Five observations from the Scottish Premiership weekend

Efe Ambrose celebrates with Scott Brown at full-time. Picture: SNS
Efe Ambrose celebrates with Scott Brown at full-time. Picture: SNS
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Craig Fowler looks back on what stood out from the weekend’s football.

A condensed example of Juanma’s inconsistency

You know that annoying habit Juanma has of being a dominant player one week and then looking like he rather be anywhere else the next? Well, turns out it needed even be a game-to-game problem. He can do both in just one half.

Initially after replacing Gavin Reilly in Hearts’ draw with Ross County, Juanma looked like Bad Juanma. His touch was off, he wasn’t imposing himself on the game and he shirked a 50-50 lose ball with Andrew Davies in the opposing penalty area. Then somewhere a switch was flicked and suddenly he was chasing after lose balls, using his strength against defenders and playing with the kind of determination he needs to show constantly if he’s ever going to go on to bigger things in his career. He displayed real forceful aggression to throw himself at Prince Buaben’s front post cross. It’s what makes him great. He just needs to do it more often.

Simon Murray’s a good building block

Dundee United’s fan forum had a topic last week asking supporters for their player of the year selection. At least 90 per cent of the answers either said “no one” or made a sarcastic comment, the remainder said Simon Murray. It’s a strange choice for a legitimate player of the year nod, especially when you consider this thread started prior to Friday night’s game with Inverness and that he’s spent large periods of the campaign out of the team. Even when he has played, his goals-to-games ratio isn’t particularly impressive. He’s not someone with the ability, just yet, to be a leading forward on a Premiership team. The reason fans were seriously suggesting that Murray was the player of the year is because he’s been the only member of the current team to fully convince the support he’s been giving it his absolute everything.

He doesn’t play the game with any fear. He goes out, tears after the ball, chases after opponents and uses his energy to try and impose himself on matches. He needs to learn to channel that enthusiasm into something more tangible as he often takes on the headless chicken role as a result. However, there’s already been glimpses of him getting it together prior to Friday’s performance, which really indicated growth in his game over the course of the last 12 months.

United going down will do him the world of good. He can gain confidence at the lower level by remaining in the team and, therefore, earning himself the game time he needs to learn on how to utilise his skills. Don’t be too surprised if in two or three years, when United are back among the big time, that Murray is banging in close to 15 goals a season. How’s that for a bold prediction?

How very un-Hibs

Saturday’s win against Raith Rovers wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from Alan Stubbs’ side as this season has drawn to a close. When they were at their best, from September through to January, they were capable of flying out of the traps, completely overwhelming an inferior opponent and kiling the game off before it ever had the chance to get started. But as they’ve become increasingly leggy as the season has worn on, this hasn’t been a facet of their play, and they’ve struggled to break down sides when playing at a slower pace. Going even 30 minutes without equalising the tie might have been fatal.

What was also rather different was that, having given themselves the advantage, they didn’t look at all comfortable holding on to it. Other than the collapse against Falkirk, Hibs have only surrendered a lead in the last 30 minutes of a game once this season. That’s a combination of a solid defence (that completely and surprisingly went to pot over the last few weeks) and their ability to keep possession against Championship sides.

They’ve found both a reason to be positive and a reason for concern. The inability to look quite so comfortable about Raith suggests they either began to tire, or let the occasion get to them. On the flip side, they scored two goals when on top in a 20-minute period, something which has been a problem since February.

Martin Canning does it

If you conducted a straw poll among Scottish Premiership fans asking who the worst manager in the top flight was, many would answer Martin Canning, including Hamilton Accies fans. This season they’ve suffered through several embarrassments, most notably the 8-1 defeat to Celtic which occurred just ten days after they lost 4-1 at League Two Annan Athletic in the Scottish Cup, and once held a record of one win in 16 matches - and as the sole victory came against Dundee United, it naturally didn’t count in the eyes of many fans. This was an overall feeling of distrust in his ability to lead the team, something which has festered since he oversaw a significant downturn in results following Alex Neil’s departure last term.

However, if you cast your mind back to pre-season, Hamilton was the team almost everyone expected to get relegated, either going down automatically or finishing 11th and losing to Hibs in the play-off final. And yet, Saturday’s win over Dundee means Accies are completely safe with two games to spare. Canning has managed to do what few gave him a chance of achieving. Regardless of the method in which it has been secured, it has to be looked upon as an achievement, doesn’t it? They have the lowest budget in the league. Sure, Dundee United and Kilmarnock have been very poor, but they’ve still finished on a points tally that would have kept them safe in any other year in the SPFL/SPL era.

As tough as this campaign has been, it’s about to get a whole lot tougher. Ziggy Gordon and Michael McGovern, both out of contract, along with Norwich loanee and scorer of Saturday’s only goal, Carlton Morris, are all expected to leave this summer. With the exception of the aforementioned striker and Brazilian centre back Lucas Tagliapetra, the better players in the squad are those Canning inherited from Neil, and he’ll need to do a better job of recruiting if Accies are going to be defy the doubters again next season.

There may be two Efe Ambrose

Would you be truly surprised if it transpired that Efe Ambrose was actually one footballer played by two different men? That he was courted by Celtic but didn’t want to leave his identical twin brother behind so decided to bring him along to Glasgow, and has occasionally allowed him to pull on a green and white top when he didn’t feel like getting out of bed on a Saturday. We’re used to seeing inconsistency, it’s Scottish football after all, but Ambrose takes it to incredible extremes.

Last week he stepped in the Celtic back four for the tricky trip to Tynecastle. Hearts had been defeated only twice at home all season and Ambrose’s inclusion had some supporters rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a potential upset. Instead, he was completely solid. Eight days later, he comes on as a substitute for Charlie Mulgrew and can’t seem to put a single foot right. When his error allowed Jonny Hayes to run through and twice shoot on the angle, you thought he’d got away with his mandatory brain fart, only for him to then be, at least partially, at fault for two Aberdeen goals.

I could sit here and proclaim this the end of Efe Ambrose at Celtic, but I’ve done so before and it’s not come true. This partnership has more lives than a cat and could conceivably survive at least another year. His contract runs until 2017 and you can envision a scenario where he manages to play his way into the new manager’s good books with a string of impressive summer appearances, only to face-plant while being the last line of defence in a home defeat to St Johnstone two days after signing a new deal.

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