Monday, August 8, 2016

Premiership Talking Points

Will Walker or Brown be cited?
Apart from dating Rosie Webster from Corrie, and earning shed loads of cash on the Man City bench, Scott Sinclair has had little to shout about in his career over the past few years. However, he managed to pull off a miracle on Sunday. No, not scoring the winning goal on his debut, although quite impressive. The fact he managed to get the SFA administrators to work a weekend and push through his registration was a minor miracle.

The more cynical amongst us may question how Celtic managed to pull this off, however I’m sure that the SFA would have bent over backwards in this way for any other Premiership team (wink wink).

It'll be interesting to see if the beaks at Hampden show further interest in this match; first we had Jamie Walker flopping dramatically to the deck following minimal (or no) contact from Kieran Tierney to win a penalty.  Last season the Compliance Officer rolled back somewhat on punishments for simulation though.  But precedents suggest calling opponents 'a cheat' is also a disciplinable offence - will Scotland captain Scott Brown be cited for calling out Walker as such?  Again, we'll see...

Other points of interest:
- A cracking performance and goal from James Forrest.  The wideman is out of contract in five months; is this him trying to impress suitors, or looking for a new contract offer?

- Whenever Hearts play this season, we're going to hear a lot of mentions about that goal Tony Watt scored against Barcelona.  It was nearly four years ago, for god's sake!

- An early contender for clearance of the season by Igor Rossi.  I'm all for him celebrating it like he scored a goal - it was roughly worth the same as doing so. ST.

Rangers toil
For four years the world had been waiting for this moment.  Millions, if not billions had followed every step of the journey and as the moment got closer and closer the anticipation had almost reached fever pitch.  Journalists have worked themselves into a frenzy as allegations of corruption and mismanagement plagued those in charge. And when it finally happened, it was all a bit meh.

But that’s enough about the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Rangers played a football match on Saturday.

Whatever your views are on Rangers, and I’m sure you have some, it was nice to have a big occasion for the opening of the new season.  50,000 fans turned up for a game that had been highly anticipated, particularly since last season’s Scottish Cup semi final.  I personally appreciate some top level trolling, so the“Going for 55” card display in the Sandy Jardine Stand was truly a sight to behold.

According to the stats Rangers bossed this game and should count themselves very unlucky to not win comfortably. The eye test tells a different story however; after a opening burst of energy, they looked sluggish and lacking in imagination to break down a well organised and industrious Accies.

Of particular concern was the display of Niko Kranjcar, although I didn’t think he was bad enough to warrant an entire piece from the BBC.  Harry Forrester added some pace and urgency when he replaced to Croatian, and his contribution to the equaliser was lovely.  Of greater concern for Rangers will be the injury to Martyn Waghorn.  If they’re going to turn statistical dominance into points then Waghorn will have to be on top form and a lengthy absence may leave Mark Warburton struggling to find a focal point for his attacking play.

Hamilton fans on the other hand should take great heart from this performance.  I expect them to be fighting it out with Kilmarnock to avoid the drop, mainly because I don’t fancy Martin Canning as a manager. They were well worth their point on Saturday though, and Ali Crawford is a player.  If they can keep that combination going then they shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Rangers’ main challengers this season will be Aberdeen and Hearts, both of whom also dropped points at the weekend, albeit to better teams than Hamilton.  Warburton is a good manager will get this team to click sooner or later, but Saturday’s performance suggests that it might be a bit later than many fans would like. IM

Exquisite Ainsworth
When he scored Motherwell's third goal at Ibrox in the first leg of their 2014-15 relegation playoff, my good friend John A Maxwell tweeted "that's why you gotta play Ainsworth."  Lionel Ainsworth's ability to conjure a goal out of nothing, either for himself or someone else, is rare.  But it goes hand in hand with entire games where he contributes little.

During the Steelmen's excellent run in the spring, the Englishman was mostly found on the bench.  With Mark McGhee having switched to a 4-3-3, he couldn't displace any of the three on-form forwards; nor did he work hard enough for a place in midfield (the same issue which makes playing him in a 4-4-2 a risk).  It wouldn't have been a surprise if he had moved on this summer.

But with Louis Moult recovering from surgery, Ainsworth got his opportunity at Rugby Park and showed exactly why it's impossible not to love him.  His opening goal was just sublime; a perfect chip of Jamie MacDonald.  Not one of those volleyed ones that are scooped over the keeper; this was with the ball on the deck, when one on one with a keeper at an angle.  No-one would have blamed him if he'd just lashed a shot at goal that might or might not have found it's way past Kilmarnock's shot stopper.   But he judged it so well that the ball had nearly hit the ground again by the time it went in...yet MacDonald could do nothing.

'Exquisite' is the appropriate adjective, I think.  We could go on at length about Killie's huge problems, but let's just savour a bit of real quality, something we don't see that often in Scottish football. LS

Warning signs for County?
So much for Dundee struggling post-Hemmings and Stewart (he hasn't gone yet, but he missed this game with an ankle injury).  Ross County were dispatched with surprising ease, suggesting that Paul Hartley might actually know what he's doing.

He certainly had one over his opposite number.  Jim McIntyre's three-at-the-back experiment was an unmitigated disaster.  It seems like a logical way of getting his best eleven players on the park, given that he has a plethora of good forwards and there's a massive Jackson Irvine-shaped hole in centre-mid.  But someone needs to lend him a copy of Inverting The Pyramid.  Three centre-halfs is a rotten system against anyone playing one up front or a 4-3-3.    Dundee did the former, and with Mark O'Hara providing more energy than the entire County midfield put together, this was a riot.

Expect the Staggies to go back to 4-4-2 soon enough.  Firstly, playing Liam Boyce behind two strikers and relying on him for creativity is just a rotten idea.  Secondly, deploying Michael Gardyne as a wing-back is even worse.  And thirdly, and most worryingly, Andrew Davies really didn't look up for this.  Last year's captain wants to return to England and is just playing out time till another club takes him on.  Talented as he is, County can't afford any passengers, especially with a derby next week. If McIntyre tries this folly again, they'll get creamed. LS

Bore draw in Perth
In the 15 competitive fixtures between Tommy Wright's St Johnstone and Derek McInnes' Aberdeen to date, the overall record now stands at 5 wins for the Saints and 5 wins for the Dons with 5 matches drawn.  Remarkably, the overall goal tally across these fixtures also stands at a stalemate.  1,350 regulation minutes (that's 90 minutes short of 24 hrs!) have so far failed to separate the sides, currently at 18-all and counting.  However, the two sides could have gone another 24 hrs without threatening add to that overall tally.

It says everything you need to know about the game that the majority of chances either came from long range shots or long throw-ins.  From Aberdeen's perspective, it was encouraging to see their captain, Ryan Jack, continue his resurgence to form - he had a couple of long range efforts, as well as a header that forced a save from the keeper; however, while the Dons started the game without either of Adam Rooney, Niall McGinn or the injured Jonny Hayes for the first time in the McInnes era, it was still disappointing to witness how few opportunities they created for their front three given their dominance of possession.  It's not as if they've been getting off to blistering starts beforehand, either; they haven't scored a goal in the first half of a competitive fixture since April.

For St Johnstone, you would imagine that they would be more pleased with earning a point, and with the defensive performance they managed to put in; yet, they may also be frustrated given that they arguably still manufactured the better chances.  Well, I say 'manufactured'... perhaps their best chance of the first half came after Brian Easton - perhaps having flashbacks to the worldy he scored at Pittodrie last season - sclaffed a low shot into the box and straight into the path of Graham Cummins, but the striker could only side foot his shot into the keeper.  At least he managed to hit that one; an even better chance fell to him in the second half, but when the ball was cut across to him on the edge of the six yard box he could only muster a fresh air swipe with his left leg.

So, all in all, pretty uninspiring stuff.  Next weekend will surely be more entertaining fare for both sets of supporters.  Surely? MI

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army, and he has the greatest beard that Lawrie has ever seen.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically our Rangers Correspondent, though these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog so he could 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.

Andrew Sutherland (AS) is our Caley Thistle Correspondent.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.  He occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.  

Stuart Taylor (ST) used to be a team doctor in the Highland League, where players were made of tougher stuff and were more likely to miss games for 'helping with the lambing' than injury.  He is an Aberdeen fan, now they're doing well again.

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