Winners and losers from the last 16 of the Betfred Cup

Alfredo Morelos had a Sunday to remember as his hat-trick sent Rangers into the Betfred Cup quarter finals. Picture: PA
Alfredo Morelos had a Sunday to remember as his hat-trick sent Rangers into the Betfred Cup quarter finals. Picture: PA
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Craig Fowler reviews the weekend’s action from the Betfred Cup second round.

WINNERS

Alfredo Morelos (Rangers)

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Colombian in the recap of yesterday’s game but it bears repeating.

Morelos was incredible against Kilmarnock. He tortured the two centre-backs throughout the game, both with his physicality and his movement, linked superbly with team-mates, and netted three goals.

Umar Sadiq looks very raw and, as yet, there’s no deal for Kyle Lafferty. Even if Bordeaux came back with a £10 million offer, Rangers would be mad to sell. Yes, yes, there’s financial issues off the park and it would be an incredible amount of money for a player with a suspect temperament and lack of composure, something which would surely hurt him at a higher level where chances won’t come along so think and fast. But there’s finally a feelgood factor around Ibrox. Whether they can seriously challenge for the title remains to be seen, but at least they’re no longer the soft-touch Rangers we’ve witnessed for the past few years. Selling Morelos without someone quality lined up could potentially ruin that in one fell swoop.

Gary Mackay-Steven (Aberdeen)

The winger put in a superb performance, scoring twice, to help Aberdeen swat aside St Mirren at Pittodrie, as three goals in the opening half an hour killed this game before it properly got the chance to heat up.

It’s a result that bodes well for the future with youngsters Frank Ross and Scott Wright also excelling. The latter impressed at the beginning of last season but saw his form fall off a cliff and would finish the campaign having barely kicked a ball after January. By moving him into a central position for the visit of the Buddies, manager Derek McInnes seemed to revitalise him as he played the ‘Peter Pawlett role’ of driving the ball forward through the lines from midfield.

There was also widespread praise for Stevie May. Two weeks after his Aberdeen prospects looked bleak, the ex-St Johnstone striker has put in back-to-back displays which suggest he may have been written off by some (including yours truly) far too prematurely. His goal, Aberdeen’s third, should hopefully raise his confidence further.

Of course, all of this comes with one caveat: St Mirren’s defence. That’s now three consecutive games against Premiership opponents where the Buddies’ back-line has looked all at sea. They were let off in the opening two league games by Dundee’s profligacy and Rangers having a man sent off early, but their luck ran out against Aberdeen as the hosts brutally exploited them.

Alan Stubbs has a lot of work in that regard. A struggling side cannot be porous at the back.

Hibs in transition

The Easter Road club felt the cost of success this summer. You’d have been hard pushed to find two players more influential in all of Scottish football than John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, and both left for pastures new this summer.

Due to the protracted nature of McGinn’s exit, Neil Lennon’s preparations for this season haven’t been as straightforward as the Northern Irishman would presumably like.

With replenished funds in which to rebuild the squad coming long after the season had already started, he’s had to do some team-building on the fly. And that’s including the welcome distraction of a six-game Europa League run.

Yet, despite all of this, Hibs are managing to keep their early season on track. They’ve got four points from their opening two league games, and while they made heavy work of defeating Ross County to reach the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup, the most important thing is that they made it through.

What’s more, in recent signing Daryl Horgan they appear to have recruited another exciting attacking talent. The Easter Road faithful were immediately taken with his skill and ambidexterity, as he notched an assist and injury-time winner in the 3-2 triumph. Sterner tests will come, but it was a promising start.

Lawrence Shankland (Ayr United)

“Yes Shankland is a great player in the lower leagues, but can he do it in the top flight?” This question must have been swirling around the striker’s head before his side’s trip to Dundee, and he used it as motivation to prove the doubters wrong. Against a side supposedly interested in signing him but yet not willing to meet Ayr’s asking price, the ex-Aberdeen youngster fired in two goals in a sensational 3-0 victory for the Championship side.

Other winners

Cristian Gamboa impressed again for Celtic in their victory over Partick Thistle, as he provided the cross for each of the two late goals that ensured Brendan Rodgers’ men made it to the next round. First-choice right-back Mikael Lustig can no longer provide an attacking thrust from deep and Gamboa is now demanding consideration for a regular start.

Elsewhere, St Johnstone fans are rather infatuated with Tony Watt after the attacker netted twice in their extra-time 4-2 victory over Queen of the South. In addition to being impressed with his undoubted talent, the McDiarmid Park faithful have been surprised at just how much ground the supposed ‘bad boy’ is willing to cover in every match.

Finally, Hearts appear to have discovered another hero between the sticks with Zdenek ‘Bobby’ Zlamal putting in a man-of-the-match showing as Craig Levein’s side managed to defeat Dunfermline and reach the quarters despite a poor performance from the rest of the starting XI.

LOSERS

Sofien Moussa (Dundee)

The Tunisian has always been a sort of figure of fun at Dundee, but Saturday’s 15th minute cameo off the bench reached new comedic heights, even for him. Tasked with getting his side out of a hole as they trailed Ayr United, Moussa perhaps took his manager’s instructions to “show some fight” a little too literally.

After squaring up to an opponent following his first foul, he then proceeded to commit a further three bookable offences, the last of which drew a second caution and saw him sent packing by the official. This was after he had a mid-game argument with manager Neil McCann, who was understandably frustrated that Moussa seemed hellbent on removing himself from proceedings as quickly as possible.

It’s the kind of thing that would get you emptied at most clubs, but with Dundee’s dearth of options up front, don’t be too surprised to see Moussa return at some point in the near future, as daft as that seems.

Kenny Miller’s Livingston tenure

Miller and Livingston parted company after just seven weeks. That’s how long it took the club’s board to decide their decision to allow Miller to continue playing while trying to manage the club wasn’t going to work. Unsurprisingly, seeing as Miller stated he wouldn’t take the job unless he could keep playing, the veteran striker disagreed and quickly packed his bags.

Out of the two parties, Miller is the one most likely to become a winner from this situation. While he’s no longer the goal threat he was in his prime, he’s still capable of adding a different option to most squads in the top flight. Also, though it was a small sample size, he showed a little bit of potential as a coach capable of setting up a side as difficult to beat, and will intrigue club chairman further down the line.

Livingston, meanwhile, have to find a suitable replacement with just 11 days left of the transfer window, and they remain the favourites to suffer relegation.

Scott Boyd (Kilmarnock)

My colleague Joel Sked put it better than I could after Boyd was victimised by Morelos: “Can only imagine Scott Boyd’s plans for the rest of the day after his bodying by Alfredo Morelos are as follows:

“Sit down shower. Lie-down in a darkened room.”

Jack Hendry (Celtic)

There are no words that could do this justice, so just click here instead.

Celtic fans writing off Hendry for good (which is basically most of them) point to his willingness to take the ball out from defence and his inability to do so competently. They believe this shows he has the confidence but doesn’t have the talent.

That may be the case, but as always with amateur psychology, it’s far from that simple. I watched every one of Hendry’s league games at Dundee and, against the same Scottish football opponents he’s struggling against now, he looked much more assured than he does in a Celtic shirt. As anyone who’s been forced to speak in public will tell you, it’s possible to act confident while inside you’re completely kacking it. If I had to guess, I’d say Hendry is doing exactly that.

While he’ll probably want the option to play himself into form by remaining in the side, Celtic signing another centre-back to take his place (or Dedryck Boyata returning to the team) may be the best thing for him. He needs to be taken out of the firing line for at least a few weeks.

Conor Sammon (Motherwell)

The striker was a substitute with 15 minutes remaining in Motherwell’s clash with Livingston. The away side were 1-0 up and didn’t look like conceding. However, that didn’t pacify a section of the travelling support, who booed the forward’s introduction at the expense of goalscorer Danny Johnson. There then followed some sarcastic applause whenever Sammon did anything positive in his brief cameo. Whether that was in response to the booing, or an attempt to further undermine the summer signing, it’s still far from ideal for the Irishman.

It harks back to the start of his Tynecastle career. A fanbase that didn’t particularly want the player in the first place had turned against him fully by the end of his fourth match, as boos rang round the ground following his announcement as man of the match in the infamous European exit to Maltese side Birkirkara - despite Sammon actually scoring in the game.

It seems the big man may have to wait another season for a support willing to take him to their hearts.