Monday, March 21, 2016

Talking points from the Premiership

Is there such a thing as a crap Dundee derby?
At Tannadice we had the curious spectacle of a substitute (David Mitchell) coming on for a substitute (Nicky Low) who came on for a substitute (Thomas Konrad).  One for future pub quizzes, no?  It was nothing more than a wee footnote in this game though, which was a wonderful spectacle containing the amount of passion and aggression one expects from a derby, and also rather more quality than Scottish football is generally given credit for.  Each of the three Dundee derbies this season has been a cracker; is there a match in football that comes closer to guaranteeing viewers a good game?

It helps that United are so gung-ho at the moment; despite having their fingers burned by Motherwell's attackers last week, they again stuck with three at the back and pushed on their wing-backs.  It was no surprise that Nick Ross, Gary Harkins and most prominently Greg Stewart took advantage of the space left behind.  Kane Hemmings' first half double - the second would have been an extraordinary miss had he not sliced his right foot shot so much that it deflected in off his left foot - was appropriate reward for the visitors being simply better organized and more thoughtful.

Scott Bain's sending off and the resultant penalty turned the game on it's head though, and United resorted to an aerial bombardment that eventually yielded an equalizer.  One wonders if Mixu Paatelainen might have been better trying to find an intricate path through the Dundee defence - crippled by the loss of Konrad and Kostadin Gadzhalov to injury and with Paul McGinn as an auxiliary central defender - once he'd got Scott Fraser on the pitch.  Perhaps he also might have ditched one of his three centre backs given that Dundee had long given up any pretence of attack.

This result was great for the neutrals, but not so for either club.  United need wins if they are to stay up, not draws.  Dundee, despite some great football at times this season, and a budget which is probably the fifth biggest in the Premiership, have drawn too many games and run a real risk of finishing up in the bottom half.  Of course if that happens we get a fourth clash between these two teams, which would be rather great for the rest of us. LS

Why can't Killie compete like this every week?
Having drawn with them twice already this season, Kilmarnock came within seconds of being unbeaten against Celtic this season, before being undone by Tom Rogic's stunning winner.  Whilst the visitors had plenty of chances of their own, this match was well balanced and had the decisive goal come at the other end it would hardly have been daylight robbery.  Killie were well organized in defence, full of running in midfield, and willing to throw players forward when the opportunity arose.  Manager Lee Clark was effusive in his praise afterwards, and rightly so.

So why can't they do this every week?  Since Clark's arrival, they have picked up a solitary point out of a possible fifteen and are now just seven clear of Dundee United (and five adrift of Hamilton Accies).  The worry is that, under Gary Locke, Kilmarnock were capable of outstanding performances one week (the two previous Celtic clashes, for example), and absolute stinkers the next.  This weekend's efforts may be a sign that Killie are on the right track under Clark...but it's just as likely that it was another flash in the pan. LS

Motherwell escaped a red card yet again
The post-mortem report from Fir Park was mainly focussed - not unreasonably - on Aberdeen's second half self-combustion.  One up and heading for victory, they managed to lose two goals and a player in the space of six crazy minutes.  The manner of conceding was particularly galling; several Dons defenders letting a loose ball bounce around for Scott McDonald to head home, and then Mark Reynolds' dreadful blunder that allowed Louis Moult in to score.  This may be a vintage Aberdeen season (at least by modern standards) but Reynolds has been well below his best.  Add in Barry Robson's lunacy - ironically, his victim, McDonald, escaped punishment last week against Dundee United for an elbow just as blatant as Robson's - and it's hard to see how it could have gone more wrong.  Surely (and I know we've said this several times already this season) Celtic can't blow the title now?

Just a wee thought, though - Aberdeen's penalty in the first half was a stonewaller, with Jonny Hayes tripped by Kieran Kennedy.  Hayes was clean through with only Connor Ripley to beat, though.  Surely it was a clear goalscoring opportunity, and a red card?  Referee Don Robertson thought otherwise, though I can't work out for the life of me how he could come to any other conclusion.  One imagines that Aberdeen would have won this game - just as Dundee United would have done last week - had the referee at Fir Park done his job. LS

Caley Thistle rain on County's parade
Ross County were a week removed from a cup triumph, and have cemented themselves in the top half of the table all season long.  Inverness, in contrast, had been toiling for weeks, struggling with form and a seemingly neverending injury list.  And yet again, Caley Thistle won in Dingwall - for the fifth time in five attempts since John Hughes pitched up in the Highlands.  Talk about a hoodoo.

County away is pretty much the only game for which Yogi will change his 'pass sideways and backwards at all costs' policy...and it works so well that one wonders why on earth he doesn't try it for other matches.  ICT pack the pitch with strong, powerful players - Ross Draper and Liam Hughes could probably both outwrestle grizzly bears - and then hit on the counter when they're in front.  The Staggies never seem to have an answer to it.

Scoring first might be the key...but Alex Schalk headed wide from six yards and Jackson Irvine contrived to hit the post when clean through, before Liam Polworth struck at the other end.  After that, the result was never in doubt.  Choosing to hold their cup parade straight after a local derby was always going to tempt fate. LS

St. Johnstone take advantage of youthful naivety
This time last week you may recall reading glowing words of praise regarding the Hearts defence.  This group of young players were performing well individually and as a unit and had that potential to to be solid foundation of a good Hearts team for years to come.  Clearly they were so delighted to receive the Narey’s Toepoker Seal of Approval that they spent a few days on the lash celebrating.

St Johnstone’s first two goals were almost identical. To concede once from a corner that bounces inside the six yard box is careless.  To do it twice is something else.  The third goal was a nice finish by Darnell Fisher at the end of a sweeping counter-attack; Fisher might not have had so much time to pick his spot however had Perry Kitchen and Jordan McGhee not both been so focused on the ball that they didn't track the Saints man bursting through the right channel.

Robbie Neilson was rightly disappointed that his defence looked so fragile given how well it had been playing recently.  One of things that impressed me about the team, and the back line in particular, is the young average age.  But with that youth is bound to come some inconsistency, and days like Saturday will happen every so often.

St Johnstone are a good team and it’s no surprise that they were able to take advantage of Hearts’ off day.  Tommy Wright has done a consistently good job with this team and probably deserves more credit than he’s getting. They look odds on for a fifth consecutive top six finish, and that would be a very impressive achievement. IM

Pogba starts living up to his name
So much for the Accies revival; after last week's win, they looked like they were heading for another one at half-time against Partick Thistle, only for the visitors to turn the game on its head with two quick goals.  Thistle did remarkably well given their defensive travails; Liam Lindsay was injured in the warmup, so with Frederic Frans unavailable and Mustapha Dumbuya only fit enough for a second half sub's appearance Gary Miller ended up in central defence and Sean Welsh at right-back.  And of course it was Ryan Edwards, the hirsute Australian drafted in as a last minute replacement for Lindsay, who grabbed the winner with a wonderful diving header.

Edwards was however completely unmarked in the six yard box; so too was Mathias Pogba when he headed Thistle level.  Whilst that reflects poorly on Accies' dreadful back line, Pogba was such a handful that he would probably have been an awkward opponent for anyone.  The big Frenchman has struggled since moving north in August, partly down to a lack of fitness and then a spate of injuries.  This was only his second goal in Scotland, and his first since October (which was also, incidentally, against Hamilton)...on the same weekend that his more prestigious brother Paul struck in the Turin derby as well.

But there's no doubt that the lesser Pogba has some quality.  Now that he's a bit leaner, a bit more mobile and, crucially, a bit more confident, I fancy there are some more goals in him this season.  And if they come in the next couple of games, Thistle could make the top six yet. 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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