Every Scottish club should look to use the January transfer window to improve at least one position. Craig Fowler picks one for each top flight side.
This is a tricky selection because the Dons are fairly well stacked right across the park, and it’s too much of a cop out to say “a star” as the answer. There are very few players out there within their budget who would be an improvement on the likes of Adam Rooney, Mark Reynolds, Graeme Shinnie, Niall McGinn or Jonny Hayes.
Where they could look to strengthen is full back. While left back is Shinnie’s natural position, he does impact games more in the centre of the park, and Shay Logan looks set to leave the club next summer. They could either recruit a long-term replacement at right back or add more depth at left back that’ll allow Shinnie to move into midfield full-time.
Position: Full back
The opposite of Aberdeen in the sense that you could make a case for them upgrading everywhere. Of course, that is due to their higher budget and much higher expectations.
While finding a decent alternative and more dependable centre back may be high on the list of priorities for fans, it’s likely the club will want to wait until the end of the season before fully assessing the merits of Nadir Ciftci and Dedryck Boyata remaining first-team players.
An area where the team are quietly having issues is in the double pivot in front of the back four. Both Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew, the first choice pairing little over a year ago, have struggled heavily with injuries in recent times. It’s led to Stefan Johansen, Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic being used in the position, none of whom should be considered long-term solutions for the problem.
Position: Defensive midfield
Riccardo Calder’s time at Dens Park seems to be coming to an end amid rumours of a falling out with manager Paul Hartley. Even though the club wouldn’t miss his on-field contribution all that much, it still leaves them with no other natural wide-men in the squad.
With Greg Stewart always stationed on the wing but never playing as a winger – he likes to cut inside and shoot whenever possible – it makes Hartley’s team incredibly narrow at times, particularly when Gary Irvine is preferred to Kevin Holt at left-back.
A winger who bothers his backside could be the difference between top and bottom six for Dundee.
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Everyone except Billy Mckay and, maybe, Chris Erskine is dispensable.
United have many problems but the most concerning has to be the lack of goals in the team outwith Mckay. Erskine’s return from injury will help but the young supporting cast – Blair Spittal, Charlie Telfer, Aidan Connolly – are not ready to fill the void. They need an attacking midfielder capable of chipping in with around 7-10 goals a season.
Not only would this take some of the pressure off Mckay, a good No.10 would also help create chances for him to hit the back of the net with greater frequency.
Position: Attacking midfield
There’s two areas that need strengthening in the Hamilton side. One is at left back where Antons Kurakins has not yet lived up to his pedigree. The other is in attack.
Carlton Morris, while fitting nicely into the way Hamilton play, has not been the regular goal threat supporters hoped for. Besides, he’s not Accies’ property, as he’s on loan from Norwich City. Christian Nade is a decent player to have around the squad as he has an impact factor off the bench or in fits and spurts, but he’s not someone to play every week. There haven’t been many sighting of Alexandre D’Acol yet.
Accies aren’t in great form and are in danger of being sucked into the relegation play-off battle (with about five other teams) if they don’t get their act together shortly. A good goalscoring striker, even one to play a squad rotation role, could give them a boost.
Similar to Aberdeen, Hearts have solid back-ups in all positions, except maybe up front or goalkeeper.
Gavin Reilly is taking a long time to bed in and Sunday’s line-up for the match with Celtic will be a strong indicator whether Robbie Neilson sees the former QoS’ striker as an able deputy, or someone who cannot be relied on.
Even if its the former, Hearts could do with strengthening the position anyway. The team have been happy to use the 4-4-2 system this season, particularly with Jamie Walker injured, which leaves Reilly as the only back-up – I’m intentionally not counting Soufian El Hassnaoui who can’t stay fit. Besides, Osman Sow could be gone in the summer, so if the right man comes along Hearts shouldn’t hesitate to get a deal done.
The news that Ryan Christie is set to return to Celtic in January could be a hammer blow for Inverness CT and their chances this season. Make no mistake about it, without their young talisman, the Scottish Cup holders could be in big trouble. They will need to find a replacement, even if they convince Miles Storey to remain with the club past January.
Should Storey stay then they could move the forward back into Christie’s role. While he doesn’t have the guile of the young Scot, his direct running could cause major problems and he’s at his best when facing the goal, rather than playing with his back to it.
Killie’s defence has been beyond shoddy this season, particularly at Rugby Park where they’ve conceded an astonishing 24 goals. Part of the trouble has been the set-up, with the side often looking disorganised under Gary Locke’s management, while the sitting midfield duo – whether it be Jamie Hamill, Scott Robinson, Stevie Smith or Craig Slater - have not always pulled their weight.
They’ve also lacked a right back they can really trust with Darryl Westlake and Ross Barbour swapping in the position to limited success.
While Locke needs to get his squad more defensively sound throughout, getting an upgrade in a couple of these areas could give them a boost.
Position: Right back
Ian Baraclough tried to address the need for a long-term option at left back in the summer. Stevie Hammell is still one of the more dependable players at his position when he’s fit, but the 33-year-old has been increasingly injury-prone over the last three seasons as his career winds down.
Joe Chalmers has yet to show he is ready to take the baton from the elder statesmen, and this will likely influence where his new manager Mark McGhee looks to strengthen in the window.
Position: Left back
In the past two January transfer windows Alan Archibald has turned to the services of Lyle Taylor to provide goals for his team. I’ve always found this quite harsh on long-term fans’ favourite Kris Doolan, who’s a very fine striker at the top flight level, and could maybe do with more assistance around him.
This term, once again, Doolan fought off competition from someone brought into replace him (Mathias Pogba), and it’s really about time his club awarded him with someone better to play with.
Position: Attacking midfielder
County are stacked. Every position you look at has at least two players capable of filling in and doing so competently. As much praise as County have been receiving for their form this season, that they are only seven points off 11th position (albeit in fifth) should be looked at as something of an underachievement given the squad they’ve got.
So where to improve? Jackson Irvine’s form has diminished in recent weeks as it looks increasingly obvious the former Celtic man does not suit playing beside Martin Woods. The ex-Leeds and Sunderland player prefers a more lackadaisical style, and in a two-man midfield this leaves a lot of the running to Irvine, whose play is suffering as a result.
Rocco Quinn would be a better fit alongside Irvine, though the midfielder has never proven himself as a nailed on starter at County throughout their top flight run, and there will be other options out there.
Position: Centre midfield
Saints have been very un-St Johnstone this year. They are still overachieving in the league, but they are doing so by outscoring opponents rather than racking up the clean sheets. It’s not a new go-hung philosophy - they’ve often preferred 4-4-2 - it’s just that the improvement in their attackers has coincided with a decline in their defence. If you’re a glass half-full kind of guy, you’d call that lucky; if you weren’t, you’d curse the club for missing their window for challenging second place.
The back four isn’t getting any younger either, especially at centre back where Dave Mackay will turn 36 before the end of the season. The Brad McKay experiment seems not to have worked and Tommy Wright should be on the look-out for a couple of re-gens to bolster the defence, not just for this season, but for future St Johnstone sides.
Position: Centre back
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