The SPL wrap: week one
The big kick-off has arrived, prematurely, but there was plenty to get excited about on opening weekend.
The SPL season is back, and has managed to accomplish the somewhat contradictory trick of making both a welcome return and feeling like it had never been away.
And, if we may lay our usual cynicism at the door, and wipe our feet on the welcome mat of cautious optimism, may we say it was an excellent opening weekend for the neutral, the casual viewer and the Motherwell fan.
Teams were relatively evenly matched, there was a sense of optimism amongst everyone but Colin Calderwood, some excellent football was on show, and there were more incidents in each match than the whole of the Copa America.
Hearts, who were designated curtain raisers with Rangers, started the season with the sort of well drilled precision that makes you think they’d spent the summer training at the same place Neil Doncaster gets his hair cut.
- Rangers 1-1 Hearts
The visitors were almost completely dominant in the first half, and perhaps should have taken more than David Obua’s headed lead as reward for their efforts at half time. Jim Jefferies’ side would have held a greater lead were it not for a combination of wastefulness and Allan McGregor.
The expected rally from the home side produced a much improved performance in the second period. Steven Naismith, who started the game looking as if he had just played an entire season and ended it looking as if he was seeing his first action in months, scored Rangers equaliser from a teasing Sasa Papac cross in a veritable game of two halves.
Critics couldn’t seem to decide whether the result had created a bigger metaphorical question mark around the New Era at Ibrox, or whether the original questions had multiplied because they had been left unanswered. Was it one big question mark? Or lots of little ones? Six or seven medium sized ones that can join together to form a Power Rangers-esque, mega-zord-poser?
Such a result created a predictable, if somewhat tiresome assumption that it was “advantage Celtic” in the title race. 37 games to go, 111 points to play for, four meetings yet to happen, and already the pendulum of SPL destiny was swinging towards Glasgow’s east end. Remind all with such notions that in five of the last ten years the team that has gone on to win the league has dropped points on the opening day of the season.
Using the same principles, Motherwell’s surging title charge was firmly on course as they swept aside relegation threatened Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-0. Going by the number of clubs linked with the precociously talented Jamie Murphy, around half of the 4,100 crowd were made up of scouts from the great and the good of English football.
- Motherwell 3-0 Inverness CT
They would not be disappointed as the 21-year-old’s running and energy caused Terry Butcher’s side no end of problems. There was a hint of good fortune about Steven Hammell’s first Motherwell goal since 2004, but less so with Murphy’s clinical second. The evergreen Keith Lasley provided the goal of the weekend, with the kind of precision drive that usually requires an expensive German ad campaign.
Saturday’s other match saw Aberdeen play host to St Johnstone at a windswept Pittodrie. The Perth side will perhaps be the happier of the two teams with the resulting nil-nil, having survived a trio of scares at the hands of the elements.
- Aberdeen 0-0 St Johnstone
Robert Milsom’s corner went all Nintendo World Cup and almost snuck in at the near post, a second was dropped on the goal-line by Peter Enckelman, and Fraser Fyvie hit the inside of the post with the sort of cross-come-shot that is only ever considered deliberate if you are South American.
The goalless draw showed the Dons as a significantly more imposing side than recent seasons, and again suggested that the Saints are going to be very difficult to find goals against.
Two clubs hoping for a repeat of the successes they enjoyed last term in spite of wholesale changes to their playing staff are Dundee United and Kilmarnock, who faced each other on Sunday in an entertaining 1-1 tussle.
- Dundee United 1-1 Kilmarnock
18-year-old Rory McKeown announced his arrival with the sort of debut goal that was actually from 25 yards, but will have been hit from somewhere near Crieff by the time it passes into Killie fable. Danny Swanson’s equaliser was no less beautiful, as he remedied a woeful free kick with a part-precision, part-frustration volley from the edge of the box.
Speaking of beauty… St Mirren. The Buddies have not been the sort of side associated with football that is easy on the eye, as they have generally been involved in the kind of biting, scrapping and hair-pulling that goes along with staying in the top flight. If Monday’s 0-0 draw with Dunfermline is anything to go by, those days may be over, as a fluid, passing side took the game to a nervy home side.
Conventional football wisdom said that an ex-Saint would play a big part in the Pars evening, and it looked to be so when John Potter gave away a penalty. However, debutant Steven Thompson’s kick was well saved by another ex-Buddie, Paul Gallacher.
- Dunfermline 0-0 St Mirren
Dunfermline’s performance suggests their stay in the SPL will be honest, authentic and full of endeavour – like a Jim Leishman poem – but they may also be awkward, uncomfortable and a little blunt – like a Jim Leishman poem.
While Celtic were hoping to pick up where they left off last term, Hibernian were aiming for something to help them forget 2010/11. Unfortunately for the increasingly downbeat Colin Calderwood, Hibs’ stereotyped frailties were all too evident again.
Graham Stack flapped a crisp-packet hand at a Kris Commons free-kick to allow Anthony Stokes his fourth goal against his former employers in under a year. Ki added a second with the kind of controlled, graceful shot from distance that summed up Celtic’s afternoon.
- Hibernian 0-2 Celtic
There could have been more goals, as Ivan Sproule made like a tabloid journalist, and resorted to hacking Emilio Izaguirre, but Stack made an exceptional save from the resulting Gary Hooper penalty that kept the score respectable.
If the SPL starts as it means to go on, there will be plenty of entertainment this term.
(source: Thom Watt stv sport)