THE best and worst from Scottish football’s weekend.
1) Inverness CT may have defeated a willingly weakened Celtic side at the weekend, but a quick look throughout the two squads confirms it was still a great achievement by the league leaders. Celtic were able to name what was pretty much a reserve XI, but one which included the current Player of the Year (Kris Commons), a former Player of the Year (Charlie Mulgrew), a near £4 million pair of strikers (Teemu Pukki and Leigh Griffiths) and an African Nations Cup Winner (Efe Ambrose). Inverness, on the other hand, could name only six substitutes due to a handful of first team injuries.
With their dismal end to last season and lack of any summer transfer activity, Inverness were the fashionable pick to drop out of the top six from the previous campaign’s elite group. It’d be unwise to get ahead of myself after four games but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that is to be the case. While they didn’t add many first team players, they didn’t lose any either. It’s giving them a continuity that’s very rare in Scottish football these days, even at the very top. John Hughes believed he could develop the players into a better team by teaching them how to play patient passing football, and so far that looks like it’s happening.
Saturday’s winner wasn’t scored by an Inverness player, though it was fitting that Marley Watkins was the last home player to have touched the ball before Eoghan O’Connell bundled it into his own net. Watkins has been excellent so far this season and looks ready to make the step up from middling squad player to a star in this league. When he first arrived he was a speed demon with little else going for him. In the 12 months since his touch looks a lot better, his passing range has improved and he has a heightened confidence about his play. Yogi’s methods are certainly having a positive impact on him.
2) It’s been encouraging to see Dundee United lose two of their stars players and still begin the season as strongly as they have. Sure they may have been trounced at Celtic Park last week, but we’ve all had those games in Glasgow where a couple of mistakes soon snowball into a complete rout - the type of matches where the only pride that can be salvaged is how long you personally, as a supporter, decide to hang around and suffer the torment. Against the rest of the division United have recorded an 100 per cent record and conceded just one goal.
What United fans will be praying now is that the summer transfer window passes without further incident. This particularly concerns Saturday’s opening scorer Nadir Ciftci. The Turkish attacker is a truly magnificent player to watch, even if his laid-back approach can frustrate fans at times. His goal on Saturday - a header from a set-piece - wasn’t a typical Ciftci goal, but if he can add these sort of predatory finishes to his repertoire then United will have something close to the complete attacker in Scottish football terms.
3) Spoiler Alert! Robbie Muirhead doesn’t win Goal of the Week. While I’m sure he’ll be absolutely gutted, he should console himself with another three points for Kilmarnock on Saturday and a legitimate claim for a regular place in the Rugby Park starting XI. The youngster looked promising in his fleeting appearances last year, but had to watch on as manager Allan Johnston brought in an additional four strikers to the club this summer. With Tobe Obadeyi now appearing to be more of a wide player and with Michael Ngoo and Lee Miller injured, Muirhead got his first start and unleashed this belter of an effort nine minutes in.
As for Kilmarnock as a whole, they have to feel good about their start to the season. It took them until the 26th of October to register six points last term, and at no point prior to that time did they showcase a performance quite so confident as the one displayed on Saturday. Gone was the aimless punts and in its place a nice passing approach that had fans purring about the team’s ability to make a run at the top six. We assumed that without Kris Boyd Kilmarnock would have been relegated last season. Instead, it’s possible he was a crutch that they lent on far too often.
4) A team taking the lead with five minutes remaining and still losing the match is a fairly uncommon occurrence. However, given the two sides involved on Saturday we shouldn’t have been surprised. We’ve come to expect this sort of wastefulness from Partick Thistle, particularly at home, while this is just the latest example in a string of never-say-die performances from Hamilton. Whether it’s a eight goal deficit to make up on the final day, a 2-0 home loss to overcome in the playoff final, or trying to survive in a division where their resources are smaller than any other opponent, this team seems to thrive when the odds are stacked against them. On Saturday they may have left it late but fortune had little to do with the win. Hamilton were the better side on the day, continued to play their brand of football even when behind and merited the three points won by Jason Scotland’s cool finish in stoppage time.
5) There is a problem Hearts are going to face when challenging Rangers for the Scottish Championship title. Teams just do utterly ridiculous things under the intensity of playing the Glasgow powerhouse. I watched Dumbarton last season several times and not once did they look like doing anything as stupid as this. The panic that sets in from a routine cross into the area is just bizarre. Chris Turner has been one of the club’s best, and certainly most reliable, players over the past two years, and yet he took on the appearance of a man who’d just been introduced to a football inside the Ibrox six-yard box. On loan Aberdeen keeper Danny Rogers doesn’t cover himself in glory either.
Time to hand out the weekly awards...
The Fabian Caballero award for best goal goes to Kallum Higginbotham. Any words I use to try and describe this will not do it justice. Just have a look.
The James Collins award for miss of the week comes from the game at Tannadice and Yoann Arquin of Ross County. It’s so bad that the SPFL YouTube channel took pity on him and omitted the clip from the highlights package, so here’s a .GIF of the free header from six yards that he managed to turn wide of the post.
The Ludovic Roy award for best save goes to Paul Gallacher. The Thistle keeper was a little lucky that Ali Crawford didn’t burst the net, but he still does well to repel the Hamilton player’s close range shot with his leg.