Aberdeen 3 – 2 Hibs
I didn’t get to see all of this game (not that I was hugely motivated to) but I did try to watch what I could, picking it up at 2-1 near the end of the first half. After a shocking start and a couple of poor goals conceded, Hibs made a game of it and were unlucky in the end. If Aberdeen had blown that lead, I reckon people would have started to question McInnes a lot more. Their winning goal, a very lucky deflection, wasn’t deserved on the evidence of the game, where the changes in formation and approach, meant that Hibs more than matched them.
With regards to these sides next season, I honestly think Hibs have a top six squad. It’ll be down to how often Lennon loses the plot more than anything next season as to how they do. As for Aberdeen – I suspect they’ll be a little bit weaker in the next season or two. They’ll lose a few good players and struggle to replace them, as has happened so often to Scottish sides in the last decade.
Rangers 0 – 2 Celtic
This can’t be described as anything other than a skelping. Celtic dominated all but around 15 minutes of the game, and whilst we had a couple of real chances, we deserved to lose by more than two goals.
If I look back at my match preview, despite some hopeful language, I’d say I acknowledged that we needed a great performance from ourselves and a poor one from them. The reverse was unfortunately what we got. We were going into a game with two of our back four having fewer than ten first team matches to draw experience from, with one of our best players in recent weeks pulling out of the game late on according to reports, with a manager new to the situation and still learning what his squad really have to offer, and facing a team who are settled, in great form, haven’t lost a domestic game, and who have a squad miles ahead of ours in terms of ability. We needed them to be in holiday mode.
It took all of two minutes to find out that Celtic were in the mood, and very quickly we were chasing shadows all over the pitch. They knocked it around well enough, and really pressed us into making mistakes whenever we got on the ball. Our strikers couldn’t make anything stick or even win a free-kick to get us out, and the one time we did go with a higher line we conceded the first goal after a ball over the top, Dembele laying it off to McGregor and a placed finish from just outside the box. Only ten minutes in, you had a feeling we were in real trouble. The rest of the half saw us on the back foot, trying to contain Celtic when they were finding a lot of space between the defence and midfield lines, and McGregor, in particular, seemed to be hurting us. The only positive we had at half time was that we were merely 1-0 down – our performance was summed up by the five minutes they only had 10 men on the park and we still couldn’t find space further forward to hit. Garner was offering little of note, as summed up by the fact we never won a corner or free kick in the 45 minutes, and the midfield was unable to break them down. It was a real reminder of just how reliant we are on the McKay and Wallace combination on the left hand side.
I suspected we’d be looking to keep the game tight until around the 60 minute mark and then bring on McKay, Dodoo and/or Windass, but Caixinha made the change at half time and replaced Halliday and Garner with McKay and Dodoo. We instantly looked more threatening, but from a long throw on 51 minutes, we overcommitted and Celtic got away on a quick break. A desperate challenge from Tavernier led to the penalty, Sinclair scored (Foderingham was unlucky not to save that mind you), and it was game over. The fans of both sides knew it as well. Until a flurry of half chances and a couple of big misses in the last 15 minutes, we really didn’t lay a glove on them.
There were few positives to take from the game. Bates played well considering his inexperience and the way our midfield struggled in front of him. Tavernier and Miller looked decent enough, Foderingham did ok, but that’s about it. We were shown that we’re still a good bit behind them and that our squad lacks real depth right now. Caixinha should have learned a fair bit, but expecting any lessons to turn things right around in a week is maybe a bit unfair. You’d hope we’d be much better, but that still might not be enough, and too many will judge progress on the result alone.
There’s loads more that could be said – I’m going to present some opinions on other issues tomorrow – but I think we’d all rather move on from it, no matter how angry or disappointed you feel. The team has a chance to show they’re better than I’m judging them to be on Saturday, let’s hope they take it.