Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Collum lottery doesn't disguise Aberdeen's poor performance
Have I mentioned recently how much I love Willie Collum?

Ach, he's a terrible ref - and last night he screwed up massively in awarding Caley Thistle's penalty - but it's a nice feeling when your name comes up in the Collum Lottery.  Does the Compliance Officer still bother turning up for work at Hampden most weeks?  If so, I imagine Ross Draper will be getting a letter (as will Dundee's Darren O'Dea).

If Aberdeen had taken seven points out of nine against Inverness (rather than the other way round) then they would be top with a bit to spare, and ICT would be eleventh.  Caley Thistle have pretty much derailed the Dons' title bid single-handedly.  The bottom line is that Derek McInnes sends his side out to attack even when away from home; while early pressing can cause mistakes, such as the one that led to Adam Rooney's goal, ultimately the midfield pushed up so far that there was acres of space between the lines.

In the September meeting between the sides, Ryan Christie caused havoc in that space.  This time round, the likes of Draper and Iain Vigurs were able to break into it.  Add in a bit of real tactical inspiration from John Hughes - playing two wide forwards and no central striker, which largely pinned back Aberdeen's full-backs - and Caley Thistle looked as dangerous as they have done all season.  This was the first time they've scored three at home this season.

For all Collum's calamities, this was a poor Aberdeen performance, particularly after they fell behind.  Worryingly, they offered very little in the second half other than diagonal punts.  The loss of Jonny Hayes to injury may or may not have contributed to that; if he is missing for a number of games then other attackers will need to step up rather more than they did last night - starting at Firhill on Friday. LS

Clark just needs to outperform McGhee to keep Killie up
The skit on Motherwell v Killie was originally going to be titled 'Will Jig get the permanent gig?'.  So the news that Lee Clark has been appointed at Rugby Park obviously put the kibosh on that.  I'm not going to pretend I know any more about Clark than Wikipedia and Soccerbase can tell me - which is that he did a good job at Huddersfield, had a hard time at Birmingham and most recently struggled at Blackpool; his last 53 games as a manager have yielded just 6 wins.

He inherits a Kilmarnock side who climbed to the dizzy heights of tenth with this victory.  So, to survive, Clark simply needs to outperform Mark McGhee, whose Motherwell side look in crisis mode all of a sudden.  A month ago, 'Well were six games unbeaten (including a win at Celtic) and eighth in the table.  Now they're in the playoff position.

McGhee still seems haunted by the six goals his side shipped at Hearts in mid-January.  For the second game running, he started with only Scott McDonald up front and found that 4-2-3-1 failed to provide more solidity, but certainly reduced the side's attacking prowess and left the Fir Park crowd wailing at the manager to bring on Louis Moult.  Ironically, as in the cup tie with Inverness last week, Motherwell were (somewhat fortunately) still on level terms when a second striker was brought on...but then contrived to lose the game anyway.

McGhee's inability to pin down his best XI remains a worry - Moult and housewives' favourite Keith Lasley were only on the bench here - and they haven't managed to replace the energy of Liam Grimshaw.  Also of concern is that Chris Cadden and sub Dom Thomas were the most impressive performers - and they're just kids.  Motherwell's veterans just didn't turn up.  The way this season is going, maybe it's just a blip and all will be well in a month.  But recent performances have been scarily reminiscent of how senior players downed tools at the end of the Ian Baraclough era.  LS

Celtic no closer to winning with style
So Celtic didn’t have to wait long to wreak their revenge on Ross County for dumping them out of the League Cup a couple of weeks ago. Saturday’s game was a picture of how I imagine the semi-final would have played out had it not been affected by the natural disaster that is Efe Ambrose.

The home side dominated most of the game, creating chances but failing to take them.  One effort
from Leigh Griffiths, where he rounded the keeper and smacked the ball off the post, reminded one
of a similar effort by elderly Aberdeen striker Duncan Shearer in a preseason friendly in Inverness circa 1997. That’s a comparison I hope Griffiths will be proud of.

After struggling against County and East Kilbride in the last couple of games, Celtic really needed a good performance as well as a result from this game. While a step up from the shambles of last Sunday, it was not a great display, and despite being 2-0 up, they were on the back foot by the end of the game as County came more and more into it.  Had the visitors got the goal that their play probably merited, it would have been interesting to see how the home side would have coped with some late pressure.

A post on these pages last week compared Celtic’s points total this season to previous seasons.  For most of the years in that table, Rangers were Celtic’s closest competitors, even if it wasn’t particularly close at times. Without their main rivals, the expectation of winning is greater than it ever has been. And if winning is taken for granted, then it’s no longer the be all and end all.  Winning with style is the new target.

Celtic may well win the league, a scenario looking all them more likely after Aberdeen’s failure to overcome Inverness on Monday, but they are currently looking very laboured as they go about it.  Time will tell whether winning the league is enough to keep Ronny Deila in a job, or whether the Parkhead hierarchy disapprove of the way he’s gone about it.  The jury remains out. IM

Dundee's milkshake midfield impress
Leigh Griffiths and Tunnock's Teacakes?  Pah!  The BT Sport cameras caught Gary Harkins knocking back some strawberry-flavoured Yazoo in the dugout after he was subbed late on in this game.  Frankly, Dundee's new club captain was entitled to drink anything he liked after his performance.  His defence-splitting pass to send Kane Hemmings clear for his second goal was typical Harkins; the pickpocketing of Danny Swanson at the halfway line a few seconds before was not.  So often seen as a luxury player, someone who often disappeared from games, the 30 year old is in the form of his life, not least because he looks leaner and fitter, and is now doing his share of defensive work.

Harkins wasn't even the man of the match, in my eyes; I was astounded by the transformation of Nick Ross from a frail-looking attacking midfielder to a frail-looking holding midfielder who won far more tackles than his physique should allow him to.  When these two teams met in December, Ross and Paul McGowan looked uncomfortable in their deeper roles - two months later, they look very relaxed, though the lack of opposition to them in the middle of the pitch certainly helped.

Dundee had so much more pace and running in them than St. Johnstone did, and they used it to their advantage by pressing high up the pitch and forcing the visiting defenders to resort to constant long balls.  Whilst I defended the Saints against accusations earlier in the season that they played hoofball, that criticism is certainly warranted now.  Even when they didn't have Greg Stewart or Kane Hemmings in their faces, the back four seemed to be under instruction to stick the ball into the channels...but strikers Graham Cummins and Steven McLean seemed to be under instruction not to run into the channels.

That's nine games without a win for St. Johnstone now, a period where they've gone from shoo-ins for fourth place to being at risk of missing top six.  And yes, they miss Michael O'Halloran badly. LS

Accies and United serve up a stinker
Obi-Wan Kenobi once said of Mos Eisley Spaceport that "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy".  Well, New Douglas Park ran it close this weekend.  This was a game filled with stupidity, malice and incompetence.  Accies should have nicked it, after Paul Paton's crazy trip on cul-de-sac-bound Dougie Imrie gave away a penalty...but Ali Crawford's spot-kick was so bad that it would have been more difficult for Eiji Kawashima not to save it.

We also had a late red card for Hamilton's Mikey Devlin, who got a second yellow for a deliberate handball reminiscent of Richard Gough in Switzerland (older readers will cringe at the reference)...which was also rather unnecessary given that it didn't prevent a goalscoring opportunity.  Watching Devlin casually trying to jog away from referee Steven MacLean, as if he thinks that he can't get sent off if he doesn't make eye contact with the official, was the only part of the highlights that I enjoyed.

Oh, and there was Coll Donaldson's penalty appeal.  Was it a dive, or did he just trip over his own feet?  Either way, it sure as heck wasn't a penalty.  But it did sum up the complete incompetence on show. LS

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He 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.

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