Stick Or Twist- Is Brian Rice The Man To Take Hamilton Forward?

Hamilton have made their worst start ever to a Premiership/SPL season since 1988/89, and their worst start to a season in any division since 1995/96 and both of those will be remembered for relegation. Therefore, the question continues to be posed about whether or not Brian Rice is the man to take the club forward or if they’re going to gamble their topflight status should things not change quickly.

It’s been painful for fans who’ve had to sit and suffer a whole array of gut-wrenching results throughout the last couple of months and in all honesty Sunday’s 8-0 humiliation by Rangers has been a long time coming.

The final scoreline was a tough one to take for Hamilton fans (Image: Getty Images)

Rice’s side have shipped an unbelievable 33 league goals in 12 games this season, 17 of them coming within the last three games, and that doesn’t even include another embarrassing defeat against League Two side Annan Athletic, who hadn’t played a competitive game in a seven months.

The season didn’t exactly to a flyer, an opening day hammering by Celtic, was followed by two unforgivable home defeats against likely relegation rivals St Mirren and Ross County. Just as things were beginning to look brighter after two impressive back-to-back away wins against Motherwell and Livingston, things have unfortunately deteriorated and results have taken a turn for the worst.

Times Are Tough

The most concerning thing overall is the fact we’ve not been competitive in any of these games and have been three-nil down in five of our last six games – three of them before half-time and the opposition have quite clearly taken their foot of the gas. The games against Hibernian, St Johnstone and Aberdeen all being prime examples. Accies have been winning a game for a total of 9 minutes combined across every single Premiership match this season which is seriously concerning.   

There are obviously a couple of alarming problems within the club during these unprecedented times. Firstly, we’ve failed to replace key players such as Alex Gogic, Aaron McGowan and Mickel Miller with the same amount of quality, however, it is understandable considering income will be at a minimum during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key Players Haven’t Been Replaced-  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

We are currently the only club in the Premiership not charging fans money for season tickets and although it may have been hard for some fans to pay for them due to the situation we find ourselves in, I have no doubt that in any way, shape, or form that fans would’ve happily payed this knowing that it could be pivotal to helping the club we all love for the upcoming season. There are plenty of other ways that the club could bring in funds such as 50/50 half-time draws, which i’m sure would go down well.

The clubs chairman Allan Maitland has admitted that the purse strings have been tightened, but hopefully the two recent signings can help strengthen the squad.

There are no secrets that we’ve been badly missing a strong and experienced centre-back and the capture of the highly rated Aaron Martin looks a shrewd piece of business as does the signing of former Sheffield United man Nathan Thomas.

Aaron Martin Looks Like A Good Piece Of Business-(Image: Contributed/Lanarkshire Live Sport)

However, the question I’d personally like to ask is about where the goals are going to come from? Rice has identified on more than one occasion that his strikers haven’t been good enough this season yet we’ve still to secure a new talisman who knows where the back of the net is. Where has Tunde Owolabi gone? Is it a case of another £30,000- £50,000 down the drain?

What’s Happened To Tunde Owolabi?

Hamilton are a club who’re well known for their never say die attitude, but most recently when we go a goal down it is literally game over and you have no idea what’s going to happen for the next half hour. Accies fans don’t expect much, they aren’t stupid and are all well aware that we have the lowest budget and possibly even the worst squad by some distance in the Premiership, but what is unacceptable is the lack of effort, spirit and fight from the players as this is what our club is renowned for, not ability but having a great attitude and playing for the badge on the shirt with pride.

Understandably, Sunday’s defeat pushed most of us over the edge and a bunch of 20-30 fans marched down to New Douglas Park to greet the team bus on its arrival back from Ibrox. Despite some minor speculation of players laughing off the abuse they were receiving, I personally have massive admiration for Brian Rice, who emerged from inside the stadium shortly after to listen what the fans had to say, as not many other managers would’ve done.

Brian Rice Addresses Furious Fans Outside New Douglas Park

The points from the fans were well articulated throughout a brief chat, here are some of the things he said:

“I’m apologising right now. I apologise for me and I apologise for all the players.

“I really do and I mean it, I’m not just saying that. 

“All these words you have used lads, I will use them. This is what the fans are saying, the ones that care, I promise I will do that.

“I’m not here to palm yous off, I’m not here to do any of that crap, I’m here to listen to you, and I’ll take it back to the players and take it on board myself.”

The question that intrigued me the most was about the style of football we’ve been playing this season compared to previous years. When Brian joined the club in January 2019, he had us playing attacking and exciting football, something we weren’t used to during Martin Canning’s reign in charge. But most importantly he promised something along the lines of “I want to give the fans a team to be proud of and to make them smile after games”. Unfortunately, it’s completely the opposite at the moment.

Rolling back 18 months to his first game in charge at home to Dundee, I remember It very well. There was a buzz inside the stadium and we were constantly sitting on the edge of our seats throughout the whole duration of the match. We only managed a 1-1 draw as Darian MacKinnon’s 90th minute thunderbolt pulled us level, but we absolutely annihilated one of our most likely relegation rivals that day and most importantly we left the stadium smiling despite being held to a draw.

Throwback To The Good Times

When asked about the change in style of play this season, the well-known phrase of “selection bingo” among the Accies support and about recruitment this season, Rice said: 

“We’ve been battered with stuff, we’ve not had a game for 19 days since the Aberdeen game, and we’ve ended up with 10 injuries and two COVID-19 in that time. 

“Charlie [Trafford] broke his ankle last Friday, Shaun Want pulled out two days ago, somebody had to shield, I’ve never had the chance to play the same team. 

“Lewis Smith has been a massive one, he was supposed to be out for three weeks, and we’re missing Temps [David Templeton].” 

The Accies manager also highlighted the fact the loss off Gogic, Miller and McGowan was a huge blow.

He said: “Four or five boys who left in the summer had made the team better, but it’s a situation that’s out of my hands. 

“They all decided to go, in December they were all made offers, and they all knocked it back. 

“They were all made offers again in January, but they all knocked it back, and they wanted to wait until the end of the season.” 

The Clubs chairman Allan Maitland has recently stated that he has “no desire” to change the manager and seemed disappointed with fans, who he believes haven’t grasped the gravity of the current pandemic that we find ourselves in. 

Allan Maitland Is Backing Brian Rice-(Image: Craig Williamson/SNS Group)

Here are some of the things he said in an interview with @LanLiveSport

“I think the squad is working as hard they possibly can and I’ve got no desire to make any changes in our management team.

“And I would say that as a club, as a management team, as a board of directors, we are doing everything we can to make it better and I have total confidence we will turn the results round.

“If anybody is asking me if our manager or management team is under threat, the answer to that is absolute.”

The upcoming week will certainly be a huge one for the club and for Brian Rice, as Accies have two consecutive Betfred Cup games against League Two sides Stranraer and Albion Rovers, and it’s fair to say that wins are an absolute must in these fixtures if there is to be any sort of hope of pulling us out of this deep hole that we are in at the moment and you begin to get the feeling that Rice is only one more bad result away from being relieved of his duties, especially should we fail to win on Wednesday and Saturday.

I will say though that Chipper is one of football’s good guys and from the previous times I’ve spoken to him I know how much the game and job at Hamilton means to him, therefore I sincerely hope that something changes quick and fast to keep him in the job.

I’ve watched the videos of the chat he had with fans on Sunday and I’d be lying if said that he doesn’t look extremely deflated and seems to be running out of ideas.

Image: SNS Group

Of course, everything comes back to the manager, but surely the players have to take a bit of responsibility as well because they will know themselves that they haven’t shown a level deemed near anywhere good enough so far this season.

To conclude, should things not change by the start end of December/January, it’s most likely inevitable that a change will have to be made, his replacement I’m not sure but it needs to be the right one, someone who can motivate the players, set them up correctly and most importantly bring a spine back to the team.

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