Sunday, April 9, 2017

Talking Points from the Premiership

Can Aberdeen bounce back from this defeat?
Aberdeen will surely still finish second in the league - they still have a nine point advantage with six games to go - as long as they don't finish the season the way they finished the match with Rangers.  However, this result could have a big psychological effect for a long time to come; the spectacular collapse by the home side will not be forgotten quickly by anybody.

It will certainly give Rangers and Pedro Caixinha an enormous boost, though they fairly rode their luck in the second half as the host turned the screw.  After a disappointing couple of results which have already got the naysayers out in force, this win buys Caixinha some breathing space as he looks to build a squad for next season - surely more important than where Rangers finish in the table this year.

As for Aberdeen, they need to prove in the remaining weeks that this was not a blip - preferably by performing well at home to Celtic and at Ibrox after the split.  Another end-of-season stumble will just lend evidence to any suggestion that the Dons are not actually the second best team in the country, which could weigh on them into next season, when Rangers will be stronger. LS

ICT - Imploding, Capitulating, Terrible
Saturday was the day that the crowd at Caledonian Stadium - and possibly the team as well, given the loss of Larnell Cole to a petulant red card, their "to hell with this" attitude in the last ten minutes of the match, and captain Gary Warren's sending off after the match - gave up on Richie Foran.

Ironically, Inverness played well in the first half, and were still in with a shout of a result in the latter stages against a St. Johnstone side who were surprisingly flat.  But the complete loss of discipline and professionalism in the final minutes was just humiliating to watch.  It says something about some of the more senior players that Jamie McCart, the young defender on loan from Celtic, was one of the few who could hold his head high regarding his performance and attitude.

Foran's post-match interview was quite remarkable - an almost passive-aggressive lament where he practically gave the club reasons to sack him: "The main person who is not good enough is me.  I am obviously not doing my job is not good enough.  I pick the team, I pick the shape."

The Irishman is beyond salvaging.  It takes a special kind of incompetence to go on a run this bad (1 win in 21 league games!!!) as most crap teams still fluke a few wins here and there.  Talk amongst the supporters is no longer whether he should be replaced, but how the club can find the money to pay off the remaining three years of the insanely long contract the rookie manager was given last summer.

But Caley Thistle need to move on from him now - not to avoid relegation, as even Sam Allardyce couldn't keep this bunch up - but to give his successor sufficient time to prepare for life in the Championship. LS

The tale of two Reading defenders
Congratulations to Partick Thistle on guaranteeing a top six finish, and with it their highest league finish since 1981.  And on their form since new year it is well deserved.  A year ago it was Motherwell who hit form in the Spring and hauled themselves out of a potential relegation battle and into the top half; they were the side Thistle beat to get over the line.

The Jags' recent success has been based around an outstanding defensive record; they've conceded only seven goals in their last twelve league games, though this was their first clean sheet in five.  They are outstanding at the back, with Tomas Cerny generally solid in goal, Liam Lindsay developing into a fine centre-back (though talk of a Scotland cap is very premature) and Adam Barton shining in either defence or midfield.

In January both Thistle and Motherwell brought in Reading centre-backs on loan.  Thistle signed Niall Keown - son of England international Martin - while Motherwell got Zak Jules.  Now, who do you think got the better deal?  Thistle have conceded six in Keown's nine starts; the accident-prone Jules has become a bit of a joke for his terrible blunders for the Steelmen.

How much luck is involved with such loan moves?  Did Thistle know Keown was so vastly superior, or did they just get a bit lucky?  It might have been the difference between top six and bottom six for them, while if Motherwell could currently call on a defender of Keown's quality they might not be in quite so much danger. LS

Accies showing signs of life
What's galling for Hamilton (and Ross County too, actually) is that Accies could and maybe should have won this despite playing the whole second half with ten men.  The ridiculous red card handed to Giannis Skondras changed the game; at that point Accies were well on top and deserving of their lead; in addition to scoring, Massimo Donati bossed the game from his holding role in front of the back four.

Even with the man advantage County toiled, particularly because of a lack of width; Ryan Dow kept cutting in from the left and with Kenny Van Der Weg offering little in attack on that side Hamilton weren't stretched.

In fact it was Hamilton who nearly nicked it when Alex Gogic blazed over late on.  A draw is okay for both but, for different reasons, both managers will look back on this as a game they should have won. LS 

Cowie inspires Hearts, and not for the first time
Believe it or not, Don Cowie is 34 years old.  You wouldn't know it from watching the amount of running he puts in for Hearts, though his discipline and determination during losing causes  - of which there have been plenty lately - shows why managers in England and at international level have appreciated him so much in the past.  His leadership is impressive, which makes it all the more puzzling that Perry Kitchen has the captain's armband.  As one Hearts-supporting journalist pointed out after the win over Dundee, Cowie is this team's true skipper.

The veteran's exploits, often the dirty work that rarely gets rewarded by the press or by the highlights editors, tend to often be forgotten unless he is actually involved in a goal.  On this occasion he got his recognition for setting up Ismael Goncalves' goal after a trademark burst forward from midfield.  But again he accomplished so much more both offensively and defensively.

Inevitably, Cowie will run out of legs eventually.  But he's under contract for another year and still looks in good enough shape to get through that without slowing down.  It's just as well for Ian Cathro who frankly could do with a team of Don Cowies right now. LS

Jordan Jones could be a very decent player
Same old Celtic, always winning comfortably without breaking much sweat.  So let's flag up their opponents, who briefly scared the Champions-elect with a Jordan Jones goal that briefly brought them level.

It wasn't a strike of the highest quality, bobbling in via a deflection, but it was reward for Jones' recent form.  Like most wingers the Englishman blows hot and cold, but he impressed last weekend at Inverness and again against Rangers on Wednesday.

Crucially Jones has the ability to get half a yard on an opponent from a standing start; he also has pace in abundance.  Still a rough diamond, he reminds one of Jonny Hayes when he first pitched up in Scotland.  There's a decent player there, if he's willing to work hard and if Lee McCulloch can coach him up. LS

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