Thursday, December 29, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Inverness are in a mess
With the Highland Derby coming up this weekend, Richie Foran reached for the cliche cannon after this defeat: "if you are a boy, don't get on that bus to Dingwall.  If you are a man then good as we need brave men now".  That's the sort of guff a man under pressure starts spouting.

The stats make grim reading for Inverness Caley Thistle.  Winless in nine games, their worst run in a decade.  One win in thirteen.  The worst defensive record in the Premiership, with one clean sheet all season.  Their lowest points total after twenty games in any of their twenty-three seasons as a club, in any division.

And the problems on the park are much the same as they were in August.  There's no pace in attack.  The lone striker is constantly isolated as no-one gets up to support him quickly enough.  Players are being played out of position (Liam Polworth on the wing?!).  The midfield aren't protecting the defence well enough, and that plus individual errors means soft goals are frequently being conceded, often when the team are on top.

The second half against Motherwell was particularly galling; ICT had dominated the first half, but fell behind to a wind-assisted Craig Clay strike that completely caught out Owain Fon Williams.  Spooked by this, the home side stopped trying to outplay Motherwell and instead resorted to thirty-five minutes of aimless hoofball and long throws.  Let's be clear; wind doesn't stop anyone from passing the ball on the deck.

At what point does the buck stop with the manager?  The change in approach wasn't a deliberate move by Foran, but was a desperate response from players who lack confidence and/or heart at the moment.  The failure of his senior players to show any leadership was deeply depressing, but so too was the manager's inability to change things from the touchline.

For the record, Motherwell were also pretty hopeless.  But they won.  Inverness are in complete freefall.  That four year contract (yes, you read that right) that rookie Foran was given in the summer looks pretty daft right now. LS

Hearts make Kris Boyd eat his words
It wasn't clear what was giving the Hearts fans the most pleasure on Tuesday night - the 4-0 shellacking of Kilmarnock or the opportunity to goad Kris Boyd for his foolish tabloid comments about Ian Cathro.  "You're getting f***** by a laptop", they chanted.

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer; just as Cathro's slow start did not make him the next John McGlynn, so one impressive victory does not make him the next Alex Ferguson.  But Hearts looked impressive, albeit against a Kilmarnock side who were toothless in attack and who offered zero resistance at the back.

Lee Clark bemoaned the lack of quality available to him after the game, and insisted new players will arrive in January.  One can understand his wish for reinforcements - the defence, albeit shorn of experienced heads like Miles Addison and Scott Boyd, were a mess, whilst up front Boyd looked out of shape again and Nathan Tyson has yet to score for the club or look like doing so.

That said, Clark has signed seventeen players permanently or on loan since the end of last season.  His request for more will have raised an eyebrow or two in the Rugby Park boardroom.  Some loanees will leave next month and create a little space, but how many chances should the Englishman be given to completely overhaul this squad? LS

Christie grabs his opportunity
As a Caley Thistle fan who still dreamt that Ryan Christie might return on loan in January, the news that he was outstanding against Ross County was bittersweet.  The 21 year old has been on the fringes of the Celtic squad for much of the season but took full advantage of his rare start, impressing hugely before being replaced on the hour.

Given his display, one wonders if Brendan Rodgers' decision was a tactical one or rather a move to save the player's legs - after all there is a rather bigger game coming up on Saturday.  It would probably still be a surprise if Christie was to start at Ibrox, but Tom Rogic remains a big doubt for that game, potentially leaving a vacancy in that number 10 role.  Christie has certainly staked his claim for it.  And yeah, there's no chance he'll be coming back north next month. LS

Rangers and St. Johnstone show some flexibility
So it turns out that Rangers can play a formation other than 4-3-3; with Lee Wallace injured and no natural left-back available, they surprised everyone in Perth by starting with a back three and with James Tavernier and Barrie McKay as very attack-minded wing backs.  And it worked for the early stages, with McKay's goal as reward for their dominance.

But credit to Tommy Wright for then switching St. Johnstone to a similar system, and to his players for being flexible enough to make the change.  Whilst they only got a foothold back in the game thanks to a horrendous error from Rob Kiernan (who was linked with a £2million move in January by some crazy newspaper), they matched Rangers after that and thoroughly deserved the draw - a result which looks all the more impressive given that Murray Davidson was out and Danny Swanson only fit enough for a late cameo.  St. Johnstone are still unbeaten this season against Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen. LS

Can Thistle find some consistency at last?
Back-to-back wins have catapulted Partick Thistle up to sixth place, which makes this blogger's preseason prediction that they would finish in that position look slightly less ridiculous now.  That said, they are still closer to bottom spot than they are to fifth, and there's a long way to go.

The question is whether this wee spurt is sustainable.  Plenty of Thistle players are on form just now; Kris Doolan appears to be on one of his occasional goalscoring streaks; Chris Erskine is playing with his shoulders high and his head up; Ryan Edwards is dominating the midfield with his energy; Adam Barton is strolling games at centre-back; Tomas Cerny's return in goal has lifted confidence hugely.

But consistency has been Thistle's problem ever since they returned to the top flight.  They have Kilmarnock at home next, a very winnable game; a victory would give them significant breathing space at the bottom going into the winter break.  But just how much would you bet on Partick Thistle winning a third consecutive game? LS

Accies just aren't winning enough games
The stats don't look good for Hamilton Accies; defeat at Pittodrie leaves them ten games without a win, and their only victory in sixteen games was actually against Aberdeen at home.  There have of course been a lot of draws, which is why they're still not bottom (albeit on goal difference) but it's not looking good.

Accies do things their own way, of course; working on a tight budget, they remain determined to develop their own talent  four academy products started this game, though three of them are longstanding first team regulars.  The fourth, Scott McMann, has struggled since getting into the team and was sent off late on.

The trouble for Martin Canning is that there is no James McCarthy or James McArthur on the horizon.  Other youngsters like Darren Lyon, Greg Docherty (both injured for this game) and Eamonn Brophy (a used sub) will probably end up making a living in the lower end of the Premiership or the Championship, but will not go further in the game.  Meanwhile, Canning hasn't found a signing to match the likes of Tony Andreu, who shone for his predecessor Alex Neil.

Canning's record as Accies manager is quite staggering - this was his seventy-sixth league match in charge, the equivalent of two seasons, and he has just sixteen wins in that time.  It's a small miracle Accies are still a top flight club; it's also a small miracle that they aren't bottom at the moment.  But this could be the year they finally go down. 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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