 4-1.

Our chances of moving on to the 2nd round of Champions Cup Group Play were in our hands as we faced Dinamo Kiev at Fir Park. We started out on the wrong foot when Brownie missed an easy shot and Vitaly Kosovskiy wound up with his first ever goal at the 8 minute mark. We didn't panic and turned up the midfield pressure on them. The pressure generated many chances, but Alexandr Filimonov was everywhere and we were getting frustrated with our inability to get one by him. Kevin Twaddle showed once again how much of a clutch player he was when he outraced a defender and then angled a shot past Filimonov off the post to square things at 1-1. It looked like we had gone up 2-1 late in the half when Steven Nicholas scored, but the goal was ruled off on the offside call on Nicholas. It was a nervous start to the 2nd half and Kiev came very close to retaking the lead, but Brownie made a dazzling stop on Alexandr Melaschenko. Everyone breathed a big sigh of relief when Andrey Nesmachny deflected a blistering shot by Nicholas past Filimonov to put us up 2-1. Kiev had heart, but we had the better club and Mark Kerr pounced on a rebound to finish them off in the 3-1 win that meant we advanced.

Our reward for advancing- a Group with Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid.

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Thanks Educated icon_wink.gif *chuckle* I don't worry too much about it- the boys needed this type of experience at the time anyway icon_smile.gif

***

I had been warning the boys all season that we were in everyone's bullseye- as holders in the SPL- and they couldn't afford to take any match lightly. We received a vivid demonstration of that in our trip to East End Park to face last place Dunfermline. Stewart Petrie outleaped Paul Ritchie and headed past Brownie to give them a quick 1-0 lead. We were fortunate to head to halftime even at 1-1 due to Keith Lasley's header past Derek Stillie on what would be our only shot on goal in the first half. At halftime, we made some adjustments and played better in the 2nd half- finally shutting down their midfield. At 57 minutes Lasley made a looping pass in that Steven Milne volleyed past a surprised Stillie for what would turn out to be the match winning goal. Both clubs battled hard down the stretch, but good chances were few with both defensive coverages performing effectively.

The day after the match Billy Macdonald came to me with a request to be placed on the transfer list. I explained that I would not put him on the transfer list at his request, but that I would place him on the transfer list at my request. I didn't explain it to him, but I refuse to let the player control his placement on the list- it needs to be at the club's option in my view.

We had our golden chance for revenge against Celtic as we hosted them at Fir Park- but they showed us why they are such a strong club this season. The early going was wonderful- we were very sharp and Steven Nicholas scored at 24 minutes to give us the lead. When Kevin Twaddle also scored the fans were buoyant- as was I. Celtic quickly rallied as Emile Heskey overpowered Richard Montgomery to head past Brownie at 34 minutes. We still took the lead to halftime, but everyone could sense the momentum shift to them early in the 2nd half. They evened the match at 2-2 when Chris Sutton outleaped Alan Archibald and deflected it past Brownie. We all went home completely disappointed when our nemesis, Joos Valgaeren, headed a free kick from Heskey past Brownie at 85 minutes for the match winning goal. The loss means we are nearing midseason and Celtic and Rangers are basically running away in the top 2 spots at present.

Opening our 2nd round Champions Cup Group Play after the disheartening loss was tough. The boys were tired from the grueling Celtic match and then we had to turn around and play Juventus- but at least it was at Fir Park. It may have been Tuesday night, but it was a packed house and our fans saw themselves a match!. Tired or not, we were out to show all the pundits who were writing our chances off that we belonged in the 2nd round. Early on, Juventus was showing us why they are leading Serie A, as their crisp passing was making us scramble and we couldn't get anything working. They took the lead when Paul Ritchie was called for pushing Marcelo Salas in the area and Alessandro Del Piero converted the penalty kick at 26 minutes. I am certain our fans thought things were a bit grim at that point, but Kevin Twaddle stepped up and gave us his veteran leadership again. He and Mark Kerr took over in the offensive end and only the fact that Giunluigi Buffon was in the form that won him European Keeper of the Year last season prevented us from evening the match. Twaddle also was unlucky and rang one hard off the post past Buffon. In extra time, Kerr's sleight of dribble and lob pass put Twaddle in alone on Buffon and as he challenged Kevin, he surprised him by a beatiful lobbed shot that went over Buffon from 25 yards to send us to halftime even at 1-1. We stunned them in the opening moments of the 2nd half as Steven Nicholas scorched a shot past Buffon from the edge of the area. They were a veteran club and didn't even waver as they turned up the heat on Brownie. He kept them at bay until Pavel Nedved deflected a cross from Matteo Brighi for the equalizer at 58 minutes. They forced more of the play after that- but Brownie was stellar and kept them at two. We missed one more golden chance when Mark Kerr's rising shot sailed past Buffon, but bounced firmly back off the crossbar. The 2-2 draw was a nice statement on how our club is developing. In the other half of our Group Real Madrid hosted Bayern and handily beat them 2-0.

Back to League play and we were set to face off against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. It was a match where I was resting some of our first line players and that worked well as super performances by both Mark Kerr and Stephen Whalen were enough to allow us to edge them 3-2. Whalen scored a pair of first half goals as he bedeviled the Kilmarnock backline with his pace and elusiveness. They rallied early in the 2nd half when new acquisition Alex Burke scored on his debut for them. We went back up 3-1 when Kerr crossed to Steven Milne for a half-volleyed winner past Colin Stewart at 66 minutes. It was a needed goal as Kilmarnock stormed back and Andy McLaren blistered a shot past Brownie to make it 3-2 with ten minutes left. We survived their try to even the match and finally fended them off to hang on for the win.

We dominated Dundee in our next match at Fir Park, but we ran into a brick wall named David Klein. The Frenchman allowed us a 2nd minute goal from Mark Kerr, but nothing else. Dundee evened the match in the 15th minute when Juan Sara escaped Paul Ritchie's marking and drove a shot past John Connolly. The match turned into a bitter disappointment for us when we controlled most of the 2nd half, only to see Patrizio Billio head a cross from Iain Nicholson past Connolly in extra time to give the visitors a 2-1 win.

I always hesitate when discussing officiating, because generally nothing good can come from any criticism, but frustration got the better of me following our 2-1 loss to Hearts at Tynecastle Park. The referee had overruled his assistant and took away an early equalizer by Steven Nicholas after Scott Wilson's header past Brownie had given them the early lead. He then waved off a flag in the area as Martin Wood was knocked down. We managed to finally even the match at 1-1 when Wood scored at 57 minutes only to see the referee whistled Alan Archibald for bumping Gary Wales in the area. All our players were furiously protesting when Richard Hastings fired the penalty kick past Brownie. We were left with another frustrating loss as Antti Niemi was superb in keeping our desperate rallies away as we tried to get back to even. Rangers and Celtic fought to a 3-3 draw to leave Rangers still leading by a point as we trail far behind in 3rd place at the mid-season mark. We also lost Maurice Ross for three months due to a knee injury.

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Scottish Premier Division - Saturday 30th November 2002

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Rangers 18 8 0 1 23 4 8 1 0 27 9 49

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2nd Celtic 19 8 2 0 30 10 7 1 1 19 10 48

3rd Motherwell 18 6 1 2 19 11 5 1 3 21 19 35

4th Aberdeen 19 5 1 3 13 13 5 0 5 11 15 31

5th Dundee 19 6 0 4 29 22 2 3 4 13 22 27

6th St. Johnstone 19 7 2 1 17 11 0 4 5 13 22 27

7th Dundee Utd 19 4 1 4 18 16 2 1 7 13 16 20

8th Hearts 19 4 3 3 18 19 1 2 6 8 19 20

9th Hibs 19 4 3 2 18 14 1 1 8 10 26 19

10th Kilmarnock 19 3 3 4 14 15 2 1 6 12 24 19

11th St. Mirren 19 3 1 5 12 15 1 3 6 12 21 16

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12th Dunfermline 19 1 2 6 10 18 1 1 8 9 18 9

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I agree with your sentiments about the draw PM7- might as well have the challenge there- as later you will anyways...

***

See that picture there? Yes, that one on the right- Brownie stretched full out, turning a shot around the post. That picture is from the match when we travelled to Munich to meet Bayern in Champions Cup. That picture tells the story of the match. Brownie was invincible that day. He turned away 16 shots from one of the top clubs in Europe and we managed a scoreless draw. What is even more amazing- we didn't have a shot on goal in the entire match- they were that dominating. They threw everything and the kitchen sink- but Brownie had it all covered. We certainly didn't deserve the draw- but he earned it for us. Real Madrid beat Juventus 1-0 at Torino to move to the top of the Group.

In UEFA competition, both Aberdeen (past Croatia's Rijeka) and Celtic (crushed Rosenberg) moved on to the 4th round of play.

We finally got back to winning ways when we hosted St.Johnstone at Fir Park. Steven Milne struck twice in the first 10 minutes of play and we made those goals stand up for a 2-1 win. John Paul McBride scored in first half extra time to give the visitors some hope, but their chances vanished when Alan Main was redcarded in the 69th minute for clipping Willie Howie's foot. Even when Keith Lasley missed the penalty, we still maintained control of the remainder of the match.

It was time for another shot at Celtic. This time it was the League Cup Quarterfinal at Celtic Park. They controlled the first half of play and it was no surprise that Brownie finally missed one as Didier Agathe scored at 40 minutes to gain them the halftime lead. We were sporting a different lineup as Stephen Whalen had played too well to ignore and was starting with Steven Nicholas moving up to forward for the match. Whalen scored on a booming shot past Robert Douglas to even the match at 53 minutes and suddenly we had some momentum. Douglas stopped a pair of point blank chances from Kevin Twaddle and Brownie did the same on Emile Heskey and Chris Sutton. It was extra time for us when the 1-1 score held and both clubs suffered significant injuries at the start of extra time as Heskey left for them and Mark Kerr went off for us. In the 2nd half of extra time, Whalen scored a total fluke past Douglas as his lofted cross curled and caught the inside of the post. Celtic rallied once again as Ole Gunnar Solskaer (on for Heskey) drove a shot past Brownie. This time though fate was with us and Kevin Twaddle's volley eluded Douglas for the match winning goal in the last moments of extra time. It was a tough win- but one that we deserved. All I can remember thinking is *finally!* when we beat them.

Yep, that was the time it happened. I remember receiving all kinds of humorous grief over it- but look how he turned out. Everyone kidded me about trying to corner the market on young Scottish midfielders, but they didn't realize how close to the truth those comments were. I *was* trying to grab the best and brightest of the young Scots and Ross O'Donoghue was the best 19 year old I had seen in Scotland. Aberdeen was loathe to let him go- but 4.2 Million was too much for them to turn down. It worked well for us in another way- in that Aberdeen was both 4th and also our League Cup Semi-final opponent, so it certainly undercut their talent when they let him come to us. Why did I want him? Well, we had a cinderella season when we won the SPL, but the realities were starting to set in for us this season. Stephen Pearson was a great midfielder, but he wasn't comfortable as a playmaker. Kerr was doing a terrific job dishing the ball out for us, but was more comfortable working from the wing rather than the middle. Steven Nicholas was doing ok- but the Scottish Manager Kenny Dalglish had suggested to me that Steven really prospered when used up front- so it made sense to move him up to forward occasionally. Stephen Whalen was also coming on strong- as evidenced by the Celtic League Cup match. It was an embarassment of riches- but I also had a 17 Million transfer fund, so could afford to try and grab the players I wanted at the time.

You know the discouraging thing about heading into our makeup match hosting Rangers (it was our first time against them that season) was the fact that both 'Gers and Celtic had only lost 1 match each at this time of the season. Even if we had played as well as we did last season, we couldn't have kept up with that torrid pace. We stung them in the first half of the match when Stephen Pearson struck at 34 minutes off a good pass from Billy McKinlay to give us the lead. Rangers had the jump in the 2nd half though and we looked tired as they were a step ahead of us all over the pitch. Barry Ferguson showed why he is the best midfielder in Scotland as he broke through to hammer a Ronald De Boer cross past Brownie. They tried to win the match, but we had enough left in our tank to work hard and stave them off to wind up with a 1-1 draw. The draw left them still in front of Celtic, with us firmly locked into 3rd place.

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Scottish Premier Division - Wednesday 18th December 2002

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Rangers 21 9 0 1 25 4 9 2 0 29 10 56

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2nd Celtic 21 9 2 0 31 10 8 1 1 21 10 54

3rd Motherwell 21 7 2 2 22 13 6 1 3 23 20 42

4th Aberdeen 21 5 1 4 13 15 5 1 5 11 15 32

5th Dundee 21 6 1 4 30 23 2 3 5 13 24 28

6th St. Johnstone 21 7 2 2 17 12 0 4 6 14 24 27

7th Hibs 21 5 3 2 20 14 2 1 8 14 26 25

8th Dundee Utd 21 4 2 4 20 18 2 2 7 14 17 22

9th Hearts 21 4 4 3 18 19 1 3 6 10 21 22

10th St. Mirren 21 3 1 6 13 17 2 3 6 15 22 19

11th Kilmarnock 21 3 3 5 14 19 2 1 7 12 26 19

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12th Dunfermline 21 1 2 7 11 21 1 1 9 9 19 9

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Why did I buy Christian Dailly? Because he was available- nah, just kidding. He was available from West Ham who were trying to get rid of him. The main reason I got him was because we could use his veteran leadership. This was a player who was skipper of Scotland- perfect to bring to our club. With both Kevin Twaddle and Billy McKinlay starting to show signs of aging rapidly this season, we really needed another leader to step in. Whether on the pitch or in the dressing room I was convinced that Dailly could help, and that made him worth the 1.7 Million and the large contract.

Dailly was right into the lineup as we travelled to Ibrox. We really played a lackluster match in losing to the 'Gers 1-0 on Ronald De Boer's 27th minute header. The Board let me know they were unhappy with our effort, indeed I was also very unhappy with our effort. I didn't mind losing, but I did mind going like lambs to the slaughter and that is how we played in this match. The only highlight was another strong match from Brownie- who was cementing his reputation as Scotland's top keeper.

Easter Road Park was our next match the day after Christmas and we are reeling a bit with injuries. Mark Kerr, Neil Scally (who was playing extremely well in defensive midfield role) and Kiegan Parker were all out with injury. I was forced to use Paul Ritchie as a rightback- with Craig McEwen suffering from a light nock and Steven Hammell also went out the day before the match with a bad ankle. Shortly into the match, we lost Kevin Twaddle as well (for a month to a bad knee)- and we played a rudderless first half. Hibs poured the pressure on while we struggled, but Brownie kept the sheet clean til halftime. Early in the second half it was MOM Grant Brebner who found space and rocketed a shot in to give them the lead. The goal seemed to wake us up and we answered as Steven Milne chipped past Dirk Heinen to even the match. On a Billy McKinlay corner, Alan Archibald outleaped two defenders and deflected it past Heinen to score the eventual match winning goal. Brownie was forced to survive a furious rally by Hibs, but when he pushed Brebner's last second blast around the post- we had held on for an undeserved 2-1 win.

Back at home against Dunfermline, I was hoping we would settle down and play a steadier match. Adding Christian Dailly seems to have helped our backline a lot- and really the club as he took over as captain (nobody would dispute that the captain of Scottish National side shouldn't be our captain- even though just arrived). With Martin Wood and Steven Milne paired up for the first time up front- Dunfermline found a combination their backline couldn't handle. Wood centered a pass for Milne and he headed past Marco Ruitenbeek for an early lead. Ross O'Donoghue showed his passing ability with a lofted ball that Milne half-volleyed for a winner and we were up 2-0 at the halfway mark in the first half. O'Donoghue picked off a rebound in extra time and he blasted it in to give us a 3-0 halftime lead. Dunfermline came out with little determination to make a game of it in the 2nd half and the entire half went quickly and quietly as we settled for the 3-0 margin.

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Scottish Premier Division - Tuesday 31st December 2002

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1st Rangers 24 11 0 1 29 5 9 2 1 29 11 62

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2nd Celtic 24 10 2 0 32 10 9 2 1 27 14 61

3rd Motherwell 24 8 2 2 25 13 7 1 4 25 22 48

4th Aberdeen 24 5 2 5 15 19 5 1 6 12 18 33

5th Dundee Utd 24 6 2 4 24 20 3 2 7 15 17 31

6th Dundee 23 6 1 4 30 23 2 4 6 16 28 29

7th Hibs 24 6 3 4 24 17 2 1 8 14 26 28

8th St. Johnstone 24 7 2 3 18 15 0 4 8 15 29 27

9th Hearts 24 4 4 3 18 19 2 3 8 12 24 25

10th Kilmarnock 24 4 3 5 16 19 3 1 8 15 28 25

11th St. Mirren 23 4 2 6 17 20 2 3 6 15 22 23

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12th Dunfermline 24 2 2 8 13 24 1 1 10 9 22 12

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After January 1st, we started seeing the club getting healthier again. They trickled back, but soon after we had Steven Nicholas, Kiegan Parker, Mark Kerr, etc... all back and ready to go. It was a pleasant dilemma to try and find playing time for all of them, but the kind of problem that managers want.

Pittodrie was always a tough place for us- Aberdeen seemed to really relish their chances to play us there. We took a little life out of the crowd when Stephen Pearson blistered a shot past Francis Javier Sanchez Broto in the opening moments of the match. We missed a chance to go up two goals later in the half when Mark Kerr shot wide of a wide open net. Midway through the 2nd half, Brownie earned a yellow card for apparently clipping Quino's foot in the area. He made up for the call by pushing Darren Young's penalty kick over the cross bar to keep the clean sheet. We clamped down on them after that point and settled for a tough 1-0 road win.

One encouraging sign since the arrival of Christian Dailly was our work on the defensive side of the ball. We weren't giving away good opportunities as much and were making Brownie's job easier. We demonstrated that again as we hosted Dundee United at Fir Park. We played a smothering defense that only allowed them 5 shots for the match, and all but one of those were at range and not close-in. That was good enough to allow Stephen Pearson's 25th minute penalty conversion to be the winning margin in a close 1-0 match. The penalty came about when David McCracken fouled Mark Kerr in the air on a corner.

In our 3rd round Scottish Cup match we hosted Division 1 Ross County at Fir Park. We were very inhospitable hosts as the 2nd line took advantage of playing time to make some good impressions. Steven Nicholas and Martin Wood scored on excellent chances and we had a 2-0 lead at the 12 minute mark. Martin Fotheringham was all over the midfield in the match and volleyed a winner for us to take a 3-0 lead at halftime. We were content to staunchly defend the net the rest of the way and John Connolly earned another clean sheet in the 3-0 win.

It was another trip to Celtic Park and surprisingly, I wasn't dreading it. We were playing really well and I was hopeful that this time we would give them a tough battle. The fans certainly got their money's worth at that one. They were screaming when Jamie Smith's early goal was waved off on an offside. Steven Milne helped silence them at 25 minutes when his header slipped past Robert Douglas to give us the lead. Celtic evened the match at 39 minutes when Shaun Maloney made a brilliant move on Ross O'Donoghue and slipped the ball past Brownie. They took the lead at 50 minutes when Mark Fotheringham boomed home a shot after Chris Sutton laid the ball off for him. It was funny, but I could sense our club shift into overdrive then- and our pressure and passing took control of the match. Billy McKinlay scored to even the match at 72 minutes- moments after Milne's 2nd goal of the match had been ruled off on an offside. Celtic responded and went ahead again as Paul Lambert scored his first of the season at 85 minutes. During many points of the season- this would have been the end for us- instead this time we got after them and Kiegan Parker knocked a volley past Douglas to allow us to salvage a 3-3 draw. If Brownie had played anywhere near his normal self- we would have won the match outright, but this was his poorest match since the other Celtic debacle. The draw was heartening, but we are certainly looking like we will be locked into a 3rd place finish this season.

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Scottish Premier Division - Wednesday 5th February 2003

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2002/3 Table

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Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won Drn Lst For Ag Pts

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1st Rangers 26 12 0 1 34 5 10 2 1 33 12 68

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2nd Celtic 27 11 3 0 40 13 10 2 1 31 17 68

3rd Motherwell 27 9 2 2 26 13 8 2 4 29 25 55

4th Aberdeen 26 5 2 6 15 20 6 1 6 13 18 36

5th Dundee 26 7 1 5 35 27 2 5 6 18 30 33

6th Dundee Utd 27 6 2 5 25 24 3 3 8 17 20 32

7th Hearts 27 6 5 3 25 22 2 3 8 12 24 32

8th Hibs 26 6 3 4 24 17 2 2 9 15 32 29

9th St. Johnstone 27 7 2 4 18 16 0 5 9 15 31 28

10th Kilmarnock 26 5 3 5 19 20 3 1 9 15 33 28

11th St. Mirren 27 4 4 6 20 23 2 3 8 16 27 25

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12th Dunfermline 26 2 3 8 13 24 1 1 11 10 25 13

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Before we play a home and away set against Real Madrid, we had to face Hearts at Fir Park. It was a good defensive performance on our part as John Connolly provided strong work in backstopping the clean sheet. Unfortunately, we never got untracked on offense and Antti Niemi had an easier time than Connolly in keeping a clean sheet of his own in the scoreless draw. Because this was a midweek tilt, I rested most of the first line to have them fresh against Real Madrid. Rangers outdueled Celtic at Ibrox in a 1-0 win on Tore Andre Flo's goal that put them 3 points clear atop the SPL, with a match in hand on 2nd place Celtic.

I was worried heading into the home portion of our pair of matches against Real Madrid. Christian Dailly went out with a bad ankle the day before the match- which meant we lost both his leadership and solid play against a club when we desperately needed it. Sometimes if you can move a club from their comfort zone- good things happen. We started that way against Real Madrid when Kevin Twaddle's volley in the 3rd minute eluded Iker Casillas and suddenly we were ahead. Real had been in front of their other matches, so this was new to them. They responded with a strong attack and in the 30th minute Fernando Morientes outleaped Alan Archibald to head past Brownie. We caught them off guard again when Steven Nicholas scored on a loose ball to put us ahead at 35 minutes. They staged a furious attack to try and even the match at the start of the 2nd half, but we were the ones who capitalized on a defensive mistake when uncovered Steven Milne scored his 15th of the season at 62 minutes to put us up 3-1. Neil Scally, playing in his first Champs Cup match because he hadn't been eligible until now, set the tone defensively as he forced Spanish attackers off the ball repeatedly- until he

had to come out with a thigh strain that will keep him out a couple weeks. He did earn MOM honors and steady Billy McKinlay came on as we closed out the match with a defensive stand that kept them at 1 goal- and left us 3-1 winners. The win moved us a point behind Real in 2nd place in the group. Juventus, which beat Bayern 3-0 at home, is a point behind us in 3rd place.

Real Madrid was out to put us in our place when they hosted us as we started our second swing through against the clubs. Their 70,000 fans were roaring when Raul outleaped Richard Montgomery and deflected a Roberto Carlos cross

past Brownie at the 6 minute mark. It was almost 2-0, but Brownie knocked Ariel Ortega's blast over the net and then smothered a good chance by Fernando Morientes. The second half started the same way, but we remained stalwart in defending the net around Brownie- keeping them from increasing the lead while we tried to get some offense going. In the 57th minute, Steven Nicholas stunned the huge crowd with a curving 25 yard blast that sailed past Iker Casillas to even the match at 1-1. Real was all over us trying to regain the advantage, but Brownie was magnificent and kept their high powered attack off the board. We had one last golden chance, but Kiegan Parker missed high when he was in alone on Casillas, and we had to settle for the 1-1 draw. Bayern dumped Juventus at home by a 3-0 margin- returning the favor. Our next match at Juventus should tell the tale on where we stand in the Group.

There are highs and there are lows during a season and often you move quickly between the extremes. Such was the case when we travelled to

Tannadice Park to face Dundee United in the 4th Round of the Scottish Cup. We played a good match overall, with plenty of chances, but Paul Gallacher had all the answers today as he kept us off the scoreboard. They had taken the early lead when we left Eddie Annand unmarked and Gary Middleton slipped a pass through to him. Brownie almost had the shot, but after deflecting it- it trickled into the net. They only had a couple more chances after that goal, but the goal was enough to broom us out of the Scottish Cup.

The day after that match was when we parted with Michael Craig. Michael had talent, but never really scored for us when he played and because of that hadn't been playing much. He wanted out- to play regularly- so I let Falkirk

complete their purchase for 1.5 Million.

We were right back at Tannadice Park for our League Cup Semifinal against Aberdeen. It was a hard fought match and they were trying to apply physical pressure on us from the start. That didn't exactly work, as we weren't intimidated and they earned four yellow cards during the course of the match. Still, they did a good job of keeping things clear around David Preece and he was playing well in net. At the 40 minute mark, Stephen Milne did a nice job of making room for himself and Billy McKinlay slipped a pass into him. Milne wheeled and sent it past Preece to give us the halftime lead. The second half was a bitter contest on the pitch, as the referee put his whistle away. Still, we held much of the flow of play and limited them to one last good chance in the closing moments. When Brownie knocked Scott Michie's shot over the net, that was the last chance as we finished out strongly to win 1-0 and would face Hearts in the League Cup Final.

A couple days after the Semifinal, another problem came to a head. I had heard rumors that Steven Nicholas wanted to move to a bigger club. He finally came to my office to discuss it- at least he came without his agent, I respected him more for that. We talked about his aspirations and I finally agreed to transfer list him- but not at his request. He promised me that he would give 110% when he played and I promised him if any club would meet my minimum transfer fee of 8 Million- then he could pursue that opportunity. It was clear that Arsenal had some interest, since their scout was around training the next day- along with Chelsea and Club Brugge's England scouts.

We further cemented our hold on 3rd place in the SPL as we played a strong match at Fir Park and defeated Kilmarnock by a 2-0 margin. Kiegan Parker struck in the first half and Martin Wood in the 2nd half as we won the match with mostly the 2nd line players starting- since our Juventus match was next and I wanted our regulars rested and ready for it. Meanwhile, the Rangers won again and Celtic lost a heartbreaking 4-3 road match to Dundee United.

What that means is Rangers are 10 points clear atop the SPL and it looks like the pre-ordained order of finish at that point should be Rangers-

Celtic- Us.

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Scottish Premier Division - Sunday 2nd March 2003

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============================================================================

====================

2002/3 Table

============================================================================

====================

Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won

Drn Lst For Ag Pts

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

1st Rangers 30 14 0 1 37 5 11 3

1 35 13 78

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

2nd Celtic 29 11 3 0 40 13 10 2

3 34 22 68

3rd Motherwell 29 10 3 2 28 13 8 2

4 29 25 59

4th Dundee Utd 30 8 2 5 30 27 4 3

8 20 21 41

5th Aberdeen 29 6 3 6 18 20 6 1

7 13 19 40

6th Dundee 30 8 1 6 40 32 2 5

8 18 35 36

7th Hibs 30 8 3 4 29 17 2 2

11 17 39 35

8th St. Johnstone 29 9 2 4 22 16 0 5

9 15 31 34

9th Kilmarnock 30 6 3 6 20 21 4 1

10 18 36 34

10th Hearts 30 6 5 4 26 25 2 4

9 12 27 33

11th St. Mirren 29 4 4 6 20 23 2 3

10 16 29 25

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

12th Dunfermline 29 2 4 8 14 25 1 2

12 10 27 15

</pre>

[This message was edited by Peacemaker7 on 30 January 2004 at 7:22.]

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Thanks PM7- not a problem icon_smile.gif

***

We were ready for the match at Torino against Juventus. I am certain they didn't expect us to come out and play like we did in the first half. I *know* their fans didn't, since there was a smattering of boos for the home club at halftime. We played the half of our lives in the first half. Here is the stat that tells the tale- we outshot them 14-3 at halftime. The 56,000 fans were stunned by our effort. They had plenty to cheer about though as Gianluigi Buffon proved why he is the best keeper in Europe as he held us to a lone goal from Stephen Pearson at the 7 minute mark. Pearson played the best match of his life and both he and Steven Milne were feeling a bit frustrated at halftime- they both had seen Buffon make last second stops of balls that appeared headed for wide openings. Juventus certainly rallied at

halftime as they stormed out and immediately came close to evening the match- only to see Brownie deny Juan Roman Riquelme and Marcelo Salas in the opening moments. When Christian Dailly headed a Kevin Twaddle corner past Buffon at 53 minutes for his 1st Motherwell goal, you could sense the anguish on the Italian sideline. It didn't last for long though as Alen

Boksic broke past Pearson and rifled a shot past Brownie off the underside of the cross bar at 60 minutes and the crowd was right back to life. I switched to a more defensive set and we held on for dear life as wave after wave of Juventus attacks washed over our midfield and backline. In the end, it was Alessandro Del Piero who had the golden chance handed to him as he was unattended. His shot sailed just wide of the post and then time finally ran out- we had beaten them 2-1. Not only that but Bayern fought Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw- we had clinched a spot in the Champions Cup Quarterfinals.

In worse news for Scottish clubs, Aberdeen and Celtic were both broomed out of the UEFA Cup in their 4th round match-ups. Aberdeen fell to AEK by a 3-0 aggregate and Celtic went down to Schalke 04 by a 4-1 margin.

Though our last group match against Bayern at Fir Park didn't mean anything as far as qualifying for the Quarterfinals, I wanted to win the match badly- I really did want to win the group. We played a steady match, challenging them when we could, playing sound defense when we had to. It was scoreless at halftime, but we had played better overall than them in the first half. The second half started the same way, but at 50 minutes Elber fired a sizzling shot that caught Brownie on the wrong foot and it sailed past him to give them the 1-0 lead. We rallied, but Oliver Kahn was a wall today and we couldn't find the niche to get a goal. It was a disappointing loss, but the fans were appreciative of the effort we put forth. As we trudged back to the dressing room, a roar went up in the crowd. The players and I looked around and one of the fans near us shouted out "Juventus 2, Real Madrid 0"- Juventus had upset Real Madrid at Madrid and we had won the group! Real Madrid still ended up 2nd over Bayern due to goals scored. It was a great feeling, even though we had backed into it- to win a group of this caliber was something to celebrate.

For how tough our Group draw was- I believe fate rewarded us for making it through as we drew Lille in the Quarterfinals. They had finished 2nd to Milan in the weakest group- but actually had more points than us in Group play- something I would emphasize in preparing for them. The other matchups were Roma versus Champs Cup holders Lazio, Manchester United versus UEFA Cup holder Dortmund, Milan versus Real Madrid.

The League Cup Final at Hampden Park was next. Hearts had been a tough club for us all season and there wasn't any reason to expect it to be easier today. We struck early this time as Steven Milne found room in front of Antti Niemi and Neil Scally made a wonderful pass to him. Milne volleyed and it sailed past Niemi for a goal in the 10th minute. From that point on, it was a wonderful display of football- the Scottish brand. Every ball was

challenged and the few shots that each side generated were very hard earned. Hearts had their best chance to even the match midway through the second half when Robert Tomaschek broke in on Brownie, but Brownie smothered the shot off his foot to keep the clean sheet. We had one more great chance, but Niemi parried Mark Kerr's shot late in the 2nd half. Neil Scally earned MOM honors and continues to justify his replacing Billy McKinlay in the lineup with his strength and physical presence on defense. When the final whistle blew, we still held the 1-0 edge and now were holders of the League Cup.

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We travelled to St.Johnstone next and with our regular midfield not fully fit- it was the 2nd liners to the rescue again. Ross O'Donoghue (slotted with the 2nd liners because he was ineligible for European Competition), Keith Lasley, Stephen Whalen and Neil Scally worked together and throttled the St.Johnstone midfield in the match. Lasley notched a goal at the 10 minute mark as Scally sprung him with a nice pass. It appeared we would go to half up 2-0, but Martin Wood's goal at 41 minutes was ruled off on his offside call. Though we controlled the match, we couldn't get the clinching goal and St.Johnstone finally came close at 78 minutes when Brownie smothered a diving header by David Hagan. We put the match away as Wood scored off an O'Donoghue pass and then finally O'Donoghue added the late capper as we finished out a strong 3-0 road win.

Oh, yes- you're right. It was just before the transfer deadline that we got him. I have to tell you I was a bit surprised that we managed to land him from Rangers. Why surprised? Well, Kenny Miller was to my mind one of the top young Scottish forwards. In retrospect, I guess it wasn't too surprising that Rangers were willing to let him go at that point- since they were on their European spending spree- adding non-Scottish players right and left. Still, I couldn't even bid their established price of 2.1 Million on him- the Board concluding that I hadn't scouted him enough to bid more than 1.6

Million. They accepted the bid, but it did take a little negotiation with Kenny to convince him to come over to us- since he was worried about

perceptions. Doubling his salary was enough to do the trick though- money talks. I really felt good about adding him- with him our forwards were now Miller, Kiegan Parker, Steven Milne, Martin Wood, Jermaine McSporran and Kevin Twaddle- I couldn't have asked for a better set of young Scots and that would have been pretty close to my wish list at the time- it was exciting to add him.

We faced struggling St.Mirren at home before Lille came for their 1st leg of the Champs Cup Quarterfinal. I was worried about a loss of focus, but I need not have- since the 2nd liners were starting again and they were eager for a chance to put another win on the table for us. Kiegan Parker scored to give us an early lead, but Christopher Wreh blew past our backline and took it around John Connolly to even the match. Just before halftime Ross O'Donoghue continued to show why he was such a valuable addition- blistering the go ahead goal. It was touch and go in the 2nd half with both clubs threatening, but Billy McKinlay put the match out of reach for us when he drilled home a 25 yard free kick past Tony Williams to finish off a 3-1 win.

Lille may have done well in their Group, but they obviously weren't expecting the kind of effort we brought against them in the first leg at Fir Park. The regulars, with a week of rest, were really ready and we were all over them from the opening whistle. Stephen Pearson stunned them by taking the ball off the whistle and driving all the way through their defense

before firing it past Gregory Wimbee in the 1st minute- to the delight of the packed house at Fir Park. Steven Nicholas scored at 12 minutes on a rising shot and then Mark Kerr struck at 24 minutes on a volley. When Kerr boomed home a free kick at 34 minutes, you could sense the heart leaving our visitors- they knew it was nigh impossible. We didn't let up in the 2nd half, though we had problems as we had two goals in a row waved off on offsides. Stephen Whalen, who subbed on for a tiring Stephen Pearson, added the final exclamation point in our 5-0 win- which left us feeling great

about the 2nd leg. In other action, Manchester United defeated Dortmund 2-0 at Old Trafford. Milan upset Real Madrid in Madrid by a 2-1 score and Roma and Lazio battled to a scoreless draw in Rome.

Next up was Rangers at Fir Park. We both had been playing well- it was a great test of our confidence and ability at this point of the season. It didn't look good early as we lost Stephen Pearson for a month to a knee

injury and Tom van der Leegte chipped a rebound past Brownie to put us behind midway through the first half. We responded well as Christian

Dailly's header quickly equalized. We took the lead to halftime when Neil Scally's header eluded Stefan Klos at 40 minutes. Rangers were out for blood to start the second half, but Brownie stopped them cold. When Kiegan Parker, on for injured Steven Milne, drove a low shot past Klos- our fans could sense that we had them. The rest of the match we concentrated on shutting them down and we handed them only their 3rd loss in 33 matches this season.

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With our match at Dens Park coming between the Rangers showdown and the 2nd

leg of Champions Cup Quarterfinal, it was another chance to rest most of the

regulars. The Dundee fans got an exciting display of wide open offensive

football as neither club played much defense in the match and neither keeper

was sharp. We jumped into the lead when Stephen Whalen knifed through their

backline to score his 10th goal of the season. Beto promptly answered for

them, but Kenny Miller- making his debut- stepped up and scored a pair of

quick goals as they had no luck in trying to mark him. Martin Wood raised

our lead to 4-1 with his 10th goal of the season before they answered back

with a late goal from Fabian Caballero to bring them back to 4-2 at half.

When Stuart Lovell scored early in the second half past John Connolly-

Dundee seemed to be right back in the match. With the pressure on, the boys

responded once more and Keith Lasley scorched a shot past David Klein. Wood

then chipped past Klein for his 2nd of the match before Jermain McSporran

took one around Klein to cap off our wild 7-4 road win. The win was a record

high scoring match for the both the SPL and Motherwell and was a good way to

head into the Playoff Group as we were assured of at least a 3rd place

finish with an outside shot at 2nd.

Our shot at 2nd disappeared in the midst of a poor performance at Tannadice

Park. Dundee United handled us nicely, as they never let us get untracked

offensively. David Hannah was a dominant player in the first half and the

goal he scored in injury time was well earned. We played a bit better in the

2nd half, but when Eddie Annand headed past Brownie, it was pretty evident

we were going to have a tough time salvaging any points from the match as

Paul Gallacher was superb in net for them. They finished out the 2-0 win and

it was worse seeing both Celtic and 'Gers winning.

Our 2nd leg of the Champions Cup Quarterfinal was expected to be

anti-climactic, since we already held a 5-0 aggregate. Still, I emphasized

that we needed to nail it down with at least one away goal. Their fans were

raucous early in the match, and with good reason as Christian Karembeu and

Jay Jak Okacha struck for goals two minutes apart in the early going. We

didn't panic and just started working harder offensively and defensively as

Stephen Whalen scored at 32 minutes to ensure our advancement. Not content

to let them have the win, we kept working hard in the second half and it

paid off when Martin Wood (on for a tiring Kevin Twaddle) pounced on a

rebound and sent it over Gregory Wimbee at 84 minutes to earn us a 2-2 draw.

Manchester United won out over Dortmund on away goals, as did Roma over

Lazio. Milan beat Real Madrid on 3-2 aggregate. The Semifinal draw brought

us a return matchup with Manchester United and an all-Italian Roma-Milan

matchup on the other side.

There was nothing on the line but our pride as we hosted Celtic at Fir Park.

They needed a win to try and keep pace with Rangers, but the match mattered

little to us- and the boys were very relaxed coming in. Looking back, I

really think the fact that we were becoming a seasoned club through all the

Champions Cup competition helped us a lot as we hadn't any real fear of

them- but we did respect their talent. We certainly looked relaxed as Steven

Milne scored a pair of quick goals and then Kevin Twaddle added another as

we went up 3-0 by the 21 minute mark. Robert Douglas had been

uncharacteristically unsteady in the early going, but he settled down and

that was all we could score. It was plenty enough given that our midfield

and backline was standing tall and frustrating Emile Heskey and Chris

Sutton. Brownie kept the sheet clean as we knocked them off 3-0 and in doing

so ensured that Rangers clinched the Championship of the SPL.

Mark Kerr finally earned his first Cap in Scotland's 3-3 draw against

Slovenia.

Aberdeen hosted us at Pittodrie with much more on the line as they battled

Dundee United for the coveted 4th place position. They got off to a quick

start when Quino blasted a shot past John Connolly early in the first half.

We evened it midway through when Martin Wood showed superb touch on a shot

he lofted over Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto. Aberdeen went back in front

for halftime when Robbie Winters hammered home a cross from Ben Thornley. In

the opening moments of the 2nd half Kenny Miller scored the equalizer and

despite a second half featuring sparkling action that was the final score.

The draw dropped Aberdeen three points behind Dundee United.

As we faced Manchester United at Fir Park this time- the bloom was off the

rose for our players. We no longer had any awe over the very names that were

out there opposite us, they were just another difficult opponent that we

needed to play our best match to have a chance against. We stunned our

storied visitors in the 8th minute when Stephen Whalen (Stephen Pearson was

still out with injury) beat Paul Scholes on the dribble and slid the ball to

Kevin Twaddle. Twaddle used his feet well and wheeled- firing a low screamer

that Fabien Barthez just plain missed. Just like that we had a quick lead

and the standing room only crowd was in joyful celebration. ManU almost

countered just as quickly when Roy Keane crossed to a zooming Ryan Giggs,

but Brownie was alert to it and pushed the header over the crossbar. Twaddle

almost had his 2nd goal at 13 minutes, but his header skimmed the bar. The

whole place was bedlam in the 24th minute when Mark Kerr boomed a free kick

that deflected off the wall, but before anyone could react- Steven Nicholas

blasted the ball into the net for his 10th goal of the season and we were

ahead 2-0. ManU didn't panic, they just applied more pressure as Beckham was

zinging crosses to van Nistlerooy and Yorke, but Brownie stopped those and

Paul Scholes missed wide on a golden chance. It looked like they were

finally going to get one back in first half extra time when van Nistlerooy

sent a ball toward Yorke on the wide open side of the net, but Steven

Hammell put on a burst of speed and knocked the pass akilter- foiling the

play. At 64 minutes, ManU finally did strike when Beckham beat Kerr on the

dribble and crossed to van Nistlerooy. Christian Dailly had let him get a

step, and that was all van Nistlerooy needed as he deflected the Beckham

cross past a lunging Brownie to make the match 2-1. I decided that we needed

to play a bit more conservatively at that point, but bless my players for

still taking the chance to attack. We got a huge break at 73 minutes when

Wes Brown knocked over Kevin Twaddle from behind in the area. Twaddle

converted the penalty kick past Barthez and it was 3-1. ManU sent everyone

after us to try and gain another away goal, but Brownie stymied van

Nistlerooy twice and parried a booming Beckham free kick. When Yorke sent

his shot over the bar the final whistle finally sounded and we had put

ourselves in a good position with the 3-1 win. Roma had upset Milan 1-0 at

Milan in the other half of the Semifinal. Both our fans and the Board were

ecstatic over the win.

In the weekend before our trip to Old Trafford, we faced 6th place Hibs at

Fir Park. They had wound up in the Playoff Group only by accident of chance

and had played like it so far. I featured several debuts from our reserve

squad in the match- Philip Creaney and Martin Canning along with the first

senior play of the season for Mark Gallagher. Everyone played well against

dispirited Hibs. We struck early when Ross O'Donoghue scored in the opening

moments and then Kenny Miller potted two more goals (making it 5 in the 3

matches he has played for us) to give us a 3-0 halftime margin. Philip

Creaney scored in his debut as we ran out the string on the 4-0 win. Dundee

sacked Ivano Bonetti after their scoreless draw with Celtic- I remember

hoping that they would name a proper Scot as Manager.

Old Trafford again- and this time with a hint of desperation on the part of

the ManU fans. I knew going in that the first goal was crucial, if they

scored it- it would be a whole new match. ManU didn't have an answer for

Stephen Whalen though. I decided to keep him in the starting lineup, despite

Stephen Pearson being healthy, and it paid off handsomely when he drove

through the ManU midfield and smashed a shot into the low left corner of the

net past Fabien Barthez at 8 minutes. You could sense the agony in the

stands- as we had now equaled their away goal and they now needed 3 to force

extra time. We were handed a nice twist at 12 minutes, when in a fit of

frustration, Phil Neville savagely hacked down Kevin Twaddle from behind.

The referee did his duty with an immediate red card and I remember thinking

back to our debacle against Celtic earlier in the season- when we collapsed

in a similar situation. It was worrisome when Ruud van Nistlerooy headed a

Ronny Johnsen cross past Brownie at 24 minutes- but then he was ruled

offside to the complete disgust of the fans (I remember after the match

referee Dick Jol had to be escorted by police because of the Neville call

and the goal ruled off). I told the boys to continue to play their normal

match- not to go to a defensive shell- and to take counters when we could.

Fabien Barthez kept us from going further ahead with several spectacular

saves. On the ManU side- their offense seemed to be limited to long shots

from Beckham and an occasional run from Scholes- we weren't giving them much

free room. The stands at Old Trafford started emptying when Kiegan Parker

hammered home his own rebound for his 10th goal after Barthez stopped him at

75 minutes. We allowed them a late consolation goal when Paul Scholes scored

his 10th of the season at 89 minutes. The 5-2 aggregate and the 2-1 win at

Old Trafford surprised many pundits that had written on ManU coming back and

brooming us. Roma defeated Milan 2-1, so we had the pleasure of travelling

to Rome (Imagine That!) to face them in the Finals of Champs Cup.

Our final regular season match, hosting Rangers at Fir Park, had none of the

trappings or suspense like last season- when we matched up for the title.

This time around, I was playing all 2nd line players, to keep any last

injuries from interfering in the Champs Cup Final. We played hard in the

match, but Rangers were playing their first line players, so held most of

the play. We came close a couple times on Stefan Klos, but in the end it was

Shota Arveladze who scored the lone goal of the match at 72 minutes. We

finished 3rd and are no longer SPL holders, as we had known for weeks, but

weren't a lot worse than our record when we won the SPL last season.

In the UEFA Cup Finals, Schalke 04 defeated Leeds on penalties after they

fought to a 1-1 draw.

We certainly didn't need any distractions at this time, but when Jermaine

McSporran missed training (again), I put him on the transfer list. If you

don't respect your teammates enough to come to training at this point of the

season- what are you telling them. He bitched about the decision, but nobody

on the club gave him a sympathetic ear.

****************************************************************************

********************

Scottish Premier Division - Saturday 10th May 2003

****************************************************************************

********************

============================================================================

====================

2002/3 Table

============================================================================

====================

Pos Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag Won

Drn Lst For Ag Pts

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

1st C Rangers 38 17 0 1 44 7 14 3

3 43 17 96

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

2nd Celtic 38 16 3 1 56 19 11 3

4 37 25 87

3rd Motherwell 38 14 3 3 41 16 10 3

5 41 33 78

4th Dundee Utd 38 10 3 5 36 28 7 3

10 29 29 57

5th Aberdeen 38 7 4 8 25 28 8 1

10 21 33 50

6th Hibs 38 9 3 6 32 24 3 2

15 22 52 41

7th Kilmarnock 38 9 4 7 27 25 5 1

12 22 41 47

8th Dundee 38 9 1 9 50 46 4 6

9 26 41 46

9th Hearts 38 8 5 6 29 31 3 5

11 19 34 43

10th St. Mirren 38 8 5 6 32 26 3 3

13 19 36 41

11th St. Johnstone 38 10 2 8 28 29 0 5

13 19 39 37

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

12th R Dunfermline 38 4 4 10 20 34 2 2

16 15 40 24

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Here- a friend following the match on the Internet sent me this after.

21.5.03

Olimpico, Rome

Attendance- 68,645

Champions Cup Final

Motherwell (Sco) vs. Roma (Ita)

Referee- Jon E. Skjervold

Lineups-

Motherwell

GK- Mark Brown

DL- Steven Hammell

DR- Craig McEwen

DC- Alan Archibald

DC- Christian Dailly ©

DMC- Billy McKinlay

MC- Mark Kerr

MC- Stephen Pearson

MC- Steven Nicholas

SC- Kevin Twaddle

SC- Steven Milne

Bnch- John Connolly

Bnch- Paul Ritchie

Bnch- Richard Montgomery

Bnch- Stephen Whalen

Bnch- Keith Lasley

Bnch- Neil Scally

Bnch- Kiegan Parker

Roma

GK- Ivan Pelizzoli

DL- Vincent Candela

DR- Cafu

DC- Walter Samuel

DC- Saliou Lassissi

ML- Alex

MR- Figo

MC- Francesco Totti

MC- Emerson

SC- Vicenzo Montella

SC- Antonio Cassano

Bnch- Cristian Sebastian Cejas

Bnch- Christian Panucci

Bnch- Assuncao

Bnch- Damiano Tommasi

Bnch- Gabriel Batistuta

Bnch- Antonio Carlos

Bnch- Henri Scheweleff

Minute-Play

8- Totti indirect free kick, Emerson header saved by Brown

10- Nicholas knocks ball down for Twaddle- loose ball gathered by Pearson-

Pearson low shot, bounces in off the post

Pearson goal, Motherwell 1-0

11- Kerr passes in to Nicholas- Nicholas with time- a rocket parried by

Pelizzoli, collected by Lassissi

12- Candela jinks by McEwen- Candela with room, hard swerving blast sails

just wide of the post

14- McKinlay with a push on Totti, Referee over- there's the yellow

Yellow Card- McKinlay

14- Free kick by Alex, shot sails high and wide of far post

18- Montella rising shot, punched away by Brown

19- Lassissi intercepts McKinlay clearing pass- into Montella, easy finish-

Montella's shot rings off the post and bounces away

27- Kerr crosses into Milne- Milne solid header, Pelizzoli brilliant parry

and ball bounces over baseline for a Motherwell corner

28- McKinlay corner- swings to far post- Dailly outleaps Candella, knocks it

down for Pearson- Figo takes it away from Pearson

31- Roma corner- Figo short to Candela, back to Figo- Figo crosses for near

post- Emerson outleaps Nicholas, heads it down for Alex- Pearson takes it

away from Alex

35- Cassano breaks past Hammell- Cassano rising blast but Brown parries it,

McEwen picks off loose ball

38- Samuel collects loose ball, swings it to Candela- Candela on the move,

twists past Pearson- Candela sends it in towards Totti in the area- Totti

leaps, strong header past Brown

Totti goal, Roma 1-1

45ExT- Figo loose in the midfield- Figo in free to the edge of the area-

Figo curling blast, good save by Brown and he hangs on

Halftime- Motherwell- 1 Roma- 1

45- Sub- Motherwell- Scally in for McKinlay

46- Roma abandoned all out attack of first half, slowing things down

47- McEwen appears to be injured, indirect free kick coming

47- Sub- Motherwell- Paul Ritchie in for McEwen

47- Indirect free kick Hammell to Archibald- Archibald to Scally- Scally

searching pass for Pearson, taken away by Lassissi

51- Sub- Roma- Panucci in for Cafu

55- Candela breaks in from left side- Candela left footed blast, Brown gets

his fingers on it and pushes away- Kerr clears the ball

57- Alex swings the ball for Figo- Figo slides pass through for Montella-

Montella over to Cassano- Cassano unmarked, Brown off his line- Cassano

looping shot skims the crossbar and over

57- Sub- Roma- Tommasi for Emerson

61- Nicholas down the right side, sends the ball in for Milne- Milne pushed

down by Samuel, free kick coming

61- Dailly takes the free kick from just beyond the edge of the area, fires

in the kick- Pelizzoli can't get it

Dailly goal, Motherwell 2-1

71- Milne low pass for Twaddle- Twaddle with room, half-volley but Pelizzoli

gathers it in

73- Pearson looping pass for Milne- Milne outleaps Candela, heads it back to

left for Kerr- Kerr stretches to reach it- Kerr booming shot sails high and

wide of near crossbar

78- Milne to Kerr- Kerr plays a 1-2 with Nicholas- Kerr rising banana shot

sails over the crossbar

82- Scally with a push on Totti, Referee over and reaching for a card

Yellow Card- Scally

82- Candela goes at Kerr- Candela shows Kerr clean set of heels- Candela

inside the area, right footed shot- Brown can't handle it, Scally there to

clear it to Nicholas

83- Milne lobs it in for Twaddle, flicks it on but Pelizzoli alert to pick

it up

87- Tommasi throws in for Figo- Figo cross to near post- Montella up, header

sails wide, was under pressure from Dailly

90ExT- Roma furiously attacking to try and even match- Figo zips cross to

near post- Montella above Archibald- Great save by Brown and hangs on

90ExT- Candela long to Alex- Alex with great control past Kerr, past

Pearson- Alex sends it to the middle- Montella runs and jumps, his header

sails over the bar, hangs his head- that might be Roma's last chance

91- Sub- Roma- Batistuta for Cassano

...there's the final whistle

Ratings

Motherwell

Brown- 9

McEwen- 6 Inj 47

Hammell- 6

Archibald- 8

Dailly ©- 9

McKinlay- 5 sub 46

Kerr- 8

Pearson- 8

Nicholas- 7

Twaddle- 7

Milne- 8

Scally- 7

Ritchie- 7

Roma-

Pelizzoli- 7

Cafu- 7 sub 51

Candela- 9

Samuel- 8

Lassissi- 8

Totti- 9

Figo- 8

Emerson- 6 sub 57

Montella- 7

Cassano- 7

Alex- 8

Panucci- 7

Tommasi- 7

Batistuta- 7

Motherwell- 2 Roma- 1

Man of the Match- Christian Dailly, Motherwell

***

How did I feel? What kind of stupid question is that? You get paid for

asking stupid questions? Of course I felt great, but it was such a blur- it

didn't sink in while everything was moving so fast. The trophy was

wonderful, here are some pictures- silly ones that didn't make the press- of

the boys with the cup. It was funny, as the match was winding down and the

fans we had, which weren't all that many, were loudly cheering- the Roma

fans were so quiet. They were in it down to that last header from Montella,

but their fans were so unusually quiet- I don't know what came over them. It

did feel like a morgue as we celebrated winning- our fans cheers were

echoing in the stadium, it sounded like a little noise in such a big place.

That book over there has loads of pictures from the match and after- most of

them weren't published. Sure, use whichever ones you want.

Reflections on the match? Now, that is a better question. My first thought

after was how happy I was that we had gotten Christian Dailly. I wouldn't

have believed how much of a difference he made with his leadership on the

club and I never really had any intentions on bringing him in- but he

certainly won us a Cup. Brownie was stellar, he was such a money keeper in

big games. Mark Kerr was the cool and collected professional that everyone

pictures him as- but he was only 21 then and already was a cucumber in tight

matches. Pearson really was a catalyst for us in the match, at times he

disappeared, but he was all over the pitch.

It was just a great moment for us- for all of Scotland really. That was my

goal from the beginning, the bitterness spurred me on, but I could see the

Old Firm clubs loaded with foreign talent- it was time to prove to them the

Scottish players can go anywhere and win anything- with their heart and

determination.

****************************************************************************

********************

Motherwell - Wednesday 21st May 2003

****************************************************************************

********************

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

============================================================================

====================

2002/3 Senior Club Stats

============================================================================

====================

No Name Apps Gls Con Pens Asts Yel

Red MoM Av R

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------

5 Archibald, Alan 46 1 0 0 1 5

0 1 7.50

1 Brown, Mark 47 0 59 0 0 1

0 5 7.49

38 Canning, Martin 1 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 8.00

33 Christie, Sean - - - - - -

- - ----

37 Connolly, John 16 0 16 0 0 0

0 0 7.50

43 Creaney, Philip 1 1 0 0 0 0

0 0 8.00

24 Dailly, Christian 21 3 0 0 0 1

0 2 7.62

31 Davidson, Stuart 1 0 0 0 0 1

0 0 6.00

41 Dempsie, Brian - - - - - -

- - ----

29 Forrest, Eddie 10 (2) 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 7.33

44 Forsyth, Ross 17 0 0 0 1 0

0 0 7.24

46 Fotheringham, Martin 8 (13) 2 0 0 4 1

0 2 7.14

32 Gallagher, Mark 1 0 0 0 1 0

0 0 8.00

3 Hammell, Steven 41 0 0 0 3 1

0 1 7.00

39 Howie, Willie 8 (8) 2 0 0 6 0

0 1 7.56

8 Kerr, Mark 42 7 0 0 20 1

0 7 7.79

17 Lasley, Keith 16 (15) 4 0 1 (0) 3 0

0 2 7.13

12 Leitch, Scott 5 (2) 0 0 0 1 1

0 0 6.86

35 Lindsay, Paul 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

14 McAllister, Brian 10 (1) 1 0 0 0 2

0 0 7.36

42 McDonald, Kevin 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

2 McEwan, Craig 35 0 0 0 3 2

0 0 6.66

11 McFadden, James 3 (1) 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 7.00

13 McKenzie, Roddy 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

21 McKinlay, Billy 31 (6) 3 0 0 9 8

0 1 7.27

20 McLaughlin, Barry 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

25 McSporran, Jermaine 1 (13) 4 0 0 0 0

0 0 7.21

26 Miller, Kenny 4 5 0 0 1 0

0 2 9.00

19 Milne, Steven 31 (10) 19 0 0 6 0

0 7 7.66

6 Montgomery, Richard 30 (4) 0 0 0 0 3

0 1 7.15

7 Nicholas, Steven 41 10 0 0 4 0

0 1 7.24

23 O'Donoghue, Ross 14 (2) 4 0 0 6 0

0 3 7.69

10 Parker, Kiegan 24 (15) 10 0 0 3 2

0 1 7.31

45 Parkin, Paul 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

4 Pearson, Stephen 38 (1) 12 0 1 (1) 4 1

0 3 7.44

18 Ritchie, Paul 20 (4) 1 0 0 0 2

0 0 7.46

36 Ross, Maurice 23 2 0 2 (2) 2 2

0 0 6.87

28 Scally, Neil 25 (2) 2 0 0 5 7

0 5 7.93

30 Slater, Mark 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ----

9 Twaddle, Kevin 35 (1) 16 0 3 (2) 5 0

0 2 7.53

- Tweed, Steven - - - - - -

- - ----

15 Whalen, Stephen 23 (8) 12 0 0 10 0

0 1 7.81

16 Wood, Martin 22 (4) 13 0 0 2 1

0 1 7.38

22 Young, Jason 0 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 ---- </pre>

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Thanks Educated -- will be interesting to see how long it takes to land the National job

***

Rangers did manage to double as well- they stomped on Dundee United 4-0 to win the Scottish Cup. Dundee was done in by an uncharacteristically bad performance by keeper Paul Gallacher.

In the awards stage, Tore Andre Flo was Scottish Player of the Year. He beat out Emile Heskey and Bobby Petta. I remember thinking then it was only a matter of time before my youngsters started garnering the recognition they deserved and that we wouldn't have three foreigners as the best players in Scotland. The Young Player of the Year side was swept again by Motherwell players. Mark Kerr was deservedly selected for the honor, with Ross O'Donoghue and Willie Howie right behind him.

It is funny looking back at how fast the upheavel came to the coaching staff following the Champs Cup win. Mark Shanks, who was 60 at the time, decided it was time to retire from football- so I was already in need of an Assistant Manager. Stephen Morrison got into a feud with Brownie and John Connolly- it was a choice between them or him- guess who went? With those two leaving and the fact that we only had three coaches before this, it was time to hire a more complete staff. Craig Shearer of Clyde came on board as my new Assistant Manager and Steven Hunter, Jake Ferrier and John Robertson were all hired as coaches.

When the top 3 European Goalkeepers were announced- I had a good laugh. Fabien Barthez (ManU) was selected top keeper, with Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) and Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) following- do those clubs sound familiar?

Vincent Candela won Euro Defender of the Year, which I heartily agreed with- after seeing him terrorize my midfield in the Final. Lazio's Fabiano Liverani was both Euro Midfielder of the Year and World Player of the Year. He was followed by the Roma combo of Francesco Totti and Figo. Euro Forward of the Year was Vicenzo Montalla of Roma, followed by Christian Vieri of Real Madrid and Carsten Jancker of Bayern.

I noticed that Ronald de Boer decided he was ready to return home to Holland and left the Rangers. I thought that might just be the start of the exodus, where the older Euro players at Rangers and Celtic started moving back home.

The 4 Million we received for winning the Champions Cup came in handy as the Board decided to expand Fir Park by a little more than 4000 seats. It also allowed me leverage to talk them into future upgrading of our training facility.

It was mostly a quiet first portion of the summer. We had given the players a month off before getting back to training with the new staff. Scott Leitch signed with St.Johnstone on Bosman and was set to leave on August 30th. One player I would have liked to add instead went to Sunderland. Jamie McCunnie is the best young rightback in Scotland, but I couldn't see investing over 7 Million to purchase him- so Sunderland got him- the English clubs generally had a lot more money than us Scottish ones, though my warchest was substantial at that time.

I was surprised when I received congratulatory phone calls from Advocaat at Rangers and Svensson at Celtic for winning the Champs Cup. Apparently, they realized long before I did that our Cup win meant there would be three Scottish clubs in Champs Cup play. Dundee United and Aberdeen qualified for UEFA and Hibs was the Inter-Toto qualifier.

It was weird to get contacted about the Super Cup- where we will face Schalke O4- in Monaco for late August. When I set up our friendlies, it was surprisingly easy to get major clubs interested this time. What? Of course I am being sarcastic. Did you really think clubs wouldn't want to schedule the holders of the Champs Cup? Our friendlies were scheduled with an eye for Europe- Rosenborg and Ajax at home- Monaco and Club Brugge on the road. Yes, the Monaco match was scheduled to give the boys a little playing time on the pitch we would face Schalke 04 on for the Super Cup.

National Manager Kenny Dalglish put me squarely on the spot during the runup to the friendlies. He came out and said that he thought we were favorites for the SPL title. The Board had already let me know they expected us to contend for it, but Dalglish's comment forced a public reaction from me. I told the press what they wanted to here- that I thought our club was as good as any other in the SPL. Privately, I wasn't worried about us being better- I was sure we would be more consistent. What I was worried about was Celtic or Rangers maintaining a scorching pace like they did last season. If they lost as few matches as they did last season- it was going to be tough to stay with them in the hunt for the title. Still, I was confident- both for SPL and for Champions Cup play. The club would be changed somewhat, but was definately battle tested at this point.

The beginning of July brought three more players in on previous signings. We added DC Marc Cocozza, SC Paul Shields and SC Scott Michie to our wealth of young Scottish talent.

Despite Dalglish's assertions and my responses, several papers were only too eager to write off our chances in the SPL. They called us a flash-in-the-pan, that "glowed brightly for the last couple seasons- but would flame out this time." I blew up when I saw those comments. My terse reply to the press was, "Just watch where we are at season's end."

I have to admit I wasn't quite prepared for some of the turmoil going into that season- but I should have been. Blinded by my success I guess. On the plus side we added 19 year old AM/FC Robert McKeown from Aberdeen for 1.3 Million. Several in the press thought that was an excessive amount for a player who hadn't played in the club system yet- but I had three scouts looking at him and they all thought he had significant talent. Mark Slater was sold to York for 475K. Mark lacked the physical presence to be a top-flight defender at SPL level, so it was time to sell him. The big bomb came shortly before our last friendly when Arsenal made me an 8 Million offer on Steven Nicholas. True to my word to Steven, I accepted their offer without any other conditions and they quickly worked out a contract and he moved to Arsenal. The press reported that there was widespread dissension on the club about the sale, but the only one it really seemed to bother was Steven Milne- the rest realized this moving was coming awhile ago.

While many fans decried the sale- it opened up a spot to start Ross O'Donoghue. I felt that Ross was a better midfielder than Steven, and thought the move would benefit the club. I believe Arsenal planned to use Steven more as a forward- something he was comfortble with. To his credit, he never squawked about playing midfield for us- and scored some of our biggest goals last season.

A bigger uproar was heard when I transfer listed Kevin Twaddle. It was a hard decision, but it was also a business decision and not a football one. Twaddle was a very good player and good in the dressing room, but he wanted a huge raise in wages. He was soon to be 32, and with his physical problems that he had off and on, I couldn't justify giving him the contract he wanted. It would have been easier to do it, but it wouldn't have been a good investment of the club's money. With Kenny Miller, Steven Milne, Kiegan Parker, Scott Michie, Martin Wood and Paul Shields all clamoring for playing time- the best choice was to let Kevin go for transfer funds if possible. Of course, the fans didn't see it that way- and they let me know how they felt on the matter.

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Dundee United seemed to be problems for us whenever we faced them and this time was no different. Alan Combe was a shade better than John Connolly in net- and that was the difference in the match. David Hannah blistered a free kick past Connolly for his 50th goal at Dundee early in the 2nd half and that turned out to be the only goal in the match. We outplayed them by a large margin, but just couldn't find the goal we needed.

We opened Champs Cup play by hosting Valencia at Fir Park. The match seemed to be going very well- we had a lead at halftime as Neil Scally had scored and we had their keeper- Santiago Canizares- under pressure. The second half started that way, but when Javi Moreno got up to head past Brownie, the tide certainly turned. Led by Pablo Aimar they really bottled us up the rest of the match and we were fortunate Brownie was sharp in keeping us locked at 1-1. Craig McEwen got himself two yellow cards in a fit of anger and we played the last 10 minutes down a man. We held on for the unsatisfying 1-1 draw. On the other side, Chelsea crushed Sturm Graz 5-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Celtic came to Fir Park looking very good- with only one draw and the rest wins and atop SPL. This looked like another exercise in frustration to start with as Bobby Petta caught Brownie leaning the wrong way and zipped a shot past him in the 5th minute. Kenny Miller evened it up at 11 minutes on his own rebound, only to see it ruled off. I must admit, I was pretty unhappy about the call- why hadn't he been offside on the original shot? Heskey and Sutton both came close to increasing the Celtic lead- but their shots were just off the mark. We finally evened the match when Stephen Pearson converted the penalty kick after Robert Douglas was redcarded for hauling down Steven Milne in the area. This had a double bonus for us as Heskey came out for Michael Herbert to move into the net. While they were still disconcerted, Mark Kerr added a quick 2nd goal for us. I warned the boys that we needed to remain aggressive the entire match at halftime. We hammered Herbert with shots in the 2nd half, but he stood tall and stopped us until Milne finally found space and scored at 76 minutes to put the match out of reach. The win tightened the standings up appreciably.

I was really hoping for a good result at the 'Arnold' stadium in Graz. Sturm Graz seemed to be the weakest club in our Group and we needed points from them. It looked like we might get them early as Steven Hammell scored on a rebound, but Charles Amoah evened things up at 20 minutes. Hammell scored his 2nd of the match at 23 minutes and we had another goal waved off at 35 minutes on an offside call. The match took a bad turn for us when Hammell went out at 53 minutes with a dead leg, he had been a key part of our play in the match. Graz came back and equalized when Ivica Vastic headed past Brownie at 67 minutes. Both clubs fought for the lead, but in the end we had to settle for the 2-2 draw. Chelsea managed to edge Valencia 3-2 at Valencia, so now controls the Group. We certainly needed better results if we were to advance from the Group. Leeds waltzed over the Rangers 4-0, putting them in bad straits in their Group.

Oh, by the way. Beware of players bent on revenge. I learned that lesson the hard way as we travelled to face St.Johnstone. Because of our midweek tilt against Chelsea, I was resting most of the regulars, and ended up paying for that choice. Peter Tosh had given them the early lead with a volley, but we equalized when Robert McKeown drove a shot past Mattias Asper. After that point the key player in the match was our ex-midfielder Scott Leitch. He put them back into the halftime lead with a rising shot that eluded Brownie. Leitch scored again early in the 2nd half and really put the clamps on us defensively as they outplayed us and earned the 3-1 win.

It was a tough, physical battle as we hosted Chelsea at Fir Park. A win here would virtually clinch a spot in the next round for them, while we needed a win to set ourselves up with a chance to advance. What we ended up getting was a scoreless draw that featured plenty of spectacular work in both nets. Brownie and Carlo Cudicini staged an impressive duel and the draw was a fair result. Mikael Forssell came close in the first half for them and Mark Kerr whacked the post with a drive for us. David Trezequet and John Terry both were stopped by Brownie on good chances in the 2nd half and Cudicini made brilliant saves on Kenny Miller and Stephen Whalen. It was rare to see Christian Dailly lose his cool- but he did in the last moments of the match and earned his 2nd yellow card. It didn't cost us anything in this match- but might hurt us in our next one. We left ourselves a tough road to hoe- to get out of this Group- with two of our last three matches at Valencia and Stamford Bridge. On the other side, Sturm Graz also battled Valencia to a scoreless draw at Valencia.

I caught a lot of flak for the lineup I was using against St. Mirren at Fir Park. There was a lot of second guessing about using an all 2nd-line unit after the loss to St.Johnstone. I kept my mouth shut and let our players prove that this was a good decision. Scott McLean took advantage of his first action in awhile and scored a hat-trick in the first half. Martin Fotheringham scored one more in the 2nd half and all the discussion died quickly in the face of our 4-0 win. You've heard my philosophy before, but it is worth repeating- it was a long season, especially with Euro and Domestic Cups, and you have to get your regular players occasional rest- otherwise you will crash out in all phases of the season when they are fatigued down the stretch.

Yes, I would have to agree with you- I think that our 3rd round League Cup match against Celtic at Celtic Park was a turning point in the season. The first half was an up-n-down the pitch battle as both Celtic and us were attacking relentlessly. Robert Douglas had a terrific first half, but Brownie wasn't quite as sharp and we went into halftime trailing 2-1. I know the feeling was almost a little resigned to fate, because we had again taken the lead early on Steven Milne's header- only to see them come roaring back with goals by Bobby Petta and Stephen Simmons. No, no- I wish I could say it was because of a brilliant halftime rallying speech- but it wasn't anything special actually. All I told them was that we are as good as Celtic- let's go prove it. Boy did they prove it- that 2nd half was something to behold- I am sure the 36,000 Celtic fans were stunned- actually, I was a little stunned myself. We had early pressure and it paid off when Milne picked up a rebound and scored his 2nd of the game to equalize. Celtic turned on their pressure and Heskey just missed a header to return them the lead. We made them pay for their aggressiveness when Ross O'Donoghue stole a pass and then lofted the ball for streaking Stephen Pearson. Pearson headed past Douglas for his 5th of the season and at 61 minutes we were back in the lead 3-2. The really surprising part followed that. Celtic could not turn the pressure back on. We kept after them and our passing attack was really crisp and flowing. In the 83rd minute Kenny Miller sent a short cross that O'Donoghue dove and headed home for a 4-2 lead. Then to punctuate things, Miller scored his 5th of the season in extra time as we moved on to the League Cup Quarterfinal with the momentum of a 5-2 win at Celtic Park. We did lose Mark Kerr and Christian Dailly to injuries, so it wasn't all wine and roses- but we still gained an awful lot of confidence in that win.

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Oops-- skipped over a part icon_wink.gif

***

What? Oh, yes-- I guess I did leave out how the season started...

We finally reached the start of the season amidst the turmoil. Twaddle was still with the club, but was willing to put aside his unhappiness because he was still a good 'team' player. Kilmarnock was visiting us at Fir Park to start the season. Kenny Miller showed why I think he will be one of the top forwards in the SPL this season as he scored once in each half for the only goals in our 2-0 win. We played a strong match, but Kilmarnock did give us a tussle and showed a lot of heart in staying close.

Celtic made their way through the 2nd round of Champs Cup Qualifying- only to wind up paired with Schalke 04 (the same club that knocked Rangers out last year). Rangers are up againt Kobenhaven in this round.

Tynecastle Park was the place where a Hearts club bent on a bit of revenge from last season wanted to thump us in a televised match. They saw a wild first half that began with Javier Artero scoring his first goal for Hearts.

We answered when Kenny Miller beat Antti Niemi to a cross from Craig McEwen and looped it over him to even things at 1-1. Robert Tomaschek, who had an excellent match, headed down nicely and left Robbie Neilson with an easy shot to again put Hearts into the lead 2-1. We responded again when Mark Kerr headed a chipped pass from Neil Scally past Niemi to send the clubs to halftime with a 2-2 score. We played much steadier defense in the 2nd half

and took control of the match when Kerr dribbled free and then crossed to

Stephen Pearson, whose header sailed past Niemi for the lead at 57 minutes. We kept control of the play throughout the 2nd half and limited them to only a couple chances before we finally clinched the win when Miller scored his 2nd goal of the match in injury time to finish off a 4-2 win.

Wilkie? Well the reason I offered on him- and wound up purchasing him from Sunderland for 750K- was because that was bargain price for a good, solid defender. My thinking on adding him was that he would give us more cover in the middle and possibly at defensive midfield in a pinch, because I only had Scally and McKinlay for that role. His contract demands were reasonable- my philosophy was to try and add undervalued players when I could and save the

money for the big swoops when really needed.

That was also when we completed the sale of Kevin Twaddle to the Rangers. Oh, you should have heard the hue-n-cry over that sale. Letting him go the 'Gers was the spark to set off the powderkeg. But for all the smoke and fury at the time- take a look and tell me how well he ever did for them. It was a business decision and I am still convinced it was the correct one.

The first leg of the Champs Cup 3rd round qualifying was a disaster for Celtic. Schalke 04 beat them 2-0 at Celtic Park as a poor performance from Robert Douglas did them in. Rangers went into Copenhagen and beat Kobenhavn

by the same 2-0 score.

We finally landed a 3rd Defensive Midfielder- I always wanted at least 3 on hand, due to their often having problems with abundance of yellow cards- when we purchased 25 year old Steve Thomson from Crystal Palace for 110K. I also nabbed 27 year old SC Scott McLean from Partick Thistle for 800K. He has been a top scorer and adding his veteran presence to our young corps of forwards seemed like a good move.

On paper it looked like we might have an easy time hosting Dundee at Fir Park. They were 10th coming in and had been playing poorly to start this season. After the match, it was less of a problem to remind the boys that nothing gets played out on paper- you have to earn the results on the pitch. We played well in the first half, but found ourself trailing 1-0 at halftime when Juan Sara had headed past Brownie in first half extra time. It was time to settle down and keep hammering, but they were doing a good job blunting our efforts early in the 2nd half. Our subs- Kiegan Parker (for Paul Shields) and Billy McKinlay (for Neil Scally) seemed to revive us and we were suddenly even when Ross O'Donoghue made a patented run into the area before blistering a shot past Arni Gautur Arason to even things at 61 minutes. With them momentarily jumbled, we took advantage of their miscommunication and Stephen Pearson skidded a left footed shot past Arason

to push us to a 2-1 lead at 64 minutes. They rallied, but were having little luck solving our resolute backline and we held the lead to the final whistle. In a match that really made me wonder if cracks were showing in the Rangers foundation, they took on Aberdeen at Ibrox in the Sunday night tv match and yielded 3 late goals to wind up stunned by a 3-0 home loss.

The same night Real Madrid stomped on Dortmund 3-0 to win the World Club Championship.

St.Johnstone caught my eye with a surprise signing the following day. They landed keeper Mattias Asper, someone who I had a lot of respect for, from Real Sociedad.

The press may have seen Falkirk as the 'promotion patsy' this season, but they have shown much better than that so far. Led by ex-Motherwell Michael Craig, they have proven a tough opponent. They showed us that as well. We

played a scoreless first half where Myles Hogarth frustrated Scott McLean's debut. McLean had three terrific chances all blocked by Hogarth. The Brockville Park fans were ecstatic when Richard Waddell knocked in a rebound

past John Connolly for his 1st goal at 52 minutes. They were over the moon when Collin Samuel headed a Marc Anthony free kick past Connolly at 55 minutes to make it 2-0. We didn't get to be the club we were by panicking

though and Willie Howie (who had come on for injured Stephen Whalen) drew a goal back with a dazzling run and shot past Hogarth. Howie looked set to even the match when he was hacked down from behind with a reckless challenge

by Neil Adams. Adams earned a redcard and Maurice Ross converted the ensuing penalty kick to bring us back to 2-2. We piled the pressure on, but Hogarth had regained his standing in the 'wall' society and we couldn't find the net

to take the win- settling for the 2-2 draw.

In the 3rd round qualifying for Champs Cup it was Celtic rallying, but falling short on 3-2 aggregate to Schalke 04. Rangers easily moved past Kobenhavn on a 4-0 aggregate. Our draw for the first groupings placed us with Chelsea, Valencia and Sturm Graz.

Travelling to Monaco again was fun. The atmosphere for the Super Cup was simply amazing- I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. There were a lot of headlines about Schalke 04- Scottish Killers because they had knocked Rangers and Celtic out of UEFA and were looking for the hat-trick with us. The focus for us was still to keep the match fun- but to bring pressure on them from the start. Actually, they brought the pressure in the first half- mostly through physical play. They jumped in front of us at 12 minutes when Mehmet Scholl lofted a ball that Anibal Matellan ran onto. Matellan blasted a low shot that Brownie didn't even move on and it was 1-0 them. They came close to boosting that when Scholl's rising blast just

clipped the cross bar. We didn't have a lot of offensive flow in the first half, but Stephen Pearson stepped up with a brilliant run- skipping past two defenders- before beating Frank Rost cleanly to even things at 1-1. Schalke went ahead at halftime when Niels Oude Kamphuis took a throw-in and crossed it hard. Martin Palermo beat Brownie to the ball and deflected it past him. We came out in the second half and continued playing our attacking style. At 68 minutes Ross O'Donoghue absolutely crushed a 40 yard free kick and it sailed past Rost to equalize. He was so excited he ran all the way into the net to retrieve the ball. That kick also really is what earned him MOM honors. With us back to even, we both were fighting for every loose ball. Their rough play had already earned them 4 yellow cards, so they had to be a

little cautious. At 73 minutes O'Donoghue slipped a pass into Scott Michie and Michie scorched a low shot that Rost couldn't snag- and we had the lead. They tried all manner of attacking to even things again- but we had really started stepping up and playing solid defense. Their last gasp was Henrik Larsson's rising blast in extra time- but it went high and wide of the cross bar and we celebrated with the Scottish fans that made the trip to Monaco. You know the funniest thing though was that Scott Michie was complaining about too much competition for first team in the week before the match- he was completely floored to even be on the bench for the match- and then he scored the match winning goal. It was quite a change of attitude for him.

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During that International break after the win over Celtic was when I finally landed Andrew Rollo. Craig McEwen had done ok at rightback for us, but Maurice Ross had been disappointing so far. McEwen hadn't played that well in Europe and against Celtic/Rangers- so I had been trying to find another rightback for awhile. Sunderland initially wouldn't talk to me at all about Rollo, but when my scouts told me they were talking to Fulham about him- I put our bid in on him. It cost us 3.5 Million- spaced out over 12 months- but we landed him when he decided he liked the opportunity to play in Scotland and Europe.

We went back into league play with a trip to Dens Park. Ross O'Donoghue got us off to a flying start when he scored in the first minute of play and we held a comfortable 2-0 halftime lead after Steven Milne had scored. It got a lot less comfortable when Tony Adams headed past Brownie in the 53rd minute and they were really surging to the attack. Dundee was finished though when Craig Pead lost control and headbutted Stephen Pearson directly in front of the referee at 69 minutes. The redcard killed their momentum and we ended up with an insurance goal in 2nd half extra time when Stephen Whalen scored to finish off a 3-1 win.

Right after the match we received word that we would be facing Boca for the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo in early December. It meant our match against Rangers was pushed to a midweek slot- something I wasn't too happy about in terms of preparing for them.

Dunfermline and Arboath staged a wonderful battle for the Challenge Cup- Dunfermline won the match 1-0 on a goal from Steven Hampshire.

Aberdeen were certainly proving they are were contenders this season. On Saturday they defeated the Rangers 2-0 and they turned around and fought Celtic to a 1-1 draw in a Monday match.

Our match at Stamford Road was quite a duel, but one that we ultimately came up short in. Without Christian Dailly patrolling the backline- we couldn't handle the tandem of Trezeguet and Stilian Petrov who both scored two goals apiece in their 4-3 win over us. We answered them goal for goal until Trezeguet's 88th minute marker. Ross O'Donoghue had one goal and Steven Milne two goals for us as we made do without injured Mark Kerr as well. It was a gritty performance, but with Valencia defeating Sturm Graz 1-0- it leaves us in a bad position- we almost certainly have to beat Valencia at Valencia to qualify. Rangers lost at last place Deportivo to put themselves in the same kind of dire straits as us.

Aberdeen certainly proved to us they are contenders for SPL honors at Pittodrie. They pushed us the entire match and held sway over much more of the play than we did. We managed to escape with a scoreless draw thanks to good work by Brownie- who made some sensational stops during the match. To be fair, they deserved to win the match, but we missed a couple great chances as well when Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto (who earned MOM honors) came up big with Steven Milne on his doorstep. Now I have to hope we are ready enough for Valencia in Spain.

Yes, the Valencia match was rough. There are matches when your squad just doesn't seem to have it- and we certainly played that way the first half there. The only reason we were even in the match at halftime was that Brownie was sharp in net. He did yield a goal to Miguel Angel Angulo, who lobbed it over him with perfect touch, but otherwise had stopped Javi Moreno three times and Vicente twice. My subs felt like desperation moves on my part to breathe some life into the squad. One move paid off as Kenny Miller scored the equalizer for us in the 64th minute after a nice pass from Stephen Pearson. Valencia dearly wanted this match as a win would likely clinch a spot in the next round- but we steadfastly defended and wound up with a 1-1 draw. Sturm Graz upset Chelsea 2-1 which leaves us in 4th place, trailing Sturm Graz by a point and Valencia by 2 points- and needing help to have a chance of advancing.

It was surprising how many of our own players were showing frustration about our current 4th place in the standings. This despite the fact that we had 2 matches in hand on 3rd place Aberdeen and 1 on Celtic and Rangers. We weren't even a third of the way through the season at the time- it was too soon to worry, since we hadn't even been playing bad. Still, it gave a bit more urgency to our match at Fir Park against Hearts. Antti Niemi was once again performing well in goal for them, but we finally managed to take the lead due to our constant pressure in the 26th minute when Stephen Pearson scorched a grass cutter past Niemi. We then helped them get back to even when Billy McKinlay headed past Roddy McKenzie (who was making his debut in net) for an own goal. We stormed right back into the lead thanks to Ross O'Donoghue's brilliant run. We tried hard to increase our lead in the 2nd half, but we couldn't solve Niemi again and had to be satisfied with the 2-1 win.

Our next match before the key Fir Park showdown with Sturm Graz was a trip to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock. Mark Kerr started us when he rapped home a rebound after Colin Stewart stopped Stephen Pearson's header. Less than a minute later we were down to 10 men as Martin Wood earned a redcard for headbutting Gary McDonald. It mattered little though as Kerr was controlling the match. He started the 2nd half by scoring after a good pass in the area from Kiegan Parker. He then finished off the hat-trick when he sailed a curling shot past Stewart in the 50th minute for his 5th goal of the season. With the match firmly in hand, I took out our midfield and Martin Fotheringham took advantage of the playing time to score a goal in extra time to finish off our 4-0 win.

We had two things going for us as we hosted Sturm Graz for the last match in our Group play. One was our fans-- they were absolutely supportive and we needed that boost because we had to win this match or we were done in Europe for this season. The other thing was that Valencia had to travel to Stamford Bridge for their last match and had made some antagonistic statements during the week to stir up both the Chelsea fans and their club. I was happy about that since Chelsea already had clinched the top spot in the Group. We started out blazing against Sturm Graz. Our problem was their keeper Hans-Peter Berger was even hotter than our shooters. In the first 20 minutes alone we had 6 great scoring chances- but he stopped all of them. Even worse for us was their star striker Charles Amoah scored in the 23rd minute on their first real chance. I needn't have worried about our club quitting as instead Mark Kerr stepped up 2 minutes later and boomed a 25 yard free kick past Berger to get us back even. At 30 minutes Berger made another brilliant stop against Stephen Pearson, but Kenny Miller pounced on the rebound and sliced it past Berger into the net. We came close to a 3rd goal twice in the waning moments and twice more in the opening moments of the 2nd half- but Berger had regained his magic touch and we couldn't get one by him. In the 51st minute we were stunned when venerable Alexandr Mostovoi beat Pearson on the dribble and blistered a shot past Brownie to make it 2-2. It was all-or-nothing time for us, since only a win would help us. We changed to a more attacking formation and Billy McKinlay came on for Neil Scally. Berger frustrated us again with a couple more parries, but in the 69th minute it was Steven Hammell with a brilliant left side run and he crossed to Miller. Miller dove and drove the header past Berger and we were ahead again 3-2. A quick glance at the scoreboard told me the tale- Chelsea was beating Valencia 2-0, if we could hold on- we would advance. We went to a more defensive look and it really threw them off balance. They only managed one more good chance- and Gerald Strafner was high and wide with it. We missed the clinching goal, but it didn't matter as we ran out the time on the 3-2 win. The win and Valencia's loss meant that we had finished 2nd and would move on to the 2nd round of Group play.

In retrospect, the loss of Steven Nicholas and Kevin Twaddle was part of the cause of our struggles. They were both 'money' players- and though our youngsters were growing into those roles- this was still a new experience for Kenny Miller and Ross O'Donoghue. We had only won 1 match in our Group, but it was the match we 'had' to win- and we were moving on. Speaking of moving on- the Rangers weren't. Despite a last match win, they finished in 3rd in their Group.

The second Group pairings were announced the next day- a repeat of last season was my thought when I saw we were with Barca, Bayern and Liverpool.

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Belated thanks PM7 icon_wink.gif

***

They announced the UEFA pairings for the next round and Rangers and Celtic will be facing off in it- everyone knew those two matches would be a war.

We faced Falkirk at Fir Park and I hoped we were readier for them this time. We had a lot of terrific chances, but Myles Hogarth was frustrating our best efforts and we headed into the last five minutes staring squarely at a scoreless draw. We managed to finally get the goal we needed though, when Lee Wilkie headed a cross from Paul Ritchie past Hogarth. John Connolly made a couple good stops in Falkirk's last minute attempt to get back to even and I was relieved when the final whistle sounded on our 1-0 win.

Scotland's friendly with Austria seemed to be a coming out party for Kiegan Parker. Parker, who hadn't scored an International goal going in, scored a hat-trick against the visiting Austrians and it was a 3-1 win for Scotland. Despite the win, there were rumors swirling that the failure to qualify for Europe will cost Kenny Dalglish his job.

Back in league play, I tried to get by with resting our first line, except for Brownie, in our match at Easter Road against Hibs. When Brownie didn't play well early, the choice backfired. We were down 2-0 at the 13 minute mark as Martin McIntosh and Sean Widera scored for them. We got a goal back early in the 2nd half when Kiegan Parker scored his first goal of the season for us (the International hat-trick must have reawakened his dormant scoring touch), but we couldn't find a way to even the match and lost by that 2-1 margin. With Barca coming up on Tuesday, I still felt it was the right choice to have the regulars ready.

Our match at Fir Park against Barca was a disappointment. We started great and had a 2-0 lead on goals by Mark Kerr and Kenny Miller. Unfortunately, we found out how many horses Barca has in the stable. Patrik Kluivert and Javier Saviola both scored and we went to halftime even at 2-2. Paul Scholes and Edgar Davids were causing us lots of problems as they had taken control of the play in the midfield. The second half was taut, with both clubs working hard and searching for the go-ahead goal. It was Kluivert again for Barca as he caused Christian Dailly problems all match and he scored the match winner in an 83rd minute rocket. We had played well, but well wasn't good enough against a club the caliber of Barca. On the other side of the Group, Liverpool easily handled Bayern in a 3-0 win at Anfield.

The Dundee United match was definately one of the low points of the season. We couldn't handle Eddie Annand and he scored a hat-trick. David Hannah added a single marker. Brownie was terrible- one of his worst matches to be sure. We did get goals from Neil Scally and Ross O'Donoghue, but it wasn't enough and both the Board and our fans were unhappy with the loss- and I couldn't blame them a bit. Celtic beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox and Aberdeen won at St.Johnstone as we dropped back into 4th place in the SPL.

We badly needed a win at Celtic Park. They were flying high atop the SPL and if we didn't slow them down, not only wouldn't we be in the race, they would be well out of sight. When David Fernandez scored at 11 minutes, I was wincing- since it wasn't a particularly good goal and if Brownie was off today- they were going to beat us easily. We responded strongly though and Kenny Miller's 17th minute header got us back to even. We took the lead just before halftime when Ross O'Donoghue set up Steven Hammell. They certainly came after us in the 2nd half and Bobby Petta sent a superb cross that Thomas Gaardsoe was able to deflect past Brownie to even the match at 2-2. They were like sharks around blood after that and only the fact that Brownie was marvelous in the last 10 minutes earned us the 2-2 final result. It wasn't the win we needed, but it was a better showing than the previous two matches.

There was no repeat of our troubles with St.Johnstone in hosting them at Fir Park. Scott McLean scored twice in the first 7 minutes to speed us on our way. Stephen Whalen, finally shedding some of his injury problems that season, added another and though we allowed a John Convery header in extra time, it was a 3-1 halftime lead. We put the match out of reach early in the 2nd half when McLean finished off his hat-trick and we cruised to the 4-1 win.

Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen had reached the midpoint of the season (we still had 2 matches in hand) and the thing that struck me about being 4th was that Celtic and Rangers were once again tearing up the rest of the league. Celtic had 14 wins in 19 matches and Rangers 13 wins. That is a pretty torrid pace and honestly I doubted that we could catch up to them if they stayed on anything like it the rest of the season. We were still suffering some of the ups and downs of a developing young club- and though we were playing well in my view, it was still not anywhere near that pace.

Christian Dailly let his anger get the better of him and earned a redcard at 10 minutes to leave us in the unenviable situation of down a man to one of the better clubs in Europe at their place. We managed a scoreless draw last time we were at Bayern, but they took care of that right away when Owen Hargreaves drilled a low shot past Brownie at 12 minutes. We kept plugging, but the few chances we had were snuffed out by Oliver Kahn. They finally clinched the match in the 83rd minute when Markus Babbel headed an Elber cross past Brownie. The 2-0 loss makes our chances of getting out of our Group look pretty slim. Barca defeated Liverpool in Barcelona in a close 1-0 match.

You are certainly right, we didn't really need Robert Malcolm. Why did I buy him then? Well, two reasons really. One was that Eddie Forrest was starting to get unhappy and I thought I might have to transfer list him. Two, taking him now kept another young talent from developing for Rangers. With Malcolm's flexibility to play anyplace on the backline- and his skills- he was a good fit as at least a gameday sub for us. His wages were on the low side and 1.8 Million wasn't that much to pay for a player of his caliber.

Before we travelled to Tokyo for our Intercontinental Cup match with Boca, we had the small business of a home match against the Rangers. This time around Brownie was a shade sharper than Stefan Klos and we made Stephen Pearson's 8th minute goal stand up for a satisfying 1-0 win. Celtic crushed Aberdeen 4-0, which leaves them head and shoulders above all three of us, while we moved into 3rd place and are only 3 points behind 'Gers with a match in hand.

We put up a good showing in the Intercontinental Cup, but Mariano Messera and Luizao scored late 2nd half goals and we fell to Boca 2-0. I caught flak for not starting our regular midfield, but this match- though showy- really meant very little to me personally and I wasn't going to risk injuries to our overworked midfielders at this point in the season.

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As we started what I considered the second half of our season after the Intercontinental Cup loss, I emphasized to the club that we had a long way to go- and that we had to take it one match at a time. We couldn't get caught up in Celtic-Rangers, we just had to go win our matches and let the rest take care of itself.

We faced a key match as we returned from Tokyo- hosting 4th place Aberdeen at Fir Park. After a scoreless first half that saw both Brownie and Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto make brilliant saves, we finally took the lead when Kenny Miller scored on a half-volley at 49 minutes. Cato Guntveit continued to be a thorn in our side as he scored his 1st goal of the season to equalize at 53 minutes. It was tooth and nail down the stretch, but Steven Milne (subbing on for Kiegan Parker) scored the match winner on a header in the 83rd minute. The 2-1 win was a good one to start this portion of the season with. We did lose Mark Kerr to a bad gash on his leg that took numerous stitches to close- a couple weeks healing was what they thought.

Hearts, who were 11th in the SPL at the time, canned Craig Levein after their latest loss at home to Hibs. The rumor mill was wrong on Kenny Dalglish who managed to retain his job as National Coach- despite not qualifying for the Euro Championships. Kilmarnock sacked Jim Jefferies a day later as their 9th place standings was not par for what the Board expected.

In the incomprehensible world of tranfer movement- one stuck out- as Celtic sold Bobby Petta to Valencia for just over 10 Million. Why they would sell their best player, when they really didn't need the money, is beyond me- but it certainly pleased me as he was a huge problem for us to defense when playing them. It certainly will make them a worse club overall, so there were no complaints about the movement on my part.

It was a good time to face Hearts in the League Cup Quarterfinal. They were still in disarray and Assistant Manager Peter Houston was trying to hold things together. The best way to dispose of a rudderless club is get the lead early and keep pounding- and that is what we did. Keith Lasley, filling in admriably for the injured Kerr, scored to give us the lead. We added goals by Scott McLean and Ross O'Donoghue to lead 3-0 at halftime. We added one more late marker by Steven Milne in our easy 4-0 win. We will travel to face Dundee United in the Semifinal and St.Mirren will host Aberdeen in the other half.

When Jermaine McSporran missed practice for the third time that season- it was time to let him go. I paid him off on the rest of his contract and released him.

Our trip to St.Mirren was disappointing. Tony Williams and John Connolly staged a wonderful duel in net and the 1-1 score was certainly a fair one, but we really needed to beat them. Our only goal came from Scott McLean, who scored first, but they quickly answered when Christopher Wreh beat Connolly. Both clubs had splendid chances and it was a credit to the keepers that the scoreline was so low.

Kilmarnock surprised a lot of people and named George Graham as their new manager.

I can remember wondering "What do we have to do to get a goal?" after the match with Hibs. We absolutely pounded Edwin Zoetebier with shots- good shots- but we couldn't score. Kiegan Parker and Martin Wood both rang the pipes, but nothing was going in. Fortunately, Brownie was also equal to the test as he kept our side clean too and we wound up with a scoreless draw. There was some disappointment with the draw with our fans- and to be honest I was thinking what to do up front- and refiguring.

The Dundee match at Fir Park was somewhat of a revelation for me. I had heard from Gary Shearer and several coaches that Philip Creaney was really playing well on reserves. He got a chance to start against Dundee and played extremely well. In fact the whole club played very well as we got goals from Scott McLean and Stephen Whalen and a pair from Kenny Miller as we easily rolled past them 4-0.

We closed out 2005 with a match at Brockville Park against stubborn Falkirk. Early in the match it certainly seemed like Myles Hogarth had our number...again. He stopped both Mark Kerr and Stephen Pearson on excellent runs. At 28 minutes Scott McLean found the chink in Hogarth's armor and slipped a ball under him to give us the lead. We got an insurance goal when Kenny Miller headed past Hogarth in the opening moments of the 2nd half, but that was all we could get as he closed the gate again after that. Falkirk couldn't get much going offensively against us as we maintained control of the midfield throughout the match. The 2-0 win, combined with a Rangers 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock, left us ahead of them on goal differential and in 2nd place. We were both 7 points adrift of SPL leading Celtic.

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It was amazing how the beginning of a New Year lightened everyone's spirits. There was no more grumbling about us not topping the table and such- it probably did help that we were listed in 2nd place.

Well we were in 2nd until we travelled to Ibrox to face the Rangers. In a matchup of the two top keepers in SPL- Stefan Klos was just a bit better than Brownie in this match. It didn't help that overall the Rangers were much sharper than we were. Tore Andre Flo gave them the lead midway through the first half, but Ross O'Donoghue wasted little time answering the goal. Klos kept us from gaining the lead with some stellar work. Late in the 2nd half it was Denny Landzaat who banged in a rebound to give the lead. Klos again stopped some good chances as we attempted to rally and we lost by that

2-1 margin.

I was still tinkering with the midfield when we faced Kilmarnock at Fir Park and it looked it as we struggled through a scoreless first half. After Scott McLean injured his knee, Kiegan Parker came on and sparked us. He scored on

a header to give us the lead and then setup Kenny Miller to score. Kilmarnock was fighting til the end and drew a goal back when Sean Hessey deflected a Jerome Vareille free kick past John Connolly. We stuck with our grinding play and held on for the close 2-1 win.

Yes, it was a stunning development. It seemed like I was holding my breath for the whole week until we completed the deal. I can't explain why they made the deal either, but I was happy they did. How did it all happen? Hmm, I think it was one of my scouts that told me the word on the street in Middlesbrough was that they were in serious discussions to purchase him. I

couldn't believe that Rangers would part with Charlie Miller, but they were enamored with their Dutch boys and they had just purchase Steve McManaman, so I guess they just didn't see him as a good enough player- their mistake.

Charlie was a player I had wanted for awhile, but before this he hadn't been willing to abandon Rangers to play for us. Now he was. I had a good size transfer fund available and 3 Million for him was on the low side of his

value. You know what was really nice? He was truly excited to come play for us. Now, his arrival did overload our midfield, but that is the kind of problem you welcome when you can get a player of his caliber. Something else

he told me after arriving was that he was hoping regular play for us would help his chances on the National side. He had only capped 3 times, and he saw our players earning notice and caps- so it helped encourage him to

choose us over Middlesbrough. He added veteran leadership as well, something that we needed at this point.

Tynecastle Park against Hearts marked Charlie Miller's debut and it looked like a memorable one when he scored at 14 minutes, but the goal was waved off on Mark Kerr's offside. We were slightly distracted by the call and Juanjo took advantage, outracing our defense and snapping a shot past Brownie to give them the lead. Antti Niemi was at his frustrating best for them and stopping everything. We finally broke through to even the match late in the half when Charlie floated a pass in and Steven Milne directed it

past Niemi. We kept pounding away in the 2nd half and though Niemi was very good (he earned his MOM honors), we won the match when Alan Archibald's through ball found Kenny Miller and Miller sent a cannon shot past Niemi. We closed out the 2-1 on a strong note as Hearts didn't have a shot on goal in the 2nd half.

We had an easy time when we hosted Division 1 Ayr in the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup. We were playing mostly 2nd line players, but it didn't matter as we throttled them in their own zone- only allowing one shot on Connolly

all match. Kiegan Parker scored a pair of goals in a 3 minute stretch in the first half, and that was all we would need to move on to the next round.

Yes, that match against Celtic was very frustrating. We outplayed them by a wide margin, but we couldn't handle their crossing as Sutton and Xavier both scored on headers. Still, we did manage a draw thanks to goals from Steven Milne and Mark Kerr- but it was a match that we truly deserved to win. The draw allowed Rangers to move within 2 points of Celtic, but we were still a ways back from both of them- solidly in 3rd place.

On the edge of reentering Champions Cup competition, we had to travel to St.Johnstone. Playing mostly 2nd liners in the match, we got productive performances from Stephen Whalen- who scored in the opening moments- and Martin Wood. Wood was named MOM as he scored his first 2 goals of the season. We held control throughout the match and it was a comfortable 3-0 win.

It was pretty evident that our European run was looking doomed after Liverpool handily beat us 2-0 at Anfield. Steven Gerrard scored on an early header and Djibril Cisse also headed past Brownie early in the 2nd half. We managed as many shots as they did, but we couldn't solve Sander Westerveld. The 2-0 loss left us with no wins and prospects dim going into our return

matches. Barca beat Bayern in Munich by a 1-0 score.

Our rematch with Liverpool at Fir Park ended our European hopes for this season. Michael Owen converted a penalty kick in first half extra time on a highly disputed call from the Assistant and Vladimir Spicer scored to finally clinch the match for them in the 88th minute. Just as was the case in the last match- we had as much pressure as them- but Sander Westerveld, who earned MOM honors, had our number and we couldn't score. It was frustrating, but all we are left with in our Group is a spoiler role now.

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We got to host Hearts at Fir Park in the 4th round of the Scottish Cup. They were featuring the debut of new Manager David Moyes, but we didn't give him any joy. Scott McLean and Kiegan Parker scored first half goals as we

dominated the midfield on them. Stephen Whalen added his 5th goal of the season in the 2nd half. We did yield a consolation goal by Mark Wilson, but ran out the time from there on a 3-1 win.

The papers the next day called it a 'shock' defeat- and I guess it was in some ways. When the other club gets three shots on goal, and they all go in- well, it was a long day for Brownie. Eddie Annand continued to be a royal

pain in the a** as he escaped marking to score two goals. David Hannah also added a goal and Dundee United crushed our chances of repeating as League Cup holders as they beat us 3-0 at Dunfermline in the Semifinal. After the match I resolved to try and get Brownie a bit more rest- he was worn out from our heavy schedule at this point in the season. We also lost Mark Kerr

in the match for 3 weeks due to a twisted knee- all in all it was a rotten day.

We followed that with a very strong effort at Fir Park against Hibs, but we wound up in a disappointing 1-1 draw. Ross O'Donoghue scored his 10th goal of the season to boost us into the early lead, but brand-new acquisition Jamie Smith scored the equalizer midway through the first half. We pounded away at Edwin Zoetebier, but just couldn't get another goal past him. Adding injury to insult, we lost Scott McLean for a month to a calf injury.

There was good news from UEFA as Rangers defeated Juventus 2-1 and Aberdeen edged Monaco 1-0 in the first leg of the 4th round. Oh? I forgot to tell you about the Rangers-Celtic war in the 3rd round. Celtic went into Ibrox in the

first leg and handed them a tough 3-2 loss. Rangers rebounded and beat Celtic 2-0 at Celtic Park in a match that went down to the final moments with Celtic trying to score the goal they needed to advance- and not getting it.

Our match at Tannadice Park looked like more of the same in the begining of the match. Dundee United took advantage of poor positioning by Brownie to scored the first goal when Steven Thompson looped a shot over him. Shortly after that Paul Ritchie was yellow carded for pushing Eddie Annand in the area and Annand converted the penalty kick and we were down and struggling 2-0. A funny thing happened on the way to rout though, and the boys just collectively bumped up their level of play. We got a goal back when Stephen Pearson tried to cross into the middle and it sailed past everyone into the far corner of the net for a bizarre goal. Three minutes later we were back

to even when Andrew Rollo made a sizzling cross that Steven Milne deflected past Alan Combe. I think the home fans could sense there was a little anger leftover from the humiliating loss in the League Cup Semifinal. We stormed into the lead midway through the second half when Ross O'Donoghue drove a rising shot past Combe. We clinched the match as Kenny Miller volleyed a pass from Pearson past Combe. DundeeU never had a chance to mount a comeback as David McCracken earned a redcard for being the last man and taking down O'Donoghue. With only 10 men, they struggled to get the ball out of their

end. The win left us a point behind Rangers for 2nd place (they had 2 matches in hand) and 4 points back of Celtic (they had 1 match in hand). We were all but assured 3rd place at least going into the last portion of the season. The next day Rangers went into Celtic Park and edged them 1-0 to take over 1st place on goal differential. Both Rangers and Celtic were 4 points clear of us, with Rangers still with a match in hand.

St.Johnstone sacked Alex Totten after their 2-1 loss at Aberdeen.

After our trip to Barca, we were still without a point in Champs Cup 2nd Group play. They had too much class for us as Javier Saviola and Paul

Scholes scored in the first half on John Connolly. Edgar Davids added a late freekick for the last goal in their 3-0 win. I had decided this was a chance to rest some of our first line players for the SPL stretch drive, so many 2nd line players were getting shots to play in this one and they just weren't up to the quality of play we saw from Barca.

Disaster in the 2nd leg of the 4th round for Rangers and Aberdeen. Rangers lost 3-1 to Juventus at Torino (out on 4-3 aggregate) and Aberdeen went down to Monaco 2-0 (out on 2-1 aggregate).

Our next match was our Scottish Cup 5th round tilt against Kilmarnock. I liked that we were hosting them at Fir Park, since they had proven a troublesome squad at times. The first half was frustrating to watch. We continually generated good scoring chances, only to see our shooters missing the net. At halftime it was still scoreless- we had had 9 shots, but only 1 on goal. Kilmarnock had managed only 1 shot period and hadn't seen our area since the opening moments of the match. The second half started out with more of the same as we couldn't hit the net. Finally, Charlie Miller took things into his own hands and knifed through their coverage to score his 1st goal at Motherwell. We didn't let off the pressure, though they did rally for a couple of chances that Brownie saved. The 1-0 result put us in the

Semifinals against St.Johnstone- hosting them at Fir Park. On the other side, a likely final opponent might be Celtic- who were hosting Dundee at Celtic Park.

It was another game effort as we hosted Bayern at Fir Park, but also another one we wound up a goal short in. Nonato gave them the lead in the opening moments as he whisked a shot past John Connolly. We wasted little time evening the match up as Ross O'Donoghue continued to demonstrate his improved level of play by scoring on a nice run. Bayern responded as Carsten Jancker got up to deflect a looping cross from Owen Hargreaves past Connolly at 14 minutes. We tried to rally, but were continually blunted by better technical play and Oliver Kahn's steady work in the Bayern net. The 2-1 loss drops us to 6 straight losses in our Group.

St. Johnstone named Englishman Peter Taylor as their new manager.

Rangers midweek match hosting Dundee United brought all SPL clubs up to 30 matches. Their 3-1 win put them three points clear of Celtic for the top spot and 7 points clear of us.

Rangers knocked off St.Johnstone 2-0 at Ibrox and Celtic fell 3-2 to Kilmarnock to increase the Rangers lead at the top of the SPL.

In the League Cup Final, Dundee United used a late Eddie Annand goal to edge St.Mirren and capture the Cup. Hasney Aljofree earned MOM honors for stifling the St.Mirren forwards.

We hosted St.Mirren at Fir Park in a match I dearly wanted to win. We needed to start getting some momentum for stretch run in SPL. We got neither from this match. It was another match that we outplayed them by a large margin, but Brownie just didn't have a good match. They got goals from Ryan Robinson and Christopher Wreh and the only thing we could manage against Steve Banks was a late consolation goal by Mark Kerr. It was time for a back to the basics training approach in the following week.

It didn't turn out to help much. In a match where we could have cemented third place, we fell short again for our 2nd straight league loss as Aberdeen beat us 2-1 at Pittodrie. Derek Young's header past Brownie was the lone goal in the first half, but they went up 2-0 when Quino scored a fluke goal early in the 2nd half. We fought back with a Mark Kerr goal, but fell short again. We played well enough to win the match and outshot them by a 17-8 margin, but we were in one of those stretches where playing well wasn't enough because we weren't overcoming the one or two bad breaks against us.

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We hosted St.Johnstone in the Scottish Cup Semifinal and before the match I spent some time with the club talking about the effort that we needed in both this match- and for the remainder of the season. They certainly showed that kind of effort as we handily beat St.Johnstone 3-1. It really helped us to have Scott McLean back up front- we hadn't been getting any scoring from our forwards lately and he scored twice in the first half- actually came close to having 4 in the half. Kiegan Parker added a goal midway through the 2nd half and though we allowed them a consolation goal, we controlled the match pretty much from start to finish. The win means that we will face off against Celtic for the Scottish cup- as they defeated Dundee 2-0.

In our last match before the Playoff Group play started, we travelled to

Ibrox to face the Rangers. The match was just like the story of the season, we played well- but couldn't score a key goal. Brownie only gave up a rebound goal to Dick Landzaat, but that was the lone goal in the match as Stefan Klos completely shut us down. The 1-0 loss paired with Aberdeen's crushing 4-2 win over Celtic at Pittodrie meant that 'Gers had all but wrapped up the title with a 9 point lead over Celtic. Aberdeen's win meant that we would be fighting them for 3rd place as they were back within 3 points of us heading into the Playoff Group. Celtic certainly seemed assured of 2nd place.

Our first match in the Playoff Group was hosting Dundee. Things were

slightly grim at halftime as we trailed 1-0 on a goal by Georgy Nemsadze.

Still, we came out and played much better in the 2nd half and were rewarded when Ross O'Donoghue scored to even the match. We needed the win badly and were pulling out all stops on the attack. It was Kenny Miller who finally gave us the lead with a goal at 85 minutes and that was enough to give us the hard fought 2-1 win. The surprise player for us was Steven Thomson. Thomson had not played senior football until the Semifinal against St.Johnstone, but played well there and has earned the chance to start down the stretch- since I wasn't really happy with Scally or McKinlay's play this season. Celtic won at Dundee United by a 3-1 margin and Rangers helped us out with a 2-0 win over visiting Aberdeen.

Turkish side Besiktas (which knocked out Juventus) will face Manchester

United for the UEFA Crown. Besiktas disposed of Celta and Manchester United edged Monaco in the Semifinals.

Our match at Celtic Park was a preview of the intensity both clubs would

have when we met again in the Scottish Cup Final. Unfortunately, Christian Dailly showed too much intensity and earned a redcard in the 13th minute of play. Robert Malcolm came on to fill the spot and surprisingly we survived the first half unscathed and it was scoreless at halftime. We hadn't managed much in the way of offense- being a man down- but Steven Hammell stunned the huge Celtic Park crowd when he fired a long shot past Robert Douglas off the bottom of the cross bar at 60 minutes. It was quickly 1-1 though as Emile Heskey overpowered Malcolm and headed past Brownie at 62 minutes. It appeared we might actually steal the win when Didier Agathe was called for pushing Charlie Miller in the area at 83 minutes. Miscommunication caused young Andrew Rollo to take the penalty kick- and Douglas batted his shot over the net to save Celtic. The 1-1 draw was a decent result for us having played most of the match with only 10 men. Aberdeen fell again, this time

2-1 to Dundee United at home, and we were 8 points clear of them with 3 to play. Rangers dumped Dundee 2-0 to clinch the SPL Championship.

Dundee United was next at Fir Park. As evidenced by the thrashing they

handed us in League Cup Semi- we had problems with them all season. It was a much stronger start for us as we controlled the first half of play. All we had to show for it was a Scott McLean volley past Alan Combe, but still we had the lead at halftime. McLean struck again at 60 minutes and suddenly we got too comfortable, we should have known they would rally. They stormed back and Eddie Annand scored at 73 minutes. They were really pushing us, but Brownie made the key save he needed to- stopping David Hannah on a close-in blast. We held on and with the 2-1 win clinched at least a 3rd place finish. Rangers knocked off Celtic 1-0, which meant we were 4 points back of them with 2 matches to play. Aberdeen beat Dundee on the road and clinched 4th place with the win.

In the first leg of Champs Cup Semifinal, Chelsea thumped Roma 3-1 at

Stamford Bridge and Dortmund edged Milan 1-0.

Something I had seen coming for awhile came to a head before out trip to

Pittodrie. Ross O'Donoghue, accompanied by agent (bah), came and demanded to be placed on the transfer list at his request- he wanted to be on a 'bigger' club. As with Nicholas, I refused to let him be on the list at his request, but did place him on the transfer list at a price of 10 Million. He was upset about that- but I told him to take it or leave it- and they accepted the approach.

You could almost sense us working our frustration out over some of the

disappointments of this season as we played at Pittodrie. It was like we

wanted to make a statement to Aberdeen- and we did. Kenny Miller gave us the halftime lead when he directed a corner past Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto for the lone goal in the half. Brownie had to be sharp though and stopped Derek Young and Quino on good attempts. We moved ahead 2-0 when Charlie Miller made a brilliant run and rocketed a shot past Broto at 54 minutes. The match turned at the midway mark when it appeared that Quino had drawn a goal back for the home side, only to see it waved off on his offside. We took advantage of their distraction and Philip Maguire was whistled for knocking down Scott McLean in the area. Kenny Miller converted the penalty kick for his 20th goal of the season and we were up 3-0. Even after allowing a late Callum McHattie goal, we were strong and played out the 3-1 win. Combined with Celtic's 2-2 draw at home against Dundee- we were within 2 points of 2nd place. Celtic closed out at Aberdeen, while we faced the daunting challenge of ending 'Gers record setting 14 match winning skein at Ibrox after they had beaten Dundee United 2-1. I hadn't realized it, but Kenny Miller had broken the scoring record for us with that 20th goal.

Dortmund and Chelsea would be the opponents for the Champions Cup title

match, as they moved past the two Italian sides in the 2nd leg of their

semis.

It was a packed house as the 'Gers fans came to see their club finish off a successful campaign. The fans may have assumed that they would win, but I think the players knew that we were coming to play. We had to win and get help from Aberdeen to beat out Celtic for 2nd place, so the first order of business was for us to end the 14 match winning streak. Kenny Miller made a statement against his former club for us at 23 minutes when he overpowered Lorenzo Amoruso to deflect a Mark Kerr cross past Stefan Klos. We took that lead to halftime as Brownie was very sharp in stopping Barry Ferguson and Tore Andre Flo on good chances. They poured the pressure on us to start the 2nd half, but Christian Dailly and Alan Archibald were doing an excellent job of keeping the pressure out from directly in front of Brownie. A roar went up from the crowd early in the 2nd half when big-screen highlights showed Callum McHattie scoring to put Aberdeen ahead of Celtic 1-0, the fans were against Celtic more than they were against us. There was more cheering

shortly as Quino put Aberdeen up 2-0 at the 75 minute mark of their match. Against the flow of play, Ross O'Donoghue broke clean and chipped over Klos at 80 minutes to rock the 'Gers and though they struggled to rally, we stood up and wouldn't let them through our midfield. As our match wound down, there were many sighs and groans as surging Celtic struck back with a goal by Emile Heskey. With our match done and the winning streak ended- we rushed back to catch the final moments of the Aberdeen-Celtic match in the clubhouse. Though Celtic was storming, Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto was keeping them at bay as he stopped a Chris Sutton header. Celtic's last gasp was Heskey breaking through, but then missing wide of the net just before the whistle sounded. The 2-1 win by Aberdeen was enough to move us into 2nd place, a point above Celtic and really provide an excellent feeling on the end of a tough SPL season for us.

Manchester United beat upstart Besiktas 2-0 to win the UEFA Cup on a very

strong performance.

Emile Heskey earned SPL Player of the Year honors, beating out Tore Andre

Flo. Surprisingly, Scott McLean finished in 3rd in the balloting. Kiegan

Parker was selected SPL Young Player of the Year, beating out his teammate Ross O'Donoghue. Labinot Harbuzi finished in 3rd. After having 7 players on the SPL Players Team of the Year two seasons ago- we had only one this season- as Brownie was selected as the top keeper.

Dortmund soared to beat Chelsea 2-0 to grab the Champions Cup. Dede and

Pavel Nedved both scored on 2nd half headers for the goals in the match. It was a disappointing end to what had been a great run by Chelsea.

Oh yes. Celtic was ready for the Scottish Cup Final. They were very unhappy about missing out on 2nd place and were jumping on us in the opening moments. They hit the uprights 3 times in the first 10 minutes, but all of them bounced out- much to Brownie's relief. For the first 20 minutes, we couldn't get the ball out of our zone at all. Scott McLean finally had our first chance at 23 minutes, but he also rang the post. He got up to head one at Douglas on a cross from O'Donoghue, but Douglas blocked it away. Mark Kerr then sent another cross into McLean and Douglas stopped that one as well, but Charlie Miller drove the rebound past him and we had the lead at 26 minutes. We were doing an excellent job blunting runs by their midfield and that was making Sutton and Heskey ineffectual. But, you can't let either of them loose for a minute- and at 73 minutes Heskey did get loose from Alan Archibald and drilled a shot that Brownie couldn't snag and we were back to 1-1. It was edge-of-the-seat time for all the fans at Hampden Park and many thought we were headed to extra time. Kenny Miller had other ideas as he made an excellent header at 89 minutes- only to see Douglas get a hand on it. The ball bounced right back to Kenny again though and he didn't miss the

2nd time- scoring the match winner as we knocked them off for the Scottish Cup by that 2-1 margin.

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We hosted St.Johnstone in the Scottish Cup Semifinal and before the match I spent some time with the club talking about the effort that we needed in both this match- and for the remainder of the season. They certainly showed that kind of effort as we handily beat St.Johnstone 3-1. It really helped us to have Scott McLean back up front- we hadn't been getting any scoring from our forwards lately and he scored twice in the first half- actually came close to having 4 in the half. Kiegan Parker added a goal midway through the 2nd half and though we allowed them a consolation goal, we controlled the match pretty much from start to finish. The win means that we will face off against Celtic for the Scottish cup- as they defeated Dundee 2-0.

In our last match before the Playoff Group play started, we travelled to

Ibrox to face the Rangers. The match was just like the story of the season, we played well- but couldn't score a key goal. Brownie only gave up a rebound goal to Dick Landzaat, but that was the lone goal in the match as Stefan Klos completely shut us down. The 1-0 loss paired with Aberdeen's crushing 4-2 win over Celtic at Pittodrie meant that 'Gers had all but wrapped up the title with a 9 point lead over Celtic. Aberdeen's win meant that we would be fighting them for 3rd place as they were back within 3 points of us heading into the Playoff Group. Celtic certainly seemed assured of 2nd place.

Our first match in the Playoff Group was hosting Dundee. Things were

slightly grim at halftime as we trailed 1-0 on a goal by Georgy Nemsadze.

Still, we came out and played much better in the 2nd half and were rewarded when Ross O'Donoghue scored to even the match. We needed the win badly and were pulling out all stops on the attack. It was Kenny Miller who finally gave us the lead with a goal at 85 minutes and that was enough to give us the hard fought 2-1 win. The surprise player for us was Steven Thomson. Thomson had not played senior football until the Semifinal against St.Johnstone, but played well there and has earned the chance to start down the stretch- since I wasn't really happy with Scally or McKinlay's play this season. Celtic won at Dundee United by a 3-1 margin and Rangers helped us out with a 2-0 win over visiting Aberdeen.

Turkish side Besiktas (which knocked out Juventus) will face Manchester

United for the UEFA Crown. Besiktas disposed of Celta and Manchester United edged Monaco in the Semifinals.

Our match at Celtic Park was a preview of the intensity both clubs would

have when we met again in the Scottish Cup Final. Unfortunately, Christian Dailly showed too much intensity and earned a redcard in the 13th minute of play. Robert Malcolm came on to fill the spot and surprisingly we survived the first half unscathed and it was scoreless at halftime. We hadn't managed much in the way of offense- being a man down- but Steven Hammell stunned the huge Celtic Park crowd when he fired a long shot past Robert Douglas off the bottom of the cross bar at 60 minutes. It was quickly 1-1 though as Emile Heskey overpowered Malcolm and headed past Brownie at 62 minutes. It appeared we might actually steal the win when Didier Agathe was called for pushing Charlie Miller in the area at 83 minutes. Miscommunication caused young Andrew Rollo to take the penalty kick- and Douglas batted his shot over the net to save Celtic. The 1-1 draw was a decent result for us having played most of the match with only 10 men. Aberdeen fell again, this time

2-1 to Dundee United at home, and we were 8 points clear of them with 3 to play. Rangers dumped Dundee 2-0 to clinch the SPL Championship.

Dundee United was next at Fir Park. As evidenced by the thrashing they

handed us in League Cup Semi- we had problems with them all season. It was a much stronger start for us as we controlled the first half of play. All we had to show for it was a Scott McLean volley past Alan Combe, but still we had the lead at halftime. McLean struck again at 60 minutes and suddenly we got too comfortable, we should have known they would rally. They stormed back and Eddie Annand scored at 73 minutes. They were really pushing us, but Brownie made the key save he needed to- stopping David Hannah on a close-in blast. We held on and with the 2-1 win clinched at least a 3rd place finish. Rangers knocked off Celtic 1-0, which meant we were 4 points back of them with 2 matches to play. Aberdeen beat Dundee on the road and clinched 4th place with the win.

In the first leg of Champs Cup Semifinal, Chelsea thumped Roma 3-1 at

Stamford Bridge and Dortmund edged Milan 1-0.

Something I had seen coming for awhile came to a head before out trip to

Pittodrie. Ross O'Donoghue, accompanied by agent (bah), came and demanded to be placed on the transfer list at his request- he wanted to be on a 'bigger' club. As with Nicholas, I refused to let him be on the list at his request, but did place him on the transfer list at a price of 10 Million. He was upset about that- but I told him to take it or leave it- and they accepted the approach.

You could almost sense us working our frustration out over some of the

disappointments of this season as we played at Pittodrie. It was like we

wanted to make a statement to Aberdeen- and we did. Kenny Miller gave us the halftime lead when he directed a corner past Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto for the lone goal in the half. Brownie had to be sharp though and stopped Derek Young and Quino on good attempts. We moved ahead 2-0 when Charlie Miller made a brilliant run and rocketed a shot past Broto at 54 minutes. The match turned at the midway mark when it appeared that Quino had drawn a goal back for the home side, only to see it waved off on his offside. We took advantage of their distraction and Philip Maguire was whistled for knocking down Scott McLean in the area. Kenny Miller converted the penalty kick for his 20th goal of the season and we were up 3-0. Even after allowing a late Callum McHattie goal, we were strong and played out the 3-1 win. Combined with Celtic's 2-2 draw at home against Dundee- we were within 2 points of 2nd place. Celtic closed out at Aberdeen, while we faced the daunting challenge of ending 'Gers record setting 14 match winning skein at Ibrox after they had beaten Dundee United 2-1. I hadn't realized it, but Kenny Miller had broken the scoring record for us with that 20th goal.

Dortmund and Chelsea would be the opponents for the Champions Cup title

match, as they moved past the two Italian sides in the 2nd leg of their

semis.

It was a packed house as the 'Gers fans came to see their club finish off a successful campaign. The fans may have assumed that they would win, but I think the players knew that we were coming to play. We had to win and get help from Aberdeen to beat out Celtic for 2nd place, so the first order of business was for us to end the 14 match winning streak. Kenny Miller made a statement against his former club for us at 23 minutes when he overpowered Lorenzo Amoruso to deflect a Mark Kerr cross past Stefan Klos. We took that lead to halftime as Brownie was very sharp in stopping Barry Ferguson and Tore Andre Flo on good chances. They poured the pressure on us to start the 2nd half, but Christian Dailly and Alan Archibald were doing an excellent job of keeping the pressure out from directly in front of Brownie. A roar went up from the crowd early in the 2nd half when big-screen highlights showed Callum McHattie scoring to put Aberdeen ahead of Celtic 1-0, the fans were against Celtic more than they were against us. There was more cheering

shortly as Quino put Aberdeen up 2-0 at the 75 minute mark of their match. Against the flow of play, Ross O'Donoghue broke clean and chipped over Klos at 80 minutes to rock the 'Gers and though they struggled to rally, we stood up and wouldn't let them through our midfield. As our match wound down, there were many sighs and groans as surging Celtic struck back with a goal by Emile Heskey. With our match done and the winning streak ended- we rushed back to catch the final moments of the Aberdeen-Celtic match in the clubhouse. Though Celtic was storming, Francisco Javier Sanchez Broto was keeping them at bay as he stopped a Chris Sutton header. Celtic's last gasp was Heskey breaking through, but then missing wide of the net just before the whistle sounded. The 2-1 win by Aberdeen was enough to move us into 2nd place, a point above Celtic and really provide an excellent feeling on the end of a tough SPL season for us.

Manchester United beat upstart Besiktas 2-0 to win the UEFA Cup on a very

strong

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It was a quiet summer- except for the European Championships going on- there wasn't a lot of player movement of note in the SPL. We were the exceptions as I landed young forward Shaun Maloney from Celtic for 3.8 Million. He hadn't been featured much for them and it was time to grab him before he did- since he is one of the top young Scottish players. I wasn't sure where he would fit in the lineup yet, but the cost seemed fine for a player of his overall skill set. We also added a player that I had been chasing for almost two seasons- defensive midfielder Michael Stewart. He cost 1.5 Million, but adding him to our lineup will certainly make us better. I released Brian McAllister and Billy McKinlay on free. McKinley had vented to the press about how he had lost confidence in me down the stretch last season, it was time for him to find a management job elsewhere.

The announcement on the European pairings brought a big surprise. Not only did Rangers and us qualify for Champs Cup- Celtic did also. Four teams qualified for UEFA- Aberdeen, Dundee, Dundee United and St.Johnstone and Kilmarnock is in Inter-toto.

It was a huge upset when Russia won the European Championship. They outlasted France in penalty kicks in the final after a 1-1 score. To get there, Russia knocked out England in the Semifinals, while France had put Italy out of the tourney.

We also landed Jamie Fullarton on Bosman. With Fullarton, Stewart, Thomson and Scally- I felt we were much better than last season at our defensive midfield position. In significant leavings- Beto and Paul Gallacher were both headed to England- and I wasn't sorry to see them leave.

In the Playoff Round of UEFA Dundee knocked off St.Johnstone on a 3-1 aggregate to move to the Qualifying round.

About a week before the season began, we received a surprise bid for Keith Lasley from Millwall. They offered us 3.1 Million for him- certainly more than I valued him at. With that much offered, and the fact I was still trying to find playing time for developing Philip Creaney and Ryan McCann- it was a no-brainer to allow him to move to Millwall. We also sold young James McFadden to Sheffield United for 1.8 Million. My coaches were split on whether he would amount to anything and since we had other midfield options, it made more sense to let him move on.

We opened the season at Tannadice Park with Dundee United. It was a good test to start the season, since they had proven very difficult for us last season. Mark Kerr scored in the 2nd minute and Shaun Maloney almost had a goal in his debut of pairing with Kenny Miller- but Alan Combe made a fantastic save. Eddie Annand again proved hard to handle when he equalized for them at 12 minutes- escaping Christian Dailly's marking. I told Christian and Alan Archibald to quit trying to mark him and just cover the zones- he was less of a factor after that. We managed to edge them 2-1 when Stephen Pearson subbed on for Ross O'Donoghue and made a superb run before crossing to Kenny Miller- who half-volleyed the match winner past Combe. The one overriding feeling I had from the club as we headed into this season was that we were much more settled than in the past.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that we wouldn't have to qualify for Group Play in Champs Cup. Celtic was in the 3rd phase of qualifying, but both Rangers and us were placed directly into Group play- I guess past holders get a little deferrance now and then.

Our first home match was also a test- Aberdeen came to visit. Our offense just seemed so much more explosive with the pairing of Kenny Miller and Shaun Maloney up front- this match was evidence of that. Maloney nailed a header for his first goal for us and then Miller scored a quick pair of goals to put us up 3-0 at halftime. Though Aberdeen played a strong 2nd half, they could not dent the scoreline and Brownie kept the clean sheet in our 3-0 win.

Midweek we finally were able to find a new home for Stuart Davidson. Dunfermline was happy to land him for 1.1 Million and it was certainly good for us to allow him to find some place to earn some playing time.

Next up was another club that had given us occasional problems last season as we went to Falkirk. Brockville Park wasn't much help to them as we sliced and diced them in the first half. We led at halftime 3-0 on goals from Mark Kerr, Scott McLean and Steven Milne. We played strong in the second half also, but were content to keep that lead and that was the final margin of our win. What was really encou