Monday, May 9, 2016

Talking points from the Premiership

Celtic show their best and worst on Title day
Ronny Deila was ultimately undone by the underwhelming use of the funds that were made available to him (consider that the Norwegian splurged almost £4m from Celtic's own coffers on Messrs Scepovic and Ciftci alone simply to loan them out to other clubs).  However it must at least be conceded that he did at least have success from tapping a rich vein of Manchester City loanees.  Last season, Jason Denayer and John Guidetti were key contributors, and while Celtic didn't need to bring in 7 million pounds worth of teenage talent to win the league this season, Patrick Roberts certainly looks like he'll be a big help to whomever utilises his services for the next 12 months.

The boy (coincidentally the 7 millionth player to acquire the moniker 'Mini Messi' on social media) has got talent.  For his opening goal, he nonchalantly skipped inside Graeme Shinnie from the right flank, drove forward and struck a left-pegger from the edge of the box that the Dons keeper could do nothing to stop sailing into the net.  Clearly chastened by the experience, Shinnie then decided it would be easier not to mark Roberts at all and chose to help close down Leigh Griffiths instead - the striker deftly side-flicked the ball past into the open space behind the defence, Roberts rushed onto it and struck a left-pegger from the edge of the box that... well, you get the drift...  For someone who has only played in nine league matches so far, he has arguably made a bigger impact already than any of the incumbent wingers at the club have managed all season.

It was an uncharacteristic horror show for Shinnie, who started the second half by allowing Callum McGregor to skip round him this time and cut back for Mikael Lustig to put Celtic 3-0 ahead.  Game over, surely?  However, there was an even worse defender lurking in the shadows.  Having only come on in the second half, Efe Ambrose's first telling contribution was to thwack the ball off Jonny Hayes on the halfway line - Hayes homed in on goal and was only denied by a combination of Craig Gordon and the side-netting.  For his next trick, the Nigerian failed to track another Hayes run behind him and the Irishman duly squared for Niall McGinn to get one back.  The piece de resistance was conceding a free-kick for a high challenge on Shinnie, and then losing Andy Considine when the Don headed home from the resultant set-piece.

In the end, Celtic hung on to officially claim the league title they had all but won the previous weekend.  This match encapsulated both their best and their worst moments - often irresistible going forward, but also often exposed for their frailties at the back.  Similarly for Aberdeen, a side that at their best have looked capable of going toe to toe with the Champions but have never realistically threatened to actually overhaul them at any point.  With first and second place now tied up, anticipate the first teamers from both clubs getting to knock off early, with another infeasibly early start beckoning in some far flung Eastern European county several weeks from now. MI

Playoff could make or break Killie
So much for my belief that Kilmarnock could avoid a playoff, as they followed their stunning win at Hamilton last week by losing tamely to Partick Thistle.  Plastic hasn't been fantastic for Killie; they've won only four of eighteen league games since installing an artificial pitch at Rugby Park.  Admittedly, this may be less down to the surface and more down to the crap defending that has plagued their season.

Who would Lee Clark want in that two-leg playoff?  Hibs seem on paper to be the stronger outfit, but they would have a Scottish Cup final to distract them.  Plus there's a reason why 'Hibsing' will be in next year's Oxford English dictionary.  Falkirk, meanwhile, have no such concerns about playing on astro, as they already have it at their own ground and it clearly doesn't hold them back.  Either way, it's going to be a tough encounter.  And given the club's very iffy financial results from a few weeks back, the long-term prosperity of the club could well depend on whether Clark can keep them up. LS

Dundee are lucky their neighbours get all the attention
In football, as in life, timing is everything.  Hamilton have been pretty poor in general since Alex Neil moved south. A run of no back to back victories since September meant the spectre of a playoff has hung around New Douglas Park for awhile.  But any team that doesn't implode like Dundee United will always have a chance of escaping trouble if the can put a wee run together...say, like Accies' three wins in their last four games.

Fair play to Martin Canning for getting the best out of his team when it mattered. But it undoubtedly helped that those three games they won were all against sides from the City of Discovery.  Sure, United's season has been an absolute dumpster fire, but Dundee's has also been relatively unsatisfactory given the level of investment in the team.    After beating Ross County on April 2nd it looked like they had a top six place sewn up, only to throw it away a week later against Hamilton. Even seventh position is not guaranteed for the Dark Blues, although surely they have enough quality to finish above Inverness.

Despite, Dundee's underachieving, there is no talk of Paul Hartley’s job being under threat, and the crisis at the other end of Tannadice Street has no doubt deflected focus off him, as well as reminding fans and board members that things could be a hell of a lot worse.  But if there is further investment in the squad this offseason, Hartley will be expected to do an awful lot better in 2016/17.  IM 

ICT's fans fed up with being bored
Nobody was terribly pleased on Friday night.  Caley Thistle fans had to wait for their team go 3-0 down with barely a whimper to a side already relegated before their own players bothered to turn up.  United's supporters, meanwhile, were left wondering why on earth their own motley crew couldn't play with such heart and dedication when it actually mattered.  Oh, and Stephen Thompson was left wondering where on earth he would find the money to actually pay win bonuses.

The attendance was just 2500.  Of course, the away support was minimal since it was a Friday night, and the TV coverage doubtless kept many away too, but the truth is that attendances at Caledonian Stadium have not been great this season, even following on from a Scottish Cup win.  One reason for that was evident in the first half of this clash: it was really, really boring.  "We dominated the game" lamented John Hughes afterward, as if constant sideways passing in your own half construes 'domination'.  ICT's overwhelming first half possession resulted in one clear cut chance and two shots from distance that kept Eiji Kawashima warm.

When Eddie Ofere put United three up, something interesting happened.  A lot of longstanding season ticket holders around me, who are quiet as mice for months on end, started yelling criticisms at the home dugout.  It's interesting because the last time I remember such an occurrence was a few months before the club sacked Craig Brewster.  Back then, the football was dull and we couldn't buy a win.  At home at least, it feels much the same.

There are lots of caveats here: a seemingly neverending injury list; the loss of Ryan Christie; an early start which wrecked preseason.  But it's fair to say that Hughes has lost most of the goodwill that he built up last year.  And the club have a problem - not many folk are inclined to fork out £350 to watch his idea of 'domination'.  They'd much rather a football match broke out. LS

Hearts fans need to chill out
Yes, I know David Goodwillie scored, the week after I slagged him off.  It was bound to happen.

Anyhoo, there's depressingly little else to say about this end of season encounter, other than that the result makes zero difference to Hearts.  That made the reaction of many supporters rather surprising; following on from defeat against Celtic last week, there was a palpable frustration around Tynecastle at the failure to comfortably put away County.

Jambos need to relax.  Their club has finished an impressive third, just a year after being in the Championship and just two years after administration.  Many of the young players have impressed, yet still have room for improvement.  And if anyone seriously thinks Robbie Neilson hasn't done a good job, then they need to go and have their heads examined.  Next season, Hearts will be battling for second with Aberdeen and Rangers - you watch. LS

Motherwell sate my need for highlights
St. Johnstone are in the top six for the fifth season in a row, and are set to finish in the top four for the third time in four years (they won the Scottish Cup in the other year!).  That is a hell of a record.  Eight other clubs have made the top six in those five years, but only Celtic have also managed it every time.

Barring a crazy finish to the campaign, victory at Fir Park was enough to make sure of that fourth place.  The Perth Saints showed the resilience that has become characteristic of them under Tommy Wright, responding well to losing a daft opener which Zander Clark won't look back on fondly (though he at least got to poleaxe Louis Moult in the buildup) and coming from behind to win.

It's a shame the BBC thought it was worthy of less than two and a half minutes of coverage.  My moaning about this has been a theme this season; Motherwell's excellent media team showed them up once more by producing eight minutes of highlights and putting them up on Saturday evening.  This came only a fortnight after an interdict from SPFL headquarters that was meant to stop them from providing free highlights, but thankfully common sense has prevailed.

The new broadcast deal with Auntie means more cash for the league, but that's only a small part of the battle.  The more exposure, the better - whether it's on council telly, YouTube, Twitter, whatever.  Several sports leagues now offer clips of action on social media just minutes after they happened.  The SPFL needs to take advantage of this.  They could do with maybe just leaving it in the hands of Motherwell's media team. 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.

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