Craig Fowler takes a look back at the weekend’s action in Scottish football.
New stand, same old problems
The opening of the new main stand at Tynecastle did not prove to be the perfect tonic for Hearts’ woes, as you would have expected. Supporter backing can only get you so far, and from the displays of recent weeks you could tell there was a lot wrong with the first team aside from just the venue in which they were struggling to thread two passes together.
Hearts at least controlled most of their match against Thistle, which was a slight improvement from the three consecutive defeats against Hibs, Rangers and Kilmarnock, which preceded this match. However, they still rarely looked like troubling Tomas Cerny in the Partick Thistle goal.
There’s a real disconnect within the Hearts ranks, especially in attack. Instead of a team working together to produce something synchronised, they instead appear as a group of individuals, and not particularly impressive individuals at that.
Rangers have a shocking lack of depth in attack
Alfredo Morelos is suffering through a dry spell and it’s beginning to affect his play. Eight games without a goal going into Saturday’s match, the Colombian started brightly against Hamilton, linking excellently with team-mates as Rangers swarmed all over their hosts in the opening 25 minutes. But having missed an easy header from six yards and watched as Gary Woods repelled a couple of his half-chances, the striker started to make some basic errors as the performance of the home side dropped off.
After David Templeton put the visitors in front, Morelos had a great chance to level the scoring after going through one-on-one with the Accies keeper, and yet scooped his shot high over the bar.
It is clear the striker is suffering from a crisis of confidence and needs to be taken out of the firing line for a few weeks. But who else is there? Even though he was wasteful in front of goal, he was still more of a threat than partner Kenny Miller, while Ryan Hardie and Eduardo Herrera offered very little when they came off the bench.
Short of bringing Carlos Pena in from the cold, there’s nothing really that can be done until the January window opens.
Bitton showed his worth in the Scottish Premiership
Brendan Rodgers’ assertion that Nir Bitton was the best centre-back in Scottish football, outside of Celtic Park, may have been a little strong. He’s obviously going to back his player, and may just be saying it to do just that. But if he truly believes Bitton stands above the rest then he’s failing to take context into account. Would Bitton still look like the fourth best centre-back in the country, in Rodgers’ pecking order, if he played for Hearts, for example? Possibly, but it’s likely his lack of concentration in defence would be exposed more often.
What he excels at is bringing the ball out from the back, it’s why he starts there for Celtic. He is a midfielder after all, so has better ball skills than most defenders in this country. Heck, he’s got better ball skills than most midfielders in this country.
When playing at the back for the reigning champions, especially in a game like Saturday when County were set up just to defend, he’s granted time and space to move forward and start attacks, something he does very well. This was just as well for Celtic, as the likes of Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Stuart Armstrong were all suffering through off days.
While the front players were getting frustrated by their hosts, Bitton continued to stroll forward and keep the visitors pushing until they finally made the breakthrough with Leigh Griffiths’ free-kick.
Dundee sort their defence - now to fix the attack
For the first time this season Dundee kept a clean sheet in the Ladbrokes Premiership. That was despite losing captain Darren O’Dea for the final few minutes after he was sent off for two bookings - the second time that has happened this campaign. However, the hosts still didn’t pick up a victory at home to fellow strugglers Kilmarnock, as fans of both sides were subjected to a 0-0 draw.
Dundee can knock the ball about quite impressively and have had spells this season in matches where they’ve looked like a top six contender, but they sit bottom of the table because they struggle in both boxes. Defensively they looked better organised and didn’t make the kind of careless mistakes which have plagued their season to this point, but finding the kind of creative magic or scoring touch required to succeed at the other end is much more difficult. Scott Allan’s return may help, but he was hardly on fire before his injury.
Falkirk are in big trouble
Sacking Peter Houston and hiring Paul Hartley has not had the desired effect for the team at the tail-end of the Scottish Championship. Saturday’s loss to Dundee United makes it six games without a victory to start Hartley’s tenure and there’s little sign of things improving in the coming weeks. A January overhaul may be required, but that’s always a dicey strategy for a second tier team with limited resources.
The most alarming aspect of Saturday’s match wasn’t just the loss. After all, the hosts moved top of the table as a result. It was the ease with which United dismantled their visitors which caused real concern among the Falkirk faithful.
They were 14 minutes from the Premiership play-off last season. They might just be heading for a two-legged encounter in the opposite direction this term.