Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Scotland Wrap Up 07/08

Because your internet access only goes so far, we are here to let you know exactly how things finished up in Scotland, and how that jibes with what we wrote at the halfway point. The top and bottom picks look pretty good, but the middle gets kind of murky. Oh well, no one is perfect.

SPL Final Standings
Celtic (89 points)

Right off the bat, here's one I got correct, and even for the reasons stated. Back in January, Rangers and Celtic were in a dead heat, and Rangers had two games in hand--aganst Gretna and St. Mirren. On the surface, it would look like Rangers had the advantage. Instead, as I astutely pointed out, Rangers were set to face some serious fixture congestion, and they did. As April and May unfolded, Celtic kept winning in the league, unburdened by cup runs. Rangers on the other hand were chasing an impossible quadruple. As Rangers were facing a need-to-win match seemingly every three days in the last month, they faltered, giving Celtic the title.

Rangers (86)
As mentioned above, Rangers were done in by their quadruple dreams. Back in January, they had just been knocked out of the Champions League into the UEFA Cup. I opined that they would go further in the UEFA Cup than Celtic in the Champions League, but I had no idea they would go so far. Rangers made it all the way to the final, where they lost 2-0 to Zenit St. Petersburg. What killed Rangers' ambition in the end was not the SFA, no matter what fans may think, but too many games in general. when the season ended on May 24 with a win over Queen of the South in the SFA Cup final, Rangers had not had a midweek without a game since March 22. From March 29 to May 24, Rangers played 18 matches. To their credit, Rangers were in every competition to the end, and could have pipped Celtic on the last day of league, if they had bettered Celtic's result. Celtic won, Rangers lost, and the dream was over. Rangers do finish with the cup double to hang their hats on.

Motherwell (60)
This is where the prediction start to look rather dodgy. In January, Motherwell had just lost their captain Phil O'Donnell after he collapsed and died on the pitch against Dundee United. I said that the death would cause Motherwell, at the time in third, to freefall in the standings and that a sixth place finish would be lucky. Boy was I wrong. Instead, all of the teams around them faltered and Motherwell turned out to be surprisingly resilient. For their season-long effort, the team will be rewarded with a UEFA Cup spot next season.

Aberdeen (53)
Sure, it was a homer pick, but it looked so good on paper. Based on their shock advancement in the UEFA Cup and their early activity in the January transfer window, I thought Aberdeen would easily end up third in the league. Instead they managed a pretty shocking fourth. I say a shocking fourth place because of how they got there. After Aberdeen was dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Bayern Munich, everything fell apart. Aberdeen was struggling with injuries at the time, with up to 9 first-teamers out of the lineup. The Bayern loss was in the middle of a 9-game non-winning streak where Aberdeen fell from fifth to ninth in the league with four games left before the split. Aberdeen got 9 of 12 available points, and pipped Falkirk into the top 6. From there, Aberdeen did well enough to overtake Hibs and Dundee United for fourth place. If only they had not met the beast that is Queen of the South in the Scottish Cup semis (after knocking out Celtic-away!).

Dundee United (52; +6GD)
First of all, for those of you who are not familiar with Scottish football, I have to say the following: This team is Dundee United, not Dundee. Dundee FC are another team entirely who actually play across the street from Dundee United. Dundee are currently in the First Division. Thank you for playing attention. Dundee United spent most of the season battling Motherwell for third spot. That is, until the split, when United decided winning was useless and pulled off two draws to go with three losses. All in all, a pretty good season for the Terrors, they just got done in by their poor run over the last third of the season. Ending the season pulling 14 points from 14 games is never going to get you into Europe.

Hibernian (52; +4GD)
Finishing sixth by way of goal differential was Hibernian. There is not much to say about Hibernian's season. Like Aberdeen, they had a good, early '08 run to get into the Top 6. Once the split occurred, they played as poorly as Dundee United. A perennial mid-table finisher finishes mid-table.

Alright, so I got the correct teams in the split, though I nearly dropped the ball on Motherwell. Let's speed through the bottom half, shall we?

Falkirk (49)
Poor Falkirk. Done in on the last day of the pre-split season by way of losing to Aberdeen 2-1 when only a draw was necessary. Though they had slim European ambitions, such a loss hits a team hard financially, as you miss out on a likely home tie against either Rangers or Celtic, or both, depending on how the regular season broke down. I must say, this was a pretty strong season for Falkirk. They challenged for a Top 6 spot until the last day and looked fairly dangerous all season long. If they keep it up, I would look for a fourth place finish out of them next season.

Heart of Midlothian (48)
Here is a team that did much better over the second half of the season, but still never got over the hump. Back in January, this team fell all the way to 11th place after five straight losses. Things looked bleak for the Lithuanian-backed club. However, they found some form and started to alternate wins with losses and climbed up the table. An eighth place finish flatters their mid-season form.

Inverness CT (43)
ICT never jumped out of the Bottom 6 all season, despite having ample opportunity to do so around the mid-season mark. A horrible run in February and March saw them take two points off of nine matches. Unfortunately, given their location and ambition, this is probably as high as we will see them finish in the next souple of years. Look for their manager, Craig Brewster, to move on to great things over the next decade.

St. Mirren (41)
St Mirren was another team that never got out of the Bottom 6. A big reason for that was their stunning inability to score goals. They scored 26 in 38 games, less than relegated Gretna. If not for Gretna's troubles, this would have been one hell of a lucky team to escape relegation.

Kilmarnock (40)
The team I bag on for being boring finishes 11th. Back in November, they had reached up to fifth place and looked to be doing very well. By the time January rolled around, Kilmarnock had already slipped to ninth and were sinking fast. Will be part of the relegation battle again next year.

Gretna (13)
What can I say about Gretna that I have not said already? Well, this: the team no longer exists as of today, June 3. Things started off rocky in the south and never got better. Their point total is artificially low because of a 10-point deduction for going into administration, but Gretna never were going to threaten to stay up. A sad end for a club that made a pretty fun run up the leagues, all the while engendering hatred from the rest of teams in the country.

Hamilton Academical take the lone promotion spot into the SPL, besting Dundee (remember what I said above?) by seven points in the First Division. It will be their first time in the Scottish top flight in 20 years. At the bottom of the First Division, Stirling Albion was relegated, while Clyde fought off Second Division challenges for their First Division place. However, since Gretna was demoted to the Third Division (and now out of the SFL entirely), playoff losers Airdrie United were promoted into the First Division, joining automatic promotees Ross County.

In the Second Division, Berwick Rangers were left for dead at the middle of the season, and Cowdenbeath joined them in going down. Arbroath won the playoff into the Second Division, with Stranraer taking the "Gretna back door" promotion. Those two join East Fife, who won the Third Division by a whopping 23 points, securing their promotion in March.

Finally, now that Gretna is out of the league entirely, who will be invited to the SFL? There have been four names bandied about, and I'll give them to you in the order of the likelihood they will get the invitation.

Spartans FC - This was the team who tried to buy their way into the league by taking over the debts for Gretna. They have a nice size stadium with all of the necessary trimmings to be allowed into the Third Division, though some may have taken offense to their gambit to buy their way in.

Cove Rangers - My pick for inclusion would be Cove Rangers. Scottish football has always suffered for too much congregation around the forty mile wide belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Cove Rangers are situated just south of Aberdeen, Scotland's third largest city. If the three East of Scotland League teams split votes, Cove Rangers may just slide in.

Preston Athletic - Word is they will change their name if admitted to the SFL. Don't hold your collective breath. Their stadium still needs expensive updating to get up to SFL standards, and with that being part of the reason for Gretna's demise, I think the SFL will be loathe to go down that path again so soon.

Annan Athletic - Truly on the list as a sentimental choice, as this team's home is rather close to Gretna. Stadium is up to snuff, I believe, but their election to the SFL is highly unlikely.

You need to go to the excellent billsportsmaps.com for the image at the top. He does some great work there.


The Fan's Attic said...

Hamilton Academical?

I like the third definition for academical.

Mike Georger said...

good for hamilton, will be interesting to see if liverpool ever pull off the move for james macarthy theyve been trying for the last eighteen months