The SPL wrap: week 37

Rangers are in a sprint to the finish but Hearts are struggling to limp over the line in third. Pic: © SNS Group

Rangers and Celtic keep slugging it out at the top with the finish line in sight while Hamilton are showing that when you are at rock bottom, the only way is up.


Momentum. The impetus gained by a moving object. Scientific logic tells you that it requires far more energy to build up momentum that to sustain it. You can see how that applies to football.

Throughout the season Rangers and Celtic have passed and snatched the impetus between them, but with the finale rapidly approaching it was the greener side of Glasgow that appeared to hold the upper hand. The Hoops were a single point behind their rivals, with an away game at Inverness all that stood between Neil Lennon’s side and a return to the summit of the division.

That same scientific logic suggests that any side beaten by Aberdeen, who Celtic have scored almost a fifth of their goals against this season, couldn’t possibly halt a title challenge. This is where logic and the beautiful game diverge.

For the vast majority of the season, Celtic have appeared to be strolling down Easy Street towards an almost inevitable title, dispatching opponents with a routine swagger, only to wander into Decidedly Average Terrace and get lost on a ring road in Stinksville. As much as the showdowns between the Old Firm clubs matter, it is each clubs’ form in their other 34 games that decides the destination of the title. Dropped points against a less-than-stellar Dundee United in November, Hamilton and Kilmarnock at home, as well as inexplicable losses to Motherwell and now Inverness Caledonian Thistle, have all arrived just when Celtic looked at their most imperious.

Their great rivals, on the other hand, may never have hit the same heights, but have done well to avoid most of the pitfalls their challengers have faced. Aside from their Old Firm rivals, Rangers have lost points to an Inverness side that hadn’t lost an away game in eons, a pre-rubbish Hearts team that looked as if they could split the Old Firm and a Dundee United team that had taken 17 points from 7 games. A 3-0 defeat to Hibs has been their only points dropped against a team in less than scintillating form.

It would be a little disingenuous to suggest that Caley did not play their own part in the events of this past week. The Highland side were as good against Lennon’s men as they had been poor against Aberdeen days earlier. The 3-2 victory was thoroughly deserved, and could well have been more.

While the gauntlet had been, not so much thrown down, as dropped at the feet of Rangers, the reigning champions appeared to have a tricky test of their own at Tynecastle. Much has changed since January, when Jim Jefferies’ team had turned in a distinctly Walter-Smithsonian performance to take all the points from Rangers. Since that high point their season has run into danger of falling apart faster than you can say “Albert Kidd”.

The Gorgie side seem perpetually balanced on the cusp of both greatness and the preposterous. Stories suggest that Vladimir Romanov had insisted that Marius Zaliukas was omitted from the squad for mystery reasons, while bastions of truth and enlightenment – football message boards – had gone so far as to suggest Jim Jeffries had left in protest.

Needless to say, Rangers had plenty of motivation for winning and Hearts appeared to have very little indeed. The 4-0 margin of victory flattered the hosts, even if Eggert Jonsson’s red card was of the soft variety. Rangers had opened a four point lead on Celtic, and cut their goal advantage to just one.

Celtic’s response may not have been emphatic, but it was certainly decisive. Scott Brown and Kris Commons scored either side of half time to restore some belief in their title challenge. Any slip from either side is likely to be fatal at this juncture.

It has not just been the title challengers that have been gathering pace in recent weeks. Hamilton had been pronounced dead for weeks, and were all but buried until just before the split. In the four games since, they have picked up ten points, and have one hand wrapped around St Mirren’s ankle, pulling them towards the proverbial relegation trapdoor.

While the Paisley side were being defeated 1-0 by newly crowned Seventh Placed Winners, Inverness, Billy Reid’s team were winning 1-0 against Hibernian and reducing the gap between the two sides to just three points. Nigel Hasselbaink scored the only goal of the game, and delivered victory to Hamilton in front of their own supporters for the first time this season. The Accies have found their second (or is it perhaps their first?) wind, while St Mirren are peching their way towards the finish line. Oh how those in the title race wish they could finish a season the way Hamilton do.

If there remains hope for St Mirren it is that they still need to face Aberdeen, who were quite, quite abysmal against a bright St Johnstone side, and deservedly lost 2-0. News that Derek McInnes seems destined for the bright lights of Brentford will disappoint the Saints faithful, and any candidate that takes the job will have a difficult task in maintaining the relatively comfortable SPL existence the departing boss has provided.

Perhaps the only side in the division that don’t require momentum is Motherwell, who are more hot and cold than a Katy Perry encore. On Saturday they were distinctly chilly, while Dundee United were the exact opposite. A John Daly hat-trick formed the best part of a 4-0 win. If football is a game of momentum, United will be one of the few sides that don’t want this season to end.


  • Rangers (87) lead Celtic (86) by a single point, and while goal difference now seems an unlikely separator, the latter have a +3 advantage.
  • Hearts… seriously guys. Just take one more point and finish third. You know you want to. Don’t you? The Jambos are on 63 points, while Dundee United are on 58 points. While United would have to win against Rangers to have a hope of making third, you wouldn’t bet against them in a decider should it come to the final day.
  • Kilmarnock are on 48 points in fifth, with Motherwell sixth on 45. They don’t care, they’ve got a Scottish Cup Final to look forward to.
  • When is 47 less than 45? When it’s in the SPL Split of course! Inverness Caley have 47 points, and have confirmed their position as Seventh Placed Winners. St Johnstone are 8th on 40.
  • Hibs (37) and Aberdeen (35) cannot finish the season quick enough, but will join forces to pay tribute to Eddie Turnbull next weekend.
  • St Mirren were safe, then they were even safer, now they are in trouble again. Only the Old Firm have a better form record in the last five games than Hamilton. Billy Reid is revving up his Steve McQueen motorbike, while Alex Neil, Martin Canning and Dougie Imrie may or may not have created tunnels named Tom, Dick and Harry. St Mirren have 29 points, Hamilton have 26.


(Thom Watt , STV Sport)