Earlier in the season we ran through a recently-published CIES report which carefully pointed out…
Today the SPFL released the full fixture list for the forthcoming season. Each division’s schedule was published and within seconds fans and the media were already climbing over one another to point out specific characteristics of their team’s run of games.
However, rather than get bogged down in the first Old Firm derby, the strategic importance of when Hibernian travel to Tynecastle or when Livingston and St Mirren first meet, we thought we’d narrow it all down to the first 10 games of the Scottish Premiership season. Essentially, which team has the toughest start to the new season?
The first 10 games may seem like an academic number to pull out of thin air, but it does offer a sizeable chunk of the coming league campaign. As we saw from last season, the league was already beginning to take shape and certain teams were already hugely affected by their run of form during this period of the season.
For example, in the opening 10 games of last season, Motherwell picked up 19 points and were sitting pretty in third place. Although they wouldn’t stay there, that run made up just under 40% of their total league points for the whole season. In other words, a strong start propelled Stephen Robinson’s side forward and played a huge part in where they would finish in May.
Similarly, Partick Thistle kicked off their game with a defeat to Hibernian, followed by defeats to Celtic, St Johnstone and Aberdeen. In fact, they didn’t win a match until the tenth matchday of the season and even by then grumbles were beginning to grow at Firhill. Alan Archibald would never say the first 10 games of their league campaign confined them to relegation, but it undoubtedly played a part.
Without getting too bogged down in the methodology, we simply rated each team in this Premiership campaign based on their supposed difficulty. That “difficulty” was determined by their league position last season, with St Mirren and Livingstone slotting into Partick Thistle and Ross County’s positions respectively. We then gave each team a rating from 1 to 12, with 12 being the most difficult to face.
Last season Premiership teams won on average 10% fewer points on the road than they did at home, so we wanted to include that in our sums. We did that by essentially adding an extra 10% on to the values of each opposition team when the team in question was playing them away from home. I.e if Hearts (with a rating of 7) are hosting a team at Tynecastle their rating goes up to 7.7 (a 10% increase).
When we tally up all the numbers and rank each side against one another we get a table like the one below. And as we can clearly see, newly-promoted Livingston are supposedly set to face the toughest run of fixtures when the league campaign kicks off.
When we look at Livingston’s fixture list this makes sense. The Lions are set to travel to both Celtic and Aberdeen away within the first 10 games – the toughest combination in the league – and also welcome Rangers at home on September 29. Unfortunately, Livingston are at a disadvantage here of also being the bottom-ranked side in our table and therefore don’t get to, well, play themselves either.
However, directly behind them are Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone side. The Perth club will be cursing the SPFL, after it revealed an opening day trip to Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock, then a home game against Hibernian. Before the opening 10 matches are finished they’ll also have to play Aberdeen, Rangers, Hearts and Celtic. Which, you may have noticed, is all six of last season’s top half.
Motherwell will also find themselves up against it. Robinson will be hopeful of once again hitting the ground running in the league next season, but away trips to Hibs, Aberdeen and Celtic will offer huge hurdles for the Steelmen to overcome, as well as a home tie against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers to boot.
It’s worth noting here that both Hamilton and Dundee have found some considerable fortune in the opening 10 games of fixtures. Hamilton’s 67.6 total corresponds to them playing five of the bottom six sides in the space of six games, while Dundee kick-off their first 10 games with five home matches and away trips to St Mirren, St Johnstone, Hamilton and Livingston. If these two teams can take advantage of their easier run of games then they may find themselves putting considerable distance between them and the aforementioned three at the top of our table before too long.
At the top of the Premiership table, we can note that Celtic and Rangers have identical starts in terms of difficulties – even though that includes an Old Firm clash at Celtic Park. Hearts, meanwhile, have a slightly easier start than the Dons or Hibernian with home ties against three of the bottom six as well as Aberdeen. Derek McInnes, who will begin the league season with a home tie against Rangers then travels to Celtic on matchday seven, won’t be nearly as pleased as his opposite number at Tynecastle.