Monday, April 3, 2017

Talking Points from the Premiership

Can Cathro manage as well as coach?
Ian Cathro at least knows his tactics. Hearts gave Celtic a real scare in the first 20 minutes at Tynecastle. Playing two strikers, plus Jamie Walker in a free role, was risky but Cathro presumably reasoned that he had more chance of getting a result that way than sitting in and trying to survive an onslaught.

Then Scott Sinclair didn't so much score a goal as knock out a bottom rung from the Hearts house of cards. At the first glimpse of adversity they collapsed. The team lost their shape and their heads almost to a man (Don Cowie perhaps was an exception). Esma Goncalves was a microcosm of it all; outstanding in the first quarter of an hour, he let frustration overcome him. He spent more time moaning at teammates than hunting for the ball, and when he got it he tried to do everything himself.

Celtic can do that to a team, but a lot of inferior opponents have done that to Hearts too. Therein lies the concern. Cathro might be a great coach and planner, but can he actually manage players?

If not, he needs to learn soon. 4 wins in 18 league games is actually relegation form. And patience in Gorgie is starting to wear thin.

The big fight isn't just an issue for St. Johnstone
Let's face it, we all rather enjoyed the fracas at Hamilton. Given the impressive discipline and team spirit normally evident at St. Johnstone, it was quite flabbergasting to hear that two players had been sent off for fighting each other - and even more so that it was Ricky Foster and Danny Swanson, two of the more experienced ones.  When Darian McKinnon is acting as peacemaker then you know you're being a twat.

The incident will have significant ramifications.  Not least in Perth, where it'll be interesting to see how the club deal with it; Swanson is out of contract this summer anyway, but Foster recently signed a new deal and dismissal of both players seems a bit drastic.  The Saints' top six finish was guaranteed this weekend anyway.

It will also have a big influence elsewhere.  Accies nearly screwed up against nine men, but Alex D'Acol's winner could prove priceless for them.  They've moved off bottom and are within touching distance of Motherwell and Ross County.  Meanwhile, both players will be suspended for at least two games, the second of which is at Inverness.  Whilst Tommy Wright will surely be able to compensate for the absence of the duo, they will certainly be weakened as a result.  Foster and Swanson's bad behaviour could yet decide who goes down. LS

Considine's deserved moment of glory
There may well have been a few north east folk who opened up their Saturday morning Press & Journal, read about an Andrew Considine hat-trick in a 7-0 win for Aberdeen, and wrote it off as an implausible April Fools Day prank.

It was no joke.  Aberdeen dominated proceedings from start to finish, while Dundee were dismal. (Paul McGowan would later be reported as describing their performance as "s***e"...)  After the match, 'Consie' - who celebrated his 30th birthday on Saturday - was gifted the early present of the match ball from referee Alan Muir following the final whistle.  This was a wonderful moment for a man with bittersweet memories of Dens Park; having broken his leg at the same venue five years ago, on this occasion he turned in the kind of stats - three goals, a clean sheet and a man of the match performance - that would make a fantasy football manager drool.  

While such an outcome will occur once in a (dark) blue moon, the performance itself was one that Aberdeen fans have become accustomed to from one of their team's most consistent performers.  Aberdeen born and Banchory bred, Considine has known no other club than AFC, from the youth team through 14 seasons (and counting...) as a professional footballer.  

'Professional' is an adjective that perfectly applies to Considine as well; his physical fitness , combined with a willingness to play between left back and central defence as required, has seen him maintain his place as a regular in the first team.  (He has started all but 2 games in the Premiership this season alone.)  This is the kind of day that is just reward for one whose contribution more often than not goes unheralded.

Considine is now on 6 league goals for the season, the same number as the joint top goal scorers at third placed Rangers.  The weekend closed with Aberdeen holding a 10 point advantage - plus a vastly superior goal difference - with 8 games to go in the race to finish second.  The teams have still to meet twice more before the season's end, however it seems clear at present which side is the second best team in the country. MI

County's defensive errors have put them in peril
I think it's only fair that I point out again that I predicted Partick Thistle to finish sixth this season.  Even a stopped clock is right occasionally.

Everyone else is focussing - correctly - on Kris Doolan's outstanding achievement of 100 goals for Thistle.  So let's look at County instead. Jim McIntyre's post-match lament that they had blown their top six hopes was an understatement.  They remain very much in the relegation battle.  Remember how they nearly went down two seasons ago?  They have the same number of points as they did at this point during that awful campaign.  They've managed just five points from their nine league games in 2016.

That'll be mainly because of the ongoing defensive blunders.  If Doolan's first was a terrific shot on the turn which was largely unstoppable, the second was hugely preventable.  The forward is not a whippet, yet he left several County defenders to get on the end of a one-two.  It was a dreadful goal to concede, like so many they have let in this year.

Next up for County?  Dundee at home tomorrow night, then Accies away on Saturday.  If they can't get a decent haul from those two games, when will they next get points on the board? LS

Stephen Robinson uses Post-truth to get a point
Pedro can improvise.  Because of illness and injury, Rangers had to play Jon Toral and Andy Halliday in defence in the second half, and actually looked far better for it.  Even so, a draw at home to struggling Motherwell is hardly a decent result, and a ten point deficit to Aberdeen (plus a massively inferior goal difference) make a second place finish virtually impossible now.

'Well's new manager Stephen Robinson clearly did his team no harm with a nice bit of 'post-truth' to motivate them - claiming after the game that Caixinha had said in his press interviews that "we were going to lie back and we were coming to get beat".  He didn't, of course.  But if Motherwell's players thought that he did (better hope none of them follow STV Sport on Twitter) then it'll have been useful motivation.

One of the highlights of Caixinha's reign at Ibrox has been his pre-game analysis of opponents.  It's refreshing to hear that sort of detail in Scottish football.  However if he gets publicly and deliberately misinterpreted like this it'll surely discourage him from doing it in the future, which would be a shame. LS

And lastly...
Don't think for a second I've forgotten about Caley Thistle v Kilmarnock.  But hopefully I will do that proper justice later in the week.  Stay tuned...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.

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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