IT WAS always going to be a tough task staying at the top of the SPL with Celtic breathing down our necks.
The champions returned to winning ways in their early kick-off with Aberdeen on Saturday, placing extra pressure on us to get a similar outcome against bottom club Dundee.
There haven’t been many disappointments so far in the current campaign, but the loss up at Dens Park was a hard one to take for all connected with the club. Backed by a magnificent travelling support, the players failed to reclaim top spot in what was our least effective performance since the opening-day defeat to Dundee’s neighbours, United. All the positivity achieved from the early part of the season will go undone if we fail to bounce back from our latest defeat.
Looking at Saturday’s performance, I felt we were well off the pace from start to finish and generally appeared a little jaded in our play. The players have worked their socks off over the past couple of months and the effort they have put in to get us into this position is perhaps beginning to take its toll.
This is why the January transfer window could be a very important month for the club. Pat Fenlon will know from experience that to ask the same group of players to perform to the level that has been set week in, week out will be a tall order. We have a lot of youngsters sitting on the subs’ bench at the moment which paints a picture in itself, with little in the way of experience to call upon.
With Dundee managing to pick up seven points from their last three fixtures, the league has tightened up considerably at the bottom end. However, with an increase in the amount of fixtures played over the Christmas period, things could all be set to change both at the top and bottom of the SPL.
If the squad can remain positive in their approach then I am sure we can put the weekend’s result down as nothing more than a small blip. Our next home match against Aberdeen on Saturday is a big test. The Dons have been on a good run themselves, with Niall McGinn in particularly fine goalscoring form. Aberdeen will be desperate to inflict our first defeat at Easter Road this season, but we should take confidence from the fact we have yet to be beaten on our home patch.
Last week we saw a number of meetings take place with regards to the way forward for Scottish football in redeveloping our league structures. This is sure to generate a number of opinions from many parties and from speaking to a number of supporters from other clubs, there appears to be an agreement that some kind of change is needed.
For example, one aspect that continues to resurface time and time again is the amendment of the fixture list that will put an end to clubs facing each other four times throughout the season. Things have become a tad stale and it will, of course, take time to get things in motion, but I am sure the right decisions will be made for the good of our game.
Finally, it was great to see Leigh Griffiths pull on the Scotland jersey last week against Luxembourg and earn his first full international cap for his country. I was surprised to see his name not included in the initial squad when it was announced, especially given the low-key nature of the fixture. Scotland are preparing for the future so young, enthusiastic talents should be given the opportunity to test their ability at this level.
Griffiths has shown a maturity this season which has been reflected on the field of play with a string of impressive performances. Having found the net again on Saturday, he now has 13 goals for the season, which is a remarkable tally for mid-November. I think if he continues to show the same hunger and desire in the long term, many other Scotland caps are sure to follow.