Even our best players can endure a rough start to a new campaign. Sometimes it’s down to low confidence, sometimes it’s a position or managerial change, and sometimes it’s just coincidence that a few below par displays occur when the season is still in its infancy.
These are a few noted stars of Scottish football who haven’t quite hit the ground running during the opening weeks of season 2016-17.
Arnaud Djoum (Hearts)
He’s not been bad. He’s just not been Djoum. Last season he was a revelation. The central midfielder Hearts badly needed; someone who could help out with the nitty gritty but also get into the box and make things happen. He’s been a bit quieter so far this term. The form of Don Cowie has probably not helped his cause, and has seen him stationed on the right wing in some recent games.
Kenny McLean (Aberdeen)
It looked like McLean had managed to make the Aberdeen No.10 role his own last season, particularly in the early part of the campaign where he scored regularly. However, the goals dried up and Derek McInnes began tinkering with McLean’s positioning once again, sometimes stationing him as the deepest midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. The arrival of James Maddison and his explosive start means McLean will have to start performing in the deeper role or risk being edged out when Ryan Jack returns.
Barrie McKay (Rangers)
He’s been excellent in the Betfred Cup so far, racking up the assists in the same manner he did in the Championship last term. To this point, however, that’s not transferred to the Premiership. Rangers have not only had to make the step up to a higher level, they’ve also tried to integrate a few new pieces. With such instability, it’s no surprise a young winger has seen his form dip.
Kris Doolan (Partick Thistle)
Thistle’s top scorer from the past six seasons hasn’t netted since his goal against Airdrie in the Betfred Cup on 15 July. Right now he needs one to “go in off his backside” to get him up and running again. Doolan has always been a streaky scorer at top flight level, and if he can get it started quickly then expect Thistle to begin climbing the table.
Lee Wallace (Rangers)
Aside from a terrific performance in the win over Dundee, where he gave home right back Cammy Kerr a torrid time, it’s been a poor start for the Championship player of the year last term. With Rangers struggling in the league to this point, Wallace, as captain of the side, along with the other veterans will be under pressure to set the high standards demanded of the players.
Alim Ozturk (Hearts)
He’s not played a single minute of league football so this inclusion may seem harsh, but then the reason he hasn’t is because the performance of the Hearts defence in Europe and the Betfred Cup defeat by St Johnstone - where Ozturk was at fault for two goals - wasn’t up to the standard required by boss Robbie Neilson. Having gone from club captain to third choice centre back in three months, and with Hearts having backed away from contract negotiations, it’s difficult to envision a long-term future at Tynecastle for last season’s Team of the Year selection.
Ziggy Gordon (Partick Thistle)
Everyone remarked what a coup it was for Thistle to recruit the former Hamilton full-back on a one-year deal, but they’ve been left wondering what the fuss was all about. Having been with Accies since he was a schoolboy, it is taken time for Gordon to acclimatise to his new surroundings. Has made a few uncharacteristic errors that have contributed to a leaky Thistle defence.
Scott Bain (Dundee)
The goalkeeper was forced to say goodbye to strike buddies Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart in the summer, and Dundee fans are speculating whether their next highly-prized asset is also looking to move on. He’s made a couple of errors to begin this season, which is not what we’ve come to expect from the sure-handed and sometimes spectacular stopper who’s been called up to the Scotland squad in the not-too-distant past. If he’s not careful, though, his Scotland stock will fall. Jack Hamilton already seems to be ahead of him in the pecking order and Zander Clark is coming up fast on the rails.
Michael Gardyne (Ross County)
Again, similar to Djoum, not bad, just not hitting the heights expected of him just yet. A reason for his slow start could be a stagnation on the left wing. He played there, and did so very well, last season when Raffalle De Vita’s form dropped off a cliff, but he’s better starting on the right where he’s excellent at attacking the full-back inside. County signed Ryan Dow in the summer and if he takes up residence on the left, it could allow Gardyne to move back to the other flank.
Stevie Mallan (St Mirren)
Chased by Dundee this summer, much was expected of the midfielder, with St Mirren poised to make a run for promotion. In fairness, this selection says less about him than it does his team, who currently sit rock bottom of the Championship, an ignominy that saw manager Alex Rae sacked last weekend. Rae preferred a 4-4-2 system which didn’t suit Mallan’s strengths, and his form could pick up if a new boss sees fit to build the team around his talents.
Greg Tansey (Inverness CT)
Often someone who would take the ball from his centre backs and attempt to dictate a game, Tansey’s displays have been somewhat muted so far this term. This sense of unease among the fans regarding their star midfielder goes back to January when a move to Aberdeen fell through. Ever since then, they’ve not seen the same player who played a pivotal role in leading them to third place in the league and Scottish Cup final glory.
Patrick Roberts (Celtic)
This inclusion is mostly down to injury. Roberts was out for a month, and with James Forrest in terrific form, it’s meant a bit of a stop-start beginning for the on-loan Manchester City star who has the capability to win a game on his own. Thankfully for his club, Celtic are flying at the moment in the league, though they’d appreciate it if Roberts could find his scoring touch against Kilmarnock tomorrow ahead of next weekend’s Champions League tie with his parent club.
Gavin Reilly (Dunfermline Athletic)
Having banged in the goals for Queen of the South two seasons ago, it was expected Reilly (on loan from Hearts) would fuel Dunfermline’s bid for a play-off place. So far that’s not happened in either sense. He’s netted twice in nine games and his new club sit second bottom of the Championship table. A win over managerless St Mirren this weekend, with Reilly on the scoresheet, would go a long way to easing some of the ills at East End Park.
Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)
Throughout Derek McInnes’ tenure as Aberdeen boss, McGinn has been one of those players who’ll either be a match-winner pretty much by himself, or completely recede into the background. And even though he’s not been at top form so far this campaign, he’s still netted two excellent goals to win points against Partick Thistle and Inverness CT. A game where he nets two and sets up another two is surely just around the corner.
John Baird (Falkirk)
Falkirk’s top scorer from the last two seasons is already breaking out of the funk which enveloped his start to the campaign. He failed to score in any of Falkirk’s first eight games. That meant, in a run stretching back to last season, he’d gone 15 games without a goal. He bagged two in a win over Elgin in the Challenge Cup. Whoop-dee-do some fans would have thought. But it was exactly what Baird needed to get back on track as he then scored in successive league games against Raith Rovers and Dundee United.
Scott Fraser (Dundee United)
The young midfielder sums up United right now. A lot of skill and ability, but lacking the toughness to scrap for their lives in the second tier. After a promising start to life under Ray McKinnon, including a draw at Inverness CT and win over Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup, the midweek exit to Morton has United lurching back into crisis mode once again.
Michael Devlin (Hamilton)
Even though Hamilton didn’t have the best of defensive records last term, they still kept a fair number of clean sheets - to explain further, they conceded exactly zero goals in the game before and two games after they were walloped 8-1 by Celtic. This term it’s been more of a steady drip, including giving up two strikes to Edinburgh City, currently the worst side in the Scottish leagues. Fans have been asking questions of the back four, and whether club captain Devlin is up to the responsibility of leading the team while also marshalling the defence, or whether he’d be better suited concentrating on his own game.