Craig Cairns of the Terrace Scottish Football Podcast discusses three key tactics from the weekend's SPFL action.
Greg Kiltie emerging as a top talent at Kilmarnock
Even though it has been a tough start to the campaign at Rugby Park, one shining light appears to be the form of 18-year-old Greg Kiltie. The young winger is enjoying an extended run in the side after missing out on the starting XI once or twice earlier in the season.
Kiltie made his first start of the season in the 2-2 draw with Celtic, grabbing an assist in the process, before performing reasonably well in the next match versus Partick Thistle. He was then dropped for the visit of Ross County, a match they lost 4-0, before returning to play a key role in their League Cup victory over Berwick – in that game he assisted two of their four goals.
Kiltie was subsequently on the bench for the defeat to Motherwell before being restored to the starting line-up for the win at Tannadice – a match in which he again got himself an assist. He has retained his starting position for all three of Kilmarnock’s matches since.
Gary Locke is another manager who likes to encourage his wide players to get on the ball as often as possible and put in crosses. Kiltie fits this bill perfectly, as well as being a danger when dribbling with the ball into the box. Despite his goal on Saturday being his first of the season, he has now assisted six of Kilmarnock’s 16 goals in all competitions. Two of these have been crosses straight on to the head of the in-form Josh Magennis, the other three have been through drawing fouls to win penalties.
Ross County continue to benefit from crosses
Jim McIntyre has shown the success that can be brought about by deploying a ‘traditional’ 4-4-2 formation - even with a limited budget relative to other clubs in the top flight. With a combination of good signings and consistency in his starting XI, McIntyre has transformed Ross County into genuine top-six contenders.
County have scored 68 goals since his appointment – almost half of these have come from crosses. This includes two of their goals in the 3-3 draw with Dundee on Saturday and, incredibly, six of their seven goals versus Falkirk in their League Cup match in midweek. Liam Boyce is, more often than not, the man putting the ball in the net for the Staggies and he netted his 10th of the season at the weekend. Boyce has scored 18 goals so far this calendar year.
McIntyre’s side also like to do their damage in the first half of matches, scoring 19 of their 24 goals in all competitions in the opening period. In fact, each and every one of their 15 league goals has come before half time. Their three in the first half at Dens Park on Saturday may have been enough to give them another victory and lift the side into third place had it not been for a red card for captain Andrew Davies. This was undoubtedly a turning point and the reason they didn’t walk away with another victory.
Hearts go back to basics
Since being appointed as manager of Hearts, Robbie Neilson has experimented with a series of starting XI selections and formations.
After losing three goals in the first half against Aberdeen, Neilson switched to a basic 4-4-2 with two strikers, two wingers and two central midfielders. They went on to win the second half 1-0. Similarly, at Celtic Park on Saturday, Juanma formed a strike partnership with Sow; Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson occupied the wings, while Morgaro Gomis returned after his enforced absence to captain the team alongside Miguel Pallardo in the centre of midfield.
Hearts rode their luck a little in the opening period, with the usually prolific Leigh Griffiths, amongst others, passing up a number of opportunities to open the scoring. The second half saw the visitors improve markedly in defence, sitting deep and narrow, to hold out for a credible 0-0 draw.
The clean sheet is just Hearts’ third in 11 matches this season, the other two coming versus Motherwell and Partick Thistle. The Gorgie club have conceded 13 league goals so far this season, the same number as bottom side Partick Thistle and more than Ross County, Hamilton, Motherwell and Inverness. Perhaps a return to a more basic formation and team selection will serve Hearts better for their upcoming fixtures.