1) “If only…” – the two saddest words in the world?
BILLY REID will not admit it, but as he watched his Hamilton side toiling at a rain lashed Central Park on Saturday, at least a small part of him must have been thinking “Maybe I should have joined Swansea”. The 1-0 defeat at the weekend has seen Accies claim just one point from the opening three league matches, leading to some of the more disgruntled supporters wishing the manager had indeed made the journey to South Wales when he had the chance.
This was the second time this season Hamilton had left Fife empty-handed and once again it happened on the back of an insipid performance. Like the game against Raith two weeks ago, keeping the ball wasn’t the problem; doing anything meaningful in possession most certainly was. On that point, it makes Reid’s decision to allow Grant Anderson to leave for Raith Rovers a bizarre move. Anderson’s pace, directness and ability to set up three or four goal-scoring opportunities per game is something Hamilton are desperately lacking.
Accies also appear to be missing the winger’s set-piece ability, if the unorthodox tactic of allowing goal-keeper Kevin Cuthbert to take a direct free kick just outside the Cowdenbeath penalty is anything to go by. Despite apparently being the best dead-ball technician at the club, Cuthbert will have to work on his technique further before he can be considered in the same light as Jose Luis Chilavert – his effort clattered harmlessly into the wall.
No-one was particularly expecting Hamilton to be challenging for the honours this season, but being outplayed by a Cowdenbeath side most believe will flirt with relegation is a worrying sight for Billy Reid. It might be too early to panic, but unless he can inject a better cutting edge into his team, this season could be a long, hard slog for Hamilton. SM
2) Morton must improve at home
Amid wranglings between chairman and manager over the team’s tactics, Morton are struggling to find a competitive edge so far this season.
Greenock Morton’s manager Allan Moore reacted to his employer’s concerns by reverting to a 4-4-2 formation in the 2-1 loss at home to Falkirk, having stuck with a 4-5-1 shape which failed to break down a Hamilton side who had Alex Neil sent off at half-time.
However, the change in formation appears to have been made with a lack of foresight, given that Falkirk invariably play a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 set-up. With Moore insisting on using two forwards, Morton ceded midfield advantage to Falkirk at the outset. Falkirk have not yet found last season’s form by any account, but their manager has insisted on a possession-based approach that can at least choke, if not always suffocate opponents.
While Morton can welcome back last season’s stalwart Fouad “Freddie” Bachirou, who has recently re-signed and is finding his match fitness, it has been 11 months since Moore has seen his side win at Cappielow in a weekend match. Morton host Dumbarton on Saturday in a “must-win” match, which is followed by a visit to Central Park. The pressure is on and if Morton do not earn four out of six points, Moore could very well receive his jotters soon. JAM
3) The Witch isn’t dead
It says a lot about David McGurn’s ability that despite Raith Rovers losing last term’s top goalscorer John Baird and club captain Iain Davidson, most supporters were more concerned about the expiration of their goalkeeper’s contract.
There was a genuine sense of relief around the club when David McGurn agreed a new one year deal in May after the player was persistently linked with a move to local rivals Dunfermline towards the end of last season.
McGurn’s worth to the Kirkcaldy side was evident again over the weekend with a man of the match award, a token that was richly deserved for his first half showing in particular. Indeed, Livingston boss John Hughes singled out the ‘keeper in his post match comments, lamenting McGurn’s performance as the main reason why his team did not leave Starks Park with three points.
While Raith boss Grant Murray could point to missed opportunities from Rovers in an improved second half display, without McGurn’s heroics in the first period it was feasible Livingston could have been out of sight by the interval.
Despite an impressive start from Rovers which has seen them take seven points from a possible nine, Raith have had to rely heavily on their goalkeeper to make vital saves in all three league matches thus far. His continued good form will be key if Rovers are to remain in the upper reaches of the First Division. SM
4) We should never, ever, write off Arbroath
Arbroath endured a horrible start to the match away to Alloa and were losing 2-0 by 32 minutes. The accuracy of Kevin Cawley’s 20-yard shot into Tony Bullock’s goal was supplemented with Stuart Malcolm’s error to let Cawley score again. Nevertheless, under Paul Sheerin’s management, Arbroath have established quite a reputation for coming back from behind. It was apparent the Red Lichties always believed they could salvage a result from the early damage.
Alloa dominated the majority of the first half because they were able to get their full-backs forward so well. The modern full-back is an under-rated position, especially when two teams match each other with a 4-4-2 formation (which is not unusual throughout the SFL). It is often the full-backs who are the spare, unmarked players on the pitch and their application in the team nearly always sets the tone for the whole strategy. Arbroath took a conservative approach to the start of the match, but this only invited the full-backs James Doyle and Daryll Meggatt on to them.
Arbroath slowly fought back into the match, but a sucker-punch from Derek Holmes immediately before half-time allowed the comeback to happen. Arbroath player-manager Paul Sheerin made the correct call in switching his team to a 4-3-3 set-up at the interval, bringing on Daniel Rennie and Jake Mair to flank Holmes. The double-substitution had a big impact as the threat from the wide forwards pinned Alloa’s full-backs deep into their own territory.
An imperious 20 minute cameo by Rennie gave Arbroath the momentum needed to score twice more, but Rennie’s sending off (for “foul and abusive language” i.e., a high tackle on his marker Meggatt) with the score at 2-3 allowed Alloa back into the match. Arbroath had enough about them to see off Alloa, with the home team not able to make a tactical switch to the same effect as Alloa’s half-time change.
With such a never-say-die mentality, it would be no surprise to see Arbroath in the play-offs at the end of the season, at the very least. JAM
5) McCoist needs to re-think his strategy
Rangers are still undefeated in the league following their 1-1 draw in the “Rangers Derby” with Berwick. Yet, they have only won one match in three and are making difficult work out of what should be a relatively straightforward process: put out a balanced team with greater resources than the opposition and win.
That might be a gross over-simplification – or else we would all be football managers – but Ally McCoist does seem to have an equivalent to a “Heath Robinson contraption” on his hands. Rangers are spending countless thousands of pounds per week on playing staff which may be generally stronger and technically proficient than the other Third Division clubs, but this has not been evident in the matches away from Ibrox to date.
McCoist is generally relying on a long ball game that by-passes Ian Black and Lee McCulloch in midfield. Black showed at Hearts he can be a perfectly adequate deep playmaker, but he has been utilised as a co-clogger with McCulloch to ensure little is conceded in midfield. McCoist’s set-up relies on penetration on the wings, but ironically this is where his team lacks any kind of senior first team experience (meanwhile, Rangers could afford to keep a former international striker on the bench for the first hour).
Defences in the Third Division are anything but untrained to deal with a direct approach. If only Rangers could conjure a more lateral, possession based game which has the team attacking from different angles, then they could win the league in their sleep. This might sound like too much to ask for, but despite having enough money to spend to make a mockery of the rest of the league, it is becoming apparent that McCoist only knows one way to play.
The Rangers team generally looks unbalanced and less than the sum of its parts. It is reminiscent of Real Madrid of ten years ago with the advent of the “Zidanes y Pavones” philosophy, except that Ally McCoist is more Dick Campbell than Vicente Del Bosque. No doubt the Rangers manager will further look to strengthen his squad to absolutely ensure his team manages to escape the Third Division at the first attempt, but the more SPL-class players he signs, the more blatant it becomes that McCoist is attempting to cover the short-fall in his own ability. JAM