Saturday, January 22, 2011

SPL Today: Celtic Face Ancient Regime

Five games, five traditional kick off times.

This is what Neil Doncaster’s ten team SPL could look like if everything is as bad as feared and Sky and ESPN run screaming for the hills.

Celtic v Aberdeen
The last time Aberdeen visited Celtic they were sent home humiliated and robbed of their dignity. Particularly galling for Mark McGhee who had gone from being an apparent contender for the Celtic job to being Neil Lennon’s bitch in a matter of months.

All that now seems a long time ago. Aberdeen have been energised by an elder statesman, undefeated six games into Craig Brown’s reign. You can’t see his side capitulating in the manner of McGhee’s cowardly crew.

Celtic will be aware by kick off time what impact earlier events at Tynecastle have had on the championship race. After the drama of their draw at Hamilton, Celtic should now be refreshed after Hibs had the decency to lay on a training game for them last Saturday.

It is still early days for Craig Brown. He’s still to prove his arrival is going to coincide with sustained improvement rather than what has so far been an impressive quick fix. But a result at Celtic today would be a huge statement that the ancien regime has been wiped out and replaced by a much brighter ancient regime.

I’ll apologise for the ageism of that last attempt at a joke and give Aberdeen a creditable draw in this one.

Inverness v Hamilton
Terry Butcher left Ibrox an angry man on Tuesday after his side lost 1-0. Scheduling issues meant the SPL had left his players “pooped.” The referee had annoyed him. And the league are “bullying” Inverness over their ten team “deconstruction” plans. The “innocents” will suffer in a footballing “armageddon.”

He had a lot to get off his chest. And he did it forcefully, allowing me to wallow in my own wisdom at appointing him this blog’s Manager of the Year.

That said Inverness have stumbled of late, even if they’ve upset the pundits who predicted they might find themselves at the wrong end of the table this season.

Which is exactly where Hamilton currently languish. Billy Reid’s players simply haven’t won enough games to drag themselves from the bottom of the table.

I can’t see that changing today. A home win. And maybe Mr Butcher can finally enjoy a glass of red wine.

Kilmarnock v Dundee United
Kilmarnock’s impressive undefeated league run came to an end after they lost their one goal advantage to a second half Hearts fightback on Tuesday.

United will still be wary of trip to Rugby Park though and endured the drama of extra time and penalties before seeing off Ross County in Dingwall last week.

With games in hand aplenty, United would put a bit of pressure on Kilmarnock’s fourth place with a win today. Six draws in their last seven - including 210 minutes against Ross County - suggest that while more than capable of competing, United are struggling to seal the deal at the moment.

The last time these two met it was 1-1. Another draw today wouldn’t surprise me.

Motherwell v Hibernian
Colin Calderwood made his first signing as Hibs manager yesterday when he took Matt Thornhill, who played under him at Nottingham Forest, on a two and a half year deal.

A big moment for the boss but one that can’t deflect on the despondency around the club at the moment. A perilous league position has been compounded by the cup defeat to Ayr United.

Expect more changes to the starting line up today as Calderwood continues to search for the alchemy that can turn his paupers into princes.

A quick stat attack: in 2010 Hibs won ten SPL games and drew eight. That includes last season’s 6-6 madness at Fir Park and two wins against Motherwell this season.

To lose twice to a Hibs team that have managed only four wins so far suggests that Motherwell are encountering a bogey team today.

That might make for some nerves as Stuart McCall continues to find his feet and Motherwell continue to search for goals having scored only twice in their last five league games. Hibs defence might be just what they need.

Hibs were bad against Ayr at Easter Road, poor again against Celtic and then deservedly dumped by Ayr at Somerset Park. Hard times indeed. Home win.

St Johnstone v St Mirren
St Johnstone have bumbled along this season without really being one thing or the other. A good run now could offer a glimpse of the top six. A bad run and they might find themselves being sucked into a battle of a less pleasant nature.

St Mirren continue to struggle, at times admirable and at times looking to be fully deserving of their spot as relegation battlers.

Goals, of course, win football matches. And neither side has scored enough this season. St Johnstone have managed five at home, St Mirren a barely more respectable seven on their travels.

So probably not a high scoring extravaganza today. A 1-0 home win.

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