Craig Cairns takes his latest tactical look at the SPFL, this week focusing on Scott McDonald, Ross Draper and David Wotherspoon.
McDonald drops into the Motherwell midfield
Any notion that Celtic’s Scottish Cup exit would sap Motherwell’s motivation for their remaining games was quickly dismissed after an impressive win and performance against Hearts. Fourth place may now no longer have the carrot of European football dangling from it, but Mark McGhee’s men continued their good run that has seen them climb from 11th place since December.
They were hindered by the exclusion of Morgaro Gomis – missing due to being on loan from Hearts – and responded by dropping Scott McDonald into a midfield berth. The Aussie took up this role to great effect in last season’s play-offs versus Rangers but failed to continue that form when used there at the start of this campaign. That left a position on the front three up for grabs that was filled by Lionel Ainsworth. He and Marvin Johnson took up inverted roles either side of Louis Moult, though the trio regularly interchanged.
It was these two factors that brought about the winning goal. McDonald collected the ball just outside the Hearts area, pulling three defenders towards him. Ainsworth drifted into the space created before collecting McDonald’s pass, cutting on to his right foot and curling the ball into the bottom corner.
It was just the 10th time Ainsworth and Johnson had started together in the league this season but Saturday’s match was just the third time they have both started and Motherwell have gone on to win.
This is likely down to the fact that when on either wing of a 4-4-2, both attack aggressively to the detriment of their defensive duties. Placing them both in a front three allowed McGhee to get the best out of them in an attacking sense, while still having enough cover further back to compensate.
Ross Draper’s transformation from holding to attacking midfielder
When this season was in its infancy, Ross Draper was well known as a midfield spoiler. Even though he always displayed an ability to get on the ball, he rarely did so in advanced areas of the field. In recent months he has shown himself to be one of Inverness’ most potent attackers. At Celtic Park in February, he often found himself as the most advanced in a striker-less formation.
John Hughes returned to this set-up for the visit of Kilmarnock, fielding Miles Storey and Danny Williams wide and relying on piercing runs from Draper and Liam Polworth to attack the centre. Inverness dominated the first half but somehow found themselves behind at the break.
However, three second-half goals, each one involving Draper, turned the game on its head and all but secured Caley Thistle’s status in the Ladbrokes Premiership next season. For the first, he instinctively intercepted a poor passback and drew a foul from Jamie MacDonald. Greg Tansey converted the kick, meaning that Draper now has seven league assists - four of them have come from winning penalties.
The home side have clearly been working on their set-pieces and played in a number of well-worked corners over the 90 minutes. Time and time again, one of their players peeled away from the ruck of bodies to find space at the back post. Killie were finally punished when Draper tapped in to put his side ahead. Then, for the third, he was again involved in a smart passage of play. He may not be one of the league’s flair players, but Draper has shown himself to be a real handful in the final third this season.
David Wotherspoon has had his most productive season yet
The former Hibs midfielder won the Scottish Cup in his first year with St Johnstone and has steadily continued to increase his influence on the side. While most of the headlines were focused on Michael O’Halloran earlier in the season, Wotherspoon has quietly racked up his most productive season as a professional footballer.
Friday saw him take his goal tally to nine for the season - he also has three assists to his name and has been directly involved in several other goals. Prior to this, he scored two goals in two seasons for Saints and the most he managed in a single campaign for Hibs was four. While he may not have as much pace to burn as O’Halloran, he is clever in possession and has a great delivery, both from open play and dead balls. Adding goals to this has made him an important player for Tommy Wright.