Tuesday, August 2, 2016

2016-17 Premiership preview - Hamilton Academical

Hamilton Academical FC logo.svg

LAST SEASON: 10th, 43pts

NOTABLE INS: Jack Breslin (Celtic), Massimo Donati (Bari), Jordan McGregor (Hibernian), Georgios Sarris (Kayseri Erciyesspor), Gary Woods (Leyton Orient), Remi Matthews (Norwich City, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Ziggy Gordon (Partick Thistle), Christopher Mandiangu (MSK Zilina), Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Lucas Tagliapietra (Boavista), Carlton Morris (Norwich City, end of loan), Kemy Agustien, Oumar Diaby, Alan Martin

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): McGovern, Gordon, Garcia Tena, Tagliapietra, Kurakins, Gillespie, McKinnon, Imrie, Crawford, Kurtaj, Morris

You wait ages for a signing (no, a couple of untested kids from Celtic and Hibs don't count) and then along comes Massimo Donati.

It's nine years since Celtic paid £2million for the Italian midfielder, whose first spell in Scotland was largely unimpressive apart from a winning goal in a Champions League game against Shakhtar.  He's been back in his native country for the last seven years, and last season saw little action in Serie B with Bari.  He is now 35 years old.  Martin Canning will hope he will be Hamilton's Franck Sauzee; Accies fans will be concerned that he will fill the boots of Kemy Agustien, the Dutchman who arrived last season with a great pedigree but who was blatantly unfit and uninterested.

Still, at least it's a signing.  Hamilton's summer had, up till then, been all about the departures.  Ziggy Gordon and Michael McGovern, arguably their two greatest assets, have gone.  Gordon, who was thought to have some decent suitors, has actually wound up at Partick Thistle.  McGovern's sterling Euro 2016 campaign with Northern Ireland has earned him a move to Norwich City.  They leave large holes to fill; Norwich (whose manager, Alex Neil, was of course Canning's predecessor) have sent a keeper of their own north on loan to replace McGovern.  But if Remi Matthews was as good as the Ulsterman, presumably the Canaries would have kept him.

Away too is Brazilian Lucas Tagliapietra, who despite his Lurch-like appearance was their most reliable central defender.  He's swapped Hamilton for Portugal; I can't think why.  And Carlton Morris, their most dangerous striker last season, has gone back to his parent club (Norwich, of course).

So there are gaps all over the place in the squad.  Canning of course works with the smallest budget in the Premiership, and has a remit to blood youngsters.  The club's modus operandi is to bring through the next James McArthur and James McCarthy and sell them on, not to stay up at all costs.  It's a laudable aim, but it also relies on every new generation of youths containing talent.  There will be particular focus on Eamonn Brophy, the forward who impressed at the end of last season, not least because lack of goals was the problem last term.  The new contract for Alex D'Acol, who spent nearly all season on the bench was a head-scratcher, though the Brazilian at least broke his duck in the League Cup.

Worryingly, Brophy and midfielder Ali Crawford - who Canning has struggled to get the best out of since becoming manager - aside, there appears to be a distinct lack of quality in this squad.  Out of those who remain, the best performer last season was Dougie Imrie, now 33, who will surely have to tailor his high-energy style sooner or later.  Daniel Redmond has ability, but seems perenially injured, while Gramoz Kurtaj started last season impressively but faded sharply.  It's telling that Louis Longridge, loaned to Raith in January as he was surplus to requirements, is back in the team.

Now that Lucas has gone and Jesus Garcia Tena has wrecked his knee, the centre of defence looks really vulnerable, unless another new boy, Greek Georgios Sarris, is any good.  I don't know if Sarris is much cop, but I'm automatically antagonized by his decision to wear the '89' shirt.  He'll play alongside Michael Devlin, who has struggled to bounce back from an injury of his own a year ago.  Next in line are the two aforementioned kids from Hibs and Celtic, Jordan McGregor and Jack Breslin, and Canning himself.

Antons Kurakins wasn't great last year but the Latvian international is about all they've got at left-back.  Donati's arrival could see Grant Gillespie moved from midfield to right-back, or another midfielder, Darren Lyon, switched to that role; both are a shadow of the player Ziggy Gordon is.  Donati at least might add some class to the centre of the park; he can hardly have less than Darian McKinnon, whose hard work and strong running are rather overshadowed by the fact that he has inherited Lee McCulloch's mantle as the dirtiest player in Scottish football.

So the parts aren't up to that much, but can Canning make a decent team out of them?  Worryingly, he is yet to prove himself to be the correct man for the job.  Canning has unequivocal support from the Accies board, but the fans are fed up with a style which is far more akin to Billy Reid's defence-first anti-football than Alex Neil's swashbuckling attacking, especially given the results.  In the league he has a win percentage of just 25% as manager, and a record of 57 points from 56 games, whilst they have lost cup ties at Raith, Ayr and Annan (!) under his tenure.

For what its worth, I am well aware that this is the third year in a row I've tipped Hamilton Academical for bottom spot, and I was completely wrong on both previous occasions.  But this side is weaker than last season's, which was weaker than the team was the season before.  Something surely has to give.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Remi Matthews, Gary Woods
Defenders: Jack Breslin, Martin Canning, Michael Devlin, Jesus Garcia Tena, Antons Kurakins, Jordan McGregor, Scott McMann, Georgios Sarris, Craig Watson
Midfielders: Ali Crawford, Ross Cunningham, Greg Docherty, Massimo Donati, Grant Gillespie, Ronan Hughes, Dougie Imrie, Gramoz Kurtaj, Darren Lyon, Darian McKinnon, Daniel Redmond
Forwards: Steven Boyd, Eamonn Brophy, Alex D'Acol, Louis Longridge


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.


Anonymous said...

Boavista are from Porto, not Lisbon. Top research...

Lorry said...

Oops, cheers. Amended.