Craig Fowler reviews the weekend’s action from the Scottish top flight.
Scottish football narrative
It was the kind of weekend which, for a mere Scottish football scribbler, makes the written word feel so insignificant. How do you describe Peter Hartley bamming up Rangers, being forced to apologise, getting slaughtered by thousands of fans, then netting a last-minute equaliser in a 3-3 draw, and somehow do it justice? How do you convey the delicious irony of Celtic’s Green Brigade hoisting up a banner saying Dedryck Boyata is “not fit” to wear the shirt, only for him to be the difference between victory and a humbling 0-0 draw with Hamilton Accies? How is it possible to recreate the drama of Raith Rovers having a one-man disadvantage, a two-goal deficit and only three minutes remaining, and still winning the game? It can’t be done, not unless you’re one of the literary greats, which I am not.
Instead, I’ll merely summarise with this: that was pretty radge, eh?
Uche Ikpeazu (Hearts)
Kilmarnock found it near impossible to dispossess the striker on Saturday without fouling him. It was incredible to watch. Even imposing players like Alan Power and Kirk Broadfoot just bounced off the former Cambridge United man as they tried in vain to win the physical battle.
The summer signing is more than just a brute, however, as he often killed the ball easily with his first touch and routinely helped keep the play in Kilmarnock’s half with his hold up play, ensuring Hearts enjoyed the territorial advantage even before Gary Dicker’s red card.
While his winning goal was undoubtedly a piece of aerial brilliance, as he powered in a header from 18 yards, my favourite moment of his came a few minutes later. Demanding the ball from his goalkeeper on the edge of his own penalty box, Ikpeazu charged up the wing where he was greeted by three Kilmarnock players closing in. Somehow he managed to break through all of them before playing for Steven MacLean who reversed for Stevie Naismith to hit the post.
Cambridge fans said he was worth the price of admission on his own last season when Hearts signed the player. It turns out that was not an exaggeration.
Motherwell’s style of play
Worse than losing their first two league games to Hibs and Hamilton, the Motherwell support couldn’t stomach the lack of quality on display. Though Stephen Robinson’s men have a reputation for being only about the battle, they showed at times last season that they could also play a bit, and fans believe they would see more of it if Robinson utilised certain first-team talents more than others.
Well, it’s fair to say that no one in Fir Park could have been complaining about a lack of entertainment following Sunday’s 3-3 draw with Rangers. While Hartley stole the headlines with his 94th minute equaliser, Allan Campbell and Gael Bigirimana were the stars of the show in the centre of the park as the underdogs went toe to toe with Steven Gerrard’s side and got their reward in the end.
Bigirimana, in particular, stood out for a second weekend in a row. The ex-Newcastle and Coventry midfielder is the most assured and technical passer in the side, but he’s a little slight and can make rash decisions in defence, which leads to his omission from the starting XI. Fans would like to see these faults excused for an extended run in the side, which should produce attractive football on a more consistent basis for the Steelmen.
Alan Lithgow (Livingston)
Kenny Miller didn’t seem to rate the centre-back all that highly as he mainly sat on the bench watching Steven Saunders take his place in the heart of the defence to begin this season. However, while most of the squad were reportedly furious at Miller’s exit last week, Lithgow must have been relieved when he found himself immediately inserted him back into the starting XI for the trip to St Mirren.
Whether it was David Martindale, or new boss Gary Holt, making the decision, it was one the West Lothian club would not regret. Lithgow not only notched a goal and an assist in the 2-0 win, he was also a colossus at the back as Livingston got what must be considered a huge away victory, even at this early stage of the season.
James Tavernier (Rangers)
There’s good Tavernier and bad Tavernier. You can decipher which one you’re looking at by determining which area of the park he’s standing in.
Joking aside, the right-back improved the defensive side of his game last term to the point where he was no longer a constant liability and walking punchline. However, it’s clear to see that he still lacks the required concentration at that end of the field to ever be thought of as a strong defender, despite possessing the physical tools you’d want from a full-back.
On Sunday he committed the exact same mistake for Motherwell goals two and three. He simply didn’t show enough determination to stay goalside of his man at each of those fatal set-pieces, and Rangers paid the price as a result.
Dundee’s offside trap
The Dark Blues’ defensive organisation, or lack thereof, was a significant factor in the latest installment of the ‘play-OK-but-still-lose’ Dundee series as they went down 1-0 to St Johnstone. As highlighted by the Terrace Podcast, the visitors were given a warning as to what could happen if they continued with their fractured attempt at playing a high line during the first half. Unfortunately for Neil McCann and his men, they failed to take heed and conceded when Josh Meekings sat ten yards too deep before rushing up to play offside, allowing Tony Watt to streak through and score.
What’s just as worrying for the Dundee boss is that his side failed to show an improvement in results despite star man Glen Kamara returning to the starting XI, and performing reasonably well. With games against Rangers and Hibs right around the corner, you wonder if McCann can afford another defeat when Motherwell come to town next weekend.
Cammy Smith’s St Mirren career
When asked about the rumours that Smith was free to leave St Mirren, here was Alan Stubbs’ response: “I don’t know, no. At the moment, no. You know what football is like, anything can change. But as far as I am standing here now, what I have got is what I have got. If something happens over the weekend or next week and we feel as if it’s for the benefit of the football club and makes us stronger, then it might be something that we look at.” Hardly a stern denial, is it?
When St Mirren defeated Dundee, Smith was easily their best player in the opening period, which has been the newly promoted side’s best 45 minutes of their season so far. And yet here we are just three weeks later and he could be on his way, having sat on the bench for the first hour of the defeat to Livingston.
With few of the new signings looking up to scratch, something captain Stephen McGinn even referenced when he pointed to the lack of experience throughout the squad, it would be a huge gamble to let Smith walk, and would likely improve most other clubs in the top flight who’d be willing to have him.
I’m not usually one to criticise officials. Mainly because there are so many players, fans, managers and pundits who don’t fully comprehend the rules, and are too willing to stick the boot into those who do. However, that being said, there were a couple of shockers this past weekend.
One of which took place at Rugby Park as Gary Dicker was sent packing for a clumsy foul on Callumn Morrison. Now, in fairness to the match official, the tackle looked much worse from the main stand angle. It appeared Dicker went over the ball with a straight leg and caught Morrison on his ankle. The reverse angle shows, however, that there was minimal contact and Dicker neither went in with a straight leg, nor at high speed. Collum may have realised this if he’d taken the time to discuss it with his linesman, but was too quick to assert his authority.
That, however, was not as bad as Andrew Dallas’ decision not to award Aberdeen a penalty at Easter Road as Paul Hanlon brought down Lewis Ferguson inside the penalty box. It’s hard to even fathom what he was thinking in this instance. That’s not because the foul was completely obvious. Hanlon himself got up and told Aberdeen attacker Stevie May that he got a touch on the ball. However, Dallas didn’t even award a corner. He just gave a goal kick. What was his rationale?
Despite the error, that doesn’t mean Derek McInnes should get off score-free for his insistence that Aberdeen would have had a 2-0 lead had the penalty been awarded, as they scored not long after. That’s not how football, or indeed linear time, works.