As the pause button has been pressed on the Scottish Premiership for the latest International break we can have a look at how things are shaping up this season, eight games in.
The Edinbugh sides lead the way with Hearts unbeaten until their trip to Ibrox on Sunday when the roof caved in on them after trying to play possibly the worst offside trap of the season. They have a to travel back to Glasgow in a few weeks time to play at Celtic Park and Brendan Rodgers will be looking for revenge for the 1-0 defeat that Celtic suffered at Tynecastle in August.
Celtic haven’t played Hibs, Motherwell and bottom side Dundee with Neil Lennon’s side up next weekend at Celtic Park. Hibs currently have 17 points, two less than leaders Hearts and with Celtic one point behind, a win will push Celtic up a slot into second place.
It’s maybe not a surprise that Kilmarnock are there or thereabouts at the top of the table. The job that Steve Clarke has done at Rugby Park has been outstanding and of course it was his side that joined Hearts in taking three points from the Champions this term, having come back from a goal down to win 2-1.
If the Edinbugh clubs have surprised everyone by their start to the season and their positons at the top of the table, neither Hearts or Hibs are the real shock side after 8 matches. That accolade has to go to newly promoted Livingston – especially after removing their new manager Kenny Miller after just three matches. Livingston opened their campaign on flag-day at Celtic Park and a last minute consolation put a flattering look on the way the game had gone. Celtic had scored 3 put could have easily had double that – something they did achieve at the weekend at St Johnstone.
Few would have predicted that Celtic would not be able to score more than once in any league match between their opening fixture and the latest match at McDiarmid Park. You have to suppose that someone was going to cop a hammering from the Champions and St Johnstone ended up with the short straw.
Livingston, with ex-Celtic and Kilmarnock star Gary Holt, doing an outstanding job as Miller’s replacement, has hit the ground running. His side was the first to take anything from Hearts in a 0-0 draw, he got a draw with Hibs and also most notably defeated Steven Gerrard’s Rangers last weekend.
If survival is the Livingston goal for the season, Holt is well on his way to ticking that particular box. The only negative is that the West Lothian side have added a third plastic pitch to the Scottish Premiership – the top division should be played on grass.
Making up the numbers in the top six is Steven Gerrard’s side who have one point less than Livingston – Rangers have 14 points. Gerrard has managed to turn Ibrox into a fortress and it certainly seems to intimate visiting sides. Of course Celtic handed the former Liverpool captain a reality check at Celtic Park when the sides met in the Glasgow Derby – that was one of Celtic’s 1-0 wins but the scoreline vastly flattered Rangers.
The Rangers away form has been very poor. Gerrard has taken his side to Pittodrie, Fir Park, Celtic Park and the brilliantly named Tony Macaroni stadium and hasn’t been able to pick up the 3 points yet. Indeed 2 points from 12 is hardly the form of title contenders. Only Rangers and second bottom St Mirren have failed to win on the road the Premiership this season.
However, with the impressive home form Gerrard will be looking to keep in touch with Celtic until the end of the year then he can see where his side is in terms of taking on Celtic – with only 800 visiting supporters in the corner and the home support behind both goals – on 29 December. The Rangers fans will be confident, believing that they can record their first over win over Brendan Rodgers’ side. But Celtic fans will believe that the city will remain green and white and an away win that day could kill the Ibrox challenge stone dead.
Derek McInnes’ side is for them in an uncharacteristically low spot in the table after 8 games – just outside the top six on 12 points. Aberdeen have been consistently the second best team in the league for the past 4 seasons and they will be looking to climb the league as soon as possible. The Dons of course have played the two Glasgow side – drawing with Rangers at Pittodrie on the opening day and losing 1-0 at Celtic Park two weeks ago.
The contenders for the relegation battle are also sorting themselves out too. St Johnstone are the best of the rest in 8th spot in the league on 8 points and with former Celtic striker Tony Watt giving them a goal-scoring threat, they should be fine.
That leaves a battle between Hamilton (6pts), Motherwell (5 pts), St Mirren (4pts) and Dundee (3pts) to avoid the relegation and play-off spots. Hamilton, who lost 6-0 to Hibs at the weekend, always seem to know their way to a survival and Motherwell, who reached two cup finals last season (losing both to Celtic), are probably too good a side to go down. Famous last words and all that but seriously they should be fine.
That leaves St Mirren, who beat bottom club Dundee, sacked their manager Alan Stubbs, replaced him with Irishman Oran Kearney who has managed just one point in three games – although that was picked up in a scoreless draw against Celtic – and Dundee.
Neil McCann’s side a week or so ago had the worst start to the season for any club in the WORLD so they needed that first win badly. Celtic, are visitors shortly at Dens Park so it it hard to see where the former Hearts and Rangers winger is going to pick up too many more points in the forthcoming fixtures. You’d be right in expecting McCann to be no more than a few more defeats away from the sack.
If it is tough at the top of the Scottish Premiership then it is even tougher at the bottom.
Celtic need to take care of the Edinburgh sides – Hearts at Murrayfield in the semi-final and then at Celtic Park, but first Hibs on Saturday 20 October at Celtic Park – it’s a 3pm kick-off. Yesterday Celtic released an additional 200 tickets to Neil Lennon’s club for this game – which was a decent call by the club as Hibs gave us the entire away stand in April but halved the allocation for the visit of Rangers shortly afterwards. Fair is fair and all that.
The conclusion? We are on course for Eight in a Row but there are plenty of challenges ahead. COYBIG!