FANS from each of the twelve SPL clubs look back on the past week for their respective teams and give us their opinions
“Smash and grab” was used in many match reports of the win at Hibs but in the preceding midweek, as news filtered out of our growing injury list, many supporters feared the worst. With seven players out, there was little expectation of us playing as open a game as we have previously. Well, as open as you can be under Craig Brown.
Full credit to the manager, though. On Saturday he set up a team that, with solid defending and an in-form Langfield was able to neutralise the main threat in Griffiths, and then release McGinn to score in front of the healthy away support. It wasn’t pretty but then no one complains when other teams win ugly. There remains the “what might have been” feeling over the Celtic game but “what might just be” is gathering momentum.
IT HAS never been said that I am a tactically adept motivator of men – well, not outside my own head – but surely if you have players who are tired, jaded or injured after a tough European game you allow them to rest and rely on the large squad at your disposal? If you can’t rely on the squad players, why are they there?
We didn’t play as badly as we have, we just lacked sparkle and creativity and maybe, just maybe, one or two “squad” players may have brought that competitive edge and pace that we seem to lack against teams who are determined to sit in.
I expect to see a backlash tonight at Tynecastle as anything less will see us fail to regain top spot and it is not a position we want to be in as pitches deteriorate and teams learn that all that is required to beat us is patience.
WE MISSED the chance to get off the foot of the table on Saturday in going down to
St Mirren but there will be other chances.
Dundee now look equipped to compete in the SPL but the shocking start, while understandable, will probably be a noose round our neck for the rest of the campaign.
We had seven players out on Saturday, with left back Matt Lockwood added to the list. But of those crocks, only a couple would improve the team and some might make it worse. We have some breathing space this midweek, with our game against Kilmarnock held over until January, while the rest of the SPL slug it out. Then it’s on to Livingston for a tough Scottish Cup tie on Saturday. However, we should have enough to squeeze into the next round at the first time of asking. No fun being knocked out of the cup before Christmas.
The Club 12th Man
The return of Gary Mackay-Steven and a drastic improvement on the pitch is no coincidence. So imagine the frustration when he suffered a double fracture in his hand just after returning. So it is time for Rudi Skacel to step up to the plate. So far, his game time has been limited and United fans are still to see the full benefit a player whose performances gave him cult status at Hearts.
With Mackay-Steven being out for the next month or so, the chances of him leaving in the transfer window is slimming. And, even if an offer does come in for either him or Johnny Russell, they should ask themselves if this is the right time to go. Goodwillie, Gomis and Conway have struggled to make any impact since leaving United and are all now lost in the wilderness of the English Championship.
TO SAY that the game against Motherwell on Saturday was poor would be the understatement of the season so far. A dull 90 minutes with few chances and, in truth, neither side deserved to win.
However, for the referee, both linesman and the fourth official to either miss or ignore the shocking assault on Callum Paterson by the Motherwell goalkeeper was nothing short of bewildering. The other notable incident from the game was the loss of Danny Grainger to what looks like a relatively serious injury. Given the paucity of our squad there is no natural replacement, which is not what we needed with the back four having been playing so well and with two massive games this week against Celtic and Hibs.
It is important we score first in both of those games, but exactly where the goals will come from remains the question.
Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve from a game of football, as Hibs discovered on Saturday. Hibs were by far the better team against Aberdeen but found the away goalkeeper in inspired form as the Dons snatched the only goal. Our team still received a positive response as they left the field and rightly so, as the players can’t be faulted for effort. Leigh Griffiths turned in another livewire display. There can’t be a more exciting player in the SPL right now. That’s two league defeats in a row, though, and the danger is that our confidence starts to crumble. Thankfully, we have an early chance to get back on track with our midweek fixture at St Johnstone. McDiarmid Park has been a tough place for us to visit in recent seasons so it is a real test of the team’s character. If we get things right we will be perfectly set up for the weekend cup fixture against Hearts.
Taking on the champions in their own back yard, keeping a clean sheet and winning can only be described as one of those moments of euphoria. Creating history, too, with our first-ever league win at Parkhead – and all this on the back of a horrendous performance the previous week just highlights how unpredictable this game can be. This was a composed performance, organised and solid at the back. Yes, we rode our luck at times, but so did they. The important thing is to kick on from this as one game doesn’t make a season.
Confidence should be high after that, but there is no place for complacency. There are two tough away games next on the fixture list, so to go on another unbeaten run will not be easy, but the proof is there that we are capable of a successful result against anyone in this league.
The start of the Scottish Cup campaign is one of those special times. Memories of past glories mix with hopeful anticipation.
Motherwell travel to Aberdeen in the fourth round and there will be some talk of repaying our hosts for knocking us out in the quarter-finals last season. But there will also be tales of the third-round clash in January 1991, when Stevie Kirk’s goal set us on the road to Hampden glory. Aberdeen, who split the Old Firm in that season’s league table, were followed by Falkirk, Morton, Celtic and finally Dundee United as the Mighty ‘Well lifted the old trophy for the second time.
Stuart McCall has already hinted that his ability to extend some players’ contracts will be affected by the funds generated by a cup run. A repeat of the 0-1 score from 21 years ago will do nicely!
Saturday’s game against Dundee was one we had to win and thankfully that was exactly what we did. While the three points were welcome, just as important was the fact we played well. Yes, Dundee had to play for more than an hour with ten men but even before that we were the better side. One of the real highlights was the performance of John McGinn. It was perhaps a risk handing a youngster his first start in a game of such importance but he wasn’t fazed at all and was unlucky not to score. If Kenny McLean – who was outstanding – does leave in January we have a ready-made replacement.
It was good to end the losing streak but we cannot get carried away – it was just one game. We need to get a few more wins under our belt before the winter break before we can talk about any sort of corner being turned.
I REALLY didn’t think we’d even get a point at Rugby Park on Saturday so I’m delighted we came back to Perth with all three, albeit in controversial circumstances. Personally, I think Pascali’s red card was a nonsense, although equally bad was the decision to book Vine when he was chopped down in the box. It was a penalty all day long.
Tonight Hibs head to McDiarmid Park in a game that, depending on results elsewhere, could send the winner top of the SPL. What an achievement that would be for either side.
What is frustrating is that we’ve dropped a lot of needless points, for example at home to Ross County. But the same is true of all the teams around us and that’s why this is the most exciting SPL in years. Celtic will pull away in the end but it would be good if everyone else could keep in touch for a while yet.
Neale Cooper’s return was a huge surprise, not only because it was a former manager returning as an assistant but because it seemed that everything was going well with Stuart Balmer as Derek Adams’ assistant.
There are stories of rifts but the official line is that Cooper adds depth to the backroom staff and, given that Balmer is still at the club and now looking after the Under-20s, that seems to be the case. There is no doubt that County have been operating with a small backroom staff, especially since Gordon Connolly left, and a number of the coaches had dual roles with the first team and youth teams.
Adams and Cooper are no strangers, of course. In fact, it was Cooper, when the County manager in 1997, who first signed a young Adams as a player. It’s a major turnaround now that the young apprentice is in charge!
Over the years I have not moaned much about dodgy decisions, but Saturday was a bit much to stomach. The referee – or the fourth official – ruined the game as early as the fifth minute when our captain, Manuel Pascali, was ordered off for a perfectly legitimate challenge. I didn’t think it was even a foul at the time and video evidence shows clearly that he was looking at the ball and didn’t go in with two feet with his studs up as has been suggested. Saints manager Lomas claims he has no idea why the home support were barracking Hasselbaink. He must have missed the quadruple roll and play acting by his player then. Even more pathetic was Frazer Wright and the boy Tade badgering the referee to send the Italian off. The big off-field news was the Trust’s press release about a good offer going in for the club. I wonder how the chairman is going to justify rejecting that!