Craig Cairns take his weekly tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus falling on Aberdeen, Inverness Caley Thistle and Hamilton Accies.
Aberdeen’s ruthless flexibility
The presence of Graeme Shinnie in the Aberdeen line-up gives them a flexibility to be envied by most other sides in the country. Not only are they able to switch between a back three and a back four from match to match, they are able to do so during matches, as evidenced by their comfortable win at Tynecastle on Sunday.
Derek McInnes began the match with Shinnie and Shay Logan as wing-backs flanking a back three but quickly switched this in response to the way Robbie Neilson had set up his Hearts side. McInnes was likely uncomfortable with the thought of his three centre-backs being man-for-man against the Hearts front three. Shinnie was thus pushed into midfield with Andrew Considine, who is just as key to Aberdeen’s flexibility, moving to left-back.
The resulting performance saw the Dons race into a 3-0 lead before the break, allowing him to revert back to a back three once more to protect this. Niall McGinn, as always, was key to Aberdeen’s attack, assisting two and scoring the other. His four goals and seven assists, along with playing a key role in two others, means McGinn has now been involved in 13 of Aberdeen’s 20 goals this season.
Ryan Christie takes over the mantle of Inverness CT talisman
The Scottish Cup holders have endured a difficult summer. Since their triumph in May, Marley Watkins, Edward Ofere, Nick Ross and club captain Graeme Shinnie have all left the club. Add Billy McKay, who signed for Wigan in January, to that list and they account for 17 of Inverness’ 28 league goals between the turn of the year and the end of the season. That quintet is also responsible for 57% of the assists over the same period.
This, along with a plague of injuries, has seen them go out of Europe and start the season slowly. So far Inverness have struggled to name a full quota of substitutes for most of their matches this season. Losing so much talent in attacking areas, their club captain and talisman, as well as sustaining injuries to their goalkeeper and first-choice central defenders, goes a long way to explaining why Inverness currently sit ninth with seven points after eight matches.
Despite the difficult times, Caley Thistle have still only lost three league matches – the lowest amount in the bottom half – managing four draws along with their sole victory. During this time, one player has stood out head and shoulders above them all.
Whether he begins on the right or in the centre - as he did for Saturday’s match at Tannadice - of the attacking trident behind the lone striker, Ryan Christie is given free rein to drift across the pitch and create. Before Miles Storey’s debut goal in the dying minutes versus Hearts a week past Friday, Christie had either scored or assisted each of his side’s six goals. For Storey’s goal, Christie wasn’t even on the pitch, having already been substituted after creating the opportunity for James Vincent to open the scoring. He continued his impressive form into Saturday, setting up Josh Meekings to score from an inswinging corner to rescue a point at Tannadice.
Christie has scored both his goals with a left-footed strike from the inside left channel (both from a very similar position), though there appears to be no consistency regarding the means by which he gets his assists. What is interesting here is that all but two of the hockey assists – that is, the pass before the assist – has been a low, short pass, displaying Inverness’ desire to keep the ball on the ground. John Hughes often espouses the virtue of passing football and this, along with the fact that Meekings’s header is the first goal Inverness have scored from a high ball into the box this season, proves that he is a man of substance in this regard.
An exquisite through ball by Christie in the dying stages almost added another assist to his tally but Luis Zwick denied Carl Tremarco and the sides settled for a point each. A host of players have left Inverness this calendar year and, on current form, their supporters will be praying that Celtic do not exercise their option to recall the 20-year-old in January.
Accies shut out Motherwell once again
With Jesús García Tena stuck in traffic on the M8, Martin Canning was forced to reshuffle his defence for the Motherwell match, moving Ziggy Gordon into the centre and bringing in 20-year-old Darren Lyon at right-back. Tena made it to the match in time to be listed as a substitute and came on in the second half to contribute to Hamilton’s fourth clean sheet in eight league matches. Incredibly, the shut-out is also the eighth clean sheet they have attained in their previous 10 meetings with local rivals Motherwell. On top of all this, Accies remain unbeaten at home since mid-February.
Accies have a well-organised, well-balanced side that seems able to cope with the odd injury, suspension and player-missing-due-to-traffic-jam. In attack they have one of the better playmakers in the division in Ali Crawford, assisted by two other creative outlets in Gramoz Kurtaj and Dougie Imrie, who both like to drift inside. Lone striker Carlton Morris complements these three nicely with his ability of holding the ball up and linking play with his back to goal.
Manager Martin Canning had clearly done his homework, realising that Motherwell had conceded three goals down their right side so far this season. Antons Kurakins was encouraged to join Kurtaj on the left and double up on Motherwell right-back Josh Law. For the goal, Law found himself with both players to deal with and the eventual cross was nodded in by Dougie Imrie at the back post. The 5ft 10 winger is not known so much for his heading ability, though still out-jumped a man four inches taller to nod home the winner.