Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Scotland Roundup

Now for a regular post that's not been seen in a while, not that it has been missed much.

The season is winding down in Scotland, as with most other Euro leagues. Unlike most of those leagues, Scotland does a mostly unfathomable split after 33 games. The top 6 teams go to play wach other one more time each, whole the bottom 6 face their low-ranked counterparts as well. Given that over half the SPL squads have played 32 games now, it's time to look at how the split will shape up.

As you may have seen on FSC Sunday night (not bloody likely, I know), Rangers cemented their place at the top of the table by defeating Celtic 1-0. The match was notable as Allan McGregor became the first Rangers keeper ever to shut out Celtic on four straight occasions. On the other end of the pitch, Boruc jumped over the ball trying to save a one on one leading to the only Rangers goal. Rangers have a six point lead on Celtic with a game in hand, but they also have severe fixture congestion ahead, so the race is not over yet.

Meanwhile, 20 points behind Celtic, Dundee United have slipped ahead of Motherwell for third place and the last league-awarded European slot. However, due to fixture's canceled in the wake of Phil O'Donnell's death, Motherwell have two games in hand, though I think they are both to Old Firm squads. Hibernian sit another two points back, lurking safely in fifth place.

Right on the split line, there is a log jam. As I have noted before, Aberdeen did a wonderful job in Europe with a shortened squad, but their league position suffered. At the halfway point of the season, they were comfortably above the cut line. Now Aberdeen sit in eighth place, and only because of a late, late goal this weekend against Inverness CT. By the way, that's 17 games in a row against ICT without losing now, so I'll gloat. Aberdeen face what is billed as a winner take all match against Falkirk this Monday night. No one seems happy that the match has been moved to accommodate Setanta Sports, especially Falkirk management and their fans who face the choice of seeing the end of the game or getting home the same day, as the last train out of Aberdeen to Falkirk runs at 9:00, or so I'm (somewhat) reliably told. The game is a 7:45 kickoff.

The truth is that it is not a winner take all game anyway. Hearts sit on 41 points, level with Aberdeen and one point behind Falkirk. Hearts play a poor Kilmarnock side away on Saturday. With their superior goal difference to Aberdeen, a win would knock the Dons out of any hope for a top 6 spot.

Truthfully, Scotland's split is only fun for the Top 6 and its fans. The bottom 6 teams would normally be playing in a relegation playoff, but as we have felt the need to note many times, that spot is Gretna's without question. Int the only thing close to good news that the club has had in a while, Gretna will return to playing their "home" games at Fir Park, which will be nice given their shoddy reception in Livingston.


The Fan's Attic said...

how does the split work?

ü75 said...

After each team has played 33 games, the teams are split into two flights. The teams in places 1 through 6 play a single round robin against each other, while teams 7-12 does the same. Once the split has happened, a team cannot move out of their flight. A team in 6th place can, and often does, have less points than the 7th place team at the end of the season.

To answer the "why" question--the SPL started out as a ten team league. It was expanded after the 1999-2000 season. The decision to expand to twelve teams came very late on, and I figure it was done so that Aberdeen, who finished last that season, would be saved from their first ever relegation. This created a scheduling dilemma. Rangers and Celtic refused to lose a money making Old Firm matchup each season, but 44 games would be almost impossible to fit into a season with Scotland's weather. So, the split, previously (and may still be) used in Switzerland was adopted.

Extra bonus-though the split guarantees 38 games, it does not guarantee 19 home games. Nor does it guarantee that the teams you play 4 times will be faced home and away 2 times each. A couple of years ago, after the split Aberdeen ended up with only 18 home games, and I believe that they had to travel to Rangers three times that season as well.