thegreatdandini
Sun 22 March 2009

Drawing Conclusions

There's certainly more than a passing similarity between the English Premier League and the Scottish Premier League.
For example, both are dominated by a small cluster of teams, both are divided roughly equally into three tiers, each separated by only a few points this season, and neither of the two teams at top of the league failed to capitalize on the misfortune of the other.
In England, Chelsea lost away to Spurs and Manchester United lost away to Fulham. In Scotland, Rangers only managed a draw against Hearts, while Celtic messed up their chance to extend their lead at the top of the SPL when they only managed a draw against Dundee United.
In a weekend in Scotland's top flight when only one team playing on Saturday managed to collect maximum points from their fixture, the table remains very much 'as you were'.
On paper at least anyway, the game of the weekend took place at Ibrox between Rangers and third-placed Hearts. Kyle Lafferty and club-captain Barry Ferguson put last year's losing UEFA Cup finalists ahead going into the second half, but two quick strikes in the space of three minutes from Karypidis and Palazuelos levelled the scores with 20 minutes left on the clock. A share of the points was probably a fair result, but the boos heard around the ground at the end of the game suggest all is not well at Castle Greyskull.
So when Celtic took to the field on Sunday, they new that a win against a faltering Dundee United would take them 5 points clear of their Old Firm rivals, but Gordon Strachan's side failed to capitalize on Rangers' result; the final score, 2-2 (Celtic were saved by Lee Naylor's equalizing strike nine minutes from time) keeps the gap between first and second to three points.
It's a result that suits Rangers (and neutral fans) more than it does Celtic, as it keeps the race for the title exciting. With Hearts and the rest of the chasing pack so far behind that any talk of an other team finishing second ("splitting the Old Firm" as it's called in Scotland, something that has not happened 6 times in the last 20 years) will have to wait until next season.
Elsewhere, Terry Butcher's Inverness Caley Thistle's good run of form which saw them beat Rangers, Hibs and Kilmarnock since the former England captain took over came to a sticky end when they went down 4-0 away to Falkirk. The win for John Hughes' men was only their third since January and keeps them at the bottom of the league, but they do remain in touch with the safety of 11th place - Caley are now just one point ahead.
There where no goals in the remaining fixtures. Neither Kilmarnock and Motherwell or Hamilton Accies and St. Mirren could score a goal between them, while Hibernian came close but failed to score against 10-man Aberdeen.
For Aberdeen, a season that can best be described as 'pffft' continues to disappoint; an embarrassing exit from the Scottish Cup in midweek to Division One side Dunfermline (incidentally manager Jimmy Calderwood's former club and the second season in a row the Dons are eliminated from the Cup by lower league opposition) have once again lead to calls for his resignation from some sections of the support, but it's unlikely to result in Calderwood's resignation.

While never popular with the fans, he is the club's most successful manager since Alex Ferguson and under his stewardship the Dons have seen their highest league finishes - as well as a return to European football - for some time. It remains to be seen whether Calderwood and assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl will remain with the club after the season has finished. He has been linked with a series of Championship sides recently, as well as with a return to The Netherlands, where Calderwood both played and managed.
The question as to who should take over if Calderwood does leave remains. The challenge at Aberdeen is to match the expectations of fans desperate for success with the reality of a remote club with limited funds. With many of the players that the club have targeted in the past preferring to play with teams in the lower half of the Championship due to the higher wages on offer there, attracting talent north will always be a struggle.

Added to this is the fact that there remains very little to play for in Scotland. The dominance of the Old Firm is such that mounting a serious challenge would require a great deal of investment, not to mention luck. Interestingly, Aberdeen are the last non-old Firm team to win the league, back in 1985, making them Scotland's equivalent of Blackburn Rovers.
With the number of goalless draws, the teams in the SPL would all do well to follow the example of Highland League champions Cove Rangers who nearly managed to score more goals in one game than the entire SPL put together this weekend. Their 8-0 win over hapless Fort William, arguably the worst team in British football today, was nothing unusual. In the last year or so, Fort William have been on the receiving end of two 10-0 thrashings, one 11-0, a 13-0 and no less than three 8-0's. If it's goals you want, you could do a lot worse than to check out the Highland League. We'll have an in-depth review of that soon.
Ok, that's it. For the SPL results and tables, have a look here.

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