Friday, December 21, 2018

Looking ahead to January

The January transfer window always seems a bit mental. With it being the last decent chance to bring in new players, we often see managers panic and bring in an entire team of players, the footballing equivalent of throwing a ton of stuff at a wall and hoping some of it will stick. There are also inevitably some unexpected arrivals, and some unexpected departures too. So frankly, predicting what will happen is a mug's game.

But we're going to do it anyway, because, you know. Let's have a look at who each Premiership side might punt, and which areas they need to strengthen in...

Outs? Have the Dons given up on Chris Forrester already? The midfielder has made just a single start for the club after joining for £150,000 in the summer, though he did make his first appearance for more than two months against Dundee in midweek. Derek McInnes will have been gutted that Max Lowe, the loanee who has excelled in recent weeks at left-back, has been recalled by Derby County. However he may well look to end James Wilson's spell at the club early with the Manchester United forward having failed to impress. Oh, and don't forget Greg Tansey who has been out injured but was out of favour anyway.

Ins? A left-back to replace Lowe is a necessity unless the Dons want to play Andrew Considine there for the rest of the year. Central defensive reinforcements may be needed if Michael Devlin can't get over a foot problem. A pacey wide player would add a new dimension. And of course a centre-forward who scores regularly - unless Sam Cosgrove can keep up his recent form.

Outs? The recent injury crisis may mean Brendan Rodgers has to hold on to some players just for the sake of having numbers. But there appears to be no future at the club for Marvin Compper, Cristian Gamboa, Scott Allan or Kundai Benyu. Might they try to cash in on Dedryck Boyata before his contract runs out in the summer?

Ins? Rodgers has intimated he wants to upgrade three or four positions in January. Another option up front is a necessity. Right-back has looked like a weak area all season too.

Outs? This is Jim McIntyre's chance to move on anyone he inherited who he doesn't rate. That group will probably include midfielders Karl Madianga and Elton Ngwatala and forwards Sofien Moussa and Jean-Alassane Mendy. Adil Nabi's contract is up in January and unlikely to be extended, while Andy Boyle's loan also runs out; it's unclear whether he and Ryan Inniss (who could be sent back south early) have done enough to impress the new boss.

Ins? Aside maybe central midfield, the Dark Blues could justifiably seek reinforcements in every position. There is a dire need for new central defenders.

Outs? Summer signings Sam Kelly, Aaron Smith and Kieran Monlouis have barely registered on the radar so far this season so one wonders if they have any future at the club.. It wouldn't be a surprise to Mason Bloomfield's loan terminated early. Jan Mucha is only on a short-term deal but given he is already first choice keeper you'd expect Accies to try and extend his contract.

Ins? Martin Canning has already stated his intention to sign a couple of players. It wouldn't be January if Hamilton didn't sign a Dutchman or Greek who went on to barely play for the first team...

Outs? Danny Amankwaa appears to be completely out of favour after a brief return to the lineup in the Autumn. However, the Jambos will hope to extend the loan contract of Jimmy Dunne, which runs out in January. Expect a number of young players to be loaned out.

Ins? Czech striker David Vanecek will join on after signing a pre-contract in the summer.

Outs? Charis Mavrias' short-term contract will be up. However they will hope to extend Emmerson Hyndman's loan deal.

Ins? Given that Neil Lennon pulled a few rabbits out of the hat this time last year, it wouldn't be a surprise if there were one or two interesting new faces. Gillingham striker Tom Eaves has recently been linked.

Outs? Jack Byrne has already left for Shamrock Rovers. The loans of Bright Enobakhare and Mikael Ndjoli are both up in January but the latter has proven a useful squad player and might be kept on. Ross Millen's short-term deal also runs out.

Ins? Steve Clarke may find it hard to improve on his current best XI and though he has a great track record of convincing decent players to join his project he may feel that any depth concerns can be dealt with by youngsters returning from loan spells.

Outs? Egli Kaja has returned to parent club AFC Wimbledon. Otherwise expect Gary Holt to try and keep the squad he has.

Ins? Could ex-Lion Stefan Scougall come back for a second spell? Otherwise the club will think hard before risking disrupting the current team with newcomers.

Outs? Andy Rose will join Vancouver Whitecaps once the window opens. Forward George Newell's development seems to have stalled and it would be no surprise to see him leave, at least on loan. Connor Sammon's spell at the club has gone as well as most predicted, but it may be that Hearts refuse to take him back early!

Ins? Unless Trevor Carson's return is well before the end of the season they may look for an experienced keeper to compete with Mark Gillespie. The Steelmen would probably also prefer not to need to play Richard Tait out of position at left-back if they could avoid it.

Outs? Umar Sadiq's exit was hardly a surprise. But Ovie Ejaria had started 23 games this season before he returned to Liverpool. Though his performances had dropped off, it leaves Rangers short in that area. Further departures will surely only be the result of unrefusable (is that a word?) offers for the likes of James Tavernier or Alfredo Morelos.

Ins? Steven Gerrard has already made it clear he wants several new faces in this window, though Dominic Solanke and Kieran Dowell seem optimistic targets. Steven Davis has been linked with a return to Ibrox having captained Rangers prior to liquidation.

Outs? Stefan Scougall has been told to find a new club after failing to live up to expectations in his 18 months at the club. Greg Hurst can go too. Tristan Nydam has confirmed he will return to parent club Ipswich, while young midfielders Kyle McClean and Ali McCann will be loaned out.

Ins? Whilst Saints have managed much better than expected after losing Drey Wright for the season, they could do with finding a pacy wide player to take over his role in the side. Tommy Wright might also look for another striker to take the pressure off Tony Watt.

Outs? This will be Oran Kearney's chance to clear house and get rid of a bunch of has-beens and never-weres signed by Alan Stubbs. Matty Willock is already gone, and expect Josh Heaton, Alfie Jones, Cole Kpekawa and Cody Cooke to be moved on if possible. Goalkeeper Dean Lyness and midfielder Adam Hammill are both out of contract next month, though the club will be desperate to keep the latter.

Ins? Expect the Buddies to be very active; frankly, it's hard to think of an area of the park they wouldn't consider strengthening.

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, December 17, 2018

In defence of Liam Polworth

In the Spring of 2015, I was lucky enough to be on a city break in Barcelona right on time to take in the second leg of Barca's Champions League Quarter Final against Paris St. Germain. You may well remember the home side's opening goal; facing his own goal, midway inside his own half, Andres Iniesta took a pass into feet with a PSG player steaming in to close him down. The crowd collectively took a deep breath, only for Iniesta to spin 180 degrees and leave his opponent for dead. The 80,000 cheers that greeted the audacious skill were followed quickly by two louder ones as Iniesta then danced past two flailing tackles and over the halfway line. With everyone already on their feet, he then played Neymar clean through with the perfect pass, and the Brazilian went round the keeper to score. The actual celebrations for the goal were relatively short, the subsequent chants of "INIESTA! INIESTA!" that went round the ground went on far longer.

You may think it is a little bit of a stretch to segue from one of the greatest players of the last decade to Caley Thistle midfielder Liam Polworth, but bear with me. Against Dundee United on Saturday, Polworth played in Tom Walsh to open the scoring. It was an exquisite through ball into the inside-right channel, and was in fact identical to goals set up and scored by the same players in each of Caley Thistle's previous two games. In the second half there was a moment where Polworth was trapped by United's Billy King against his own corner flag, only to outrageously nutmeg him before galloping up the pitch.

That's not to say Polworth was especially outstanding in the match. He was as guilty as many teammates of giving the ball away cheaply, though his forwards too rarely got into space to receive the ball from him. But nor was he one of the poorest players. And what always makes him stand out in this Inverness side is that he always looks to get on the ball, though this may be a reflection on his teammates' timidity as much as anything.

And that makes the crowd's reaction to him all the more curious and, frankly, nauseating.

For what it's worth, Polworth's bit of skill near his own corner flag brought barely a murmur from the home support. But they did attract their attention, though, was a shanked cross. Polworth himself showed frustration at his error. However, he was quickly drawn to the loud catcalls and booing coming from the main stand. With as much subtlety as a brick, he turned towards them and shouted something which I suspect probably was a bit less polite than "sorry about that, I'll do better next time".

Now, a common criticism of Polworth in these parts is that he has 'lousy body language'. Of course, that is entirely objective. When an on-form or well-liked player gets frustrated at the mistakes of himself or others, it's because he cares, because he wants to win, because others aren't as switched on as he is. When an off-form or unfavoured player does so, it's because he's a whinger with lousy body language. Of course, if said player doesn't react at all, it's because he doesn't care. Isn't it great how you can prove that the player you don't like has the wrong attitude, whatever his actions are?

And it gets extrapolated. Social media and online forums are filled with complaints that Polworth doesn't get back into position, or goes missing, for no apparent reason other than that these traits would fit the ongoing narrative. I have urged other fans to actually watch him, not where the ball is, for 5 minutes at a time; then they would see a player constantly on the move both when Caley Thistle have the ball and when they don't, a guy who does a really impressive shift compared to some of his teammates. But they don't - either because the rest of the match is too distracting or, more likely because it's far easier and more reassuring to have a convenient scapegoat to blame for the fugue that has enveloped the club in the last couple of years.

Polworth got the same criticisms last season, a campaign which finished with him credited a whopping 25 assists, 15 of which were in the league. When the SPFL Twitter account declared that statistic, it was met with scepticism because the number was more than double that of the next best. Whatever you think of 'assist' as a stat, the bottom line is you must be a pretty decent player to set up that many goals.

And yet the consensus view then was much the same as it is now. After all, it's only four months since he was 'punished' with abusive chants about his family from the home end during a clash with Ayr United - all because he missed a penalty. Some so-called fans were banned as a result, but depressingly it seems the respite for the player was only temporary.

In the final moments of the Dundee United match, Polworth was announced as the sponsors' Man Of The Match. It was a slightly bemusing decision, given that Walsh and Mark Ridgers had clearly been Caley Thistle's best two players, but usually an odd MOTM pick is met with shrugged shoulders and a collective "you what?" In this case, it was met with more boos.

For what it's worth, the same fans who largely ignored Polworth's corner flag nutmeg, berated his lousy cross and booed the decision to make him MOTM reserved much of their applause and acclaim during the game for midfielders slide-tackling the ball out of play, or defenders heading the ball really hard. It is a peculiar thing, perhaps a British thing. That sort of stuff doesn't get a cheer at the Camp Nou. A nutmeg by your own corner flag might, though.

Ultimately, Polworth will have to leave Inverness to get the acclaim he deserves, and he will; his contract is up at the end of the season and it is common knowledge that it won't be renewed unless he takes a pay cut. One suspects he won't have to go as far as Spain to find someone who appreciates him though, as most coaches and scouts are surely more insightful than the football neanderthals that populate Tulloch Caledonian Stadium. As for said neanderthals, their views on his attitude and body language probably say a lot more about them than it does about him.

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.