Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Too many holes in the Rangers midfield
Mark Warburton himself said that Rangers were "below par" even in victory over Motherwell.  The failure to keep a clean sheet for the third league game in a row - they've conceded in the first half of all of them - is a significant part of the problem.  Whilst the visitors' goal came from good work out wide (Marvin Johnson is the perfect player to expose James Tavernier's deficiencies), Motherwell looked most dangerous in the space between the home side's centre-backs and central midfielders, a space often large enough to drive a fleet of buses through.  Both Scott McDonald and Lionel Ainsworth should have had more joy than they did - one would drift into that gap with the other looking to get in behind the defence.

Warburton deployed three central midfield players, all of whom looked to get on the ball but none of whom did nearly enough to protect their backline when out of possession.  Record signing (calm down Bluenoses, I'm only teasing) Joe Garner was paraded at half-time, but one wonders if another forward is really more of a priority than a central midfielder with positional sense and the ability to make a clean tackle. LS


Celtic's attack could blow everyone away
First, a couple of caveats.  There was a debutant at right-back, and the first choice central defensive pairing of Steven Anderson and Tam Scobbie were missing.  And even Ronny Deila's Celtic smashed six past a decent Dundee United side in the early days of his first season in charge.

But still, Tommy Wright sides don't often get ripped to shreds like this.  Celtic's first half performance was outstanding, just like in midweek.  They looked like they would score every time they went over the halfway line.  Brendan Rodgers has found his first choice attacking quartet; Tom Rogic is in the form of his life (and for me is the Celt most likely to make a big move anytime soon); Leigh Griffiths is as impressive as ever (even if he did dive); and as everyone else is saying, James Forrest is a different player from the one who stagnated for the last few years.  And Scott Sinclair isn't really up to speed yet.  It's scary.

I vehemently disagreed with Celtic fans who thought the opening day win at Tynecastle was 'the sort of game Champions win', because I thought they were pretty lucky.  This one, though, sets a potentially unreachable benchmark.  I remember how in the early Dick Advocaat days Rangers seemed to thump everybody - including an 8-0 win in Perth, in fact.  I worry that this Celtic side could start to do the same.  The defence remains a real weakness, but is there an opponent in this league who can score enough goals to keep up? LS




Has O'Connor solved the Dons' defensive problems?
Reports that Dons winger Niall McGinn is expected to follow Adam Rooney in signing a new contract will be sweet music to the ears of Aberdeen supporters, whose chants of "Don't sell McGinn" following his sumptuous strike from a free kick to open the scoring at Pittodrie - have clearly fallen on hearing ears.

While McGinn's goal lent a bit of class to proceedings, the contribution of stand-in skipper Graeme Shinnie was every bit as important as he was unceremoniously bundled over by opposing captain Abdul Osman for the free kick; later, he would capitalise on Liam Lindsay's lethargy to nick the ball away from him and lay up Miles Storey to score. 

Yet it was not Shinnie who was named man of the match.  Anthony O'Connor, continuing his strong start at the club, has managed to combine controlled aggression with a composure in central defense that has so often been lacking from others.  It was perhaps telling that it was after he was pushed forward into central midfield that Partick Thistle finally got on the scoresheet through a late Chris Erskine thunderbolt - all the more impressive, considering the Jags had just went down to 10 men after the referee dished out consecutive bookings to Sean Walsh for first committing a foul and then incessantly moaning to the officials about that decision - a particularly daft thing to do, seeing as McGinn had also been booked in the first half for a similar incident of back-chatting.

So three points finally in the bag for Aberdeen, while the travelling Thistle support must have been please with both the performance and the perseverance of their team, which look well placed for a top-six push if they can keep stringing efforts like this together. MI


On the outside, looking in…
After a resounding thumping at Tynecastle there are already some mutterings that Inverness were foolish to get rid of John Hughes.  Whilst those who may not have followed the saga of Hughes and his very public fall out with the ICT hierarchy may indeed feel justified in questioning why he was sent on his way, supporters of Caley Thistle know Yogi's time had come to an end and it was best for all parties for him to move.  His ambitions for the club, whilst largely admirable, could not be achieved with the resources on offer to him and it was no great surprise Richie Foran was appointed as his successor.

For any rookie manager the learning curve is steep and for Foran it’s no different. One of his major tasks has been to improve a squad that has seen some dreadful recruitment decisions over the past couple of seasons with a seemingly endless parade of midfielders arriving whilst areas of the side in desperate need of strengthening went unaddressed. With new arrivals including wide men Billy King and Jake Mulraney fans were thrilled to see some attacking promise installed into the side and whilst there were some promising showings in the League Cup group stages the start of the league campaign has been a dismal one for Foran who also saw his side dumped out of the League Cup at Alloa. 

In truth the Irishman was badly let down by his team on Saturday. ICT have rarely looked so outfought on the pitch as they were on Saturday and a number of the players looked scared to impose themselves on the match.  Hearts on the other hand, despite their own apparent problems on and off the pitch, looked a fluid and capable attacking force as they carved a lacklustre opponent apart taking advantage of some defensive horror shows but also impressing with some fine team goals. The scoreline certainly did not flatter them.
Caley Thistle looked like a newly promoted team struggling to deal with the step up in quality from the league below...but the thing is that the core of this side finished a respectable 7th last season with only Miles Storey the only key player that left in the summer.  Foran has limited funds to work with, perhaps even more limited given that his predecessor was paid off only a few months into a new two year deal. If he wants to succeed as manager he’s going to have to play a blinder in the transfer market and recruit smartly...something his predecessor did poorly.

Whilst those looking on from outside of Inverness will be thinking that ICT might get what they deserve for getting rid of Hughes those better informed know it was a change that had to be made. He has an almighty task ahead of him but it’s right that Inverness find themselves in this situation and right for Foran to be given time to justify the faith put in him by the Caley Thistle board. AS



Killie's scattergun signings are a huge risk
Kilmarnock have, on average, signed a new player every ten and a half days since Lee Clark took over in mid-February.  Yes, I know that stat is a bit iffy, but only because fifteen of those new faces have arrived in this transfer window...including three more in the twenty-four hours before the trip to Dingwall.  Right-back Luke Hendrie and central midfielder Charlee Adams went straight into the side...even though Clark has already signed two right-backs and three central midfielders in the last couple of months.  Basically, he's throwing lots of players at the wall and hoping some stick.

So it's reasonable to excuse another defeat, given that the players are all getting to know each other; only four of the starting lineup have played more than seven matches for the club.  But the size of the influx must make it difficult to pinpoint the best XI.  And there is a longer-term issue, in that eight of them are on loan deals till January.  If they're rubbish, Kilmarnock can punt them.  But if they're any good, won't their parent club want them back?  And if they're somewhere in between, will that be sufficient for this league?

As for the short-term, they didn't manage a single shot on target against Ross County, and their only 'chance' on the Sportscene highlights was a penalty appeal that was never a penalty in a million years.  Oh dear. LS



Dundee and Hamilton reinforce well
Dundee against Hamilton is hardly a marquee game, but I can't understand why it was shifted to Friday night - surely their neighbours, in the lower division, should be the ones obliged to shift their game?

So there is a solitary minute of highlights - basically both goals - for me to work from.  Not much I can say other than Darren Lyon has a foot like a traction engine and that Mark O'Hara still looks like the best value signing of the summer.

More interesting perhaps is the imminent strengthening of both squads.  Dundee have finally, correctly, decided they can't wait for James McPake's return and signed an allegedly competent central defender in Kevin Gomis.  Accies have gone and signed one too - in a remarkable reversal of the Ziggy Gordon move, Martin Canning has managed to snap up Partick Thistle's best defender from last season.  How he's managed to convince Daniel Seaborne to move to New Douglas Park is beyond me, but with him and Zangief from Streetfighter II (come on, that's exactly who Georgios Sarris looks like) solidifying the defence, and with Kilmarnock and Inverness a complete shambles, staying up for a third year running looks just a bit less unlikely. LS




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.

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.

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