SCOTTISH clubs have been notoriously slow starters in Europe the past few seasons but don’t normally lose to teams from Gibraltar and Luxembourg.
Celtic’s defeat to Lincoln Red Imps was rightly described as the club’s worst result of all-time and Aberdeen’s defeat to Fola Esch wasn’t far behind although they edged through 3-2 on aggregate.
Domestically, it’s exciting time in Scotland with return of Rangers to the Premier League and the five best-supported clubs in the country have sold around 130,000 season tickets which is a great effort.
On the European front things have to improve but until the co-efficient improves the clubs are going to struggle because their first competitive games are Euro ties and often against clubs in mid-season.
Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs are all in action tonight but for a number of reasons I’m reluctant to back any Scottish team in Europe these days.
The Dons are up against Ventspils, Hearts travel to Birkirkara and Hibs host Brondby. Lack of match fitness is being blamed for inept displays so at least the Dons and Jambos have two games under their belts.
Ventspils are better than Fola Esch and 13 games into their Latvian league campaign. That’s bad news for the Dons – the good news is they’re favourites at 8-15 with William Hill at Pittodrie tonight.
Boss Derek McInnes is boosted by the return of Niall McGinn and should start Adam Rooney up front. I can see the Dons winning by one but best bet could be both to score at 6-5 with Stan James.
Hearts head to Malta but it won’t be a holiday in the sun. Last season Birkirkara beat a weakened West Ham at home before going out on penalties.
Robbie Neilson’s men head to the Hibernians Stadium boosted by a 4-2 win at Infonet but will be concerned at conceding three goals over two legs.
Hibs fans wouldn’t have known whether to celebrate a return to Europe or not. Their last campaign featured a 7-0 home defeat by Malmo – now Scottish football’s second worst result – and they again face tough Scandinavian opposition in Brondby.
Neil Lennon’s side impressed in beating Motherwell 4-1 but this is a tough test and I’m looking at Brondby draw no bet at 3-5 with McBookie. Again both teams should score as Hibs have plenty of firepower but are liable to concede against decent opposition.
There are several Welsh and Irish sides in action too. Cork knocked out Linfield in the last round and face a trick trip to Swedes Hacken who are a best 4-9 at Ladbrokes.
Cliftonville shocked Differdange in the previous round but face tougher opponents in AEK Larnaca who are 2-5 at bet365 to notch an away success.
Welsh minnows Connah’s Quay stunned Stabaek to set up a meeting with Vojvodina. The Serbs are a decent outfit and just 1-4 at the likes of Ladbrokes. They should win by more than one.
Dinamo Minsk are equally short at home to St Patrick’s and the experienced Belarussians should also win by at least two.
Having studied the games a bit more I’ve added these to my top tips.
2pm Top Treble
Vojvodina -1 (7pm)
Genk -1 (7pm)
1pt Both to Score Treble
Birkirkara v Hearts (7.30pm)
Brondby v Hibs (7.45pm)
Kairat Almaty v Maccabi Tel Aviv (3.45pm)