Ewood Park, for Blackburn v Sunderland on a bitterly cold Monday, requires dedication.
Pete Sixsmithhas it in abundance and will be there. He even warmed up for the challenge, if that is the right description, by subjecting himself to a blast of wintry Scottish weather, catching a Hibs v Rangers game that enabled him to see how a couple of our old boys are faring …
So, what to do the day after the day after Christmas? The Chocolate Fudge has been eaten from the last selection box, the DVD of Hilarious Footballing Gaffes Presented By DJ Spoony has been watched and proved to be as funny as a performance by Sting on his lute and the last of the relatives is still hanging around, desperately hoping for a New Years invite before they go back to the Salvation Army Hostel.
The prospect of “going to the sales” is about as enticing as an afternoon in the Strawberry with Ant and Dec, while the cinemas are showing nothing but rubbish – and American rubbish at that. What’s wrong with British rubbish? Where is Sex Lives Of The Potato Men when you need it?
A glance at the fixture list throws up Arsenal v Villa (too far away), Hull City v Manchester United (no chance of a ticket) and Hibernian v Rangers. Why not? Edinburgh’s not that far and it should be easy enough to get in, so let’s go, and leave the elderly relative on the doorstep for the Sally Bash to collect.
It’s a noon kick off and the first train arrives at 11.57, so that means a drive up the A1 with a couple of Tony Hancock episodes, Test Match Special and a new CD by Loudon Wainwright III. Weather is OK until we get to the bit of Lothian that sticks out into the sea and it begins to rain and sleet and the second lane of the dual carriageway is covered in snow and dead seagulls.
The Easter Road area is reached at 10.30 and, after a pointless drive down a cul-de-sac (and a difficult reverse back, complete with curses and oaths), I park in a shopping centre car park. I ask if it is OK and the assistant in the M and S Outlet Store stifles a yawn and says yes it is and people ask her this every match day; I buy a scarf a hat and a pair of gloves to hide my embarrassment.
The main attraction of this game is to see how two of Roy Keane’s Irish Army are doing for the HiBees. Within 12 seconds I get an answer as Anthony Stokes opens the scoring with a blistering shot, having jinked past David Weir. Three quarters of the ground erupts and for 20 minutes, Hibs look like legitimate title challengers as Rangers struggle to make any impact on the game.
Liam Miller is doing what he does best: making himself available for the short pass and then moving the ball on to a green shirt. Stokes feeds off the flicks of Colin Nish and also has the ball played in front of him so he can use his pace and strength to run on to it. The sunshine did appear to be blessing Leith.
Then it all goes wrong. Miller does what he did a number of times for us and gave the ball away in a dangerous area. It’s pushed up to another Miller , this time Kenny, who thumps home an equaliser. He had an excellent game and always looked dangerous. For some reason, the Hibs crowd took a dislike to him, probably because he was a former player, and he walks around with his finger pointing at the goal to indicate that he feels they are being jolly unsporting.
Rangers now begin to dominate the game, aided by a home team who are queuing up to press the self destruct button. Two poor attempts at clearing the ball lead to Riordan giving it away and Boyd putting the visitors 2-1 up before the break, aided by some Calamity Kelvin style goalkeeping from the Belgian Yves Ma-Kalamby.
It gets worse in the second half. Ma-Kalamby is limping and is beaten at his near post early on by Novo and Miller (K) completes the rout midway through the half, prompting a walkout of East Stand proportions by the Hibs fans.
By this time, Miller (L) has completely disappeared from view and studiously avoided going anywhere near the ball, while Stokes is now giving a performance reminiscent of those that he put on in a red and white shirt – making pointless runs and managing to be in the wrong place for any pass that comes within 10 yards of him. The Hibs fans around me are, to put it mildly, exasperated by his performance. I don’t have the heart to tell them that this is the best I had ever seen him play. Wasted talent in capital letters …
As for Rangers, they look a good side, very strong in midfield and in Miller (K) they have the outstanding performer on the field. Kris Boyd looks useful; he is big and strong and, according to the always impressive Walter Smith, he is working much harder than before. He may be worth a punt in January, as may Kirk Broadfoot, the right back. He tackles well, gets forward and can actually pass a ball – attributes that are consistently missing at the Stadium of Light. Whether he can do it at a higher level than the SPL is a matter for conjecture.
All in all, a jolly afternoon out. The game was never dull (unless you were a Hibs fan, and it only really got dull when the third one went in), it was played in a competitive spirit and was well refereed. At no stage did a goalkeeper run 80 yards to tell an idiot that he was booking the wrong man, there is little pushing and shoving and no heavy stewarding outside; even the Rangers fans seemed human. It was decent, honest football – and proof that maybe Roy didn’t have such a good eye for a footballer after all.