ONLY seven points separate the bottom seven sides in the Premiership and I know from experience that that’s not a brilliant position to be in at this point of the season. Fighting against relegation can be a highly pressurised situation and Mark McGhee’s behaviour at Pittodrie the other night shows the strain he is under at Motherwell. The other managers down there will be feeling similarly I’m sure. It is going to be fascinating watching how it all unfolds as we approach the split and then beyond.
Scottish football is regularly criticised for many things but you have to say this is going to be entertaining to watch. Nobody in that group of clubs is safe or will be able to relax going into the last part of the season. When we were relegated out of the top flight with St Mirren in 2015 the last few months of the season weren’t enjoyable at all. Because of the pressure you don’t play with any real freedom or confidence as you’re worried about the consequences of losing each game. You’re weighed down by the significance of what each result could potentially mean.
At St Mirren we lost six of our seven games before the split. That effectively relegated us. I remember we had a crunch game at Motherwell and lost 5-0 at Fir Park. We basically folded in that game and that was when I knew we were gone. It’s a different pressure than fighting it out for the title or for second as in those situations you’re usually playing well and the pressure is more about how successful you can be. But when you’re down at the bottom of the league the pressure is inhibiting. It stops you from playing the way you normally would.
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Fear over the possible consequences can absolutely paralyse a team. My advice to any side down there just now would be to try to not think about the situation. The best managers will get the best out of their players by taking that pressure away from them and making sure they are focused on playing their game and not worrying about the ramifications. In the next few weeks the pressure will get cranked up and it will come down to whoever deals with it the best.
All of the teams down there just now have been struggling in one way or another. Rock bottom of the table are Inverness Caley. They’ve conceded 45 goals and have won only three times all season. There has never been a period yet when a side has become detached from the rest – and Inverness are only three points back just now – but their next three games are Hearts at Tynecastle, then Rangers, then Celtic. So if they fail to take anything from these three games and some of the teams above them do, they could find themselves cut adrift. Having watched Inverness roll over against Celtic last weekend, I’ve got not much confidence in their ability to turn things around.
Hamilton haven’t won an away game all season and have drawn 12 times. Six of their next nine matches before the split are away from home so, given their record on the road, that must be a big concern for them. Dundee’s season has been defined by the fact that they still haven’t got over the loss of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart. They’ve not got over that hurdle and need to do so soon.
Motherwell are struggling just now as we saw the other night. After their last three games McGhee has come out and slaughtered the officials for various decisions against his team, and against Aberdeen he also got himself sent to the stand. I like Mark and he brings a lot of colour to the game, but he’s got to be careful as it’s becoming more like a hard-luck story with talk about agendas against his team. There is no agenda. His team has lost 10 goals in their last two games so if I were Mark I’d be focussing less on referees and decisions, and more on my defence not leaking as many goals. In the last 12 games they’ve only won twice and lost seven and have conceded the most goals in the division. They are now only three points away from the play-offs.
Partick Thistle have struggled for goals all year. They are playing good football and Alan Archibald continues to work wonders on a small budget but he hasn’t been able to unearth a reliable goalscorer. Ade Azeez has a lot of positive attributes but if he was more reliable in front of goal he’d be playing in the English Championship.
Lee Clark has just left Kilmarnock claiming they are in a strong position but my only memories of his time in Scottish football will be the amount of players he brought up from England, making the Rugby Park pitch smaller, and his cryotherapy chamber. He’s left no legacy and nothing to build on.
If I could see anyone going on a wee run it would be Ross County based on the squad they’ve got but their next three games are St Johnstone, then Aberdeen and Hearts both away. So those will be really tough. But it’s going to be that way for every team down there over the next few months.