Sunday, May 15, 2011

SPL Today: Celtic Hope As Rangers Eye Prize

So a desperate season comes down to this.

It is, after all, just football. A game where championships can still turn on the final day, a game where the drama should be confined to the pitch.

Today has already been dubbed Helicopter Sunday.

It says much for the bankruptcy of the SPL's ideas departments that they think using a six year old marketing device will still engender excitment. A costly, meaningless gimmick.

Celtic v Motherwell

A dress rehearsal for the cup final. Celtic must win. Win and hope. An interesting game for Motherwell though.

Is the temptation to simply keep their powder dry?

Will a heavy defeat, even for an understrength side, have a harmful psychological impact on their chances next week?

Stuart McCall faces some big decisions.

But this game is all about Neil Lennon and his Celtic team. Without the inexplicable hate campaign Lennon would still have offered Scottish football it's most compelling narrative.

Here is the novice manager, with an abrasive footballing persona that has always been divisive among the majority of fans who can accept that character without using it is an excuse to display centuries old stupidity, going head to head with the experienced Walter Smith.

And for great swathes of the season Lennon has come out on top. In a season where many of us might already have walked away from a land where too many are apparently gripped by a illogical rage fuelled madness, Lennon has somehow risen above it all to arrive at the doorstep of a debut season championship.

Yet he might still come up short. What frustration he must feel, this most hyperactive of touchline coaches, to know that he is essentially unable to influence events today.

Celtic can win, can win handsomely, and still it might not be enough.

To have come so close, come so far, and realise that the destiny of the league is out of your hands must be an agonising pain.

I expect Celtic to win today. I expect them to win well. Their fate will be decided elsewhere.

But lets hope that this isn't the last the SPL will see of Lennon. Let's hope he's back next season, planning, coaching and kicking every ball.

Managers fail, managers succeed. Managers are loved. Managers are loathed.

Let Lennon be all that of more. And let him leave, when the time comes, on his terms or on Celtic's terms.

Not because he's being hounded out by a mindless terror campaign.

Where does Scottish football go from here? Treating Neil Lennon like it would any other manager would be a hell of a start.

Home win.

Dundee United v Hearts

The rather flimsy filling between two great chunks of tasty bread this. Third visit fourth. Over the season those league spots are probably just about right.

There's likely to be a demob happy feel about this one. Likely also to be chance for the SPL to see some of these players turn out for their current clubs. Who can say how squads will look when the great kaleidoscope of the summer transfer window has been shaken?

I'll go for the home win but I really don't know what to expect.

Kilmarnock v Rangers

Ninety minutes for Rangers to deliver Walter Smith a valedictory title that has, at times, looked unlikely.

For chunks of the season it's seemed that Smith was persuaded to stay only to wisely apply the band aids needed to hold Rangers together as the club lurched from crisis to crisis.

We should have known that would never be enough for a man with so trophy laden a career, nor for a group of players who, even as the creaked and groaned, have never lost the habit of winning.

And so all Rangers need to do is win.

But how Kilmarnock and Kenny Shiels would love this scalp to end a season that has exceeded most expectations.

Stranger things have happened. Helicopters have been told to change route before as unlikely results have turned the title tide.

Not today though. I just can't see it.

Rangers to get the away win. And Walter Smith to go out on a high.