Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Talking Points from the Premiership

Caixinha's cushty start
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

A comfortable 4-0 home win is as much as can be expected for a new manager in his first game. Even Graeme Murty managed to put six past this shower, although getting a hat-trick out of Joe Garner might be evidence that he was some kind of managerial savant.

 Pedro Caixinha made one change from the team that started the Old Firm game last weekend but it takes more than a few days of training for a manager to impose his own philosophy and style on to the team. Rangers set out to attack to Accies from the start, but that’s a no-brainer of a tactic when playing such a poor team at home. The international break has come at the perfect time for Caixinha, allowing him some quality training time with the players and it will be interesting to see how they approach the game against Motherwell on April 1st. The short term goal will be to try and overhaul the eight point gap to Aberdeen, a target that will be very difficult but not impossible. Caixinha will have done an excellent job if he gets this group of players into a position where they are able to capitalise if Aberdeen do end up dropping points unexpectedly.

 As for Hamilton, since their very creditable win against Aberdeen they have lost their next three games by an aggregate score of 14-0. They will have got some small comfort from Alex Schalk’s late equaliser in the Highland Derby which means that they are only bottom on goal difference, but Martin Canning will have to somehow pick his players up introduce some defensive solidity if the are to survive what promises to be an incredibly low quality relegation battle. IM

Aberdeen attackers impress again
It may be interesting to note (...well, interesting to me at least...) that when Niall McGinn's quality cross from the left was headed home by Shay Logan, it meant that he joined teammates Adam Rooney and Jonny Hayes on the same aggregated number of goals plus assists (15 in totalin Scottish Premiership play up to that point.  It demonstrates not only how influential each man is to the Aberdeen cause, but also how evenly spread their contributions have been across the front three positions this season.

Of course, Hayes would later move himself clear of his compadres in the second half, but this would not be courtesy of an assist from a teammate but rather an abominable attempt at a back pass by Anastasios Avlontis. Tasos was one of the players brought in by Ian Cathro last January; perhaps Director of Football Craig Levein- a former centre back himself - will be passing his manager a future note to beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

The Premiership fixtures now go on hiatus for the latest international break.  Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - nations that qualified for the last major international tournament and are currently well placed for a run at the next one - have welcomed Messrs McGinn, Rooney and Hayes into their latest national squads.  Scotland, by contrast - a nation that hasn't qualified for a major tournament since the turn of the century and has virtually no chance of ending that barren run in this campaign - have decided they can do without other regular performers in the Aberdeen team such as Kenny McLean, Ryan Jack and Graeme Shinnie.  Plus ├ža change... MI

A manager under pressure
There was a manager under severe pressure at the Highland Derby, but not the one you'd expect.  In the home dugout, Richie Foran watched his side's rotten run extended to a single league win in eighteen games since October after Alex Schalk's late but deserved equalizer.  That's a run which would have got many a boss the boot, but the Irishman remains relatively untouchable.  There hasn't even been an iota of speculation regarding his future - this may be partly because Inverness don't sack managers willy-nilly, and may be because most Scottish football journalists can't really believe that a Caley Thistle squad who won the Cup less than two years ago could actually go down.

Well, they could.  Even though they moved off bottom spot on goal difference, there remains little evidence of a corner being turned.

However, it was his counterpart Jim McIntyre, who is apparently beginning to feel the heat.  Ross County are only a year removed from winning the League Cup, but there's no question they are underachieving this season with an operating budget that is a fair bit higher than that of St. Johnstone or Partick Thistle.  They've won just once since beating Inverness at home on Hogmanay and would be bottom themselves but for their two victories over their nearest rivals earlier in the campaign.  Whilst it might be stretching it to say that Schalk saved his manager's job, he's on a bit of a shoogly peg.  It is a minor miracle that Foran isn't yet. LS

Celtic look knackered
It's maybe not surprising that Celtic are beginning to look jaded.  It's been a long season that started in July and could finish with as many as 59 matches played, and the league is all over bar the shouting; the only thing left to motivate them for the run-in is the symbolism of going unbeaten.

But Dundee have shown the way for the champions-elect's opponents for the rest of the season - basically that you can't necessarily outplay Brendan Rodgers' side but you can probably outrun them now.  And the way that Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele toiled was striking; had Jozo Simunovic not benefitted from a lucky deflection for the opener it's not that easy to see where a goal was coming from.

Perhaps the international break will prove revitalizing.  Or perhaps Rodgers could do with rotating in some fresh legs a bit more, as for the first time this season Celtic actually look beatable domestically. LS

Why can't Partick Thistle see out games?
There are certainly reasons to be positive down Firhill way.  Thistle remain sixth; they're unbeaten in five league matches; only the top three have conceded fewer goals, and they've conceded twice in the same match just once since 9th December.  And yet they have exactly the same number of points as they had at this stage last season.

If only matches were 80 minutes long.  Seven times this season they've dropped points because of goals conceded in the final ten...including in the last two games.  Had they won both of those they'd be just two points behind Hearts.

This one was even harder to take because of a terrible blunder by Tomas Cerny; the normally outstanding Czech keeper let a tame effort from Connor Sammon go straight through him, a blunder that any Sunday League keeper would be horrified by.  It's uncharacteristic of Cerny, but not of Partick - too often there is a lapse of concentration, or a panicky mistake.  It is the difference at the moment between them being nailed on for top six, and being not quite safe from a relegation battle yet. LS

Sneaky Steven McLean
There wasn't anything especially new to report from Fir Park.  St. Johnstone did what they do so well away from home - absorb pressure whilst conceding relatively few chances, and counter-attacking effectively.  Motherwell, as ever, were let down by piss-poor defending.

So instead a wee mention for referee Craig Aitken, whose name is new to me.  Not that his performance was anything out of the ordinary, but he deserves credit for at least being clued up a bit.  Saints striker Steven MacLean, savvy as ever, spent the last five minutes of the match trying desperately to get booked - as it would mean he'd be suspended for a game at Hamilton which he wouldn't play in anyway, what with his knee problems on astro.  Foul after foul after foul...yet Aitken didn't fall for it.  What would you have a ref do in the circumstances? 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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