Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Scotland Wrap Up

This past weekend saw the every team play their 22nd game of the season. Since that marks the point where every team has played each of its opponents both home and away, it seems like a good time to give you an update on the happenings in the SPL. Spoiler alert: Celtic and Rangers are top, and no team looks like catching them.

Team (Points; Goal Differential)

1. Celtic (51; +25)
Celtic lead the table, though it's not for lack of trying not to. The title looked all but wrapped up two days after Christmas. That day, Celtic had traveled to Rangers and come away 1-0 winners. The win put Celtic seven points ahead of their main title rivals. Since, though, Celtic have pulled one points out of two matches against Dundee United (1-1) at home and Aberdeen away (2-4). Their form seems to have seriously fallen off since the calendar clicked over. There is good news for Celtic. No matter how many times he flaps at crosses, Artur Boruc is better than Mark Brown. Today, the news of a feared long layoff was scuppered. So there's that.

2. Rangers (49; +33)
Things are suddenly looking up around Ibrox. From mid-November into mid-December, this team looked like they were going to fall off from the title challenge, because of consistently losing points on the road. During that time, Rangers lost at Hearts, while drawing both Dundee United and Motherwell. Throw in that rather devastating loss to Celtic, and the team looked done. Since the Celtic loss, the team has a couple of wins, unfortunately, they cannot be called quality wins, since Falkirk and Inverness sit 11th and 12th, respectively, in the table. Throw in the probability that the team will be selling off a portion of their bench, and this looks like a false dawn for Rangers. Still, momentum does some strange things to teams. Maybe a depleted Rangers squad can continue to ride this nice wave they are on.

3. Aberdeen (36; +5)
How's that for a gap? Even if Aberdeen had four games in hand, they could not catch up to the team ahead of them. Yuck. The short winter days in Aberdeen must seem pretty sunny to the club's fans right now. They are the form team of the SPL. Six out of seven wins overall, and six for the last six at home. Not bad for a team that started off 0-1-4 at home and was bottom of the table in October. Aberdeen's next game will be at home against Rangers. This marks the first time Aberdeen have hosted the Old Firm in back to back games since 1976. The dark clouds on the horizon are not to be ignored. Jimmy Calderwood has been mentioned by a couple of teams who are interested in him, Norwich and Utrecht. He says there has been no contact, but we'll see how long that holds.

4. Dundee United (35; +4)
Recipients of this week's What The Hell? Award, Dundee United took a 0-4 thumping at home at the hands of Motherwell on Sunday. That game was over by haltime, and the same could possibly be said of United's season. The Terrors are 1-3-1 in their last five. Although two of those matches were draws against the Old Firm, there must be some concern at Tannadice over the sudden loss of form. A month ago, this team looked fairly strong in fourth, now they seem shaky in the same position. All is well, though, as long as the team maintains a Top 6 position for 11 more matches.

5. Heart of Midlothian (35; 0)
Hearts are very much an up and down team of late. Nice away draws (Celtic) are tempered by an inability to score. Until Saturday's match against Kilmarnock, Hearts had been held scoreless in four straight SPL matches. The team is holding on, for now, on the strength of a wonderful run in November, when they won five straight league matches. Another team that looks to hold on to a Top 6 poition right now, and not much more.

6. Hibernian (30; 0)
Another maddeningly inconsistent mid-table team. Last month saw Hibs both beat Celtic and lose to Kilmarnock at home. They are strong enough to challenge for a European spot, though it's tough to say whether the support will be there. Attendances seem to be dropping at Easter Road as of late.

Motherwell (27; -6)
Kilmarnock (26; -8)
Saint Mirren (25; -8)
Nothing unexpected here.

10. Hamilton Academicals (23; -16)
Out of nowhere come the other form team of the SPL. Rooted to the bottom of the table only a month ago, Hamilton have won three out of four to drag themselves out of the basement. Now news comes out that Kenny Deuchar, unfairly relegated to the bench in Salt Lake City, has signed with the club. I'll go ahead and say that this is pretty big for the club. They had no real established striker before, and now they get one hungry to re-prove himself.

11. Falkirk (18; -11)
One draw in their last five sees them left one point ahead of:

12. Inverness Caledonian Thistle (17; -18)
The season started out so wonderfully for the Highlands club. They had their first ever win over Aberdeen to celebrate. Unfortunately, that was a long time ago. More currently, the club have lost seen straight and, following Saturday's loss to Hamilton, fired their manager. Not good times in the just-barely-a-city, then.

Finally, it is not too premature to go back and see what I predicted at the start of the season and compare, is it?

1. Celtic-Spot on so far.
2. Rangers-Ditto.
3. Dundee United-Close. I'll definitely take the swap with
4. Aberdeen-'Mon the Dons!
5. Hibs-Once again, just one off.
6. Falkirk-Oops. Guess this is not the year Falkirk break into the Top 6.
7. Kilmarnock-One off again.
8. Motherwell-Switched with Killie.
9. Hearts-Financial meltdown has not come yet, though not for lack of trying.
10. St. Mirren-Close, but no cigar.
11. Inverness CT-Look worse than they are
12. Hamilton-Hey, I'm surprised.

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