Sunday, September 30, 2018

Semi-final controversy deserves only a shrug of the shoulders

Does a season go by without Scottish fans getting angry about a cup semi-final kickoff time?

Well, for the upcoming League Cup semi-finals we have two clubs, and their supporters, up in arms. Aberdeen face a Sunday lunchtime kickoff at Hampden against Rangers. Hearts have a 1945 start the very same evening to take on Celtic. Neither are happy campers.

The Dons have certainly been here before. Their issue is not really the distance - it's 150 miles from Pittodrie to Hampden according to Google Maps - though that would mean pretty early starts for those travelling by car. The problem is public transport, or the lack of it. The first train from Aberdeen to Glasgow that day gets in at 1214, 14 minutes after kickoff. Though given the capacity of a train runs in the hundreds and the Red Army can be expected to number several thousand at least, a single train that ran on time wouldn't make a massive impact.

Hearts complain that the evening kickoff will also prevent fans from attending - for example plenty of families are likely to be put off by the prospect of a late trip back from Glasgow on a school night. It should however be remembered that up until a few years ago the League Cup semi-finals were played in midweek, mind...

There are also lots of concerns being raised about the prospect of both games being played on the same day. But crucially the police seem cool with it. Since this is the same police who won't let fans drink on trains and have previously predicted a catastrophe before a Hogmanay Old Firm game, their agreement with the move is rather reassuring. After all, if the presence of four sets of fans in the same vicinity on the same day is a recipe for a riot, should we not be spending more time bemoaning the fact that we can't trust said fans to behave?

The fixtures have been scheduled in this way for two reasons. Firstly, both Rangers and Celtic are playing on the Thursday night in the Europa League. Whatever some say, it wouldn't be fair to have another game within 48 hours. Frankly, if Aberdeen had made the Europa League Group Stages and been forced to play on the Saturday they would be raging about it.

Secondly, it'll be because BT Sport, and their cash, say so. And that's the nature of it. If the clubs don't want awkward kickoff times then they can watch the TV money disappear. BT aren't going to put one of these matches on against an English Premier League game at the same time because even a decent number of Scottish fans would rather tune in to (checks schedule) Manchester United v Everton.

And both Aberdeen and Hearts know this. They are also members of the SPFL, the organization that has made this decision. They therefore have the power to demand changes, and they also have the power to try and vote off members of the board - *cough* Neil Doncaster *cough* who don't accede to their wishes. Last year both Aberdeen and Hearts had representatives on the SPFL board. Did they not have any opportunities to deal with this issue in all that time?

The cynical part of me - which is pretty much all of me - suspects a lot of the whinging from Aberdeen and Hearts is just playing to the gallery. There is a good chance both clubs sell their allocations for the ties, or at least sell as many tickets as they would have done for a 3pm Saturday kickoff. Certainly the TV cash will make up any shortfall. The sympathy for their supporters may be genuine, but publicly using words like "appalling" certainly keeps them sweet and gains a few column inches.

That's not to say I agree with this plan. There are bound to be a few twits at the first game who wreck some seats in a terrible rage because "the referee is clearly an orange/fenian (delete as applicable) b*****d" which will be a headache for the second match. I'm curious as to how the long-derided Hampden surface will hold up with two matches on the same day. And there is a far better option available, which was to play the second game the following weekend instead.

And don't forget the traditional PR cockup from the SPFL. All of this controversy was totally predictable, after all. Any vaguely competent organization would have acknowledged these issues when the announcement was made, explain the decision-making and take control of the narrative. And the slogan 'Semi Final Sunday' rolls off the tongue so easily. But some things never change.

However, as long as supporters keep turning up for games and subscribing to the TV channels then this is going to keep happening and nothing will change. And deep down we all know that, really. But that's okay because this at least allows football fans to do what they enjoy doing best - feeling aggrieved!

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Takeaways from the Championship - 22/9/18

Another week, another strange Ross County lineup
Are two heads really better than one? That's a reasonable question to ask of Ross County's co-managers after yet more chopping and changing to the starting lineup did more harm than good. This time it was the benching of Iain Vigurs, so often able to control Championship games on his own, and Josh Mullin, the team's only quick wide player. It was no surprise that County were too narrow yet unable to dominate in the centre of the pitch; for the first three quarters of the match Inverness were more likely to score.

With the duo introduced as substitutes the home side finished far more strongly and could have snatched a winner, but it was ultimately too little too late. Whichever one of Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson is currently choosing the tactics needs to admit that it's the other one's turn. If it's both of them together, then they need to get a grip because they are holding back their players with strange decisions like these.

(Edit 26/9/18 - at the risk of sounding cryptic, it has subsequently become clear that there were good reasons for County's lineup decision on Saturday which reflect rather better on Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson. So feel free to ignore what I wrote above)

Dunfermline need a decent keeper
Lee Robinson's CV probably has 'journeyman' stamped on it. Only at Queen of the South, where he spent three seasons as first choice keeper over two spells, has he ever really settled. And the Doonhamers dumped him a year ago, despite him being goalkeeping coach as well. He only ended up in Dunfermline in January as an emergency signing because of Sean Murdoch's injury. As I said, emergency. And yet he is still here, because Murdoch is still out.

The Pars have another goalkeeper in Cammy Gill, but the 20 year old has been stuck on the bench since Robinson's arrival despite being highly rated. Perhaps Gill's time has come. Robinson hasn't inspired much confidence; his nadir came with a dreadful blunder that gifted Morton an equalizer and denied Dunfermline their first league win since opening day.

In truth, Allan Johnston really should have worked harder at reinforcing the position in the summer. Murdoch is hardly an outstanding shot-stopper himself, but Robinson could be the weakest first choice goalie in the Championship. And a club with such aspirations need someone more talented to be their first line of defence.

Alloa's resilience won't last forever
"I didn't think there was much between the sides. They're a good side but I think we held our own for a part-time team. The difference between the sides was Lawrence Shankland." Jim Goodwin's post-match comments were fair enough, and were meant to be a positive take on another battling effort from Alloa. But it was another battle lost. They remain above Falkirk in the table, but are still winless since their return to the second tier.

The yardstick for the Wasps is of course last season's dreadful Brechin City team. Alloa are vastly superior to them in every respect and will certainly finish with a far better record. But even the hardiest team lose confidence eventually if they are being beaten most weeks by opponents with better players and better resources. Goodwin's side have put so much into the opening two months of the season - how much competitive fire have they left for the remaining 30 games, when their situation already looks pretty hopeless?

Falkirk's hard work may count for little
Ray McKinnon isn't messing about; according to midfielder Paul Paton, Falkirk players are being put through three training sessions a day as the new manager tries to drill them into something vaguely resembling a Championship team (if it's also because they need to build up fitness, that reflects pretty badly on his predecessor). The Bairns were certainly better organized but that was far from sufficient against a pretty ordinary Dundee United side...though it would have helped if Leo Fasan hadn't cocked up for the first goal, or if Deimantas Petravicius hadn't spurned a golden chance for a leveller.

The concern remains that organization is not the issue, or at least not the only issue. The club chairman issued a bizarre call to arms this week that reminded fans that there were "more than ninety points still available" as if a promotion challenge was still a possibility. The truth is that Paul Hartley has left McKinnon with a bunch of haddies to pick from. Big changes can't be made until January and even Guardiola himself couldn't make some of these duffers look like professional footballers. And so Falkirk's target has to be eighth, and anything higher is a pipedream.

Thistle can't only depend on home comforts
Having lost half of their league games so far, it says something about the tightness of this league that Partick Thistle are only four points off top spot. There was plenty of evidence in favour of them being one of the better teams in this league - not least the 18 pass move finished off by Kris Doolan for their first goal. The return of Stuart Bannigan has made an enormous difference and if he can stay fit then Thistle are a much different proposition.

However, a push up the table mainly depends on finding some away form. Thistle have maximum points at Firhill and zero elsewhere. Next up is a travel to Dunfermline, before hosting Ross County and Dundee United on their own patch in a game brought forward to an international weekend from a midweek at the end of October. Where Alan Archibald's side are after those three games will tell us a lot more about their prospects.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Takeaways from the Championship - 15/9/18

Archibald running out of time to kickstart Thistle's season
You know that old adage about players coming back to haunt their former clubs? In Inverness it only worked in one direction. Sean Welsh is remembered rather more fondly at Partick Thistle than Mark Ridgers, who shipped eight goals in one and a half games at Firhill. Welsh netted a penalty against his former club while Ridgers saved one at the other end.

Ridgers' stop came from ICT old boy Miles Storey who had one of those days where nothing would go right for him. At least he put in a shift before being subbed, unlike Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo whose return to the Highlands suggested that he has improved little in the two years since he left.

Mutombo and Storey were not helped by the constant chopping and changing by Alan Archibald as he tried to get his side back into the match. Storey started at centre-forward with Chris Erskine behind him, but after Thistle went behind both were pushed wide with Mutombo stuck up front - a decision which made all three less effective. Only when Erskine returned to the centre and Stuart Bannigan was brought on for the hapless Brice Ntambwe did they find a system which seemed to work. By then they were 3-0 down and it was far too late.

Clearly Archibald still has to find his best eleven. The loss of Tam O'Ware to injury doesn't help at the back - Niall Keown had a torrid time against the clever Jordan White - and the attack remains toothless whilst Souleymane Coulibaly remains in registration limbo. A solution is needed soon because Thistle have already lost too much ground in the promotion race as it is.

Ross County still aren't clicking
Ross County haven't found their strongest XI yet either. There was yet more tinkering from their management duo, who switched to a back three for the trip to Dumfries despite Marcus Fraser's injury with Ross Draper dropping into defence. That certainly didn't do any harm to the defence - Draper was arguably their best player as he contributed to a clean sheet - but County's problems were further up the pitch as they failed to muster a shot on target.

The decision to favour Declan McManus over Billy Mckay was a surprise given Mckay and Brian Graham had combined well in the last two matches, both victories, and McManus certainly didn't seem to click with his targetman partner in this one. It didn't help that the midfield didn't click either with Iain Vigurs and Don Cowie struggling to provide the creativity expected of them.

Still, they kept out Stephen Dobbie which is no mean feat. And it has set up a very tasty Highland derby next time out.

Fans losing patience with impotent Dunfermline
On the bright side, this was Dunfermline's first point at East End Park this season. That wasn't enough to satisfy the home support though, who got stuck in at the final whistle. Whilst Alloa are indeed a better team than they get credit for it was galling for the Pars that this was an even encounter where they struggled to create much even with a very attacking lineup.

Allan Johnston's side simply haven't recovered from losing Nicky Clark and Declan McManus in the summer, but they really should have. It's inexcusable that his three summer signings up front, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Myles Hippolyte and Robbie Muirhead are yet to muster a league goal between them. Four games without a win since opening day, that win at Tannadice in August now feels like an anomaly.

Rumours of Falkirk's recovery are greatly exaggerated
So can Falkirk take encouragement from the fact that they were two up at half-time at Ayr (and deservedly so)? Or should they despair over a catastrophic second half collapse that saw them concede three in seventeen minutes, including the most farcial of winners?

Ray McKinnon certainly didn't hold back, complaining his players "simply didn't follow instructions" in the second half. His claim that "we overplayed the ball in midfield" appeared to be a thinly veiled dig at Andrew Irving, who gave the ball away to Lawrence Shankland for Ayr's first goal. But Leo Fasan's chocolate wrists should have kept out Shankland's shot from distance. This was the sort of goal struggling teams concede; Fasan's own goal which completed the comeback was a hundred times more so, as Lewis Kidd's goalline clearance hit his prostrate keeper on the back and flew in.

The bottom line is that these are the results and performances that are associated with teams that get relegated. And the Bairns, now pointless after five matches, are already beginning to fret about the prospect.

Will Fyvie's return do United more harm than good?
Fraser Fyvie's sub appearance against Morton was his first league game for Dundee United this year, and how they could have done with his quality in midfield at the end of last season and the beginning of this. His recovery from a cruciate ligament injury coincides with a hernia problem for Sam Stanton, but the duo should soon form the best central midfield pair in the division. The hope for United is that they can give the team a platform from which they can finally realise their potential.

But the fear remains that United are unsalvageable under Csaba Laszlo. While Fyvie saved them a point against Morton with his late equalizer it was barely deserved as the home side toiled and struggled to create much of note, not helped by the lack of width caused by Laszlo's insistence on keeping his full-backs as narrow as possible (to the chagrin of Arabs, the manager later claimed afterwards that it had worked effectively). A fit-again Fyvie will surely improve things, but the worry is that it will simply delay Laszlo's increasingly inevitable-looking exit.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Stronger or weaker?

With league action returning this weekend after the international break, and the transfer window shut - except for free agents - till January, now seems like a good time to look back at each Premiership club's summer activity and decide who has strengthened and who looks worse off...

Lewis Ferguson was supposed to be one for the future, but he's already established himself as a first choice in midfield and that goal against Burnley will be remembered for years to come. Given he only turned 19 in August, he should still have plenty of room for improvement.

Dominic Ball didn't exactly set the heather alight last season, so bringing him back for a second year on loan looked like an odd move. His verstatility comes in handy - he has played in central midfield and at right-back so far this season rather than in his preferred centre-back role - but too often he looks like the weak link, a jack of all trades but competent at none.

Unquestionably Kenny McLean, who was outstanding in the second half of last season. The exit of McLean and Ryan Christie has led to increased emphasis on the wide players for creativity but the former leaves a gap that was always going to be hard to fill.

It's easy to argue that the defence is stronger. If James Wilson lives up to his pedigree the forward line will be too. But the midfield has taken a step backwards, so I'm going to say they're slightly weaker overall.

There aren't exactly many to choose from. Whilst Filip Benkovic could prove to be an upgrade in defence, we haven't seen him play yet. So we'll have to pick Odsonne Edouard, whose signing on a permanent deal looks a shrewd move after that deadline day fiasco/

Youssouf Mulumbu clearly made an impression on Brendan Rodgers when he put in one of the great individual performances in Killie's win over Celtic last season. But it's difficult to see where the veteran midfielder fits into the lineup.

Obviously Moussa Dembele, though getting £20m for a £500k signing goes down as phenomenal business. The issue here is as much psychological as anything else - what sort of message does it send to the squad and the fans about the club's ambition going forward if they sell their best player?

Weaker, though Dembele's departure should be covered by Edouard and Leigh Griffiths. If Benkovic solves their defensive problems Celtic will be just as far ahead of the pack as they were last season.

Benjamin Kallman was considered a big prospect in his native Finland so getting the young striker on a loan deal was a good effort. He's already got off the mark too.

Has Kenny Miller still got it? I strongly doubt the 38 year old striker will prove the answer to any of the number of problems that have beset the Dark Blues this season.

Steven Caulker not so much for his quality but for the fact that, according to the club, they had turned down a seven figure offer for the player earlier this year. To then lose him for zilch is a complete cock-up.

That's very hard to judge. The club moved on a whopping 21 players, yet few tears have been shed over any of them. Meanwhile the 11 newcomers haven't really been around long enough to give us an idea of their abilities. A lot will depend on whether Kallman keeps scoring and whether deadline day signings Andy Boyle and Ryan Inniss finally solve their defensive woes.

It may turn out to be Scott Martin, who was quite highly thought of by many people at Hibs but who has been allowed to leave and spread his wings. There's also defender Matthew Kilgallon who comes with an impressive pedigree.

The clear winner here is Adam Phillips, who returned to parent club Norwich before the end of the transfer window after playing only twice. Though former Falkirk squad player Tom Taiwo's signing seems to be tailor-made for blogposts like these.

David Templeton was a class above all Accies' other forwards last season, offering both goals and creativity. Where those will come from now is anyone's guess.

The loss of Templeton, Lewis Ferguson and Ali Crawford strongly suggests they will be weaker. Martin Canning made a whopping 17 signings in the summer window (including the now-departed Phillips) - is it too much to hope that some of these newbies will turn out to be gems?

Plenty to choose from here, which is clearly a good sign. Take your pick between Peter Haring, the central defender from the Austrian second tier who has turned out to be a midfield colossus, and striker Uche Ikpeazu who has been bench-pressing defenders every week.

Ryan Edwards looked like an odd signing at the time, and even more so when Craig Levein continued to sign midfield players. Unsurprisingly he's now been punted out on loan to St. Mirren.

Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is about the only player who Levein couldn't find an upgrade on, which is not surprising considering how impressive he was last season.

Unquestionably stronger in every area except in goal. No-one has done better in this window than Hearts have.

Getting Flo Kamberi on a permanent deal for about a hundred grand is outstanding work. So is teaming him up with Jamie Maclaren again.

There aren't really any standout candidates here. The jury is of course out on Mark Milligan, a 33 year old Australian defensive midfielder who hasn't played yet - but it is a position of need.

Clearly John McGinn, though the blow to Hibs fans was softened by the fact that instead of being unsettled by Celtic he was immense in the Europa League qualifiers and then signed for Aston Villa instead.

Lennon himself said that McGinn was pretty much irreplaceable, but retaining their best strikers and improving in wide areas could compensate for that. So I'm going for 'about the same'.

Greg Stewart wasn't all that great at Aberdeen last year but his amazing debut at Pittodrie suggests Steve Clarke will get the best out of him.

Ross Millen wasn't even the best player at Queen's Park in League One last year. His move to Killie clearly comes on the cheap and because his dad is on the staff, but still...

Youssouf Mulumbu of course. The Congolese midfielder was far too good for a club like Killie and instead of trying to replace him Clarke has sensibly changed his tactics to compensate for his departure.

Weaker, because you just can't replace a guy like Mulumbu. But not as much as I thought they might be.

He's out injured at the moment, but I suspect that when he's fit Ryan Hardie will be this team's best hope of getting goals. Getting him back on loan from Rangers again was a big plus.

Can I say Kenny Miller? No? In that case lets choose one of his own loan signings. James Brown returned to parent club Millwall after only one appearance where he got less-than-glowing reviews.

Can I say David Hopkin? No? In that case, whilst Liam Kelly has done alright in goal, Neil Alexander proved last season that he was still a very decent goalkeeper as well as offering invaluable experience. His retirement was a shame.

They're a newly promoted side who have brought in sixteen players. They had better be stronger.

Danny Johnson has been a massive hit so far up front since arriving from Gateshead.

Stephen Robinson had apparently been after Spanish schemer Alex Rodriguez Gorrin since January. Now he's got him, he's barely played him.

The exit of Cedric Kipre on the eve of the first league game was made all the more worse by the near-simultaneous injury to Charles Dunne that leaves Motherwell short defensively. Still, they got a million quid for Kipre which is pretty good given they signed him for nothing a year ago.

Probably weaker because Kipre has gone, though Johnson and Connor Sammon have strengthened the attack.

Either Connor Goldson or Nikola Katic - nether central defender came cheap but they have massively strengthened the club's weakest area.

Umar Sadiq's record before coming to Ibrox wasn't that great, and the striker has barely got a sniff of action so far. The arrival of Kyle Lafferty risks pushing him even further away from the starting lineup.

Steven Gerrard has actually done really well in pushing unwanted players towards the exits and keeping those who were attracting attention from elsewhere. But David Bates was arguably their best central defender last season and losing him for nothing was reckless.

Definitely stronger. Not strong enough to challenge for the title, mind. And there may be a lack of depth that is exposed by the heavy schedule of the coming months.

The romantics among us hoped that Tommy Wright might be the manager who could salvage the talent of Tony Watt. So far, so good; Watt was Player Of The Month for August.

Hearts fans have not been complementary about Ross Callachan, who offered little positive other than the occasional well-timed arrival in the box during his time at Tynecastle. He's done little to deserve another chance at this level.

To be fair, the time had probably come to move on from Steven MacLean anyway. But the veteran striker has been such a fixture for years that it still feels odd to watch Saints play without him.

Stronger. Wright has been given the chance to revitalize the squad, which is just as well as fresh blood was needed. Not only are St. Johnstone better, they are also better to watch.

Ooft. There are 13 names to choose from and yet none of them feel right. In theory, Lee Hodson and Ryan Edwards should prove decent enough in time. In theory.

Only one? Lets go for Jim Kellerman, signed from Aldershot Town on a two year deal but already sent back to England on loan.

Lewis Morgan obviously, but his departure was expected. Why Alan Stubbs withdrew a contract offer for Gavin Reilly, the club's best striker, is an absolute mystery.

Quite remarkably for a promoted club, you could easily argue that they are weaker. Oran Kearney has a lot of work to do to salvage this mess.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly

Monday, September 3, 2018

Takeaways from the Championship - 1/9/18

Another week, another episode of the Stephen Dobbie show
If you looked up 'futility' in a dictionary, you might find the clip of a drunk Ayr fan - at least, we hope he was drunk - invading the pitch as Stephen Dobbie missed a penalty (QOS were 4-0 up at the time, and it wasn't even half-time yet). Or you might find Daniel Harvie, shown a second yellow for dissent in the second half. Harvie has given away a penalty and been sent off in each of his last two league appearances for Ayr.

Or you might simply find the word's definition is now 'trying to defend against Stephen Dobbie'. Despite having that spot kick saved, the striker scored a stunning four times in the Doonhamers' 5-0 win. That's following on from his hat-trick at Falkirk last week and moves him onto eighteen goals this season. Add in a treble on the last day of last season and he's on twenty-one from his last eleven matches. It led Dobbie to joke afterwards that he'd only leave Palmerston if Rangers moved for him.

Lest we forget, Dobbie is 36 in December. Remarkably whilst his experience no doubt contributes to his wonderful decision-making and off-the-ball movement, he still clearly has a burst of pace over a few yards which is enough to gain space on defenders. He also seems to be enjoying his football as much as ever, going by his repertoire of goal celebrations.

Dobbie is not the only talent in the Queen of the South squad, though he is unquestionably the biggest. Lyndon Dykes is proving the perfect foil for him up front, while fellow veteran Gary Harkins continues to wind the clock back with some glorious performances and a superb goal of his own at the weekend. The price of having all three at a club with a limited budget is threadbare depth, so if any of those three get crocked the team will be an entirely different proposition. If that doesn't happen, they could go as far as Dobbie can fire them.

Dunfermline's defensive woes continue
Allan Johnston worked hard to improve Dunfermline's attacking options ahead of the transfer deadline. Schemer Malaury Martin should do well at this level after a torrid spell at Hearts, while Robbie Muirhead is less than two years removed from being a first choice at Tynecastle and could tear apart this league. Another forward, Aidan Keena, was also signed.

But the Pars' problems are at the other end of the park. They've now shipped twelve goals in four league games, and after a close first half they went to pieces when they fell behind to Inverness. As soon as the home side started chasing the game they were picked apart, with Liam Polworth and Aaron Doran wreaking havoc for the visitors.

The club are still recovering from losing lynchpin Callum Morris in the summer, but it's unclear whether the problem is lack of quality, or the three at the back system, or both. Mark Durnan and Danny Devine arrived at the club on the back of terrible years at Dundee United and Partick respectively and both have continued their lousy form. Worryingly the previously solid Lee Ashcroft has been dragged down with them.

And playing all three means no space for a creative player like Kallum Higginbotham. Even when they went to a back four at 1-0 down Johnston didn't help things by sacrificing right-back Ryan Williamson for Higginbotham and moving Ashcroft to an unfamiliar role on that flank where he struggled badly. A solution needs to be found quickly before any more ground is lost.

Another game, another disappointment for Dundee United
Coming off back-to-back league wins, United's draw at Alloa - who continue to show they can punch well above their part-time weight - could on the face of it be regarded as a blip rather than a disaster, especially when it took a wonder-goal from Iain Flannigan to deny them the three points. But United had toiled for long periods before goal machine Paul Watson's opener and the fact that they didn't deserve the win stuck in the craw of the travelling Arabs.

There were plenty of signs for concern aside from the performance, with tales of midfielder Adam Barton getting into a slagging match with supporters criticizing his efforts and a disagreement between the two benches at the end when Alloa boss Jim Goodwin went to shake hands just before the final whistle rather than after. Whilst United still have enough quality to win without playing well, there are too many signs still that this will be a re-run of the last two seasons.

Thistle look reinforced and ready to challenge
The post-game focus at Firhill was understandably on the goal that somehow wasn't given, but thankfully Thistle won anyway so the assistant referee's moment of insanity didn't matter so much. More importantly, after a tough start to Championship life there are clear roots of recovery. Alan Archibald has managed to reinforce a squad that was dreadfully depleted a few weeks ago. Deadline day signings Tam Scobbie and Jai Quitongo weren't ready for this game, but Brice Ntambwe did enough on his debut to suggest he can fill the midfield gap vacated by Abdul Osman. With Souleymane Coulibaly hopefully available soon, this now looks like a very decent team.

But most crucially of all, Stuart Bannigan made his first appearance for nearly a year with a 15 minute cameo off the bench. If he has finally overcome his injury problems he could light up this division just like he did five years ago...which is when Thistle last won it.

County's strength in depth puts them top
Ross County took 68 minutes to break the deadlock but don't let that fool you. They absolutely dominated against a Falkirk side clearly treading water until Ray McKinnon takes over this week and the victory, which takes them top, was pretty much inevitable.

The fact that the two goalscorers, Jamie Lindsay and Declan McManus, were substitutes shows what incredible options County's management team have on the bench. Ross Stewart also came on, while Davis Keillor-Dunn was unused. Harry Paton and Ryan Dow weren't even part of the matchday squad. With so many options available in the event of injury or loss of form, County's depth going forward is awesome and will prove crucial over a full season.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.