Which players shone brightest and who had a weekend to forget in Scottish football?
Wes Foderingham (Rangers)
The stopper produced a man of the match worthy performance in his side’s victory over Queen of the South, making three crucial saves which, if he hadn’t made them, would probably have seen Rangers lose the game otherwise.
What a signing he’s proven to be. He fluffed the first shot he faced, allowing Sam Stanton to score in the Petrofac Cup, but he’s been really strong ever since. The “bombscare” tag stuck on him during the first two months was an unfair label, and was down to his uneasiness at passing the ball out from the back rather than his actual ability as a keeper. Since then he’s looked a lot more capable with the ball at his feet, even if he still doesn’t look entirely comfortable.
As good as he’s been, he may not even be in the top five signings made by Mark Warburton this season. That’s how good the recruitment has been overall. Yes, they can pay more money than the rest, so they should be good signings, but Rangers squads of the very recent past have shown that doesn’t guarantee success.
Anyway, here’s my top five Rangers signings of this season. Since you asked.
1) James Tavernier
2) Martyn Waghorn
3) Jason Holt
4) Andy Halliday
5) Wes Foderingham
There you go, he sneaks into my list, just ahead of Rob Kiernan.
Scott Allan (Celtic)
This entry could easily have been Ryan Christie as both players, along with Patrick Roberts, came on and ran riot against Inverness in the second half of Celtic’s 3-0 win. But while there’s undoubtedly a question of whether Christie is going to get a chance at Celtic, he’s only just through the door. His situation was not as desperate as that of Scott Allan, who’s almost disappeared from view since signing from Hibs last summer.
Ronny Deila is not the man to lead Celtic forward in the eyes of most supporters, but if he is going to be tasked once more with getting them Champions League football, he could maybe do with listening to what they want a little more. And right now fans want to see more of Christie, Roberts and Allan.
John Hughes (Inverness)
They may have lost to Celtic, but Hughes is a 100 per cent, bona fide winner in my eyes after discovering he’s getting Inverness Caledonian Thistle to play without a centre forward. He did say he wanted to turn Caley into Barcelona, and by god he seems to have done it.
Of course, they are Barcelona without the winning, but then even the best of tactics can only go so far. You generally need talent to do the rest and the kind of talent that gets you to the top of the table costs money, which Inverness obviously don’t have a lot of.
The formation against Celtic saw Jordan Roberts and Miles Storey both playing as wing-forwards, as each retreated down the flanks without the football and drifted into a more central area when Inverness broke forward. With Draper supporting from midfield, they caused Celtic a lot of problems in the first 60 minutes and should have been at least a goal in front. The full time score certainly flattered the hosts.
Gary Dicker (Kilmarnock)
Already the January transfer signing from Carlisle is becoming a favourite in the eyes of the fans. There’s nothing flashy to his play. He’s a defensive centre midfielder whose game revolves around breaking up opposing attacks, whether that’s through making tackles or intercepting intended passes. It sounds easy, but the performances of Scott Robinson and Jamie Hamill in Kilmarnock shirts earlier in the season would tell you it isn’t.
The Killie support have also been impressed with the displays of fellow January recruit Lee Hodson, while Celtic centre back Stuart Findlay has turned in a number of eye-catching performances recently. Findlay’s season is easy to sum up. When playing at centre back, he’s either been excellent or he’s made a big error. That’s going to happen, he’s a 20-year-old defender, and over the piece he’s not made many more than those currently guarding the penalty area in green and white hoops.
David Wotherspoon (St Johnstone)
The sale of Michael O’Halloran means there is a significant weight on the shoulders of David Wotherspoon to make things happen for St Johnstone. He’s the team’s most creative outlet now and they aren’t going to do much if he can’t make things happen. Thankfully for Tommy Wright, he’s one of the best crossers in the country. In addition to his tremendous goal against Motherwell, he also put two chances on a plate for Liam Craig, which his team-mate should have finished off.
The trick is to get Wotherspoon playing consistently. He’s never been the type to take the game by the scruff of the neck. He even admitted that the pressure of playing for Hibs got to him. Fair enough, Hibs are a big club in Scotland, but it’s hardly the Old Firm. However, if anyone can get Wotherspoon to grow into the role of talisman, it’s Wright.
Nicky Clark (Rangers)
Saturday’s match at Queen of the South was Clark’s chance to establish himself in the Rangers first team. He didn’t necessarily need to score, just show enough within the overall attack that he could be trusted to fill the boots of Martyn Waghorn. Instead, he was ineffective after a positive opening 15 minutes and then watched as his replacement, Kenny Miller, scored with an unstoppable effort from the edge of the penalty area.
Clark won’t fall into obscurity due to this. He’ll just return to the same role he’s had the past two seasons; a perennial substitute who can occasionally rise off the bench and make a quick impact. But that’s all he’ll be.
Chris Dagnall and James Keatings (Hibernian)
Combined, Hibernian’s two reserve strikers have gone 20 games without scoring. Their shared frustration was there for all to see against Alloa. Dagnall looked to shoot from everywhere, while Keatings appeared a little fed up when Dagnall’s late shot, saved by Scott Gallacher, dropped two feet to his left where Martin Boyle gratefully gobbled up the kind of chance he’s been dying for.
It must be difficult enough to try and dislodge Jason Cummings and Anthony Stokes as a strike-partnership without going through a barren spell. Against the division’s weakest side, they both had an excellent chance to stake their claim. The good news is, with Jason Cummings suspended for the Inverness game a week on Sunday, one of these guys will get a great shot at redemption and the chance to play themselves into consideration for the League Cup final the following week.
It certainly seems to be absent from many in the Hearts support as calls for Robbie Neilson to be sacked grew after the weekend’s defeat at Dundee United.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be frustrated at Neilson and the overall management regime for the way these last couple of weeks have panned out. Hearts look weaker, not stronger, for their activity in the January transfer window, and a season which promised so much at one point is petering out with near three months remaining. However, it’s no reason to lose all sense of perspective.
Hearts were not entitled to take third this season. It was always on the cards with how strong they’d been in the Championship last term and their relatively large budget compared to other top flight sides this season. However, it’s usually a difficult transition and often teams don’t finish anywhere near as high as that in their first year back. Just look at the Hearts sides of the early 80s or the Hibs team under Alex McLeish in the late 90s. The latter finished sixth in a ten-team league despite Russell Latapy and Franck Sauzee starring for them.
Hearts are playing poor right now, but with a couple of new parts to integrate, and a couple more missing matches through (or just coming back from) injury, there’s a real lack of fluidity and the performances are disjointed. Besides, even if Hearts continue to stumble for the remainder of the season, with no team behind them showing real consistency, they’ll still take Europe in their first season back. It’s a terrific achievement, especially for such a young manager. One who deserves a little more patience from those in the stands.
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