Which players shone brightest and who had a weekend to forget in Scottish football?
Tom Rogic (Celtic)
The Australian netted a goal so sublime it could only be described properly through a series of involuntary noises. This was just as well for Celtic, who took pedestrian play to new levels of dull during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Kilmarnock. There was just no spark about them whatsoever and Kilmarnock will rightly be kicking themselves that they didn’t win the match.
The good news for Celtic and their fans is that they can play better. Even on the standards of this season, which haven’t been high, they’ve been dominating and certainly played with a lot more verve than they have the last couple of months, and they’ve still extended the lead in the title race.
There’s a lot more to say about Rogic, but that will be covered in greater detail later this week in a standalone article about Celtic’s most improved player. For the meantime, here’s a list of the top five Celtic performers this season.
1. Leigh Griffiths
2. Tom Rogic
3. Kieran Tierney
4. Nir Bitton
5. Erm... Craig Gordon?
Murray Davidson (St Johnstone)
The Saints midfielder looked like a discount version of Yaya Toure on Saturday as St Johnstone dominated (read: DOMINATED) Hearts at Tynecastle. Whether this was a particularly inspired performance from the midfielder or the ineptitude of the hosts is up for debate (probably a combination of the two), though there’s always something heartening about seeing Davidson put in such a top performance.
It wasn’t so long ago that the midfielder looked like a potential Scottish international in the making. Unfortunately for him, he tried his hand at earning a move down south just when interest in Scottish talent was waning and he suffered a couple of serious injuries after returning to re-sign for St Johnstone. While he’ll likely never get back that career momentum, it’s been good to see him return to his previous form this season. After all, he’s terrific all-action player on his day. Someone capable of beating opponents both with his physicality and intelligence in the centre of the park.
Myles Hippolyte (Falkirk)
It’ll be a long time before the young attacker forgets his first goal for Falkirk. It arrived in the 78th minute of Friday’s match with Rangers, equalising the game and enabling the Bairns to go on and record a memorable victory, one which looked borderline impossible before Hippolyte took the field. The energy he brought to the attack caught Rangers cold and they had no answer for him. Without his introduction, there’s little doubt it would have been a routine victory for Mark Warburton’s men.
The next step for ‘the Hippo’ (Scottish football nicknames are so imaginative, aren’t they?) is to become a regular starter at the second tier level. Throughout his time in Scotland, first with Livingston and now Falkirk, he’s mainly been used coming off the bench, with more appearances as a substitute than matches started. As you would have witnessed from Friday’s game, it’s clear he has bags of ability. It’s now about showing that on a consistent basis.
Mark McGhee (Motherwell)
The sly dog pulled a fast one last week when he revealed that Motherwell were on the verge of asking for their match with Aberdeen to be postponed because of a flu virus sweeping through the club. What he said wasn’t untrue. The under-20s game during the week had been called off because of the aforementioned virus. But the key was in the detail. Only Marvin Johnson and Chris Cadden were affected by it in the first team squad, and both of them recovered to play on Saturday. Both played well, the whole team was excellent and Motherwell won the match 2-1.
In between making eyebrow raising comments in the media, McGhee is doing a fine job of building Motherwell back up again. The side that were relegation candidates under Iain Baraclough now look like outsiders for a European place, as fourth spot, which remains up for grabs, will see passage into the Europa League if Celtic win the Scottish Cup.
Ryan Hardie (Raith Rovers)
Stark’s Park has been a brief stopover for many a promising youngster in Scottish football over the last few seasons. Usually they come from Hearts - David Templeton, Jamie Walker, Jason Holt, David Smith, Denis Prynchenekenevco - but occasionally other teams send out their future stars to simultaneously learn their trade and the lyrics to Geordie Munro.
For the most part, these have not been successful. Walker was good, Johnny Russell was better, but the majority failed to make a positive impact. Even future Scottish international David Goodwillie struggled, while the less said about Barrie McKay’s year at Stark’s the better. However, the same cannot be said for Rangers loanee Ryan Hardie. In fact, his performances have been so good that some Ibrox supporters are wondering why he’s not the player backing up Kenny Miller, rather than Nicky Clark.
While he didn’t find the back of the net against Hibs, he still put in an excellent performance to help Raith to victory. After struggling through a difficult middle third to this season, Raith are gaining momentum once again and look odds on for the play-offs.
Scottish football fans
With Friday’s epic comeback from Falkirk, Raith’s come-from-behind upset over Hibs and a ding-dong battle of a Dundee derby, it’s fair to say Scottish football supporters got their money’s worth in terms of entertainment this weekend. Even Celtic’s game with Kilmarnock, while low on quality, had a stunning finish and was a tense spectacle throughout.
More of the same next week please... it’s an international weekend, isn’t it? *groans*
Gavin Gunning (Dundee United)
From a talent perspective, Gunning could be one of the best centre backs in the country. During his first spell at United, when he was getting sent off for his hotheadedness, he looked a fine talent. This time around, however, he continually makes key mistakes in games that cost United. It must say something about the other centre backs at Tannadice that, as poor as Gunning has been since his return, he’s pretty much first name on the team-sheet each weekend. Against rivals Dundee, Gunning thought it best to deal with the threat of Kane Hemmings in behind their high defensive line was to stop tracking the striker, stand still and put his hand in their, regardless of whether there was any hint of the striker being offside or not.
The Rangers back-line
They have rightly been praised for their improvements in recent months. James Tavernier, overall, is not as bad a defender as some like to make out. Rob Kiernan has been excellent since October. Lee Wallace is his usual good self, and even Danny Wilson has come on to a game after struggling in the first few months. But against Falkirk, the unit regressed badly. Even if the forward players dropped back into second gear and found themselves unable to crank it up again, there was little excuse for some of the defending.
Read more about it here: The errors in defence that lost Friday’s match for Rangers
Jason Cummings (Hibs)
Oh my. That miss.
It’s usually dumb for fans to say “he shouldn’t have been playing, <enter name of back-up striker> would have scored that”, because even the player missing the chance would find the back of the net 99 times out of 100 under the same circumstances, but Saturday’s howler really was indicative of the Cummings’ form of late. He’s now gone six games without a goal, which is his longest run without finding the back of the net since his debut season.
Alan Stubbs insisted he would keep the Anthony Stokes and Cummings partnership together but pressure is building to break the duo up. Neither James Keatings nor Chris Dagnall may be as talented as Cummings, but they offer a more diverse partnership alongside Stokes. The silver lining for Hibs fans at the moment is that the Celtic loanee looks like he’s hitting top form.
Blazej Augustyn (Hearts)
There’s a theme developing here. A manager will remove a centre half for two reasons. 1) he’s injured, or 2) he’s having a shocker. Unfortunately for Augustyn, it was the latter, as he continually charged into the back of the opposing attackers, conceding several fouls in the process. The one thing that can be said in his defence is that he was far from the only player in maroon to have a Saturday to forget.
While none of the team rose to the challenge, as St Johnstone won just about every second ball and flat-out bullied their opponents in the centre of the park, Robbie Neilson should also take his share of the blame for the defeat. Last week he set out his team perfectly in a 4-1-4-1 away at Dundee. Then, for reasons best known to himself, he changed it entirely into a 4-4-2 diamond. It’s a system Hearts haven’t played all season and, boy, did it show.
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