Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus this week on Dundee United, Hamilton Accies and Kilmarnock.
United again start well, again fail to win
Dundee United began with Chris Erskine and Scott Fraser just off Billy McKay in attack in the derby match at Dens Park. In the absence of two of the centre-halves who started at Tynecastle earlier in the week, Ryan McGowan was moved into central defence, meaning Blair Spittal started as the right wing-back in Mixu Paatelainen’s 3-4-2-1.
Spittal was arguably their best performer on the day. He was his side’s most dangerous attacker, stuck well to his defensive duties and put them ahead with a delightful free-kick. He, Fraser and Guy Demel linked well down the right-hand side, looking to drag Kevin Holt out of position and slip through balls behind him. Unfortunately, they failed to convert any more of their chances and once again surrendered an early lead.
Paul Hartley opted to replace the suspended Greg Stewart with Cammy Kerr – a right-back by trade – and Paul McGinn was moved forward into that position when Kerr was later substituted. Dundee didn’t have to play well to win – Hartley admitted as much post-match – and were gifted an equaliser with half-time approaching.
With a crowd of players surrounding debutant Eiji Kawashima in the United goal – a common tactic deployed by Dundee during set-pieces throughout the match – Kane Hemmings peeled away to wait for any loose ball before volleying to level the score. Hemmings has now scored eight goals in his last eight matches and has a total of 12 for the season.
A deflected Nick Ross effort gave Dundee the lead in the second half and United failed to recover, struggling to break down the swarm of players defending the home side’s penalty area and resorting to long-range strikes. It means that Dundee United have taken the lead five times in their last seven matches but have earned just two points during that run.
Ali Crawford far and away Hamilton’s biggest attacking threat in 2015
Due to injury to Jesús García Tena, Grant Gillespie was switched to right-back with Ziggy Gordon moved into central defence in the Lanarkshire derby but Accies have now conceded 15 goals in their last five matches – although they did escape with a 3-3 draw after Ali Crawford’s last-minute penalty.
The importance of Crawford in this Hamilton side cannot be over-stated. He missed a few weeks between October and November and his absence was notable. Returning for the win at Tannadice, Crawford has assisted six of their nine goals since – including two in that match. He also set up two of the goals in the draw at Motherwell then won the penalty in the dying minutes before stepping up to convert it.
Saturday’s performance meansCrawford now joins Niall McGinn as the highest assist maker in the league with 11. He also has four goals, meaning he has scored or assisted 15 of Hamilton’s 28 league goals this season. The stats surrounding Crawford are even more impressive when taking the end of last season into account. Since the start of 2015, Crawford has scored or assisted 27 of Hamilton’s 48 league goals.
Magennis and Smith key to Kilmarnock’s attack
Kilmarnock started the match against Hearts with Tope Obadeyi as an inverted winger on the right and looked to get him running at Hearts left-back Juwon Oshaniwa. He started the match well, feeding an excellent through ball for Josh Magennis, before being withdrawn due to injury.
Eleven of Kilmarnock’s 18 league goals from open play have come from crosses into the box, nine of them from the right, including Conrad Balatoni’s opener. It was Magennis who supplied the cross, meaning he has assisted three of their last five goals and scored the other two.
Another key player for Kilmarnock recently has been Stevie Smith. The full-back has been converted into a holding midfielder in recent months and has performed reasonably well. He is also contributing to Kilmarnock’s goals. Since the end of October he has scored twice and provided three assists, including his corner for Magennis’s equaliser at the weekend. Smith was also involved in Kilmarnock’s opener and it was his corner that led to Mark Connolly’s goal against Inverness last month, meaning the former Rangers player has been directly involved in seven of their last 11 goals.
Hearts retained their 4-4-2 shape but made a few changes, bringing in Juanma, Callum Paterson and Billy King. Their strategy was more direct than usual. When not going long, Hearts would quickly move the ball forward and look to play through balls that matched the runs of Juanma and Gavin Reilly in attack.
Both centre-backs were not afraid to step out and play one-twos with their team-mates and at other times would look to play balls over the top of the Kilmarnock defence. This season, Blazej Augustyn has shown he likes to step out from defence and play a crossfield pass to Sam Nicholson and it was from this move that Hearts got their equaliser.
Hearts’ full-backs were also more reserved than usual, rarely overlapping King or Nicholson. One of the few times they both ventured forward, however, saw Hearts take the lead. Oshinawa’s cross was cleared and Paterson expertly teed himself up before scoring via a deflection.