Monday, November 21, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Hayes and MacLean shine in Inverness
You could forgive ICT supporters for viewing the visit of Aberdeen, especially with the Christmas advertising season now in full swing, as akin to being haunted by the ghosts of Caley Thistle past.  Jonny Hayes was on fire; the Caley Jags would have needed half a dozen defenders to stop him when he plays like this.  When Hayes was tripped in the box by Gary Warren, fellow ICT alumni Adam Rooney scored the resulting penalty.  Even former captain Graeme Shinnie rubbed salt into the wound in the second half with a tackle on Brad McKay that required the latter to be stretchered off the pitch, although the Dons did refrain from adding insult to injury with any late Miles Storey cameo.

Towards the end of the game, Josh Meekings finally managed to stop Hayes by taking him out of action with a two footed lunge; Jonny still managed to slip the ball through for the on-running McLean to finish.  Although Kenny had already scored earlier in the game (his first goal, a well struck free kick after Aaron Doran fouled James Maddison, equalising 'Big Lon' Lonsana Doumbouya's opener, a neat head-flick from Ross Draper's equally neat cross) his second goal better demonstrated what Aberdeen require out of him; not only showing the willingness to beat Draper to the loose ball deep in his own half, but following that up with the desire to provide the overlapping run for the fast breaking Hayes.  

It would be fair to say that McLean has under performed so far this season.  However, with Maddison having taken over his previous role in attacking midfield and Ryan Jack back alongside him in central midfield this has allowed him more freedom and, hopefully, he can crack on from here - a similar performance in the League Cup Final on Sunday would be a good start. MI

Three at the back works well for 'Well
Motherwell switched to three-at-the-back against Partick Thistle; time will tell if this was a one-off to match the formation of their opponents or a long-term change, but there was no question it worked extremely well.  Undoubtedly assisted by the torpor of their opponents, 'Well put in an outstanding performance which was at least the equal of the big wins they've already had at Fir Park against Hamilton and Ross County.

The new system certainly covers up the lack of wingers at the club - does Luka Belic actually exist? - and it allowed Richard Tait, already a quietly impressive presence at right-back since arriving in the summer from Grimsby, to maraud forward to great effect; twice he nearly scored.  More pertinently, it means two central strikers.  Louis Moult and Scott McDonald both scored (the former thanks to an horrendous blunder from Thistle keeper Thorsten Stuckmann), but their off-the-ball movement was key.  Both are keen to come deep to get possession into feet, but the forwards understand each other so well that their runs were always complimentary.  Thistle's own back three couldn't tell who was going to step up and who was going to get in behind.

The flip-side is that a 3-5-2 probably means no place for the fun but erratic Lionel Ainsworth, or targetman Ryan Bowman (for whom the club paid a small fee on deadline day).  But if it works as well as this then no-one at Fir Park will care. LS

Rangers still struggle to turn dominance into goals
I don’t know what was more predictable on Saturday - the third placed team in the league beating the eleventh placed team at home, or the fact Rangers struggled so badly to turn their overwhelming domination into goals. They had 70% of possession along with 14 corners, and 18 shots, yet it took an injury time goal from Harry Forrester to avoid yet another draw against a team that really should be put away without much in the way of drama.

The fact that the home side kept pushing to the end and finally took away all three points is at least something to for the fans to hold on to, but the concern over an inability to turn pressure into goals should be a big worry.  Even if the decision makers at Ibrox accept that Celtic are too far ahead this season to be able to do much about it, they would surely have thought that at least £1.8 million for a striker would have brought them an easier path through these types of games.  There’s a chance that Joe Garner could yet make us look back at this season and realise that Joey Barton wasn’t the biggest waste of money at Rangers; it’s certainly going to be a crowded field.

As for Dundee, they weren’t very good and Ross County’s win in Perth sent them to the bottom of the league.  The crowded picture in the bottom half of the league means they shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, as a couple of decent results will have them shooting up the league.   But given the backing that Hartley has received over the last couple of years there will surely be an expectation that things are turned around quickly, otherwise it could be a very uncomfortable Christmas. IM

 Craig Curran's sixty-third minute goal effectively clinched victory for Ross County, giving them a three goal cushion.  That it came with his head was somewhat reassuring.  The Englishman missed most of last season because of problems following concussions, first in a game against Dundee United in August and then again at Inverness in January.  His recovery was so slow that the striker actually feared he might never play again.

Thankfully he appears back to full fitness, physically and psychologically.  Curran's partnership with Liam Boyce was a huge part of County's incredible form in 2015, and whilst Boyce got most of the goals he benefitted from his colleague's endless industry and street-smarts.  The Northern Irishman was on target late on in Perth as well, and the duo's form,fitness and goals will be critical to how the Staggies' season shapes up. LS

Does Boyata have a future at Celtic?
It turns out that Dedryck Boyata does still exist after all.  The Dutch centre-back made his first competitive appearance under Brendan Rodgers at Rugby Park, a consequence of injury to Jozo Simunovic and a need to protect Kolo Toure ahead of Wednesday's game against Barcelona.  Whilst Boyata has had injury problems of his own, he had done nothing when fit to suggest he should be higher up the queue; at least this shows he is still ranked above Efe Ambrose.

So he slotted into the backline, and did a decent enough job - after all, Celtic kept a clean sheet which means they haven't conceded a league goal since 24th September, when Souleymane Coulibaly scored a screamer at Celtic Park for Killie.   It would be a stretch to laud his performance - there were a few errant passes out of defence which were reminiscent of last season's bumbling Boyata - but rustiness is forgivable.

With 35 year old Toure a one year stopgap solution in defence, Rodgers will need to find a long term plan for that position.  Does he have sufficient quality already in his squad?  Erik Sviatchenko is solid but limited (at continental level at least), Ambrose is well out of the picture and Mikael Lustig is probably still better off at right-back.  It's easy to forget that Boyata was deemed good enough to play for Manchester City at 19; this writer saw him start a league game against Arsenal six years ago (he was sent off after five minutes, but that's beside the point!).  The talent is there; can Rodgers coax it out of him? 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.

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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