Monday, February 20, 2017

Talking Points from the Premiership

Tommy Wright is amazing
Missing your most creative attacker (Danny Swanson)?  No problem.  Lose your best midfielder (Murray Davidson) to injury?  Ditto.

It's like St Johnstone can just plug anyone into the gaps and be confident they will be filled adequately.  Most of this game was spent with David Wotherspoon out of position on the left wing and Ricky Foster deputising on the right, yet it was the same old Perth Saints.  Robust defensively, able to disrupt Ross County high up the pitch without ever seeming to leave space in behind to be exploited; dangerous and clever on the break, with Steven MacLean once more giving a clinic on how to play as a lone striker.

MacLean might have been the standout player at Victoria Park but it was his late replacement off the bench, Chris Kane, whose sensational strike on the turn gave the visitors a deserved win.  Ross County had no answer to their opponent's organisation, with the extra man in midfield limiting them to long balls.  Craig Curran's equaliser was the result of a lucky ricochet they scarcely deserved.

But St. Johnstone showed remarkable character to bounce back and find the winner.  Of course they did, because it's what they do.  This team has no stars, and a wage bill that's probably well below many Premiership teams, including County.  Yet they'll finish top six.  Again.

And that's how it's been ever since Tommy Wright became manager here.  Because he's a really, really, really good manager.  Surely a bigger club is going to notice eventually? LS

Addison costs Killie precious points
I think it's fair to say that Miles Addison ruined many a Killie fan's Sunday afternoon; they may well have still been having nightmares about it in the middle of the night...

You could look to the more positive outlook on the game's late substitutions and credit Derek McInnes for bringing on Jayden Stockley and Peter Pawlett, who would go on to score the late goals that would overturn Kilmarnock's first half opener - Rory McKenzie firing a low shot beyond Joe Lewis after the Dons defence couldn't get the ball clear - but it was either a stroke of genius or a Jedi mind trick to Lee McCulloch to put on Addison as well.

The defending for the first goal was horrific.  Although successfully backing off Jonny Hayes inside the penalty area, he clearly expected that Freddie Woodman should be coming off his line to collect the ball when the keeper didn't appear to have any intention to do so; in the ensuing confusing, Stockley blindsided him to poke the ball into the net.  The second goal was more unfortunate; a botched headed clearance fell to Pawlett, and while he did his best to charge down the shot he only succeeded in deflecting it beyond his keeper's reach.

For all that, Miles should probably still have earned his team a shot at redemption when he had his shirt pulled back in the box by Ash Taylor in the dying minutes of the game, but referee Andrew Dallas waived away the appeal.  

It must have been a tough loss for McCulloch to take in his first game in charge following Lee Clark's departure the previous week, although he must have been encouraged by the performance of his team overall.  Remarkably, had Killie held on for the win they would have risen into the top six of the table; as it is, they remain 4 points away from the relegation play-off place.  Where Kilmarnock ultimately ends up may go a long way to deciding whether McCulloch remains first team manager beyond the end of this season. MI

Murty isn't a long term solution
After only one win in Mark Warburton’s final five games, interim coach Graeme Murty made the not unreasonable decision to shake things up by setting the team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and playing a more direct style at Dens Park. Paul Hartley, presumably having watched a lifeless performance against Morton last week, instructed his players to go at the visitors from the start, looking to take advantage of fragile confidence and an even more fragile right wing of James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn.

Dundee were well worth their win; Rangers looked lost - not surprising perhaps given Murty's lack of experience.   He has been installed "for the foreseeable future", a situation reminiscent of Kenny McDowall's two years ago when he succeeded Ally McCoist because he was pretty much the only man left.  McDowall was quickly found out, but he lasted 10 matches which just compounded the mess he inherited and derailed any hope of success that season.

As regards this campaign, Rangers are in danger of allowing Aberdeen to drift out of sight in the race for second place. Perhaps that would be no bad thing; the difference between finishing second and third is not significant enough to justify rushing into any managerial appointments (especially when the current boss finds the job so easy that he can do it standing on his head!). But under Murty, you wouldn't rule out a big enough slump that they ended up even further down the table. IM

Doolan is Thistle's best hope up front
Whisper it, but Partick Thistle look to be the likeliest of the bottom seven to sneak into sixth place (just as well, given yours truly predicted it back in July).  After a mediocre start to the season, they've improved over time, ironing out their defensive problems with the addition of Adam Barton and cutting down on the mistakes.  The midfield is pretty decent too with Abdul Osman, Chris Erskine and a resurgent Sean Welsh.

As has been the case for the last three and a half years, Thistle's one big issue is up front.  This season Ade Azeez was brought in to solve that problem; he currently has just a single league goal despite starting 15 games.  So back to Kris Doolan they turn; it was the wily forward's double from the bench that beat Accies, moving him onto seven goals for the season and ninety-seven as a Thistle player.

The trouble with Doolan is that, clever as he is, he isn't quick enough or strong enough to get much joy as a lone forward.  Azeez is big, powerful and fast, but unfortunately is a haddy in front of goal.  Alan Archibald would be better sticking with Doolan for the run-in, but his repeated failure to snap up a goalscorer is the one thing holding Partick back. LS

Easy street for Celtic
3pm kick-offs at home on a Saturday have been a rare treat over the past few years for Celtic fans, this one saw a 2-0 win over Motherwell  that may end up the most routine win of their season.  Mark McGhee's side were not expected to trouble the Champions-elect after their humbling in Aberdeen during the week and they never really offered anything to set your heart racing, their agenda clearly being to keep the score down. 

A first-half penalty from Moussa Dembele broke the deadlock and you would have been excused at that point for thinking that he was on his way to a third consecutive hat-trick but it wasn't to be but that wasn't due to lack of effort from the Frenchman.  But by half-time James Forrest, who chipped in with another, for me, man-of-the-match performance, scored the second goal with ease as he cut inside to find the far corner.

The second-half came and went without very much incident at all.  You'd think Brendan Rodgers' men were saving themselves for challenges to come...were there actually any.  For Celtic are 27 points clear and 31 games unbeaten domestically. The only blip remains that draw in Inverness; you would be surprised to see another one before the end of the season. PF

Can Caley Thistle kick on?
Inverness really need some sort of big result to kickstart their season; a win at Tynecastle would have fitted the bill, and time will tell whether this battling draw will have the desired effect.

It was at least Caley Thistle's best result and performance in some time.  Richie Foran called it "the old Inverness", and he was spot on - there was an energy and determination, especially in midfield (is it a coincidence that Iain Vigurs was absent?) that has been rare in recent months.

So can the Highlanders kick on?  The trouble is that the next couple of games don't get a lot easier - a wounded Rangers on Friday, then Celtic at home.  Any momentum could dissipate depressingly quickly. LS

Paul Fisher (PF) is our Celtic correspondent, and spent a number of years helping with Celtic Live.  He is actually a professional journalist.

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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