Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Rangers are looking more and more like the best of the rest
There are certainly a few folk out there - Stephen Craigen will definitely be one - who will have celebrated Hearts' defeat at Ibrox as justification for their narrow-minded view of Ian Cathro's appointment...as if the Jambos should normally be expected to register a convincing away win at Ibrox.  It will be a long time yet before we can tell if Cathro is a success or a failure.

This result was of far more importance to the home side.  Rangers continue to look pretty lacklustre at times, yet they've now won four of their last five (the aberration being a loss at Tynecastle); more importantly, in the three way battle for second place, they've opened up a gap of four points over Aberdeen and five over Hearts.

Barrie McKay's claims that his side hadn't given up on the title were, of course, crowd-pleasing tosh; the gap to Celtic will only grow from here.  But whilst they aren't doing it with a lot of style, Rangers are well on their way to nabbing the second place that should have been their target at the start of the season. LS

Niall McGinn's struggles continue
Aberdeen are still above Hearts in the table, but another couple of points dropped means they fall further behind in the race for second spot.  The Dons are paying for failing to win matches against the better teams in the league - only six points from six games against the other teams in the top 5; St. Johnstone actually have a better record in that respect and would be right up there but for being so fallible against weaker sides.

In a desperate attempt to inject some life into his attack, Derek McInnes made a double change at half-time, which included hooking Niall McGinn.  The Northern Irishman had come off the bench to score in midweek against Kilmarnock, raising hope that his recent funk might be over.  Not so.  He was turgid here, as he has been for much of the season.

Is it a case of fatigue, given that McGinn went to Euro 2016 in the summer and was playing in Aberdeen's European games in July?  Or is it something deeper?  It's a problem that needs solved, because his spark, both in goals and assists, is badly missed.  And if McGinn doesn't perk up soon, McInnes may be tempted to let his contract, which expires in the summer, run out. LS

Dundee's strikers are not giving value for money
There's already a feeling amongst the bottom seven that every point is a prisoner, so perhaps Dundee and Ross County both went away reasonably satisfied with their draw at Dens.  County at least found the net...but Liam Boyce's effort was disallowed, preventing the Ulsterman from adding to his nine league goals so far in the campaign.

How Dundee would love a striker as prolific.  In contrast, their top scorer in all competitions remains Kane Hemmings...who left the club in July.  They are the lowest scorers in the Premiership with just fourteen so far, and three of those came on opening day in Dingwall.  Whilst the recent move to a back three has made them far more solid, their attacking verve has not improved at all.

Paul Hartley started lanky Canadian Marcus Haber up front in this one, for the sixth straight game.  Haber has just one goal so far, putting him level with Faissal El Bakhtaoui.  Rory Loy has three in the league, but two of those were penalties.  What's worse is the overall cost of these players.  I'm not sure about Haber, who came from Crewe Alexandra, but El Bakhtaoui was pursued by several clubs last summer and will certainly be on a decent wage by bottom six standards.  And as for Loy, good sources told me when he left Falkirk eighteen months ago that Dundee had offered him a wage greater than two grand per week, which if true is dreadful value for money.

And that's before we get to Uruk-Hai lookalike Yordi Teijsse, who has drifted out of first team contention.  Sure, Hemmings and Greg Stewart were always going to be hard to replace, but Hartley's current crop of forwards should be scoring far more often than this. LS

Griffiths forces his way back into first team reckoning
Going by the first half-hour at Firhill, one might have feared that weeks on the substitute's bench had drained Leigh Griffiths of his mojo.  He scuffed one early opportunity straight at Tomas Cerny, then dragged a shot so far wide that he tried to cover up his embarrassment by claiming for a non-existent deflection and feigning shock that Craig Thomson failed to award the corner.  Finally, he raced through one-on-one only for Cerny, just outside his penalty area, to nick the ball off his toe without having to go to ground.  A lack of conviction, perhaps.

Not so.  A fine cross from Griffiths set up Stuart Armstrong for the opener, and he had an assist in Armstrong's second too - though it was just a short pass from a free kick.  But by then he was back to his usual self, going on to twist Adam Barton inside out before scoring with aplomb.

The Scotland striker can be forgiven for being a wee bit rusty; it was only his second Celtic start since the end of August.  But given that Moussa Dembele has actually scored only once in his last seven games, Brendan Rodgers might be tempted to restore Griffiths to the frontline on a regular basis. LS

Ali Crawford is ready to leave Accies
Ali Crawford will not be at Hamilton Accies by the end of the coming summer; Martin Canning has pretty much said so himself.  Crawford has finally found some consistency this season and has thrived in an Accies system which is focused on getting him as much of the ball as possible.  Not only is he scoring good goals - though his free kick against Inverness should really have been saved (Owain Fon Williams had a back problem, but his positioning in these situations is often suspect anyway) - he is scoring plenty of them; that was his seventh of the campaign.

The worry for Canning is that someone swoops sooner.  Crawford is hardly on the same level as the likes of James McCarthy or James McArthur were, so a much smaller fee would prise him from New Douglas Park.   Even £250,000 might be enough, and is a fee which might tempt the likes of Aberdeen, Rangers or Hearts as well as a plethora of English clubs.

But if Crawford goes in January, then Accies will go down.  It's as simple as that.  So expect them to hold out as long as possible and try to get a few more months out of their most talented player.  LS

Plenty of youth, not a lot of quality
It's fair to say that the 'highlights' from Fir Park were rather padded out; this was not a classic affair at all.  What to take away from such a dour encounter?

About the only striking feature was the youth on the pitch.  Killie have been known for playing kids since the days of Kenny Shiels.  Here, academy graduates Greg Taylor and Rory McKenzie started, with Dean Hawkshaw coming on as a sub.  There were three more who were also on the bench, and don't forget that Greg Kiltie, the best of their young guns, is injured.

This season Motherwell have also turned to younger blood, though given their budget cuts it's more out of necessity than ideology.  Craig Cadden and Jack McMillan would have started this if available, but Ross MacLean kept his place after an impressive performance against Celtic, with David Ferguson also in the team and 17 year old Jake Hastie coming on in the second half.

Is this a good thing for Scottish football?  We always talk about wanting young players to get action, but recent history suggests few, if any, of these boys will play at a higher level than this.  Hopefully I'll be proven wrong though. 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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