Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SPL: Wednesday Wonders

The SPL works off the turkey and mince pies with a full Wednesday evening fixture. The eyes of the world upon us once more. Or at least the eyes of those Sky viewers not tempted by the tungsten superheroes at the Ally Pally.

Celtic v Rangers


Apparently recent form has left some Celtic supporters confident about this one.

Yet Ally McCoist was quick yesterday to talk about his confidence in victory.

I don't understand anybody displaying confidence before a big game. Fear, misery and a sense of doom are my defaults. And who is to say I've not got it right?

If you're expecting defeat it hurts less when you lose and you enjoy it more when you win.

Avoid hubris and project pitiful pessimism at all times. It's the path to a happier life.

Still, I'll never known what it's like to support one side or t'other in the greatest sporting rivalry on earth. And, for that matter, I'll never know what it's like to support one side or t'other in an Old Firm game either.

Instead I peer into the cauldron of Glasgow and a see a game that will end another chapter in a twisting title race.

Victory for either side will not close the book on this SPL championship. Last season provided enough of a lesson that the points and goals that win or lose titles can lie elsewhere.

It's still a game chock-full of meaning though.

For Celtic and particularly for Neil Lennon victory would offer the final act of redemption in the climb back from the dark days of autumn when they looked hopeless, Rangers looked rampant and Lennon looked vulnerable.

For Rangers and Ally McCoist a win, or even avoiding defeat, would offer evidence that a suddenly feeble looking Rangers are more than capable of holding off a resurgent Celtic.

Tonight's winners, if we're to have a winner, will lead the SPL into 2012. There's no glory in that. But it's an achievement that could offer mighty psychological succour to both sides in a season of mixed fortunes.

Who's it going to be?

Celtic have the momentum. 24 points from the last eight games. The sort of autumn-into-winter run that can define a title winning season.

Rangers have stumbled, fumbled, dropped the ball. Just 16 points from the last eight games, losing ground as Celtic have gobbled up the space between them.

An Old Firm game though. Windae, form book, oot the. We've seen it all before.

One point separates the two. Rangers have won 15, lost two, drawn three. Celtic have won 15, lost three, drawn two. Rangers have scored 37 goals, conceded 11. Celtic have scored 40, conceded 15.

Different seasons, different crises, different periods of sustained victory gathering.

Fag paper thin though, the differences between these behemoths.

A draw? Maybe I'm leaning towards that outcome. Maybe I'll cover myself by betting on a Celtic win.

And, while I'm in the bookies, it would be stupid not to put a couple of quid on Rangers as well.

If you're pushing me I'd say the build-up, current form and home advantage all point towards Celtic.

Mind you I've never been confident placing a bet in my life.

Aberdeen v Hearts


Let's hear it for the Hearts players. Supposedly facing the biggest off field challenges of their careers, the club facing a crossroads signposted gloom and doom.

And they've scored six in their last two outing, kept two clean sheets and enjoyed dominance over a Motherwell side who have been all but untouchable on the road.

Crisis? What crisis?

Aberdeen were enjoying a revival before they lost to Inverness on Christmas Eve. They can see daylight between themselves and relegation dunderheids Hibs and Dunfermline though.

And Hearts' struggle on the road which makes a midweek, wintry trip to Pittodrie as welcome as a letter from HMRC.

Draw.

Hibs v Inverness


A new manager but not a new dawn for Hibs. Pat Fenlon criticised the players' fitness after their second half capitulation against Dundee United.

If that is the case then the cluttered festive fixture list could offer dismal tidings for Hibs.

Fenlon seems to have identified the failings but this first period of his reign doesn't appear to offer much chance to right those wrongs.

Apparently some players are upset at the way they're now being spoken to on the training ground. Which just goes to show that even mentally weak, wage thieving wasters have feelings.

Inverness have been striving to impress in recent weeks and came through against Aberdeen with a makeshift side.

There's spirit among Butcher's boys. There's not much in evidence at Easter Road.

Defeat tonight and those last few believers will surely accept that Hibs are in their fight of their lives.

Who would bet against Inverness?

Motherwell v Dunfermline


Motherwell will be slightly chastened after their Christmas Eve defeat at Tynecastle.

They've also been in the strange situation of struggling more at home than they have on the road. Goals have been hard to come by.

Dunfermline, caught in a torrid run of form and looking all at sea, should offer some succour tonight.

Home win.

St Johnstone v Kilmarnock


Joyous wins, stern-faced draws, feeble defeats. St Johnstone and Kilmarnock have had seasons of fluctuating fortunes.

Who's to say they won't bond in their inconsistency with a draw tonight?

St Mirren v Dundee United


What do St Mirren do after a famous, much celebrated win against Rangers?

What do Dundee United do after coming back to beat Hibs?

The evidence of the season suggests that both will struggle to build on the winning of three points.

Which sets us up nicely for another draw.

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