v Hamilton Academical (14/03/15)
Shortly after depositing my backside on the plastic chair in the wide-open space Hamilton call a football stadium, I began to notice an unwelcome, and unseasonal, chill in the air. After a few brief seconds of cursing myself for forgetting my gloves, or leaving them in some undistinguished watering hole after celebrating winning money on Motherwell’s arse collapsing last night – which, incidentally, was soon generously deposited into a flashing neon machine with Noel Edmonds’s smug face engrained across half of it – I made my way to the kiosk and ordered a pie from a 15-year-old mother-of-three before hastily returning to my seat for the start of the match.
I trained my focus on Mr Curran, playing slightly off Jake Jervis in Ross County’s 4-4-2, and began to dig into the pie (dig being the operative term because the entire base of the pie seemed to be glued to the foil, making it impossible to simply lift up).
Despite this distraction I wasn’t missing much. Five minutes came and went, Curran hadn’t touched the ball. Then another five: still nothing. A minute later a ball from Martin Woods was lofted down the left-wing in his general direction. Starved of something to judge that I leant forward in anticipation, only for Mikey Devlin to dash my hopes with a late intervention, poking the ball out of play.
What the hell? Was this a striker who’d scored two in his last three? Or some punter who’d won a prize to play with the first team for a day? I briefly considered cheating and quickly switching my attentions over to another player when it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one frustrated with Curran’s lack of activity. Congesting a high ball with Hamilton’s cultured centre back Garcia Tena, Curran smashed into the side of the defender, won the header and then retrieved the loose ball. He was lucky not to get away with a foul, but it was a first impression well worth the wait.
By this point County were a goal down, and this disadvantage doubled when they somehow managed to go from attacking a corner to watching Dougie Imrie running clear through on goal in the blinking of an eye.
And yet, despite the deficit, County never looked out of it. It was just one of those games where you just feel that there are more goals in it. There are still 22 players on the park and yet things feel lighter, less congested, as if half of them nipped out to the local boozer without anyone noticing.
Had my gaze not followed him around the park, I could have included Curran as being one of the phantom defectors. Instead, I began to appreciate how, whenever he got the ball, he simply wouldn’t lose it. He wasn’t doing anything particularly exciting, but he was keeping the ball for his side high up the park. He was playing the game intelligently.
It was just as well because, as I could decipher, he had little physical or technical attributes to suggest he was a professional football scoring goals at the highest level in Scotland. He wasn’t fast, he had no tricks in his locker; I suppose his strength wasn’t bad, though even that was a case of him throwing it around rather than him being built like the side of a house. And he wasn’t tall. He was about 5ft 9in. The average height for a man in Britain. Average, the perfect word for his skill set.
And yet Mr Average was impressing the hell out of me. Especially when he ghosted perfectly between the two Accies centre backs to get his head onto the end of Raffaele De Vita’s cross and power the ball into the back of the net. 2-1. Game on!
Immediately Curran retrieved the ball from the goalmouth, gave a fist pump, raised his hand toward the Ross County fans, gave a teammate an enthusiastic high-five, and fist pumped once more in a show of released frustration that his side started the match so poorly. All of these actions were carried out while he was still sprinting back to the centre circle. It was exactly what had been advertised – the English forward who only arrived in December played with a determination which suggested he was a born and bred Staggie.
From then on I sat contently watching a man perform within his limitations. He never ran at the opposition, never tried to beat them. He just controlled the ball – although he couldn’t kill a ball dead, he was perfectly adept at keeping it within his vicinity – with his back to goal, laid-off to a teammate and found himself another position in the attack.
He made the right decisions. There won’t be any credit for it in highlights packages, but Curran making the correct choice put in motion the sequence of events which led to County’s equaliser.
Played through on the right of the penalty area, Curran could have shot for goal but was aware of substitute Davie Lithuanian Name running through the centre. His attempt to get the ball to his strike-partner saw the Eastern European clatter into an oncoming defender and lay prone on the ground. In the confusion County regained possession and it was worked back out to De Vita. His cross looked rather tame and innocuous until it took a deflection and spun across goal. For a split second it looked like it was heading for Curran but the ball continued on its way, finding Michael Gardyne lunging in at the back post and the diminutive midfielder levelled the scores.
A short while later Jim McIntrye withdrew Curran in favour of some fresh legs. He thoroughly deserved the rest and round of applause from the loyal travelling support. Having read reviews of Curran on fans’ forums I expected what many would call a “headless chicken”. Someone who worked hard but making a big show of working hard; the types who run themselves into the ground without actually achieving anything. Curran was not this kind of player. He was just as smart without the ball as he was with it. Always picking the right moments to close down a defender and conserving his energy. This enabled him to be continuously moving when his side were in possession, which is what a team needs from its striker.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
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