Monday, April 25, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

A matter of time till Mixu is sacked
Believe it or not, a few weeks back everyone thought Dundee United might actually get out of their hole.  There's no chance we'll be conned into thinking that again now.  United stunk up the place in their last game before the split at home to Inverness, but they were actually even more atrocious here.  With Kilmarnock having lost earlier that afternoon, a win here would have closed the gap to five points and kept Accies just about within reach too. Motivation enough, surely?

Apparently not.  Guy Demel amusingly claimed before the match that too many of his teammates were hiding during games.  The Ivory Coast international certainly can't do so, given his size; nor should he be getting outmuscled by Carlton Morris as he was again and again and again.  But this is the story of their season: with the exception of Paul Paton and Billy Mckay, United players are only noticed when they make mistakes.

So relegation could be confirmed as early as next Monday night - at Dens Park, no less.  Being sent down by their rivals would be about the only way this season could get any worse for the United fans, some of whom showed their displeasure by protesting outside the stadium following this defeat.

Events remind me increasingly of Hibernian's 2013-14 season - a group of players completely lacking in talent, confidence and/or interest, and a manager who was completely incapable of turning things around.  Mixu Paatelainen has been a complete failure at the club, winning just five out of twenty-four league games.  If the season had started as soon as he was appointed, they'd still be bottom.  Like Terry Butcher at Easter Road, Mixu can't be trusted to bring this team straight back up.  He'll get his jotters as soon as relegation is confirmed.

That Hibs bunch were the first to ever get zero out of ten on the blog's end of season report card.  There is a good chance the 2015-16 Dundee United team will emulate them. LS

A toxic atmosphere does nothing to help Celtic
I'm sure I'm not the only one who was shocked that the Green Brigade's banners completely failed to either inspire Celtic's players into a superb performance, or to shame them into the same.  After all, what player earning thousands per week with zero loyalty to a club couldn't help but be stirred into action by being slagged off by the supporters?

Still, (Leigh Griffiths aside, as always), the home side's general failure to give a damn about the match was quite remarkable.  This was a game that County should have won, even though they were without several important players.  They had spurned several great chances before Stewart Murdoch levelled it with a screamer...though, a week after his rather naff comments about Barrie McKay's goal past him, Craig Gordon did his reputation as one of football's 'good guys' further harm by ridiculously claiming he was unsighted by an offside player.

The difficulty is knowing whether this was just (another) bad day at the office, a downing of tools after Ronny Deila's departure was announced, or a sign of a deeper malaise infecting the club.  Celtic will win the league anyway, but they need a new boss in place pronto so they can work out just how widespread the changes at the club have to be. LS

Hemmings really is a top striker
Surely I can't be the only one who enjoys Kane Hemmings' increasingly naff goal celebrations?  His one for the opener at Firhill was classic - a daft dance and celebration in front of, er, the empty stand behind the goal.  He clearly knew that, which made it all the more amusing.  It's nice to see a bit of humour now and again.

Hemmings has plenty of reasons to be cheerful; twenty-five in all competitions, including two in this match.  Both were great centre-forward goals, the consequence of clever off-the-ball movement and confident, emphatic finishing.  And that's because the Englishman is a great centre-forward, at least at this level.  Maybe not quite at Leigh Griffiths' level, but certainly on a par with the likes of Adam Rooney.  It's hard to believe that Hemmings, cast off by Rangers in 2013, was playing for Cowdenbeath less than two years ago.

It's also hard to believe there won't be suitors this summer.  Whilst Hemmings had a pretty underwhelming spell with League One Barnsley last season, he clearly has enough quality to justify another chance.  He does still have two years on his contract, but it's quite possible that he isn't among the high earners at Dens - certainly not on anywhere near the wage that fellow striker Rory Loy commands.  Paul Hartley might want to keep him sweet with a new deal.  Given that Dundee still missed out on the top six despite Hemmings' hatload of goals, one wonders how far down the table they might have ended up had he not been leading the line. LS

Clark may regret hammering his defence
It looked like Lee Clark had fixed Killie's defensive frailties, after amassing five clean sheets in his first eight league games.  But you wouldn't know it from the manager's reaction to defeat at Inverness.  Admittedly, his anger was justified; whilst his side rode their luck in the first half, they had nicked a goal against the run of play and led a Caley Thistle side who are really lacking confidence at the moment.  At the break you'd have fancied Kilmarnock to come away with at least a point, if not all three.

Then came Conrad Balatoni's moment of madness.  Clark described the defender's backpass as "a crazy decision", and Ross Draper's decision to make sure he was brought down by Jamie MacDonald (I reckon he could have gone round him and scored if he'd wanted to) turned the game on its head.  Referee John Beaton had little choice to send MacDonald off, and after Greg Tansey converted the penalty, there was only going to be one winner.  With too few runners in midfield and attack, the visitors were never going to cope with being a man down.

Clark didn't just reserve his ire for Balatoni.  The second ICT goal came as a result of a near post flick on at a corner with a man attacking the back post completely unmarked.  The same situation had occurred about half a dozen times before then, without the home side taking advantage.  Yet Kilmarnock never learned from it; the defenders continued to be attracted to the near post like insects to a light bulb.

That said, given the decent run prior to this game, Clark's criticism seemed drastic.  "When the players keep making errors, you have to think they are not learning the process, and you have to change the personnel".  Maybe it was said in a moment of anger.  Maybe it's an attempt to motivate the players to perform better.  Or maybe he really does intend to make changes.  But given Killie's defensive woes in the early months of the season, perhaps he would be sensible to just put this down to a bad day at the office. LS

Aberdeen can't wait for the season to end
I've done a good job of avoiding seeing Aberdeen getting humped by St Johnstone this season.  Last October a Borders wedding spared me the 5-1 drubbing at Pittodrie; this time, it was a leaving do for a work colleague.  Fortunately there were no televisions in the Champagne Bar, but I did run into a fellow Dandy who had abandoned the pub he was watching the game at early.

It was a fantastic Friday night win for St Johnstone, but Aberdeen were awful.  Why Derek McInnes gave 20-year-old Michael Rose a debut was unclear; he gave away the free kick for the opening goal, comfortably steered past Scott Brown by David Wotherspoon, who I have sang the praises of in a previous Talking Points entry.  

Not so Brown.  It was yet another poor performance for the Dons keeper that has coincided with Aberdeen's stumbling down the stretch.  Referee Craig Thomson later inexplicably awarded him a free kick for running into his own captain, in the process disallowing a goal for Steven Anderson.  It merely delayed the inevitable - Rose conceded another free kick for another foul on Cummins (Rose would get the hook at half time; hardly the confidence boosting debut one would have hoped for...) and Anderson's bonce this time provided an assist for former Don Steven MacLean to tap in past another desperate piece of keeping.

The third goal was, if anything, worse.  Aberdeen tried to play the ball out of defence, Chris Millar caught Mark Reynolds in possession and Cummins collected the leftovers, feeding Liam Craig to finish the match as a contest.  All in all, it was a dominant display from the Perth Saints, who deservedly took the three points and probably deserved more than the three goals they had to show for their overall performance.  For the Dons, it is obvious that the end of the season clearly can't come quick enough for them now.  MI

Motherwell and Hearts go through the motions
Does anyone at the top want to finish this season on a high?  Celtic are concluding the most miserable title winning season in living memory.  Aberdeen keep blowing every chance that they get to pull them back.  Their latest capitulation on Friday night gave Hearts the opportunity to push for second place, up against a Motherwell side that they beat 6-­0 the last time the teams met.  It was a real chance to start a surge to overtake the inconsistent Dons.

Unfortunately it seems that no one really cares that much about final league placings and the teams decided to have a wee friendly kickabout on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Motherwell found the wherewithal to actually score a goal, just to mix things up a bit, but other than that it was a drab affair.

This post-split time of year always seems to bring up lots of rubbish games just like this one.  I’d happily do without them.  However, we have three more weeks of this nonsense.  Can we not just call them all a draw and get straight to the playoffs and Cup Final, and skip these glorified friendlies? IM

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.

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