Thursday, September 25, 2014

Still hope for Hibs

To be honest, a victory over the current Ross County side can hardly be hailed as a turning point.  The home side’s right-back, Jim Fenlon, wouldn’t look out of place in my Monday night seven-a-sides, for a start.  The Staggies are a mess in a shambles wrapped up in a catastrophe, to paraphrase Churchill.

Still, Hibernian will welcome anything remotely positive right now.  If the second half of last season was a nightmare, then they still haven’t woken up yet; six games into the Championship season, they have managed only two wins and six points.  They’ve lost to the likes of part-timers Alloa, Their victories came against Cowdenbeath thanks to two late goals, and Livingston, where the decisive goal was a punt by goalkeeper Mark Oxley.

When folk talked about the playoffs being the absolute minimum that the Hibees should aim for, they were talking about the promotion playoffs; at the moment they are seventh in the table, only a point above the relegation playoff place.  The two other ‘big guns’ in the division, Hearts and Rangers, are miles ahead of them already.  While it’s not entirely unexpected that Hibs trail both their local rivals, who have augmented their promising young squad with some more experience or quality, and a Rangers side which still boasts the second highest wage bill in the country, the fact that they sit below Raith Rovers, Queen of the South, Livingston and Alloa is rather galling.

Add in the loss of star striker Farid El Alagui to a shredded achilles tendon, and it’s clear that rookie boss Alan Stubbs does not have his problems to seek.  Even at this early stage, there are concerns that he isn’t up to the job.

And one can understand that.  It’s clear that Stubbs’ predecessor, Terry Butcher, shattered team spirit around Easter Road.  Whilst there was an almighty summer clearout, the club held on to a number of players who have previously demonstrated competence at top flight level – Paul Hanlon, Liam Craig, Alex Harris and Sam Stanton are examples.  But performances have been generally dreadful, and the lack of confidence and heart seems to have been carried over from May.  In attack, even before El Alagui got crocked, there seemed to be a lack of a plan, a paucity of creativity.  In last weekend’s defeat to Queen of the South, they looked utterly bereft of ideas after conceding an early goal.

In some ways, it is reminiscent of the worst Rangers performances of the last two years, with the apparent assumption that the ability of the players will shine through against inferior opponents regardless.  But good as some of the Hibs players are, none of them are the equals of, say, Kris Boyd or Nicky Law.  Perhaps the mooted move for Leigh Griffiths would make the difference, but a reliance on short-term fixes like this are what got the club into this mess in the first place.

And yet, the situation is not actually all that grim.  The win in Dingwall might have heralded a new dawn, as it marked the deployment of a back three for the first time.  Stubbs used experienced central defender Liam Fontaine in that position with great success, shoring up the backline far better than in previous weeks.  The performance of goalscorer Dominique Malonga was hugely reassuring, especially given veteran Paul Heffernan’s steep decline.

And, as I stated above, it always seemed pretty likely that Hearts and Rangers would be the top two sides in the league (though not necessarily in that order).  The playoff system means that finishing third or fourth in the table is really much of a muchness.  If Stubbs can haul this bunch into even fourth place, then all they need is to find some proper form in the six games that follow, and they’ll go up after all.

Easy as that, huh?  Of course it isn’t, but it’s a reflection of how the new management (both at squad and board level) still have plenty of time to focus on sorting things out for the long term.  A return for Griffiths may well be detrimental in that regard, unless he was planning to stay beyond Christmas.

So Hibs’ situation is far from bleak.  There’s plenty of time for a turnaround yet.  That said, they have a trip to Rangers on Monday night to look forward to.  It may yet get a bit worse before it gets better.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Talking points from the Premiership weekend

Dundee United could still play better...
...or so claimed Jackie McNamara after a thumping win in the derby.  He may be right.  With their pace and firepower in attack, United have proven on many occasions over the last year that 1-0 and 2-0 leads can turn into 4-0 and 5-0 wins, when their opponents start chasing the game and leaving space to exploit.  And so it proved against Dundee, even in the absence of the suspended Nadir Ciftci and with Stuart Armstrong only making a cameo off the bench.  But, had they clicked a little bit better in the final third, the result could have been even more spectacular.

Still, Jackie Mac must be delighted; Gary Mackay-Steven's trajectory is heading back up again after a couple of seasons of flatlining, while Ryan Dow continues to get better and better and Chris Erskine is at last adapting to this level.  But most importantly for Arabs, the defence looks as solid as it has done at any point during McNamara's tenure - helped on Sunday by a titanic performance by Paul Paton in front of them.

Eminent journalist and Dundee fan Patrick Barclay has suggested United should aim for the title.  I suspect that is well beyond them, but they've got to be the favourites for second place right now.

Double trouble
I wonder if Derek McInnes plans to continue with David Goodwillie and Adam Rooney in partnership, or whether he simply judged that he could get away with playing two strikers against Ross County's woeful backline.  The duo grabbed a goal each and could have had more but for some good goalkeeping and Goodwillie's miss of the season.  The manager's decision to attack a struggling opponent - he even used Jonny Hayes as left-back in this game - was a good one.

Future opponents may need to be shown more respect though, not least if Niall McGinn's late injury keeps him on the sidelines for a while.  But McInnes will have at least learned that the option of playing two up front is perfectly decent.

County became the first top flight team since Ebbe Skovdahl's infamous Dons side of fifteen years ago to lose their first seven league games of the season.  It's been fifty-four years since a top flight team lost their first eight league games.  They better get a result against Dundee next week, because I'm damned if I'm going to search on for another half hour so I can tell you the last time someone lost their first nine...

No cohesion without Commons
The last time Celtic started the league season so poorly was...well, actually it was only two years ago.  Nobody particularly cared then, but that was because Neil Lennon's side went on to beat Barcelona and reach the last 16 of the Champions League.  Ronny Deila is unlikely to be afforded such patience even if Celtic finish ahead of Dinamo Zagreb and Astra Giurgiu in the group stages of the Europa League.

Deila fielded a stronger team than he did in the loss at Inverness, but he made six changes, mostly in midfield and attack.  It's not surprising that there's a lack of coherence when these players have played together so rarely, but Celtic sides of the past have had enough quality to bludgeon opponents at Celtic Park, even when the reserve team is playing.  This wasn't the case on Sunday, not until Kris Commons and Scott Brown came on.

To put it bluntly, this is a game they deserved to lose.  John Sutton missed a sitter after putting his side in front, while the decision not to award a penalty for a blatant handball ("a great save", Stuart McCall understandably called it afterward) was outrageous, even more so in terms of the spot kick that Brown was awarded for falling over in the box several strides after a foul that occurred about five yards outside the box.  That was a decision that would never, ever have been given against the home team at Celtic Park.  But it gave Celtic a lift they hadn't earned.

As for Motherwell, it's no surprise to see them back to their old stuffy selves now that their injury list is clearing.  They'll be in the top half of the table soon enough.

Concern for St. Johnstone
Brian Graham's record of two goals in three games seems to suggest that St. Johnstone will be all right without long-term absentee Steven Maclean, but the truth is that the Perth Saints were utterly dominated for seventy minutes in Inverness.  Graham was so isolated that he could have done with a mobile phone to communicate with his teammates.  The big striker thrives on cross balls into the box, but Tommy Wright's side simply aren't designed to provide that sort of service on a frequent basis; neither of his wide players - Lee Croft and David Wotherspoon - got to the by-line once against Caley Thistle.

The midfield and defence were hardly impressive either.  In the case of the former, the return to full fitness of Murray Davidson may give them a player who can get up to support Graham rather better than Gary McDonald did on Saturday.  Even if that is the case though, Wright will surely use Michael O'Halloran or Adam Morgan from the start in the future to give his centre-forward more help as well.  They also have Scott Brown to come back to provide some protection for the defence.

And by god they need it.  The backline is dreadfully slow without another casualty, Tam Scobbie, with Frazer Wright's aerial ability of little use against an ICT side who kept it on the deck.  This match was the first time that I've thought that Wright, 35 in December, and Dave Mackay, 34, have looked their age.  Hopefully, for St. Johnstone's sake, I'm jumping to conclusions.

Would the real Partick Thistle please stand up?
At Firhill this season, the Jags have convincingly beaten Ross County and Inverness...and lost last minute winners to Hamilton and St. Mirren.  Friday night's match against the latter was a game they should have had in the bag by half time, but they were left regretting spurning a shedload of chances after Kris Doolan's opener.

Two things stood out from watching Partick in this game.  One was that Kallum Higginbotham and Steven Lawless are technically gifted players who caused their opponents nightmares, but whose decision-making in the final third was often terrible and wrecked many promising positions.  The other was that, however good their attackers are, Thistle will always be vulnerable with such a poor central defence and a goalkeeper who flaps at everything.  Aaron Muirhead wouldn't have played if Danny Seaborne was available; Conrad Balatoni was dreadfully culpable for Calum Ball's equalizer; and whilst Abdul Osman's handball for the decisive penalty was foolish, so too was Scott Fox's failure to turn Kenny McLean's preceding free kick past the post, instead of keeping it in the field of play.

I'd say Partick were shooting themselves in the foot, but going by Friday they'd probably miss if they tried.  St. Mirren, meanwhile, were not great by any means; this was a match where they got a few breaks.  There's still plenty of cause for concern.

Accies are not going down
Not much to report from New Douglas Park, but Hamilton did pretty well to eke out a point given they were missing both their first-choice central defenders and Mickael Antoine-Curier with injury, while Darian McKinnon was suspended.  Accies now have sixteen points on the board.  In order to get to forty points - usually more than enough to finish tenth or higher - they need only twenty-four points from their remaining thirty-one games.  Not only is that realistic, in fact it would be a shock if they didn't manage it.

So Accies are staying up.  So are Dundee, going by their performances up to this weekend.  Which means at least one and possibly two established top flight teams are going down this season.  That's an interesting thought.

Moron of the week
A shared award this week, for Willo Flood and Ryan Jack; the Aberdeen midfield duo were both booked...for having a row with each other!  It's even more ridiculous considering Aberdeen were two up at the time.  Derek McInnes said afterwards that they "kissed and made up" at half-time - one imagines that he actually banged their heads together.

And one more thing
I imagine that, hypothetically, had a worker in Celtic's ticket office been accused of racism by a colleague or a customer, they would have been suspended until the accusation had been investigated.  Isn't that how these things work in most workplaces?  Regardless of whether Alexander Tonev is innocent or not, surely the Bulgarian winger should be taken out of the firing line until this whole saga comes to its conclusion.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Talking points from the Premiership weekend

Normal service resumed
Within 45 minutes and 24 seconds of this unexpectedly mid-table clash, it was clear that the old certainties of Scottish football remain. Celtic were the better team for most of the game, even while looking a bit disjointed (as is perhaps to be expected from a team with a few new faces including three debutants).  Aberdeen only seemed to realise there was a proper contest to be had after they went 2-0 down, partly due to defensive incompetence at a set piece and partly due to misfortune.

Six points is certainly not what Aberdeen expected from their first 5 games of the season, but there were signs of hope from the second half on Saturday.  It’s always a good sign when a manager’s changes have a positive impact and Aberdeen looked much more threatening after Jeffrey Monakana replaced Nicky Low, and I also liked the look of Adam Rooney and David Goodwillie playing together.  Rooney can perhaps feel a little hard done by to lose his place to the former Dundee United man who has been pretty average so far this season and looks to be carrying a bit of timber.

The aftermath of the game was unfortunately dominated by allegations that Aston Villa loanee Aleksander Tonev racially abused Dons full-back Shay Logan. This has been denied by Tonev and we await to see what any investigation turns up, but given the SPFL’s recent track record when it comes to governance as well as the clearly serious nature of the allegation, it is vital that they show some genuine leadership. Or even just a bit of competence. I won’t hold my breath, though. IM

I Love It When A Plan (B) Comes Together 
Inverness Caley Thistle’s unbeaten run came to a juddering halt on Saturday as Partick Thistle ruthlessly swept them aside.  The opening goal was another fine example of John Hughes' passing philosophy as ICT quickly shifted the ball down the right wing before Aaron Doran dispatched a low drive past Scott Fox.  So far, so business as usual.  However Partick rallied to take a 3 – 1 lead with Kallum Higginbotham scoring the pick of the goals, curling a shot across goal into the net.

The response from Inverness was somewhat timid, continuing to play the ball out slowly from the back with a lack of urgency, save for the occasional long ball in behind the full back.  The second half was a surprisingly toothless display of attacking football from the away side.  ICT hadn’t found themselves behind so far this season and Saturday was a new experience for them in that sense.  Hughes has stuck resolutely to his style of play and it has paid dividends so far this season.  However, perhaps it is not the approach to employ if you are chasing the game and Yogi may need to come up with a Plan B if /when ICT find themselves trailing again in a match this season. AS

Hope for County
There's plenty of reason for encouragement up Dingwall way, even despite a defeat to Motherwell which leaves the Staggies still at the bottom of the table.  Importantly, Jackson Irvine added some steel to midfield and Michael Gardyne looked lively on his return to the Highlands.  County had an impressive 20 efforts on goal, which must be reassuring for them; they didn't find it hard to create chances against a Motherwell backline that wasn't far away from full strength.  And the two goals they conceded were long-range strikes which are awfully difficult to prevent.  Iain Vigurs' free kick was superb, and you know it isn't your day when John Sutton scores with a 30-yard dipping volley!

But County played well enough to suggest that the wins will start arriving soon.  And they aren't the worst team in this league by a stretch... LS

How much longer does Tommy Craig have?
St. Mirren at least managed their first goal of the season against Kilmarnock.  That first point remains beyond them, though, after a sixth consecutive league defeat.  They remain above Ross County on goal difference, but County have a new manager and brought in three players on deadline day to try and boost the squad.  What have the Buddies done?  Not much.  Craig himself stated after the game that "I might be able to tinker with some of the positions, but the players who are on show at the moment are the players who are going to see this through."  That won't be reassuring given the attacking options available - Ross Caldwell looks too raw, Calum Ball too unfit and James Marwood simply too mediocre, while Steven Thompson is still injured.  Meanwhile the defence continues to leak soft goals, which makes it all the more odd that Craig has stuck with the same back four in every game; with Isaac Osbourne available to provide midfield muscle, he can afford to deploy Jim Goodwin in defence for the horrendous Marc McAusland, while Sean Kelly remains stuck on the bench despite impressing last season.

The lightning starts from Hamilton and Dundee have taken everyone by surprise, and already it's reasonable to assume that neither will finish in the bottom two.  So St. Mirren need to find a spark, and quickly.  Can they really afford to give their manager another month or two to turn it around, or will it be too late by then? LS

St. Johnstone can't cope with these injuries
At least Murray Davidson is back for Tommy Wright's side, which is just as well as there isn't any space in the treatment room for any more players.  Tam Scobbie and Steven Maclean will miss significant time with injuries, while impressive young midfielder Scott Brown limped off against Dundee and may be out for some time too.

Whilst they can just about manage at the back without Scobbie, the Perth Saints don't really have an alternative defensive midfielder to Brown, but they will feel the absence of Maclean most.  Whilst he isn't nearly as much of a goal threat as former teammate Stevie May, this blogger has made no secret of his admiration for the veteran, whose link play is superb and who leads the line well.  Without his nous, St. Johnstone will struggle for firepower.  Target man Brian Graham is the likely replacement for the next few weeks, but it's doubtful if he will be as effective unless a more direct style of play is used. LS

Billy Mckay – he scores when he gets the service
Just what has happened to Billy Mckay?  Last season he bagged six goals in the opening six league games, yet after the same number of matches in 2014/15 he has just the one goal to his name – a humble total for someone who has been so prolific in the last couple of seasons.  Mckay, at least in terms of his goal scoring exploits, seems to have struggled under the new style of play employed at Inverness.  In 2014 he has just five goals in twenty six league games.  With a slower paced attacking style giving teams plenty of time to get men behind the ball there is significantly less space in which he can be effective. He can no longer effectively play on the shoulder of defenders looking for a slide rule pass to send him scampering behind the defence. One of Caley Thistle’s main strengths, pacey counter attacks where Mckay also thrived, are not as evident under Hughes and, whilst Inverness enjoyed a good start to the season with goals coming from midfield, Mckay will need to weigh in with some more strikes of his own to ensure ICT maintain their spot in the top six. AS

Moron of the week
If there hadn't been any red cards, this could have gone to Dundee United defender Callum Morris for his glorious miskick that gifted Hamilton an equalizer, or his goalkeeper Radoslaw Ciernziak for making a hash of Tony Andreu's later strike.  But both were outdone by Accies' Darian McKinnon, shown a second yellow for celebrating in front of the United dugout.

However, nothing is more stupid than petulantly throwing a way the advantage of having an extra man.  So well done Nadir Ciftci, for the deliberate handball that got him red carded shortly afterward.  As shown by his silly antics against Inverness in the League Cup last season, he has a bit of a petulant streak; correct me if I'm wrong, but does he give referee John Beaton a wee push on the way past after being sent off?  I suppose we've all wanted to shove Beaton at some point...

Andrew Sutherland (AS) occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.  

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog because now he can tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Friday, September 12, 2014

Is McIntyre the right man for County?

After all those rumours about Patrick Kluivert, Jim McIntyre feels like a bit of a letdown.  Some Ross County fans must have been getting excited about the prospect of Total Football in Dingwall, which certainly would have improved on the Total Pish they've had to watch so far this season.

McBookie didn't even offer odds on McIntyre, who has left Queen of the South to take up the post, being the man to replace Derek Adams.

So is the former Kilmarnock and Dundee United striker the right man to guide The Staggies up the table?

McIntyre's record as a boss is a bit mixed.  After all, his only managerial experience in the top flight of Scottish football was as Dunfermline boss in 2011-12...which ended with the Pars relegated and him out of the door by mid-March.  They were pretty rank, failing to win a home league game till April, and managed just five victories all season.

But it wasn't entirely his fault.  He didn't have much in the way of resources to play with.  He kept most of the squad that had won promotion, probably as much out of necessity as misplaced loyalty.  Most of his signings were players who never played at SPL level.  With the exception of goalkeeper Paul Gallacher - who spent half the year injured - the newbies who had played in the SPL before were either well past their best (eg John Potter) or had been found to be woefully out of their depth (eg Andrew Barrowman).

McIntyre didn't help himself with his insistence on playing 4-4-2, which left his defence far too exposed.  But his side were always going to be up against it.  And, if nothing else, he deserves a lot of sympathy for having to play Chris Smith in goal eighteen times that season.  Smith was so terrible that he made Zibi Malkowski look like Manuel Neuer.

And, of course, the reason Dunfermline were in the SPL was because McIntyre took them there.  The 2010-11 First Division was not the strongest league - a rather mediocre Raith Rovers came second - but they won it with a bit to spare.  He's certainly proven himself competent in the second tier, having spent the last year establishing Queen of the South back there and taking them to a fourth place finish.

Opinion on his time in Dumfries seems positive, but not overwhelmingly so.  Taking a newly promoted side to a top half position sounds impressive, but most of the side were brought in by Allan Johnston.  Certainly QOS were no weaker on paper than the teams that finished below them.  He's shown there that he has some tactical nous and flexibility though, moving to a 4-3-3 system which has ultimately served him well.  After a tricky start to last season, they were very tough opponents in 2014.

At County, he doesn't come in to an easy situation.  This is a squad built by Derek Adams, and early signs were not encouraging, particularly at the back.  There is no prospect of new faces until January - though his new chairman, Roy MacGregor, thoughtfully brought in Jackson Irvine, Darren Barr and Michael Gardyne on deadline day to give him options.  But it would be asking a lot of anyone to turn this around quickly.

MacGregor has been wonderful for Ross County in so many ways...but, aside from Adams, his record in appointing managers is not impressive.    In the last 10 years the hot-seat has also been filled by Alex Smith, John Robertson, Gardner Spiers, Scott Leitch, Dick Campbell, Willie McStay and Jimmy Calderwood.

But McIntyre is unquestionably better equipped than he was three years ago with Dunfermline, both in terms of experience and resources.  I remember him as a scrappy, hard-working centre forward; if he can instill those qualities in his players, they'll do alright.

And we at least owe him some thanks.  His appointment of Billy Dodds as his assistant spares us from dealing with his inane ramblings on the BBC from now on.  Though for County's sake, one hopes Dodds is far more competent and knowledgeable than he appears on the telly.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014


That’s how I felt on Sunday night.  And I guess that in itself shows how far this Scotland team have come since Gordon Strachan took over.  Strachan said that when Ikechi Anya equalised he believed Scotland would go on to beat the recently crowned Weltmeisters, and he had every right to think so.  As the game went on, Scotland played with an increased sense of confidence that can only come from a six-game unbeaten run and a belief in the manager and the tactics employed.

 Maybe matters are put into different perspective as we hurtle towards September 18th, but it’s hard not to compare Scotland to our southern neighbours.  For a good while now English players have looked inhibited by the very act of putting on their national shirts.  Even without much in the way of what you might call “world class” talent, they still manage to look much less that the sum of their parts.

 On the other hand, their Scottish equivalents look more and more as if they relish international football; suddenly some average players who play for average teams can go toe to toe with the best team in the world.

 No player encapsulates this more than Ikechi Anya, who may be the World’s Most Likeable Footballer (capital letters are intentional).  If you struggle to hold down a regular place in the Watford first team then you really shouldn’t be much of a threat to stars of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.  But Strachan clearly knows how to get the best out of him and that was typified by his goal.  If my team is the underdog, then seeing one of my players one on one with the goalkeeper is pretty much my least favourite situation.  Time slows, hope builds, and it inevitably ends in crush disappointment.  But Anya was different.  Anya was Lovenkrands against Inter in 2005.  And he did it against ubermencsh Manuel Neuer!  A goalkeeper so good that he could play at centre back for Scotland!

 And yet.. we lost.  It was very good performance, but it’s impossible to shake that feeling of a chance missed.  Obviously anything from that match would have been seen as a bonus, but to miss out on even a point leaves me feeling disappointed.

Also disappointing is that central defence remains a position of relative weakness for Scotland and my heart won’t be a able cope with much more of the jittery defending that was evident in Dortmund, and which ultimately cost us the game.  And don’t get me started on Mulgrew!  Indiscipline like that really winds me up and we can ill-afford suspensions.

 But let us not dwell on the negative, for Scotland are very much on the way up, and at the very least we are in the one of the few interesting groups in the absurd qualifying format that looks interesting with three decent teams (Scotland, Ireland, and Poland) fighting for two places.

Even Platini can’t spoil our fun!

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog because now he can tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Monday, September 1, 2014

Talking points from the Premiership weekend

Accies on fire
When Hamilton swept into the SPFL after defeating a hapless Hibs side in the Playoff Final many supporters of Premier League sides predicted an instant return to the Championship. After the opening day defeat to Inverness those predictions seemed justified. Hamilton were effortlessly dispatched by the Highlanders who barely broke sweat as they eased to a 2 – 0 victory at New Douglas Park.

But since then they've notched up four straight wins, scoring eight and only conceding one goal and now find themselves second in the league behind ICT having taken 12 points from a possible 15. Alex Neil learnt quickly from an error strewn performance against Inverness and since dropping Michael Devlin, who was culpable for one of the goals, the Hamilton defence looks resolute.

The BBC highlights of their victory over Ross County made them look like flipping Barcelona.  Little flicks, back-heels aplenty (courtesy of Dougie Imrie, who was having one of his occasional world-beating days), carving out chances at will.  They could have been four up by half-time, which is as much down to their quality as County's ineptitude.  Heck, even Michael McGovern's penalty save was terrific.  They chose a good day to turn on the style, having given away 1,000 free tickets.  Hopefully a few of the freeloaders will pay to come back.

They already find themselves 12 points clear of County and St. Mirren – two sides who Accies were expected to be battling with to avoid relegation. If Inverness under John Hughes hadn’t enjoyed such a strong start there would be almost no discerning voices should Neil be awarded the Manager of the Month award for August. AS

Incoherent Celtic
If it is indeed true that Virgil Van Dijk missed Sunday's game because "his head isn't right" and his partner is due to give birth, Celtic can only hope that the Dutchman's personal issues are settled pronto.  Their backline again looked dreadfully vulnerable at Dens Park, with Efe Ambrose's confidence well and truly shredded and Emilio Izaguirre going through his worst funk since arriving at Celtic Park.  If in fact Van Dijk is agitating for a move - and gets it - the prospect of the erratic Ambrose beside the green Jason Denayer, who will inevitably have a bad patch or two of his own (as all young players do) will be salivating for opposing strikers.

Further up the pitch, it's easy to see why Alexander Tonev and Mubarak Wakaso have been brought in on loan.  With James Forrest injured, there's no attacking width at all.  Watching Jo Inge Berget, a number ten, play on the left wing was cringeworthy; the Norwegian was in Paul McGinn's pocket from the word go and was hooked before half time.  Ronny Deila has a couple of free weeks now to solve the conundrum of Celtic's attack, a puzzle that may become even trickier if the rumours of Stefan Scepovic turning his back on the club are true.

Paul Hartley is a genius
They said it couldn't be done, but Paul Hartley has managed to get Gary Harkins and Paul McGowan working effectively in the same team.  He even succeeded in getting a decent performance out of Phil Roberts, who seemed like a daft signing after his travails at Falkirk last season, but who tormented Izaguirre in the first half on Sunday.  Add in the clever set-piece routine that led to James McPake's goal, and Dundee's intriguing habit of cutting their half-time break short to go out and warm-up, plus the team's ability to change formation pretty seamlessly during matches, and you can tell that this guy puts a lot of brainpower and work into what he does.  This is a man who could become a very successful football manager indeed. LS

Motherwell need to make some deadline day moves...
Motherwell would have probably got away with a goalless draw, had they not needed to tinker with the defence late on against St. Johnstone - Zaine Francis-Angol went off injured, meaning that Simon Ramsden became the fifth(!) player to appear as left-back for them so far this season.  Ramsden's unfamiliarity with the position certainly wouldn't have helped with the build up for Brian Graham's winner.  But if 'Well's defensive problems can be blamed on injuries, the same excuse isn't available for their forwards.  They haven't scored in four league games now.  With Henrik Ojamaa still getting up to speed and Lionel Ainsworth having a rotten patch, there's no service for an isolated John Sutton, who in turn looks off the pace as well.  Stuart McCall could do with bringing in players at both ends of the pitch, which makes his post-match comments that he hasn't got the budget to do so very concerning indeed. LS

...and so do St. Mirren...
If football was judged on performance in the middle third of the pitch, St. Mirren would certainly be a top six side.  Until the ball got in the box, they looked just as slick as a much higher-rated Dundee United side.  But the Buddies' attack remains utterly impotent without Steven Thompson's testosterone to fuel it (sorry, that's an unpleasant image), with neither Callum Ball nor Ross Caldwell looking remotely like a threat at this level.  And the defence is just a bombscare, looking comfortable for long periods yet still managing to concede three goals.  Captain Marc McAusland was a particular culprit, and would surely be dropped if Tommy Craig had a decent alternative.  It may be that Jim Goodwin or Jeroen Tesselaar are deployed in central defence after the break, or, even better, a better player brought in.  Craig can go on all he wants about performance, but goals decide games.  St. Mirren can't score at one end, and can't stop conceding at the other. LS

...and so do Partick Thistle...
Partick Thistle just don't look dangerous in the box, which isn't surprising given that they haven't been playing with a natural centre forward.  Alan Archibald has plenty of really talented midfielders, and clearly wants to play them all, but perhaps he'd be better off with Kris Doolan leading the line instead?  Doolan proved last season that he offers at least a bit of a goal threat.  He's also the only senior striker on the books at Firhill, so if Archibald doesn't rate him then I'd imagine he'll be hunting one before the window closes.  They could do with another winger too, especially as they badly miss having Aaron Taylor-Sinclair striding up the left flank to compensate for a lack of midfield width.  LS

Stevie Ferguson fails his audition
The Patrick Kluivert story was frankly hilarious, but at least provided Ross County fans with a distraction from their humping at Hamilton.  One thing is for certain though - the new manager won't be interim boss Stevie Ferguson, who failed his audition miserably.  They have a big decision to make in the next two weeks, and their new boss will find it very difficult to get much out of this motley crew between now and January, when he can sign players of his own.  Things might be better by the end of the international break though, as hopefully the defence will have at last been together sufficient time to know each other's names...or at least play like they do.  The sight of that back four strikes more dread in hearts than the sight of the four horsemen of the apocalypse would. LS

Where Are They Now?
Alex Salmond has talked about “the missing million” voters in the run up the independence referendum and whilst there may not be as many missing football fans as that there are certainly a fairly large number who no longer attend matches. At Inverness, who continued their undefeated start to the season and scored two excellent goals in the process, there was an uncomfortable feeling when the crowd was announced as 2,830.

Attendances at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium have long been a bugbear for many. After ICT defeated Celtic 1 – 0 in the Scottish Cup in 2003, captain Bobby Mann famously quipped that the fans "are great when they turn up".  Attendances at ICT have been in decline for a number of seasons with the average crowd falling from a peak of just over 5,000 in 2005/06 to around 3,500 last season.

But it’s not just Caley Thistle who are experiencing this trend. Already, Ross County are seeing a big downturn in crowd figures this season and, over a much longer period of time, sides like Motherwell, Kilmarnock and St. Johnstone have seen attendances fall dramatically whilst over the space of a few weeks Aberdeen, who entertained Real Sociedad in front of a crowd of 17,000, have “lost” 6,000 fans. Indeed the Dons were roared on to League Cup success in front of an incredible 40,000 supporters not too long ago

The supporters are out there but what causes them to go “missing”? Cost is frequently held up as the main barrier to attendances but clubs won’t cut prices unless they can guarantee the increase in crowds that would offset that reduction. The quality of football on show isn’t always great but it’s hard to see how this can be improved with ever shrinking finances for clubs to play with. The frequency of fixtures is perhaps another issue that creates a lack of interest but this is one that could only realistically be addressed through league reconstruction.

The sad thing is that those that are staying away are missing some of the most competitive league seasons in recent memory. AS

And another thing...
I know that when the ball goes in via the woodwork and then the keeper, it goes down as an own goal.  But can't an exception please be made for that Greg Tansey strike?  If ever there was a goal that deserved Alan Partridge 'foot like a traction engine' commentary, that was it...  LS

Andrew Sutherland (AS) occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.