Monday, October 26, 2015

Talking points from the Premiership

How not to play against ten men
This was one of the worst performances of John Hughes' tenure in Inverness.  The question being asked by the home fans at the final whistle was "is this a sign of a deeper problem?".  Only time will tell.

It was a dreadful game even before Dave Mackay's sending off - a rash challenge which probably deserved a red card, but Cuptie has no reputation for malice and deserves some benefit of the doubt - but St. Johnstone batted down the hatches, fought valiantly to protect a point and deserved the stroke of luck that got them all three.

Footage of the last forty minutes will be used on SFA coaching courses as evidence of how not to play against ten men.  Most sides in this situation would up the tempo and stretch the play, especially as Tommy Wright marshalled his troops into a narrow 4-3-1-1 system; instead Caley Thistle reverted from their usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.  It was a ridiculous move in almost every way; Greg Tansey was stuck at the base of the diamond, far too deep to offer anything in attack; at the point of the diamond, Ryan Christie had no space to work in with the Saints midfield sat right in front of their centre-backs; the other two midfielders, Liam Polworth and Danny Williams, seemed stuck in limbo - not central enough to be able to take control over that part of the pitch, and not wide enough to drag the visitors out of their stuffy shape.

Most ludicrously, James Vincent, an industrious midfielder best at making late runs from deep, was shunted up front where he kept trying - and failing - to take the ball to feet with his back to goal.  Add in a tempo best described as 'sluggish' and it was no surprise that the home side failed to conjure up a single chance of note.

Yes, it doesn't help that flair players like Aaron Doran, Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo and Jordan Roberts are unavailable, but Yogi prides himself on being tactically astute.  The obvious move would have been to get Williams to hug the left touchline and Christie the right (where he would have space to work in).  Instead he stood there and watched attack after attack break down in the same way.

The bottom line is that, after a great September, Caley Thistle have suffered two tame defeats...which were preceded by the links between Hughes and Dundee United.  A coincidence?  Or has the club become destabilized?  Tomorrow night's League Cup derby may well shed some light on whether the club are in crisis. LS

Dons didn't deserve to beat Motherwell
No team has scored more goals from set-pieces in the Premiership so far than Aberdeen, so it was no surprise that the Dons took the lead from such an opportunity whenlast season's top assist gatherer Niall McGinn crossed in for Adam Rooney to flash a header into the net.  Normal service resumed, surely?

Aberdeen had several chances in the second half to put this game to bed - Peter Pawlett Baby in particular could have had a hat-trick himself, but sclaffed a couple of chances either side of a spectacular (or should that be speculative?) overhead kick that flew over the crossbar - and, most annoyingly for Dandies, former Steelman Mark Reynolds stabbed home a shot from a Rooney knock down, only for the goal to be chalked off for what looked a dubious offside decision.  

The Dons would come to rue their profligacy in front of goal.  I perhaps should have also mentioned that before Saturday no team had conceded more goals from set-pieces in the Premiership than Aberdeen either.  Motherwell briefly overtook them when conceding the opening goal of the match, but they were not to be outdone... After Reynolds was penalised for barging into the back of Scott McDonald in an aerial challenge, substitute Lionel Ainsworth swung in a delivery for McDonald - perhaps the shortest striker in Scottish football - to head home the equaliser.  (Whether you wish to praise Motherwell manager Mack McGhee for making a couple of inspired substitutions, or question why he didn't start with both of them in the first place, I will leave to you to decide.)

After that, it was Motherwell who had several chances to win the game, Danny Ward had to make four outstanding saves in the closing stages - a few great stops off strikes from Ainsworth, Marvin Johnston and Theo Robinson, but the best of the lot was a fantastic reaction save off the bonce of his own skipper, Ryan Jack - just to salvage a point for the Dons.

Over the piece, a draw was a fair result, and although the Dons will manage to ascend to the top of league table again for just one more day, they may well be relieved to just stop their run of consecutive defeats given the battering they took off of Well at the end. MI

Deila should trust in Tierney
Given that Celtic's financial clout, in comparison with the great and good of European football at least, is diminishing fast, they could really do with their academy producing some quality youngsters both to augment the squad and to earn the club some cash.  Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case at all for years.  In fact, James Forrest, Stephen McManus and Aiden McGeady are the only internal products to make 100 appearances for the club this century.  That's a terrible strike rate.

Perhaps Kieran Tierney might prove an exception?  The 18 year old left back shone against Dundee United, showing an outstanding instinct for when to get forward, as well as a very adequate set of defensive skills.  Yes, it was against a piss poor opponent, but Tierney also played well in starts against Ross County and Fenerbahce this season.

The teenager certainly deserves a run of games; the problem is that Ronny Deila has generally proven unwilling to play kids regularly - Liam Henderson, the other bright young thing in the setup, was given only four starts last season and was punted out to Hibs on loan for the whole of this campaign.

In Tierney's case, Emilio Izaguirre is fit again and presumably ahead of him in the queue.  Whilst Celtic are playing two games a week for the next wee while, he might still see some action...but with Izaguirre hardly impressing in recent months, it would be in Celtic's long-term interests if Tierney was on the left touchline every week. LS

Djoum gives Hearts the platform they need
After a pretty rotten September, Hearts appear to have their groove back.  With so many attacking options to pick from - Billy King and Danny Swanson were only subs for this one, maybe the improvement is because Robbie Neilson managed to pick the best two flair players for the job - Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker were outstanding.

Or maybe it's because of the platform they were given to work with.  The Jambos aren't short of defensive midfielders either - Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo were on the bench on Saturday - but Belgian Arnaud Djoum, signed last month, made his first start in the centre of the park and absolutely bossed proceedings alongside Prince Buaben.  Given that they were up against the on-form Jackson Irvine in that area of the pitch, this is not mean feat,  Hearts will play against far inferior midfields than this one in weeks to come, and if this area of the pitch is where games are won and lost they will do well.  Djoum's contract only runs till January; I bet he gets tied up on a longer one very quickly.

Hartley needs to go back to basics
In central midfield, Gary Harkins (an attacking midfielder) and Nick Ross (an attacking midfielder).  In the wide areas, Greg Stewart (a striker) and Rhys Healey (a striker).  And, of course, two strikers up front.  Advocates of the W-M formation would have consider Paul Hartley's selection against Kilmarnock to be reckless.  By the time he brought on Nicky Low and Paul McGowan to provide some sort of sanity to the system, Killie were two up and the match was lost.

Whisper it, but Dundee haven't actually been playing well recently.  Remarkably, they've now dropped out of the top six and are only one point ahead of Gary Locke's side in the table.  So often in trying situations, older managers tend to go back to basics and grind out results; younger ones (like Hartley perhaps) are far more prone to do wacky things with tactics to try and find a spark.  Dundee go to Inverness next weekend; if they have any sense, they set up two banks of four and grind out a result to get the confidence flowing again. LS

Imrie's hard work reaps the rewards
Maybe it's because I remember him playing for Inverness as long ago as 2008, but it feels like Dougie Imrie has been around for ever.  Thirty-two years old now, and a player whose game has always been based on expending huge amounts of energy, one would expect the legs to be creaking now.

Not so.  Imrie spent much of his career looking like a guy who was a standout in the second tier but not quite good enough for the top flight - and so it proved at Inverness, Hamilton (in his first spell) and St. Mirren.  When he spent 2013-14 at a struggling Morton, I assumed he'd found his level...but Accies brought him back.  And now he's playing the football of his life, and there's no sign of him slowing down.  His equalizer here - a lovely, calm dribble round the keeper and side-footed finish - was his fourth goal in five games.

Whilst the winger gives all the impression of being a right ned, fitness like his doesn't come by accident.  In his Caley Thistle days, it was normal to see Imrie in the gym on weekday afternoons, seemingly determined that he would be able to cover more ground than everyone else in order to compensate for fairly limited ability.  A latecomer to the pros - he was playing junior football until 23 - he's made the most of his career.  He's also now a youth coach at New Douglas Park; his charges could do with apeing his attitude. LS

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

UEFA compare Scottish football to the rest of Europe...and it's not pleasant reading

UEFA published a rather glossy and colourful document called 'The Seventh Club Licensing Benchmark report' yesterday.  To be honest, I didn't know there had been a previous six.

It compares the finances of all 54 top flight leagues in Europe for the 2014 financial year, which makes for interesting reading.  Most of the press coverage has been focused on the English Premier League and how its income dwarves pretty much everyone else.

But what does it say about the Scottish Premiership, and how it compares to other leagues?
(note - I think, given there are constant references to the 2014/15 season, that the numbers are supposed to be linked to that period, rather than 2013/14.  But I could be wrong.  It doesn't make it less interesting though)

Comparing income
Scotland ranks 14th in Europe for overall revenue, but revenue is down 25% on five years ago (possibly due to the Rangers factor?)

Celtic's revenue is not even close to Europe's top 30 clubs.  In fact, the entire revenue of all twelve Scottish Premiership clubs added up to slightly less than that of Newcastle United (ranked 22nd in Europe).

We're still getting people through the turnstiles
Revenue from gate receipts is impressive - tenth overall in Europe (despite Rangers, Hearts and Hibs not being in the top flight!).  Celtic ranked twentieth amongst all clubs in this area, but reported a drop in gate receipts of 20% from the previous season.  Only in Switzerland does a higher percentage of overall revenue come from gate receipts.

'Gate receipt revenues per attendee', which I assume means the cost of a ticket, is the joint-fifth highest in Europe at 22 euros...but the gap between the top four and the rest is very large.

Comparing TV deals
Scotland made 19 million euros from broadcasting in 2014/15 - less than the likes of Norway or Russia.  However, because of the size of the top division, the amount of revenue per club ranks twelfth in Europe, which is much higher than I expected.  Denmark is the only country with a comparable population which ranks higher (2.6 million Euros per club, compared to 1.6 million euros per club in Scotland)

The percentage of revenue Scottish clubs make from broadcasting is, at 13%, lower than those of countries who have higher overall revenue.

Lack of sponsorship money
The Scottish Premiership made 47 million euros from sponsorship and commercial revenues, an average of less than 4 million euros per club.  This was the one area in which we seemed to lag significantly behind.  In Norway, for example, the figure was 80 million euros.  In Austria, where the TV deal is smaller than ours, the figure was 88 million euros.

The Premiership's uncompetitiveness laid bare
Despite Aberdeen keeping Celtic reasonably honest in the league, the Scottish Premiership had the joint second highest points gap (17 points) between first and second of any top divisions.  It is pointed out, though, that in 2013/14 the points gap in Scotland was the highest in Europe - 29 points (which was the biggest in Europe in the last 50 years!)

In Scotland, the league winners had a wage bill more than 500% higher than the second placed team - the biggest gap in Europe by miles (second were France, at 148%)

Punching below our weight in Europe
Only one country (Latvia) has had a bigger drop in coefficient ranking in the last decade than Scotland, which has gone from eleventh in 2006 to twenty-third now...behind the likes of Cyprus and Belarus.

Compared to the amount of spending by our top four clubs, UEFA reckons we have one of the most underperforming leagues on the European stage - possibly (though it's not absolutely clear from the graph we use) the most underperforming of all.

And a nice little factoid...
The Scottish Cup is one of only three domestic cup competitions in Europe which still uses replays.

Conclusions?  Well, our attendances are pretty damn good, and the amount of sponsorship money really isn't.  And our clubs should be doing much better in Europe than they currently are.  Maybe it doesn't tell us much we didn't already suspect, but there's food for thought here, I reckon.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Talking Points from the Premiership

Mixu can't fix United's defence overnight
Ah, Mixu Paatelainen, the victim of ‘Sumo’ chants during my early days visiting Pittodrie (which were then used affectionately when he joined the mighty Dons) and a name used to confuse and baffle taxi office call-handlers by certain medical students (including maybe this particular author? Ed) whilst residing in Inverness.

His previous excursions into Scottish managerial waters had proved relatively successful and are covered in Lawrie’s excellent recent blog (INSERT LINK HERE FOR A CHEAP PLUG) so his appointment should bring some optimism to Arabs in the wake of the dark latter days of Jackie McNamara’s reign on Tayside.

Truth be told, Sunday’s game did not make for pleasant viewing, really for either side.  Referee Kevin Clancy must’ve been fed up of the sound of his whistle (I know I was) with the amount of free-kicks which littered the game – even the Sky commentators sounded cheesed off. I cannot recall a game more disrupted by fouls in a long time.

Big Mixu certainly has a job on his hands.  United' defence was dreadful again, with centre-backs  John Souttar and Mark Durnan jittery, and keeper Luis Zwick as uninspiring as ever.  Special mention must go to Reading loanee Aaron Kuhl, who has modelled his game, and his hair, on David Luiz.  He kept trying Hollywood passes from in front of the back four and even attempted a side-footed free-kick from 30 yards. A poor man's David Luiz...surely Mixu's first piece of business should be to send him on the first train over the Tay Bridge south.

There are a few bright lights however.  Blair Spittal, before his rather naive red card, looks like he has something about him.  Billy Mckay is a proven goalscorer at this level with ICT, and should play through the middle – he was often found wide right on Sunday.  John Rankin provides a steady hand and experience in a fairly young team.  The next few months at Tannadice will be anything but dull. ST

McGhee makes an inauspicious start
The best case scenario for Mark McGhee’s return to Motherwell was that they were getting an experienced manager who, in his previous stint in Lanarkshire, showed that he could set up a mid-table team in a way that could bring a measure of success.  On Saturday, that scenario was placed in the cold light of day.

McGhee made some big calls in his first selection back at Fir Park and he got them all wrong.  Scott McDonald, Keith Lasley, and Lionel Ainsworth were all left on the bench, while defender Louis Laing was played in midfield.  From the start it was clear that Scott Brown and Nir Bitton would claim the middle of the Fir Park pitch as their own personal fiefdom.  Motherwell’s nominal front three provided no outlet, so the home side were constantly on the back foot.

Louis Moult, shunted out to the right flank, struggled.  His lack of attacking threat would have been excusable had been offering some protection to his right-back. But time and time again, Emilio Izaguirre and Stuart Armstrong had their way with Josh Law, constantly overloading him and ultimately costing Motherwell the game as one of those moves set up the winning goal.  Nadir Ciftci took his goal competently enough, but Celtic still don't look sharp without Leigh Griffiths. Given their dominance, particularly in the first half, it’s incredible they only won by a single goal.

Celtic have taken until mid-October to reach the top of the league, but they will surely stay there. Any optimistic Dons fans (they’re a pretty bipolar bunch, so I don’t know any optimistic Dons fans just now) can hold onto the fact that they did only beat a terrible team 1-0, and if they get their act together soon there could still be a title race. But this was not really a 1-0 game.  McGhee claimed after the game that it was, but if he really thinks that then Motherwell are in big trouble. IM

MacKinnon is a liability for Accies
I'm not sure I can quite claim that BBC Scotland plumbed new depths with these highlights - they've already dug their way to the earth's mantle this season with their ineptitude - but a significant chunk of this very short reel was taken up by footage of a female stretcher-bearer slipping and falling over.  At least they bothered to show the sending off this week; why Darian MacKinnon felt the need to put his studs into an opponent's thigh, a few seconds after a teammate had been award a free-kick, I have no idea.

I was amazed to discover that it was MacKinnon's first red card since last September, when he got his marching orders at Tannadice and subsequently got an extra ban for elbowing an opponent in the same game.  He had actually gone his last three games without any card at all..after getting booked in nine of his previous eleven league matches going back to last season (a Joey Barton-esque record!).  Initially a winger when he joined Accies from the juniors, he was converted into an all-action central midfielder last season by Alex Neil; the action, however, seems to be exclusively in the form of hacking opponents.

Going by the online reaction to this game (and plenty of others in the past year) Accies fans aren't exactly proud of him - not for MacKinnon the "he's our hacking b*****d" love that Neil Lennon got at Celtic, or Ian Black at Hearts.  To them, he's little more than a thug.  Luckily for him, his teammates dug him out of a hole with a late equalizer against Dundee.  MacKinnon could do with replicating some of their team spirit...if he gets his place back in the team anytime soon. LS

Graham and Foster deepen Dons crisis
Perhaps the only thing harder to take than Brian Graham's opening goal for a Dons fan was the fact it came as the result of a terrific run down the left flank from ex-Aberdeen captain Ricky Foster.  Having been played onside by Andy Considine on the opposite flank, he first left the back-tracking Kenny McLean on his backside, then cut inside the returning Mark Reynolds, before driving towards the goal - he was eventually halted by the right boot of Paul Quinn, however his challenge spilled out for Graham in the middle of the box to calmly slot home and open the scoring before half time.  Foster was terrific in a wide midfield role, running Quinn ragged in the first half.  Dare I say he looked like he was enjoying his football for the first time since he left Pittodrie?

Quinn's first goal for Aberdeen was at Victoria Park, albeit he was playing for Ross County at the time, his own goal being the difference between the two teams the last time the sides met at Dingwall.  This time around he managed to make amends by adding a couple of assists on the night for his former club.  In the second half, he inadvertently flicked a header into the path of Graham who capitalised - via some pinball with Considine - to beat Danny Ward for his, and the Staggies', second goal.  Defensively, the Dons were a shambles, with Mark Reynolds badly off the pace on his return and Quinn awful at right-back then centre-back.  Surely their strongest back four would have Graeme Shinnie and Shay Logan in it from the start?

For Ross County, this result was perhaps the pinnacle of what has been an incredible turnaround in performances under Jim McIntyre, seeing them ascend to third place in the league table.  (Hearts would leapfrog them on Sunday.)  The Staggies are undoubtedly a different animal - or perhaps the same animal, just considerably more bucksome - under McIntyre's leadership. They are winning games, scoring goals, and look a match for anyone in the league on their day.

Four defeats on the trot are now far more than just a cause for concern for the Dandies.  The wheels haven't just come off the bandwagon; the bandwagon has exploded and felt a nuclear fallout in its wake.  This was another dreadful performance and they could have lost by more.  Winter is coming, and the Dons will need to sort their house out quickly before they succumb to the exposure. MI

Are Partick Thistle getting better, or just getting luckier?
What a difference a couple of wins makes.  Partick Thistle may still be only eleventh, but they are four points clear of Dundee United, and only five behind the St. Johnstone side they beat on Saturday.  A corner turned?  It's hard to be certain - the first win was against a United side still looking for a new manager, the second courtesy of two ridiculous long-range strikes from Gary Miller and Steven Lawless.  And they might not have won this one had referee John Beaton not inexplicably ruled that Abdul Osman's late handball was outside the box when in fact it was well inside.

Miller will have especially enjoyed that goal, coming against the club which let him go in the summer.  It had been a lousy start to the season for the right-back - his only accomplishment up till now had been putting his shorts on inside-out against Inverness in August, and he only played in this game because Mustapha Dumbuya was ill.

Next up for the Jags?  Accies at home.  Win that (probably with Dumbuya back at right-back, despite Miller's goal) and then we'll know if this is a proper revival or a flash-in-the-pan. LS

ICT too narrow minded against Kilmarnock
ICT were, based on the last five matches, the form side in the league.  This run and the fact that manager John Hughes remained at the club after Dundee United came sniffing meant that supporters felt relatively confident ahead of a trip to Kilmarnock.  So much for that.

Despite a pretty even split in all of the recorded stats available it was Killie who emerged with a deserved victory which, in the end, was pretty comfortable.  After a promising start ICT were, for the most part, not at the races and, despite the return of Ryan Christie to the side, struggled to create many chances in the game.  An injury to Ross Draper saw ICT lose their grip in midfield and their early dominance slip.  Perhaps a fully fit Draper or indeed any other fit midfielder would have gotten across to Greg Kiltie to close him down before he got a shot away to put Kilmarnock into the lead right on half time.  It seemed odd to keep a clearly struggling Draper on the pitch and perhaps a decision that, with hindsight, Hughes will wish he had made earlier. 

Hughes might also rue not trying to change the shape of the Caley Thistle side before they were 2-0 down and struggling.  ICT tend not to play with 'true' wide midfielders; most of the width comes from the full-backs.  The attacking three behind the striker were very narrow here, too often cutting inside with their full backs not providing enough width.  Danny Williams was at least trying to stretch the Killie back line but he was bizarrely substituted for AndrĂ©a Mbuyi-Mutombo who offered little by comparison.  All too often balls seemed to be almost lazily played ahead of Miles Storey for him to chase in the hope he could get on the end of them and create a goal scoring chance.  

The option to call upon someone like Aaron Doran, out long term, might have made all the difference. Despite his 'fuller' physique Doran would have offered a real alternative in a game which got suffocated in the middle of the pitch.  The sooner the likes of Doran, James Vincent, Jamie Roberts and Toni Sho-Silva return from injury the more variety Hughes will have to try and tweak his side to rescue points in future matches. Sadly, for ICT fans, the Highlanders were too one dimensional and predictable on Saturday to get themselves back into the game. AS

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

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".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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.

Stuart Taylor (ST) is Wick Academy's team doctor. He is an Aberdeen fan, especially now they're doing well again.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mixu: not the first choice, but the best

Embedded image permalink
"I'm ready for my close up, Mr Thompson"

So it's Big Mixu Paatelainen, to give him his full name, who has taken over at Tannadice.

What did we learn from Dundee United's search for a new manager?  Plenty about the Scottish media, for a start.  Whilst the Finn's name was mentioned in passing with the post, it wasn't really until the morning before he was unveiled that it became clear that he was likely to be appointed.  The press had spent the previous several days constantly dropping John Hughes' name - initially based on fact (United made an approach for him last Friday evening, with Inverness suggesting where they could stick it) but they kept flogging the horse for days afterwards, with three days worth of stories suggesting that Yogi wanted to move to Tayside, but with little other than conjecture to back them up.  "Yogi wants to speak", "Yogi is going to speak", "the bookies have stopped taking bets after John Hughes became odds-on favourite", "Inverness are going to let Yogi speak".  Anyone who put some cash on Mixu on Monday will be buying the drinks for the rest of the week.

We got the strong impression that Mixu wasn't the first choice.  United chairman Stephen Thompson looks like Blofeld, but seems to plot like Dr Evil; he approached St. Johnstone about Tommy Wright first, only to be rebuffed, and Wright happily signed a new contract at McDiarmid Park a few days later.  One wouldn't be surprised to see Yogi do the same at Inverness; rumour has it (and it is, like so much else, rumour) that Thompson wouldn't countenance anywhere near the compensation that ICT demanded for the potential poaching of their coaching staff.

That said, I like the appointment.  I really can't remember why Mixu got punted by Hibs - I've read stuff today about the fans not liking his style of play, but I seem to remember they finished in the top six twice when he was in charge.  Mind you, he also spent six figure sums on John Rankin and Colin Nish (!).  His Killie team, though, bring back overwhelming positive memories.  They were great to watch, with an incisive, attacking passing game.  Admittedly, a lot of that might have been down to signing Alexei Eremenko and being able to motivate the playmaker to break into a jog occasionally.  Who knows, maybe he could do the same with Chris Erskine?  Mixu did turn around Kilmarnock quickly, though.  And he certainly got the best out of players like Craig Bryson, Liam Kelly and Connor Sammon.

I think he suits United better than Wright or Hughes would have.  The former has built his success at St. Johnstone mainly on a solid defence (though not this season!) and a bunch of experienced, hardworking and disciplined players.  Jackie McNamara has left behind a squad of talented but hugely inconsistent youngsters with fragile confidence, and very few grafters.  And the defence was an absolute shambles.  I think huge turnover would have been required for Wright to get the team he wanted and the style he wanted.  That would have taken a lot of time, and a lot of expenditure.

I don't think Hughes would have been a great fit either, for two reasons.  Firstly, it took him several months to get Caley Thistle playing the way he wanted them to; whilst Caley Thistle could afford him the time (and a number of iffy results in the first few months) Dundee United would not have been so patient.  Secondly, whilst he is an outstanding coach and could certainly help develop Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal and other youngsters at the club, recruitment remains a real weakness for him.  His recent successes came from improving the squad he inherited rather than from bringing in new players, and his attempts to replace the likes of Graeme Shinnie and Marley Watkins have been rather haphazard.  Dani Lopez?  Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo?  Good grief.  Miles Storey, who has transformed their season, was apparently suggested by the chairman.

It's probably for the best, really; Caley Thistle managers are cursed.  No, really.  Not one of the managers in their history has gone on to have success elsewhere.  United have first-hand knowledge of this, after paying decent compo to the Highlanders in 2006 for Craig Brewster and getting their fingers burned spectacularly; 9 months, 30 matches and 3 wins later, Brew was punted.  Whilst a top three league finish and a cup win would probably be the pinnacle for most bosses, it definitely will be for Yogi.  It's just the way things are.  Had he gone to Tannadice, he'd have been gone by May, having got them relegated, and then ended up in charge of an English League Two team for all of eight matches before getting sacked there as well...or am I getting him mixed up with someone else?

So Mixu might not have been the first choice, but I reckon he's the right one.  From Dundee United's point of view, he had better be.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Talking points from the Premiership

Aberdeen's performance summed up in GIF form

St Johnstone FIVE?!
I was at Dryburgh Abbey this weekend to observe the time-honoured tradition of surreptitiously checking for fitba' scores whilst attending a wedding ceremony.  The only positive I can take from the experience (from an Aberdeen supporter's perspective, naturally - the wedding was fantastic) is that I didn't have to witness the Dons getting torn apart in person.

That said, once the trauma of the result has dissipated, I will probably come to regret missing Brian Easton's opener for Perth Saints.  I think it is fair to say that the Beast won't be belting many 30-yard volleys into the postage stamp corner and, regardless of what team you happen to support on the day, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Coincidentally, the first 12 minutes of the game turned out to be a microcosm of Aberdeen's match the previous weekend in Inverness, with the opposition taking a two goal lead - former Don Joe Shaughnessy doubling St. Johnstone's lead - before Ash Taylor managed to head in a set-piece to halve the deficit.  I certainly hadn't expected there to have already been three goals when I first checked the contents of my sporran.

On my second check, Liam Craig had made it 3-1 before half time, and after my third check had revealed that Steven MacLean had put his former club 4-1 behind only four minutes after the break I decided to abandon the practice altogether and give the wedding the full attention it deserved.  When the groom himself graciously took the trouble of coming over to my table to confirm that it had finished 5-1, I proceeded to drowning my sorrows in a particularly impressive Indian Pale Ale...MI

Griffiths makes his case again
On Thursday, Scotland will play a football match against Poland that they have to win.  Much of the talk in the lead up to the game will be dominated by each team's strikers.  Robert Lewandowski has been destroying worlds over the past couple of weeks and comes into the game as Europe’s in form player; it’s safe to say he will start at Hampden.  Scotland on the other hand have three players vying for the position, and the question being asked most often is, “Can Leigh Griffiths do anything more to win a starting spot?”

Looking at his performance on Sunday, the answer would have to be “no.”  It was a poor performance from Celtic but for the umpteenth time so far this season he made all the difference. He laid their equaliser on a plate for Dedryck Boyata, and the winner was a very impressive header for a man of his stature.  He has been on top form all season and his teammates should be thanking their lucky stars that he once again bailed them out.

Confidence should have been high in the Celtic camp, what with the double boost of Aberdeen’s thrashing the day before and Efe Ambrose’s suspension.  But their nervous start and appalling defending for the opening goal suggests they won’t be totally comfortable until Jozo Simunovic is fit and settled.

The results this weekend also showed why Celtic will again win the league despite not being especially good (at least in comparison to sides of the past).  No matter how badly Celtic defend, they won’t go on a run like Aberdeen's current one.

For the record I’d start with Steven Naismith up front against Poland, although I wouldn’t have a huge problem with Griffiths getting the nod.  My main concern is that he does what he did in the last “must win” game he played in and knees one of the opposition in the Michael Ballacks.  Not that it will particularly matter who’s playing up front for Scotland, as Lewandowski lays waste to Hampden...IM


Yogi wins in Dingwall again
Terry Butcher never won a match in Dingwall with Inverness (though he did win one with Hibs, remarkably).  John Hughes, in contrast, has won four out of four away to Ross County since arriving in the Highlands.  This win was perhaps the most unexpected of the four, with County starting the day five points better off than an Inverness side missing several players (including Ryan Christie) but at least able to completely fill the subs bench for a change.

ICT's recent upturn of form has coincided with Miles Storey's arrival, and it's not hard to see why.  In comparison to the sloth-like Dani Lopez, who played up front in August, Storey's pace and running stretches the play, forces defenders to play deeper and so creates more space in midfield for his teammates to play in.  The English striker's goal tally - four in five games now - isn't too shabby either.

Inverness have now beaten Hearts, Aberdeen and County in the last four weeks, and they're still to get Gary Warren and Jordan Roberts fit (and without Aaron Doran long-term).  Imagine how well they might do when they actually get to play at full strength. LS

McNamara's successor has a heck of a task on his hands
The highlights of this match represented a new low for Sportscene, given that they only bothered to show 105 seconds of action, and didn't even bother with action replays - even of the goals!  With the SPFL having stopped putting extended highlights on their Youtube channel, pressure has to be put on BBC Scotland to actually do the games justice, rather than this half- (or even quarter-) arsed effort every week.

What did we learn?  Well, when the going got tough, Partick Thistle got going, scoring as many goals in this match as they had done in their first nine league games.  If they had lost they would have been five points adrift at the bottom and Alan Archibald would have been feeling the heat; now they are off bottom after leapfrogging United.

It helped that the visitors' keeper, Luis Zwick, had an absolute nightmare.  He was inexplicably outjumped by David Amoo in the six yard box for the opening goal (the lack of protest for a foul tells its own story), and later on he somehow let a weak low cross from the outstanding Mustapha Dumbuya dribble past him and into the far corner.  Zwick is a youngster with talent but is far too green to be playing at this level regularly - like far too many of his teammates.  Jackie McNamara's successor, whoever he is, is going to have to make do with a squad which lacks experience and graft.  Worse, it will be January before he can bring in the seasoned centre back and goalkeeper that this team so badly needs. LS

Hearts indiscipline is their undoing
In fact, ignore the first paragraph of the previous bit - the highlights of Hearts-Killie lasted all of FIFTY-EIGHT SECONDS...and didn't even bother including Gavin Reilly's late red card.  Can't BBC Scotland please hand over the rights (for which they are paying a pittance anyway) to someone who actually gives a s***?

Conrad Balatoni's late equalizer against his former club left the Jambos with only two points from their last five games, and there wasn't much in this game to suggest that the home side had turned the corner.  Hearts seem to be fine right up until they concede; they lost their heads terribly in the second half at Inverness, and then after conceding an early goal against Aberdeen they went to pieces.  I was as surprised as anyone that they drew at Celtic Park, but goodness knows what might have happened had Celtic taken one of a plethora of first half chances.  And this time around they failed to put Kilmarnock to bed and Reilly's foolish sending off, a few minutes after coming off, summed up their failure to deal with frustration.

There's so much flair here, but there seems to be a distinct lack of leadership aside from veteran keeper Neil Alexander.  Captain Alim Ozturk (absent for this match) is of course notorious for going walkabouts from central defence, which hardly sets a good example.  It must be noted that most of the older members of the squad were signed this summer and are still finding their feet and possibly, given the mix of nationalities, their voices.  Until that happens, Hearts will continue to be fragile. LS

Superb Loy eases Stewart's pain
Well, Motherwell found a way to stop Greg Stewart cutting in from the right flank and scoring with a fine left-foot crocking him.  Paul Hartley was not pleased to have lost his star attacker - "Stewart gets targeted again with another challenge. It seems to be happening every week with Greg."
  Hopefully for Dundee's sake Stewart won't miss too much action, but they still managed to win this without him, Kevin Thomson (who went off injured again) or the crocked Paul McGowan.

It helps that Rory Loy, who has missed too much of 2015 with injuries, was fit to lead the line.  Loy is tremendous at linking up play as well as being pretty slick in front of goal - his finish for the opener here was sublime.  A credible source of mine claims the former Falkirk man is on upwards of four grand a week, which surely can't be true - can it?  What is true, though, is that he is one of the best centre forwards in this league, and that not many folk have realized it yet. LS

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

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".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.