In his regular feature for BFTGT, Scottish Football Analyst Graeme Ellis takes a sideways look at the weekend’s events as he rounds up the action from the SPFL Premiership.
Matchday 7 – Seven matches in, two managers down.
If the English Premiership is a brutal environment in which to ply your trade as a manager, spare a thought for those coaches north of the border. Ian Cathro won the Scottish Premiership sack race four days before the league season had even begun. Jim McIntyre gets the silver medal with Ross County in tenth position, just a point ahead of two sides yet to win a match this season. The news came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that actually pays attention to stuff that happens in football beyond the central belt. I’m half joking and fully serious when I say that County could do worse than speaking to a certain Mr. I. Cathro esq. before trotting out the usual suspects of messrs Hartley, Butcher and, er, Kluivert. Oh yeah, and there was an Old Firm match this week too…..
Rangers 0-2 Celtic
A shock result at Ibrox as Rangers managed a draw – in the first half. Despite being somewhat fortunate to get nil, Pedro Caixinha’s side stormed into the break level with Celtic. The biggest talking point of the opening 45 minutes was a Rangers employee being felled by a clumsy challenge – but inexplicably no action was taken against Josh Windass for wiping out his manager. There must be something about the main stand side at Ibrox after Dundee’s Jack Hendry took out his teammate Cammy Kerr in similar fashion a couple of weeks ago. Jozo Simunovic tried to make the game fair by giving Rangers a penalty, but referee Craig Thomson wasn’t fooled by his attempted generosity and waved play on. At the other end, Celtic were waltzing into the Rangers box almost at will. At one point Stuart Armstrong did a better job of tackling himself than the Rangers defence could manage. It was a common theme; Pedro Caixinha was the only man to get in Scott Brown’s face all day, as he remonstrated with the Celtic captain at half time over an alleged elbow on Morelos. Second half goals from Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths gave Celtic three consecutive wins at Ibrox for the first time since 2004. At the end of the match as Celtic celebrated with their fans, a handful of Ibrox stewards showed the Rangers defence how to keep Griffiths away from goal. The Hoops striker resorting to all the witty banter of a 3-year-old instead as he wiped bogies on the corner flag to get his kicks. After being nominated for a prestigious FIFA fan award, the Celtic fans showed why, by throwing flares onto the Ibrox pitch. I reckon it’s all a big conspiracy as FIFA endorse Celtic fans’ behaviour with this nomination, thus allowing UEFA to continue budgeting on their standing order from the Parkhead coffers. Worrying times for Gers fans with Celtic already 8 points clear. If Caixinha isn’t careful, the barking dogs are going to be coming from inside the Ibrox caravan sooner rather than later.
Kilmarnock 1-1 Dundee
Killie are still searching for their first win of the season after drawing with Dundee. It looks increasingly likely, as the weeks go by, that these two are going to play a big part in the relegation story this season. I’d be far more concerned as a Killie fan than a Dundee fan at the moment. Veteran defender Gordon Greer tore strips off his teammates recently as he was scathing in his criticism of the application and effort from some of them. Greer had obviously decided that he was going to lead by example, showing great dedication and mastery of the art of Scottish fitba banter as he did so. On this occasion, he was helped by a supporting cast of teammates as a Kilmarnock free kick inside 4 minutes somehow led to a Dundee goal. It was quite literally unbelievable from the Killie defence. Anyone who is in any doubt as to why “route one” football still has a place in this league, needs only to look at this as an example. Killie fans must have wondered why the free kick wasn’t launched as far into the Dundee half as possible. The thing is, you need ball players to play the ball on the deck. From said free kick, within two passes, Greer was attempting some kind of Cruyff turn under pressure. He lost the ball, obviously, and after AJ Leitch-Smith’s initial shot was saved, Faissal El Bakhtaoui put Dundee ahead from the rebound. Comical stuff. To be fair to Greer, he made amends in the second half, sweeping home the equaliser after clearly getting fed up with Lee Erwin’s attempts at hitting a cow’s arse with a banjo. In the dying seconds, Kris Boyd had a golden opportunity to give Killie fans the rarest of things – a home win to celebrate. Boyd’s finish showed exactly why Lee Erwin is a first-pick currently.
Ross County 0 v 1 Hibs
A Hibs clean sheet is about as rare as a Killie home win these days. The fact they got one away to Ross County was apparently the final straw for the County board. Neil Lennon admitted earlier in the season that his team play well only after conceding their weekly goal. The Staggies are the first side to fail to score against Hibs in the league. They are also the first side to fail to score against the Hibees twice this season. Even Montrose, Alloa and Ayr, the only other sides not to score against Hibs, have managed to not score against them just the once. After putting Hibs ahead, Paul Hanlon then came closest to scoring for Ross County. Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds really only have themselves to blame after failing to trouble one of the league’s most generous defences. To be honest, McIntyre looked like a manager for whom the writing was on the wall during his post-match interview for Sportscene. He rambled on about being ruthless in trying to score the first goal – something he admitted his side is not capable of. But when the old cliché of “we have to be brave and continue to do the right things” was trotted out, that for me justified the impending decision of Roy McGregor and the County Board to relieve McIntyre of his position. It’s the ultimate admission by a manager that he basically hasn’t got a clue what the “right things” to do are, otherwise the team would be winning more games. Hibs meanwhile have an interesting few weeks ahead of them. There won’t be a dry eye in the house as Neil Lennon returns to Celtic Park to face his former side. That’s according to er Neil Lennon. Sorry to burst your bubble Lenny, but I think the Celtic fans have forgotten you even exist, such is their doe-eyed adoration of Saint Brendan. But I digress. Hibs then welcome Aberdeen to Easter Road as the action resumes after the international break. It’s Celtic again, at Hampden in the Betfred Cup semi-final, the following Saturday before the return of the Edinburgh derby as Hearts come calling for a midweek tussle under the lights. All a far cry from this time last year, when Hibs were taking on Ayr United and Queen of the South in the Championship and St.Mirren in the Challenge Cup.
St.Johnstone 2 v 1 Hamilton
No MOH, no problem for St.Johnstone as they went second in the table, at least until Aberdeen’s win on Sunday, with victory over Hamilton Accies. This game had a bit of everything and looked to have been a real cracker for the 2,880 souls inside McDiarmid Park to enjoy. Perhaps not so much for Martin Canning who will feel his side deserved a point. Arguably the Premiership’s goal of the week – it was for me, anyway, from Greg Docherty gave Accies a half-time lead. Docherty was Accies’ play-off hero with the goal against Dundee United that kept them in the Premiership. The 21-year old picked up a pass from Donati, heading away from goal in the final third. He turned, then skipped past two Saints defenders into the box before showing fantastic composure to rifle an emphatic shot into the corner. St.Johnstone’s Steven McLean then showed an outrageous piece of skill to draw Tommy Wright’s side level. McLean, grounded after his initial header was saved by Hamilton goalkeeper Gary Woods, managed a couple of keepie-uppies to set himself up for the finish. Murray Davidson then popped up to bullet a header past Hamilton goalkeeper Darren Jamieson – Woods having gone off injured. Then late on, Darian McKinnon saw red for a rugby tackle, his technique greatly appreciated by the knowledgeable Perth crowd. Hamilton stay eighth and St.Johnstone remain five points behind leaders Celtic.
Partick Thistle 1 v 1 Hearts
Thank goodness for goal-line technology said no-one at the SPFL, ever. It’s ok though because most commentators at the game agreed that Hearts played well enough to merit at least a draw. The kangaroo court that is the Scottish football media has spoken, and the verdict is we can tolerate intolerable decisions as long as they fit with our narrative of the game. Entirely bonkers, of course, but that’s Scottish football logic for you, folks. Before slating the match officials for awarding Hearts the most dubious of goals after Ross Callachan’s header was ‘cleared’ off the line, I must point out that they faced a similar situation in the first half. At the same end of the pitch, Adam Barton’s header was on its way in until John Souttar got back to clear off the line. The officials got that call right, and it must have been enough for their laser like eyes to compare and contrast when Danny Devine attempted an almost identical clearance. I can actually see why the goal was given. Devine looked to be on or behind the line when he began his movement towards the ball, a movement that took him into the back of the net. The takeaway is that until a team benefits from a dodgy goal-line decision when they don’t deserve a goal, or perhaps when Celtic or Rangers are on the wrong end of a decision, we will be no closer to the introduction of goal-line technology in Scotland. Thistle remain winless in eleventh place, and it’s also as you were for Hearts who stay seventh.
Motherwell 0 v 1 Aberdeen
Aberdeen were back at Fir Park on Sunday, just three days after a 3-0 defeat sent the Dons spinning out of the Betfred Cup. Derek McInnes took the credit for a “pragmatic” approach and team selection that saw his side emerge victorious this time on league duty. I suppose if a manager has to take flak for defeats, he should be entitled to crow a little when he identifies a problem, changes something and comes away with a different result. But it wouldn’t have taken a tactical genius to tell you that in the cup game Aberdeen were simply dreadful, and it was unlikely they could play so badly again. Certainly Joe Lewis, a keeper who has shown some top form in previous games, was highly unlikely to throw another two into the net as he did on Thursday. Aberdeen had that defeat coming. They haven’t started the season in good form. It’s testament to them that they remain unbeaten in the league and just two points behind Celtic. McInnes will hope that the poor performances have now come to a head and this can be a turning point for the Dons to kick on.
Celtic made it 57 domestic matches unbeaten. It should have been the sternest test so far, but instead, 57 was one of the most straightforward and comfortable victories yet. Rangers slide to fifth in the table after dropping points for the third time in four home matches this season. Both Killie and Partick Thistle remain winless at the bottom of the table. The entire bottom six is unchanged with none of the teams at the wrong end managing a win this weekend. The big winners in this week’s table are Hibs. Neil Lennon’s side are up to fourth, leapfrogging Motherwell and Rangers. It has been a satisfactory start to life back in the top flight for Hibs, despite some up and down performances. However, the real test starts now and if the Hibees are still in the top four this time next month, after the Edinburgh derby, I’ll be seriously impressed.
Celtic are in Champions League action in Belgium on Wednesday as they take on Anderlecht. Rangers travel to Hamilton on Friday night to kick off the last round of Premiership action before another international break. Neil Lennon will make headlines when he returns to Celtic Park with high-flying Hibs on Saturday. But the pick of the fixtures for me is second v third as Aberdeen face St.Johnstone at Pittodrie. Until next week, so long!