Last updated : 28 October 2004 By Pars Mad

This bloke turns to his mate and asks “What was the Rangers score tonight?”, “0-0” replies his mate. “Oh…” replies the first, “Who missed the Rangers penalty?”

You know, I’d maybe be able to muster a laugh at this joke if only it wasn’t so glaringly true. In the run up to the fixture, Rangers boss Alex McLeish stated his side’s need for three points if they were to remain in the SPL title race – a statement which was to play no small part in the outcome of this fixture. When an Old Firm team is in need of help, a man in black will always be there to rescue them. Whether his name is Dougal,
Clark – or in this case – Underhill, the Old Firm have no shortage of heroes to call upon should the situation require it!

You can scrap, you can fight, you can give your all, but in the end there is just simply no answer to the kind of inept (or should that be ‘biased’?) officiating which was so clearly up against the Pars from the word go. In saying that,
John Underhill and his merry men – in particular the baldy prat on the far side (North West stand) line – must really be congratulated for their performance. A career in comedy clearly beckons. I mean, it must take something special to be able to keep such a straight face whilst making the kind of appalling decisions which were all too common throughout the ninety minutes.

After a tremendously hard-working and spirited performance at the weekend, the Pars line-up remained the same in the ongoing – and so far, faltering – effort to achieve some measure of continuity at
East End Park. With Irishman Thomas Butler once again joining Craig Brewster at the front of the attack – Simon Donnelly again taking up the supporting role –the intention, by the Pars coaching staff, to ‘have a go’ seemed clear right from the get-go.

It was the Pars that were the first to signal their intentions, troubling Rangers captain Stefan Klos in the first few minutes after Simon Donnelly had done well to get on the end of an excellent Craig Brewster knock down. The Pars threatened once again, in the 3rd minute, when Brewster got onto the end of a Thomas Butler cross, Brewster’s tame header failing to cause Klos any real unease. After a fairly dull period of play, mainly dominated by the two ragged midfields, the Pars were to come agonisingly close to opening the scoring in the 11th minute. After a neat move, involving Brewster and Donnelly, set up Greg Shields on the edge of the visitors’ box, the right back cleverly laid the ball back to Barry Nicholson whose curling shot flew just inches wide of the left-hand post with Klos well beaten.

Big Eck’s side were to muster up their first opportunity of the match in the 19th minute when Croatian Dado Prso set up strike partner Nacho Novo on the edge of the box, the Spaniard sending a very poor shot spinning wide of Derek Stillie’s right-hand post. Three minutes later, the Pars were to take a much deserved lead through one of the classiest goals of the season so far. Excellent skill by ex-Celt Simon Donnelly enabled the forward to find Barry Nicholson in acres of space in the midfield, Nicholson sending a first time back heel into the path of Craig BREWSTER who sent a first time left footed shot curling past the – once again – helpless Stefan Klos and into the back of net, sending the Pars fans wild. It was certainly no more than the Pars deserved and, in a similar way to Saturday’s match, you could see the confidence levels rising. The visiting side almost replied in a fortuitous manner only minutes after with Novo’s looping header appearing to have beaten the scrambling Derek Stillie, Stillie getting in time to make an excellent save to keep the home side’s lead intact.

With the Pars confidently spraying the ball around to each other’s feet, the visitors – with possibly the quietist crowd since Celtic rolled into town – were forced to live off scraps, Bob Malcolm sending two ferociously brutal efforts spinning high over the bar before a miss-hit Derek Stillie clearance almost allowed Novo in, thankfully I’ve seen milk turn quicker than the wee Spaniard did on this occasion. The Pars could have doubled their lead in the 42nd minute when one of a number of stray passes by Bob Malcolm allowed Thomas Butler through on goal, the Irishman twisting and turning before sending a fairly weak effort straight into the arms of the grateful Stefan Klos. With the first-half coming to a close a predictable late rally from the visiting side arrived, with Scott Wilson and Scott Thomson having to heroically deny first Novo, and then Prso from snatching an equaliser. With
John Underhill’s late, late whistle bringing an end to the first-half’s proceedings, the Pars players were deservedly applauded off the park by a very satisfied home crowd.

‘Let’s sit back and defend this lead lads!’ Whether or not Davie Hay actually said this to his side at the half-time break or not is debatable, although it certainly appeared to be the tactic that the Pars players had adopted going into the second forty-five. Almost two minutes into the second-half the visitors were level. After a very soft free-kick – would it ever be anything other than soft?! – was awarded for an Andrius Skerla foul on Dado Prso, Fernando Ricksen – Rangers’ resident hooligan – sent in a right-footed cross which was met by an unchallenged Jean-Alain BOUMSONG header which rocketed into the back of the net. You’d have to wonder if the ‘world-class defender’ – the biggest piss-take statement this year! – has any complaints about the pitch now! With the Pars rattled, the visitors almost took the lead soon after when a Nacho Novo strike was excellently turned onto the post by Derek Stillie.

The visiting side were to get their second, and their compulsory penalty, only minutes later however, when
John Underhill finally realized how grave the situation had become for McLeish’s side. Bursting through unchallenged, Fernando Ricksen found room in the Pars box before being ‘fouled’ by last man Andrius Skerla which does beg the question; if it was a foul by Skerla – the last man – then why wasn’t he given his marching orders? If you’re going to cheat Mr Underhill, then at least try and make it look convincing won’t you? Needless to say, Underhill pointed to the spot and Spanish striker Nacho NOVO converted. The visitors could have added to the lead almost two minutes later after Prso was sent through on the Pars goal, only for Andrius Skerla – for the umpteenth time in his Pars career – to produce a magnificent goal saving tackle

In a team littered with morons and hooligans – Andrews, Ricksen and Novo to name but three – it came as no real surprise to Pars fans when they were presented with a new figure of hate, this time in the shape of French left back Gregory Vignal. Clashing in the tackle with Greg Shields, the Frenchman went down clutching his face – in a manner which would possibly even embarrass Rivaldo – when Sheildsy’s arms were firmly down by his side. As a frantic search was carried out in order to try and find the mystery sniper, mayhem seemed to erupt with furious Pars fans incensed with the Frenchman’s actions. As consistent as ever, Underhill refused to punish Vignal’s actions. Needless to say, the Frenchman’s following actions were not exactly cheered by the Pars support.

With just over twenty minutes remaining, ex-Livi defender Marvin Andrews sent a close range header flying over the Pars cross bar when it would have been far easier to score. With Davie Hay sending on, first, Billy Mehmet and then Andy Tod in search for the all-important equaliser the game took on a much more open feel. Shortly after Barry Nicholson had been booked for a foul on Gregory Vignal – a privilege that no doubt many Pars fans would have gladly paid for – Nacho Novo could have wrapped it up for the Pars, instead sending a close range right-footed volley wide of Derek Stillie’s left-hand post.
With the seconds ticking away, the Pars desperately began to stream forward in search of salvation, a factor which would lead to the visitors coming close with only minutes left, a Dado Prso header being magnificently turned round the post by Derek Stillie. With almost the last action of the match, the Pars once again came agonisingly close to sealing a point. A wicked Thomas Butler corner sent into the six-yard box caused chaos only for the ball to break to Scott Thomson on the angle of the box, the captain sending a ferocious volley careering towards Klos’ left hand corner, only for Bob Malcolm to miraculously clear the ball off the goalline to deny the Pars a share of the spoils. One word…ROBBED!!!

Let’s get one thing clear straight away. If Jimmy Calderwood’s
Aberdeen side can beat Celtic on their own patch, then Sunday’s trip to Castle Greyskull will be nothing more than a walk in the park for the Dons. Rangers are a very poor side! Yes they’re better than the Pars, of course they are, but if that’s really the second force in Scottish football…oh deary me, football in this country is indeed in dire straits!!! Which makes it all the more frustrating to think why the Pars failed to pick up the three points from a match which was clearly there for the taking.

After such a magnificent first-half performance – one which could have seen the Pars two or three up – it all looked so good for the Pars. The players were fighting, they were scrapping, and they were spraying the ball about effortlessly, controlling the game into the bargain and making players such as Boumsong look decidedly ordinary – which, lets face it, he is or he would be nowhere near Scottish football! Then of course the Pars concede a free-kick and, as we all know, the Pars players simply cannot defend set-pieces, and so we find ourselves level before the ref has even finished wondering how to award Rangers a penalty. But of course Mr Underhill did manage to award the visitors a penalty soon after and all was well once again in the land that time – and deodorant salesmen – forgot. This penalty award was merely the tip of the iceberg in what was an utterly shambolic display of ‘refereeing’. How Gregory Vignal did not end up with at least a yellow card is beyond me! If the ref chose to ignore the play acting, then why not caution the French left-back – Silvestre must be shaking in his boots! – for his persistent fouling and diving. To call the guy a cheat would be giving him a bonus, and to call him scum would only show that I cared! You only wish that Shieldsy had actually belted the guy!

Although much of the second-half performance left a lot to be desired, the Pars players were deservedly applauded off the pitch after their valiant efforts went unmerited. From the back to the front, each Pars player had reason to be relatively pleased with their performance throughout the piece. Derek Stillie, once more outstanding in the Pars goal, made a series of breathtaking saves once again to ensure the Pars were always in with a shout. With Calamity Craig and Mishap Marshall Scotland’s only goalkeeping options nowadays, Stillie’s consistent exclusion from the national side remains about as baffling as Andy Webster’s inclusion in it! The Pars defence, although static at times, all put in a good shift – Skerla pulling off some miraculous last-gasp tackles – although Greg Shields had to be the pick of the back four. Shields’ willingness to get forward, aswell as his excellent tracking back, continually offered the Pars attacking options when pushing for the equaliser. However, the most pleasing aspect of the night for Pars fans was arguably the performance of recent signing Thomas Butler. Looking sharper and sharper with each match,
Butler looks a real find, with his skill and ability to take players on sure to be a real asset in the coming months. In a fairly one-dimensional Pars side, Butler’s rapid bursts of acceleration provide a refreshing change to the team, one which will no doubt help in the search for goals. And while we’re on the subject of goals, I feel it only right to mention Brewster’s fabulous strike once again.

Good performance and abysmal refereeing or not, the simple fact yet again is that the Pars have taken Sweet FA from another vital match and continue to slip further and further into a relegation battle. It is encouraging to see the Pars players desperately fighting for the jersey, although fighting spirit doesn’t necessarily get results, and, in truth, the Pars will need much more than that in the next two fixtures – Dundee Utd (A) and Inverness Caley (H).

But I wouldn’t worry, Kenny Clark – the referee for Saturday’s match at Tannadice – surely can’t be as bad as
John Underhill was in this fixture! Although on second thoughts…

Man Of The Match - THOMAS BUTLER - A thrilling display from the winger, constantly looking to take players on.

PARS - Stillie 8, Shields 8, Thomson 7, Wilson 7, Skerla 7, Nicholson 6, Derek Young 6, Mason 6, (Tod 79) 5, Donnelly 6, (Mehmet 66) 6, Butler 8, Brewster 8.

SUBS NOT USED - Langfield, Byrne, Labonte, Darren Young, Bradley.