Which players shone brightest and who had games to forget from the Scottish Premiership weekend?
Gary Mackay-Steven (Celtic)
Few players have ever looked happier to have joined Celtic than Mackay-Steven at the tail end of last season. He was playing well, scoring goals and on a side that were about to lift the title. His smile beamed from ear to ear regularly and it looked like he was a man living the dream. Big things were therefore expected of him in coming into this season but, so far, it has been a bit of a nightmare.
It was therefore heartening to see him look back to his best against St Johnstone on Saturday, scoring twice and looking the elusive and exciting winger Celtic thought they were getting.
There are still concerns as to whether he can keep this up. He’s an old school wide man and, therefore, naturally inconsistent. But confidence is a wonderful thing in football. If he can get up a head of steam and turn himself into a mainstay in the starting XI then he could blossom into the player, a star for Celtic and Scotland, we’ve always known he could be.
Jackson Irvine (Ross County)
Jim McIntyre has taken Irvine out of the line-up in recent weeks. The manager explained the decision due to the player’s poor form, which isn’t in doubt. However, County fans have long questioned the gaffer’s wisdom with regards to pairing Irvine with Martin Woods, feeling that the latter’s lackadaisical style means Irvine ends up doing too much of the running in the team’s 4-4-2 and ends up looking like a headless chicken.
When Woods went down through illness on Saturday, Irvine came into the starting XI for the trip to Motherwell. He would go on to have an absolute stormer; scoring an early goal and continually bursting out to start County counter-attacks. He even played on despite suffering a broken nose. Did McIntyre’s man-management give the player a kick up the backside? Or did Irvine shine because he’s much better suited to playing alongside Ian McShane? The former Queen of the South midfielder covered more ground, allowing Irvine to be more back to front in his approach. Regardless of the answer, McIntyre should certainly consider giving the duo a run together.
Chris Dagnall (Hibernian)
Anthony Stokes and Jason Cummings is Hibernian’s strike-force in waiting, right? Well, maybe not. Also signed during January but to much less fanfare, Dagnall is staking a claim for a regular spot in the Hibernian starting XI.
Hibs get a bit of stick for the amount of forwards they have in the squad. However Dominique Malonga has just departed for Italy and when you look a little closer it becomes evident that each remaining player does a different job for the side. Cummings scores the goal, James Keatings stretches teams with his pace, Farid El Alagui brings an aerial presence and Anthony Stokes is the best player in the division. What Dagnall brings is an interesting blend of endeavour, physicality and intelligence on the field.
He dominated his marker in the 3-1 win over St Mirren and should certainly consider himself in contention for a place alongside Stokes when the Celtic striker is deemed sharp enough for a starting berth.
Kenny McLean (Aberdeen)
Aberdeen have changed up their system in recent weeks with Derek McInnes putting his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 on the shelf and experimenting with a 4-4-2 instead.
The danger with such a move, and something which must have concerned the Dons boss, is that the subtraction of a centre midfielder can relinquish control of the game’s possession battle, something Aberdeen always look to have the advantage in. Against Dundee, despite going up against an opponent with five men in the centre, they still managed to retain the football with relative ease, with McLean a huge reason for that.
Not only was the midfielder controlled with his passing, he also worked hard on both sides of the ball; digging in with the impressive Craig Storie to win back possession while also bombing on to support the front players.
Going forward in this system McInnes will probably need a better option up front than David Goodwillie. The striker looks completely void of confidence at the moment and, despite the odd flash of brilliance, doesn’t look like tapping into the undoubted potential that once made him one of British football’s most sought after young strikers.
Blair Spittal (Dundee United)
I already waxed lyrical about Spittal in yesterday’s article looking at Dundee United’s 5-1 win.
There isn’t much to add other than to say he really looks at home in the wing back position. It taps into his energy and gives him an attacking role within the team without having the added pressure of playing just off the front.
Stuart Findlay (Kilmarnock)
I don’t want to be too harsh on the youngster. Seeing as he was up against Blair Spittal in the first half, he was the worst of a bad bunch in the Kilmarnock side that shipped in five at Tannadice. However, there were mitigating circumstances.
First of all, he’s a centre back shunted out at left back. Secondly, he was offered little protection by Kilmarnock’s tactics as Greg Kiltie, the midfielder in front of him, was stationed high up the park and not required to track Spittal’s runs. Basically, Gary Locke should be here instead but I’ve already included the Killie boss in this section in the past, and you really need to share the dissatisfaction around.
Jesus Garcia Tena (Hamilton Accies)
What was he thinking?
I’ve seen some people - mainly on Twitter, mind - who seem to think this red card was harsh. I agree that the type of foul - not two-footed, doesn’t leave the ground - does not normally merit a red card. But forget the slow motion replays. Just watch the incident in real time. Then try telling me the speed in which he comes clattering into the back of Arnaud Djoum isn’t dangerous and reckless.
With his side having recently suffered the duel embarrassments of losing four to Annan Athletic (!) and eight to Celtic (!!) in the space of 10 days, they were in a great position to secure a confidence restoring win against a tough opponent before his needless challenge.
Igor Rossi (Hearts)
If I’m directing some scorn towards one red card-ee at New Douglas Park, it’s only fair that I do it with the other.
Robbie Neilson spoke about his foreign summer imports, namely Rossi, Juanma, Blazej Augustyn and Juwon Oshaniwa, all of whom have been sent off this season, having to adapt to the Scottish game. According to Neilson, it’s easier to get away with some of the crimes they’ve been guilty of on the continent.
I can’t express to having witnessed a lot of Portuguese football, however I’m fairly sure that a dead-on two-footed lunge is now a universal red card offence.
Also, didn’t the stereotype used to be that British football was harder?
The football universe (towards Inverness CT)
It was bound to happen, wasn’t it? On the same day Inverness brought back their ‘pay what you can’ initiative, the two sides offered up a match that should really have been compensating those forced to watch it.
Inverness can only be applauded for trying to attract fans to the game. Clubs in this country do not experiment enough with progressive ideas to get people into the ground. It’s a shame the game didn’t offer up anything that would give the extra 500 in attendance a reason to return.