Michael O’Halloran (Rangers)
I’ll admit to have entertained doubts about the O’Halloran transfer when I watched him struggle to make an impact during his first start away at Alloa. There were mitigating circumstances: it was a ridiculously narrow pitch with a turf consistent with what you’d find at your local World of Football, and the opponents were putting everyone behind the ball, thereby denying much space for the flying winger to exploit in behind. Nevertheless, these sorts of obstacles are more commonplace in the second tier, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d go through similar struggles most weeks. These sorts of issues won’t be a problem in the top fight, as opponents will show a little more attacking desire and the pitches will be, if not in better condition, then at least wide enough to suit a formation with two wingers, but whether his confidence could withstand a barren stretch until promotion was secured was a concern worth mulling over.
Thankfully for Rangers, and O’Halloran, he flashed a late equaliser into the Alloa net and seems to have benefited greatly from that boost, largely impressing in his Rangers career so far. Against St Mirren, he was undoubtedly the home side’s star man and played a large part in securing all three points. All game long he’d showed great enthusiasm to run at opponents while working hard off the ball too. This paid off in the 86th minute when he intercepted a poor clearance, charged to the edge of the area and slipped in Harry Forrester to score the winning goal.
Christian Nade (Dumbarton)
Christian Nade has scored 24 Scottish football goals and five of them have come against Hibs. He netted two of his 10 career goals at Hearts against them (yes, he did play at Tynecastle for three seasons), two of his seven with Raith, and now it’s one from one for his career at Dumbarton. Although, those stats are slightly skewed as he never played against Hibs during his two half-season stints with Dundee and Hamilton (he netted six in total). So, to put it another way, in his Scottish football career his goals-to-games ratio against the Easter Road side is 0.36. Against the rest of Scottish football it is 0.12. Doesn’t look like much when you put it like that, but that’s a difference of a goal every three games and a goal every ten.
Hibs fans also seem completely oblivious to the fact they are fuelling this rare proficiency from the striker. The more they abuse or react to his antics, the stronger he becomes. His dislike of Hibs was not borne out of deeply held feelings of affection for Hearts. Nade had a fairly miserable time of it at Tynecastle, particularly when you consider where his career was before he joined and where it ended up. He also received plenty of abuse from his own support.
The key difference is that Hearts fans didn’t invent a song about his weight issues. A catchy and humourous ditty it may have been, but it seems to have cut right to the soul of the French striker and made him blind with raging vengeance. Ten men perhaps couldn’t carry Nade but, as long as they are wearing Hibs strips and playing outfield, they can’t defend him either.
Scott McDonald (Motherwell)
Despite losing three goals in their weekend defeat, Partick Thistle still hold the joint-best defensive away record in the top flight. So how come a unit so stingy through their other games this season (11 conceded in 12) suddenly became so porous against Motherwell. The answer is simple: Motherwell’s front three were superb.
Mark McGhee decided to set up his side in a similar style to the one he utilised in his first spell at Fir Park, a 4-3-3 formation with one of the front three dropping deep into an attacking midfield role. Marvin Johnson started in that position, but swapped with McDonald fairly early in the match, and Thistle had no answer for it. Rarely have Stuart Bannigan and Abdul Osman, the two spoilers in front of the back four, been so ineffective in their defensive duties. They couldn’t get anywhere near the Motherwell front-line, McDonald in particular, as the veteran used his years of cunning to continuously move into space in the final third. His pass for Louis Moult’s second was a thing of beauty and after almost “getting football stopped”, in the words of their own manager, watching Motherwell now appears to be an entertaining prospect.
Paul Paton (Dundee United)
Dundee United have now won five games since Paul Paton returned from injury, having only won five games in the nine months he spent out of the game. Naysayers (mostly United fans) would argue that correlation does not imply causation, but it’s not an opinion shared by his club-mates or manager, who described him as a “man mountain” amid other glowing praise.
There’s little doubt Paton helps United. Even if you don’t rate his qualities as a tenacious defensive midfielder, capable of picking the occasional long-range pass, his experience and leadership abilities alone make him a valuable member of the current Dundee United team, an outfit that’s been too quick to disappear into their own shell at the first sign of trouble.
Dedryck Boyata (Celtic)
You make your own luck in this world.
Did Dedryck Boyata get a clean touch on the ball prior to his red card in Celtic’s Friday night draw with Hamilton? In my opinion, yes. It was a good tackle and he should not have been sent off. However, he should never have gone to ground in the first place and force the referee into making a decision.
Ronny Deila was right in what he said. It’s rare for a manager to show such candour in the circumstances. Criticising the referee is an easy out and usually takes the heat off 1) himself, and 2) the player. He copped some flak from Chris Sutton for not backing his defender, though it’s an exercise he’s done many times before, and the team don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes. Therefore, it’s only natural he would try something else.
The failure to learn from past errors is something that’s particularly true of Boyata. I backed him through the first few months of the season, insisting that he was deceptively inexperienced for his age and would get better as time went on. While there’s been an improvement of sorts, he’s still making basic errors on a regular basis and it’s unlikely he’ll command a starting place when everyone is fit.
Callum Paterson (Hearts)
The right back endured a tough time of it on Saturday. Not only was he bodied time and again by Tope Obadeyi, he then went lunging into an ill-advised aerial challenge, went head over heels and landed badly on his shoulder. He could now miss up to anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months as Hearts sweat over his diagnosis.
He likely wouldn’t have made the spectacular leap into the air had he not been frustrated all day by Obadeyi. Paterson is a terrifically talented player and someone who always plays with real heart and determination, but he doesn’t half let his emotions get the better of him sometimes. Obadeyi not only beat him a few times for skill, he also twice knocked Paterson down in shoulder-to-shoulder charges. That’s no mean feat against someone as strong as the Hearts right back.
The match also displayed all you need to know about Obadeyi. He’s capable of great skill and unpredictably on the wing, while also possessing strong physical attributes. However, he lacks any end product, which is why Hearts still won the game 1-0 with Killie struggling to create any clear cut chances beyond Craig Slater’s early effort.
Ryan Jack (Aberdeen)
The world seemed to be at Jack’s feet just a few months ago. Captain of the side sitting top of the table having won eight consecutive league games, Jack was in tremendous form at the heart of the midfield. Then his and Aberdeen’s form dipped. A short time later he suffered an injury and now finds himself fighting for a regular spot in the starting XI.
Against St Johnstone on Saturday he was deployed at right back, which later became right wing-back. He didn’t do badly at the position. In fact, it’s fair to say he played reasonably well. However, he blotted his copybook with a late foul on Liam Craig. Similar to Boyata, there’s a strong case to be made that it wasn’t a penalty, but with Saints having failed to create anything in the previous 60 minutes of action prior to that point, he should have shown more restrain and not dived in.
Scott Fox (Ross County)
What’s worse? Being beaten 3-0 at home by Dundee United or getting injured in said match and missing a cup final?
You’re right, it’s definitely getting gubbed by United.
(Bad) jokes aside, it’s a real shame Fox looks set to miss the biggest game of his career to this point. After initially looking great for Thistle following their promotion to the top flight, his performances were inconsistent over the next 18 months. At County, however, he’s recaptured his best form and has been, arguably, one of the best keepers in the league this season. You never want to see players miss out on cup finals – incidentally, it seems Paul Hanlon will be absent for Hibs – but it’s all the more regrettable when they’re at the peak of their powers.
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