“He knows how to link it up, and probably doesn’t get enough goals because of the unselfish work he does outside of the box”, said St. Johnstone manager, Tommy Wright, of Steven MacLean after his winning goal on Saturday. The former Dons forward had earlier struck the post before he netted the winner against his former club. Despite this, and his memorable goal in last season’s Scottish Cup final, it is without doubt his intelligence outside the box that is his greatest contribution to the team.
As well as dropping deep to link midfield with attack, MacLean assisted in bringing about the prolific form of Stevie May last season. There is no doubt the sale of the under-21 international to Sheffield Wednesday has left the Perth side a little lightweight in attack, but to expect MacLean to fill the void vacated by May – as some have suggested - would be to confuse his role in the side.
Granted, for Saturday’s winner, he may have started the move outside the area before finding space within to finish, however, what is required is a strike partner to share the goals with him, rather than him becoming the twenty-goals-a-season striker himself. This is not to say that he shouldn’t be adding to his goals from last season, more that he requires someone with complimentary attributes to work alongside.
When questioned about any recruitment in this area, Wright joked that “Shaun Goater’s gone. It’ll not be him”, while telling of a supporter stopping him in the street to enquire about the alleged new signing. “Are you for real? 43[-years-old] and two stone heavier than me!”, continued Wright before confirming that they were no further forward with any targets.
“We started really well and Dundee United score against the run of the play…” assessed Derek Adams after their 2-1 weekend defeat to Dundee United. A similar defence of dominating the game for thirty-five minutes and individual errors costing the team was peddled after the defeat to Kilmarnock. Fair enough, but that still leaves the majority of the match where you failed to dominate. At home.
This time around, Ross County travelled to Tannadice and, to be fair to Adams, his side were in control when guilty duo Yoann Arquin and Jake Jervis passed up enticing chances with the score poised at 1-1. “Performance-wise, we were excellent today…”, added Adams. Forgive me, but aren’t defensive mistakes and horrendous finishing part of the performance?
There did appear – although there is only so much you can decipher from criminally short highlights that fail to convey the ebbs and flows of a match – to be some sort of team forming. He has a left-sided full-back in Uros Celcer that seems willing and able to push forward. Just ahead of him is Joe Carlde, known for cutting inside on to his right foot, which allowed the duo to double up on United full-back Keith Watson.
This can make make for a perfect blend when pulled off correctly and, added to this, as we saw on Saturday, is Graham Carey bursting from central midfield, instinctively drifting towards his more natural left side. The goal, as well as the two missed sitters, came from combination play between two of these three and if Adams can foster similarly strong partnerships across his line-up, his team will surely start to pick up wins.
Starting slowly in the top flight is becoming a familiar story for the Staggies though, and much of this is a consequence of the Vladimir Romanov-esque signing policy favoured by Adams. Including loans, no fewer than eleven players have arrived in Dingwall this summer, taking Adams’s total to an incredible forty in the last five transfer windows.
The previous two campaigns have followed similar patters: finding themselves bottom - save for a club in crisis - at the turn of the year before recruiting even more players in January and finishing the season more than comfortably out of the reach of the relegation and play-off spots. Though he managed some continuity in the starting line up during their opening SPL campaign, last season saw Adams struggle to find his best line-up for the first few months before another overhaul of the squad in January.
Managers often bemoan the notoriously difficult January transfer window but it is there that Adams seems to do his best work and whether or not the same happens this time, time will tell. What is apparent is that Derek Adams is still unsure of his starting eleven and that if Ross County don’t begin to pick up results soon, they are headed for another bleak start to their winter.
This quote was not taken from the weekend’s post-match interviews but is worthy of inclusion all the same. On Celtic’s upcoming second-leg Champions League qualifier, Ronny Deila started off by, rightly, talking up the occasion. "This is the most important night of this season. The biggest. I can't wait. It's been a long 10 weeks of hard work, ups and downs, and now we're here at the final moment, the moment of decision. We have to go out and attack the game”. He then seemed to completely forget Celtic’s much-publicised and fiercely-debated route to this stage. “If we go through, we will have shown that we belong in the Champions League because we've been good enough to qualify. That is the main thing."