Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson might have been right about the whole “a week is a long time in politics” thing, but he’d no idea, really. In Scottish football, every week is like a year. Time flies.
So much stuff happens that what occurred on a Monday feels like ancient history come Friday. Every story undulates. Every drama twists and turns. Every rumour lingers.
You start one column and, by the time you reach the third paragraph, statements have been issued, positions have shifted and the thing is already out of date. These are the joys of the game. So what’s been happening?
Since the last round of Premiership games, Celtic have dug themselves ever further into a hole and Rangers have soared ever higher into the clouds. The SPFL brought out the sledgehammer in order to get a meeting with the First Minister and proceeded to bop themselves on the head with it.
Gary Holt has gone as head coach of Livingston, Leeann Dempster is going as chief executive of Hibernian. Motherwell won two games and scored six goals without kicking a ball. Dundee United have nine players self-isolating. And that’s just for starters.
Some talking points for the weekend to come, then…
Even a cat has only nine lives
It’s hard to know what’s more uncomfortable these days – watching Celtic attempting to defend their own goal or listening to Neil Lennon trying to find positives in performances where there aren’t many, or any. The demise of the champions has been utterly dramatic and things are truly desperate now.
Even allowing for the loyalty of major shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell, it’s difficult to imagine Lennon surviving a defeat by St Johnstone on Sunday. With their unbelievable vulnerability, you wouldn’t bet on Celtic beating anybody nowadays. They’ve shipped 27 goals in 11 games. Expect scenes outside the stadium again.
Saints are on a lovely run and only two goals beyond the 90th-minute mark did for them the last time they played Celtic. They won’t see anything to fear in this team. Lennon is clinging on by his fingernails. On Sunday, his players had better get a grip.
Manager finding his feet
St Johnstone’s Callum Davidson had a strong claim on the manager of the month award for November, Rangers’ Steven Gerrard getting it instead. The Saints played seven times in November and were unbeaten – unless you’re counting the League Cup penalty shoot-out against Dundee United. That goes down as a draw in the record books.
Their unbeaten run stretches back a little further. Celtic were the last team to beat them in 90 minutes.
That was 11 games ago and Lennon’s team only just about managed it, scoring twice in stoppage time. Davidson had a hell of a job on his hands to replace Tommy Wright, but he’s warming to it nicely. Ali McCann has been terrific in midfield and the re-emergence of Stevie May as a goal-threat has been a major boost. Saints are on the march.
Tavernier the Unstoppable
James Tavernier scored his sixth goal in his last seven games on Thursday night, bringing the full-back’s grand total to 15 in 24 matches this season. Included in that weighty number are nine penalties, but there’s a reason why Rangers are getting so many decisions and it’s because they are a more relentless attacking force than before.
Tavernier didn’t score once in the final 30 games of last season. Now he can’t stop scoring.
There is something compelling about this Rangers team. Up until Thursday night against Standard Liege, they’d only been behind in two matches all season – they came back to draw them both. Liege led twice and still Rangers won. They have goals, they have guile and they have guts.
On Sunday, they play Ross County, who are feeling good about themselves after beating Celtic last weekend. They’ve also caused Rangers some issues in their last two meetings. Time was when you’d have looked at this one as a potential upset. No longer.
The game without managers
Livingston, one point off the bottom, host Dundee United in what will be a quirky one in West Lothian. Holt is no longer the Livi head coach and assistant David Martindale will act as interim boss. Covid-19 has taken United counterpart Micky Mellon, and nine United players, out of the equation, so Thomas Courts, their academy performance coach, takes charge in the emergency.
Martindale said the other day that Livi are in a good place. In the Scottish League Cup, yes. Not in the league, though. Their last Premiership win – against United, coincidentally – was in the first week of October.
They haven’t scored in their last three league games. Their big hope is that Alan Forrest carries his League Cup form – five goals in three matches – into the Premiership.
The Shankland question
The raw facts of United’s one-time goal scoring machine, Lawrence Shankland, are stark. He’s only scored twice this season, the last of them back in September. He hasn’t scored in six games for his club, by far his longest single spell without a goal in three years. Last time out, he was dropped to the bench.
United are in sixth, which is decent given their lack of creativity. Their last five league goals have all come from Nicky Clark, who’s doing the job that we all thought Shankland was going to do.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. There are a few strikers in need of a goal right now. Shankland is towards the top of the list.
St Mirren go for the Dons double
St Mirren, along with Kilmarnock, are up in arms about the SPFL verdicts against them. They admitted breaches of Covid protocols and had two 3-0 defeats awarded against them in the games that never were against Motherwell and Hamilton Academical.
They might argue that the Old Firm wouldn’t have had similar verdicts against them in the same circumstances. If they have a point, it’s the only one they’re getting out of the saga.
Having just knocked Aberdeen out of the League Cup, they play them again on Saturday. St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin might play on the ‘injustice’ of the SPFL verdict. Nothing like a bit of bitterness to spark some passion.