Partick’s 2-0 win over Celtic’s development squad was delivered with all the confidence and verve of a team raring to go for the new campaign.
In particular the attacking combination of Christie Elliot up front, supported Chris Erskine and new signing Steven Lawless, looked an exciting prospect. The trio’s form presents Jags’ manager Jackie McNamara with a selection headache with Kris Doolan fighting for a starting place, but it is a problem he’s happy to have:
“I think when we pass the ball quickly we look a very good side. I’m happy with the way the squad is shaping up. I’ve got some good options there.
“Young Steven Lawless got another goal: he’s a talented young footballer. He keeps finding new positions which we’re trying to get him into. The main thing’s that the players get their match fitness and up to speed for next week.”
McNamara has tasked experienced signing Hugh Murray with being a calm head to organise the youthful midfield. It’s a role that Murray is happy to fulfil:
“I’m not a daft boy: I’m not going to say I’m going to come here and we’ll win the league. I know it’s a very tough league. Obviously I’ve come in and it’s quite a young side, we’ve got a quite a few good young players. I think I want to come in and help these boys progress and obviously if I can do that I’ll be delighted.”
The Jags look in good shape for the coming season. In comparison Airdrie’s 2-1 defeat to Everton’s development squad showed they are still building their squad. The Diamonds’ summer plans have been complicated by the Rangers saga and manager Jimmy Boyle is now trying to get a team ready for the First Division instead of the Second:
“We knew we were struggling. We needed one or two bodies for the Second Division, now we’re going up again we’re trying to get a wee bit more quality. The chairman, to be fair, has come up with some more money, which is good. We’ll just get on with it.
“We’ve got a team that if we play the right way and we work hard enough we can cause teams problems in the First Division.”
Boyle set up a solid defence, with wingers Alan Cook and Jamie Bain pushing forwards in possession. The team looked for direct, early passes up the wings to get around the back of the Everton defence.
In the first half the Diamonds’ defence rarely looked troubled, and Everton were left taking pot-shots from range. But the connection between defence and midfield never quite materialised, and as Boyle said Airdrie were nowhere near clinical enough going forwards.
Airdrie’s goal came from the penalty spot when Bain was brought down having got round the back of Everton’s defence, and Boyle was happy to see his plans bear fruit. But when the calibre of players the Diamonds’ are looking at are youngsters, promising as they may be, like Gregor Buchanan and David Crawford, Boyle will have his work cut out to compete in the First Division.
For the Celtic and Everton development squads the point of the exercise was very different, which Stephen Frail, Celtic’s development squad manager, was keen to emphasise: “We’ve not got a league to go for or a cup to go for, it’s [the job’s] basically as many games against quality opposition as we can for them to develop their individual game from within the team.”
But he wasn’t happy with his team’s lacklustre performance: “We work hard every day in training, we work hard at passing exercises, possession games everything and we give them as much as we can, but you can’t give a player hunger, you can’t give them desire. We’ll accept being beat if we play and the other team’s better than us. But not when we lose because we just didn’t want to hurt and go through the pain barrier.
“We should be struggling to play tomorrow in terms of the amount of bodies we’ve got fitness wise, because we only had 16 and we’ve less now, but it’s a game that passed them by so they should all be fit barring injuries because their legs should be fine and that’s the galling thing.”
In particular Morton Rasmussen looked sluggish and uninterested. The 27-year-old’s poor touch broke down a number of promising moves, and his team mates can only have been infuriated by his lack of effort. On this sort of form it isn’t likely he’ll be threatening anyone’s place in the first team any time soon.
Tony Watt showed some promising touches in the first half, but regular histrionics after fair but hard challenges made him the target of the Partick fans. He’ll need to develop a thicker skin to survive in the SPL.
After the break deep-lying midfielder Rabui Ibrahim showed some deft touches to create space, and stroked a glorious defence splitting pass to play Patrik Twardszik in on goal, but the Czech forward blazed his effort over the bar.
Alan Stubbs, Everton’s development squad manager, got the response he wanted from his team after a disappointing first half: “I told them they were lazy, and they need to get their backsides in gear and to ask themselves questions.
“They started to make demands of themselves second half. They’re not soft: we do enough for them at the best of times they know that wasn’t acceptable in the first half to play like that.”
England under-21 Ross Barkley, back after a long string of serious injuries, scored a well-earned goal and was impressive throughout. Stubbs was delighted to have him off the treatment table and back on the pitch:
“As far as he wants to go: that’s how far Ross Barkley can go. He’s a very talented boy. He’s had to go through two years of hell. He’s missed two years of development which for anyone whether you’re 16, 21 or 25 is a lot. He’s coming through the other side and it took longer than we all thought but he’s a talented boy.”
Right-back Tyias Browning’s rapid turn of pace and well-timed marauding runs down the flank also stood out. David Moyes’ Everton team might be stereotyped as solid if a little dour, but if the talent in the youth team is properly nurtured there could be some thrilling football to come.