In his regular feature for BFTGT, Scottish Football Analyst Graeme Ellis takes a sideways look at the weekend’s events as he rounds up the action from the SPFL Premiership.
Matchday 8 – Gangsta rappers, a rat, an Irish hitman, characters bumped off and a criminal defence. No, not an episode of The Sopranos – just a standard weekend in Scottish football.
In a crucial week for Scotland’s slim hopes of ending their major tournament hoodoo, we look back at another crazy round of SPFL Premiership matches. Hot on the heels of Jim McIntyre’s sacking by Ross County last weekend, Lee McCulloch left his post at Kilmarnock. After 8 rounds of fixtures, 25% of the division’s clubs have now dispensed with their manager.
Rangers had a rat. Pedro had the flu. Rapper Coolio’s presence as a guest of Tommy Sheridan (eh?) turned Celtic Park into a ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ (shut up haters – as if I wasn’t gonna drop that line!). Although Parkhead was more Woodstock than West Coast such was the peace and love vibe amongst Celtic and Hibs fans. It was also Neil Lennon’s return to the scene of his most iconic moment – that touchline spat with Ally McCoist.
Hamilton 1-4 Rangers
This was a straightforward victory for Rangers after another quiet week at Ibrox – and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. Pedro Caixinha’s side fell behind to Danny Redmond’s goal inside the first minute against Hamilton on Friday. Had Rangers gone on to lose this game, they would have finished the weekend outside the top six and the knives would almost certainly have been out for Caixinha.
This was all on the back of midweek stories of a leak from the dressing room as well as a bust-up between Caixinha and veteran striker, Kenny Miller. Now in his third spell at Rangers, Miller was banished from the squad and forced to train and play with the under-20s. Speculation continues as to the identity of the Ibrox ‘rat’.
Meanwhile, after scoring Rangers’ third goal, Daniel Candeias raced straight to the bench with a show of support for the ex-Santos Laguna and Al-Gharafa manager. Caixinha had been unusually subdued up until that moment, although it was later confirmed that he had been suffering from a fever.
It’s no wonder he’s been ill. He’s been forced to watch Carlos Peña’s attempts at settling into the team. The 19-times-capped (yes, really) ‘El Tri’ midfielder was booked for a horrendous tackle on Dougie Imrie; his guilt confirmed by the fact that his sprint away from the scene of the crime was the fastest he’s moved all season. It should’ve been red, and that was after Peña had already elbowed Greg Docherty. His deliberate handball in the second half brought his personal bookings points for the match up to about 156, but it somehow fell to Caixinha, not Andrew Dallas to end the Mexican’s evening early. Poor Ryan Jack on the other hand saw red for two run-of-the-mill bookable offences. One can only assume that Dallas missed Peña’s indiscretions due to the fact that apart from those, he was once again completely invisible in the match.
The scoreline flattered Gers, who scored with four of their five attempts on goal. But for some profligate finishing from Hamilton, who also missed a penalty, this could have been 4-4. It’s a result that has papered over some cracks temporarily – but only just.
Aberdeen 3-0 St. Johnstone
Tommy Wright called this his side’s worst performance during his reign as St.Johnstone manager. The Perth Saints were abject as Adam Rooney grabbed a hat-trick on his return to the Dons line up. It was only the Irishman’s third start of the season and took his tally to 81 goals in 163 appearances for the Pittodrie club. A sustained ratio of a goal every other game is impressive at any level, and Derek McInnes must now find a way to accommodate both Rooney and Stevie May in his team.
This was Aberdeen’s most convincing victory since a 6-0 thrashing of Partick Thistle at Firhill in May. The Dons haven’t started the season particularly well, culminating in their Betfred Cup exit at the hands of Motherwell. Had Celtic’s Callum McGregor not rescued a point for his side with an 80th minute equaliser at home to Hibs, the Dons would be out on their own at the top of the league. As things stand, Celtic remain top on goal difference.
Despite a slow start form-wise, Aberdeen are 5 points better off than they were at this point last season. After 8 matches, they were already 7 points behind Celtic (who are 2 points worse off than last season). This has prompted fresh speculation (mostly from me) of Aberdeen’s ability to put up a sustained and genuine title challenge this season.
With some unnecessarily complicated and totally irrelevant maths, I have come to the conclusion that Aberdeen currently have 133% of the points they had this time last season. Meanwhile, Celtic have only 90% of their tally. If that is borne out across the whole season, Aberdeen would finish on 101 points, while Celtic would have 95 points. So, by my highly scientific reasoning, the challenge is on. You heard it here first!
Celtic 2-2 Hibs
Neil Lennon’s return to Celtic Park was somewhat eclipsed by Coolio’s appearance at the game. The rapper was in town for a gig at the SSE Hydro and took in the match as a guest of his Celebrity Big Brother pal, Tommy Sheridan. He will no doubt have been hugely impressed by the performances of John McGinn and Callum McGregor, who each scored a brace in an entertaining contest. However, the Gangsta’s Paradise rapper was allegedly confused as to why there was no away support, as all four sides of the stadium looked the same and sounded the same.
The platitudes continued after the match, with Brendan Rodgers claiming it was Celtic’s best result of the season – since 3-0 wins away from home in the Champions League are just, meh to Celtic’s gaffer these days.
Hibs were ten minutes away from ending the Hoops’ 56-match domestic unbeaten run, but yet again, Celtic found something in reserve to earn a point. I’m not sure at what point of the season it becomes acceptable to start speculating about back-to-back invincible seasons, but the Hoops march towards it continues. If anyone can, this Celtic team can. You heard it here first!
Dundee 2-1 Hearts
Where were you on 23rd April, 2001? I was more than likely in a London boozer, regretting the previous evening’s excesses. Harry Cochrane was yet to be born. He arrived into the world a day later. On Saturday, Cochrane made his Hearts debut, aged 16 years, 5 months and 6 days. Life just isn’t fair. What were you doing at that age? I was more than likely in a Glasgow boozer, regretting….ah, I think I can see where I went wrong now!
Anyway, Craig Levein came into the match unbeaten since taking over the reins at Tynecastle. In a preview for the match, I wrote about how the least you can expect from a Levein side is an organised defence. Cue a Levein side conceding two goals from set-pieces. The commentator’s curse strikes again. The Hearts boss said that the two goals were “a nonsense”. In that case, all three goals on the day came from ‘nonsensical’ defending.
It was almost exactly 30 years to the day since Graeme Souness’ epic backpass from inside the opposition half against Dynamo Kiev at Ibrox. Dundee’s Sofien Moussa attempted his own tribute from the halfway line, but the Dundee forward just isn’t Souness. His crazy back pass only succeeded in putting Kyle Lafferty through to score the equaliser. It was good to see Lafferty putting his off-field problems behind him, and concentrating on doing what he does best.
Dundee snatched all three points in injury time to move to within a point of the Jambos. Craig Levein has some work to do during the international break, erm, organising his defence.
Kilmarnock 0-2 Ross County
Ross County wasted no time in appointing Jim McIntyre’s successor as they handed Owen Coyle a return to Scottish football after a decade away. The new manager ‘bounce’ was clearly in effect as County came out and stroked the ball about as if they were, well, Celtic. There were even GIF-worthy flicks and tricks from the Staggies as they brushed Kilmarnock aside with a 2-0 victory.
Ahh Kilmarnock. A plastic pitch, award-winning pies, and Gordon Sawers. Truly a club that make Rangers look functional. After an alleged bust-up with Neil McCann last week, ‘celebrity’ fan Sawers has apparently been invited to stay away from Rugby Park until January. Ironic really, as after this match, manager Lee McCulloch was invited to stay away permanently.
A red flag was raised for me during the week leading up to the match, when McCulloch was quoted in the press as “not feeling pressure of the sack.” This was swiftly followed by another warning sign after the match, when McCulloch admitted he had “sympathy” for fans who booed the team off at half-time. McCulloch subsequently said he had been ”let down” by the application of the players against County. The whole scenario had an air of inevitability about it and it was like watching a car crashing in slow motion until the announcement finally came that Killie and their manager were parting ways. McCulloch was only appointed in June, after a spell as caretaker boss. In truth, he has to take responsibility for some questionable recruitment and a poor record during his time in charge.
It’s back to the drawing board for winless Killie, who remain bottom of the table. The board say they will “scour the globe” for their next manager; a candidate for whom previous ties with Killie and Rangers are an absolute must.
Motherwell 3-0 Partick Thistle
Stephen Robinson read the riot act to his players at half-time, such was his disapproval of how his Motherwell side were playing. Well were 1-0 up at the time and added another two second-half goals, so the Irishman’s words had the desired affect. Motherwell’s chances pre-season very much hinged on their ability to hold on to Louis Moult. They can now count on his services until at least January, and that will be crucial to their top-six ambitions come the split. Moult didn’t score on Saturday, but was still an influential figure for Motherwell. His very presence terrified a Thistle defence which is the joint second-worst in the league.
As well as keeping Moult at the club, Motherwell have recruited well, with Cedric Kipre the pick of the bunch. In addition to that, they have some very good up-and-coming youngsters like Chris Cadden, Craig Tanner and Allan Campbell. Club captain Carl McHugh is 24, and Moult and Ryan Bowman are just 25. I have to admit that I’ve been surprised by Well’s start to the season, but they’ve been excellent to watch at times so long may it continue.
The less said about Partick Thistle’s start to the season the better. The Jags, like Kilmarnock, remain winless at the bottom of the table. The reason Alan Archibald isn’t under more pressure is that he has credit in the bank after last season’s top-six finish. Thistle have also arguably had the worst run of fixtures out of anyone in the league. They’ve already faced all of the current top six sides.
The fixture list gets a lot kinder for them after the international break though, so they should begin to pick up points. However, their winless run stretches back to post-split last season, so confidence is becoming a factor. They were terrible defensively against Well, and will need to improve. Difficult fixtures will no longer be an acceptable excuse. They face Kilmarnock next.
Celtic survived a scare, coming from behind to draw with Hibs and extend their unbeaten run. It was as close as the Invincibles have come to relinquishing that tag since the last time Callum McGregor scored an equaliser in the 80th minute. That was against St.Johnstone; also at Parkhead, and also after a European tie. Hibs can justifiably approach their Betfred Cup semi-final against the Hoops with some confidence then, coming as it does, three days after the small matter of a Champions League tie away to Bayern Munich. Aberdeen moved level on points with the Champions and look set to push the Hoops all the way this term (maybe). Rangers move up to third, and Motherwell and Hibs are now safely ensconced in the top six. Dundee and Ross County are moving in the right direction, but Hamilton are on a poor run of form and are going backwards. Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock are propping up the table, each without a win so far.
SPFL Premiership Table
An eagerly awaited international break, said no-one, ever. Although this one just might be different – nah, who am I kidding? Glorious failure awaits Scotland just as surely as dogs bark at caravans. When the Premiership action resumes though, it kicks off a pivotal spell of the season. St.Johnstone face Rangers on Friday, 13th, oh for goodness sake, this stuff writes itself! Partick Thistle and Killie have their best chance of picking up a win as they face each other. In the coming weeks, we also have the Betfred Cup semi-finals to look forward to. Then there’s an Edinburgh derby on the horizon in the Premiership. Later in the month, Aberdeen host Celtic on the 25th as a light is truly shone on (my) claims that their challenge to Celtic is a serious one this term. I’ll be back next week with a report card so far. Until then, ‘mon the Scotland!