Tuesday, March 1, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: March 2, 8:23 AM UK
Hamilton on the precipice
Hamilton Academical already appear to be staring into the SPL abyss and we've only just welcomed in March.
• Hamilton 1-2 Hibernian
The Lanarkshire club faces a real fight to preserve its top-flight status after being cut seven points adrift at the foot of the table.
Billy Reid hasn't had his troubles to seek this term with midfielder Simon Mensing only recently returning to the first-team following a month-long ban for failing a drugs test.
Mensing tested positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine, which was present in a dietary supplement, although he's continued to protest his innocence. He received notification of his ban in January from UKAD (the national body for UK's anti-doping policy) following his initial test after Aberdeen beat the Accies 1-0 on December 29 at New Douglas Park.
"I did everything I could to check that the supplement was all right," said Mensing. "This whole saga has been a nightmare for me and my family."
The 28-year-old was under the spotlight when he returned to action for last weekend's 1-1 draw with Dundee United. He was also involved as his side slipped to a 16th defeat of the season in the 2-1 home loss to Hibs in midweek.
Akpo Sodje opened the scoring for Colin Calderwood's rejuvenated side before Derek Riordan doubled their advantage. Flavio Paixo replied but it was too little, too late.
Hamilton have failed to win a match on their own patch this term and have only picked up two wins on the road at local rivals Motherwell and up at Inverness, whilst they've drawn nine matches.
Their latest loss to Hibs, worryingly in front of just 2,619 fans, leaves them with an unenviable task of clawing back the seven-point lead St Mirren have over them if they are going to be able to avoid the drop. And with a daunting trip to Parkhead to face Celtic this Saturday, Reid could be forgiven for fearing the worst.
Reid freely admits Mensing was missed during his controversial ban but is refusing to give up on the fight or use any excuses.
"We definitely missed Simon when he was out but deservedly came straight back into the team against United and Hibs," said Reid. "He is a valuable player to have back at this stage of the season because he can play in five or six different positions as well as being able to chip in with vital goals.
"We're struggling to put points on the board and that's been very frustrating especially as we were just six minutes away from winning our first three points of the season at home before United equalised in our weekend match.
"But we've got to take our chances, keep believing and keep working hard. We've had so many set-backs this season, it was another one against Hibs but we always try to look forward.
"And as long as I get the same effort and endeavour then I'll be happy. The only criticism I've got of the players is that the effort and endeavour is good but in the final third we need to be better. We need to start scoring goals, it's the old cliche that goals change games."
Hamilton, have to a certain extent, been a victim of their own successes after losing two key midfielders to the English Premier League in recent seasons.
Rising star James McCarthy, Hamilton's youngest-ever player, left for Wigan Athletic in July 2009. The move might have furthered McCarthy's career and earned Reid's men a £1.2 million transfer fee, but they've struggled to replace his energy and drive in their engine room.
Not content with raiding the Accies once for talent, Latics boss Roberto Martinez returned north of the border to lure McCarthy's midfield partner James McArthur south. That move generated a further £500,000 for the Hamilton coffers but again deprived them of midfield options.
Defender Brian Easton has also moved south to join Burnley to further emphasise the value of shopping in Scotland for cheap young talent.
Hamilton's latest defeat to Hibs comes in the wake of the Scottish Premier League announcement that next season will kick off on July 23.
The new early start is designed to allow clubs in European competition to prepare better and alleviate the potential backlog of midweek fixtures from the inevitable winter call-offs.
But there's now a huge doubt over whether Hamilton will still be a SPL side when the first whistle is blown on the new look league campaign in a little over four months.