Last week I reviewed the state of the bottom half of the SPL – this week, let’s look up top.
“Dundee United will do well to retain third place,” I had boldly asserted back in August, and for once I appear to have been talking sense. As a Rangers fan, Tannadice was a place we didn’t like visiting a few years back but it’s not as troublesome these days (famous last words: we’re due there soon). United have recovered after a couple of early-season 4-0 tonkings but Hibs are the only top-six team they’ve beaten, and too often they have found themselves on the wrong end of a one-goal margin of victory – inconsistency seems to be their new forte, a far cry from the Levein era and not something Peter Houston can be happy with.
The form of David Goodwillie is a major positive for the Arabs – getting some recognition with a Scotland cap this week – but injuries to key players Severin and Dods aren’t helping the situation. At least the Arabs can look down the street and be glad they’re not in administration for the second time in living memory.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Caley’s form has been a surprise this season – particularly their away form. They’ve continued an unbeaten away run begun in Division One, which included ending the 100% record of Rangers (I’ll conveniently ignore the 6-0 League Cup defeat at Parkhead…). However their home form has been dismal – only one win – and with some tough away games coming up (Parkhead and Tynecastle are their two trips before 2011) they could slip down the table if they don’t start picking up points at home.
Craigie Broon, eh? He’s almost the perfect manager for Motherwell. Fashioning a tough-to-beat team out of buttons, capable of the odd special result – reminds me of Scotland in the 1990s (apart from the “special result” bit – I don’t recall any of those).
Nick Blackman, John Sutton, Alan Gow, Tony Hateley – thinking about it, that’s a more attacking set of players than Brown ever had with Scotland. Off the back of their goals, ‘Well are solidly a top-half side and with a League Cup semi-final to look forward to.
Interesting stat: they have played more games than any other team in the SPL this season, thanks to their six-game Euro run, most of which took place before the league season started.
On the back of some cracking results – a solid derby win and then a victory over Celtic – Ismael Bouzid has gone and done it – jinxed Hearts season, and probably ended Jefferies’ second stint at Hearts. Yes, he’s saying Hearts can split the Old Firm. Last year, the same prediction was made for Hibs around the same time of year off a similarly good run of form, and look what that did for them.
Joking apart… Jefferies has been doing good things down Tynecastle way, albeit with the odd bump in the road like a 3-0 home defeat to Killie on Halloween. Skacel is banging in goals, this new kid Templeton looks a nice prospect, and Kyle will always create problems. Zaliukas has just signed a new contract, Romanov has cleared some debt… it all looks very positive just now.
But Bouzid has just put an end to the Gorgie good times – sorry, jambos.
I’ll try to get through this without mentioning referees… d’oh!
Lennon has done a better job than I expected in bringing in a new set of players and getting them to play as a team – something Mowbray didn’t accomplish with twice the time. Stokes and Hooper have been scoring, which is what you want your strikers to do, but goals have been coming from midfield as well. The defence still needs work though – their full-backs are nothing special and I wouldn’t be confident with any of their centre-halves in my team. There’s also talk of Celtic being in for a new keeper in January, which can’t hurt.
The hoops had a couple of hideous European results back in July and August meaning they don’t have Europe to worry about this year, and with a deeper squad – and deeper pockets to build it out in January – the second half of the season will be interesting. But Celtic have to visit Ibrox twice – their home defeat in the first Old Firm tie of the season could come back to haunt them. And last week’s loss to Hearts showed that Celtic still have vulnerabilities.
“Kris who?” has been the phrase on everyone’s lips as Kenny Miller has been banging in the goals. Until last week’s spanking by Hibs, Rangers’ season had gone way beyond expectations – possibly the only disappointment being a couple of sitters (read: open goals) missed at home to Valencia.
Maurice Edu has comfortably stepped up to replace Kevin Thomson – and I think Edu is a more educated player, he doesn’t give away needless fouls like Thomson did – while Stephen Naismith has been on fire, with an impressive performance against Spain to boot. The one big signing Jelavic looks like a class act, though typically for a Walter signing he is injured, while Vladimir Weiss gives us a winger to moan at when he doesn’t cross the ball quickly enough. Even K-Laff (we call him that ironically) appears to have screwed the nut.
But as Walter has said many times – it’s a thin squad playing a lot of games. Expect injuries to take a toll through the winter, and if we have a decent Europa Cup run, there might be some more Hibs-type results.
St Mirren 0 v Celtic 1