Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus this week on the games at Firhill, Tannadice and New Douglas Park.
Thistle attack down the sides of Caley Thistle’s narrow formation
Inverness started the game in a 4-3-2-1, with James Vincent and Danny Williams just behind Miles Storey in attack. Behind them was a central midfield three of Liam Polwarth, Greg Tansey and Iain Vigurs. Lewis Horner came in at right-back in place of David Raven and was involved in the opening goal.
As we have come to expect from Caley Thistle, a slick passing move involving several players saw them take the lead. Danny Williams’ through ball put Storey in on goal and he slipped the ball under Ryan Scully to give his side the lead.
After around 15 minutes of domination from the away side, Partick Thistle finally got a hold in the game, but only after switching wingers David Amoo and Steven Lawless on to their natural sides, taking advantage of Inverness’ narrow formation. The wingers were supported by full-backs Callum Booth and, more importantly, Mustapha Dumbuya, who put in another man-of-the-match performance for his side.
For the equaliser, just before half-time, Amoo ran 60-plus yards before whipping in a cross. ICT cleared but, from the resulting throw, the ball was worked into the box for Kris Doolan to finish. Doolan has been restored to the side recently and was on the end on several chances before eventually scoring.
The away side emerged from the break with a wider midfield four – Vincent dropping alongside Tansey - looking to counteract Thistle’s advancing full-backs. It nullified them to an extent but didn’t stop them from creating the better chances of the second half.
The winner came in the final minute and from a wide position, even though it was rather fortuitous. Substitute Ryan Stevenson’s cross was missed by everyone, fooling Owain Fon Williams, before bouncing beyond the goalkeeper and nestling in the net.
Another late goal cost Inverness - they have now conceded in the last minute or beyond in five matches, denying them a total of eight points. The win takes Thistle out of the play-off spot and to within three points of Saturday’s opponents Kilmarnock.
United improve after change of system but St Johnstone’s resilience shows again
Mixu Paatelainen drafted in new signing Gavin Gunning alongside Sean Dillon and Mark Durnan, in a new-look 3-4-2-1 formation. This allowed them to push their wing-backs forward while retaining a spare man against St Johnstone’s front two.
They started the better side and took the lead when one of these wing-backs, Ryan McGowan, linked with Blair Spittal to cross for Billy McKay. Not only was it Dundee United’s first headed goal in the league this season, it now means McKay has scored United’s last five league goals. No other player has netted since Chris Erskine’s penalty v Celtic on August 22, while only McKay has scored from open play in the league since Blair Spittal in the Dundee derby on August 11.
Despite lacking confidence, United were instructed to boldly pass the ball out from the back and were given a few scary moments when the visitors harried them into errors.
Leading with two minutes to go until the break, United still managed to find themselves behind going into to it. The advanced nature of Paul Dixon in the left wing-back position gave Michael O’Halloran the space to inflict some damage.
The former Scotland under-21 international had already sent a few warnings before winning the corner that led to Chris Kane’s equaliser. Minutes later, an O’Halloran cross was eventually turned in by Murray Davidson to give Saints the lead.
For much of the second half, St Johnstone defended their way to victory. They have conceded 15 of 23 goals in the first half of league matches, going behind in 11 of them but have shown a remarkable resilience to rescue points.
In all, Tommy Wright’s side have salvaged 14 points from losing positions. After going behind, they have gone on to draw two matches (against Ross County and Inverness) and to win four (Motherwell, Kilmarnock and twice against Dundee United). They even went behind in the quarter-final of the League Cup away to Morton before emerging with a 3-1 victory.
Contrast that with Dundee United, who have failed to win any points from losing positions and have only won one of the last five league matches in which they have gone ahead.
Accies and Dons both find joy down their right side
In the absence of Ryan Jack through injury, Kenny McLean was dropped into a more familiar central position alongside Willo Flood, meaning Niall McGinn was restored to the line-up.
He started on the right wing and took himself to the top of the assist table when, minutes into the match, he broke down the right-hand side and crossed for McLean to finish with a superb volley. The goal takes McLean’s total to six goals for the season, while McGinn now has eight assists.
In a similar movement, McGinn drove down the same side moments later, indicating that it may be a long afternoon for Accies left-back Antons Kurakins. However, McGinn and Aberdeen began to lose their momentum, allowing the home side to dominate the rest of the half.
Hamilton found joy down their right-hand side also, through Dougie Imrie. The rejuvenated forward had raced on to a stray Ash Taylor pass before his side was behind, forcing Danny Ward to save. After going a goal down, Imrie continued to find space and create openings, taking advantage of unforced errors as well as the space left by Graeme Shinnie pushing up.
It took until after the break – 20 minutes from the end in fact – for Imrie to grab the equaliser for Accies. The tap-in was perhaps the easiest goal he will ever score but takes his tally to five goals this season.