SPL News and Views

No Longer A 2 Horse Race

A few years back and Spanish football fans tired with the seemingly never ending tussle for the Primera Liga becoming a two horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid unveiled a banner at a match expressing their fear that the League was turning into a carbon copy of the SPL where year in year out the race for the title was always between the games leading two superpowers.

This summer though any notion that there would even be a proper fight for the Scottish championship appeared to be eliminated as Rangers sunk into the lower reaches of the league which in the eyes of the most respected pundits would enable Celtic to effectively stroll towards another coronation.

However three months into the 2012-13 campaign and any notion that it would be a procession for Neil Lennon’s men has been derailed as the Hoops have stuttered whilst other sides have started to maintain impressive consistent runs that have pushed them into the spotlight.

Last weekends loss to Kilmarnock highlighted that there are deficiencies in this Celtic team who will need to up their game should they wish to land a second successive title.

Having already lost at St Johnstone and dropped points at home to Aberdeen and Hibernian and at Ross County Celtic supporters are getting quickly used to the fact that having no Rangers to keep them on their toes is possibly having a negative effect on the mindset on the Hoops players.

And the combination of possibly taking their collective eyes off the ball as they participate in the Champions League allied with the confidence gathered by the likes of Hibernian, Aberdeen and St Johnstone who are breathing down their necks of this Celtic side is contributing to make this possibly the most exciting championship race since George Burley’s Hearts muscled their way into the title fight in 2005.

Hibs, frankly, have been a revelation and to this observer the team of the season so far.

The turnaround in the fortunes of the Leith club has been incredible especially when you consider last season they struggled until the last few games of the season to even secure their place in the SPL.

After their Hampden horror show in the Scottish Cup Final in May you would have been forgiven for assuming most Hibees would have sought out the cheapest flight to Timbuktu to avoid the embarrassment of watching their club this year but Pat Fenlon has been able to upset the apple cart and silence the doomongers thanks largely to the goalscoring instincts of Leigh Griffiths.

And there appears to be life too in the old dog that is Craig Brown.

The former Scotland boss has assembled a squad who after years of mediocrity are finally giving the Aberdeen fans the reasons to have a little more bounce in their step as they seek their highest league placing for a number of years.

The last side outwith the Old Firm to be champions, back in the midsts of time of 1985, the Dons seem to be benefitting from the vast experience of their gaffer Brown and his assistant Archie Knox off the park while on it the excellent form of teenage winger Ryan Fraser has been the highlight of their march toward the top.

Sitting just behind them in fourth place currently are St Johnstone who under Steve Lomas expert guidance have been on a fine run of form, a long way from their struggles at the beginning of the campaign with Gregory Tade turning out to be one of the signings of the season.

Indeed the McDairmid Park club appear to have taking more than just the three points from their September win over Celtic, the confidence and self belief brought on by that win has spurred them on to the situation where a place in the Europa League for the second successive year must be a serious aim.

Early season pacesetters Motherwell and St Mirren may have fallen away whilst expected challengers Dundee United and Hearts have been inconsistent but for fans of the Dons, Hibs and the Perth Saints the dream of hearing Zadok the Priest blaring out of the tannoys at their ground next season remains.

Hopefully the stroll to two in a row for the Celts continues to be avoided and the football fans in Spain will be able to put away their banners for good as Scotland will be able to produce a much more appealing title contest.

BBC Football Latest