Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, with the focus on the weekend games at Pittodrie, New Douglas Park and Fir Park.
McInnes tinkers and St Johnstone leave it late again
Prior to the match, Aberdeen supporters were hit with the news that Adam Rooney would be missing for approximately six week due to a muscle tear. The striker had scored 19 of his side’s 45 league goals going into Saturday’s match, including three of the last five. Simon Church has partnered him in attack for the three matches since he arrived at Pittodrie. For this match, he started as the only striker on the field, though took up an unusual position on the left. Midfielder Kenny McLean began the match as the lone striker.
In a match reminiscent of their victory over Ross County earlier in the season, Derek McInnes tinkered with his formation constantly. Church eventually took up his more natural role; McLean had spells on the left and as one of the holding midfielders; and Graeme Shinnie moved around the pitch so much that it was nigh-on impossible to define his position.
Aberdeen took the lead when Church poked in the rebound following a save from Alan Mannus. It is the Welshman’s second goal in four matches since he joined on loan and his goals have been scored from a combined total of two yards. The goal was the result of a corner, their 10th league goal from set-pieces this season.
St Johnstone welcomed Steven MacLean back to their line-up, returning to a 4-4-2. Chris Millar and Murray Davidson again dropped out of the squad, meaning Scott Brown came in to partner Simon Lappin in central midfield. Saints frustrated their hosts for much of the match, sitting in and attempting to counter. They failed to create many chances but again displayed a resilience we have come to expect from this St Johnstone side.
Liam Craig took to the field as a half-time substitute and it was he who eventually earned them a point. With Ryan Jack, playing at right-back, being dragged more and more into the centre of the field as Aberdeen focused their play down the opposite flank, Craig sensed an opportunity when he made an overlapping run into the space. With just a few minutes remaining, Jack dived in on Craig, conceding a penalty, and the latter kept his composure to convert the kick.
It is the sixth time St Johnstone have scored in the 88th minute and beyond in league matches this season. Those goals have been worth a total of eight points – the amount of points they currently sit above 11th place. Craig has scored two of those, both penalties, the other earned them three points away to Inverness.
Hamilton rescue a point against the 10 men of Celtic
Accies continued in their 5-4-1 formation, with Mikey Devlin sweeping in behind the two other centre-backs and a flat four behind Carlton Morris in attack. Celtic lined up in a familiar shape but brought in Kris Commons to play behind Leigh Griffiths, while Scott Allan retained his place on the left after an impressive substitute performance the previous week. Stefan Johansen joined Scott Brown in the holding midfield positions in the absence of Nir Bitton.
A tepid first half was brought to life by a Leigh Griffiths penalty and a red card for Dedryck Boyata. This prompted Ronny Deila into withdrawing Commons to bring on Charlie Mulgrew. Allan, Brown and Johansen thus formed a three-man midfield with Gary Mackay-Steven just off Griffiths in attack. Mackay-Steven had a tremendous opportunity to extend Celtic’s lead shortly after the break, as did Griffiths through another penalty, but they both found Accies keeper Michael McGovern in fine form.
The home side’s response was to stick to their back five without the ball but to push Darren Lyon from wing-back to right midfield and Dougie Imrie to partner Morris in a 4-4-2 when in possession. They began to dominate the game and eventually moved fully to a 4-4-2, bringing on Eamonn Brophy to partner Morris. Three minutes later Accies were level through the young striker, who scored for the second consecutive substitute appearance against the champions.
Motherwell’s fluid front three terrorise Thistle’s previously solid defence
Mark McGhee reverted to a back four for the visit of Partick Thistle, bringing in Steven Hammell at the expense of James McFadden. Marvin Johnson was pushed into a slightly more advanced role, lining up alongside Louis Moult and Scott McDonald in a fluid front three.
As well as this, Motherwell’s full-backs pushed on, while Chris Cadden and Stephen Pearson took up advanced roles when their side had possession. The result was a very attacking performance from the Steelmen and their effectiveness meant they were able to put three goals past a defence that had conceded just one goal in its previous four matches.
Of the front three, McDonald was the most likely to drop deep and link with others around him. For the second goal, he collected a throw-in outside the box before cleverly slipping in Moult for his 16th goal of the season. For the third, he facilitated an excellent counter attack by dropping to the halfway line and picked out Pearson, who sent a first-time through ball for Johnson to chase.