Our second match in the group stage of this seasons Europa League saw us travel to Prague to take on Sparta, in a game we were looking to get something from after our opening loss. A city which was always going to bring an extra element to the build up given the issues off the back our meeting with their rivals, Slavia, last season. That said, the stadium would only be able to host mostly children due to Sparta having a stadium ban following their own racist incident. You would like to think that these circumstances would mean that the focus could solely be on the football taking place on the field, but unbelievably this would turn out to be another night where the attitudes of…certainly a city can be called into question. From minute one, Glen Kamara was subjected to jeers from the stands which set the tone for what was to be a frustrating evening in many respects. Those who intend to defend this, and frankly they are in the minority in terms of those discussing it, will say that this was off the back of Kamara “attacking Prague”. This, for comments he made after a player based in Prague made a racist insult to him, only for him and his club to cowardly make an utter disgrace of themselves with how they defended this afterward. Those in the stadium who chose to boo Kamara were making a choice. They were saying that they would side with a racist over someone who called it out. That speaks of an attitude that completely contradicts what a right-thinking world should be like. And the public statements in the aftermath from Sparta, and indeed Slavia deciding to raise their heads on this again, tell you everything that you need to know. They feel like they can do no wrong. That they are the victim and that the issue is about people on social media having a go at children. Here is what I would say in response to that. Remember why only children were allowed to attend? How much worse would it have been if there was no stadium ban? “Stop abusing our children”? How about you stop racial abusing our players? Neither club look as though they are willing to implement change. Whenever a racist incident occurs in this country, it is immediately condemned and those responsible are dealt with. That’s what you are supposed to do. That’s making taking positive action. These Prague clubs will get left behind if they don’t fix their own issues. Stop deflecting. Deal with it.
Rant over. And what we need to now do is focus on what happened on the field. And it was not a good night for us as we would lose our second group stage match on the bounce to suddenly make this campaign far more concerning than in previous years. We had some decent spells of attacking play in the first half, but we were incredibly open at the back as we were missing both our main central defenders. A number of balls in behind our very high backline meant our keeper was busy. The only goal comes from a set piece where we leave a man open to head the ball over the line via the post, a call that was only able to be made through goal line technology. Although it was only 1-0 in the end, and the game was done when we were reduced to 10 men, it could have been a higher scoreline due to our defensive fragility, and even though we did look better in an attacking sense than what we did at the weekend, the result was totally fair.
Here is how you rated our players from our second Europa League group stage match.
Allan McGregor – 7.1 (7) – Man of the Match
If it wasn’t for him then this would have been a lot more sore, there were a lot of elements of the McGregor from last season. He met both shots from outside the area as well as one on one situations very well, saving with both hand and foot. The lack of a man on the post for the goal is surprising but whether that prevents the goal is questionable. The only bright spot on a dark night.
James Tavernier – 4.3 (5)
There were criticisms of him following this in relation to his leadership (which seems to be a common theme when we don’t win) but as much as it’s fair enough for people to say this, it can’t fall solely on him to fire the team up. He has been in a slump in terms of his performances for a while now, the last time he has made an impact on a game was St Johnstone really, so we are well overdue a higher level from him.
Leon Balogun – 4.9 (5)
A lot of responsibility is falling on the shoulders of Leon right now, something I’m sure he will be more than happy to embrace as he would not want to simply settle for a back up role. I think he has been performing admirably in the main, doing what he can and defending as we would expect him to. Because of the type of defender he is, it requires someone to sit behind him to sweep up. That is where we really struggled.
Calvin Bassey – 3.4 (4)
I’m loathed to be overly critical on Calvin here as this was the first professional game he has played as a centre back, in a European tie, in a system that probably doesn’t allow him to do what we would naturally want to do as a centre back. With all of that context, he still had an absolute mare though. It seemed like he allowed himself to feel the pressure of playing a different role, and he did things as a centre back that he would never do in his normal position, letting the ball bounce in the box, not marking his man and so on. Hopefully we don’t need to resort to this option again if this is how he will perform in the centre.
Borna Barisic – 4.3 (5)
We are still looking for that good performance outwith an Old Firm game this season. He goes very quiet in games. He doesn’t make major errors, but he doesn’t make a real positive impact in the way we know he absolutely can. It needs that moment, that spark, to get him going again. A free kick winner on Sunday would be very pleasant, for instance.
Juninho Bacuna – 3.4 (5)
I was really frustrated, as was Juninho, to see him come off injured in the first half, because my suspicions of him being able to influence the game better from the middle were showing early signs of promise. He is aggressive, goes into challenges but then keeps the play moving when he does win the ball back. Hopefully he returns as soon as possible as I want to see him again in that position.
Steven Davis – 3.7 (4)
Coming back into to the team, having now realised that he has proper competition for his place, I felt that he did not do enough to show us what we were perhaps missing in an attacking sense here. He has been so good in the past at setting the right tempo for getting us moving forward at quick pace but that seems to have been absent from his game for a while, and as a result we have been missing a real drive in our play. It just shows how important he is to us if we feel we cannot change things up.
Glen Kamara – 4.6 (5)
The double booking Kamara received in both instances is utterly ridiculous, the first booking in particular is his hand glancing the boot of his opponent, I’m not sure how in any way that can be seen as a foul, let alone a yellow card. The atmosphere around the game and what was directed toward him makes it hard to be critical of him in any way, and for the most part I think he does his job as you would at least expect him to. Hold your head high Glen, you have so many people in your corner standing with you.
Joe Aribo – 4.7 (5)
We consider Aribo to be our best attacker here and, although we didn’t score, I get why people would see him in this way given some of the attacking moves we created, up until the point where he moves back into the middle after the Bacuna injury, and then we again see the more inhibited side of his game. I’m desperate for him to get angrier, to be more selfish and to see himself as the star. All the talent is there, and I’d love to see that shine through more and more frequently.
Fashion Sakala – 4.3 (5)
A good opportunity for him to start in a game like this, with the idea that his speed would help us get in behind and catch out the Sparta defence. His early critics will tell you that he has an issue with staying onside and a couple of times this came up again, and in that really frustrating way the kind of attacks we were creating felt more suitable for another striker we have. He’s yet to really have that excellent game for us.
Kemar Roofe – 3.4 (4)
We still find ourselves in this phase where Roofe, despite having better numbers than other forwards, is going through a spell of being far less effective. I struggle to think of anything he did in an attacking sense, even with the couple of spells of decent attacking play from us. If he was a penalty box striker, we would accept that for what it is, but he is far more than that, and we know he can play a lot better than this.
Ianis Hagi – 3.6 (5)
On as an early substitute and finds himself in the attacking third, but he fails to make enough of an impact despite being the kind of player we could expect to look toward to create that moment of magic that changes a game. It wasn’t to be on a night that felt sour for so many reasons.
Alfredo Morelos – 3.7 (5)
Like Hagi, his introduction should give us the hope that we can turn things around but after we are reduced in numbers it becomes harder to expect that. His frustration was clear, and understandable.
John Lundstram – 4.0 (5)
He comes on to shore up the midfield and limit the damage of the red card, and I think everyone would have felt that was the right decision. It says a lot for him that people see him in that way now after his start for us.