Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Dundee are bottom
Defeat at Tynecastle, combined with other results, dropped Dundee to the foot of the table for the first time since they returned to the top flight in the summer of 2014.  It'll be interesting to see how they respond.  On the one hand, they were quite excellent for much of the second half against Hearts and created lots of chances despite being away from home against a side who are second in the table.  Remarkably they hit the woodwork three times after half-time with the score still nil-nil.  If one of those goes in, there's a decent chance that they at least get a draw, if not a win.

On the other hand, they lost.  They were also grateful to Scott Bain for a number of saves in the opening period.  They were bludgeoned in the final quarter of an hour.  They still can't defend crosses.  And they failed to score.  They haven't won since opening day.

It's not ideal.  Next up is a tricky trip to Perth, followed by games versus Partick and Accies.  If Dundee are still bottom at that point, it's time to panic. LS

Hayes just gets better and better
I had the privilege of watching Jonny Hayes at Inverness for three years.  When he arrived, he was a very raw winger, but his incredible pace made him a huge threat and a potential diamond.

Six years on, that diamond looks rather polished.  The Irishman, who won his first cap in the spring, has got better year on year, first under Terry Butcher at Caley Thistle and then under Derek McInnes at Aberdeen.  Hayes' best attributes have always been a willingness to learn and a complete selflessness - no flashy tricks or flashy celebrations from him, and he always passes to a teammate who is in a better position than him.

Hayes scored a great goal against Ross County by driving in from his natural left flank, but over the course of the match he also turned up at various times on the right wing, both full-back positions and central midfield - all roles he looks comfortable in and he wouldn't dream of complaining about being moved about the park.

His versatility will also hold him in good stead once the legs slow a bit - he is 29 now.  Aberdeen are very lucky to have a player with this talent and this attitude at his peak. LS

At last some luck for Scott Boyd
Scott Boyd has had a rough year or two.  A stalwart in three divisions for Ross County and their record appearance holder, he was demoted to the fringes of their squad last season and frozen out altogether by Jim McIntyre this summer, despite it being the start of his testimonial year.  He wasn't even in the team photo, with the club claiming he was 'ill'.  His wife had just had a baby too.

Still under contract for another year in Dingwall, Boyd had found something of a lifeline with a loan move to Kilmarnock on deadline day but he looked rusty to say the least.  His first four starts at centre-back led to a combined loss of 13 goals and he was dropped to the bench in Perth for the returning Miles Addison.

However an early injury to Jonathan Burn meant Boyd was called upon again and whilst his clean sheet was more down to Jamie McDonald and some profligate St. Johnstone finishing, he won the game with his close range finish.  It was his first goal since January 2014.

Whether Boyd has much to offer at this level beyond being a solid backup is unclear.  But he's a decent bloke and he deserves a bit of good fortune more than most. LS

Same old Thistle, same old Accies
Partick Thistle and Hamilton Accies; two teams with dreadful defences and atrocious attacks.  Was this going to be a goalfest or a dour affair?  In the end we got a 2-2 draw, where one forward (Eamonn Brophy) got on the scoresheet with a late equalizer that the visitors completely deserved.

It was more of the same for both sides though.  Accies took the lead for the eighth time in nine league games this season, but they've only won one of those.  Their defence was 'bolstered' for this one by new arrival Lennard Sowah, but the German defender had a dreadful debut. Hamilton fans will recall Martin Canning's previous record with players signed on short-term deals (Kemy Agustien, Oumar Diaby, Christopher Mandiangu) and wince.

Meanwhile, Thistle conceded a late equalizer for the third time in four games.  And whilst they scored twice, neither goal came from a forward.  Centre-back Liam Lindsay, who continues to struggle at the other end, is now their top league scorer with three goals.  Dropping him might improve the defence, but also weaken their goal threat further!

And all the strikes in this match were defensive catastrophes; Abdul Osman's dreadful marking of Massimo Donati; pinball between Accies defenders in their six yard box to give Ryan Edwards a tap-in; Lindsay's free header six yards out; the way Brophy got in behind so easily.

Worryingly, neither side seems to have taken advantage of the international break to get organized.  The evidence still suggests they will be both fighting to avoid the drop. LS

Craig Gordon is back in favour
All in all, it was a pretty straightforward day at the office for Celtic.  Brendan Rodgers was so confident that he rotated his side ahead of Champions League action, with Liam Henderson a particular beneficiary.  While it took until late on for Moussa Dembele to seal the victory, Motherwell - who were so short on numbers that they gave debuts to 18 year old Jack McMillan and 17 year old Jake Hastie, both of whom were still in nappies when teammate Keith Lasley made his debut - never looked remotely dangerous.

About the only thing we can read into this Celtic selection is that Craig Gordon appears to be back in favour.  The Scottish international had very little to do, but appears to have won back the gloves from Dorus De Vries for the time being.  Rodgers' previous claims that Gordon needed to learn how to play the ball out better never washed with me - I saw him do an impressive set of keepy-ups and passes whilst warming up at half-time at Inverness recently.  What Gordon really needed was a week or two out of the firing line after a few errors.  In the long run, Rodgers may fancy that he can get a better goalie than either of his current options.  In the short term - starting with Moenchengladbach - Gordon is his best bet. LS

Vigurs is becoming a liability for Inverness
Rangers were pretty comfortable after Kenny Miller's opener at Inverness, although they created little despite monopolizing possession.  Caley Thistle's failure to consistently press high up the pitch or to win the ball back in the own half was their undoing; while they defended very well, with Carl Tremarco a standout, they had few chances themselves apart from sitters from Lonsana Doumbouya and Alex Fisher which bookended the match.

Richie Foran's decision to go with three ball-playing midfielders was a mistake.  Liam Polworth, again left out to dry on the right flank, at least went looking for the ball, while Greg Tansey showed plenty of willing even if he is out of form.  But Iain Vigurs' poor performance stood out.  Always a threat in an attacking sense, Vigurs is a liability defensively and playing him in front of the back four in a match where ICT wouldn't see much quality possession was an odd move.  Barrie McKay in particular took advantage, causing plenty of trouble between the lines.

Vigurs' outstanding start to the season feels like a while ago, and came when he was used in a far more advanced role.  Maybe he needs to be shunted back there.  Certainly Polworth is far more deserving, and far more suited, to playing in Vigurs' current role. LS

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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