Scotland: Title race more open after festive programme
Despite all of the terrible weather causing many a game to be postponed in the Scottish Premier League over the Christmas period the title race has, momentarily, had new life breathed into it due to the re-emergence of Heart of Midlothian as a potential third force ready to take on the might of the Old Firm. Speaking of the Old Firm the last significant game of the festive programme took place at Ibrox Park between Glasgow’s big two, Rangers and Celtic, and the result could prove to be significant.
The heavy snow which has affected the United Kingdom, and Scotland in particular, had a profound effect on the football programme as many games were called off in the last couple of weeks. In that time Heart of Midlothian have provided a shot in the arm for the SPL having improved on their recent good form which has seen them take 25 of the last 27 points available, the 1-1 home draw against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on December 18th being the only points to have been dropped since the Edinburgh side last lost a game on October 31st. On New Year’s Day Hearts got the better of their local rivals Hibernian FC for the second time this season with a last minute goal from Kevin Kyle proving decisive just days after the Jambos had beaten St Mirren in their second match over Christmas.
Glasgow Celtic had played three consecutive matches at home in December with a draw at Kilmarnock being followed by narrow wins over St Johnstone and Motherwell. Glasgow Rangers, on the other hand, had only featured in one match which resulted in an easy 4-1 away win over Motherwell. Leading up to the big one, however, the champions hadn’t played a game at their Ibrox home since early November and their next match there would take place on a date with tragic significance. January 2nd, 1971 will always be remembered in Glasgow as the date of the Ibrox stadium disaster and today was the 40th anniversary. The day started with the laying of a wreath at a statue of the lengendary Rangers player John Greig who was there in person today to begin the commemorations. He and former Celtic captain Billy McNeill walked both of the teams out on to the pitch where a minute’s silence was observed. When the game began it took some time for both teams to get into a rhythm following the emotion of the day. However the game was stuck in a goalless rut before a mistake by Rangers keeper Allan McGregor in the 62nd minute allowed Giorgios Samaras to knock the ball home to give Celtic the lead. The same player made sure of the three points eight minutes later after converting a penalty kick. The resulting 2-0 victory allowed the Bhoys to increase the gap at the top of the table to four points but the Gers do have two games in hand.
After the top three, Kilmarnock FC have the best recent record with the Christmas period proving kind to them following two wins against Hibernian and Inverness CT and a draw away at Celtic. Inverness CT, whose form had been good until Christmas, saw their progress take a downturn falling from third to fifth following Xmas defeats to St Mirren and St Johnstone as well as Kilmarnock. The dip in fortune for Inverness was all the more strange given that they had held all Rangers, Celtic and Hearts to respectable draws in the games right ahead of the Xmas programme.
In the rest of the lague the most significant event saw Craig Brown controversial leave his old club Motherwell in favour of a move to fallen giants Aberdeen FC after the Pittodrie club sacked previous coach Mark McGhee following a string of terrible results. Since Brown’s appointment Aberdeen FC have improved with two wins and a draw in their last three games since a 5-0 defeat to Heart of Midlothian saw the last of McGhee. Motherwell FC have failed to win a game in their last six matches with losses to the Old Firm making up part of that record. However new coach Stuart McCall only took charge of his first game on New Year’s Day and a 0-0 draw away at bottom club Hamilton Academicals sees the Fir Park remain in a respectable sixth place in the table.
SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE – TOP 3 (Games/Points)
1. Glasgow Celtic 19/45
2. Glasgow Rangers 17/41
3. Heart of Midlothian 19/39
Correct as of January 2nd, 2011