Comfortable at the top?

I’ve noticed over the last week several comments about Celtic winning the league comfortably. To be honest, I was somewhat baffled by this general view.

We all know how the Scottish game is viewed by outsiders. I’ll put those football ‘experts’ to one side for now and talk to those who actually watch Scottish football.

This season has been anything but a foregone conclusion. Credit must go to the teams who have been a thorn in the side of Celtic.

Aberdeen have put in another fine season and although the gap has widened since the turn of the year, are still a mathematical threat to Celtic’s title chances. However likely or unlikely that threat is, this season is not finished.

Despite failing to take any points off Celtic on any of their three meetings this season, Aberdeen have mounted a challenge. Had Derek McInnes overcome Ronny Deila in any of the three previous fixtures, that gap would be much smaller.

In behind the Don’s are Inverness Caledonian Thistle. John Hughes has had a great season and despite ousting Celtic from the Scottish Cup in controversial circumstances, it has been a decent innings for the Highlanders.

So much so, they overtook Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United. With some of the best talent produced in recent years, there is no doubt they were weakened by Celtic when the double swoop for Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong happened.

That is football though and there is only one club in Scotland who can afford to buy the best players from other Scottish clubs. If Celtic don’t buy these guys then they leave the country and quite possibly journey into obscurity.

How many players have gone south and disappeared into the lower leagues just for a better pay day? I’d much rather they were improving the game in Scotland but then I suppose that makes me a hypocrite because I left Scotland for the south for a change in life as well!

Having said that, Dundee United, ike most Scottish clubs need that money. They don’t have the fan base or infrastructure that Celtic do and as Ronny Deila said yesterday, this money is beneficial to Scottish clubs because it won’t come from any other avenue in the game right now.

Producing young talent is the best hope for Scotland’s clubs. Retaining it is the hardest part, though I digress!

To suggest that Celtic have or will win the league comfortably is doing a disservice to the clubs who have all taken points of Celtic this season. Hamilton Acccies put in a good start to the season, sitting at the summit for a number of weeks if memory serves correctly.

They are one of only six clubs in the Scottish Premiership that have taken points off Celtic this season. Dundee, Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell and St Johnstone make up the rest that pack.

Can you imagine if Aberdeen had managed to do the same? It might be a lot closer by now and to be fair they are already 6 points better off now than they were at the end of last season.

And that is the difference when you are aiming for glory. More often than not, you must be able to beat your biggest opponent to get in front of them.

That formula doesn’t always apply of course, particularly if you only play each other twice a season. In Scotland, losing all four matches against one opponent is technically a 12 point gap.

For that reason alone, I have always argued that playing each other twice in a larger league would raise competition in Scotland and improve the game as a whole. Unfortunately, the stewards of our game pander to a different audience as well as their own needs and in doing so drive our game into the ground.

Having said that, I am pleased with the challenge put in by some of the club’s this season in Scotland. There is still a need for investment though if anyone wishes to tackle Celtic season on season.

I’m hoping that with Hearts back in the top flight next season, they’ll make as good an effort in the Premiership as they did in the Championship.  Sure, it was a walk in the park for them, but they did so after learning a serious financial lesson and going about rectifying that with a positive approach.

So with four games left, 12 points up for grabs and an 8 point gap have Celtic ‘won’ this league as comfortably as the media have suggested? I don’t think so.

Celtic won last seasons league by a wapping 29 points to second placed Motherwell. Aberdeen came in third, 31 points behind Celtic – what a contrast for each of those clubs this season.

To win the league comfortably you have to be out in front with the kind of form that demonstrates you are in no danger of losing the title. Well I’m sorry but that was last season and I don’t think I’ve carried anywhere near a similar feeling in this campaign.

For starters Ronny Deila has battled hard to get his players up to the standards he believes in and by doing so lost some of our more fickle supporters. It took a while for Celtic to get to the top of the league due to some inconsistency and players fulfilling a different potential not to mention other teams starting the season well.

Eventually Celtic turned a corner in terms of team play and results, but there have been blips and poor performances since then. Right now, some players are beginning to look tired as well.

There is no guarantee Celtic won’t slip up in any of these last four matches and put their fourth-title-in-a-row chances in jeopardy. The question is, will Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen players stumble or will they aim to close that gap further?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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