Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership (and League Cup Final)

Aberdeen were utterly outclassed
Derek McInnes deployed a deeply conservative approach to the Cup Final; sit deep, allow Celtic possession and keep the play in front of them.  These tactics proved to be effective for all of 15 minutes before coming undone.  Jozo Simunovic, doing a decent impersonation of Virgil van Dijk, carried the ball forward into the Aberdeen half; his first attempted pass was intercepted by Andy Considine, however the ball broke back to him and he powered through to find Tom Rogic at the second time of asking.  Rogic cut inside and hit a terrific strike across Joe Lewis and into the bottom corner to take the lead.

It was an unfortunate day all around for Considine, one of the few Aberdeen players who could not be faulted for his efforts but for whom the ball never rolled his way.  In what turned out to be the critical turning point of the match, Considine's header from James Maddison's free kick delivery forced Craig Gordon into a save; had he managed to direct it either side of the Celtic keeper it would have levelled the match.  In fairness to him, he at least managed to get his header on target, which should instantly put him ahead of Grant Hanley in the pecking order for national team selection.

Moments later, the match as a contest was over, if it was ever a contest in the first place.  Tom Rogic languidly swept the ball to James Forrest on the edge of the centre circle; from there, Forrest ran unopposed into the Aberdeen penalty area before finding the angle to beat Lewis for Celtic's second.

Rogic again picked out Forrest during the second half, this time a give-and-go into the penalty area.  Anthony O'Connor, culpable in the build up for the second goal for backing off Forrest's run, was at fault again for bundling into Forrest as he made his run into the box.  O'Connor was by now carrying an injury, for which he was substituted immediately after Moussa Dembele sent Lewis the wrong way from the resulting penalty kick.  He would soon cut a morose figure on the Dons bench, lurking under his black hoodie like some sulking Sith Lord.

The final half an hour of the match passed without any major incident, as Celtic sailed serenely to their 100th major trophy and their 1st under manager Brendan Rodgers.  In the end, it was another faultless performance by the Hoops, but it was such a disappointment that Aberdeen couldn't knock them out of cruise control at any point of the match.  With the League Cup now secured and a yawning gap already established in the League, the thought of the champions further tooling up in the January transfer window should be a sobering thought for supporters of all other sides in Scottish fitba.



Dodoo is a much better option than Garner
Joe Dodoo ruined Saturday lunchtime for me.

 I was building up quite an air of superiority as watched Rangers struggle against a Partick Thistle team who can’t buy a win a home just now, and considered how Mark Warburton’s substitutions were making no impact whatsoever. Just as I was thinking about what remarks I would make at the press conference to unveil me as Rangers’ new manager, substitute Dodoo scored a peach of an equaliser, a classy winner, and ended my managerial career before it had started.

 It turned out the problem with this game wasn’t the substitutions, but the starting lineup. More specifically, Joe Garner.

 This could easily become a weekly rant against Garner, so hopefully I can say my piece and be done with it. He’s not very good, he doesn’t seem to have a great attitude, and with Joey Barton now gone, the spotlight will on shine brighter on him. Dodoo has surely done enough to permanently replace him in a startling frontline that desperately needs to get it’s act together. Even Caley Thistle have scored more league goals than Rangers this season.

 Despite the glaring weakness at set pieces, Rangers have a pretty decent defensive record and appear to have learned some of the lessons dished out by Celtic in September. If they can start scoring goals more regularly, second place could become very achievable. The difficulty in predicting how likely that is to happen is that I’m finding it hard to figure out how good Rangers are just now. Winning ugly is a good habit, and seven games undefeated is a decent run. But Dundee and Partick Thistle are bad teams and it shouldn’t take injury time winners to beat them. Games against Hearts and Aberdeen within three days will tell us a lot. IM


Watt next?
When Hearts won at Fir Park on 30 September, Tony Watt shone.  Constantly getting on possession and driving forward, he showcased all the qualities that made him such a starlet in his Celtic days.  All he was missing was a goal.

Fast forward two months, and the striker was an unused substitute when the two sides met again.  And Hearts were better off without him.  For in the intervening time Watt has demonstrated all the liabilities that have seen him fail at Celtic, Standard Liege and Charlton Athletic.  He plays too much like he's the biggest kid in the primary school playground - always wanting the ball, always keeping it to himself, and shouting at everyone else when things don't work out.

The Jambos have been in need of a goalscoring striker, and it is not Watt but Bjorn Johnsen who looks most like delivering.  The Norwegian-American looked like a clumsy oaf when he arrived in Scotland in August but has got himself fit and match sharp.  His finish for the opener was anything but clumsy, as he danced around Craig Samson after being put through by Arnaud Djoum; he then displayed his selflessness by heralding his French teammates contribution.  His second goal, a controlled header, also showed technique which did not look evident a couple of months back.

A front pair of Johnsen and Robbie Muirhead, who looks like turning around his career at Tynecastle, appears to be the future for Robbie Neilson's side.  Watt's future?  It's very unclear right now. LS



Inverness struggle again
It had to happen some time. After sixteen games against Dundee without defeat Caley Thistle finally lost to the Dark Blues as goals from Craig Wighton and Kostadin Gadzhalov were enough for the three points despite Carl Tremarcos late header which gave the visitors a glimmer of hope.

ICT struggled to really get going in the game and found their route to goal all too easily snuffed out by the three centre backs of Dundee who marshalled Lousana Doumbouya with ease and forced the away side to try and attack down the flanks where there tended to be more space. However, wide men Billy King and Aaron Doran struggled to create anything of note with both men frequently drifting inside from the wing and into the congested centre of the pitch where numerous dark blue shirts were waiting to stifle them.

Foran bemoaned the result claiming it was the best performance of the season but one suspects that he is shielding the players from another poor result where they really struggled to get going. After a good run only a few weeks ago things aren’t really clicking for the Highlanders right now. A lack of creative spark combined with conceding an average of two goals a game is making things really difficult for Foran right now and it isn’t much fun to watch either.

The last time ICT really clicked, save for the midweek drubbing of Motherwell, was in the reverse fixture against Dundee at the end of September and although Dundee too went on a poor run it seems that Hartley has managed to revive their fortunes in recent weeks.

Wighton continued his impressive run in the side with another strong showing and a well taken goal, the youngster showing great composure to curl the ball beyond Fon Williams to open the scoring and he was also key to relieving any pressure on the Dundee back line willingly chasing down long balls forward and putting Inverness defenders under pressure. His dogged determination right until the end of the game led to the dismissal of Lewis Horner as the defender struggled to keep up with Wighton as he broke forward and he hauled him down which brought a deserved red card. This impressive display together with the assured performance at the back from Gadzhalov, O’Dea and Gomis meant Dundee fans were able to taste victory against ICT for the first time in seven years and now find themselves catapulted up the table into seventh place.

But both sets of fans, despite their current differing form, will still be looking nervously down the table. The top four in the league seems pretty settled and St Johnstone should have enough to secure fifth but everyone else is playing for the infamous sixth spot as well as battling to avoid relegation and the play off spot. The importance of sustaining a good run in the league for teams like Dundee and ICT is greater than ever. Whilst Dundee will be looking forward with a sense of renewed optimism ICT will be looking to upcoming matches against Saint Johnstone, Hamilton and Kilmarnock as excellent opportunities to secure three points. But then again, so will they. AS



County pay for their profligacy
The trouble for Ross County on Saturday was that good performances don't win matches; goals do.  Liam Boyce wasn't the problem; the Northern Irishman is in excellent form and nabbed his eighth goal of the season with a deft header.  But his teammates couldn't follow his lead.

Alex Schalk will shoulder a decent proportion of the blame; the Dutch substitute's movement was tremendous, but he screwed up no fewer than four one-on-one situations.  Even more galling is the fact that when he did hit the net he was denied by an offside flag despite being a good couple of yards onside.  It was one of the poorest decisions you'll see from an assistant this season.

And so Ali Crawford made County pay with a lovely free kick, despite Accies being under the cosh all day.  These things apparently even themselves out over the course of a season, but the bottom of the Premiership is so tight that those two dropped points could prove very important in the long run. LS


Andrew Sutherland (AS) is our Caley Thistle Correspondent.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.  He occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army, and he has the greatest beard that Lawrie has ever seen.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically our Rangers Correspondent, though these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog so he could tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Hayes and MacLean shine in Inverness
You could forgive ICT supporters for viewing the visit of Aberdeen, especially with the Christmas advertising season now in full swing, as akin to being haunted by the ghosts of Caley Thistle past.  Jonny Hayes was on fire; the Caley Jags would have needed half a dozen defenders to stop him when he plays like this.  When Hayes was tripped in the box by Gary Warren, fellow ICT alumni Adam Rooney scored the resulting penalty.  Even former captain Graeme Shinnie rubbed salt into the wound in the second half with a tackle on Brad McKay that required the latter to be stretchered off the pitch, although the Dons did refrain from adding insult to injury with any late Miles Storey cameo.

Towards the end of the game, Josh Meekings finally managed to stop Hayes by taking him out of action with a two footed lunge; Jonny still managed to slip the ball through for the on-running McLean to finish.  Although Kenny had already scored earlier in the game (his first goal, a well struck free kick after Aaron Doran fouled James Maddison, equalising 'Big Lon' Lonsana Doumbouya's opener, a neat head-flick from Ross Draper's equally neat cross) his second goal better demonstrated what Aberdeen require out of him; not only showing the willingness to beat Draper to the loose ball deep in his own half, but following that up with the desire to provide the overlapping run for the fast breaking Hayes.  

It would be fair to say that McLean has under performed so far this season.  However, with Maddison having taken over his previous role in attacking midfield and Ryan Jack back alongside him in central midfield this has allowed him more freedom and, hopefully, he can crack on from here - a similar performance in the League Cup Final on Sunday would be a good start. MI



Three at the back works well for 'Well
Motherwell switched to three-at-the-back against Partick Thistle; time will tell if this was a one-off to match the formation of their opponents or a long-term change, but there was no question it worked extremely well.  Undoubtedly assisted by the torpor of their opponents, 'Well put in an outstanding performance which was at least the equal of the big wins they've already had at Fir Park against Hamilton and Ross County.

The new system certainly covers up the lack of wingers at the club - does Luka Belic actually exist? - and it allowed Richard Tait, already a quietly impressive presence at right-back since arriving in the summer from Grimsby, to maraud forward to great effect; twice he nearly scored.  More pertinently, it means two central strikers.  Louis Moult and Scott McDonald both scored (the former thanks to an horrendous blunder from Thistle keeper Thorsten Stuckmann), but their off-the-ball movement was key.  Both are keen to come deep to get possession into feet, but the forwards understand each other so well that their runs were always complimentary.  Thistle's own back three couldn't tell who was going to step up and who was going to get in behind.

The flip-side is that a 3-5-2 probably means no place for the fun but erratic Lionel Ainsworth, or targetman Ryan Bowman (for whom the club paid a small fee on deadline day).  But if it works as well as this then no-one at Fir Park will care. LS



Rangers still struggle to turn dominance into goals
I don’t know what was more predictable on Saturday - the third placed team in the league beating the eleventh placed team at home, or the fact Rangers struggled so badly to turn their overwhelming domination into goals. They had 70% of possession along with 14 corners, and 18 shots, yet it took an injury time goal from Harry Forrester to avoid yet another draw against a team that really should be put away without much in the way of drama.

The fact that the home side kept pushing to the end and finally took away all three points is at least something to for the fans to hold on to, but the concern over an inability to turn pressure into goals should be a big worry.  Even if the decision makers at Ibrox accept that Celtic are too far ahead this season to be able to do much about it, they would surely have thought that at least £1.8 million for a striker would have brought them an easier path through these types of games.  There’s a chance that Joe Garner could yet make us look back at this season and realise that Joey Barton wasn’t the biggest waste of money at Rangers; it’s certainly going to be a crowded field.

As for Dundee, they weren’t very good and Ross County’s win in Perth sent them to the bottom of the league.  The crowded picture in the bottom half of the league means they shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, as a couple of decent results will have them shooting up the league.   But given the backing that Hartley has received over the last couple of years there will surely be an expectation that things are turned around quickly, otherwise it could be a very uncomfortable Christmas. IM


 Craig Curran's sixty-third minute goal effectively clinched victory for Ross County, giving them a three goal cushion.  That it came with his head was somewhat reassuring.  The Englishman missed most of last season because of problems following concussions, first in a game against Dundee United in August and then again at Inverness in January.  His recovery was so slow that the striker actually feared he might never play again.

Thankfully he appears back to full fitness, physically and psychologically.  Curran's partnership with Liam Boyce was a huge part of County's incredible form in 2015, and whilst Boyce got most of the goals he benefitted from his colleague's endless industry and street-smarts.  The Northern Irishman was on target late on in Perth as well, and the duo's form,fitness and goals will be critical to how the Staggies' season shapes up. LS



Does Boyata have a future at Celtic?
It turns out that Dedryck Boyata does still exist after all.  The Dutch centre-back made his first competitive appearance under Brendan Rodgers at Rugby Park, a consequence of injury to Jozo Simunovic and a need to protect Kolo Toure ahead of Wednesday's game against Barcelona.  Whilst Boyata has had injury problems of his own, he had done nothing when fit to suggest he should be higher up the queue; at least this shows he is still ranked above Efe Ambrose.

So he slotted into the backline, and did a decent enough job - after all, Celtic kept a clean sheet which means they haven't conceded a league goal since 24th September, when Souleymane Coulibaly scored a screamer at Celtic Park for Killie.   It would be a stretch to laud his performance - there were a few errant passes out of defence which were reminiscent of last season's bumbling Boyata - but rustiness is forgivable.

With 35 year old Toure a one year stopgap solution in defence, Rodgers will need to find a long term plan for that position.  Does he have sufficient quality already in his squad?  Erik Sviatchenko is solid but limited (at continental level at least), Ambrose is well out of the picture and Mikael Lustig is probably still better off at right-back.  It's easy to forget that Boyata was deemed good enough to play for Manchester City at 19; this writer saw him start a league game against Arsenal six years ago (he was sent off after five minutes, but that's beside the point!).  The talent is there; can Rodgers coax it out of him? LS

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army, and he has the greatest beard that Lawrie has ever seen.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically our Rangers Correspondent, though these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog so he could tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Scottish Premiership wages - 2016/17

The Sporting Intelligence Global Sports Salary Survey is always worth a look - not least because they continue to include the Scottish Premiership as one of it's 'soccer' leagues, despite the fact the bottom half a dozen spots on the list (of 333 sporting teams!) are now routinely occupied by Scottish clubs.

Depressingly, they still call it the SPL...

And frustratingly, there appears to be a two year gap without data.  Previously these surveys were published around May and June, and would be a year out.  Thus the May 2015 survey used data from the 2013/14 season.  However, delaying this one to November has allowed them to use data from the current campaign - which is great because we get a snapshot of what things are like right now, but not so much because they've skipped 2014/15 and 2015/16.

Or maybe not.  Nick Harris, editor of Sporting Intelligence, explained to me, "the short answer is there is a one-year gap due to change in timing of the survey.  And the missing season is 2015-16. The latest survey, GSSS 2015, had numbers at summer 2014, deliberately so.  They were numbers, in effect, ahead of the 2014-15 season, and a good indication of 2014-15.  But they used the 2013-14 teams and were described as summer 2014 because we didn't at the time of compilation for GSSS 2015 have access to full sets of accounts for 14-15 to 'backstop' the data we'd compiled."

Coincidentally (and I'm sure it's a coincidence as the other leagues are using 2016/17 data) it means the Scottish data includes Rangers, who haven't been in a survey since liquidation.

Anyway, here's a crude table showing where things are apparently at.


Average first team player wage (£/week)
2016/17 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14 2012/13 2011/12 2010/11
CELTIC 13805      ? 17345      ? 22103 21253 20457
RANGERS 6094      ?      ? 11501 15798
ABERDEEN 2590      ? 2706      ? 3033 2906 3002
HEARTS 1671      ? 1231      ? 3206 5305 6310
DUNDEE 1189      ?      ? 906
INVERNESS 1026      ? 1032      ? 1023 954 1122
MOTHERWELL 949      ? 1301      ? 1523 2296 2319
KILMARNOCK 941      ? 1442      ? 1897 2274 2404
ROSS COUNTY 914      ? 692      ? 748
ST JOHNSTONE 908      ? 1308      ? 1533 1920 1960
PARTICK 821      ? 875      ?
HAMILTON 819      ?      ?


And here's what we can extrapolate from it...


Celtic continue to cut costs
The average wage of a first teamer at Celtic has dropped by 38% in just over three years.  The effect of consecutive failures to make the Champions League, or a case of resting on their laurels as a result of the lack of competition?  It's not new for them to rank behind every single English Premier League club - even Burnley this time round - but actually their average wage would put them mid-table in Italy, Spain and Germany, and in the top six in France.


Still a massive imbalance
In 2012/14 and 2013/14, Celtic's wage bill was greater than all the other sides put together; that is no longer true because of Rangers' presence in the top flight.  Celtic and Rangers together pay more than twice the other ten clubs combined.  Note that Rangers' average wage is still less than half what it was in the Oldco era.


Very little between the bottom eight
The report notes that "It is a quirk of the season that Ross County had a particularly small first-team squad during the survey period (21 players) and Hamilton a large one (34). Ross County’s total bill, we reckon, will be smaller due to fewer players - but all things being equal, slightly better players earning a bit more each".  Given that Dundee, Inverness and St. Johnstone have relatively compact squads as well, there's probably little or nothing to choose between the eight diddiest clubs in terms of budget.


Dundee underachieving?
I've often claimed the Dark Blues are punching below their weight, based on an awful lot of hearsay that they are paying better wages than other sides at the wrong end of the table.  Whilst the point I made above still stands, this data supports the belief that the club's American owners aren't getting value for money.


How accurate is this?
It's hard to say.  'Average first team player wage' is obviously not the same as 'annual wage budget', which might be a better parameter to work with.  But nearly all Scottish clubs are coy about this.  In addition, we don't know who counts as a first team player at each club - if Accies have 34, it includes several youngsters who are likely to be on buttons.  I also wonder if Hearts' figures are skewed by a similar issue.  But it's better than nothing.  This was what Nick Harris had to say:

"Numbers are sourced from various places including unions, clubs, agents, leagues and administrative bodies. As you know, nobody publishes this stuff. Nobody will confirm any of it, on the record at least.

 But of course the Company House accounts will only get you total company salary bills and generally no breakdown of where that money goes. (Although Rangers, interestingly, have started declaring the total first-team bill in their accounts).  And there is the issue of account-lag, which is why until this time we've had 'historic' seasons in the report, ie completed ones for which we can backstop.


 However, after seven years and better sources all the time, we feel able to produce good reliable numbers for all the leagues we cover; so for that reason as well as a general scheduling one, we've moved to 'live' seasons for the current report for all the football leagues that up to now have been account-lagged.


 I'm pretty confident that our numbers are a better reflection of salary bills at the teams featured than you'll get anywhere else. I'd also be pretty confident that I'd be able to predict, now, the total club wage bills, based on our data, that will be appearing at Companies House for the 2016-17 season .... when they drop at some point as late as Spring 2018.


 The only other caveat to using the new method and numbers is mentioned in the introductory essay of the new report you can download today - and that is that successful clubs will in all probability be paying a good few percentage points higher than the figures we've got, because of bonuses. At some clubs these could have really dramatic effect."


So, in conclusion, you don't have to take this with a big pinch of salt.


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

(With thanks to Nick Harris for taking so much time to reply to my queries, and in so much detail!)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Five thoughts from Wembley

It wasn't a bad performance
If we were to look at this as a one-off game, or if Scotland had come into this with six points already on the board, then I think most of us would have been fairly satisfied.  Whilst it would be a stretch to say that the Scots played well, their attitude was excellent and they gave everything, at least until the third goal.  Had this been Strachan's first game in charge, we might even have been filled with optimism.

But context is everything.  This was another disappointing result in a long run of disappointing results (Malta and Gibraltar excepted).  And the fact that a mediocre England ran out such impressive winners is hard to stomach.  This won't be remembered as a glorious failure.  It was just a failure.


Celtic trio were a huge disappointment
There was definitely an air of "to hell with it" about Strachan's team selection, particularly the decision to play Leigh Griffiths up front.  Left on the bench whilst in the form of his life last season, the wee man got the nod at a time when he is starting only sporadically for Celtic, in a game where we actually would have benefitted from having a more physical striker who could hold up the ball.  Griffiths buzzed around energetically, but got very little change out of Gary Cahill and John Stones and selfishly chose to shoot from distance when he should have played in Robert Snodgrass for a great chance.

Griffiths' Celtic teammates didn't set the heather alight either.  Craig Gordon was faultless for the goals, but James Forrest offered little on the left flank, backing up general opinion that he should never be played on the left flank.  Scott Brown snapped at some heels but that was about it.  There was nothing to suggest we couldn't have got a better shift out of James McArthur.  Brown's apparently one-off return smacked of ego, a player who wanted to tell his grandkids he'd played at Wembley in a World Cup qualifier. We would probably have been better off without him.


Lack of defensive organization is all on the coaches
All six of the goals conceded against Slovakia and England were the result of crosses - pretty damning when Scotland's centre-backs seem to be largely picked on their heading ability.  Grant Hanley has twenty-seven caps.  Just try and digest that for a moment.

Christophe Berra was no better than predecessor Russell Martin, but there's a case for absolving the central defenders of some blame.  The team simply aren't organized enough to prevent the crosses nor deal with them when they arrive.  The blame for that has to go on the coaching staff.

Strachan's early success as Scotland boss came with a very pragmatic approach; two defensive-minded midfielders sitting in front of the back four to protect them (one of which was usually Charlie Mulgrew) and the use of pacey players like Ikechi Anya to play on the break.  The metamorphosis into a side which tries to keep the ball and adopt a proactive approach has been a disaster.  Playing such an attacking side at Wembley was such a crazy idea that it might just work.  Of course, in the real world, it was never going to.


Will Strachan resign, or must he be sacked?
With several months before the next match, now is the opportune time to change coach.  Strachan must go.  The question is whether he will do the honourable thing and quit, like he did at Southampton, Celtic and Middlesbrough, or he ends up on gardening leave sucking the SFA coffers dry like his predecessor did.

Goodness knows who would replace him.  One decent candidate, Paul Lambert (I use the word 'decent' loosely) was available after the Slovakia game but has since been employed by Wolves.  Alex McLeish appears to be the bookies' favourite; do we really need to go backwards to go forwards?  David Moyes is an enticing prospect, if he was to be dismissed by Sunderland.  I'd love the SFA to think outside the box though.  Could we throw money at Ian Cathro or Marcelo Bielsa?  If only...


Scottish football needs big change more than ever
Decades of poor planning are coming home to roost for Scottish football, with the biggest issue being the lack of quality players available.  In six and a half years, Stewart Regan has overseen numerous failures at first team and under-21 level; he has also completely failed to change Scottish football for the better in any way.  He can't even keep a Performance Director for more than five minutes.  And he has now twice given an international manager a new contract even though it was clear he was a lame duck.

When it comes to youth academies and facilities - unarguably in need of an enormous revamp - Regan claims he is hamstrung by the attitudes of the clubs.  Well, if he's incapable of eliciting change, then someone else needs to have a go.


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Eleven games down...

Right, everyone's played everyone once in the Premiership, so now's a good time to take stock.

Well, all right, not everyone's played everyone.  Celtic have two games in hand, courtesy of a League Cup run and a glamour friendly for their reserves against Barcelona.  Hearts are still to play Rangers.  Actually, Aberdeen, Hamilton and Motherwell all have a game in hand too...

So only half the teams in the Premiership have played everybody once.  Still, it's as good a time as any to take stock, right?  Right?



ABERDEEN
CURRENT POSITION: 2nd, 18pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Well, the Dons are in second place in a league where first place in unachievable.  They've made it to the League Cup final too.  And (most importantly for some of their fans) they beat Rangers.  So on paper it's been a decent enough start to the campaign.  However it would be a stretch to claim that they are stronger than a year ago, despite several summer signings.  They don't look quite as efficient as they did previously and there haven't been too many dominant performances.

POSITIVES: Jonny Hayes has been outstanding.  Anthony O'Connor looks more solid in central defence than Ash Taylor or Mark Reynolds.

NEGATIVES: Miles Storey, Jayden Stockley and Wes Burns were all signed as extra attacking options, but all three have struggled to make an impact so far.

THE FUTURE: Winning the League Cup would make this a successful season.  But the main aim is to hang onto that second spot.


CELTIC
CURRENT POSITION: 1st, 25pts (played 9 games)

HAPPY? Lincoln Red Imps seems a long time ago now.  Celtic are out of their depth in their Champions League group, but at least they made it that far.  Domestically, only a last minute Inverness goal has prevented them from having a 100% record.  It's hard to ask for much more.

POSITIVES: The Premiership is being won at a canter.  Moussa Dembele is proving an absolute bargain at £500,000.  Kieran Tierney is an incredible talent.  And the home game against Manchester City was the sort of night that the fans have been craving for years.

NEGATIVES: Being pumped by Barcelona and Moenchengladbach shows just how far behind Europe's elite Celtic are.  Their big weakness seems to be in goal, where both Craig Gordon and Dorus De Vries have proven erratic,

THE FUTURE: Can they win the treble?  It's certainly possible.  They will certainly win the title by a loooooonnnnnnggggg way.  The big concern might be whether Dembele, Tierney and Brendan Rodgers might be tempted away at the end of the season.


DUNDEE
CURRENT POSITION: 12th, 6pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Absolutely positively not.  Failure to qualify from an easy League Cup group set off alarm bells, which were quietened by a win in Dingwall in their first league game but are positively blaring now after going ten games without a win and plummeting to the bottom of the table.  The loss of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart is a big reason for their problems, but it doesn't completely explain the disastrous start they've had.

POSITIVES: Mark O'Hara, when fit, has impressed in an advanced midfield role.  Scott Bain continues to excel in goal.

NEGATIVES: In James McPake's absence, Paul Hartley has struggled to find a half-decent centre-back to partner Darren O'Dea; Julen Etxabeguren, Kostadin Gadzhalov and Kevin Gomis have all been poor.  None of the strikers look like scoring even a fraction of the goals Hemmings and Stewart contributed.

THE FUTURE: Hartley's jacket is surely on a shoogly peg.  Dundee are not awash with cash but they do have a bigger budget than several teams above them in the table, and this terrible form simply cannot continue.  And yet it's hard to see how they'll turn it around.  Could they be this season's Dundee United?  That would be embarrassing...


HAMILTON ACCIES
CURRENT POSITION: 8th, 11pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Supporters remain uneasy about Martin Canning's management, given he has a win percentage of less than 25% in nearly two years in charge.  And yet Accies have some breathing space at the bottom and have been in a winning position in nine of their ten league games.  The fact they've won just two suggests either they've been unlucky or that they've no bottle.

POSITIVES: Ali Crawford has looked back to his best.  Alex D'Acol looks like he might score a few goals.  Greek Zangief-lookalike Georgios Sarris has impressed in defence.

NEGATIVES: Those late goals they keep conceding.  The lack of full-backs in the squad, which has left them dependent on midfielders Darren Lyon and Grant Gillespie to fill in.  The loss of loanee keeper Remi Matthews till January with a separated shoulder.

THE FUTURE: I think everyone would be surprised - nay, shocked - if Hamilton made the top six.  The squad still doesn't look especially strong and they're still likely


HEARTS
CURRENT POSITION: 4th, 17pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? Not entirely.  Sure, Hearts are still in the running for second place, which would have been their target, but performances have been functional rather than impressive.  The early Europa League exit to Maltese opponents was a big disappointment too.  One feels the Jambos have a lot more to give.

POSITIVES: Callum Paterson has established himself as Scotland's first choice right back (not that that's saying much).  Jack Hamilton has done well in goal.  Tony Watt's workrate.

NEGATIVES: The strikers - none of them are playing well apart from Watt, and none of them look like going on a scoring spree.  The midfield lacks pace without the injured Sam Nicholson.

THE FUTURE: How long until another idiot forks out for a plane to fly over Tynecastle demanding Robbie Neilson's departure?  Hearts' impressive squad depth should make sure they finish in the top four, but they need a persistent source of goals and a system that gets the best out of Jamie Walker.


INVERNESS CT
CURRENT POSITION: 6th, 13pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Just about, considering we lost our first three league games (including a shellacking at Tynecastle) and to Alloa in the League Cup.  Performances haven't always been great but the spirit is there - shown by several late goals that have earned valuable points.  Richie Foran doesn't look out of his depth in the dugout.

POSITIVES: Carl Tremarco is surely one of the most underrated players in this league; the left-back has been playing out of his mind for the whole of 2016.  The return of the Meekings-Warren central defensive partnership has made the team look far more solid.

NEGATIVES: Greg Tansey has been in a funk since he missed out on a move to Aberdeen in January.  Striker Scott Boden has been benched after a bright start, with the team simply unable to accomodate a player of his style.

THE FUTURE: There is very little between the bottom seven, but most would consider Inverness to be unlikely relegation candidates and as good a shout as anyone below them of scraping into sixth place.


KILMARNOCK
CURRENT POSITION: 7th, 13pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? A lot happier after picking up seven points from their last three games, including wins over St. Johnstone and Hearts.  That back line still looks dodgy, despite Lee Clark signing about a hundred defenders, but there are enough goals in the side to give them an excellent chance of avoiding the drop.

POSITIVES: Souleymane Coulibaly might be signing of the season - he's scored some great goals and, more importantly, plenty of goals.  Jordan Jones also looks like a find, while Jamie MacDonald has been great in goal again.

NEGATIVES: It already looks like Clark has written off several of his summer captures - Jamie Cobain, Dapo Kayode, Joshua Webb, George Green, Callum McFadzean and Flo Bojaj have barely seen any action.  And the ongoing saga regarding the chairman isn't helping anyone.

THE FUTURE: The big fear must be that someone makes a big bid for Coulibaly in January- he's been that good.  Take away his goals and Killie are not the same threat at all.  It's still very tight at the bottom; it wouldn't take a lot for them to be dragged back to the foot of the table.


MOTHERWELL
CURRENT POSITION: 11th, 9pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? No.  Mark McGhee's side have won just once since opening day, which has seen them slide to second from bottom.  They don't seem to have recovered from the sale of Marvin Johnson, and a change of tactics which has seen star striker Louis Moult shifted wide to accomodate target man Ryan Bowman hasn't worked.

POSITIVES: Ben Heneghan and Richard Tait have improved the back four, with Tait looking very solid on the right both in defence and attack.  Chris Cadden has pushed on from his impressive finish to last season.

NEGATIVES: Bowman has struggled badly, despite commanding a transfer fee from Gateshead. Moult scored four against Accies but only one other league goal.  There is a distinct lack of wide players in the squad; West Ham loanee Luka Belic appears to have vanished without trace.  And the midfield of Keith Lasley and Craig Clay looks plodding.

THE FUTURE: Motherwell have been very streaky under McGhee, so a good run of form might be round the corner.  But the lack of creative players is worrying and another top six finish looks like a stretch currently.  In contrast, a relegation battle is not impossible.


PARTICK THISTLE
CURRENT POSITION: 9th, 10pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? They'll be feeling better after winnig at Dens Park, their first win since the first league game.  Thistle have generally struggled at both ends, with strikers misfiring and their defenders prone to some dreadful blunders.  Maybe they've solved the problem though with a switch to three at the back.  And it's noteworthy that the board issued a quick 'hands off' response to overtures from Shrewsbury towards Alan Archibald.

POSITIVES: Chris Erskine looks like twice the player whenever he pulls on the stripes.  Adam Barton has impressed since moving into the backline.  Liam Lindsay's goalscoring.

NEGATIVES: Liam Lindsay's defending (bear in mind that he is a defender).  Danny Devine's defending.  Ziggy Gordon's slump in form since joining from Accies.  Steven Lawless' poor form (though this may be due to the need for a hernia op).

THE FUTURE: Thistle have been notorious slow starters the last few seasons, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them push on now.  I had them as pre-season sleepers for the top six though, and at the moment that looks foolish.


RANGERS
CURRENT POSITION: 5th, 16pts (played 10 games)

HAPPY? The People are not happy at all - they were supposed to be #goingfor55, not looking up the table at St. Johnstone and Hearts.  A set of summer signings that didn't improve the squad much and certainly didn't fit into Mark Warburton's system has been a real crutch, and the performances in two defeats to Celtic were a stark indication of reality.

POSITIVES: Lee Wallace has been great at left-back.  Kenny Miller still hasn't lost a yard.  Andy Halliday has improved the side since winning his place back.

NEGATIVES: Aside from a certain Mr Barton, Martyn Waghorn's form has fallen off a cliff.  While Joe Garner has scored a couple of goals, his play is not remotely near that expected of a £1.5million striker.  Oh, and the less said about Philippe Senderos the better.

THE FUTURE: Anything less than second in the league would surely result in Warburton's exit.  The surely inevitable departure of Barton and the change to personnel and style more reminiscent of last season should serve them well, but it wouldn't be that surprising if they finished below Aberdeen and/or Hearts.


ROSS COUNTY
CURRENT POSITION: 10th, 10pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Not really.  Expectations are pretty realistic up in Dingwall, but County have mustered just four points from their last eight games, scoring just two goals in that period.  Since winning the League Cup in March, they've won only four of twenty league games.  An injury to Liam Boyce didn't help, but they've not come close to replacing Jackson Irvine's physicality and industry in midfield and letting Ricky Foster and Brian Graham go in August was curious.

POSITIVES: Boyce has looked great when fit.  After family problems in the summer, Andrew Davies appears to be back to his best in defence.  Scott Fox continues to excel between the sticks.

NEGATIVES: Jay McEveley has been a real disappointment when played either at left-back or centre-back.  Martin Woods and Ian McShane don't look like a great midfield partnership.

THE FUTURE: Once Ryan Dow and Chris Burke are fully up to speed, County should carry far more menace going forward.  And if there is any danger of relegation come January, Roy McGregor will get the cheque book out again.


ST JOHNSTONE
CURRENT POSITION: 3rd, 18pts (played 11 games)

HAPPY? Early in August, John A Maxwell and I agreed that, outside the four biggest teams, St. Johnstone were the next best - a good manager, a capable and experienced squad, and more ability than they get credit for.  Had they even drawn at home to Killie the other week, they'd be second.  So I'd say they're pretty chuffed down Perth way.

POSITIVES: Danny Swanson has been awesome.  Steven MacLean continues to score goals at age 34.  Ricky Foster has slotted quickly into the back four after signing in August.

NEGATIVES: Still no-one has stepped up as a consistent partner for MacLean.  Loan signing Joe Gormley has been particularly ineffective.

THE FUTURE: A top four finish really would be something.  But fifth remains most likely; expect the gap between them and the other diddy teams to gradually lengthen over the coming months.  The most likely thing to derail St. Johnstone would be another club (finally) tempting Tommy Wright away.


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Talking Points

Rangers are only the third or fourth best team in Scotland
According to the score line this was a huge improvement from Rangers on the feeble performance at Celtic Park last month, but it was clear to everyone watching that the gap between the sides remains significant.

The biggest difference between the two games was Celtic’s finishing rather than any great improvement by Rangers.  Celtic looked threatening almost every time they attacked, and had it not been for Matt Gilks channeling his inner Andy Goram, another thrashing could well have been on the cards.  Apart from one howler that presented a chance to Rogic that even the Australian couldn’t believe, the veteran goalkeeper more than justified his inclusion ahead of regular number one Wes Foderingham.

The Rangers back four played well enough, but they received next to no protection from the midfield rendering them pretty helpless against wave after wave of Celtic attack.  James Tavernier seemed to be playing an even more attacking role that usual, but he was ineffectual going forward while leaving plenty of space for Scott Sinclair to exploit behind.

Sure, Rangers worked hard and showed a resilience that was lacking in the previous Old Firm game, but the lack of threat going forward is a huge concern given that the team looked to have been set up to take the game to their Glasgow rivals.


None of this should be a surprise to anyone.  Rangers are probably the third or fourth best team in Scotland just now, and the gap between Celtic and second is already huge.  If the rate of progress at Ibrox continues to be this glacial, it will be a long time before they’re in a position to properly challenge Celtic’s domination of Scottish football. IM



Job done for the Dons
From the first few minutes of this match it looked as if Aberdeen were going to blow away Morton.  James Maddison got numerous opportunities to practice his corner kick deliveries to the near post - Kenny McLean had a volley blocked from one such effort, an from the ensuing corner Jonny Hayes headed off the crossbar.  Yet, despite continuing to have their expected dominance of possession, their goal threat dissipated.  The best chance of the half fell to Morton, when Jai Quitongo managed to get goal side of Mark Reynolds and force a save from Joe Lewis.

If anything, Ton looked more threatening as the second have wore on, with Quitongo - an Aberdeen youth team product back in the day - himself threatening to inflict another cup embarrassment upon his former employer.  The McInnes-era Dons, though, have far greater resolve that many of their predecessors.  Jim Duffy is justified in feeling hard done by; Adam Rooney's opener came from an offside position - albeit it probably didn't seem that way at the time as by the time Andy Considine's knock back came to Rooney he was nodding his looping header over the backtracking Gavin Gunning, and no Morton players seemed to claim offside in the immediate aftermath.  Andy McNeil was then very unlucky when he managed to save a late Niall McGinn shot across the face of goal, only for Kenny McLean to kill the tie off on the rebound.

So although there would be no dancing in the streets of Morton that night, the players would return to Greenock with heads held high. For Aberdeen, it wasn't pretty but they got the job done. Most Dons fans will be happy to settle for that. MI



Outstanding Swanson shows that Saints have style
Another weekend, another great performance from Danny Swanson, who is doing his best to put paid to the longstanding belief that St. Johnstone have no style.  The wideman scored his fourth goal in the league this season, and was Dundee's chief tormentor.  Add in his League Cup goal glut and he has a remarkable nine for the campaign already.  Not quite Moussa Dembele, but still...

It's great to see Swanson doing so well; bear in mind that he played well enough for Dundee United that he earned a Scotland call-up five years ago, before a move south that didn't work out particularly well.  And while he impressed on loan at Saints in the second half of the 2014-15 season (scoring a stunning winner at Celtic Park) he made the dreadful mistake of turning down a permanent deal that summer to join Hearts...where Robbie Neilson wasted him by playing him through the middle and then not at all.

Thankfully Tommy Wright didn't hold it against him and Swanson returned to Perth in January, and hasn't looked back since.  Whilst the chances of a cap have surely gone, the 30 year old is playing some of the best football of his career, and he might do well to see out the rest of it at McDiarmid Park. LS



Three at the back doesn't solve Partick's problems
Alan Archibald attempted to fix Partick Thistle's defensive frailties with a shift to a back three, with Adam Barton dropping into defence.  It certainly led to an improved performance for the first 70 minutes against Ross County; the visitors' 4-4-2 left them outnumbered and physically outmatched in the centre of midfield, and the busy but diminutive strike duo of Craig Curran and Alex Schalk - Liam Boyce is still injured - couldn't get any joy from pressing high up the pitch; nor did they have any hope of winning high balls.  Thistle deserved more for their efforts than just Sean Welsh's converted penalty.

Jim McIntyre eventually switched things around so County had three at the back as well, but it's unclear if that triggered their late revival, or whether it was down to the inevitable nerves of the home side.  With Thistle dropping deeper and becoming ragged, a tricky winger like Chris Burke is an ideal weapon - and so it proved as the veteran substitute grabbed the equalizer.

Thistle move a whole point clear of Dundee at the bottom ahead of their clash at Dens Park on Wednesday night.  I'm not convinced these tactical changes are their best long term option; confidence is the crucial factor here. LS




The least crap team will finish sixth
Caley Thistle's 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock in the Highlands extended their undefeated league run against the Ayrshire side to 10 games after a late goal from Lousana Doumbouya cancelled out a penalty from Souleymane Coulibaly which put Killie ahead in the first half.

In a game largely low on quality there were still decent chances for both sides so a draw was perhaps a fair result.  Coulibaly could have had a first half hat trick but opportunities also fell to Aaron Doran, Liam Polworth and Doumbouya at the other end, all of which went astray before the equaliser arrived.

Richie Foran claimed he wants more passion from his side and that they’ve looked jaded after games against Rangers and Celtic.  Whilst there could well be an element of truth in this it’s hard not to look at the recent win against Dundee which saw the most polished performance of the season from ICT in the league.  Yet Foran tweaked a winning team, and continues to play Liam Polwqrth out of position (this time on the left flank!)to accommodate the ineffectual Iain Vigurs...which we've discussed at length previously.

Inverness have stuttered through their next three games against Hamilton and Rangers after reverting to this line up.  Their best period of the game on Saturday came when playing with more natural widemen, although too often they cut inside into a congested middle of the pitch and couldn't find a way through the well drilled Killie defence who were able to comfortably handle the majority of the home attacks and kick start often threatening counter attacks.

There wasn’t much between the sides on Saturday and in general there seems to be little to separate any of the clubs below St. Johnstone in the league.  With no side in the bottom seven seemingly capable of putting a decent run of form together it could well be a very competitive fight for sixth spot over the next few months. Both Caley Thistle are likely to be in with a shout of securing that spot however it’s more likely to be down to other sides being equally poor rather than being any great shakes themselves. AS


Andrew Sutherland (AS) is our Caley Thistle Correspondent.  He would never miss an ICT match unless he was offered a date with the lead singer of CHVRCHES...who he would then take to said ICT match.  He occasionally writes for When Saturday Comes.

Martin Ingram (MI) is our Aberdeen Correspondent.  Legend has it that he is the tallest man in the Red Army, and he has the greatest beard that Lawrie has ever seen.  He writes regularly for Aberdeen fanzine The Red Final.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically our Rangers Correspondent, though these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog so he could tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Talking Points from the Premiership

Dundee are bottom
Defeat at Tynecastle, combined with other results, dropped Dundee to the foot of the table for the first time since they returned to the top flight in the summer of 2014.  It'll be interesting to see how they respond.  On the one hand, they were quite excellent for much of the second half against Hearts and created lots of chances despite being away from home against a side who are second in the table.  Remarkably they hit the woodwork three times after half-time with the score still nil-nil.  If one of those goes in, there's a decent chance that they at least get a draw, if not a win.

On the other hand, they lost.  They were also grateful to Scott Bain for a number of saves in the opening period.  They were bludgeoned in the final quarter of an hour.  They still can't defend crosses.  And they failed to score.  They haven't won since opening day.

It's not ideal.  Next up is a tricky trip to Perth, followed by games versus Partick and Accies.  If Dundee are still bottom at that point, it's time to panic. LS



Hayes just gets better and better
I had the privilege of watching Jonny Hayes at Inverness for three years.  When he arrived, he was a very raw winger, but his incredible pace made him a huge threat and a potential diamond.

Six years on, that diamond looks rather polished.  The Irishman, who won his first cap in the spring, has got better year on year, first under Terry Butcher at Caley Thistle and then under Derek McInnes at Aberdeen.  Hayes' best attributes have always been a willingness to learn and a complete selflessness - no flashy tricks or flashy celebrations from him, and he always passes to a teammate who is in a better position than him.

Hayes scored a great goal against Ross County by driving in from his natural left flank, but over the course of the match he also turned up at various times on the right wing, both full-back positions and central midfield - all roles he looks comfortable in and he wouldn't dream of complaining about being moved about the park.

His versatility will also hold him in good stead once the legs slow a bit - he is 29 now.  Aberdeen are very lucky to have a player with this talent and this attitude at his peak. LS



At last some luck for Scott Boyd
Scott Boyd has had a rough year or two.  A stalwart in three divisions for Ross County and their record appearance holder, he was demoted to the fringes of their squad last season and frozen out altogether by Jim McIntyre this summer, despite it being the start of his testimonial year.  He wasn't even in the team photo, with the club claiming he was 'ill'.  His wife had just had a baby too.

Still under contract for another year in Dingwall, Boyd had found something of a lifeline with a loan move to Kilmarnock on deadline day but he looked rusty to say the least.  His first four starts at centre-back led to a combined loss of 13 goals and he was dropped to the bench in Perth for the returning Miles Addison.

However an early injury to Jonathan Burn meant Boyd was called upon again and whilst his clean sheet was more down to Jamie McDonald and some profligate St. Johnstone finishing, he won the game with his close range finish.  It was his first goal since January 2014.

Whether Boyd has much to offer at this level beyond being a solid backup is unclear.  But he's a decent bloke and he deserves a bit of good fortune more than most. LS



Same old Thistle, same old Accies
Partick Thistle and Hamilton Accies; two teams with dreadful defences and atrocious attacks.  Was this going to be a goalfest or a dour affair?  In the end we got a 2-2 draw, where one forward (Eamonn Brophy) got on the scoresheet with a late equalizer that the visitors completely deserved.

It was more of the same for both sides though.  Accies took the lead for the eighth time in nine league games this season, but they've only won one of those.  Their defence was 'bolstered' for this one by new arrival Lennard Sowah, but the German defender had a dreadful debut. Hamilton fans will recall Martin Canning's previous record with players signed on short-term deals (Kemy Agustien, Oumar Diaby, Christopher Mandiangu) and wince.

Meanwhile, Thistle conceded a late equalizer for the third time in four games.  And whilst they scored twice, neither goal came from a forward.  Centre-back Liam Lindsay, who continues to struggle at the other end, is now their top league scorer with three goals.  Dropping him might improve the defence, but also weaken their goal threat further!

And all the strikes in this match were defensive catastrophes; Abdul Osman's dreadful marking of Massimo Donati; pinball between Accies defenders in their six yard box to give Ryan Edwards a tap-in; Lindsay's free header six yards out; the way Brophy got in behind so easily.

Worryingly, neither side seems to have taken advantage of the international break to get organized.  The evidence still suggests they will be both fighting to avoid the drop. LS



Craig Gordon is back in favour
All in all, it was a pretty straightforward day at the office for Celtic.  Brendan Rodgers was so confident that he rotated his side ahead of Champions League action, with Liam Henderson a particular beneficiary.  While it took until late on for Moussa Dembele to seal the victory, Motherwell - who were so short on numbers that they gave debuts to 18 year old Jack McMillan and 17 year old Jake Hastie, both of whom were still in nappies when teammate Keith Lasley made his debut - never looked remotely dangerous.

About the only thing we can read into this Celtic selection is that Craig Gordon appears to be back in favour.  The Scottish international had very little to do, but appears to have won back the gloves from Dorus De Vries for the time being.  Rodgers' previous claims that Gordon needed to learn how to play the ball out better never washed with me - I saw him do an impressive set of keepy-ups and passes whilst warming up at half-time at Inverness recently.  What Gordon really needed was a week or two out of the firing line after a few errors.  In the long run, Rodgers may fancy that he can get a better goalie than either of his current options.  In the short term - starting with Moenchengladbach - Gordon is his best bet. LS


Vigurs is becoming a liability for Inverness
Rangers were pretty comfortable after Kenny Miller's opener at Inverness, although they created little despite monopolizing possession.  Caley Thistle's failure to consistently press high up the pitch or to win the ball back in the own half was their undoing; while they defended very well, with Carl Tremarco a standout, they had few chances themselves apart from sitters from Lonsana Doumbouya and Alex Fisher which bookended the match.

Richie Foran's decision to go with three ball-playing midfielders was a mistake.  Liam Polworth, again left out to dry on the right flank, at least went looking for the ball, while Greg Tansey showed plenty of willing even if he is out of form.  But Iain Vigurs' poor performance stood out.  Always a threat in an attacking sense, Vigurs is a liability defensively and playing him in front of the back four in a match where ICT wouldn't see much quality possession was an odd move.  Barrie McKay in particular took advantage, causing plenty of trouble between the lines.

Vigurs' outstanding start to the season feels like a while ago, and came when he was used in a far more advanced role.  Maybe he needs to be shunted back there.  Certainly Polworth is far more deserving, and far more suited, to playing in Vigurs' current role. LS



Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.