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Friday, 12 October 2007

4922: Liverpool, Bristol Rovers and


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by : Hugh Larkin

I must admit I am in the middle group. I am immensely proud of our efforts so far. It has given me moments of celebration that I had never dreamed of as a Scotland supporter. However we have three cup finals ahead of us. Ukraine at home. Georgia away. Italy at home. We won’t win all three, I am sure of that. I would certainly take six points. I fear we could get four or less. Although I hope I am just being patriotically pessimistic.

Us Scots would not feel content winning convincingly anyway. When Rangers went to Lyon last week and thrashed the French champions on their own patch of grass we did not know what to think, except perhaps a mere ‘sacre bleu’. It was far more Scottish the following night when a Celtic fan ran on to the pitch to happy-slap Dida in order to, thankfully, ensure all the gloss was removed from another superb Scottish victory.

On Saturday will Scotland win against the Ukraine and edge even closer to qualification? We may well do. In most eyes we will go into that game as the fighting underdog, a position that suits us down to a tee. The Ukraine still has a reputation as a superior side but when football’s biggest enigma- Andriy Shevchenko- arrives in Glasgow, we Scotland supporters will be praying he has brought some of his poor Chelsea form with him.

However the match I worry far more about is Georgia away on Wednesday night. We will go into that match as favourites and needing the three points. But when we should win games we usually never do. It is like the mouse blindly edging closer to the cheese, oblivious to the perilous trap that awaits him.

One thing is certain. Even if this qualification campaign ends in an ignominious three defeats I will not care. It has been an amazing ride. Two victories over the French. Top of a ridiculously difficult group after nine games. That must rank up there with any achievement the national team has had in the past. This will be the Scotland team that one day I will tell my grandchildren about. And no doubt James McFadden’s speculative thirty-yarder against France will get further and further out every time I retell the story.

Even so, I must admit I am waiting upon our match against the Ukraine with a feeling of excitement but a twinge of dread. Will it be on Saturday that myself and the rest of the Tartan Army awakes from this glorious dream?Even the youngest football fan knows the truth that teams win more matches at home and that points are more difficult to pick up on opposing grounds. Unusually, this season has opened with a high proportion of teams doing better way from their own patch- some of them are even riding high because of it. Perhaps counter-attacking has become the new orthodoxy.

Liverpool

The Reds are still unbeaten in the Premiership this campaign yet there’s disquiet around the club because of an inability to put sides away at Anfield. Strangely, Liverpool’s only home win in the League has been a 6-0 thrashing; Chelsea, Birmingham City and Spurs have all gone away with point.

On the road the pattern is exactly reversed- three wins and only Portsmouth able to stop Rafa Benitez’s side taking maximum points. It’s early days still and but for a dubious penalty Chelsea would have been seen off there is concern among some Reds fans.

Bristol Rovers

If Liverpool’s home form is a concern, Bristol Rovers efforts are just bizarre. Since coming up from League Two the Pirates have chalked up just 3 draws in five home starts but on the road they are unbeaten in five games gathering 9 points in the process.

12 points leaves them in the lower midtable and the fans unsure whether to be optimistic about how far they might go if the home form picks up, or concerned if the away form goes back to normal.

Leyton Orient

League One is producing a whole spate of unusual statistics so far. Leyton Orient are riding high near the summit with a home record that looks distinctly average. The O’s have been beaten twice in 5 outings at Brisbane Road but away they have taken the spoils four times out of five.

At least the team have taken 7 points from home matches but the last two home losses were consecutive and by 4-2 and 5-0 scorelines. At this rate Orient may become the only side to take more fans to away games than turn up at home.

And its not confined to Orient-Tranmere Rovers top the division just above with 11 points on their travels and eight at home.

Bournemouth

Down at the foot of League One, Bournemouth’s record at Dean Court is appalling. The Cherries have taken in just a single point from their five home outings, yet the side have pulled in two wins and a draw from five sorties away from the South Coast. One of those away wins happened to be at fellow home strugglers Bristol Rovers.

Hereford United and Chester City

In League Two Hereford are performing exactly like Leyton Orient. The Bulls lie second on the back of four wins from five on their travels. Just below them Chester City are even more phobic about familiar surroundings, with just 7 points taken at the Saunders Honda Stadium compared to an unbeaten 13 on the road.

Bury

Of all the teams in the Football League though Bury are the ones that currently have the most ambivalent relationship with their home patch. So far the Shakers have won just once at Gigg Lane and done the trick twice away, which is typical.

Possibly they may be shaping up for a repeat of last season’s oddities when the Shaker actually won double the number of games away from Gigg Lane as they did on their supposed home turf.

A non-travelling Bury fan would have seem just 4 home victories in 2006/07 but the small band of travelling loyalists got to watch Bury win 9 times. The team stayed up because of 31 points pulled in on away jaunts compared to a meagre 19 from Gigg Lane.

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