Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Moving on up
Callum Paterson is 17-years-old and last weekend he scored his first goals as a professional footballer, a double for Hearts in their 3-0 win at Dundee United. That's pretty impressive for someone who could still be at school and who can't get a beer in the pubs around Tynecastle. If he did manage to get himself a drink, though, it's highly unlikely that he would have to pay.
Paterson's story gets better. At the start of this season, he was a right-back. Then he played right midfield for Hearts. It was only ten days ago that he started his first game up front.
His manager, John McGlynn, explained that Paterson had been scouted for Hearts' academy as a front player. However, it is common for the best young players to play as attackers in their local youth teams for reasons that are not too difficult to figure out. It is quite extraordinary for an academy to develop a player in defensive positions - Paterson also played centre-back for the Hearts youth teams - and then start him as a striker in the SPL a handful of matches into his first season.
It was a bold move by McGlynn and displays the subtlety of a coach whose lack of charisma keeps him below the radar, even after his appointment at Hearts.
McGlynn, who started out as a youth coach at Hearts before earning his spurs at Raith Rovers, may only be back at Tynecastle because of the new economics in place there. It is the same reason Paterson is anywhere near the first team, or that Scott Robinson, another academy graduate, wore the captain's armband in midfield last weekend. In recent seasons, all these posts would have been filled by pros outside the financial reach of all but the Old Firm clubs. As a result, Hearts were the most consistent challengers to those teams.
This team is unlikely to make it to the front of the pack chasing Celtic and there are no guarantees that Paterson will always find life as a target man as rewarding as he has done so far - he is, as Neneh Cherry used to say, raw like sushi. However, perhaps some good has come of the most drastic budget cuts implemented by any of the SPL clubs. Certainly, it will have felt that way for Paterson this week.
McCALL OR NOTHING
On Saturday, Motherwell play Celtic in a game that could confirm the Lanarkshire club's credentials as the outstanding team in the first part of the season or kill off any romantic thoughts that this season will be anything other than a procession for the reigning champions.
Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, has continued that club's steady rise in recent seasons. Their position at the top of the SPL would be more secure had they not lost two late goals in a 3-3 draw at Aberdeen last weekend, after which the opposing manager, Craig Brown, called them the best team he had faced this season.
Motherwell have little depth and may not last the course. However, right now they have their best XI out there and this is the perfect time to right the only criticism that struck home during last season, when they over-performed to finish third. In doing so, their results against the pack were outstanding and consistent, but they could not step up against the Old Firm. With Rangers gone, that gives them four shots at Celtic. If they can take some points from these fixtures then the kind of run they are on just now could be enough to make it interesting through the winter at least.
What of the champions? Celtic looked authoritative in beating Dundee, but then the team promoted at the last minute after the collapse of Rangers look the weakest in the league. They have a deep squad and a few players who could accelerate this season. It remains virtually impossible to see anyone getting close to them come May, but Motherwell could take untold confidence if they can deliver for 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
At the start of the season you could get far from generous odds on Rangers winning every match they were going to play in the Third Division. Certainly, had there been a market for which team in Scotland would maintain a 100% record deepest into the season, the Gulliver of the Lilliputian lower leagues would have seemed the smartest choice. In the SPL, Celtic remain easy to believe in most weeks. In the Second Division, Queen of the South retained their full-time status after relegation and have delivered on their billing as ante-post favourites. However, all of them have shipped points along the way.
The First Division is one of the most competitive in all of British football and the last place you would look for a team to come through six games unscathed. Yet here we find Scotland's only bullet-proof team this season: Partick Thistle.
Thistle are a team much romanticised as they exist in Glasgow in the shadow of that city's two behemoths. This time, there is something more than whimsy to keep them flocking to Firhill.
Leading this team is Jackie McNamara, the former Scotland defender, who ended his playing career at Partick. As his playing days wound down, McNamara co-wrote the pilot for a sitcom based around a footballer's life, called The Therapy Room.
That venture may not have taken off as he had hoped, but who's laughing now?