Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Talking Points

Rangers are only the third or fourth best team in Scotland
According to the score line this was a huge improvement from Rangers on the feeble performance at Celtic Park last month, but it was clear to everyone watching that the gap between the sides remains significant.

The biggest difference between the two games was Celtic’s finishing rather than any great improvement by Rangers.  Celtic looked threatening almost every time they attacked, and had it not been for Matt Gilks channeling his inner Andy Goram, another thrashing could well have been on the cards.  Apart from one howler that presented a chance to Rogic that even the Australian couldn’t believe, the veteran goalkeeper more than justified his inclusion ahead of regular number one Wes Foderingham.

The Rangers back four played well enough, but they received next to no protection from the midfield rendering them pretty helpless against wave after wave of Celtic attack.  James Tavernier seemed to be playing an even more attacking role that usual, but he was ineffectual going forward while leaving plenty of space for Scott Sinclair to exploit behind.

Sure, Rangers worked hard and showed a resilience that was lacking in the previous Old Firm game, but the lack of threat going forward is a huge concern given that the team looked to have been set up to take the game to their Glasgow rivals.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone.  Rangers are probably the third or fourth best team in Scotland just now, and the gap between Celtic and second is already huge.  If the rate of progress at Ibrox continues to be this glacial, it will be a long time before they’re in a position to properly challenge Celtic’s domination of Scottish football. IM

Job done for the Dons
From the first few minutes of this match it looked as if Aberdeen were going to blow away Morton.  James Maddison got numerous opportunities to practice his corner kick deliveries to the near post - Kenny McLean had a volley blocked from one such effort, an from the ensuing corner Jonny Hayes headed off the crossbar.  Yet, despite continuing to have their expected dominance of possession, their goal threat dissipated.  The best chance of the half fell to Morton, when Jai Quitongo managed to get goal side of Mark Reynolds and force a save from Joe Lewis.

If anything, Ton looked more threatening as the second have wore on, with Quitongo - an Aberdeen youth team product back in the day - himself threatening to inflict another cup embarrassment upon his former employer.  The McInnes-era Dons, though, have far greater resolve that many of their predecessors.  Jim Duffy is justified in feeling hard done by; Adam Rooney's opener came from an offside position - albeit it probably didn't seem that way at the time as by the time Andy Considine's knock back came to Rooney he was nodding his looping header over the backtracking Gavin Gunning, and no Morton players seemed to claim offside in the immediate aftermath.  Andy McNeil was then very unlucky when he managed to save a late Niall McGinn shot across the face of goal, only for Kenny McLean to kill the tie off on the rebound.

So although there would be no dancing in the streets of Morton that night, the players would return to Greenock with heads held high. For Aberdeen, it wasn't pretty but they got the job done. Most Dons fans will be happy to settle for that. MI

Outstanding Swanson shows that Saints have style
Another weekend, another great performance from Danny Swanson, who is doing his best to put paid to the longstanding belief that St. Johnstone have no style.  The wideman scored his fourth goal in the league this season, and was Dundee's chief tormentor.  Add in his League Cup goal glut and he has a remarkable nine for the campaign already.  Not quite Moussa Dembele, but still...

It's great to see Swanson doing so well; bear in mind that he played well enough for Dundee United that he earned a Scotland call-up five years ago, before a move south that didn't work out particularly well.  And while he impressed on loan at Saints in the second half of the 2014-15 season (scoring a stunning winner at Celtic Park) he made the dreadful mistake of turning down a permanent deal that summer to join Hearts...where Robbie Neilson wasted him by playing him through the middle and then not at all.

Thankfully Tommy Wright didn't hold it against him and Swanson returned to Perth in January, and hasn't looked back since.  Whilst the chances of a cap have surely gone, the 30 year old is playing some of the best football of his career, and he might do well to see out the rest of it at McDiarmid Park. LS

Three at the back doesn't solve Partick's problems
Alan Archibald attempted to fix Partick Thistle's defensive frailties with a shift to a back three, with Adam Barton dropping into defence.  It certainly led to an improved performance for the first 70 minutes against Ross County; the visitors' 4-4-2 left them outnumbered and physically outmatched in the centre of midfield, and the busy but diminutive strike duo of Craig Curran and Alex Schalk - Liam Boyce is still injured - couldn't get any joy from pressing high up the pitch; nor did they have any hope of winning high balls.  Thistle deserved more for their efforts than just Sean Welsh's converted penalty.

Jim McIntyre eventually switched things around so County had three at the back as well, but it's unclear if that triggered their late revival, or whether it was down to the inevitable nerves of the home side.  With Thistle dropping deeper and becoming ragged, a tricky winger like Chris Burke is an ideal weapon - and so it proved as the veteran substitute grabbed the equalizer.

Thistle move a whole point clear of Dundee at the bottom ahead of their clash at Dens Park on Wednesday night.  I'm not convinced these tactical changes are their best long term option; confidence is the crucial factor here. LS

The least crap team will finish sixth
Caley Thistle's 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock in the Highlands extended their undefeated league run against the Ayrshire side to 10 games after a late goal from Lousana Doumbouya cancelled out a penalty from Souleymane Coulibaly which put Killie ahead in the first half.

In a game largely low on quality there were still decent chances for both sides so a draw was perhaps a fair result.  Coulibaly could have had a first half hat trick but opportunities also fell to Aaron Doran, Liam Polworth and Doumbouya at the other end, all of which went astray before the equaliser arrived.

Richie Foran claimed he wants more passion from his side and that they’ve looked jaded after games against Rangers and Celtic.  Whilst there could well be an element of truth in this it’s hard not to look at the recent win against Dundee which saw the most polished performance of the season from ICT in the league.  Yet Foran tweaked a winning team, and continues to play Liam Polwqrth out of position (this time on the left flank!)to accommodate the ineffectual Iain Vigurs...which we've discussed at length previously.

Inverness have stuttered through their next three games against Hamilton and Rangers after reverting to this line up.  Their best period of the game on Saturday came when playing with more natural widemen, although too often they cut inside into a congested middle of the pitch and couldn't find a way through the well drilled Killie defence who were able to comfortably handle the majority of the home attacks and kick start often threatening counter attacks.

There wasn’t much between the sides on Saturday and in general there seems to be little to separate any of the clubs below St. Johnstone in the league.  With no side in the bottom seven seemingly capable of putting a decent run of form together it could well be a very competitive fight for sixth spot over the next few months. Both Caley Thistle are likely to be in with a shout of securing that spot however it’s more likely to be down to other sides being equally poor rather than being any great shakes themselves. AS

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.

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.

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