NOT for the first time on Saturday, Ali Crawford would time his run perfectly.
The Hamilton Academical midfielder arrived in the glare of the media room at New Douglas Park just as his manager was completing an aside about a young player's tendency to become distracted by style at the expense of a final product. Crawford had earlier spent the afternoon excelling as a midfielder but for a moment would assume the role of visual aid, the youngster clutching at his fringe to add volume while speaking about a league win which had been more simply cut and dried.
A victory over Queen of the South would allow Alex Neil, the Hamilton player-manager, to deliver his chiding remark indirectly and dress it up in humour. It is an observation which may be stripped down again this week to remind his young side that simply looking the part is not likely to be enough to land the starring role in the SPFL Championship this season.
Loading article content
A few neat passing moves had been stitched into their performance as Hamilton relaxed into a two-goal cushion within the opening 10 minutes on Saturday, only for the Lanarkshire side to complete the win by shifting uncomfortably under belated pressure.
Crawford would concede that his side "took our foot off the pedal" as they coasted to within two points of league leaders Dundee. It is a lapse which Hamilton can ill afford when they take to the road in their next two league matches - away to third-placed Falkirk this Saturday before a trip to Dens Park a week later. "They will determine whether we are going to be challenging for the title or be in the play-offs," added Crawford, who scored his side's third goal with a thrusting drive.
He has been drawn in by the gravity of those fixtures, since two wins will comprise a small step towards the giant leap back into the top flight. It is tempting to predict that this Hamilton team would struggle to find a footing in the Premiership next season yet that is also unfair, since the demands on them are not yet to that scale.
The side should be measured instead against Championship opposition and Hamilton have shown just enough to remain head and shoulders above most, harbouring the best defensive record in the division and a sizable attacking threat.
At 6ft 3ins, Mickael Antoine-Curier has the sort of physique which allows him to bully defenders and he would lift three points from Queens as though taking their pocket money. The France-born striker has now scored four goals this season and his ability to hold up the ball has allowed others to contribute meaningfully too, with Hamilton's midfield able to press high up the pitch in support.
It is a trait of their game which can force teams off balance and Queens spent the first half on Saturday teetering on the edge of a humiliating defeat. The 3-1 scoreline was at least heavy enough that the Dumfries side have sunk back into eighth place.
"It's good to maintain that winning streak and keep the pressure on Dundee," said Crawford. "We had a run [of four matches without a win at the end of the year] when our performances were good but we just weren't getting the results. We kept faith and we've shown in the last three games what we can do. Because of the run we had it was imperative that we started getting wins again to keep the pressure on Dundee. If they slip up it gives us a chance of going back to the top of the league."
That enthusiasm is an ineluctable reward for a team prospering at the top of a league table, just as uncertainty is a result of defeat. Queens are still four points ahead of the relegation play-off place - and a further nine points better off than Morton -but seem just as vulnerable as the teams below them, not least since they are bereft of a dependable goal threat. The statistics suggest that; primary centre-forward Derek Lyle has scored just three times in the league this season, although the team's performance against Hamilton offered a more alarming account.
Lyle is obligated to work as a target man for a side which can seem dependent on long balls but is not especially suited to the role, with Queens unable to attack with intent. It is likely that the club are looking for another striker this month, even if Jim McIntyre would not blink in the face of such speculation. "I'm a big believer in only announcing [signing targets] when a deal is done," said the Queens manager. Timing is everything.