Thursday, May 05, 2011

SPL: Title Race Goes On As Celtic Stumble

Where have I been?

What have I missed?

Here and there.

Plenty. Especially last night.

Inverness continue to revel in their role of the poopers at Celtic’s party.

I should register my annoyance that the game was even played last night.

If you’re going to have a split you should at least split with integrity.

And that means no post-split fraternising between the haves and havnaes.

But the fixture list demanded it. And it allowed Inverness the chance to pull on their best outfits and unleash a crescendo of raspberries right in the face of Celtic’s lordly title aspirations. They did more than just keep up with the Joneses.

That neither Celtic or Rangers have looked invincible this season has given the SPL table an ever more depressing look. But even in their dominance you knew there was still room for a slip up here or a trip there.

I can’t say I really expected it to come one early evening in the Highlands though.

When a result could have such a bearing on the title race it’s too easy to overlook the plucky underdogs. Inverness were at times inspired and could have won by more. Out on their feet, they held on at the end.

All the more impressive given that a number of players that had just been told they could leave in the summer. If Grant Munro really had planned last night as one last hurrah before he leaves for pastures new then you should get him signed up to organise your stag do. You’d have a hell of a time.

But Celtic’s display, its shortcomings, its ramifications, its causes, steals the headlines. Neil Lennon called it the worst of the season.

Some timing that.

Celtic will recover from this. That’s what teams at the top of the league do. But in the short term the recovery could come to late.

One of the points of the split – not best illustrated by Motherwell and Dundee United at the weekend and rendered somewhat farcical by Inverness last night – is to separate the best from the rest.

That means, in a season of evident fallibility, both Celtic and Rangers face theoretically trickier games to come. The Celtic fans writing off their championship challenge last night were infusing their brutal realism with a little too much fatalism.

With three games left anything can still happen.

Celtic’s final run in begins away to Kilmarnock on Sunday, continues with a midweek trip to Hearts and ends at home to Motherwell.

Rangers play Hearts at Ibrox on Saturday, host Dundee United in midweek and then travel to Kilmarnock on the final day of the season.

Two teams, seperated by a point, longing for the prize. Four teams with the chance to “do an Inverness” and ambush one or both of them.

Last night gave Rangers the kind of boost –the gaining of a massive advantage without kicking a ball - that managers love. That doesn’t mean it has won them the league.

Favourites. But not champions. Not yet.

Many people at this stage won’t care. For a lot of non-Old Firm fans these run ins are a turn off that underline the huge imbalance that the SPL supports and sustains.

But it’s hard to deny that these two old rivals crawling towards the finish line doesn’t bring with it some drama, even for the neutral who’d elect A N Other as champion if they possibly could.

It seems we’re in for more of that this year. If nothing else it provides a certain watchable tension.

One thing though. If it goes down to the last day of the season can I just say that “Helicopter Sunday” is a crap name for a showdown.