Celtic man underlines his importance, Rangers pair ruin their Ibrox chances, Hearts manager earns key redemption, Motherwell star returns to his roots - Scottish football winners and losers
A look back at the weekend’s action in Scottish football.
Winner – Ryan Christie (Celtic)
The midfielder, like every Celtic player this season, hasn’t been at his consistent best. He’s had great moments and games, but also drawn the frustration of supporters – again, like everyone else at the club.
His performance, especially his stunning goal, in the 2-0 victory over Aberdeen underlined the Scottish international’s importance to the team. The underdogs had given an encouraging account of themselves in the match leading up to Christie’s perfectly executed opener, but once that speculative effort went in there was no coming back. Celtic took things up a gear, while Aberdeen were deflated by the knowledge that a tough ask just got a lot harder.
That piece of brilliance was a reminder of his quality. It also served as a reminder to those who were predicting Celtic’s impending collapse. Even when the champions are on their knees, there’s still more than enough exceptional talent at their disposal to defeat nearly every other club in the country with a degree of comfort.
Losers – George Edmundson and Jordan Jones (Rangers)
The two Rangers players have been suspended by the club, pending an internal investigation, after they were found to have broken Covid-19 protocol and the football ‘bubble’ by attending a private event with people from other households. Flaunting the rules is a particularly stupid thing for any footballer to do in the current climate, but it’s especially so when you’re a fringe player already struggling for playing time. Edmundson, once everyone is fit, will be Rangers’ fifth-choice centre-back. This is hardly going to endear him to Steven Gerrard and encourage the boss to give him opportunities to showcase himself. As for Jones, he only just got back into Gerrard’s good books after being shunned for over 12 months following a daft tackle in the first Old Firm game of last season, for which, not only did the winger receive a red card, he also injured himself making.
Winner – Robbie Neilson (Hearts)
The single biggest knock on Robbie Neilson from his own supporters during his first spell in charge of Tynecastle was his derby record against Hibs. One win in six with three draws doesn’t sound too bad but the context made it a lot worse. Hearts were the favourites going into every single one of those matches, they were even in a division above for two of them, while the 2-0 collapse at Tynecastle and subsequent replay defeat at Easter Road in 2016 went a long way to helping Hibs win the cup that year. Therefore, it was immensely important the manager got off to a flyer in derbies so soon into his second spell in charge.
Not only did Neilson oversee a famous victory for the maroon half of Edinburgh and a little retribution after the summer they’ve had to endure, he even played a key role in the win, astutely changing his tactics in the second half when Hearts were in danger of being overrun. Almost immediately things improved following the switch to a 4-4-2 diamond, while the introductions of Peter Haring and Steven Naismith gave the team the impetus to go on and secure victory.
Loser – Ian Vigurs (Ross County)
The Ross County midfielder made a comedic error in the first half of Saturday’s match at Tannadice which gifted Dundee United a penalty in which to open the scoring. If you haven’t seen it, watch the highlights in the video we’ve embedded and then come back to this spot. It’s definitely worth it.
At the end of August it appeared that County had managed to solve some of their problems from last season. Their form was strong as their defence, deservedly derided last term, looked much improved with three new players in the back four. Since then, however, results have dramatically declined – they’ve won just once in 11 – with the defence, in particular, continually at fault.
In fairness to the defensive corps, it doesn’t help that they often receive little protection from the midfield. Vigurs is the quarterback of the team. His role is to sit in front of the back four, spray passes around the park and set the tempo. The problem is that even in his 20s he was something of a liability on the defensive side, and it certainly hasn’t improved as he’s entered the twilight years of his career.
Manager Stuart Kettlewell rates the player highly, but he may have to sacrifice the deep-lying playmaker and style of football he wants to play in order to make them harder to break down. It’s just too easy for opponents at the moment.
Winner – Mark O’Hara (Motherwell)
The Steelmen are an example of a team who’ve improved things defensively and are reaping the benefits. They’ve kept four clean sheets in five of their last matches and have won every single contest. Last week we waxed lyrical about the influence of Tony Watt. This time we look at another key contributor.
O’Hara has gone back to his roots recently by playing in defence, a position he has barely held since he was a teenager at Kilmarnock. After leaving Rugby Park he was moved into a more advanced role as clubs looked to utilise his dynamism and abilities on the ball. Whether or not he stays at centre-back for any length of time remains to be seen, but he’s certainly got the tools for the role after bulking up from the lanky streak of p*** he was during his time in Ayrshire.
In the 2-0 win against Livingston he won every defensive duel, every aerial duel, made six interceptions and five clearances. Furthermore, his comfort on the ball enabled Motherwell to have four defenders all capable of playing out from the back, which helped get them on the front foot in what was a deserved victory.
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