Monday, April 4, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

County at risk of ending on a damp squib
In 1935 the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment designed as a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, according to which a cat in a sealed box with a vile of poison that may or may not have been smashed open, could be considered both dead and alive at the same time.

An alternative would have been to use Ross County’s 2015/16 season.  I’ve written on numerous occasions about my admiration for the job Jim McIntyre has done since he arrived at a club that was odds on to be relegated last term. He continued their upward progress into this campaign and they’ve spent most of it safely in the top half of the league. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of winning the first major trophy in the club’s history.

They’ve gone on a sneaky slide over the last few months however, and Saturday at Dens Park ended up almost being a playoff game for the top six. Unfortunately County only seemed to realise the importance of the game at around 3:10pm, by which time Dundee had helped themselves to a couple of goals. It was a well deserved victory for Paul Hartley’s side and has put them in pole position for a top six finish, probably the main target for both teams at the start of the season.

It would be extremely harsh to say that a bottom six finish would mean 2015/16 has been a disappointment for County. Winning actual trophies is surely what football is all about, and it certainly trumps finishing sixth instead of seventh.  After the game McIntyre described the prospect of dropping out of the top six as “gut­wrenching,” and that’s understandable. Whatever happens, no County fan will forget winning at Hampden last month, and in 10 years time they certainly won’t remember that they just missed out on the top six, potentially on goal difference. But it would be a shame if County's greatest ever season ended on a sour note. IM

Roberts may cause Celtic pain as well as gain
So Patrick Roberts was star of the show at Celtic Park, opening his account with two delightful goals against Hearts; the way he opened his body in order to dink the ball over Neil Alexander with his left foot for the first was particularly classy.  The boy is quality, no doubt about that.  Celtic have been badly needing another attacking player to provide a spark and take some of the load off Leigh Griffiths and it looks like the 19 year old Manchester City loanee fits the bill.

This was Roberts' second start since he moved north in January, but the loan deal covers the whole of next season too.  The thing is, he is likely to miss some or all of Celtic's Champions League qualifiers as he will surely be at the European under-19 Championships with England.  And of course he has no resale value as a loan player, but he will take game time away from other Celtic players who surely need those minutes to develop - I'm thinking of Ryan Christie in particular.  Sure, Roberts will probably score and set up plenty of goals, but (especially given they should be sweeping all before them in Scotland anyway) shouldn't the Champions look long-term and spend more time on developing the players they already have? LS

Callups give Aberdeen players a boost

As an example of how an international call-up can help to inspire those players to further success, this match provided it.  Of the four Aberdeen players who played for their respective national teams during the international break, three of them found themselves on the score sheet and the other was named man of the match.

It is a plight perhaps unique to the football fanzine seller to often miss the start of a home game while you're still outside packing up your wares, so while I can't report anything about the Dons' first goal first-hand I could hear from the Pittodrie crowd and the applauding South Standers that you can glimpse over the granite facade of the Merkland Stand that the home support were pleased with something; I barely worked out what was going on for the second goal either, having just placed my belongings on the ground to join in the minute's applause for Dons fans James Stewart and Michael McCartney, I returned my gaze to the action just in time to see the ball rippling the back of the net and Niall McGinn wheeling away from goal in celebration.  So I knew roughly as much about what happened there as Ziggy Gordon did.

By this time, however, I had fully invested my attention on the match playing out in front of me and the third time was a charm.  Jonny Hayes' sumptuous flick released Graeme Shinnie (who must have felt desperately unlucky not to be called back into the Scotland squad(s) himself) down the left touchline and his first time cutback found Kenny McLean (who must have felt proportionately lucky to be the first Dons player actually capped for Scotland in the Gordon Strachan era) to smash home the third.

The rest of the match was a virtual training session.  Credit to Aberdeen for the performance they put in, especially in the first half, but Hamilton have form when it comes to losing matches with a whimper rather than a roar and that must be especially worrying with the team now edging closer to the relegation play-off place. MI

Same old Caley Thistle
It seems like every week on Twitter I count up the number of late goals conceded by Caley Thistle this season, because another one has to be added to the list.  And so it was again this weekend.  Marvin Johnson's winner in injury time is the fifteenth goal ICT have conceded in the last nine minutes of league games this season; even more embarrassingly, it is the ninth they have let in in injury time at the end of a game.  If matches finished after 80 minutes, they would be an incredible eleven points better off - fourth instead of ninth.

It's not a new phenomenon, but a problem that has affected them all season.  Is it a lack of fitness, or a lack of leadership, or something else?  John Hughes' take on it was worrying -""I'm honest enough to say I don't know what I'm going to get from the team now."  He's had all season to fix these problems, and he hasn't.  Caley Thistle still make exactly the same mistakes as they did in August, with one difference - they don't have Ryan Christie to bail them out.  Their only hope is that two of Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Dundee United are too rubbish to overtake them, so that they can just put this dreadful season behind them and look ahead to 2016/17.  But I'm honest enough to say that I don't know where the club's next win will come from, so no-one should rule them out of the relegation battle quite yet. LS

Mannus' dip in standards becoming obvious
In his previous five years and nearly two hundred appearances for the club, I doubt Alan Mannus has ever made such an egregious blunder in St. Johnstone colours as he did for Ryan Dow's goal.  Throwing himself across his line to try and block the Dundee United player's effort, he almost seemed to travel past the scuffed shot, which squirmed through his grasp and into the net.  It probably won't cost Saints a top six spot, but they're lucky that it didn't.

Mannus, so reliable in goal for so long, has had a patchy season at best.  Up until now there haven't been glaring mistakes, but there has been less confidence on crosses, less certainty in his handling, and just generally less impressive goalkeeping.  It's been noticed by St. Johnstone fans, and by his international manager too - Michael O'Neill played both Roy Carroll and Michael McGovern ahead of him in recent friendlies.

The Northern Irishman may squirm into the Euro 2016 squad as third choice keeper, but he's clearly under pressure.  At club level, Tommy Wright will know perfectly well that he has Zander Clark, very solid on loan last season at Queen of the South - as an alternative.  Clark is 10 years Mannus' junior and is very much the future in Perth; his time may be coming soon. LS

Killie let down by misfiring Boyd
A draw wasn't really much good to Partick Thistle or Kilmarnock.  The home side's top six aspirations were dented, and they now need four points from their two games this week if they are to sneak in.  The first of those matches is against Dundee United, and Killie could do with a favour from the Jags there now that the Terrors are just five points behind and in form.

It's hard to win games when you can't score goals.  Lee Clark has performed the traditional first task of the new manager and made the team hard to beat, but it seems to be costing them at the other end - they have scored just once in their last six games, so it's no wonder they have amassed only two points in that period.

It was Josh Magennis who got that goal (against Aberdeen), and Killie were a far more dangerous proposition at Firhill once he came off the bench.  But the Northern Irishman, who has eleven goals this season, was pushed out to the right flank with Kris Boyd operating in the centre...and it was Boyd who blazed over after Magennis set him up late on.  It was another blank for the veteran striker, who has done little to justify Clark's faith in him.  Take your pick of the stats - three goals all season, just one since the end of August, just four since the end of November 2014 - they all suggest that he isn't the answer to Kilmarnock's goal problem.  Can they really afford to keep waiting for Boyd to find his shooting boots? 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: