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Thoughts on the Championship - 21/9/19

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Why would McCall want to leave this behind?
Ayr United are in glorious form right now. Ian McCall said himself afterward that their first half performance at the Indodrill was as good as any he'd ever managed. Alloa were completely outclassed, unable to cope with United's passing and movement in open play or their physical presence at set plays. If anything, the 4-0 half-time score flattered the home side.

As their victory over Dundee United last week showed, this sort of performance is currently the norm for Ayr, currently behind the Terrors only on goal difference. Any fears that they might have hit their ceiling last season have proven unfounded; if anything the loss of Lawrence Shankland has encouraged other players to lift their game. Frankly, this team are not only still on the up but they are credible title challengers at this point. Why, after four and a half years, would McCall want to chuck this for the team that's bottom of the league?

Why would McCall want to take this on?
Of course, McCall feels he has unfinished business at Firhill; his departure in 2011 after nearly four years was because of his need to deal with a gambling addiction. That said, I don't remember Thistle fans shedding many tears over his departure after three straight seasons of mid-table finishes in the old First Division...

In the meantime, I wonder if he might get a bit of a shock when he takes off those red-and-yellow-tinted specs. Gary Caldwell's claims, a few days after his dismissal, that "the groundwork has been laid to challenge for promotion" were utterly ludicrous. Whilst some of the deficiencies that showed up in their crushing defeat by Dunfermline are due to low confidence and morale - which a good manager will fix - the squad itself was built by Caldwell to try and fulfil his delusion that Thistle could play like Roberto Martinez's Wigan. That's about as far away as you can get from McCall's idea of how football should be played.

Add in the off-field uncertainty about finances and takeovers - how would this international consortium feel about having McCall as manager, and how would McCall feel about being made to fill his squad with Barnsley youth players? - and this feels like a heck of an undertaking. At the moment Thistle have 'this season's Falkirk' written all over them, though if anyone can turn this around it's Ian McCall.

Arbroath run out of steam again
It's a bit cliched but it's also true. One down to part-time opposition at home, the week after a defeat, the Tannadice crowd on their backs - this was exactly the sort of match Dundee United would have lost last season. Whether Robbie Neilson has put some steel into them or it's just because they have Lawrence Shankland, they dug themselves out of a hole and proved to the other sides in this division, as well as themselves, that this is not the Dundee United team of the last three seasons.

That said, they were fortunate to still be in the match - Josh Campbell hit the post at 1-0 - and also fortunate enough to be playing Arbroath. Dick Campbell blamed a "lack of professionalism" for the two late concessions and he was right, but not in the way he meant. The Red Lichties' achilles heel remains the fact that they are not professionals; they inevitably run out of legs in the last quarter of matches and it showed here, just like it did at Inverness and at home to Partick Thistle. Their hopes of staying up would be massively boosted if Campbell manages to convince them to hit the treadmill before (or after, in the case of binman Bobby Linn) going to their day jobs.

Signing Dorrans doesn't solve Dundee's big problem
Graham Dorrans should, fitness permitting, be a fine signing for Dundee. He should stroll it at this level. But we said the same thing about Kane Hemmings as well, and he was again a substitute for Dundee at the weekend. That's because the Dark Blues are playing better with only one up top, with Danny Johnson currently keeping Hemmings and another talented forward, Andrew Nelson, out of the side.

Dorrans should be a starter soon enough. But, like centre forward, central midfield is not a position of need for James McPake. Shaun Byrne and Jamie Ness were signed in the summer (and neither will have been cheap), Paul McGowan remains capable and teenager Finlay Robertson has been outstanding. Meanwhile Dundee again had to rely on the erratic Declan McDaid as a wide option, Jordan McGhee as a centre back and Jack Hamilton in goal. This does not smack of good planning. One can't help feeling that their prospects would be much improved if they had signed a vaguely competent defender instead of so many midfielders and strikers.

Welsh walks all over Queen of the South
Queen of the South actually went to the trouble of coming all the way up to Inverness from Dumfries on Friday, but their weekend away in the Highlands was essentially over by twenty past three on Saturday. Two up by that point, Caley Thistle switched to cruise control after that and whilst they only sporadically looked like landing a knockout punch they were easily able to deflect any attempted blows from the visitors. It wasn't a great spectacle but I imagine managers love matches like this when their team looks so confident and comfortable.

It helps to have a midfielder who exudes that confidence and comfort in receiving and giving possession. Step forward Sean Welsh, making his first start since April after yet another spate of injuries. Welsh fired Inverness in front with a terrific strike from outside the box, but came into his own after Tom Walsh doubled the advantage. I think Welsh lost the ball once, in the 75th minute. Otherwise he was always either on the ball, casually twisting away from pressing Doonhamers before starting another attack, or looking to get it either from a teammate or by tackling an opponent. It was an utterly dominant performance, one that Caley Thistle have got used to since he came north. The worry with Welsh is always his fitness - he missed the promotion playoffs last year because of a broken foot - but if they can keep him from breaking down Inverness could well sustain their solid start.

Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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