THE best and worst from Scottish football’s weekend.
1) On The Terrace Podcast a couple of seasons ago we were discussing how much we disliked the ‘Salt and Sauce’ moniker for the Edinburgh derby, and put it to our followers on Twitter to come up with a better name. One listener responded with ‘The Two Teams Who Play a S***e Game of Football’ derby. Now it’s certainly not the catchiest of names, but it was one which rang true for us. Not since Saulius Mikoliunas rattled the underside of the crossbar has an Edinburgh derby lived up to the hype, and that was at a time when these matches were always terrifically entertaining. So it was to no surprise of anybody that a new environment in the Scottish Championship failed to inject new life into the fixture.
Sunday’s match did have plenty of drama and talking points afterwards, it was just a shame that 90 per cent of them were crammed into the final 15 minutes. The rest was a game high on tension but low on anything else, unless you’re as childishly amused by terribly taken penalties as I am. Had Hibs netted that opportunity they would surely have earned at least a point from the match, such was the paucity of chances from either side. Instead it was left to a piece of magic from Sam Nicholson to swing the match decisively in Hearts favour.
Strangely, everyone came away from the match with a right to feel optimistic, though still cautiously so. Hearts have made it two from two and are sitting top of the pile in the Championship with Queen of the South and Raith Rovers. But even the most staunch Jambo would admit that they’ve not played particularly well in either win over Rangers or Hibs. Their derby rivals, on the other hand, may have lost another Edinburgh derby, but after the horrors of last season, and the general malaise at the club over the past eight years, they’ve got a right to believe things are finally heading in a positive direction.
2) Questions were raised over Rangers’ title winning credentials after a dreadfully poor performance for 70 minutes of Friday night’s match with Falkirk. But a 2-0 win at Falkirk – secured by a ‘goal hangers’ favourite from Nicky Clark – is a great victory regardless of how it came about. Falkirk, at the very least, should finish in fifth place, perhaps even fourth. That means Rangers picked up three points from arguably their third hardest fixture of the campaign. Repeating such performances at Ibrox will probably still be enough to beat the majority of sides outside of the Edinburgh two, and you have to figure that they can’t get any worse.
Another telling advantage highlighted in this match was the manner in which the hosts collapsed after the first goal; quickly losing another and coming close to shipping in a third in such a short period. Would Falkirk, or any team outside the ‘Big 3’, succumb to fatalism so readily if they went behind to Hearts or Hibs? The aura of Rangers looks like it’s still a terrific advantage for them, even if other clubs know they are vulnerable at the moment.
3) Celtic steamrolled over Dundee United in the early match on Saturday, though the task was made so much easier by their opponents self-sabotaging nature. Two excellent Gary Mackay Steven chances were passed up with the game still in the balance (this is the best of the two) and they committed a series of galling defensive errors that gift wrapped the game for the hosts. It was such a shame because it seemed from the early exchanges, even after Celtic’s opening goal, that United had the capability of causing them a few problems on the counter-attack. They forgot the defensive basics and were 3-0 down before they knew what’d hit them, although credit should be saved for the ruthlessness of Celtic, who tucked away their chances and continued to batter the visitors throughout the match.
The even greater shame was that this was only Celtic’s second game of the campaign, but we’ve already collected more than enough evidence to tell us that they’re going to run away with the title once more. I know any talk of a potential championship challenge from another top flight club was fanciful to begin with, but if Ronny Deila’s Celtic were as bad as advertised from the Legia Warsaw tie then it was conceivable they’d finish with around 75 points, which could have been enough for a title race worth getting interested about, even if Celtic were to ultimately win it.
When arguably the second best team in the country loses a goal like THIS, you just know it’s never going to happen.
4) There’s a strange pleasure to be taken from watching a highlights package, knowing the full-time result beforehand, and then seeing a player run through on goal when you know he is NOT going to score. From this weekend that was St Johnstone’s Chris Kane, who took a heavy touch and then didn’t find any takers with his ball across the box.
It preserved Hamilton’s second successive victory, which they won 1-0 courtesy of Darian MacKinnon’s first half effort. The newly promoted side are already defying pre-season expectations to sit in third place. They won’t sustain such heights but the club’s primary objective coming into the year was to remain in the division. The advent of the playoff, and the fearsome opponent they’ll likely face from the Championship, makes the job a lot tougher. But no team has finished in 11th place with 42 points or more, so Hamilton are already one-seventh of the way there.
5) Everyone scoffed at John Hughes’s ‘Scottish Barcelona’ aspirations for his Inverness CT side, and quite rightly so. However, at a time when clubs around the country are continuing losing their best players during the summer months, Inverness kept together the core of their team. And, while it wasn’t quite Barcelona, their performance against Motherwell was pretty impressive nonetheless. Along with the neat displays of passing they were helped along by two terrific strikes from Greg Tansey and Aaron Doran which propelled them to victory and, for the time being at least, the top of the Premiership table. Celtic will overtake them soon enough but they want to get themselves in contention for a first ever trip into Europe, and that could well happen if they sustain this form.
Time to hand out some weekly awards...
Unsurprisingly it’s Sam Nicholson who wins the Fabian Caballero award for best goal. Tansey was a close second and it’s also worth mentioning Gary Fraser who rocketed one into the top corner against Dundee.
The James Collins award for worst miss comes from the same match. Fraser’s teammate Stuart Bannigan isn’t noted for his goalscoring, and this sitter shows you why. How? I mean, just... how?
The Ludovic Roy award for best save goes to Hibernian’s Mark Oxley. The keeper shows terrific reflexes to get down and hold Nicholson’s first half effort.