Hamilton Academical are already up and running in 2017-18, winning their League Cup opener 3-1 at East Kilbride. It’s the latest positive in a whirlwind few months which has seen the South Lanarkshire club retain their Ladbrokes Premiership status in dramatic fashion.
As Martin Canning’s men head into a record fourth consecutive top-flight season, Ladbrokes News caught up with experienced wing wizard Dougie Imrie, to discuss last season’s unforgettable play-off triumph, Martin Canning’s newest recruit and plenty more…
Ladbrokes News: Things got rather nervy for Hamilton last term, but you hammered Dundee 4-0 on the last day of the regular season to avoid automatic relegation, before beating Dundee United in the play-off Final. What do you think were the key aspects where Accies got things right in those games?
Dougie Imrie: The pressure was on us to beat Dundee, because we knew Inverness Caledonian Thistle would be desperate to get a victory at Motherwell – which they did. We won 4-0 and left nothing to chance. Everyone showed great character in that game, and we were deadly in front of goal.
I thought we deserved our win in the play-offs. Obviously Dundee United were at a slight disadvantage having had to play two ties to reach that point. However, I thought we dominated both legs – and had we taken our chances, we could have made it a lot easier for ourselves.
Defensively, we were very solid over the two legs – and edged it primarily because we didn’t concede. Yes, we maybe got a bit lucky with Simon Murray’s sending off, which was a much-debated decision, but overall I thought we were the better side over the piece.
LN: That meant you’ve achieved a top-tier spot for the fourth season in succession – a club record. Would you be pleased with another year of survival, or are there loftier aims ahead of the coming Ladbrokes Premiership campaign?
DI: We’ve got the smallest budget and smallest playing staff in the league, so from that aspect, I think it’s a fantastic achievement to survive for three consecutive seasons.
For us, the focus is on survival again. Especially as it’s going to be a stronger division this year with a club of Hibernian’s size coming back. Obviously, we don’t want a repeat of the play-off situation we had this time, so if we can comfortably avoid the bottom two spots, that would be a big achievement.
It’s vital we get a good start. We’ve begun each of the last three seasons in good form, and that’s enabled us to get over the line every time, when we’ve maybe struggled with injuries or a hectic fixture run towards the end of the campaign.
On the flipside, both of the sides who’ve finished bottom of the Premiership in the last two years – Dundee United and Inverness – have had poor starts and found that it’s difficult to claw back that gap once teams start climbing away from you.
LN: You had a strong campaign in front of goal yourself, netting seven times in all competitions from the wing. Which was your favourite of the bunch – and why?
DI: I’m pleased with seven goals as a return, but for me, the most memorable ones are when we’ve won the game. I managed to score against the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen, but they didn’t turn out to be as key as the games I got winners in.
I managed to grab a vital goal in a few games – including wins over Ross County (1-0) and Dundee (4-0 on the final day), so for me, they’re the ones I’ll look back most fondly on.
As a side, I do think we shot ourselves in the foot a bit by not closing out games from winning positions. There were 14 games last season where we led and didn’t win – so next term hopefully I can add more goals in matches where we’ve got a slender advantage to protect!
Because – looking at that stat again – even managing to retain 10 of those points we dropped after having led would’ve seen us finish comfortably in the top six.
There are small margins in this league, certainly below the top couple of clubs, and managing to retain an advantage in games is something the manager has repeatedly stressed the importance of this summer.
LN: The key performers last season have remained at the club – yourself, Ali Crawford, Massimo Donati and Michael Devlin, to name just a few. How important do you think that continuity is at a club like Hamilton?
DI: It’s a huge benefit to retain the core of that team, and there are a number of players [former boss] Alex Neil brought in, who have stayed to be part of what [current manager] Martin Canning is creating at the club.
The likes of Ali, Michael and Grant Gillespie were all part of the side who won promotion from the Championship back in 2014, so they’ve been part of the journey all the way, and have given us a platform to build on.
Both Alex and Martin have brought in some really good players to complement those guys, and that balance has been a massive factor in why this club has enjoyed the success we have.
There’s also a sense of tradition and identity coming through the academy, with quite a few guys from the youth setup here making their debut last term, and Greg Docherty and Eamonn Brophy both playing week in, week out at 20-years-old.
LN: The boss has made just one new addition so far this summer, but it’s a very impressive one. Xavier Tomas has won the Greek Super League, and also played in France, Israel and Switzerland. What’s he been like so far?
DI: In terms of his dressing room presence, Xavier’s a very nice guy and his English is immaculate, so that helps as well. In footballing terms, he’s very much like [Brazilian defender] Lucas, who we had a couple of years ago.
Xavier is some size of a guy – I think he’s 6ft 6in, so I’m sure a lot of strikers will be very wary of facing a centre-back like that! He’ll be a big presence in defence, and obviously comes with a huge amount of experience, so I’d be surprised if he takes any real time to settle into Scottish football.
LN: This season has started on a good note, with a 3-1 League Cup win away at East Kilbride on Saturday. What’s your verdict on that Hamilton performance, and also what the Lowland League champions offered?
DI: I thought they were very good in spells. We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of opportunities, but East Kilbride took their chance when it came – taking that penalty well to equalise [in the 69th minute], so they did give us a real scare. But we deserved to win over the piece, and eventually got two late goals to see us through.
Facing Queen of the South on Saturday will be a bigger test, but it’s one we’re looking forward to off the back of a good result and a fairly promising performance.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing