Saturday, October 29, 2016

Eleven games down...

Right, everyone's played everyone once in the Premiership, so now's a good time to take stock.

Well, all right, not everyone's played everyone.  Celtic have two games in hand, courtesy of a League Cup run and a glamour friendly for their reserves against Barcelona.  Hearts are still to play Rangers.  Actually, Aberdeen, Hamilton and Motherwell all have a game in hand too...

So only half the teams in the Premiership have played everybody once.  Still, it's as good a time as any to take stock, right?  Right?

CURRENT POSITION: 2nd, 18pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Well, the Dons are in second place in a league where first place in unachievable.  They've made it to the League Cup final too.  And (most importantly for some of their fans) they beat Rangers.  So on paper it's been a decent enough start to the campaign.  However it would be a stretch to claim that they are stronger than a year ago, despite several summer signings.  They don't look quite as efficient as they did previously and there haven't been too many dominant performances.

POSITIVES: Jonny Hayes has been outstanding.  Anthony O'Connor looks more solid in central defence than Ash Taylor or Mark Reynolds.

NEGATIVES: Miles Storey, Jayden Stockley and Wes Burns were all signed as extra attacking options, but all three have struggled to make an impact so far.

THE FUTURE: Winning the League Cup would make this a successful season.  But the main aim is to hang onto that second spot.

CURRENT POSITION: 1st, 25pts (played 9 games)

HAPPY? Lincoln Red Imps seems a long time ago now.  Celtic are out of their depth in their Champions League group, but at least they made it that far.  Domestically, only a last minute Inverness goal has prevented them from having a 100% record.  It's hard to ask for much more.

POSITIVES: The Premiership is being won at a canter.  Moussa Dembele is proving an absolute bargain at £500,000.  Kieran Tierney is an incredible talent.  And the home game against Manchester City was the sort of night that the fans have been craving for years.

NEGATIVES: Being pumped by Barcelona and Moenchengladbach shows just how far behind Europe's elite Celtic are.  Their big weakness seems to be in goal, where both Craig Gordon and Dorus De Vries have proven erratic,

THE FUTURE: Can they win the treble?  It's certainly possible.  They will certainly win the title by a loooooonnnnnnggggg way.  The big concern might be whether Dembele, Tierney and Brendan Rodgers might be tempted away at the end of the season.

CURRENT POSITION: 12th, 6pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Absolutely positively not.  Failure to qualify from an easy League Cup group set off alarm bells, which were quietened by a win in Dingwall in their first league game but are positively blaring now after going ten games without a win and plummeting to the bottom of the table.  The loss of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart is a big reason for their problems, but it doesn't completely explain the disastrous start they've had.

POSITIVES: Mark O'Hara, when fit, has impressed in an advanced midfield role.  Scott Bain continues to excel in goal.

NEGATIVES: In James McPake's absence, Paul Hartley has struggled to find a half-decent centre-back to partner Darren O'Dea; Julen Etxabeguren, Kostadin Gadzhalov and Kevin Gomis have all been poor.  None of the strikers look like scoring even a fraction of the goals Hemmings and Stewart contributed.

THE FUTURE: Hartley's jacket is surely on a shoogly peg.  Dundee are not awash with cash but they do have a bigger budget than several teams above them in the table, and this terrible form simply cannot continue.  And yet it's hard to see how they'll turn it around.  Could they be this season's Dundee United?  That would be embarrassing...

CURRENT POSITION: 8th, 11pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Supporters remain uneasy about Martin Canning's management, given he has a win percentage of less than 25% in nearly two years in charge.  And yet Accies have some breathing space at the bottom and have been in a winning position in nine of their ten league games.  The fact they've won just two suggests either they've been unlucky or that they've no bottle.

POSITIVES: Ali Crawford has looked back to his best.  Alex D'Acol looks like he might score a few goals.  Greek Zangief-lookalike Georgios Sarris has impressed in defence.

NEGATIVES: Those late goals they keep conceding.  The lack of full-backs in the squad, which has left them dependent on midfielders Darren Lyon and Grant Gillespie to fill in.  The loss of loanee keeper Remi Matthews till January with a separated shoulder.

THE FUTURE: I think everyone would be surprised - nay, shocked - if Hamilton made the top six.  The squad still doesn't look especially strong and they're still likely

CURRENT POSITION: 4th, 17pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Not entirely.  Sure, Hearts are still in the running for second place, which would have been their target, but performances have been functional rather than impressive.  The early Europa League exit to Maltese opponents was a big disappointment too.  One feels the Jambos have a lot more to give.

POSITIVES: Callum Paterson has established himself as Scotland's first choice right back (not that that's saying much).  Jack Hamilton has done well in goal.  Tony Watt's workrate.

NEGATIVES: The strikers - none of them are playing well apart from Watt, and none of them look like going on a scoring spree.  The midfield lacks pace without the injured Sam Nicholson.

THE FUTURE: How long until another idiot forks out for a plane to fly over Tynecastle demanding Robbie Neilson's departure?  Hearts' impressive squad depth should make sure they finish in the top four, but they need a persistent source of goals and a system that gets the best out of Jamie Walker.

CURRENT POSITION: 6th, 13pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Just about, considering we lost our first three league games (including a shellacking at Tynecastle) and to Alloa in the League Cup.  Performances haven't always been great but the spirit is there - shown by several late goals that have earned valuable points.  Richie Foran doesn't look out of his depth in the dugout.

POSITIVES: Carl Tremarco is surely one of the most underrated players in this league; the left-back has been playing out of his mind for the whole of 2016.  The return of the Meekings-Warren central defensive partnership has made the team look far more solid.

NEGATIVES: Greg Tansey has been in a funk since he missed out on a move to Aberdeen in January.  Striker Scott Boden has been benched after a bright start, with the team simply unable to accomodate a player of his style.

THE FUTURE: There is very little between the bottom seven, but most would consider Inverness to be unlikely relegation candidates and as good a shout as anyone below them of scraping into sixth place.

CURRENT POSITION: 7th, 13pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? A lot happier after picking up seven points from their last three games, including wins over St. Johnstone and Hearts.  That back line still looks dodgy, despite Lee Clark signing about a hundred defenders, but there are enough goals in the side to give them an excellent chance of avoiding the drop.

POSITIVES: Souleymane Coulibaly might be signing of the season - he's scored some great goals and, more importantly, plenty of goals.  Jordan Jones also looks like a find, while Jamie MacDonald has been great in goal again.

NEGATIVES: It already looks like Clark has written off several of his summer captures - Jamie Cobain, Dapo Kayode, Joshua Webb, George Green, Callum McFadzean and Flo Bojaj have barely seen any action.  And the ongoing saga regarding the chairman isn't helping anyone.

THE FUTURE: The big fear must be that someone makes a big bid for Coulibaly in January- he's been that good.  Take away his goals and Killie are not the same threat at all.  It's still very tight at the bottom; it wouldn't take a lot for them to be dragged back to the foot of the table.

CURRENT POSITION: 11th, 9pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? No.  Mark McGhee's side have won just once since opening day, which has seen them slide to second from bottom.  They don't seem to have recovered from the sale of Marvin Johnson, and a change of tactics which has seen star striker Louis Moult shifted wide to accomodate target man Ryan Bowman hasn't worked.

POSITIVES: Ben Heneghan and Richard Tait have improved the back four, with Tait looking very solid on the right both in defence and attack.  Chris Cadden has pushed on from his impressive finish to last season.

NEGATIVES: Bowman has struggled badly, despite commanding a transfer fee from Gateshead. Moult scored four against Accies but only one other league goal.  There is a distinct lack of wide players in the squad; West Ham loanee Luka Belic appears to have vanished without trace.  And the midfield of Keith Lasley and Craig Clay looks plodding.

THE FUTURE: Motherwell have been very streaky under McGhee, so a good run of form might be round the corner.  But the lack of creative players is worrying and another top six finish looks like a stretch currently.  In contrast, a relegation battle is not impossible.

CURRENT POSITION: 9th, 10pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? They'll be feeling better after winnig at Dens Park, their first win since the first league game.  Thistle have generally struggled at both ends, with strikers misfiring and their defenders prone to some dreadful blunders.  Maybe they've solved the problem though with a switch to three at the back.  And it's noteworthy that the board issued a quick 'hands off' response to overtures from Shrewsbury towards Alan Archibald.

POSITIVES: Chris Erskine looks like twice the player whenever he pulls on the stripes.  Adam Barton has impressed since moving into the backline.  Liam Lindsay's goalscoring.

NEGATIVES: Liam Lindsay's defending (bear in mind that he is a defender).  Danny Devine's defending.  Ziggy Gordon's slump in form since joining from Accies.  Steven Lawless' poor form (though this may be due to the need for a hernia op).

THE FUTURE: Thistle have been notorious slow starters the last few seasons, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them push on now.  I had them as pre-season sleepers for the top six though, and at the moment that looks foolish.

CURRENT POSITION: 5th, 16pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? The People are not happy at all - they were supposed to be #goingfor55, not looking up the table at St. Johnstone and Hearts.  A set of summer signings that didn't improve the squad much and certainly didn't fit into Mark Warburton's system has been a real crutch, and the performances in two defeats to Celtic were a stark indication of reality.

POSITIVES: Lee Wallace has been great at left-back.  Kenny Miller still hasn't lost a yard.  Andy Halliday has improved the side since winning his place back.

NEGATIVES: Aside from a certain Mr Barton, Martyn Waghorn's form has fallen off a cliff.  While Joe Garner has scored a couple of goals, his play is not remotely near that expected of a £1.5million striker.  Oh, and the less said about Philippe Senderos the better.

THE FUTURE: Anything less than second in the league would surely result in Warburton's exit.  The surely inevitable departure of Barton and the change to personnel and style more reminiscent of last season should serve them well, but it wouldn't be that surprising if they finished below Aberdeen and/or Hearts.

CURRENT POSITION: 10th, 10pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Not really.  Expectations are pretty realistic up in Dingwall, but County have mustered just four points from their last eight games, scoring just two goals in that period.  Since winning the League Cup in March, they've won only four of twenty league games.  An injury to Liam Boyce didn't help, but they've not come close to replacing Jackson Irvine's physicality and industry in midfield and letting Ricky Foster and Brian Graham go in August was curious.

POSITIVES: Boyce has looked great when fit.  After family problems in the summer, Andrew Davies appears to be back to his best in defence.  Scott Fox continues to excel between the sticks.

NEGATIVES: Jay McEveley has been a real disappointment when played either at left-back or centre-back.  Martin Woods and Ian McShane don't look like a great midfield partnership.

THE FUTURE: Once Ryan Dow and Chris Burke are fully up to speed, County should carry far more menace going forward.  And if there is any danger of relegation come January, Roy McGregor will get the cheque book out again.

CURRENT POSITION: 3rd, 18pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Early in August, John A Maxwell and I agreed that, outside the four biggest teams, St. Johnstone were the next best - a good manager, a capable and experienced squad, and more ability than they get credit for.  Had they even drawn at home to Killie the other week, they'd be second.  So I'd say they're pretty chuffed down Perth way.

POSITIVES: Danny Swanson has been awesome.  Steven MacLean continues to score goals at age 34.  Ricky Foster has slotted quickly into the back four after signing in August.

NEGATIVES: Still no-one has stepped up as a consistent partner for MacLean.  Loan signing Joe Gormley has been particularly ineffective.

THE FUTURE: A top four finish really would be something.  But fifth remains most likely; expect the gap between them and the other diddy teams to gradually lengthen over the coming months.  The most likely thing to derail St. Johnstone would be another club (finally) tempting Tommy Wright away.

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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