The surprise package of the Ladbrokes Premiership have upset the odds once again, writes Andrew Smith
With Dougie Imrie the club’s top scorer despite having bagged only four goals, finding the net might appear a problem for the Lanarkshire club. Yet, the fact that a recent hot streak has placed the 32-year-old winger only one goal shy of his best top-flight total for a season demonstrates you can spin Hamilton’s stats in positive fashion.
Their 18 tally in the Premiership only three fewer than Aberdeen and firmly a top-six figure - where they currently reside. Even in their current five-game winless run they have continued to fashion chances and breach opponents’ defences.
A well-balanced team, though they haven’t had great returns from their solo strikers Christian Nade and Callum Morris, the positivity of Ali Crawford and Gramoz Kurtaj has provided brought goals and impetus.
The dead ball expertise of defender Jesus Garcia Tena has also paid dividends.
Martin Canning’s side can only be considered very much a middling side when it comes to goal prevention. They don’t lose that many goals, and indeed St Johnstone - in hitting them for four on two occasions - are the only side to take more than two off them. Yet with only one clean sheet since August, they to cough up chances for opponents.
The confidence of keeper Michael McGovern will be brimming after he enjoyed first choice status in the Northern Ireland’s incredible run to the Euro 2016 finals.
Antons Kurakins and Ben Gordon are competent full-backs and Garcia Tena an all-action figure, but the Spaniard hasn’t always had a reliable partner in the heart of defence. That includes the player-manager, with Canning’s first 90 minutes of the season a fortnight ago coinciding with the 4-2 defeat that marked the club’s heaviest home defeat of the season.
The collective is certainly valued above any individualism in the set-up and system of Accies. Yet, that is not to say the team ethic smothers any expression.
Imrie is allowed to do his own thing from wide areas, and in the autumn of his career, that has provided the golden spell of four goals in five games last month. However, though the winger has been a notable contributor to the club’s healthy progress this season, as has Darian MacKinnon, goalie McGovern and centre-back Garcia Tena, one player has eclipsed all others.
It seemed that rarely a week when past across the opening couple of months of the season when Ali Crawford as not picking up the man of the match award. The 24-year-old combines craft with dig and a scent for goal. He has long been expected to be the latest product of the club talked about for bigger things, and this season he has been delivering on such promise.
Many felt that Martin Canning would have been quietly removed from the firing line by this point in the season. The ‘Canning collapse’ was the label slapped on the plummeting of the club’s on-field fortunes subsequent to Alex Neil being spirited away by Norwich in January.
The slide out of the top six from the lofty European slot that Neil’s prompting had secured supposedly showed that the hopes of a boot room continuity within the coaching structure at the club we misplaced.
However, Canning, after that hellish introduction, has demonstrated an aptitude and assurance in moulding his team that many of us too hastily judged might be beyond him.
Hamilton are being described as this season’s surprise package...again. That is testament to Cannings growth as a coach.
Could do better
Five Premiership games have come and gone since the new Douglas Park team last claimed a victory. What is required when they entertain Aberdeen on Sunday following the international break is pretty obvious then.
Yet, Canning’s side possess a decent home record and a pattern to their play that engenders belief that Canning’s side can continue to pick up points - as they have even in the past month by showing real resilience when down to 10 men.
Lying sixth at present, they will have their work cut-out to remain there and achieve the highest league position in their history.
They are genuine top six contenders, though, and to achieve the minor miracle require to nick more points of the teams above them, which has proved exceedingly tough for them.