A list of Ladbrokes Premiership new boys who’ve failed to set the heather alight, but who shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Stephen Gleeson (Aberdeen)
The signings of Gleeson and Chris Forrester were supposed to regenerate the Aberdeen midfield after losing Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean in successive summers. Instead, they have partnered Dominic Ball and Graeme Shinnie at the base with fellow grafter Lewis Ferguson at the tip for a lot of this season. It’s an effective trio against certain opponents, but it isn’t easy on the eye.
Such an agricultural approach has been necessitated by neither Gleeson nor Forrester so far showing themselves good enough to handle the demands of the Scottish Premiership. But while the immediate future looks bleak for Forrester, there may be a route back into the starting XI for Gleeson.
Unlike his fellow summer signing, the former MK Dons and Birmingham City midfielder has at least been involved in recent match-day squads. And while his performances have been far from perfect, he has shown up well on occasion, performing in away trips to Hibs and Dundee, along with a 4-0 destruction of St Mirren. His biggest problem seems to be a lack of fitness as he’s been subbed off in all but one of his six starts.
Having failed to make an appearance in the last month, his prospects don’t look particularly bright, though if he can achieve a level of fitness satisfactory for manager Derek McInnes then his ability to recycle possession could be key for a Dons team lacking such a player at present.
Benjamin Kallman (Dundee)
The Finnish international looked like being the latest in a long line of frankly terrible forwards who’ve pitched up at Dens Park since Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart departed in one disastrous summer. Often asked to play as the lone striker under previous boss Neil McCann, he somehow looked even less effective than Sofien Moussa, as he didn’t even have the physical brutality to unsettle opposing defenders.
The problem was that Kallman was advertised as a penalty box striker, and here he was being asked to put a stuttering attack on his back and carry them up the table. While the quality of the Dundee squad cannot be improved until January, the gameplan preferred by new boss Jim McIntyre does appear to play to Kallman’s strengths quite a bit more. Instead of a short-passing approach, McIntyre likes to get the ball wide and put crosses into the penalty box for the strikers to attack.
Against St Mirren at the weekend, Kallman was the best player in the first half as his movement caused all sorts of problems. He had an early header flash wide of goal and then played the role of creator himself, bending in a perfect cross for strike-partner Kenny Miller to tap home. His impact tailed off in the second period, though there was enough there to indicate things will get better for the 20-year-old.
Craig Wighton (Hearts)
Hearts spent a six-figure fee to bring the Dundee youngster to the club this past summer. Any such fee is significant for a Scottish team outside of Glasgow and it’s brought with it a burden of expectation that Wighton is already struggling to live up to.
In actuality, Wighton was signed as an investment; a development project where the hope is that he’ll improve over time and unlock the undoubted potential that once made him one of the nation’s highly-rated prospects. He should be making the odd substitute appearance for a team still flying high at the top of the table. Instead, he’s been forced to play a role in a side that’s now beginning to struggle without both of its leading strikers after injury to both Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith.
As this writer explained when Wighton first joined, Hearts could get more out of the player at present by stationing him on the left-wing with freedom to roam inside; a role Naismith performed before Ikpeazu went down. However, from his use of the player so far, it seems Levein views his long-term prospects as a striker and, similar to when Hearts signed John Souttar from Dundee’s rivals Dundee United, he won’t sacrifice development for a quick fix by playing him elsewhere.
Regardless of whether he plays in midfield or up front, it’s far too soon to be writing the player off.
Danny Johnson (Motherwell)
The former Gateshead striker looked certain to be Motherwell’s signing of the summer when he scored in three consecutive games, including the opener in a 3-3 draw with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, earlier in the season. This came after an impressive league debut off the bench against Hibs and it seemed that manager Steven Robinson had unearthed himself a gem. Since then, though, Johnson has struggled to make much of an impact. He hasn’t found the back of the net since a September 1 victory over Dundee and hasn’t started in nearly two months.
Robinson doubled down on Motherwell’s ‘Millwall of the North’ approach this past summer and this may have explained why he was originally reluctant to use Johnson, with the larger Conor Sammon starting ahead of him for the first two games this season. While Johnson appears to be ahead of his team-mate in the pecking order, he’s found himself behind Curtis Main and Ryan Bowman as the first-choice strike-partnership.
Robinson has loosened the leash of late, starting Gael Bigirimana and youngster David Turnbull, a move that has varied their approach as they can now play a bit of football to go along with the physical approach. However, he’s kept his penchant for two fighters in attack. The problem is that neither have been in goalscoring form: they have just one goal in each of their last five games. Johnson may not be able to battle with the same ferocity, but he knows his way around the opposing penalty box and could thrive again if given the chance.
Gareth McAuley (Rangers)
Revising Rangers’ signings at the beginning of November, the acquisition of McAuley appeared particularly odd as the Northern Ireland international hadn’t even played a single minute for since joining Steven Gerrard’s side on September 3. With Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic having formed an effective partnership, and Joe Worrall there to offer an alternative option, there didn’t appear to a reasonable path for the 38-year-old to stake a claim as first-team regular.
It just goes to show how quickly things can change in football. Katic’s form has dropped off a cliff. Having looked rock solid earlier in the season, he’s now been poor in each of his last three games. Worrall, meanwhile, has failed thus far to win over the Ibrox faithful. He’s had some strong performances, particularly in the win over Rapid Vienna in the Europa League, but he’s also looked uncomfortable on the ball and flaky in defence.
McAuley replaced Katic midway through the 7-1 victory over Motherwell. Having taken a while to get fully up to speed following a long summer without a club, the chance will now be there for him to nail down a spot next to Goldson.
Alfie Jones (St Mirren)
The 21-year-old, like the vast majority of St Mirren’s THIRTEEN summer signings, has looked out of his depth so far. Unlike some of his team-mates, while Jones came with a reasonable pedigree (a member of Southampton’s much-vaunted youth set-up), he hadn’t played a single minute of competitive league action in his career prior to the move north. He was then pitched in, originally in midfield and then at centre-back, to a team that was struggling badly near the bottom of the division. It’s no surprise he’s had a hard time of it to this point.
There may have been some green shoots of recovery in recent games. While still given a tough time by Alfredo Morelos in the 2-0 defeat to Rangers and then again in the first half of the 1-1 draw with Dundee by Kallman, overall he gave a decent enough account of himself in both games. This was particularly true of the trip to Dens, where the Buddies defence shut down Kallman and Miller in the second period.
Alongside Anton Ferdinand, he’s got an experienced partner who should be able to coach him through games. As long as St Mirren’s crumbling season doesn’t destroy his confidence, his performances could continue to improve.