Saturday, August 2, 2014

2014-15 Premiership preview - Hamilton Accies

Hamilton Academical FC logo.svg


LAST SEASON: Second in The Championship, promoted via playoffs

NOTABLE INS: Darren Hill (Forfar Athletic), Dougie Imrie (Greenock Morton), Kieran MacDonald (Clyde), Michael McGovern (Falkirk), Daniel Redmond (Wigan Athletic)

NOTABLE OUTS: Kevin Cuthbert (Raith Rovers), James Keatings (Heart of Midlothian), Lee Kilday (Greenock Morton), Paul George (Celtic, end of loan)

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Cuthbert, Gillespie, Canning, Garcia Tena, Gordon, Crawford, Neil, Andreu, McKinnon, Scotland, Keatings

To be honest, Hamilton Accies aren't really supposed to be here.  They didn't win the Scottish Championship last season, having been pipped to the title by a Dundee side who stuttered for much of the campaign.  Then they lost 2-0 at home to Hibernian in the first leg of the playoff final.

But then take a sensational performance at Easter Road by the Accies, add in a dreadful one from Hibs, stir in an injury time equalizer and a penalty shootout win, and you have the recipe for Hamilton's really rather improbable return to the top flight.  It's enough to warm the long as the team prove less dreary on the eye than when they played at this level a few years back under Billy Reid.

Happily, Alex Neil prefers his players to be a bit more flamboyant.  He has also bought into the club's grand plan to produce as many James McCarthys and James McArthurs as possible, which, given their modest home support, is a pretty sensible long-term outlook.  They are the only side in the league who could put out eleven under-21 players who all have first team experience.  In the short term, the emphasis on youth, the loyalty to last season's squad and a refusal to spend much on new players will mean a season of toil for a group who look rather ill-equipped for the coming struggle.

The most likely of this bunch to earn a megabucks move is athletic and technically proficient right back Ziggy Gordon, who has done remarkably well in life for a bloke christened 'Zygmunt' by his parents.  Gordon has been far too good for the Championship for a few years now and will relish the step up.  His defensive colleagues may not feel the same.  Centre back Mikey Devlin and left-back Stephen Hendrie have been first teamers for three years despite being 21 and 19 respectively, but both lost their places in the side in the second half of last season to more experienced colleagues and probably aren't ready for these heights.

So stalwart Martin Canning, who has been at New Douglas Park for six years but at 32 is beginning to fade, could be joined in the centre of defence by Spaniard Jesus Garcia Tena, who hardly stood out in two seasons for Accies and Livingston in the tier below, while defensive midfielder Grant Gillespie might find himself at left back again.  None of Hamilton's options here seem particularly reassuring though.  They have improved a bit in goal by bringing in Michael McGovern for Kevin Cuthbert, but only in terms of replacing a decent Championship keeper with a very good Championship keeper.

There is less to worry about in midfield, especially in the wide areas.  Direct winger Darian McKinnon was superb last year, and in tricky Wigan reject Daniel Redmond they might have got hold of a wee gem to play opposite him.  Veteran Dougie Imrie was brought back for a second spell at Hamilton but whilst always willing, the former ICT and St. Mirren man's best years are behind him.  He's always good for a goal or two against Caley Thistle though.  Another new face, Clyde's Kieran MacDonald, is probably one for the future.

Whoever plays wide will flank the club's best player, Frenchman Tony Andreu, who scored 15 goals last season.  If Andreu can get into dangerous positions, he could do a lot of damage, as he is capable with both feet and in the air.  But he may drift out of games unless players behind him in the midfield gain control, and his centre forward occupies the opposing defence.  Neither seem terribly likely.  Ideally, Neil would pick himself as anchorman, but the player-manager spends far too much time on the treatment table these days.  When he is in the dugout, two out of Gillespie, Ali Crawford and Jon Routledge will be picked.  All three have played in the Premiership for Accies before.  All three looked out of their depth.

Up front, Neil's penchant for playing James Keatings wide might have contributed to the forward's departure for Hearts, so he is left with the enormous Mickael Antoine-Curier or the wily Jason Scotland.  M.A.C. is a one trick pony; Scotland has the touch but at 35 no longer has the pace.  I'd be amazed if they managed even five goals between them, but Neil will probably have to pick one of them, unless he can bring in some new bodies.

Compare Hamilton's summer business with Dundee's, and you'll see one team is working extraordinarily hard to stay up, and one isn't.  But one can afford to go down, and one can't.  So it seems pretty fair to tip Accies for the drop, but then they aren't going to break the bank and defend for their lives just to finish tenth or eleventh.  They'll do it their way and be damned.  And, hopefully, get some decent cash for a player or two along the way.  Good luck to them.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1993 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Blair Currie, Darren Hill, Michael McGovern
Defenders: Martin Canning, Mikey Devlin, Jesus Garcia Tena, Ziggy GordonStephen HendrieCraig Watson
Midfielders: Anthony Andreu, Eamonn Brophy, Ali Crawford, Greg Docherty, Grant Gillespie, Dougie Imrie, Louis Longridge, Darren LyonKieran MacDonald, Darian McKinnon, Alex Neil, Daniel Redmond, Jon Routledge
Forwards: Mickael Antoine-Curier, Jaison McGrathAndy Ryan, Jason Scotland


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