Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Paton inspires another United win
Back-to-back league wins, you say?  This is the first time Dundee United have managed that since December 2014; half of the starting lineup that day aren't even at the club now.  But can the current crop manage the Lazarus-esque comeback that they require to stay up?  Well, United are still eight points adrift, but have a game in hand on the two teams immediately above them.  A feat that looked impossible is now merely improbable.

Having Paul Paton for the rest of the season will help.  The midfielder scored for the second consecutive week, with a clever late run into the box that left him unmarked at a corner, but it's not the goals that Mixu Paatelainen will care about.  During open play. the Northern Irishman sits alongside John Rankin, in front of the three central defenders.  It's not very adventurous, but it makes the Terrors so much more solid.  The duo can concentrate on breaking up play - here they dominated Ian McShane and Martin Woods, as Jim McIntyre bizarrely deployed the more imposing Jackson Irvine on the flank - and United can rely on their creative attacking threats to produce some goals.

Paton missed the last eight months of 2015 with injury; if United can keep him fit, it will only improve their chances of survival.

(Oh, and on another note - is there actually any grass on Ross County's pitch?!)  LS

10 man Celtic frustrated
It's weird, feeling sorry for Celtic.  Not because of the officials - I thought in real-time that Dedryck Boyata's red card was correct, and after watching the replay about a dozen times I still can't tell if it was wrong or not, and after all Craig Thomson did award them two penalties - but because they really should have been out of sight in this game, even with ten men.

Accies are tough to watch at the best of times.  Here, they played sensibly against ten men, keeping possession and waiting for their opponents to tire, but they created barely anything until Eamonn Brophy scored.  Ali Crawford was terrific, showing a hunger to get on the ball, but the players around him were pretty poor.  They also kept resorting to tactical fouls far too often - a complaint levelled at Accies by many opposing fans this season.  Hamilton committed 26 fouls in this match, which really broke up the play (this, I presume, was the point).  Despite being a man up, they were grateful to Michael McGovern, who denied Gary Mackay-Steven and Leigh Griffiths in one-on-ones before also saving Griffiths' penalty.

It was at least refreshing to hear Ronny Deila defend the referee - I can think of plenty of managers (including his predecessor) who have slaughtered officials that have made blatantly correct decisions against their club.  If nothing else, Deila is entitled to be unimpressed by Boyata's handling of the situation; the Dutchman should have reached the loose ball before Carlton Morris, but seemed to casually lumber across to close down the danger; he then could have stayed on his feet and ushered the Hamilton forward away from goal, rather than attempt a desperate lunge.  Boyata has plenty of experience, and he should know better. LS

Injuries catch up with Aberdeen
This will probably be remembered as the day where Aberdeen's playing resources were finally stretched to breaking point.  Already without Jonny Hayes, and with Shay Logan suspended, news then tumbled down Merkland Road East that Adam Rooney - the one player the Dons can't afford to lose for an extended period - would be out for six weeks.  Indeed, so irreplaceable is the Irishman that it actually appeared that Derek McInnes had sent out a team without a centre forward at all, opting to go with a 'false 9' instead - well, if playing without a centre forward is good enough for Yogi Hughes...

Not that Rooney's absence looked as if it would deter Aberdeen from short term success.  From one of a slew of corners won by the Dons on the day (St Johnstone didn't manage to earn a single corner in contrast), Simon Church opportunistically poached the opener from barely a yard out, reacting first to a second ball following a fine save by Alan Mannus from Ash Taylor.  After a fairly open first half, Aberdeen gradually turned the pressure up after the break and it seemed more likely they would extend their lead than that the Saints would equalise.

Yet, for all the pressure, for all the dominance of territory and possession, that second goal would not come for the Dons - and St Johnstone, who had won on their previous two visits to Pittodrie and almost salvaged a three goal deficit in their previous meeting just three weeks ago, must have been aware that their resolute defending might just pay dividends come the nerve-jangling final minutes of the match.

So it came to pass that the Saints managed to march into the Reds' penalty area, the beneficiaries of yet another bombscare of an attempted clearance from Taylor, and returning skipper Ryan Jack - pressed into right back duties, in Logan's absence, for what must have been the first time in years - conceded a penalty in challenging Liam Craig in the box.  It was difficult to tell from the television replays afterwards whether Jack made contact with ball or man, but it is always foolhardy for a defender to leave his feet and lunge into a tackle in the penalty area and, regardless of whether it was a soft penalty for the referee to award or not, it is the kind of challenge that always carries the risk of such a decision.  Craig duly picked himself up to slot home the spot kick and ran off to celebrate, cupping his ears derisorily to the bemused children and parents in the family stand.

So Aberdeen failed once again to capitalise on yet another slip from leaders Celtic, in one of the more shambolic league races in recent memory.  St Johnstone, meanwhile, creep ever further back up the Premiership table - now fourth in the table - yet are further away from third placed Hearts (9 points) than they are from 11th placed Kilmarnock (8 points), so still have a fair bit more hard graft to complete yet. MI

The last, and I think only, time I saw Jamie MacDonald in the flesh, he was picking himself off the Hampden turf after gifting James Vincent the winning goal in the Scottish Cup final.  He performed rather better at Tynecastle on Saturday, and Kilmarnock can be thankful for that.

The game itself has been overshadowed by claims that Josh Magennis was racially abused by a member of the home support, but during the 90 minutes it was the Kilmarnock keeper who looked set to grab most of the headlines.  It’s hard not to feel for a man who saves two penalties and still ends upon the losing side. And although there’s not much excuse for a penalty taker giving the keeper any chance of saving a shot from 12 yards with no defenders in the way, they were both very good saves from decent penalties.

Kilmarnock are now two points off tenth place, but now unexpectedly find themselves looking over their shoulder, now that Dundee Utd have at last begun to impersonate a professional football team after all.  The fixture list won’t give Lee Clark much solace; four of the five pre-­split games are against teams currently in the top six, including back to back games against Aberdeen and Celtic.  (the other game is at Firhill, so that will likely be postponed due to light drizzle in the West End of Glasgow)

Amid the scrappy play, and allegations of racism, there was one heartwarming story to come out of Gorgie on Saturday; nine years after West Ham hijacked his proposed transfer from Bordeaux to Rangers, Julien Faubert finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of playing in Scotland. IM

Motherwell are still in with a shout of top six
You know, before this game, Partick Thistle had been going really well.  Had the league started in October, they'd be fourth.  They had deservingly beaten St. Johnstone last week.  And yet here they were outclassed by Motherwell, whose defensive frailties weren't exposed till they were already three up;  It's thought that Connor Ripley conceded from Callum Booth's effort because he'd fallen asleep in the home goal from lack of activity.

Thistle's problems mainly stem from a lack of goals.  Kris Doolan has eight in the league, David Amoo has four, and no-one else has managed more than two.  They can't really afford to fall behind, so when 19 year old Aidan Nesbitt conceded a penalty by fouling 36 year old Keith Lasley - exactly the sort of foul you'd expect given their respective ages, with Lasley cleverly drawing it by running across the youngster, and Nesbitt failing to get out of the way - they were up against it.

Thistle do still have games in hand, including several at home.  They're only four points off the top six.  Motherwell, even more remarkably given the ineptitude they've shown for long periods this season, are just three points adrift of sixth.  What odds one (or both) of these sides scraping into the top half? 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 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.

No comments: