With the Betfred Cup blimp that’s been filled to the brim with an impressive amount of bull excrement and flown over from Doncaster still motoring away in neutral territory somewhere between Hampden and Murrayfield, if you hold your nose and avert your eyes away from it for a second, even the most cynical fans in the country would have to admit that the occasional shit-filled blimp aside, the start of this SPFL Premiership season has been great value and hugely entertaining.
The domestic season begun as you would have expected, Paddy Power paid out on Celtic winning the league after game 1 on the 6th of August after a draw between Aberdeen and Rangers on opening day and a routine Celtic victory against new kids on the block Livingston.
No surprises there, gimmicks like this are common place and supporters of the other 11 clubs in the shadow of the media darlings have long since accepted their place in the food chain when it comes to Celtic’s alpha-male dominance. Well, except one club, but I’ll get to them in a second.
Those that didn’t give up watching after week 1 have been well rewarded.
Celtic’s wobbly legs have been as unexpected as they have been a blessing for the rest of the league. Moussa Dembélé leaving under a cloud on transfer deadline day didn’t help as there was minimal time to recruit a replacement, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say the double treble winners finances are astronomical compared to others in the league, so his exit alone shouldn’t really be to blame for Celtic dropping 8 points from their first 7 fixtures, should it? Also, the small matter of Craig Levein not investing in a lawnmower until his side’s second home game of the season only accounted for 3 of those 8 points dropped.
Rangers aside, no other team is yet to really lay a glove on Hearts – though it remains to be seen whether the Ibrox result is a mere blip or if this will cause lasting damage, either way, it’s admittedly still early days. On the face of it, some might say they’ve had it pretty easy so far, but that couldn’t be further from the truth and would be a disservice to the league’s most consistent team.
Here’s a few reasons why not; they’ve brought in 18 new players this term which would ordinarily take a team time to gel, they’ve been without their Captain and last year’s player of the season, Christophe Berra through injury since midway through the first half of game 2 of the league against Celtic, they fielded an ineligible player in the group stages of the Betfred Cup and were fined and deducted points.
If that weren’t enough, their manager had a heart scare and was hospitalised, missing several games.
Yet still, up until now no other team has been able to lay a glove on the league leaders, a huge compliment to their playing and coaching staff and it’s a breath of fresh air to Scottish football at the moment.
The litmus test for their credentials will be the next few weeks as they’ve got a gauntlet of ties against, Aberdeen, Hibs and Celtic, having just suffered a pretty disappointing reverse in Govan. If they come through the other tests largely unscathed, the whispers could be getting louder down Gorgie way.
Hibernian lost several key players this season, arguably the spine of their team: McGeouch, McGinn and Allan, yet they’re still flying high up in second place. If it wasn’t for Hearts emphatic start, Neil Lennon’s men would be on the lips of a lot more journalists and pundits, and rightly so.
It’s easy to forget that they gave it a good crack in Europe too, narrowly missing out on the group stages after safely navigating past 2 rounds. A few potholes aside, Hibs have quietly gone about their business this term and are certainly ones to watch.
Eyes south of the border were perhaps looking up from their money steroidal league for the first time in years with Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard moving to Rangers for his first taste of management.
On the face of it, many were quick to suggest that he could be the one to halt Celtic in their charge for a third treble, but that in many ways was a disservice to Aberdeen who had taken care of second place quite comfortably over the past few years and upon reflection, maybe that was a more realistic goal at the start of the rookie manager’s tenure.
Questionable away form in the league aside, Europe has been a happy hunting ground so far this year for Rangers, and qualification past into the group stages, a superb 2-2 draw away with Villarreal and an emphatic 3-1 win over Rapid Wien has shown that things are definitely looking up for this team.
With Rangers currently lying mid-table, it’s clear that there’s still work to be done domestically if Gerrard is going to make his first season in charge a memorable one in the league for the fans, but his teams European exploits are definitely a joy to watch for the blue(and apparently orange…) end of Glasgow.
Livingston’s resurgence after the failed Kenny Miller show is one of the highlights of the early stages of this campaign. Whilst new manager Gary Holt maintains his sides goal remains unchanged- to stay in the league- you wouldn’t bet against them to be in the mix up the top for a little while longer given their hard fought and thoroughly deserved wins over Hibs and Rangers and a commendable stalemate away to table toppers Hearts.
Whilst you would expect the likes of Celtic, Rangers and equally slow starters, Aberdeen to get the finger out sooner or later and join Hearts, Hibs and Kilmarnock in the top half, it would be a fantastic achievement if Livingston were to be in or about the top 6 next April.
Alongside key results, there’s been some WWE worthy story-lines in the league too, with Motherwell’s part footballer/part pantomime villain Peter Hartley scoring an injury time equaliser against Rangers, the weekly Sportscene trial by TV over some contentious red card decisions when no one’s really sure what constitutes a red card anymore, one of the presenters from said TV show openly admitting he didn’t like football, Dedryck Boyata taking the huff and not wanting to play for Celtic anymore and scoring their winner a week later against Hamilton and of course Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd continuing to rip the piss week in/week out of his fellow professionals, just because people still allow him near a computer and a microphone.
After all that in the space of two months, anyone that still has the tenacity to call the SPFL a joke league really ought to open their mind, get off their high horse and get on board.