Monday, May 2, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Killie have momentum
In a relegation battle, form is so important.  Kilmarnock had built up some momentum before their second half collapse at Inverness last weekend; it reflects well on the players and manager Lee Clark that they didn't look like the wind had been knocked out of their sails at all when they visited New Douglas Park. The back four that were so calamitous in the Highlands kept a clean sheet, and with Josh Magennis returning from injury they had too much pace and power in attack for Accies.

Teenager Greg Kiltie popped up with a first half brace; Gary Locke's greatest (only?) achievement in his spell in charge was convincing the youngster to sign a new deal in December.  Accies moaned loudly that the ball went out of play in the build up to the opener (the BBC cameras, of course, were able to offer zero insight into that decision).  Maybe if the defenders and goalkeeper had put as much effort into stopping Kiltie as they did into chasing the referee, he might not have scored.

Hamilton proved that one win away to Dundee United does not make a summer.  They produced a catalogue of errors - Lucas Tagliapetra's crazy handball for Killie's penalty (and his claim that he was shoved by an invisible opponent) was the most impressive - and either didn't seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation or were paralyzed by it.

Every time I write off Accies, they seem to bounce back.  But there's no denying that they look the least capable of the three sides still realistically battling to avoid the playoff.  Whoever ends up in that eleventh spot will be in far better shape if they have a few decent recent results behind them - as Motherwell showed last season, having a bit of confidence can count for so much. LS

What was Robbie Neilson thinking?
It's easy to forget that Robbie Neilson is only 35 years old.  The Hearts head coach has shown more than enough in the last two seasons to suggest that he has a bright future; however, given his inexperience he will, and does, make mistakes.  Starting with a back three against Celtic was a whopper.  Given that Ronny Deila's formation is so predictable, it was a bizarre move, devoid of tactical logic.  But then so was the 4-6-0 that his Director of Football, Craig Levein, is infamous for.  Sometimes, it seems, managers just overthink things.

The decision played beautifully into Deila's hands.  With Colin Kazim-Richards and Patrick Roberts constantly tucking in, the three centre-backs often seemed confronted with the same number of strikers.  The wing-backs looked uncertain whether to track them inside or stay wide to deal with the marauding Celtic full-backs; too often they did neither, with Juwon Oshaniwa on the left looking completely lost and Don Cowie on the right holding a suicidally high position for the most part; when the latter did track back, he badly misjudged the cross which Kazim-Richards converted.  The bigger, stronger Callum Paterson would have been far more capable, not least because he is actually a defender.

The unfamiliar system may or may not have rattled the home side.  Alim Ozturk and John Souttar, both normally comfortable in possession, seemed incapable of passing to a teammate in the first half (the much maligned Kazim-Richards put in a terrific shift to go with his goal and pressed relentlessly).  And with none of the central defenders able to step out, Callum McGregor enjoyed reams of space in front of them.  He was unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside.  Hearts were lucky to be only one down at the break, especially after another lapse in concentration allowed Leigh Griffiths to race clear onto a long clearance from a Jambos corner; Oshaniwa and Prince Buaben, the covering defenders, somehow contrived to leave the frontman completely unmarked, and Neil Alexander saved their blushes for the umpteenth time.

The irony is that Hearts were only punished for their mistakes once they sorted things out with a switch to 4-4-2 and a couple of subs, and they had fought their way back into the game through Abiola Dauda's excellent equalizer.  It looked like anyone's match until Souttar's two panicky errors gifted Roberts and Griffiths the decisive goals.

Neilson will look back on this afternoon with regret.  With Celtic seemingly vulnerable, and the mighty Tynecastle crowd behind them, this was the moment to bet on his own players' strengths and go toe to toe with the Champions elect.  Sam Nicholson on the wing, Jamie Walker marauding, Paterson flying up the right flank, the hapless Oshaniwa as far away from Gorgie as possible; Hearts might have won, but at the very least they would have gone down in a blaze of glory.

But Neilson has also shown he learns from his mistakes.  He won't make one as big as this again. LS

Hayes gets Aberdeen back on track
While Aberdeen's away form fell off a cliff in the title run in, they remain imperious at Pittodrie.  With the pressure finally off - from both above and below them in the league placings - the Dons produced arguably their best performance of the season.

The 4-1 win was bookended by telling contributions from freshly awarded Aberdeen Player of the Year, Jonny Hayes.  It took him only five minutes to ruthlessly expose Louis Laing out of left field, driving by the defender after having twisted and turned him inside out.  Laing cut him down in the box, and Kenny McLean dispatched the resulting penalty kick.  Later, towards the end of the match, he produced yet another of his gut bursting runs - bursting onto a knock down from halfway, he breezed past a token challenge and comfortably outpaced the chasing defenders to raced towards goal and slip his finish under the Well keeper.  A place in the Republic of Ireland squad at Euro 2016 surely beckons.

Inbetween, Niall McGinn caught Shay Logan's cross on the volley from the penalty spot (both clearly playing with something to prove after being snubbed from the Narey's Toepoker Team of the Season...) and there was also a brief cameo from Adam Rooney, coming on to notch both his 100th overall appearance for the Dons and 20th league goal of the season before being brought back off again for a rest and a round of applause.  A place in the Republic of Ireland squad at Euro 2016 possibly beckons?

Yet, even in a rampant win, the Aberdeen frailties remain visible.  Another reminder of why Ash Taylor was correctly snubbed from the Narey's Toepoker Team of the Season came, first swinging his leg to make a wild clearance from a Marvin Johnson cross that fell to Chris Cadden, before deftly heading the resulting shot past his own keeper.  Moments later, Louis Moult beat the offside trap and was a foot away from steering in a finish across the face of goal that could have made for an exciting finish to the game.

Not that the climax was uneventful; Keith Lasley settled a score by upending McLean and getting sent off.  The 36 year old housewives' favourite apparently aspires to a future coaching career.  I hope he doesn't treat their triumphant youth team players like this in the close season, as there may not be any young players left to coach...MI

A tale of two Thistles
"Why couldn't we f****** play like that five or six weeks ago?", John Hughes moaned to journalists after ICT won the 'Thistle derby' (copyright Jeff Stelling) comprehensively.  Too often this season Caley Thistle have been lacking in the final third; not on this occasion.  Perhaps his team selection had something to do with it.  With Iain Vigurs and Danny Williams both missing, Yogi effectively started the match with three forwards, a far more aggressive move than his usual Pack The Side With Midfielders Who Pass Sideways strategy.  Miles Storey and Jordan Roberts duly got on the scoresheet.  Andrea Mutombo did not, but it wasn't for want of trying; the erratic Belgian gave unquestionably his best performance since arriving in Scotland.

It also helped that the Real Jags were not at the races at all.  My dad sat in the away end, and his four word match report - "it was a stroll" - summed the game up succinctly.  The hosts started slowly, and after the opening goal they collapsed like they'd been punched by Anthony Joshua, when actually they'd fallen behind to a team who have a horrendous record against them.  It was not an exaggeration to say that the Highlanders could have scored twice as many.  Ryan Scully may have displayed limp wrists for Storey's goal, but he made several good stops which suggest the problem is not just the injury to first choice keeper Tomas Cerny.

Partick don't seem to have recovered from having narrowly missed out on the top six.  This was their third defeat on the bounce.  Results elsewhere also mean that they still aren't safe from the relegation playoff.  Next up is Kilmarnock away - lose that, and it'll be panic stations. LS

What future for Goodwillie?
A goal in a cup final for Dundee United at 21.  A £2.5million move to the English Premier League at 22.  Even at 26 he was still Aberdeen's starting striker for a crucial European away tie (August seems a long time ago).  Now, a month on from his 27th birthday, David Goodwillie is Ross County's fourth choice up front.  Jim McIntyre continues to pick Liam Boyce alongside the on-form Alex Schalk, even though the Northern Irishman has just one goal in his last sixteen matches.  And with County chasing an equalizer at home to St. Johnstone, McIntyre turned not to Goodwillie, but to Brian Graham.

Goodwillie's loan spell in Dingwall finishes at the end of the season, which is also when his Aberdeen contract expires; it is already certain that it will not be renewed.  One wonders what he will do next.  There are still occasional flashes of the skills that he displayed as a youngster at Tannadice, but Goodwillie influences too few matches.  Given that he lasted no more than an hour in any of his three starts for Ross County, there are also doubts about his fitness and shape.

Surely someone will take a chance on him, hoping that they can get the best of him.  But it seems an increasingly safe bet that Goodwillie's name can be added to the depressingly long list of Scottish forwards who have never managed to fulfil their potential. 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.

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.

1 comment:

Fred said...

I can see next season being awesome