There's nothing more exciting in European football right now than the race for second place…
It’s come down the last day of the season, but on Sunday we’ll finally discover who are “the best of the rest” in the Scottish Premiership. Do we reckon it’s going to be Aberdeen or Rangers’ day?
Our team decided to talk it out and you can read our thoughts below. Do you strongly agree or disagree with our take? Then let us know what you make of the nominees in the comments below.
Stefan Bienkowski: I’m not sure it’ll be as straightforward as most seem to be predicting. I know Celtic have generally raised their game against Aberdeen over the past season or two but this game really is a dud for them. As we saw against Kilmarnock on Wednesday night they’ll most likely be resting players for the final and when they have nothing to play for Brendan Rodgers’ side really do enjoy downing tools. Moreover, if it means Aberdeen finish second above Rangers we won’t exactly be having the Celtic fans urging them on either.
James Cairney: I can’t see Celtic taking their foot off the gas. Fair enough, it’s not a particularly significant game but Rodgers will want to go into the cup final on the back of a win. We’ve not seen anything from Aberdeen in matches against Celtic to suggest they can beat them, so I think it’ll be a case of history repeating itself. Derek McInnes won’t make it easy for them and I expect a good showing from Aberdeen, but I think Celtic will see out the campaign with a win.
Niall Murray: It’s at the point where I’m not sure McInnes knows how to beat a Rodgers team. There have been times during the past two seasons when Aberdeen have been in excellent form heading into a game against Celtic but have barely landed a glove on the Hoops. McInnes needs to make sure his players go for it, if they sit back and allow Celtic space, weakened team or not, then they won’t get a result here. That said, they might not have to get a result anyway.
SB: Celtic haven’t lost a single home game in the Premiership this season but they have drawn a whopping seven of the 18. Call me cynical, but I could quite easily see Aberdeen sitting in for a draw and Celtic doing very little to stop them. Aberdeen’s record away from home this season isn’t exactly fantastic but they’ve been on an excellent run of form lately and earlier in the week we saw them match Rangers. They’ll certainly be doing their very best to take at least a point.
JC: I think that’s fair. Aberdeen’s best chance is to hope that Celtic have one eye on the Scottish Cup final the following week and play a little cautiously, which has happened on occasion this season to be fair. But these are the games where Celtic usually excel – I’d expect them to do the same on Sunday.
NM: I think a draw is the best result they can hope for. As I said, I just feel we’ve been here before and that on any other occasion we thought Aberdeen might get a result it never materialises. I understand the context of Celtic not having much to play for and having drawn a number of home games, but I just don’t see Aberdeen doing much against the Parkhead side. Although as pessimistic as I’ve been to answer the question directly, yes this might be their best chance to claim points off the champions this season.
SB: I would have said Hibs seem up for just about any game, but Wednesday’s defeat to Hearts really seems to have shaken them. Or at least it really seems to have shaken Neil Lennon. After the game he went on a proper rant, stating that he was exceptionally disappointed in the players and would be considering his position at the club. He also confirmed that Dylan McGeouch would be leaving this summer.
Sure, that could all just be emotions after a game that’ll be forgotten about come Sunday but it seems like the climax to Hibs’ season was in that game and since it didn’t go according to plan they’ve just completely lost all focus and momentum.
NM: His outburst was quite something, but he was also quick to say how great his players have been this season in the post-match TV interview. It’s undoubtedly frustrating for him and Hibs but I reckon once he sits back and realises what he’s achieved this season he’ll be pleased. He’s a winner and absolutely hates losing; he was just hurting last night. I hope for the sake of the Scottish game his comments were in the moment as his departure would definitely be felt by the league.
SB: Also, Rangers will be without Ross McCrorie, Alfredo Morelos and Graham Dorrans at the weekend. The latter won’t be much of a miss but the other two will. Especially for a team that really lacks key, distinguishable match winners at the moment. Jason Cummings, Greg Docherty & Co. will fill in but I think this will be a tight match. And one that I think Rangers will probably win out of no more than a stronger desire to prove themselves and secure second.
JC: I don’t think Hibs will be lacking in motivation come Sunday. Lennon relishes these games and a chance to hurt Rangers at Easter Road will be more than enough for the players to get up for it. Second place might not be possible, but it’s still been a fantastic season for Hibs and they’ll be determined to finish it on a high.
I think Hibs will win – I’d expect Lennon’s big-game experience will give Hibs the edge in what should be a tightly-contested game. I think the table will stay exactly as it is, with Aberdeen in second and Rangers in third. In which instance, McInnes would be right to say this has been his greatest achievement. He’s never really had to deal with one rival for second place, never mind two. Since McInnes took over at Aberdeen, second place in the Premiership has never been so difficult to attain.
NM: I think Hibs could play like they did against Hearts on Wednesday evening and still get a result against Rangers. Sure Rangers beat Hearts at Ibrox post-split and won against Kilmarnock at the weekend, but they’ve been extremely poor. With the likes of McCrorie and Morelos missing I see them really struggling. The last time they visited Easter Road they somehow managed to escape with a win after being completely dominated. These Hibs players will be looking to go out with a bang and for some, this is their final chance to put themselves in the shop window ahead of the summer break. I’d be very surprised if Rangers got a result.
SB: Before the Rangers game Derek McInnes said that finishing second in the Premiership would be an almighty achievement for his side or Hibs while stating that anything but second would be quite the embarrassment for Rangers. He was, of course, referring to the disparity in budgets between the three clubs and I think that’s a largely accurate claim. Rangers should be finishing second.
However, the silver lining at Ibrox at this moment in time is a simple look at the league table and the consideration that Rangers are indeed still in contention for second place despite the utter chaos that has unravelled this season. And that too is a pretty fair point. If Aberdeen and Hibs can’t finish above a completely abject Rangers then what will they do if the Ibrox side get their house in order?
NM: It goes without saying Rangers should be finishing second. However, given how poor they’ve been on the pitch and the carnage that has ensued off the pitch it’s a very good opportunity for Aberdeen to finish above them again. Lennon might not see fourth place as a huge success, but given they are a newly promoted team it is. This is perhaps mentioned every season, but with Steven Gerrard coming in and more money potentially being spent this might be the last opportunity for Aberdeen and Hibs to finish above the Ibrox club. Conversely, we might just see another implosion with Gerrard gone by Christmas and Jimmy Nicholl returning for a second spell as caretaker boss by the New Year.
SB: I think it basically comes down to perspective. Finishing second would have confirmed Lennon as my manager of the year and I also think McInnes defending the spot would be one of his best achievements since arriving at Pittodrie. But both will have to be a lot better if Rangers can get their act together next season.
JC: I guess it would feel a little anticlimactic for Aberdeen and Hibs fans but there’s no shame in finishing behind Rangers in the league, given the gulf in finances. It would be a little disappointing, sure, but it’s not the end of the world. If Celtic win the cup, Hibs will still qualify for the Europa League so it doesn’t really have much consequence. We all know that the three clubs are about as good as each other anyway – all that’s left to play for are bragging rights. Fans should take a pragmatic view. Aberdeen and Hibs have both progressed this season, regardless of the final standings.