ANOTHER calendar year is almost at an end and it’s that time of year where people look back over the last twelve months – and Scottish Football is no different.
The year started with the threat of a title challenge from Aberdeen after they defeated Celtic to close the gap at the top of the table. Typically, that didn’t last with defeat to Motherwell on the same day that Celtic sealed a dramatic win at Kilmarnock effectively ending any lingering hopes the Dons had of catching the Hoops, who strolled to a 15 point winning margin.
That wasn’t enough to keep Ronny Deila at the helm at Parkhead. After defeats by Ross County and Rangers in both Cup Semi Finals, he announced his resignation at the end of the season after two years with two cantered titles upsided by two failures to reach the Champions League. More on Celtic to follow.
Ross County followed up their victory over Celtic by going onto lift the League Cup with victory over Hibs in the Final, their first major trophy. It summed up the transformation of the club under Jim McIntyre, who were bottom of the league just over a year earlier, and it completed the rise of the club, who’d only joined the Senior setup 21 years earlier.
It began a tricky period for Hibs, whose big mouthed manger Alan Stubbs claimed they would win a treble that season. They capitulated in the league to finish way behind Rangers in the race for automatic promotion and lost in true Hibs fashion in the playoff Semi Final to Falkirk, meaning Stubbs had once again failed in his primary objective in getting Hibs back into the top flight.
However, Stubbs did manage to end the longest running joke in Scottish Football history by guiding Hibs to lifting the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1902 with a 3-2 win over Rangers, meaning Hampden has now seen everything! A pulsating final, culminating in a last minute winner from skipper David Gray, was tarnished by a minority of morons who invaded the pitch to celebrate and, in some cases, cause trouble (including the alleged attack on some Rangers players), meaning the Hibs players were prevented from doing a lap of honour. The celebrations hadn’t long died down when Stubbs jumped at the first job on offer in England by joining Rotherham, a club who pride themselves in sacking managers, and he was out on his arse four months later.
Amidst the hysteria of the Scottish Cup Final fallout, Celtic were recruiting their new manager. Brendan Rodgers arrived to a heroes welcome at Celtic Park. It was a statement of intent from Celtic to not only continue their dominance of the League title, especially with Rangers coming back to the top flight, but to get back into the Champions League group stages. Hiring Rodgers, who was earmarked for a return to the so-called best league in the world, was a major coup for Celtic.
Things didn’t get off to a great start though, as the Champions crashed to a shock 1-0 defeat to Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar in the first leg of their opening Champions League qualifier. Luckily, Celtic turned it around with a convincing 3-0 home leg win and followed that up with a dramatic last minute winner against Kazakhstan side Astana in the next round, taking them into the playoff round against Israeli outfit Hapoel Beer Sheeva, the round where Deila failed miserably the previous two years. After a 5-2 win in the first leg at Parkhead, Celtic almost had another calamity as they went 2-0 down in Israel but done enough to secure Champions League football at Parkhead for the first time in two years.
Having got back to the right to dine at Europes top table, Rodgers must have wondered what he let himself in for as Barcelona smashed them 7-0 in the Nou Camp but there was a massive improvement in the 3-3 home draw with Manchester City. A 2-0 defeat to Borussia Moenchengladbach effectively ended Celtic’s hopes of European football after Christmas and they finished the campaign with three points, something seen as progressive given the quality of team in their group. If they get into the group stages again next season, they’ll be hoping the draw is a little kinder.
Elsewhere in Europe, Aberdeen again got through two rounds of European competition and again failed to reach the Europa League playoff round, this time succumbing to Maribor, conquerors of three Scottish sides previously, and this was a huge opportunity missed but a rare Adam Rooney penalty miss effectively ended the Dons hopes in Slovenia. Hibs were very unfortunate to go out to Brondby on penalties but Hearts were a disgrace, going out to the Maltese side Birkirkara with a humiliating 2-1 loss at Tynecastle.
Back to domestic football and 2016 saw the return of Rangers, which has seen the hypocrisy of rival fans come out in droves, particularly Celtic and Aberdeen. Referring Rangers as a new club and saying they’re looking forward to beating their rivals in the same sentence/paragraph doesn’t make sense, how can you have a rivalry with a four year old club? All they are doing is backing up Rangers fans view that other clubs are “obsessed” with them.
Things haven’t went anywhere near as sailing for Rangers as many at the club or the media believed. Their so-called marquee signing Joey Barton was a complete and utter disaster, he lasted eight games before a training ground bust up, and subsequent rant on Talksport, led to his contract being torn up. On the pitch, Rangers have not hit the ground running and sit a massive 16 points behind Celtic, yet are still in second place, which sums up the state of Scottish Football.
Celtic are looking unstoppable domestically under Brendan Rodgers. So far, only Inverness Caledonian Thistle have taken any points off them in an unbeaten League campaign, which has included a 5-1 stroll in the opening Old Firm derby of the season, and they lifted the Betfred League Cup with a convincing 3-0 win over Aberdeen, the Northern Irishman’s first major trophy as a manager.
On the international scene, it has been an appalling calendar year for Scotland. Once again, we were licking our wounds at home whilst a major tournament was on and matters were made worse by the fact we were the only home nation not at the expanded Euro 2016. Our World Cup Qualifying campaign began with a 5-1 win in Malta, helped big time by a diabolical refereeing decision to award Scotland a penalty, before a late James McArthur goal spared our blushes in the very poor 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania.
We were even more inept in Slovakia as tactical blunders of the highest magnitude, combined with dreadful defending, saw the Scots go down 3-0 to one of our main rivals for a playoff place. The year ended at Wembley, things were looking promising as we created chances that were squandered. However, once Adam Lallana made it 2-0 with 40 minutes to go, Scotland gave up completely and England cruised to a 3-0 win, giving us an uphill battle in our bid to end a two decade tournament exile.
So what can we expect from Scottish Football in 2017? How much further will Celtic pull away in the League? Who will win the Scottish Cup? Will it be Rangers, Aberdeen or Hearts who finish second? Who is going down? Will Dundee United and Hbs return to the top flight? How will Ian Cathro adapt to life as a manager?
What is certain is that there will be plenty of talking points, a lot of drama and more banter on the SFF Podcast over the next twelve months.