How Hamilton Accies are ready for their latest Survivor Series - Different mindset, shrewd recruitment and Hakeem Odoffin

“We’re Hamilton. That’s what we do. We never give up, we keep going. We’re against the odds all the time.”

Hakeem Odoffin and Aaron Martin have been excellent for Hamilton Accies. Picture: SNS
Hakeem Odoffin and Aaron Martin have been excellent for Hamilton Accies. Picture: SNS

Accies boss Brian Rice had just been asked if he was getting what was required from his squad to reenact another relegation survival story after a thumping 4-1 win over local rivals Motherwell.

We’re heading for the seventh edition of Scottish football's very own Survivor Series.

The three points at the weekend, following on from a more than deserved point against Rangers, lifted Accies to 11th in the table.

Brian Rice has called on his Accies players to be brave. Picture: SNS

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There have been more than a few times this campaign that it looked like Hamilton’s survival qualities were on the wane. Notably the 8-0 embarrassment at Rangers which prompted a number of the club's supporters to wait for the bus back from Ibrox and demand answers.

Same shape, different mindset

Last month the team, albeit without key players, were nothing short of woeful at Kilmarnock. No ambition, no purpose, no direction. A 3-5-2 which was essentially a defensive 5-2-1-2.

Fast forward a few weeks and it is the same same shape but a different mindset.

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Rice has challenged players to be brave and have a go between now and the end of the season.

As a team, they average the fewest shots per 90 minutes in the Premiership with 7.35. Against Motherwell they had 13 efforts, while the previous week they became the team to have the most shots on target against Rangers in the league this season.

Scott McMann and Lee Hodson, are playing higher up the pitch, wing-backs rather than full-backs. In turn they have become more of a threat in the final third with their crosses.

Then there is the Accies identity. Since their seventh place finish in 2015 – under Alex Neil then Martin Canning – they haven’t been a flashy side, but what they have been are aggressive, direct, combative. They make it uncomfortable for teams. Too many times this season they’ve made it too comfortable for sides.

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The stat PPDA (passes per defensive action) quantifies pressing intensity. The lower the number, the more intensely a team presses. Against Kilmarnock it was 13.5. It was just 5.7 against Motherwell.

Unfashionable stars and new signings

Two players are key to this. Unfashionable individuals elsewhere in the Premiership, but star men at Accies.

Ross Callachan may be one of the fittest players in the league, scurrying about as an attacking midfielder. He links play, gets in the box, scores goals but also gets in opposition players’ faces.

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Then there is Hakeem Odoffin, one of the most valuable players in the Premiership. A master interceptor, he reads he game brilliantly. At Livingston he was used in defence and as a wing-back, plus as an auxiliary striker.

He’s been moved into midfield after a stint in defence for Accies and they’ve found their Alex Gogic replacement. No player has made more interceptions or blocked more shots. He’s a road block.

Odoffin encapsulated the new-found confidence at Accies against Motherwell, performing a wonderful pirouette and back heel to set up a crossing opportunity.

During the season, Rice has also made two key additions. Aaron Martin, a towering and reliable centre-back, to lead his back three and help young star Jamie Hamilton, plus the willing and nippy Bruce Anderson to partner the physical Marios Ogkmpoe.

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It's Hamilton. They are surviving again.