Craig Fowler looks back at the winners and losers from the Ladbrokes Premiership weekend.
Harry Forrester (Rangers)
After Rangers recruited a small army to turn a threadbare squad into an almost bloated one this summer, questions hung over who was going to be forced out to make way for these new talents. Initially Harry Forrester looked to be one of those pushed to the periphery, though this no longer appears the case. He followed up his point-rescuing assist against Hamilton with a starring role in the win over Dundee. The ex-Doncaster attacker and his boyband good looks troubled the hosts throughout the first 45 minutes, as he grabbed himself a well taken opening goal and was generally a pain in the backside for the Dundee defence. He has a terrific ability to ghost into dangerous areas despite an awkward running style that should be anything but inconspicuous, enabling him to make things happen in the final third. And, to top it off, he’s apparently immune to red cards. Which is always a bonus.
Liam Boyce (Ross County)
After starting last week as the No.10 in a 3-4-1-2 system that was, quite frankly, all over the place, Boyce was restored to his favoured position at the head of the County attack. Leaving out Brian Graham and Alex Schalk in favour of the Northern Irishman, both of whom have netted more than Boyce in 2016, was a bit of a gamble from Jim McIntyre, but it paid off. Boyce netted all three goals in a rare derby win over Inverness CT at the Caledonian Stadium. It doubled the striker’s tally for the year, though when you consider the identity of his strike partner it’s easy to understand why he was able to rediscover the form he showed in 2015.
Craig Curran missed the second half of last season after a couple of head injuries contributed to poor health. While he was suffering off the park, Boyce was struggling on it. For whatever reason, County’s top goalscorer last season has always looked more comfortable when paired with Curran. He barely got a look in prior to his team-mate’s arrival in January 2015, netting only twice in half a year after joining from Cliftonville the previous summer. But after the Englishman’s signing, Boyce started playing regularly and soon found his scoring touch. It continued into 2015/16 until Curran went down, at which point Boyce’s form plummeted once more. Across his County career, he’s started 45 league fixtures. In 26 games playing alongside Curran from the start, he’s netted 16 goals. In 19 starts without him, he’s scored only five.
Now that Curran is fit and raring to go, expect Boyce to be contending at the top of the goalscorer’s charts once again.
Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock)
After exiting the BetFred Cup, losing at home on opening day to Motherwell and selling star attacker Josh Magennis, Killie fans were understandably concerned about their team’s season ahead. While question marks remain about the squad, a degree of dread has been lifted by the come-from-behind victory over Hamilton at the weekend. The star man, unquestionably, was winger Jordan Jones. He was the only player with pass marks from a dire first half showing, and provided the cross from which Kris Boyd headed the visitors level. If he can consistently provide such a spark every week, with Boyd and match-winner Souleymane Coulibaly looking like a capable strikeforce, and Greg Kiltie to return from injury, there’s the making of a decent side there. There are still defensive issues to address, and someone really needs to teach Greg Taylor how to take throw-ins, but they look in better shape than Hamilton and, arguably, Inverness CT right now.
Scott McDonald’s improvisational skills (Motherwell)
With around ten minutes remaining in their match with St Johnstone, Motherwell had a free kick on the right about 35 yards from goal. Marvin Johnson slung in a curling cross. Scott McDonald broke away from his marker, jumped into the air and realised, to his disappointment, the ball was going to sail over his head. He wasn’t going to have that, so our hero improvised. He rose his arm above his head and, in a move that would impress any Olympic volleyball player, punched the ball directly into the back of the net. Unfortunately for McDonald, the referee was looking right at it and booked him for the attempt at basic cheating. And, even worse, his team would ultimately lose the match 2-1. But it was a genuine, ridiculous, laugh out loud moment for this writer and something I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten St Johnstone’s victory.
Danny Swanson’s frying pan
The St Johnstone attacker candidly admitted that he’s finally started eating as a professional footballer should at the age of 29. Just imagine how good he could have been if he’d discovered the wonders of nutrition a decade sooner. (Maybe there is something in the theory that Scotland lose too many top class footballers to the allure of the deep fat fryer.) Since continuing this slimming programme throughout the summer, Swanson has started the new season like a man on a mission. After gaining revenge on his former employers Hearts in midweek, he was again the star man in St Johnstone’s win at Motherwell. He was/is/always will be Saints’ main source of creativity and when he’s on his game there are few defenders that can slow him down, let alone stop him.
The eyes of Aberdeen and Hearts fans
Hearts have a reputation for being a bunch of roughhouses who like to kick and bully their way to victory rather than playing any football. While this is an unfair label to bestow on them most of the time – after all, they lost their last two games against Celtic and St Johnstone by trying to play attacking football and got exploited at the back – they can certainly ruin a game when it’s the most effective manner to avoid defeat, which is the last thing Robbie Neilson needed going into Saturday’s match with Aberdeen. So, to insure that definitely didn’t happen, they decided to ruffle some feathers, and it worked. They even could, and arguably should, have won the match in the second half when Tony Watt went close to scoring, long after the hosts had ran out of ideas.
Aberdeen were without Jonny Hayes and, after an impressive first 45, Niall McGinn was well shackled by Liam Smith. The point in bringing in three attacking players - Jayden Stockley, Miles Storey, Wes Burns - over the summer was to reduce the reliance on the aforementioned wingers. The failure to score in the league so far is a troubling statistic.
As for Hearts, Neilson needs to find a happy medium between playing the brand of football Hearts fans have been demanding, and the type which keeps them solid at the back. It’s easier said than done.
Celtic’s team-line against Inter
Celtic’s reserve team against Inter not only undermined the SPFL, it also undermined the daft friendly tournament they were taking part in. And this is not a knock on Celtic. With a crucial Champions League game coming up against Hapoel Be’er Sheva they couldn’t afford to risk their better players on a noncompetitive fixture, regardless of how many foreign markets were watching. They took advantage of these rules to give their stars a full week off to recover from the emphatic win against Motherwell before they entertain the Israeli champions at Celtic Park. Your club, my club, everybody’s club would do exactly the same under the circumstances. Therefore, it is the rule that should be changed, right? The one that allows any team in the top flight to request the postponement of a home fixture in August to do whatever the hell they want with it.
Well, let me play devil’s advocate here for a minute. Last year Aberdeen took advantage of this ruling to postpone their game with Hamilton Accies. Now, the reason for this was that Aberdeen had played a punishing European schedule and felt the extra time to prepare would do them good. The postponement was granted prior to their third qualifying round encounter with Kairat Almaty. Had they defeated the Kazakhstan side, they would have been in the play-off round. The Accies fixture fell in between those two ties so Aberdeen took it off. Having been starved of any success in Europe for so long, nobody (except maybe some Accies fans) begrudged them doing it. Well, shouldn’t we apply the same logic to Celtic? If they get to the Champions League group stage, it will drag the Scottish coefficient up a bit and make it easier for our clubs (not just the Old Firm) to make it into group stages of European competition and earn some serious cash.
I don’t like the ruling, either. I think it makes our league look like an inferior product in comparison to some daft friendlies against “glamour” sides who can barely be bothered. But there is a way to make our country’s football better because of it. Maybe we should forgive it for that reason?