Sean Murdoch is aiming to help the footballing dreams of aspiring African goalkeeper Horlah Sarpeh come true after revealing he is shipping gloves and kit to Nigeria ahead of the youngster’s make-or-break trial. The Dunfermline number one connected with promising 20-year-old, who is currently plying his trade in the Ghanaian second tier with Dunkwa United FC, through social networking site LinkedIn and was quickly won over by his drive and dedication. Sarpeh’s natural talent has seen him train with Swedish sides Syrianksa and Sodertalje FK before returning to his homeland in 2016. Nevertheless, his lack of resources is a continual challenge, with the stopper lining up in his domestic league with tattered gloves and missing studs. And Murdoch, with the assistance of Pars kit-man Mo Hutton, has resolved to do what he can to aid Sarpeh, who is currently preparing to undertake trials in Nigeria as he seeks to win a top-flight contract in one of the most prestigious leagues on the continent. “I keep in contact with a young goalkeeper over there, Horlah, who has a big trial coming up in Nigeria,” explained Murdoch. “He doesn’t have any materials, so Mo helped me out with some rain jackets, tops, shorts and under armour, while I put in the boots and gloves for him. “I’ll be shipping that over to him and hopefully it can make a wee difference. He showed me pictures of where he lives and what he is using for boots and gloves; boots that were torn and only had five studs instead of six, gloves that had holes in them. “If I can help in any way then why not? We throw our boots and gloves out and I don’t even know what happens to old kit, whereas that might be something that can help a young man on a tough journey, who is desperate for a chance to play at a good level. “At least he can kit himself properly, give himself the best chance to attend these trials and possibly get a contract. He has played second division football in Ghana and I did a bit of research, read a couple of articles, and he seems a talented boy. He’s only 20 so you never know where he might go with a bit of support.” Murdoch admits he has been humbled by the desire shown by Sarpeh in the face of adversity, with his bid to carve out any sort of career in the game affording a sense of perspective to the former Hibernian and Hamilton custodian. “His attitude and dedication is amazing,” continued Murdoch. “Sometimes you don’t realise what you have in Scotland, until you see someone like that who needs to scrap for the smallest chance. “He just wants to make it as a pro and he tells me about his background and challenges and it is inspiring. We might moan about things here, but it’s worth appreciating simple things like a house, literacy, opportunities.” Murdoch, however, has concerns closer to home this afternoon as Dunfermline host Queen of the South, seeking to arrest a winless run of five Championship fixtures, including stalemates against Morton and Dumbarton at East End Park. “The recent performances have been nowhere near the manager’s satisfaction, which he has made absolutely clear,” he added. “At the start of the season, without being disrespectful, we were just blowing teams away - even the sides around us in the table now. “We are a good side, with a top manager and excellent players, and I think one win can kick-start us again.”
Dundee United manager Ray McKinnon has revealed he will be sitting down with his chairman next week to plan their January transfer dealings. And hopefully they will be meeting up with the Tangerines sitting joint top of the Championship after defeating Hibs. But McKinnon is confident that even a loss would not halt United’s forward momentum. “I will be speaking to the chairman next week about the transfer window and how we’re moving forward as a club,” he said. “We’ve got a big meeting and we will address all that then. But until now the squad has done brilliantly to be sitting three points behind Hibs. “The players we have brought in have done well, we’ve made some good signings. We’ve got a good track record. “We still need to strengthen in three or four places because we’re far from the finished article. “But we’re moving in the right direction, whatever the result on Friday.” Whether McKinnon can make the signings he hopes to next month remains to be seen but one thing he is adamant about is that the likes of Scott Fraser – who he rates as the best young Scottish player of the moment – will be going nowhere. “Nobody’s leaving us in the January window,” he said. ”I can assure you of that. That will not be the case.”
The SPFL have confirmed the dates, kick-off times and live broadcast information for the upcoming Ladbrokes Premiership Play-Offs. Dundee United are definitely in the quarter-finals and could be joined by Dunfermline. It will be a big ask for either, though, with the road to the top flight taking in six games in 20 days. The quarter-final ties will be played as follows: Leg 1: Fourth v Third – Tuesday May 1, 7.45pm. Leg 2: Third v Fourth – Friday May 4, 7.45pm. The semi-final ties will be played as follows: Leg 1: QF Winner v Livingston – Monday May 7, 7.45pm – Live on BT Sport. Leg 2: Livingston v QF Winner – Friday May 11, 7.45pm – Live on BT Sport. The final ties will be played as follows: Leg 1: SF Winner v Premiership 11th-placed side – Thursday May 17, 7.45pm – Live on BT Sport. Leg 2: Premiership 11th-placed side v SF Winner – Sunday May 20, 3.30pm – Live on BT Sport. United are in discussions with Dunfermline and their other possible quarter-final opponents, Inverness Caley Thistle, regarding admission prices and dates for ticket sales. The club said: “The likelihood is that tickets for both legs of the quarter-final will go on sale to season ticket holders(17/18 and 18/19 seasons) directly after Saturday's home match versus Livingston and remain exclusively on sale to season ticket holders during Sunday. Monday 30 April will then see tickets for both legs be made available to the general public. “As soon as we have more information regarding ticket prices, we will update this information.”
Dundee United boss Ray McKinnon admitted he was “relieved” to hear the final whistle that confirmed his team’s place in the Irn Bru Cup final. The Tannadice side beat Queen of the South 3-2 but what looked like being a cruise through their semi-final after they went 3-0 up before half-time turned into a nervy last few minutes when the home team launched a second half comeback. Charlie Telfer and Scott Fraser had United two ahead in just 11 minutes, with a stronger than expected line-up grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. Then on 35 minutes Tony Andreu made it three, with a typically classy finish. Stephen Dobbie reduced the deficit shortly after the restart with a near post shot that Luis Zwick would have been disappointed to see sneak past his dive. And in the first minute of injury-time another veteran forward, Derek Lyle, tapped in from point-blank range. United were a bit ragged in the remaining three minutes of stoppage-time but they did enough to prevent the hosts getting another shot on Zwick’s goal. St Mirren or Welsh side The New Saints will be United’s opponents in the final. McKinnon said: “We’re glad to be through. “I’m a wee bit disappointed with the second half performance. We lost a couple of goals that I think were avoidable. “But we’re happy. Queen of the South are a good, strong side so we’re delighted to win. “I was relieved to hear that final whistle. “It’s a good achievement for the boys after last week’s result. “The main objective was to get to the final and we’ve done that.”
Tam Scobbie will take a big step on his road back to the St Johnstone first team this week. The versatile defender has been absent for most of the season so far after undergoing knee surgery. But a return to training is now expected. Manager Tommy Wright reported: “Tam Scobbie will start being integrated back into the group this week but probably won’t resume full training until next week. “It’s still a bit too early for full sessions. “It will be good to get Scobbie back, although the young lads like Liam Gordon and Aaron Comrie have done extremely well. “But you want every player fit so you can maximise your options as a manager. “His versatility is a plus as well. Scobs can fit in at left back and central defence.” Keith Watson’s return isn’t on the horizon. “Keith has had an injection in his thigh and it will be another 10 days at least before he can do anything,” said Wright. “Ally Gilchrist has had another groin operation and is looking at six to seven weeks out.” “Alan Mannus and Paul Paton will be back with us on Thursday after the game with Germany. Mark Hurst is also away with the under-21s, although he is on loan, so that’s good for the club as well.” Wright expects Paton to get a big confidence boost from his Northern Ireland recall. “It’s great for Paul to get back into the Northern Ireland squad,” he said. “It was one of his reasons for coming here. “I know Michael (O’Neill) has had him in squads before so obviously he likes him. He has started his St Johnstone career quite well and put in some impressive performances in an area of the park where competition is fierce here. “It’s basically two from four experienced players in the middle of the park. I wanted competition there because Chris Millar was a concern with his injuries towards the end of last season.”
Tam Scobbie has revealed that when he went under the surgeon’s knife he was warned that his season could be over. The St Johnstone defender, who returns to the Perth squad for this afternoon’s clash with Hearts after picking up an early-season injury against the same side, was told that there could have been ligament damage to his knee as well as cartilage. And the first thing he did after the anaesthetic had worn off following his operation was seek out a doctor to find out if his 2016/17 campaign was wiped out before it had really begun. “It’s been a long time out,” the former Falkirk man reflected. “I had to wait a couple of weeks for surgery because the surgeon was on holiday. “I got my cartilage cleaned up but there was also a knee ligament strain. That was more worrying. The surgeon wanted a look at that because if there had been a tear it would have been a tricky one. “Thankfully there was nothing to worry about because if he had found a tear I’d probably have been out for the season. “He told me that just before surgery so I was worried when I came round from the anaesthetic. “I wanted to speak to him as soon as possible and he assured me he was quite happy with the way things had gone. I was lucky it was just the cartilage torn and nothing else. That was a big relief.” Scobbie’s main fear when the injury was sustained was that a penalty he had conceded while hobbling about the pitch had cost his team a BetFred cup win over Hearts. Not that he thought he’d done anything wrong. “As soon as I hurt my keen I knew there was something wrong,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have come back on because I gave away a penalty. “I couldn’t get out of the way so I don’t think it was a penalty. I couldn’t move. He (Callum Paterson) just ran onto me. “I was just delighted we went on to win the game. I didn’t want to have given away a penalty that cost us the cup tie. “Connor Sammon asked about me at half-time and I saw him a few weeks later and he was apologising to me. But I told him it was just one of those things, part and parcel of what happens in football. It was quite innocuous. He just fell on top of me and my knee went back the way. “I’d have been back quickly if it had just been a cartilage tidy-up but the strain was what held me back. “It has been a long road but it’s good to get back into the squad. I’ve missed playing.” Getting Scobbie back into first team contention has been no rush job. “The gaffer has been cautious,” he said. “Asking me to play a couple of under-20 games. It’s been great to get them under my belt. “I was doing a bit of work with Callum Davidson before games. They have been great with me and haven’t pushed me. But the more you train the more you want to be involved. “It’s a bonus getting back in before the international break. I have missed about nine games so the quicker I get back in the better.” Scobbie believes last Saturday’s defeat to Partick Thistle could partly be attributed to the after effects of a draining midweek match at Ibrox, and he’s confident it will be a Saints team back to their best at Tynecastle. He said: “Results have been great since I’ve been out so losing to Partick late on was frustrating. We played well against Rangers to get a point and could have got all three. “We didn’t do ourselves justice against Thistle and it was a sickener conceding in the 91st minute. The boys were distraught. “But I always find that after an Old Firm game where you have performed really well the next one can be hard because of the amount of energy you put in against Celtic and Rangers, especially away from home. They tend to keep the ball for long spells and you do a lot of chasing. “Maybe some of the boys were a bit jaded because it was three games in six days. That is tough. “We are renowned for being slow starters but we have had a good start to the season. It’s been great for the boys to have picked up points and be sitting where we are in the league right now. “Hopefully the Hearts game can be another progression forward for us going into the break.” Murray Davidson will miss out again with his ankle injury that could take over a month to heal.
Scotland are off and running on the road that may just lead to Russia, sitting top of World Cup qualifying Group F after this 5-1 win in Malta. “This time is our time” was the message sent out by the SFA in the build-up to the match. We’ll see about that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDiE7yAKOEo The Tartan Army certainly hope so after a wait to reach a major finals that will be two decades’ old when the next World Cup starts in Moscow and St Petersburg in 2018. This was certainly a decent start to the campaign despite a scare or two. The Scots took the lead through a cross-shot from Robert Snodgrass on 10 minutes – the Hull man would go on to bag a hat-trick - before Malta equalised with a header from Alfred Effiong. Chris Martin put Gordon Strachan’s men back ahead on 53 minutes then Snodgrass made it 3-1 from the spot. Sub Steven Fletcher netted with a header on 78 minutes then Snodgrass bagged the match ball with a tap-in to make it 5-1. Strachan didn’t play it safe with his selection as he made four changes to the side that started the 3-0 friendly defeat to France just before the Euros. In came £13 million Fifer Oliver Burke, fresh from his move to RB Leipzig in Germany, and he was joined by Callum Paterson, Barry Bannan and lone frontman Martin. Darren Fletcher regained the captaincy after Scott Brown’s retirement from international football. The Scots also knew the other group result before the kicked off, with England sneaking an injury-time 1-0 win in Slovakia, while Slovenia drew 2-2 in Lithuania. That gave them a fighting chance of finishing the night as leaders so they had incentive aplenty. The match was only a minute old when Burke burst into action for the Scots, earning a corner after skipping into the box. Snodgrass then tried his luck from outside the box on six minutes, although the shot didn’t trouble keeper Andrew Hogg. Former Dundee United man Andy Robertson came close still when he played one-twos with first Martin then Matt Ritchie but he was challenged as he tried to shoot. A goal was coming, though, and it arrived just into the 10th minute. Hogg made a pig’s ear of it as Snodgrass sent the ball to the back post only to see it float into the net to make it 1-0. However, the lead lasted just four minutes. It was a bad one to lose, with Gareth Scibberas’ cross from the right landing on the head of big Effiong, who scored after sneaking in between Grant Hanley and Russell Martin. If the ball looked proverbially burst at that point it literally was on 22 minutes as Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovsky had to call for a replacement. The new one was almost in the Malta net on 24 minutes but Hogg smothered a Snodgrass header. Burke won a freekick on the left on 36 minutes and when Ritchie sent it over Hanley’s header just missed. Robertson then came close with a drive but the Maltese almost had the last laugh of the first half when Andre Schembri stabbed the ball past. Martin tried to bring the second period to life but his shot on 48 minutes was well over. Burke was denied a penalty when he had his heels clipped by Malta’s Joseph Zerafa but the referee said no. Scots keeper David Marshall then pulled off a point-bank save from Schembri but the flag was up for offside. Scotland regained the lead on 53 minutes and Martin it was who calmed the nerves. It was a great ball over from the left from Ritchie – a gift to the on-loan Fulham frontman. It was 3-1 and 11 versus 10 on 61 minutes when ref Aranovsky controversially awarded a penalty for an alleged foul on Martin from Caruana. It looked a harsh one and it became even harsher when Caruana was sent off. All the commotion didn’t bother Snodgrass, who slammed the ball home from the spot. Fletcher, who had replaced Martin, then wrapped things up on 78 minutes when he nodded home after a Ritchie cross was deflected his way. With six minutes left, Snodgrass grabbed his third with a tap-in after Fletcher’s shot had come off the bar and rebounded to him. Malta’s miserable night was complete when Luke Gambin was sent off for a lunge on Snodgrass in stoppage-time. Attendance: 15,609. Scotland: Marshall, Paterson, Hanley, R. Martin, Robertson, D. Fletcher, Bannan, Burke (Forrest 66), Snodgrass, Ritchie (Anya 86), C. Martin (S. Fletcher 68). Subs not used: Gordon, Hamilton, Berra, Greer, Hutton, McGinn, McKay, Morrison, Naismith. Malta: Hogg, Caruana, Zerafa, Sciberras, Agius, Fenech, Gambin, Schembri (Briffa 66), Borg, Scicluna (Camilleri 79), Effiong (Mifsud 89). Subs not used: Bonello, Baldacchino, Failla, Faruggia, Kristensen, Muscat. Referee: Yevhen Aranovskiy (Ukraine).
We’re about to see what an Alex McLeish Scotland team will look like. I had my reservations when he got the job and the fear was that there wouldn’t be much of a change from the Gordon Strachan era. But I’ve been encouraged by the squad he selected and the talk about how we’re going to play. Kieran Tierney’s injury was a blow because three at the back, with him as the left of the three and Andy Robertson as the left wing-back, seems like a good long-term option. As a left-side combination, they have the potential to be one of the best in Europe. I’ve also got a feeling Alex will have a look at both of them as captains before our next qualifying campaign gets underway. They might not be experienced as far as age is concerned but they’ve both got the experience that matters – plenty of top level games under their belt. And the pair of them strike me as boys who would lead by example. Midfield is another interesting area. We’ve probably got more options there than anywhere else. Scott McTominay is the player everybody wants to see perform in a Scotland jersey. To have someone who is a Manchester United regular in our team is a huge boost. The most important thing for him though will be to make sure he plays his own game. He’s made his name at Old Trafford by doing the simple things well and taking up good positions on the pitch. Just because he’s now playing international football doesn’t mean he should try to get too clever. I’m sure that’s the message an experienced coach like McLeish will be giving him. As for the team as a whole, winning isn’t the most important thing in friendlies. It’s about finding out who can be relied upon when the real matches get going again. Hopefully the new boys will take their chance. * Dundee were better against Aberdeen than against St Johnstone the week before but it’s all about points at this stage of the season. They have lost six out of seven since the January window closed but I don’t necessarily think that means the three departures have been the reason. Yes, Scott Bain has done well for Celtic since he’s got his chance but he wasn’t playing for Dundee anyway. Scott Allan showed a bit of magic now and again but he too was far from a regular because of injury. Jack Hendry was the only one playing week in, week out. But, it has been at the other end where Dundee’s biggest problems have been, which has been the case for pretty much the whole season. All the strikers have had their chance - Haber, Moussa, El Bakhtaoui, Leitch-Smith and Murray. The goals per game ratio just hasn’t been good enough. Craig Wighton’s return could come at the perfect time. He’s been scoring goals for the under-20s and Neil McCann said he was in his squad for the Aberdeen game. If he can get some first team football in the last three games before the split he could be like a new signing for Dundee for the last five games. He’s bulked up while he’s been sidelined and if he’s played just behind the striker he could make things happen and hopefully come up with a couple of crucial goals himself.
If there was a Premiership title race when Aberdeen arrived at McDiarmid Park, there wasn’t one by the time they left. St Johnstone ripped the Dons apart in as one-sided an encounter as there has been in the top flight this season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFGzEYBeQDg No team has caused more damage to Aberdeen’s league challenge than Saints, with this heavy defeat being added to a 2015/16 list that already had a 5-1 Pittodrie rout and a February draw on it. In the 5-1 Aberdeen had some cause to claim that the scoreline was harsh on them. Not here. David Wotherspoon’s free-kick opener, Steven MacLean’s delicate poacher’s goal and Liam Craig’s second half clincher made this 3-0 scoreline an entirely fair one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXJaCQBGtEA Saints controlled possession, were more creative in attack and much more secure at the back. Crucially (and inexplicably from an Aberdeen perspective) they were also far more hungry. The Saints players had insisted through the week that post-split motivation wouldn’t be a problem even though Rangers’ Scottish Cup semi-final win killed off the possibility of shooting for a European place in their last five fixtures. And, with the way they started the game, you had to believe them. They were at Aberdeen from the off, with Wotherspoon’s cross from the right finding the head of Graham Cummins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsLIQcR0nGo His effort went over and referee Craig Thomson ruled that it touched an Aberdeen man on its way out. From a Wotherspoon corner that the visitors thought shouldn’t have been given Joe Shaughnessy crashed a header off the face of the bar from about five yards out and the rebound didn’t fall kindly for any of his team-mates. That should have been 1-0 but the Perth men didn’t have long to wait for their opener. On 14 minutes young debutant Michael Rose fouled Cummins and from the free-kick just over 20 yards out Wotherspoon curled the ball towards the near post. Keeper Scott Brown should have kept it out but the late dip, aided by a slight deflection off the top of Kenny McLean’s head, deceived him and Saints had their lead. Things just weren’t clicking for a strangely subdued Dons side and their shortcomings in were both boxes were summed up on 21 minutes when one of their corners nearly ended up with a second goal being conceded. They were opened up on the counter-attack by a Murray Davidson through-ball far too easily and Chris Millar didn’t miss the far post by much with his low left foot shot. Derek McInnes had started with three at the back for the first time this season. Within half-an-hour he reverted to the familiar four in an effort to change the flow of the match. It probably wasn’t his formation that was causing this to be a mismatch, though. It was his players. And one of the poorest of the 11 was keeper Brown. He was a lucky boy when a Wotherspoon corner floated over the top of him and he tripped himself up. Steven Anderson bundled the ball home but the referee – wrongly – awarded the Reds a free-kick. This moment of good fortune didn’t prove to be a turning point. On 38 minutes the Aberdeen defence was again a shambles when Tam Scobbie launched a long ball to the back post, Anderson nodded it into the danger area and MacLean finished it off with the toe of his boot. McInnes made one half-time change, replacing youngster Rose with veteran Barry Robson. It didn’t make any difference as 10 minutes after the re-start it was 3-0. Mark Reynolds was dispossessed by Millar, who quickly shifted the ball on to Cummins, who in turn picked out Craig. The midfielder had the freedom of the box at the back post and slotted the ball past Brown. Zander Clark was given a rare start by Tommy Wright and the young keeper must think this first team lark is a stroll in the park. His first start was against the Dons in the 5-1 romp and this was his second. Clark looked composed – far more so than his opposite number – but he was rarely called into action. Simon Church had a sight of goal on 71 minutes but he scuffed his shot and Clark kept it out with little fuss. Robson did eventually test him in the dying minutes but the big keeper got a strong hand to a free-kick that was heading for the bottom corner. St Johnstone – Clark, Scobbie, Anderson, Millar (Doyle 85), Davidson (Lappin 61), MacLean, Wotherspoon, Shaughnessy, Cummins (Kane 80), Fisher, Craig. Subs not used – Mannus, Sutton, Brown, Gordon. Aberdeen - Brown, Logan, Shinnie, Rose (Robson 45), Reynolds, Jack, Hayes, McGinn (McLennan 83), McLean, Considine, Church. Subs not used – Collin, Flood, Storie, McKenna, Smith. Referee – Craig Thomson. Attendance - 3,990.
Julen Etxabeguren has returned to San Sebastian where he will Basque in the glow of a “perfect day” at McDiarmid Park. Describing his feelings in the wake of playing a competitive game of football for the first time in nearly a year wasn’t easy for the Dundee centre-back. But, after putting in an accomplished performance as a second half substitute against St Johnstone and being part of a 2-0 win, wiping the smile of Etxabeguren’s face wasn’t easy either. “After 10 months I can’t put into words the feelings I had,” said the former Real Sociedad defender. “It’s been a long, long way. “I played in the (Dave Mackay) testimonial game and for the under-20s a few times but this is 100% different. It’s a competitive match. “To get a win is great as well. It was a perfect day.” Etxabeguren revealed that it has been the simple things that he has missed the most in his time out of the game since rupturing his Achilles tendon in March against Partick Thistle. He explained: “It’s probably been the day of the game – the excitement before it, the nerves, even the smell of the grass. “These are the small details that you don’t think about when you are playing every week. “When you’re out for a long time you appreciate it even more.” Although 10 months is a long time, the recuperation has never become a mental torment. He said: “The rehab went very smoothly and I have to thank everybody in the club for that – the doctor, the physio and my team-mates. “They helped me to recover better. So I wouldn’t say there were any dark days because I was always meeting the targets that I was expected to.” Centre-back is arguably Dundee’s position of greatest strength – certainly in numbers - and Etxabeguren is the last of the players in that position to get the opportunity to impress Neil McCann. “I didn’t get the chance to show the manager what I could do when he arrived,” he said. “I’ve worked hard and tried to improve every day so I could get a place in the team and when that happened I would play well. You have to take your chance. “The team has been playing very well and we’ve got a large squad so it isn’t easy. “I know I have to improve many things but I’ll keep fighting.” McCann’s footballing philosophy matches up perfectly with his own. Etxabeguren said: “The manager likes to play from the back and I’ve been used to doing that from my time at Sociedad. “It’s a style of play I feel comfortable with. I love it. “Sometimes it might look risky but when you get through the first line you have a lot of advantages. “It’s about creating the best opportunities for our strikers.” Meanwhile, the possibility of a fellow centre-back, Jack Hendry, moving on this month appears to be growing. Reports have suggested that Celtic are going to table an offer, with English Premier League clubs also tracking the young defender. Dundee will be able to demand a high price (upwards of £500,000) though if they are to do January business as Hendry has 18 months left on his deal.