Craig Fowler takes a look back at the weekend’s action in the Scottish Premiership.
Paul Hanlon is a frustrated left-winger
Injuries and a pedestrian first-half performance convinced Hibs boss Neil Lennon to drastically alter his team at half-time during his side’s victory over Dundee. The Easter Road manager had already been forced into one change after Dylan McGeouch had gone down clutching his hamstring, though this didn’t dissuade him from using up all three of his substitutions before the restart. As well as introducing Vykintas Slivka and Ryan Porteous, Lennon switched his side into a 3-5-2 formation, which would have a significant impact on the full-time result.
It wasn’t that the change got the best out of John McGinn or Anthony Stokes or any other noted match-winners within the squad, instead it was Paul Hanlon who was the home side’s most consistent attacking threat throughout the second half. He was half centre-back, half winger within the context of those 45 minutes.
The addition of a third centre-back allowed the defender to continually charge forward, which created several decent opportunities and pushed Dundee on the back foot. Neil McCann even withdrew Roarie Deacon, who’d been giving Lewis Stevenson a torrid time on the flank, in the hope of shoring up the right-hand side, but it didn’t work.
Even though he wouldn’t touch the ball in the build-up to the winner, his run down the wing stopped Cammy Kerr from pushing up to meet Stokes, whose cross found Simon Murray to tap home.
Ross McCrorie looks the real deal
Bruno Alves returned to the Rangers squad this past weekend after serving his suspension for kicking out at Louis Moult in the Betfred Cup semi-final, but there would be no immediate return to the starting XI for the marquee summer signing as Graeme Murty stuck with the centre-back pairing which defeated Hearts the weekend before.
Of the duo, Ross McCrorie stood out the most, and not just for a determined front-post run and header which gave Rangers the lead.
The 19-year-old continued to show poise in possession above what’s expected of someone so young, while he dealt effectively with the differing threats posed by Miles Storey and Conor Sammon. The latter had a field day against the Rangers’ first-choice centre-back pairing of Alves and Fabio Cardoso the last time the team’s met, but he was kept very quiet this time around. Storey caused more problems, yet he too was frustrated by his younger opponent, who also showed off a considerable degree of pace to keep up with the flying forward on a couple of occasions.
MATCH REPORT - Rangers 3 - 0 Partick Thistle: Gers impress for Graeme Murty
Tynecastle Park alone can’t save Hearts
Another game and another dismal performance from Craig Levein’s side as Hearts slipped to their third straight defeat. There were initial signs of life when the experienced manager took over the side, notably the 0-0 draw with Aberdeen in his first-match back in charge. But other than a 2-1 win away to Ross County, where Hearts were the stronger side despite suffering a pair of first-half injuries and going down to ten men, they’ve barely played since their first “home” match at Murrayfield.
Some will be hoping that the familiarity of Tynecastle can provide this team with a lift, but if the players don’t get off to a strong start against Partick Thistle a week on Saturday, that’s unlikely to be the case,
Hearts’ home crowd is a tremendous advantage to the Gorgie Road side when things are going well. The fans are right on top of the action and sometimes appear to have the ability to suck the ball into the net. However, when things are going poorly, as they certainly are at present, there’s nowhere to hide from the harsh criticism coming down from the stands if you’re a player with fragile confidence.
MATCH REPORT - Hearts 1 - 2 Kilmarnock: Adam Frizzell wins it for Killie
Brown is putting together another POTY worthy campaign
Rested against Kilmarnock in Celtic’s last domestic match, Scott Brown returned to the starting XI for the trip to McDiarmid Park this past weekend and put in another stellar showing.
There wasn’t anything you haven’t already come to expect from Brown: he kept possession, broke up play, read the game instinctively and won the psychological battle with his nearest opponent (Paul Paton, in this case). However, it was another reminder of his value to the team as, not coincidentally, Celtic played much better than the 1-1 draw with Killie last time out.
At this moment, Brown might just be the leading contender for Player of the Year. If Celtic march towards another title unimpeded, you’d have to think the winner will come from inside Parkhead. Looking around the rest of the squad, there are a few stars who haven’t shone quite as brightly as last season. Stuart Armstrong and Scott Sinclair, two nominees from last year, haven’t quite hit their best form yet, while Moussa Dembele has been injured for a significant chunk. Others in the mix - Leigh Griffiths, Patrick Roberts, Craig Gordon, Tom Rogic - also haven’t quite been at their very best (which, given results, underlines how outrageously strong this Celtic squad is). Kieran Tierney should graduate from a Young Player nomination to the top award, but other than that there’s no team-mate who should be taking votes from the club captain at present.
There’s a long way to go and a lot that can change, but there are a couple of things working in his favour. Brendan Rodgers resting him from the starting XI every now and then reminds opponents of Brown’s value, while Sinclair, Dembele and the like are no longer “sexy” new names which often grab the attention of voters when it comes to award season.
MATCH REPORT - St Johnstone 0 - 4 Celtic: Hoops break 100-year-old record
Templeton could be Accies’ x-factor
It’s been a stop-start season so far for David Templeton at Hamilton. The former Rangers man suffered yet another injury in what has been a plagued career earlier in the season, but the signs were against Aberdeen that he could be a big player for Accies. The forward was a constant threat with his running ability and looked a class apart from his team-mates all afternoon.
The only downside to his performance was that he failed to score a hat-trick and only hit the back of the net once, having managed to forge several good chances for himself with his tireless movement in the final third. But seeing as he managed to rescue a point with a nice finish from inside the area just three minutes after Martin Canning’s side had fallen behind, he’s probably been forgiven for the earlier profligacy.
Accies lack an attacker they can rely on week in, week out. With a terrific midfield and a defence which should be solid enough to keep them competitive in most matches when Michael Devlin returns from injury, a consistent threat could be the difference between the club enjoying a degree of comfort this season instead of being locked in another relegation battle.
MATCH REPORT - Hamilton 2 - 2 Aberdeen: Dons lose ground at the top