Heroes & Villains: Efe Ambrose | Hearts | Peter Houston

Efe Ambrose had an impressive showing for Celtic against Dundee United. Picture: SNS

Efe Ambrose had an impressive showing for Celtic against Dundee United. Picture: SNS

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Which players shone brightest and who had games to forget from the SPFL weekend?

HEROES

Prince Buaben (Hearts)

Arnaud Djoum, Osman Sow, Callum Paterson and Igor Rossi all had terrific games on Saturday, but then these guys usually earn the lion’s share of plaudits aimed at the Tynecastle squad. Therefore, I felt it was worth praising someone who has been known to divide opinion in the past, but really seems to be coming on to a game at the moment, even if it is in unusual circumstances.

In recent weeks, Buaben has been asked to fill in on the right flank of a 4-4-2. It’s not his natural position, but it gives the midfield more balance and protection. The thinking is that if two wingers were deployed then those in the centre could easily be overrun by opponents, particularly those that favour five in midfield.

Fans have been critical of him in the past for not doing enough in the centre to impact matches. With Miguel Pallardo and Arnaud Djoum more than capable on that front, the onus is off him to do something special and it seems to be giving him confidence. Even though he’s on the flank, he’s not expected to beat his man. Rather, he is asked to keep offer some added fight in the centre when required while keeping it simple in possession, and not give away the football. Against Motherwell, especially in the first half, he never wasted it once.

READ MORE - ‘Bring on the Hibees’ chant jubilant fans after Hearts rout

Leigh Griffiths (Celtic)

Leigh Griffiths was classic Leigh Griffiths on Friday as Dundee United were Leigh Griffiths’d into submission.

Efe Ambrose (Celtic)

Rather than eulogise the striker for the umpteenth time, let’s focus on someone who had very little chance of being perceived a “hero” coming into this weekend.

Upon reading Ambrose insistence that the critics had “made him stronger” and that this was a “new beginning” for him at Celtic, I must admit to rolling my eyes. It’s the usual clichéd defiance you hear from struggling players and it rarely ever leads to a tangible improvement.

Then I witnessed his performance against Dundee United. I know, I know, it was against Dundee United, but still, this was the Ambrose of old. This was the solid defender who looked like he’d one day leave Celtic for a bin lorry worth of money in the EPL - before he had an absolute nightmare against Juventus in the Champions League and was never the same again.

It’s just a shame he won’t get the chance to build on that display with Celtic going out and recruiting another centre back in the form of Erik Sviatchenko. At least he’s staked a claim to be ahead of Dedryck Boyata in the pecking order, though.

READ MORE - Celtic complete signing of Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko

Gary Harkins (Dundee)

Kevin Thomson’s release last Friday, along with James McPake’s injury, meant the mercurial midfielder was given the captain’s armband for Saturday’s trip to Partick Thistle, and it certainly seems to have gotten the best out of him.

Harkins won the penalty for the first goal, netted the second, assisted for the third, and pulled off a terrific strike into the top corner for the fourth. There’s every chance he’ll go for missing for a fortnight after such a dominant display, but who knows. Maybe been handed such responsibility is what he needs. Maybe giving out advice to others will make him lead by example, because there was a lot of hard work and pressing from the playmaker, something we’ve not always seen from him throughout his career.

Derek McInnes (Aberdeen)

McInnes and his team have taken some flak in recent weeks for a perceived lack of mental strength, but they should they had it in spades to fight back against Ross County.

Most gaffers, when faced with the scenario of their side a goal and a man down away from home, would keep things tight and try to nick a point near the end. Instead, Aberdeen continued attacking like the red card dished out to Mark Reynolds didn’t happen and they got their reward with a 3-2 win.

There were at times in the match where Shay Logan and Graeme Shinnie, the two full backs, were both in the opposition penalty area. Not something you typically see from 10 men.

Barrie McKay (Rangers)

Quick word on the Rangers’ winger who’s having a tremendous season after coming into the campaign looking like someone who’d quickly be usurped by a new addition in the transfer market.

McKay spent the last two seasons on loan at Morton and Raith Rovers. He insists he was wanted at both clubs, but a good Raith Rovers supporting friend of mine would tell it differently, an opinion backed by him dropping out of the first-team towards the end of Grant Murray’s tenure at Starks Park.

It just shows how much confidence and focus can improve a player as he’s now one of the league’s best. Against Livingston he was his usual direct self, terrorising full-backs and constantly creating chances for team-mates.

READ MORE - Barrie McKay grateful to Mark Warburton for second chance

VILLAINS

James Keatings and Dominique Malonga (Hibernian)

This pair could scarcely have picked a worse time to put in a couple of dismal performances as Hibs drew 1-1 at Falkirk. Anthony Stokes was literally in attendance as his loan move to the club nears completion and it’s fair to say the striker won’t be having many sleepless nights debating whether he’s good enough to get into this team.

Malonga can be a great asset to the side, particularly in some of the more rough and tumble games as his calm approach can help him stand out while bringing a bit of guile to proceedings, but with Hibs flailing against Falkirk they needed more from the frontman. Keatings, meanwhile, looked lost in the No.10 role despite having played, and excelled, there at other times this season.

READ MORE - Five things we learned from Falkirk 1 - 1 Hibernian

Peter Houston (Falkirk)

Winding up Hibs is one thing, insinuating John McGinn dived against Falkirk is quite another, especially when that’s the opposite of what the player was doing. As Stubbs put it, McGinn was actually too honest by getting straight up and going after the ball after he’d been fouled by Luke Leahy. If the referee was unsure, that’s probably what made up his mind not to give a penalty.

In fairness to Houston, he has since apologised to Hibs for the remarks, saying he didn’t see it properly at the time. At least he gave what he thought was an honest assessment. Usually managers say “I didn’t see it” even if it happened right in front of them.

READ MORE - Peter Houston apologises to Hibs’ John McGinn over ‘penalty’

Liam Lindsay (Partick Thistle)

Not a great day at the office from the young centre back who’s otherwise looked very good in his first year as regular in the Firhill team. Lindsay fouled Harkins for the opening goal, his poor clearance then led to the fourth, and he was later sent off for his troubles.

There was something quite odd about the way Partick Thistle approached this match. They seemed to be in a daze that they didn’t manage to shake themselves out of until Dundee were 3-0 up - and could have been 5-0 up after Paul McGowan missed a one-on-one and Kane Hemmings hit the post. Therefore, it’s hard to be too critical of the young lad. He was just the worst of a very bad bunch.

Andrew Dallas

Both Hamilton and St Johnstone fans were aggrieved at the failure of the match official to award clear penalties for handball. Now, the incidents could be construed as ball to hand, but both Ziggy Gordon and Joe Shaughnessy had their arms outstretched (Shaughnessy’s was over his head!) when the shots came in and certainly not in ‘natural positions’.

That’s now zero goals in the last five games for St Johnstone. Considering they were the second highest scorers in the Ladbrokes Premiership before this drought started, that’s a pretty damning statistic, and it’s only going to get worse if Michael O’Halloran heads off to Rangers.

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