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Wednesday 4th May 2016

Terrace Tactics

Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus this week on Aberdeen, Hearts and the Dundee derby.

Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus this week on Aberdeen, Hearts and the Dundee derby.

Aberdeen take advantage of Motherwell in wide areas
As noted in this column last week, Motherwell compensated for some defensive frailties of wide men Marvin Johnson and Lionel Ainsworth by playing them as part of a front three in their victory over Hearts. For their trip Pittodrie, Mark McGhee dropped them back to the wings of a 4-4-2.

This allowed Aberdeen more freedom in wide areas, which we know is their main strength. Going into this match, Aberdeen had scored 36 league goals from open play this season, 20 had come from wide areas.

Aberdeen won the match 4-1 and, predictably, three of those goals came from the wings. They were ahead within seven minutes when Jonny Hayes spun past Louis Laing and darted into the box, drawing the penalty; they increased their lead after Niall McGinn converted Shay Logan’s cross; and added a fourth goal when Hayes collected the ball on the left, sped towards goal and slid the ball under Connor Ripley.

McGhee was not perturbed by the result, however. His side went into this match on the back of a run of six victories in seven. They were up against an Aberdeen side at their best, with Hayes, McGinn and Kenny McLean all on the scoresheet and on form. Adam Rooney even grabbed a goal after an appearance from the bench following a spell out injured.

Earlier in the day Celtic had all but clinched the title with victory at Tynecastle. The Dons’ subsequent performance against Motherwell must have left some of their fans thinking what could have been. Last year they were undone by their head-to-head against the champions, this season they improved on that but dropped more points elsewhere. A few more results like this could have had them going into Sunday’s match with a title on the line.

Hearts use three different formations against Celtic
During his pre-match interview, Robbie Neilson said that he would be starting with a back three but had been practicing with two formations so he could switch in-game. He began with Juwon Oshaniwa as the left-wing back and it was the space behind the Nigerian that Celtic exploited in the first 45 minutes.

Patrick Roberts started on the right wing for Celtic, with Callum McGregor in the No 10 role. On several occasions Roberts cut inside on to his left foot and attacked the centre, pulling Blazej Augustyn – Hearts’ left-sided centre-back – with him. This created space which McGregor would then move into.

It happened when McGregor had a goal ruled offside, it happened again minutes later when Roberts should have scored and it was the case when McGregor linked with Mikael Lustig to create Colin Kazim-Richards’ opener. That led Neilson switching to his plan B of 4-5-1 towards the end of the half.

He then brought on Callum Paterson and Abiola Dauda at half-time, lining up 4-4-2. It improved the Jambos for a spell, leading to an equaliser, but it ultimately ended in Celtic once again taking control and capitalising on some defensive errors to secure the victory.

Dundee score late again, Dundee United surrender a lead again
One of the most surprising things about this highly-charged derby was the lack of first-half goals. Both teams went for it from the off in a very open first period. Dundee lined up with Greg Stewart and Craig Wighton either side of Kane Hemmings in a 4-3-3 with United in a narrow 4-4-2.

United attempted to press high up the field but it was Paul Hartley’s men who dominated through a mixture of direct balls in behind, some nice passing football and by piling crosses on top of Eiji Kawashima.

Not so surprising was that, after the home side’s dominance, Dundee United took the lead shortly after the break. Paul McGowan had been replaced after sustaining an injury, meaning centre-back Julen Etxabeguren took his place. This, plus the fact that Gary Harkins was now virtually playing as a striker, meant that Dundee were now effectively playing 4-2-4. These two factors allowed United to take over in midfield and they were ahead when no one tracked John Rankin’s run, from which he collected Simon Murray’s pass before teeing up Edward Ofere.

United have lost 27 points from winning positions this season while Dundee have scored 10 of their 52 league goals in the last 10 minutes of matches. Four of these, including Wighton’s winner, have come in injury time and have been worth a total of nine points.