The Campbell’s Footballs Scottish Football Review of the week
Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
KILLIE’S COVID NIGHTMARE AND A LONG HARD WINTER AHEAD FOR SCOTTISH FOOTBALL
Thursday’s events at Rugby Park (pictured) are proof yet again that football is privileged to have its game back even without fans.
Like it or lump it, coronavirus is still around us in society. This second wave is not going away any time soon and every day for us all right now is a risk we need to think about. First of all, I want to wish everyone associated with Kilmarnock, notably the players and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, all the best in their recovery. Kilmarnock are a fantastic club and it’s a real shame they are having to deal with these issues right now. I hope, like St Mirren and Hamilton before them, they get out of this without too much damage, physically and psychologically.
I do feel this COVID-19 situation with Kilmarnock is now as bad as any of the other issues we have seen in Scottish football so far. This is an outbreak that happened within a whole squad rather than a portion of a side, like we saw with the goalkeeping situation at St Mirren. I do feel the Scottish FA and the SPFL have to show a bit of common sense with making sure Killie (and any other teams who have to self-isolate players and staff moving forward) get the best attention that they can. Forfeiting games and handing other teams points would be an absolutely disastrous move in my eyes and would not be within the spirit of the game. People’s lives are still every day at risk from this deadly virus and we all should be more circumspect of others. We are heading into a long hard winter ahead of us and I am more and more concerned that we will not see the whole campaign out. Cases are rising in Scotland exponentially and it seems to me we are so obsessed with sticking to a rigid calendar to play out a whole season. Football, and other sports, should be counting its lucky stars its allowed back at all in a competitive manner.
In my honest view, Scottish Football has asked far too much to play out the Premiership season out in its entirety. 22 games (play each team once at home and once away) and the split should have been, in my view, the sensible way to play this out short term. The same should also have been implemented for the Championship, Leagues 1 and 2 and the Lowland and Highland Leagues. I also would have either scrapped the BetFred Cup altogether or changed it straight to knockout for this season only. Finally, I would have made sure a brand new UEFA Nations League campaign was not allowed to start till after the playoffs for UEFA 2020 (2021) were settled.
Like football, society has huge problems right now containing COVID-19 but I cannot help but feel the governing bodies gave themselves extra problems that could be massively avoided.
I hope I am wrong and we can see this through together, without losing lives or clubs to financial difficulties but I have serious doubts.
FERGUSON FORM IMPORTANT IN CRITICAL MONTH FOR DONS
Aberdeen are very fortunate to have Lewis Ferguson (pictured) playing on top of his game right now.
The former Hamilton man has found his mo-jo in recent weeks. He scored a brace of penalties in the Highlands last week to help see off Ross County before netting a stoppage time winner for the Dons against the Buddies on Friday night.
For much of the game on Friday, it looked like being a frustrating evening for the team in red. They fell behind to an Ethan Erhahon screamer and looked turgid and slow in their build up to break down a stubborn St Mirren defence. However, Marley Watkins equalising goal and that late winner from Ferguson got the Dons over the line.
Ferguson has definitely improved alongside Ross McCrorie in the centre of that midfield. He has been able to interchange with McCrorie and be that extra man to get up to support the front players at every opportunity. That is where I feel he is at his most dangerous and it is now great he is beginning to add goals to his game.
The Dons will need Ferguson and teammates to continue this fine form as they face a busy schedule after the international break. They have a New Firm derby against rivals Dundee United before a double header against Celtic in the league and the rearranged Scottish Cup semi-final from last campaign.
October is a huge month for the Granite City side.
ERHAHON STUNNER NOT ENOUGH FOR UNFORTUNATE BUDDIES
You have to feel for St Mirren after their late defeat at Pittodrie on Friday night. Firstly, because the goal Erhahon scored is a contender for goal of the season so far and secondly Jim Goodwin’s men were decent for the majority of the game, frustrating their opponents from the Granite City.
St Mirren have been struggling to keep teams out this year but for large spells at Pittodrie they were structured and hard to break down. I don’t think Jak Alnwick was called into action much in the game and in the first half they more than had their moments with John Obika and Lee Erwin missing up decent opportunities to give them a first half lead. They deserved to go in front as well from that Erhahon thunder blaster (pictured).
Ultimately though, they conceded two goals as Aberdeen persisted and eventually wore the Buddies down but I think Jim Goodwin’s side can be proud of their display. They had a threadbare squad on the night and their players gave everything throughout the 90 minutes. Unfortunately for them, it is not six defeats in a row for St Mirren who just cannot get a result right now.
I still feel due to their lack of goals they will be in for a long hard season but hopefully, for St Mirren fans. I’ll be proved wrong in the next few matches. They have huge games coming up which include. two BetFred Cup matches against Partick Thistle and Queen of the South and two home league matches against Motherwell and Hamilton Accies.
These are all winnable matches but they have to start scoring and more importantly get back winning again.
FORREST WINNER ENDS LIVINGSTON GRASS JINX
There is more than just one good Forrest brother it seems!
Alan Forrest (pictured) has come alive for Livingston lately. He scored his first goal of the season against St Johnstone last week and on Friday night he followed it up with a late winner for Livingston as they seen off Dundee United 2-1.
Livingston had not won a game on grass since August 2019 where they won 4-1 against Ross County but they were fully deserving of their victory at Tannadice on Friday night to end their incredible jinx. They were unlucky to fall behind to a superb Nicky Clark free kick early on but Gary Holt’s side dug in well and through goals from Jon Guthrie and Forrest won they showed tremendous character to come back and get the three points.
Livingston have looked much more assured in recent weeks and hopefully they can kick on in their next few matches with this renewed confidence. They face Edinburgh City and Alloa Athletic in the BetFred Cup before a home league match against Kilmarnock, who will not be as up to speed as they would normally be having had to self-isolate players following this week’s events.
It seems, after a slow start, the Lions are beginning to roar back with a vengeance which is great as I like Gary Holt and I like Livingston as a club.
SHOT SHY TANGERINES WHIMPER TO LATE DEFEAT
Despite a first class free kick from Nicky Clark, it was a woeful performance from Dundee United on Friday night at Tannadice.
That defeat against Livingston means It’s now three defeats in five for United under Micky Mellon which is not good reading for Tangerines fans. However, what is more of a concern is that they are really struggling to create and take chances. The Clark goal aside, United offered absolutely nothing on Friday night. I don’t remember Robbie McCrorie in the Livingston goal having anything to do which is quite extraordinary.
It was a whimper of a performance.
I know having Lawrence Shankland and Clark (pictured) up front is a good thing for Dundee United long term but they have to be offering more in midfield. Those guys alone will not be able to get the desired points for United over the course of the season. Indeed, it is defensively where I feel they need to be better as well: Mellon’s side have not kept a clean sheet since that 1-0 win at Motherwell back in early August.
It could be a rocky few weeks ahead for the Tangerines. They have three BetFred Cup games next before that New Firm derby at home to McInnes’ Aberdeen. They need to find some form, confidence and results quickly to head into that derby with some hope otherwise it could be tough for them.
NISBET HELPS HIBS TO WIN DESPITE JEKYLL AND HYDE SHOWING
Kevin Nisbet is really enjoying life in Edinburgh right now isn’t he?
It’s now 6 goals in 8 league matches for the former Dunfermline Athletic striker and he is absolutely flying at the top of the goal scoring charts. His two goals were extremely well taken on Friday night but his overall play was sensational as well. He gave the Accies defence all sorts of problems throughout along with striker partner Christian Doidge as Hibs for the most part were very comfortable against Brian Rice’s side (pictured).
However, for all Hibs good work going forward, defensively they were a real shambles especially in the second half. Jack Ross’ side gave away two penalties in the second half and Ryan Porteous scored an own goal in what was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance. It was a good job Ofir Marciano saved Marios Ogkempoe’s penalty at 2-0 otherwise the outcome may have been very different.
Nevertheless, Hibernian are back to winning ways and maintain third place as they head into a busy period of their own. They have two north sides in Brora and Cove Rangers before a trip to Station Park to play Forfar Athletic in the BetFred Cup. They then face Ross County and Kilmarnock away before that Edinburgh Derby semi-final in the Scottish Cup at the end of the month.
If October was a big month for Aberdeen, it is just as huge for Jack Ross’ men. If all goes well, they can get to a cup final and put themselves in a solid position both in the BetFred Cup and in the League. If not, all that good work they have put in so far, may be undone quite significantly.
LATE REVIVAL NOT ENOUGH FOR HAMILTON AS OGKEMPOE PAYS PENALTY
It was a stirring fightback from Accies on Friday night but they will be kicking themselves ultimately for two reasons: their first half performance and that Marius Ogkempoe penalty miss at 2-0 down.
The first half was woeful from Brian Rice’s side on Friday. They stood off Hibernian and were it not for an excellent performance from goalkeeper Kyle Gourlay they could have been absolutely torn to shreds by half time. They then missed a huge chance to get back into the game when Ogkempoe missed that penalty kick. Had they halved the deficit there it could have been a very different game. As a consequence, though, they conceded the third and the game ran too far away from them. Even though they got two goals back from Ross Callachan (pictured) and the Porteous own goal they left themselves too much to do. This was a tough game for Accies but they did not help themselves with the start they gave themselves.
Hamilton have Annan Athletic and Ayr United before a crucial six pointer at home to St Johnstone. In that so-called mini league at the bottom of the table, that is the sort of games they need to win if they are going to give themselves any chance of surviving the drop.
LATE SHOW SAVES CELTIC IN LACKLUSTRE PERTH VICTORY
A tale as old as time. Celtic leave it late to pick up the win against plucky underdogs away from home.
For 89 minutes of their match at McDiarmid Park against St Johnstone, Neil Lennon’s side were woeful. They were slow in their passing, inept in their decision making and well off the pace. Callum Davidson’s men were tenacious, hard-working and above all shut Celtic out for large periods. I don’t recall Zander Clark having a seriuous save to make in the match.
However, two big moments decided this game: Craig Conway’s miss early in the second half and the introduction of substitute Leigh Griffiths from the bench.
Conway had to score his chance after being presented on the end of a superb cross by David Wotherspoon. However, the former Dundee United player could only smash the upright and Celtic survived. Instead, Griffiths took his opportunity, burying a Hatem Elhamed beyond Clark much to the delight of his teammates and manager. There was even time for Patryk Klimala to add a late second and put a massive amount of gloss on the scoreline.
St Johnstone can take great heart in their battling display. Every person to a man was excellent. Stevie May was superb for me and set the tone for the rest of his teammates. He won free kicks when holding the ball up as the lone striker and never stopped running all game. In midfield, they did not allow Celtic to settle with David Wotherspoon, Ally McCann and Murray Davidson shining in particular.
However, as good as this performance was from Callum Davidson’s side they ultimately came away pointless again at home. For Celtic, it was job done but there is no doubt Griffiths was instrumental in digging his manager and teammates out of jail after this inept and stale showing in Perth. They have to start being more ruthless and consistent in matches going forward because the law of averages states that they cannot get away with that too many more times.
Long term poses another question though – Is this the start of a new revolution for Griffiths at Celtic Park? And what about his Scotland chances long term? Let’s see how things unfold but for the latter I certainly hope this can be the case.
SUTTERING RANGERS SEE OFF COUNTY TO STAY TOP
Rangers maintained their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership standings on Sunday after a regulation victory over Ross County at Ibrox (pictured).
It’s been a good week for Steven Gerrard’s side after seeing off Galatasaray in midweek but their efforts today were tired and of a stuttering nature. We are so used to seeing Rangers blow teams away at Ibrox but only a James Tavernier penalty in the first half was all that the Gers had for their efforts at half time.
Ross County, to their credit, never gave up and more than caused Gerrard’s side issues in the second period with Coll Donaldson wasting their big chance to level things up. However, a late Brandon Barker goal put the game to bed and maintained Rangers one point lead at the top of the Premiership standings.
It was far from vintage Rangers but it was job done. They did lose Borna Barisic to injury in the second half and Connor Goldson seemed to be struggling late on. What damage is done there we will need to wait and see but for now the blue half of Glasgow can be satisfied to be sitting top of the tree heading into the international break.
It’s four defeats out their last five for County though and they will need to bounce back quickly after a poor run of form. They face Montrose and Arbroath in the BetFred Cup before a home match against Hibernian next. Things don’t get any easier for Stuart Kettlewell’s side.
EUROPA LEAGUE DRAWS GIVES POTENTIAL FOR THE OLD FIRM TO PROGRESS
Celtic and Rangers found their fate in the Europa League draws on Friday afternoon after wins over Sarajevo and Galatasaray respectively in midweek.
Celtic have been drawn with AC Milan, Lille and Sparta Prague while Rangers have been partnered with Benfica, Lech Poznan and Standard Liege.
On the face of things, both the Old Firm have tough groups. However, I actually believe both sides have a decent chance of making it through. At home, Celtic and Rangers can beat any of those sides in their respective groups. I also feel that the setup of both sides could also be of an advantage away from home as well. It’ll be interesting to see how both sides get on but I am more glass full on this than half empty on Celtic and Rangers’ respective chances.
It’s just a shame that all these matches won’t see full capacity at the grounds.
It’s the sign of the times we are living in though.