Drawing the positives
Craig Levein's Scotland may not have been electric, but they did enough for North of the Border to look on the bright side.
DRAWING THE POSITIVES
Scotland drew in Slovenia in their first international friendly as they prepared for their World Cup qualification campaign and a chance to end their 14-year absence from international tournaments. After a round of withdrawals that is becoming a major obstacle in the work of manager Craig Levein, the result, away to a team 18 places further up the FIFA list, is just the kind that will be essential in a World Cup group that promises to be a scrap.
Levein does not have the strongest group of players at his disposal and without his starting full-backs and his best player, the Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, and with his first-choice as a solo striker, Cardiff City's Kenny Miller, on the bench, Scotland earned a result the hard way.
Miller - like Charlie Adam, who started in a five-man midfield - was coming off the back of a gruelling 120 minutes in the Carling Cup final; Celtic captain Scott Brown, Blackpool's Matt Phillips and the full-backs Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley had earlier withdrawn.
While the performance was more sturdy than spectacular, the importance of stodgy away draws in the World Cup group ahead was underlined by the friendly results of their opponents in that competition. Not one of Wales, Croatia, Serbia, Belgium or Macedonia managed a win.
NEW POWER RANGERS
Rangers were comfortable winners at Inverness last weekend, after a performance that their manager, Ally McCoist, praised for its spirit in the face of increasing adversity. News had already broken that this week would see redundancies among the playing staff at Ibrox.
The 4-1 victory featured three players who could be among the first green shoots of any recovery at Ibrox. Ross Perry, Andrew Little and Salim Kerkar all started in the Highlands and all were impressive. Their names will not be read out when the administrators break the news that Rangers supporters have been braced for all week.
Instead, the axe is likely to fall on senior players, earning high wages and with little resale value. Sasa Papac, the Bosnian defender who was signed by Paul Le Guen six years ago, admitted this week that he fears he will be among those who have played their last game for Rangers. "We have to wait and see what the administrators do," he said. "Their job is to clear Rangers' debts, which means the club could lose a lot of players as they are well paid – too well for the situation the club is in. Any one of the players could go now for the good of the club's financial health. I know I have no chance of getting another contract or at least certainly not one at my existing level."
Next season's Rangers team is likely to look very different and may depend on the output of Murray Park, the multi-million pound training facility that sits behind Ibrox on the list of assets being scoured by the club's administrators.
In the company of internationals such as Steven Davis and Maurice Edu, Rangers' valuable centre midfield partnership, their rookies looked accomplished. Once the dust has settled on the story that will define this and future seasons in Scotland, they may have to assume more responsibility.
Hibernian restocked their squad during January and this week they moved three points clear of Dunfermline Athletic at the bottom of the SPL. Their only goal now is to avoid the single relegation spot at the foot of the table.
The Edinburgh club exercised their greatest advantage over their rival last month: money. They could afford to sign eight players to reform a team it was getting difficult to believe in. They put together back-to-back clean sheets - the first time they had avoided conceding since the arrival of their manager, Pat Fenlon, in November - but then had the misfortune to face Celtic, game they lost 5-0, and were then beaten by Motherwell, another form team, in a 4-3 thriller.
This week they again promised to get out of trouble before it gets really hairy, winning 3-0 at Kilmarnock. Of the new boys, there was another clean sheet for defensive recruits Matt Doherty, a right back borrowed from Wolverhampton Wanderers, tough-guy centre-back James McPake, from Coventry City, and Pa Kujabi, a wildcard left-back who likened his game to that of Roberto Carlos when he landed in Scotland. At the other end, Hibs' goals came from another two new players: Tom Soares, a winger on loan from Stoke City, scored twice and Roy O'Donovan, a clubmate of McPake at Coventry, got the other.
The massive turnover of Fenlon's starting personnel was not that big a risk as the team he inherited from Colin Calderwood looked a soft touch every time they took the field. However, to have constructed the beginnings of a recovery so shortly after such dramatic reconstruction constitutes impressive work. The fact that the majority of his best XI do not belong to Hibs suggests further surgery will be required in the summer but, for now, a radical rescue strategy seems to have paid off for a club that could ill afford relegation.
RETURN OF THE VENGABUS
Some players of Ross County, the leaders of the First Division after a 3-2 midweek win over Ayr United, pooled their cash to buy a people carrier to take them into training. This vehicle was named The Vengabus, after an infectious yet worthless pop hit of the late 1990s. 'New York to San Francisco' was the journey made by the original Vengabus, according to the song. This one makes the daily trip from Inverness, where the players live, to Dingwall, 15 miles further north.
This week, tragically, The Vengabus broke down.
However, karma came to the roadside rescue. Earlier this season, a supporters' bus broke down on the way home from a game and the club bus took some of the stranded back with them. So when the supporters learned of the fate of The Vengabus, a Facebook SOS went out and soon a Staggies-sympathetic mechanic came forward with an offer to bring the infirm Fiat back to life.
It turns out that the seven players involved had only put up £400 for their transport, so perhaps its fate is unsurprising and an upgrade may well come as part of their anticipated promotion to the SPL.