I’VE always felt Ian Black’s reputation as a hothead has been somewhat overblown, so it has been heartening to see his undoubted quality begin to override concerns about his temperament recently.
When the Hearts midfielder is on his game, as he generally seems to be in the bigger matches, there are few better players in the country. Graceful, elegant, composed and dominant, there are shades of Paul Hartley about Black when he’s in the mood, as he was at Ibrox on Saturday, and as he was when he “painted Easter Road maroon” at New Year.
In fact, whenever Hearts click, Black is generally the fulcrum of the team, and, as such, is probably their most important player these days. Given the competition for midfield places in the Scotland squad, he would need to be playing ultra- consistently to force his way in.
To do that, he needs to cut out the bookings, and, in turn, suspensions which interrupt any momentum and give his critics easy ammunition to brand him a loose cannon. That said, three red cards in over five years is hardly the record of a maniac. If he can start bossing games on a more regular basis in the manner he has done on several occasions against the likes of Hibs, Celtic and Rangers over the past season and a half, the occasional moment of rashness will become more easily forgiven by his observers.
• Anyone else bemused by the negativity in some quarters which met Scotland’s draw in Slovenia last week? Friendly or not, how can a 1-1 draw away to a team who have consistently been better than us for the past few years be considered anything other than a good result? The performance was branded “uninspiring” by some, but since when have Scotland ever been anything other than functional in the past 30 years? Those expecting us to go out in a 4-4-2 formation and tear decent Eastern European opposition to shreds clearly have no grasp of where Scotland currently sit in the grand scheme. While we have a strong squad in relation to what’s been available in the last decade or so, there needs to be a nationwide reality check in terms of what a team of low-end English Premier League and top-end Championship players are capable of on the international stage. A run of one defeat (away to the world champions) in seven games has to be seen as a fine achievement by modern-day Scottish standards.
• What is going on at Pittodrie? 12-game unbeaten runs and 21st-century Aberdeen have never been natural bedfellows, but Craig Brown appears to have halted a malaise which looked destined to take the Dons into the First Division sooner or later. Next term could be the one where the Dons really spark into life and produce the type of free-flowing football Brown oversaw during his time at Motherwell a few years ago.
• No disrespect to untried Wolves manager Terry Connor, but I hope the boo-boys who helped chase Mick McCarthy out of Molineux are regretting their actions. Maybe when they’re back in the Championship, those spoilt fans who felt their team were underachieving in the EPL will appreciate the job McCarthy did for their club.
• Top three in the league separated by a point. Top six separated by a mere five. That’s the incredible situation in the Dutch Eredivisie at present. As Celtic canter 21 points clear of their nearest rivals, it seems us Scots can only dream of such competition in our domestic league.