Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership (and League Cup Final)

Aberdeen were utterly outclassed
Derek McInnes deployed a deeply conservative approach to the Cup Final; sit deep, allow Celtic possession and keep the play in front of them.  These tactics proved to be effective for all of 15 minutes before coming undone.  Jozo Simunovic, doing a decent impersonation of Virgil van Dijk, carried the ball forward into the Aberdeen half; his first attempted pass was intercepted by Andy Considine, however the ball broke back to him and he powered through to find Tom Rogic at the second time of asking.  Rogic cut inside and hit a terrific strike across Joe Lewis and into the bottom corner to take the lead.

It was an unfortunate day all around for Considine, one of the few Aberdeen players who could not be faulted for his efforts but for whom the ball never rolled his way.  In what turned out to be the critical turning point of the match, Considine's header from James Maddison's free kick delivery forced Craig Gordon into a save; had he managed to direct it either side of the Celtic keeper it would have levelled the match.  In fairness to him, he at least managed to get his header on target, which should instantly put him ahead of Grant Hanley in the pecking order for national team selection.

Moments later, the match as a contest was over, if it was ever a contest in the first place.  Tom Rogic languidly swept the ball to James Forrest on the edge of the centre circle; from there, Forrest ran unopposed into the Aberdeen penalty area before finding the angle to beat Lewis for Celtic's second.

Rogic again picked out Forrest during the second half, this time a give-and-go into the penalty area.  Anthony O'Connor, culpable in the build up for the second goal for backing off Forrest's run, was at fault again for bundling into Forrest as he made his run into the box.  O'Connor was by now carrying an injury, for which he was substituted immediately after Moussa Dembele sent Lewis the wrong way from the resulting penalty kick.  He would soon cut a morose figure on the Dons bench, lurking under his black hoodie like some sulking Sith Lord.

The final half an hour of the match passed without any major incident, as Celtic sailed serenely to their 100th major trophy and their 1st under manager Brendan Rodgers.  In the end, it was another faultless performance by the Hoops, but it was such a disappointment that Aberdeen couldn't knock them out of cruise control at any point of the match.  With the League Cup now secured and a yawning gap already established in the League, the thought of the champions further tooling up in the January transfer window should be a sobering thought for supporters of all other sides in Scottish fitba.

Dodoo is a much better option than Garner
Joe Dodoo ruined Saturday lunchtime for me.

 I was building up quite an air of superiority as watched Rangers struggle against a Partick Thistle team who can’t buy a win a home just now, and considered how Mark Warburton’s substitutions were making no impact whatsoever. Just as I was thinking about what remarks I would make at the press conference to unveil me as Rangers’ new manager, substitute Dodoo scored a peach of an equaliser, a classy winner, and ended my managerial career before it had started.

 It turned out the problem with this game wasn’t the substitutions, but the starting lineup. More specifically, Joe Garner.

 This could easily become a weekly rant against Garner, so hopefully I can say my piece and be done with it. He’s not very good, he doesn’t seem to have a great attitude, and with Joey Barton now gone, the spotlight will on shine brighter on him. Dodoo has surely done enough to permanently replace him in a startling frontline that desperately needs to get it’s act together. Even Caley Thistle have scored more league goals than Rangers this season.

 Despite the glaring weakness at set pieces, Rangers have a pretty decent defensive record and appear to have learned some of the lessons dished out by Celtic in September. If they can start scoring goals more regularly, second place could become very achievable. The difficulty in predicting how likely that is to happen is that I’m finding it hard to figure out how good Rangers are just now. Winning ugly is a good habit, and seven games undefeated is a decent run. But Dundee and Partick Thistle are bad teams and it shouldn’t take injury time winners to beat them. Games against Hearts and Aberdeen within three days will tell us a lot. IM

Watt next?
When Hearts won at Fir Park on 30 September, Tony Watt shone.  Constantly getting on possession and driving forward, he showcased all the qualities that made him such a starlet in his Celtic days.  All he was missing was a goal.

Fast forward two months, and the striker was an unused substitute when the two sides met again.  And Hearts were better off without him.  For in the intervening time Watt has demonstrated all the liabilities that have seen him fail at Celtic, Standard Liege and Charlton Athletic.  He plays too much like he's the biggest kid in the primary school playground - always wanting the ball, always keeping it to himself, and shouting at everyone else when things don't work out.

The Jambos have been in need of a goalscoring striker, and it is not Watt but Bjorn Johnsen who looks most like delivering.  The Norwegian-American looked like a clumsy oaf when he arrived in Scotland in August but has got himself fit and match sharp.  His finish for the opener was anything but clumsy, as he danced around Craig Samson after being put through by Arnaud Djoum; he then displayed his selflessness by heralding his French teammates contribution.  His second goal, a controlled header, also showed technique which did not look evident a couple of months back.

A front pair of Johnsen and Robbie Muirhead, who looks like turning around his career at Tynecastle, appears to be the future for Robbie Neilson's side.  Watt's future?  It's very unclear right now. LS

Inverness struggle again
It had to happen some time. After sixteen games against Dundee without defeat Caley Thistle finally lost to the Dark Blues as goals from Craig Wighton and Kostadin Gadzhalov were enough for the three points despite Carl Tremarcos late header which gave the visitors a glimmer of hope.

ICT struggled to really get going in the game and found their route to goal all too easily snuffed out by the three centre backs of Dundee who marshalled Lousana Doumbouya with ease and forced the away side to try and attack down the flanks where there tended to be more space. However, wide men Billy King and Aaron Doran struggled to create anything of note with both men frequently drifting inside from the wing and into the congested centre of the pitch where numerous dark blue shirts were waiting to stifle them.

Foran bemoaned the result claiming it was the best performance of the season but one suspects that he is shielding the players from another poor result where they really struggled to get going. After a good run only a few weeks ago things aren’t really clicking for the Highlanders right now. A lack of creative spark combined with conceding an average of two goals a game is making things really difficult for Foran right now and it isn’t much fun to watch either.

The last time ICT really clicked, save for the midweek drubbing of Motherwell, was in the reverse fixture against Dundee at the end of September and although Dundee too went on a poor run it seems that Hartley has managed to revive their fortunes in recent weeks.

Wighton continued his impressive run in the side with another strong showing and a well taken goal, the youngster showing great composure to curl the ball beyond Fon Williams to open the scoring and he was also key to relieving any pressure on the Dundee back line willingly chasing down long balls forward and putting Inverness defenders under pressure. His dogged determination right until the end of the game led to the dismissal of Lewis Horner as the defender struggled to keep up with Wighton as he broke forward and he hauled him down which brought a deserved red card. This impressive display together with the assured performance at the back from Gadzhalov, O’Dea and Gomis meant Dundee fans were able to taste victory against ICT for the first time in seven years and now find themselves catapulted up the table into seventh place.

But both sets of fans, despite their current differing form, will still be looking nervously down the table. The top four in the league seems pretty settled and St Johnstone should have enough to secure fifth but everyone else is playing for the infamous sixth spot as well as battling to avoid relegation and the play off spot. The importance of sustaining a good run in the league for teams like Dundee and ICT is greater than ever. Whilst Dundee will be looking forward with a sense of renewed optimism ICT will be looking to upcoming matches against Saint Johnstone, Hamilton and Kilmarnock as excellent opportunities to secure three points. But then again, so will they. AS

County pay for their profligacy
The trouble for Ross County on Saturday was that good performances don't win matches; goals do.  Liam Boyce wasn't the problem; the Northern Irishman is in excellent form and nabbed his eighth goal of the season with a deft header.  But his teammates couldn't follow his lead.

Alex Schalk will shoulder a decent proportion of the blame; the Dutch substitute's movement was tremendous, but he screwed up no fewer than four one-on-one situations.  Even more galling is the fact that when he did hit the net he was denied by an offside flag despite being a good couple of yards onside.  It was one of the poorest decisions you'll see from an assistant this season.

And so Ali Crawford made County pay with a lovely free kick, despite Accies being under the cosh all day.  These things apparently even themselves out over the course of a season, but the bottom of the Premiership is so tight that those two dropped points could prove very important in the long run. LS

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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