Craig Cairns takes his weekly tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus here on Hamilton Accies, Inverness Caley Thistle and Rangers.
Ali Crawford still the main man for Accies
People have rightly heaped praise on the start Ross County have made this season, but it seems that Hamilton have not been given the same attention despite being level on points and having played a game less. Since Hamilton’s defeat in Dingwall – which remains their only setback - Accies have won all three Ladbrokes Premiership matches, scoring nine goals in the process.
The return of Ziggy Gordon at right-back has been crucial and new signing Antons Kurakins looks a decent acquisition on the other side. In the centre is a classic combination of an old-fashioned stopper and a ball-playing centre-back that provides a fine balance. This settled backline has seen them achieve three clean sheets so far. We shouldn’t be surprised at Hamilton’s ability to gain shut-outs as they finished with the fourth-highest number last season behind Celtic, Aberdeen and St Johnstone.
But the key to their success has undoubtedly been Ali Crawford, who scored a raking effort to level the score in their 3-2 victory over Hearts on Saturday. This means he has now scored two and assisted three of Hamilton’s nine league goals this season. Even when the side were struggling to cope with the departure of Alex Neil, Crawford was the main man, playing a part in 10 of their 14 goals between Martin Canning’s appointment as caretaker and the end of the season. In a fine campaign, he finished the club’s second-top scorer and netted the winner in their famous victory at Celtic Park.
One positive going into this season was their results post-split - Accies lost just one of their five matches and they appear to have continued that form into the current season. Some prematurely predicted that Martin Canning would be the first manager to leave his post - instead he has become the first to defeat a rampant Hearts side.
Wide players drifting inside creates space for David Raven to impress
In their previous league encounter, Dundee fielded a back three for the first time, meaning Greg Stewart was given free rein behind lone striker Kane Hemmings. Here, a return to 4-2-3-1 saw Stewart start on the left. One of his direct opponents, Ryan Christie, was also given licence to drift inside from his wide-right position, meaning that space often opened up on that side.
Inverness right-back David Raven was the player to make the most of the space, bombing forward after a clever switch of play from Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo in the first half. Raven cut the ball back for Iain Vigurs, who pulled the best opportunity of the half wide.
Raven also made use of this space for the Inverness goal, which saw them come within seconds of sealing their first victory of the season. The Liverpudlian began a counter-attack in his own half already beyond Stewart, who was at the edge of the Caley Thistle box, and Gary Irvine who had been providing an overlap from left-back.
The two being caught upfield left the Dundee defence disjointed, allowing Raven to continue forward and eventually collect a loose ball on the right-hand side before curling it expertly around the goalkeeper. The ball broke to Raven as a result of Christie being involved in a 50-50 at the edge of the box after he had come inside from his wide-right position. Raven exploiting this space was almost a match-winner but Dundee snatched a point in injury time.
James Tavernier’s coverage gives Rangers an extra man in central areas
When his side are without the ball, Kenny Miller holds his position on the right of the attack. When Rangers are in possession, he tends to become a second striker with Martyn Waghorn. Much of this is down to the way James Tavernier covers the right flank by himself, allowing Mark Warburton to field three central midfielders along with, what is effectively, a strike partnership.
Even though the cavalier full-back wasn’t directly responsible for any of Rangers’ five goals at Queen of the South, he still found himself involved in the majority of his side’s attacks and has been one of their most productive players in the final third this season. He has netted five times, which could easily be seven had he not been cruelly denied two other goals at Alloa recently, and has three assists.
Interestingly, each assist has been to set up Kenny Miller at the back post, further evidencing the striker’s willingness to get into the box from his position on the right and Tavernier’s ability to take advantage of the space. The pair almost linked up in a similar manner in the build-up to Rangers’ first penalty award on Sunday.
Queen of the South exploited the space behind Tavernier on a few occasions, as did Hibernian the week before, but Rangers have more than survived these minor scares and Tavernier continues to be one of the more exciting attacking players in the country from a defensive position.