I was delighted to see common sense prevail with the team selection at Kilmarnock at the weekend. Of the ten outfield players, seven of them had a decent amount of experience and three of them were youngsters who had come through the ranks.
That is a good balance.
Kevin McHattie was guided through the match by Jamie MacDonald and three pretty experienced defenders; Jason Holt, who is looked upon as probably the most talented youngster at the club, had the experience of Ryan Stevenson and Darren Barr alongside him; and Michael Ngoo and John Sutton were the perfect targets for Jamie Walker.
It’s not rocket science that that’s the best way to blood youngsters in the first team. That’s no disrespect to John McGlynn. I just think John was under too much pressure to play the youngsters and he possibly threw in too many untried lads at the one time. That made it hard for him to get results but the fact he was willing and brave enough to play the young boys and risk his own reputation in the short-term has meant that Gary Locke has inherited a crop of youngsters who all have a decent amount of first-team experience under their belts. Lockey has just been able to come up with a slightly better balance between youth and experience and, for me, that’s why we’ve picked up two excellent back-to-back results.
The win at Kilmarnock was full of positives. To control the game so well for long periods and keep a clean sheet was pleasing considering how erratic we’ve been defensively in recent months. When you score in the fourth minute, it’s a long time to try and hold on to a lead but we did it well and it sets us up nicely for the trip to Dundee. They’re still scrapping away for points but we’ve got to be looking to try and make it three wins in a row. If we’re serious about finishing seventh, we need to find a way of dealing with Dundee’s revival. If we’re able to avoid any further injuries and continue putting out the team that took the field on Saturday, there’s no reason why we can’t go on and win most of our remaining games.
It’s important that we show the same level of professionalism at Dens Park as we managed at Rugby Park and that’s where our experienced players like Andy Webster, Jamie Hamill, Sutton, Barr and Stevenson will be vital. These guys have all shown the resilience and professionalism required to sustain decent careers at SPL level and their good habits can help the youngsters understand what is needed to win first-team games week in, week out as opposed to just turning on the style on sporadic occasions.
That’s why I was disappointed to hear the news during the week that Barr has already been told he won’t be offered a new contract. I know Darren’s a decent earner but we don’t have anybody else in the midfield area with the physicality, experience and defensive nous that Darren has. With no confirmation yet over whether or not the transfer ban is going to be lifted, it’s a slightly risky move to say that another key first-team member will be leaving at this stage. All credit to Darren for going out and performing well against Kilmarnock just a few days after learning that he won’t be staying on, though. That just highlights the level of professionalism that we’re going to be losing.
Although things are good now because we’ve picked up back-to-back wins and look like we could push for seventh, the key thing going forward is that we ensure we don’t have another season like this one where we end up in the bottom six with little to play for.
That will only be possible if we retain an experienced core to help guide our talented youngsters. Saturday’s win at Killie highlighted just how important it is to have the right blend.