Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Talking points from the Premiership

Mixu already appears desperate
So Big Mixu has already described a performance as "rubbish" to the press, cancelled time off during the international break as punishment for poor results, and (as of Saturday) introduced a brand new tactical formation - a 3-4-1-2.  These are the sort of desperate actions that are often associated with a failing manager raging against the dying light (or at least the sack!)...but Paatelainen has only been at Dundee United for six weeks!

Those six weeks have, however, produced only one win, three points and two goals (one of which was a penalty).  United's position is a little bit worse than it was when he took over.  So no wonder there's a feeling of worry around Tannadice.  Accusing St. Johnstone of being a long ball team who play for set pieces was grossly unfair to the Perth Saints; frankly, the Finn would be far better off constructing his team in the image of Tommy Wright's.  The organization and heart displayed by the visitors is exactly what Dundee United lack.

The next five games will tell us how good (or bad) United's situation is.  Accies at home next weekend is followed by four matches against the teams immediately above the Terrors in the table.  And the squad should be reinforced by then, with the returning Gavin Gunning joined by yesterday's signing Guy Demel (announced by the press as a midfielder, but who has been used as a right-back for most of his recent career.  Ryan McGowan to move to centre-back?) and, work permit permitting, Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima.  The bottom line is that if Dundee United are still adrift at the end of December, then they are doomed. LS

Chapeau, Hamilton Accies
If we are being honest, the big talking point from this game was not the result but the decision Hamilton took off it to wear the French away kit as a one off for this fixture.

I have a lot of respect for Hamilton Accies as a football club.  On the park, their well earned draw on Sunday put them back in the top six in a season many predicted they would be struggling against relegation, and underneath the first team their youngsters once again sit atop the Development League.  Off the park, there seems to be a genuine community-focused approach, with the occasional nice gesture from time to time (facilitating Jay Beatty's Goal of the Season springs to mind).  So it should be no surprise that Accies once again thought outside the box and their innovation and opportunism should be applauded.

The motivations behind this decision were worthy enough.  Accies have two senior staff from France in Guillaume Beuzelin and Christian Nade, and in Nade's case it has emerged that his sister was in a restaurant next to one of those attacked by the gunmen in Paris.  Hamilton left the choice of playing up to him, and it was understandable that this ended up being the first league game he didn't participate in this season.

The footballing circumstances that provided this opportunity were less understandable.  Hamilton explained that the two clubs had a genuine kit issue for this fixture - whatever Aberdeen wore clashed with Hamilton's 1st kit.  Although perhaps beside the point, it does hammer home a particular bugbear of mine, which is the inability of top flight clubs to produce away kits that are fit for purpose - namely to be used against league opponents in the event of a clash of home kits. Hamilton's home colours are hardly a state secret, and both Aberdeen and the SPFL will have known that the Dons would be visiting the Accies at least once this season.  To be in a position that whatever combination of kits Aberdeen wore would have clashed with Hamilton's home kit is, frankly, ridiculous.  Both the clubs and the SPFL should be doing more to ensure such issues don't arise in future.  (Making the away team play in their pants as an alternative would be a good incentive on a cold November afternoon...)

Also, making a point of being able to accommodate their normal 1st choice kit sponsors on the shirts seemed a tad unnecessary, although it is also acknowledged that the kits will be going to Ligue 1 clubs after the match to be auctioned for charity.  In any event, chapeau to Hamilton Accies. MI

Dingwall impressing in, er, Dingwall
Tony Dingwall has, if nothing else, the perfect name for a Ross County player.  And at last, at 21, he has established himself as a first choice in the side.  Having not started a game till the end of October, he has now been in the first XI in four successive matches, and looked the part in each as he cuts in from the left flank.  Having scored the consolation against Celtic a fortnight ago, he was on target against Motherwell this weekend as well, finishing off a lovely passing move by keeping his composure and rounding the keeper before tapping in.

Not too many wide players would have the instinct to race into the centre forward position, but with 'Well's centre backs dragged wide by the County strikers, a bus-sized gap had opened up which Dingwall exploited...aided by a lovely through ball by the impressive Martin Woods.  Add in an assist - for Craig Curran's cracking strike on the turn - and it was a good afternoon in Dingwall for Dingwall (keeping up?).

To think that County's success last season came with Raffaele De Vita and Michael Gardyne in the wide midfield positions.  Neither started this game; the excellent performances of Dingwall and Jonathan Franks on the opposite side pay tribute to the depth Jim McIntyre has accrued and will serve him well in the months to come. LS

ICT need to play for the full 90
Another trip to Firhill, another defeat for Caley Thistle.  The Highlanders have an abysmal record against Partick with just a solitary win from their previous ten trips to Maryhill.  It all started so positively for the Inverness side though with Miles Storey finishing off a intricate passing move with a good finish from a tight angle bagging his sixth goal of his loan spell. The young striker continues to impress and, with Ryan Christie having returned to Celtic and looking increasingly unlikely to turn out for Inverness again, keeping Storey beyond his current January loan will become a top priority for John Hughes. 

Unfortunately for ICT, despite a relatively impressive opening twenty minutes, Partick came back into the game, equalising through Kris Doolan and deservedly winning it right at the death when Ryan Stevenson's cross evaded everyone and found its way into the net.  The scoreline would have been even more emphatic were it not for Owain Fon Williams who produced a number of superb stops to keep Thistle at bay, the pick of which was a terrific save from a Doolan header.  With a depressing one shot on target compared to Partick Thistle's eight it would be hard to justify ICT being worthy of anything more than a point at best. 

The apparent lack of creativity within the side is a cause for concern but a worrying pattern is also emerging at the other end of the pitch.  Stevenson's fluke goal came in the 90th minute and is the fourth time that ICT have given away a goal in the 90th minute or later which has cost them points. The concession of late goals against St. Johnstone (twice), Dundee and now Partick Thistle have seen the Highlanders throw away eight valuable points so far this season.  Hamilton and Ross County were also able to nab goals late on in games against ICT but ultimately they made no different to the final result.  

Is it a lack of concentration, or is it a lack of fitness?  Whatever the reason, this is hampering Inverness badly. With Celtic up next it is unlikely that a late goal will be decisive in that game but John Hughes will be hoping that Gary Warren's imminent return to the starting eleven will bring the resoluteness that this side seems to lack. AS

Celtic get away with dropping points
After the high of being part of Wick Academy’s historic first senior trophy success on Saturday (had to get this in somewhere), it was back to earth with a bump reviewing this stalemate.

Killie set out to frustrate Celtic from the off, and were successful in taking points from the Hoops for the second time this season.  After a fairly dismal start to their campaign, Killie have shown some mettle and at very least seem prepared for a relegation dogfight.

In a game of few chances, the best of them fell to Leigh Griffiths, but he failed to make a meaningful contact with a clipped through ball, barely testing Jamie MacDonald.  Misfiring days like this have been rare for Griffiths this season, but it was disconcerting that no-one else stepped up to the plate.  Ronny Deila’s men should have had a penalty when Kevin McHattie tripped Scott Brown in the box. With this tie being played at Parkhead, I must admit I am fairly surprised it wasn’t given – cue the conspiracy theorists out in force again.

Celtic will not be too disheartened though, given the failure of Aberdeen and Hearts to capitalise, and Killie will be happy with a point away from home any day of the week. ST

Neilson's tinkering cost Hearts a win
Someone needs to tell Robbie Neilson that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Hearts were one up and coasting when Billy King went off injured shortly before half-time, but with a natural wide player in Danny Swanson on the bench (plus Gavin Reilly, who can play that role), the Jambos boss instead turned to defensive midfielder Morgaro Gomis.  With Arnaud Djoum, Miguel Pallardo and Prince Buaben already on the park, one might say that Hearts were already oversubscribed in that area!

So the momentum was lost and Dundee dominated the second period; in fact they looked the most likely winners after Rory Loy's equalizer.  It was an opportunity missed for the home side - they could have closed to within four points of Celtic with a win, and could have gone three clear of Aberdeen.  It's not the first time that Neilson has overthought things; one wonders if this is one of the perils that come with having a relatively young coach. 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.

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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Who turned off the highlights?

Image result for sportscene hazel irvine
Dougie Donnelly.  Oh, those were the days...

Oh for Sportscene's golden age, even though there were only ever cameras at one game.  Hazel Irvine or Dougie Donnelly in the hot seat.  Jock Brown's commentary.  Chick Young's fortnightly 'exclusive' that Eoin Jess was on the brink of signing for Rangers.  Hearts apparently playing a 3-1-3-1-2 formation with Tosh McKinlay as left wing-back and John Millar as a right winger whenever they were on (that's how I remember it, anyway!).  Those were the good old days.

Contrast with the modern day.  Jonathan Sutherland's perpetually surprised face (he's just as amazed as we are that they keep letting him do this job).  Billy Dodds, who despite over a hundred appearances (probably) on the show has still completely failed to offer a single phrase of insight.  And, most galling, highlight editing that would shame a media studies student.  With a fifty minute timeslot to fill, and six Premiership matches every week, most of the time there are two or three games with severely truncated highlights - some where there is less than a minute's action.  Hell, they've even cut out major incidents such as red cards on occasion.

To call them amateurs would be insulting to those people, and there are plenty, who produce excellent coverage of Scottish football for free.  Basically, the folk in charge of Sportscene either know nothing about football, or they don't give a s***.  Possibly both.

When they started behaving like this last season, it wasn't such a big deal; the SPFL's YouTube channel came to the rescue.  Five minute highlights of every game, with eight- or nine-minute versions added later in the week.  They even went up for non-UK residents on Saturday evening, which meant a sneaky blogger who wanted to do his Talking Points contribution on a Sunday morning could use ProxFree to access them.

But no more.  In 2015/16, and with next to no warning, the YouTube content has been drastically slashed.  For most games, the highlights are even shorter than on Sportscene.  The reason given by the SPFL at the time was that individual clubs would produce their own footage.

So where the hell is it?

When I asked that question a couple of months ago, someone involved with Hearts' own TV channel got in touch - the Jambos put up free highlights taken from their own footage throughout their Championship-winning campaign, but had apparently been ordered not to do that anymore.  Now they show goals, and only goals, from their games.

The reason? Well, "one or two clubs" weren't happy about fans getting to see action for free, as they felt it undercut what they could make from their own subscription-based media.  Who are the culprits, or, more likely, culprit?  I can take a guess, as these internal channels tend to appeal to ex-Pats.  And I don't think the audience for ArabZone or RedTV is high enough to justify this sort of action.

So it seems like clubs have been told specifically not to post up footage from matches.  The small silver lining is that Motherwell and Inverness don't seem to have got the memo.  Both continue, for the most part, to put highlights on YouTube.  The former produced fourteen minutes of footage for last week's game between the two clubs.  It did seem a wee bit biased in the favour of the Steelmen, but that's understandable.

For every other game, we got only what Sportscene allowed us to see.  If they aren't going to show us more, then it'll put the SFA Compliance Officer out of a job.  More importantly, it means that advertisers get less and less exposure.  I bet shirt sponsors were expecting their product to get more than 45 seconds of action on the TV every week when they signed the deal.

This league needs all the exposure it can get.  Restricting us all to Sportscene's weekly amateur hour is an inexplicably short-sighted and stupid thing for the SPFL to be doing.

In fact, "short-sighted and stupid" may well turn out to be this league's epitaph.

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, November 9, 2015

Talking Points from the Premiership

Boyce has lost his mojo
A 4-1 defeat by Celtic was a bit harsh on Ross County, particularly given how they matched the Champions in the first half until a superb strike from Tom Rogic opened the scoring.  Add in a slip from Scott Boyd that let in Leigh Griffiths to double the lead after the break and that was that, really.  It would be a stretch to say that Ronny Deila's men were outstanding, but it was a professional performance given the tricky conditions and the pressure they might have been feeling after the midweek Molde mess.

Had County scored first, however, it might have been a different story.  And they should have done.  Given Jackson Irvine's superb form one would have expected the Australian to smash a loose ball home from ten yards rather than fresh-air it, but that wasn't even as glaring an opportunity as the one passed up earlier on by Liam Boyce, who somehow conspired to miss the target with a free header in the opening ten minutes.

Unfortunately for the Staggies, Boyce has gone off the boil - this was his fifth straight game without a goal after scoring eleven in nine games prior to that.  Whereas in September he looked relaxed and confident when receiving the ball in advanced areas, he now looks uncertain and nervous.  Whilst his workrate isn't in question, he's neither as effective a target man as Brian Graham (who didn't even make the bench for this match) nor as mobile as Craig Curran, who hasn't quite bounced back to his best after an extended period out with concussion-like symptoms.

Boycie needs to get back amongst the goals fast, as he will have hopes of being in Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 squad.  He's the best natural goalscorer his club have, but if he isn't scoring then there are others who can probably contribute more. LS

Aberdeen's recent woes put into perspective by United
I asked a good friend of mine, a Dundee United supporter who will be getting married next weekend, if he fancied coming up to Aberdeen for his last United game as a free man.  This was the day after they were knocked out of the League Cup at Hibs, and said friend - who lives in Edinburgh and had been to Easter Road - informed me that thank you very much, but he'd had a sufficient dose of the Arabs the night before.

For all that Aberdeen have had their own worries over the past couple of months, you sometimes need a reminder that other supporters are having a tougher time than your own.  Such is the case at United, bottom of the Premiership table and recently humped by Championship opposition.  They still have a few good players and a couple of old heads, but they also have a number of young men who have yet to prove themselves.  Mark Durnan, Scott Fraser, Simon Murray and Blair Spittal are old enough, but are they good enough? 

Regardless of potential ability, somebody at Dundee United needs to either buy Fraser an Alice band or get him to the barbershop - there could have been five minutes stoppage time just for the amount of time he spent fixing his hair (thank god Aaron Kuhl was only on the bench - Ed).  Having done the hard work of intercepting an overly casual pass from Ryan Jack in his own half, one can only imagine that he couldn't see past his overhanging fopp to either pick out the two international strikers making runs either side of him or find the target himself.  It was a massive let off for Aberdeen.  Jack had already been under pressure following a lacklustre display at Celtic Park that saw him substituted in the second half, and had his error led to United taking the lead against the run of play it could have meant a long afternoon for club and captain.  Instead, the Dons got in at half time unscathed, and came out emboldened for the second half.  

Jonny Hayes, in particular, put in a performance that kicked on from a return to form last weekend and more than merited man of the match honours this weekend.  For the first goal he screamed by Blair Spittal and Sean Dillon to cross, with Peter Pawlett Baby putting enough pressure on Michal Szromnik to force him to spike the ball in the air for Adam Rooney to nod in from in from a yard out.  For the second, a driving Pawlett found Hayes in acres of space on the edge of the box and Jonny duly delivered a thunder strike to seal the win - much to the obvious relief of players and supporters alike.  (Kenny McLean could allegedly be seen mouthing 'thank f**k for that!')

So Aberdeen's winless run comes to an end but United's struggles continue.  Mixu has already suggested since taking over that he has inherited a squad that will require strengthening in January, but how much damage will have been done by then? MI

St. Johnstone's backups keep coming up with the goods
By the way, St. Johnstone have crept up to fourth in the table, five points clear of the chasing pack.  They've won seven out of eight in all competitions.  One of these days they'll actually get some plaudits.  Maybe.

One recipe for success at this level is to have a settled starting XI, unburdened by injuries and suspensions.  So how many of their players have started every league game so far?  None.  Nada.  Only Celtic can say the same and they have, shall we say, a deeper squad.

Given the way that other teams struggle when they lose two or three men to injury, it's quite remarkable how the next man up keeps getting the job done for the Perth Saints.  The latest example came on Saturday, when busy and in-form striker Graham Cummins limped off early doors.  On came 21 year old Chris Kane, yet to start a Premiership match this season.  Kane scored the winner with a crisp finish; earlier, his sublime pass to Steven Maclean led to an equalizer for Michael O'Halloran.

Imagine how well St. Johnstone might do if they could actually put out their strongest eleven for a change?  Next up are Dundee United at Tannadice, and in addition to the injured Cummins they'll be without the suspended Liam Craig and long-term absentee Simon Lappin.  Yet one suspects they'll do just fine. LS

Hearts are unspectacular but effective
I don’t know who at BBC Scotland has decided that the viewers would rather watch interviews than actual football, but they clearly have a much higher boredom threshold than I do.

This was an occasion where Robbie Neilson’s monotone, cliché filled snorefest was an entirely
appropriate summation of this game. Although Hearts were by no means spectacular, there was enough of a gulf between the teams for them to be 2-0 up at halftime without leaving second gear.

Prince Buaben opened the scoring with a well struck shot that took an awkward bounce in front of the keeper, and Arnaud Djoum rounded things off after some lovely, unselfish play inside the box by Osman Sow.

After the previous meeting between these sides, we were entitled to expect a bit of niggle and drama, but the closest we got to any controversy was when Carlton Morris was booked for a dive in the box. Martin Canning certainly thought it was a foul, but to me it looked very much like Morris ensured he made contact with Blazej Augustyn and the referee probably got it right.

For a few hours this victory put Hearts within three points of Celtic, and so began the whispers of whether it would be Hearts rather than Aberdeen who could mount some kind of title challenge.  Neilson has must be delighted with their progress after coming up this season, but even he will concede that keeping up with Celtic over a sustained period of time is a tall order.

We should know more after December when they face back to back games against Aberdeen, St Johnstone, and Celtic. The way Scottish title challenges seem to go these days, I fully expect them to win all three games but lose at either end of that run to Inverness and Dundee Utd. IM

Sorry Mark McGhee, but the ref got it right
With an injury list in double figures and a four game winless run behind them, the few ICT fans that made the trip to Fir Park did not have high hopes of securing three points.  So the well deserved victory was a delightful surprise.  Greg Tansey, Miles Storey and Iain Vigurs (with an outrageous volley!) put them three goals up before Louis Moult's consolation for Motherwell and a late red card for Stephen McManus.

Despite all this action, plus plenty of other entertaining moments, Sportscene felt it worthy of just over two minutes of highlights. With the demise of the relatively good quality five minute highlight reel provided by the SPFL on YouTube, ostensibly due to some clubs wishing to focus on creating their own highlights, Sportscene is in theory the logical choice to view a largely neutral roundup of the weekend action.  Unfortunately it has degenerated so much that is now barely worth watching.  Highlights of last week's Kilmarnock-Motherwell game were shorter than the opening montage for the show itself and  this fixture was seemingly swatted away as if they couldn’t really be bothered talking about it.

That was despite the furore following referee Craig Thomson's decision to allow Tansey to retake his penalty kick due to encroachment by players from both sides; one Motherwell player was so far inside the box that he was almost level with the penalty taker. McGhee bemoaned the decision after the match and, whilst displaying little or no understanding of the rules regarding encroachment, complained that you will see other incidents like that which do not result in a retake.

McGhee is, of course, wrong.  Whilst the penalty award was harsh on 'Well, the referee was completely correct to have the kick retaken.  The argument that it happens in other games and goes unpunished doesn’t wash.  If you don’t want to get caught speeding by the police you don’t break the speed limit.  A similar theme relates to frequent comments from pundits on penalties being given for shirt pulling in the box claiming that you’d have several penalties in each game every week.  Bring it on - perhaps then it will discourage players from trying to haul each other’s shirts off during a game.  A similar robust enforcement of the laws of the game would perhaps dissuade players from charging into the box as a penalty is taken.  Just make sure you let McGhee know first. AS

Dundee are underachieving Anyone who has watched Dundee play...or their relatively unique half-time warmup routines...knows that Paul Hartley's side will not be found wanting in the fitness stakes.  It's dug them out of a few holes; they've scored six times in the last thirteen minutes of matches already this season.  Having trailed for nearly the whole match at home to Partick Thistle, they were rescued by Kane Hemmings' equalizer.

There aren't too many other positives, though.  After an impressive August, results have tailed off alarmingly with only one win in seven and the next three matches coming against St. Johnstone, Hearts and Aberdeen.  They're only out of the top six on goal difference, but given their playing budget that's not really good enough.

Why the struggles?  When I posed the question on Twitter, all I got were Dundee United fans slagging them off (glass houses and all that, chaps).  I imagine it has something to do with managing only a single clean sheet since opening day; only United and Killie have conceded more.  I also bet that the absence of James McPake and Kevin Thomson (only 1 appearance each since the end of September) isn't helping.  Without the former and another casualty, Julen Extabeguren - though I've not been very impressed by the Spaniard - the Dark Blues had Thomas Konrad and Kostadin Gadzhalov in central defence against Thistle.  Oh dear.

Meanwhile, for all Hartley's summer transfer activity the squad is woefully short of cover for Thomson in central midfield.  Gary Harkins had a few unsuccessful outings there, and now it's Nicky Low's turn to look like a fish out of water.  Whilst Thomson rarely looks impressive these days, the bottom line is that Dundee are better when he is on the park.  An unused sub on Saturday, his return to full fitness can't come quickly enough. 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.

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Talking Points from the Premiership

United should take inspiration from their opponents
“Absolutely rubbish.” If anything, Mixu Paatelainen was being kind to his players by confining that assessment to just last weeks capitulation in Parkhead. Dundee Utd have been absolutely rubbish for quite some time now.

It is often the way that a change of manager can lead to, if nothing else, a “dead cat bounce”, where players who have spent weeks or months tuning out a manager they no longer believe in, and pull out all the stops to impress the new man. Dundee Utd players did the opposite and must have left the new boss wondering why he even bothered returning to Tayside.

But whether it’s a belated dead cat or actual signs of revival, Saturday was much more pleasant viewing for the Arabs. It wasn’t a fantastic performance by any means, but United were solid at the back, industrious in midfield, and looked like a team that could have enough about them to climb a few places before the end of the season. It could be said that that is the least you should expect from a team involved in the closet thing to a “must win” match you’ll find in October, but that would be to underestimate how bad this side have been this season.

United would do well to take inspiration from their visitors on Saturday. Last autumn it was Ross County who looked dead certs for the drop. They appointed a manager who may not have been the obvious or fashionable choice, but who has fitted perfectly in the club. Jim McIntyre deserves a lot of credit for the way he turned things around in the second half of last season, but it is perhaps even more impressive the way they have carried that momentum into this season.

As thrilling as that scenario would be for United fans, I’m sure at this point they’d be happy with eleventh place come May. IM

Sow makes the most of central role
When one thinks about it, Osman Sow should probably have had a bigger impact this season than he has done.  Six foot four but with a decent turn of pace and the cliched 'good touch for a big man', he is the sort of forward that genuinely terrifies centre-backs.  Last season he bludgeoned his way through Championship defences in the first half of the campaign, before a combination of injuries and Robbie Neilson's penchance for playing him wide led to a drop off in his goals tally.  His total of 19 in 41 games for the Jambos is not too shabby, but this guy was deemed good enough to spend 2013-14 on the books of English Premier League Crystal Palace.

Fitness hasn't been an issue for the Swede in this campaign, but with Juanma generally leading the line, Sow has once more been punted out to the touchline.  One can see the logic - he can tuck inside and join the Spaniard, creating space for an overlapping full-back - but given his clear ability, and Hearts' plethora of talented wide players, there's a feeling of round pegs in square holes about it all.

But with Jamie Walker absent, Sow got to play far more centrally against Partick Thistle.  Two goals and an assist later, one wonders why Hearts don't use him and Juanma in tandem more often; the two linked up together like they'd been playing this system all season.  Having two natural wide players on the pitch, in Danny Swanson and the outstanding Sam Nicholson, didn't do any harm to the side's balance either.

Of course, playing this lineup every week means no place in the team for the returning Walker, or Billy King, but that's the sort of problem every manager would like to have.  It's Accies at home next, and if I were Jesus or Lucas, I wouldn't fancy playing against this twin spearhead at Tynecastle. LS

Celtic put Aberdeen back in their place

The huge banner at Celtic Park that greeted Aberdeen supporters on Saturday emphasised the massive turnaround in the club's fortunes since the pair last met at Pittodrie. Then, Paul Quinn's late winner had us believing that the Dons could really put an end to 30 years of hurt.  Now, Celtic's 3-1 win effectively ended their title challenge before Dandies could even get home for a good night's guising.

Trick or treat?  Adam Rooney tricked us into thinking Aberdeen had opened the scoring, only to be narrowly ruled offside.  Celtic's opening goal, though, was a treat.  Last week, Lawrie extoled the virtues of young left back Kieran Tierney in this very blog, and he duly delivered a delicious cross that split the two centre halves and was greedily guzzled up by Leigh Griffiths.  If I was being ungenerous, I would argue that goal should also have been disallowed as it was clearly turned in by a thumb...

There was monstrous defending in the second half, as Ash 'The Evil Dead' Taylor killed Aberdeen's dwindling hopes by scything down Kris Commons on the edge of the box. Griffiths converted from the penalty spot, and James Forrest scored a third goal soon after that to leave the Dons dead and buried with half an hour still to play. It could have turned into a real horror show after that, but Celtic never pressed their advantage further and instead it was Rooney who finished the scoring with a header from a a Jonny Hayes free kick. How different the afternoon may have played out had he converted a previous header from a Hayes cross to take a first half lead...

The baton of official Premiership title challengers would pass later that afternoon to Hearts - less a case of  accepting a seemless changeover as it was of picking the baton out of the muck as the previous runner lay convulsing on the floor.    Terrors will visit upon Aberdeen again next weekend. If the Dons lose again, Dandies might just go straight home, hide under their duvets and not venture outside again until someone switches the lights back on...MI

Yogi uncertainty isn't helping ICT
ICT's winless run ended with a point against Dundee, despite the home side playing most of the second half with ten men.  David Raven was sent off after he conceded a penalty by bumping into Mark Stewart and Rory Loy easily scored from the resultant spot kick. On review David Raven's red card seemed harsh as there appeared to be supporting defenders offering cover, but this was nothing compared to the penalty from which they drew level, when Ryan Christie tumbled under what seemed to be minimal contact from Kevin Holt.  (Holt called out Christie as a diver in today's papers - an outrageous allegation that we can neither confirm nor deny! Ed).  Remarkably, the home side should have won it, but Liam Polworth shanked a late effort wide with the goal at his mercy.

Inverness look a shadow of the side that finished third last season, or which dismantled Aberdeen only a month ago. Whilst runs of defeats are part and parcel of a diddy team's season, the lethargic performances in the previous three games against Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Ross County gave cause for concern.

Rumours persist Dundee United's recent approach to speak to John Hughes, which was rebuffed by the club, has upset the apple cart with Hughes allegedly keen to hear what United had to say. When Ryan Christie was sold to Celtic, Yogi made it clear that if a player is offered an opportunity to better themselves the club won’t stand in their way; he may well feel aggrieved that the same courtesy was not extended to him.  The Caley Thistle boss is apparently mulling over a new deal, but ongoing budget constraints, and the fact that his family remain in the central belt, could mean that his future may lie away from the Highlands.

Of course this is all conjecture but the fact remains that Caley Thistle are in a tricky situation. A number of key players are out of contract in the summer and will be entitled to discuss terms with other clubs in a couple of months. It's likely that those players will want to know who their boss will be before committing their future to the club.  If Yogi is going to stay, ICT need him to sign on the dotted line soon; if he's going to leave, maybe it's best for all parties that that decision is made quickly too. AS

Are the shackles really off Motherwell?
"The manager has definitely given the forward players the freedom to try to impress and express themselves.  That's obviously music to my ears as a forward. I want to get on the ball and make things happen and score goals, so for us forward players it's brilliant. He's just told us to go out and enjoy ourselves."

Matchwinner Louis Moult's praise for Mark McGhee should be taken with a pinch of salt; the Englishman only featured from the bench at Rugby Park, and I bet it has occurred to him that lavishly lauding his new boss won't do his prospects of a starting spot any harm.  It should also be noted that predecessor Ian Baraclough occasionally used the striker in a wide role, and got his fingers burned as Moult consistently failed to do his defensive duty.

Still, it's not all bulls**t.  Marvin Johnson in particular looked like someone had taken his shackles off, repeatedly roasting Mark O'Hara on the Kilmarnock right.  If only his final ball was as impressive as his pace, he'd be a heck of a player.

And therein remains Motherwell's big issue - their attacking players are all woefully inconsistent.  Where Johnson impressed, Lionel Ainsworth struggled.  The starting front pair of Scott McDonald and Theo Robinson were mediocre, whereas subs Moult and Wes Fletcher made a big impact.  But on another day these outcomes could all have been completely different.  McGhee needs to work out how to get some of these guys to play well for two consecutive matches if he's to haul Motherwell up the table. LS

A cracker at Hamilton...not that you'd know it
It was some game at New Douglas Park...not that Sportscene cared, as the Beeb's atrocious highlights show crammed all six goals into about a minute and a half whilst giving far more coverage to Falkirk v St. Mirren.

What we did see was some terrific finishing from the Perth Saints.  No Steven MacLean (under doctor's orders not to play on plastic)?  No problem.  Up stepped Graham Cummins; the former Exeter striker has spent most of the season doing the running for his veteran strike partner, but in his absence he took centre stage and delivered two goals...the second of which was a finish that far greater players would have been proud of.  Michael O'Halloran also got on the scoresheet - for all the adulation that the young attacker has received in recent weeks, that strike from 20 yards was his first league goal since February.

What we didn't see was a string of wonderful saves from visiting goalkeeper Alan Mannus, acknowledged by many St. Johnstone fans to be the man of the match in a game that they won 4-2.  Sadly, we'll never get to see those stops, because the people involved with Sportscene are, frankly, a disgrace. 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.

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.