Back at the beginning of October I did a review of the SPL table at that time and made a few predictions for the rest of the pre-split season. Six months later, let’s see how things have turned out…
I was pretty confident that Rangers and Celtic would be at the top, although back on the 1st of October, it was Celtic who were in prime position – four points in front, just ahead of the first Old Firm game of the season. Well, instead of falling seven points behind, the boys in blue closed the gap with a barely-deserved win, and though their form wasn’t great in the fall months, they hit a hot streak in December and, well, that was the end of Tony Mowbray in Glasgow.
Mowbray’s follies have been documented here very recently so I won’t go through them again, but it was probably in November that the pressure ratcheted up – a 3-3 draw with bottom team Falkirk and a 2-1 defeat to mid-table-at-the-time Dundee United perhaps giving Mowbray pause to think over his defence – especially as Celtic conceded late goals in both games.
The Arabs were my pick for third place at the time, and they have recovered from a post-Levein wobble (including a 7-1 gubbing at Ibrox) to post impressive spring form, overtaking Hibs to lie six points clear in third place and with a cup semi-final to come. Surely Peter Houston will lead the Tannadice team into Europe next season?
Next up: Hibernian. They say that when a company builds a shiny new headquarters, you should sell the stock – the grander the HQ, the greater the expense and the more overblown the expectations. Case in point: the Royal Bank of Scotland’s palatial 2005 campus just outside Edinburgh, rumoured to include a koi pond in Fred Goodwin’s office.
Likewise in Scottish football: when the press starts fawning, bet the other way. I think I can pinpoint the start of the Hibee decline: this article in the Herald on January 3 praising the quiet revolution that had taken place down Leith way. Their results didn’t dip immediately, but when they ran out of late winners and equalisers, the points total stopped moving up. Now Yogi Hughes has the toughest challenge of his short management career to hang on to fourth place – but I think he will do it.
Jim Gannon’s departure from Motherwell came as a bit of a surprise to me, though maybe not to the Scottish press. The interim replacement of Craig Brown was also a surprise – but what wasn’t a shock was Brown’s three-game deal being extended. He’s managed to maintain the momentum initiated by Gannon, though the steelmen aren’t exactly free-scoring. It is Craig Brown we’re talking about here, after all.
Another Jim, Jambo Jefferies, returned to Gorgie Road recently, and results have been generally positive. Perhaps they needed a bit of his Craig-Brown-like dourness to offset the mania of Chairman Romanov (and Hibs are supposed to be the sexy footballers in Edinburgh, right?). Back in October I’d placed Hearts in the bottom half of the table, but a point at home to Killie at the weekend would see me returning my crystal ball to the magic shop. I’m sure he’s looking forward to the summer when he can clear out some of the excess Lithuanians and bring in a few players of his own. Kevin Kyle, anyone?
One of the reasons the maroon-ites can claim a top-half finish is due to the alarming loss of form of Mark McGhee’s Aberdeen. They started the season better than I expected and they seem to be finishing it worse than I could have ever dreamed. While they’re unlikely to slip into a relegation battle, if they don’t pull a few results out of the bag, they could easily finish 9th or 10th. McGhee hasn’t been shy in criticising his team, pulling a Mowbray by publicly stating the need for a summer clear-out, but that’s hardly helping things in the short-term. To be fair, the loss of Lee Miller in the January sales was probably a much bigger blow than anyone south of the River Dee would have thought. But McGhee needs to turn things around quickly in the new season, or he’ll be one of the first for the chop.
St Johnstone were one of my two contenders for the drop; I think Derek McInnes must have read my statements to his team because they really have turned things around, most spectacularly with a 4-1 demolition of Rangers last midweek. They bounced off the bottom and while their results against the lower teams have been a mixed bag, they’ve balanced that with some good victories over the top half (c.f. the win over Rangers or the 5-1 demolition of Hibs in February). They’re in with an outside shot of the top six, but solidifying seventh is more likely – finishing above Aberdeen would be an achievement in their first season up from Division One.
The red-and-white hoops of Hamilton look to have done enough to stay up this year, being eight points off the bottom – only a collapse of Hibernian proportions will put them back in danger. They’ve managed this with the loss of their star player James McCarthy at the start of the season, and next season may be a challenge as near-namesake James McArthur might be off at the end of the season, too. But Billy Reid has proven himself a canny manager, making the Accies a hard team to beat, and they are far from a one-man band so I can see them sticking around in the SPL for a few years more – which is bad news for the colour-blind when they play Celtic.
Kilmarnock have been a disappointment to me since I predicted they would end mid-table. Kevin Kyle fell out with his chairman then was injured for a bit, Jim Jefferies and Bobby Brown left the club, and Calderwood wasn’t exactly the most imaginative of replacements – he’s even the same shape as Jefferies, albeit a completely different colour. Results have been up and down – mostly down – but they did manage to beat Falkirk away, which may turn out to have been a huge result. Calderwood also had the satisfaction of sticking it to Willie Miller when his team met Aberdeen this past weekend – but Kilmarnock seems to be a club that’s drifting.
Many Rangers fans, and probably the entire Hearts support, have never forgiven St Mirren for losing 5-1 to Celtic back in 1986 and sending the trophy to Parkhead at the Jambos’ expense. The Hearts fans will probably never forgive – unless St Mirren beat Hibs in a Scottish Cup Final and prolong their 100+ year streak – but for many Gers fans, the Saints’ 4-0 humiliation of Celtic has helped to heal the wound. Sadly for the Paisley team, that result was still only worth three points, while Falkirk must be hoping that was the high point of their season and that it’s all downhill from here.
The Falkirk-St Mirren matchup this weekend is a huge game – a win for St Mirren and there’s really no way back for the Bairns, is there? The omens don’t look good as St Mirren won 3-1 earlier this year at Falkirk Stadium and in the Paisley game, Falkirk needed a late equaliser to steal a point. Replacing Eddie May with Pressley might have seemed a sensible move, and they do seem to have become harder to beat, but Pressley was on Burley’s backroom staff with Scotland which makes me a bit wary of his coaching prowess.
I’m afraid I don’t see it happening, and I think he’ll have a season in Division One to hone his talent.
Photo Credit: BBC Sport