After his side’s loss to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final earlier this year, Neil…
Although Rangers fans may still be licking their wounds after a dramatic 3-2 defeat to Celtic on Sunday, they and their coach, Graeme Murty, would do well to pick themselves back up and get back to the task at hand in the Scottish Premiership.
While the Ibrox side have been flying high and fantasising about dislodging their cross-city rivals from their seemingly unbreakable hold over the league title, other clubs in the division have also been racking up points and have kept up with Murty’s team. And the weekend’s defeat has only pulled them even closer to a potential second-place finish.
Although Rangers remain heavy favourites to claim the title of “best of the rest” in May, Aberdeen, Hibernian and possibly Kilmarnock will surely now fancy their chances of sneaking past the Ibrox side. Just 15 points separate the four teams and there’s a lot of football left to be played.
A quick look at the remaining fixtures for all four clubs before the league splits in half offers some interesting tests in the coming weeks of football. After defeat to Celtic, Rangers will have to be at their very best to take all three points off Kilmarnock on Saturday, while a trip to Motherwell won’t exactly be easy either.
Similarly, Aberdeen also have to go to Fir Park as well as Tynecastle to face Hearts. Although they should win at home against Dundee and St Johnstone, their current form doesn’t exactly ooze with confidence. And points could quite easily be dropped before they’re tasked with facing off against the rest of the top six.
This is perhaps where Hibs and Kilmarnock can make up ground. If Steve Clarke’s side can pinch a point off Rangers at Ibrox they could surely then wrap up the other three games with competent wins. Similarly, Hibs will be looking at their four remaining games and expecting to challenge for a win in each and every test.
Indeed, when we take a look at how each club is currently performing in the top division we can already draw some interesting conclusions about where each of these four teams may end up. By looking at each club’s form over the past 10 league games and breaking it down into average points won over the course of that stretch of games, we get a graph like the one below
Here we can see that Rangers come out on top – just – while Hibs and Clarke’s Kilmarnock have proved worthy contenders with PPG (points per game) ratios that are almost identical to Murty’s side.
Much has been made of Kilmarnock’s stellar rise up the league table but this shows just how well the Rugby Park side are playing. And if they can maintain such a record for their remaining games before the split and then after there’s no reason to believe they’d drop off and could even gain a position or two between now and May.
Contrastingly, this graph perfectly illustrates just how poor Aberdeen have been since the turn of the year. Defeats to Celtic, Hibs and Rangers, as well as a draw to Partick Thistle on Saturday, have seen Derek McInnes’ side not only lose ground on Rangers but could allow Hibs to leapfrog them into third place. Unless the Pittodrie side change something and drastically shake out of this current lull they may not only just lose out on second place but could find themselves finishing fourth or even fifth.
Things then get really interesting once we get to the split. Assuming that the four aforementioned sides and Hearts all stay within the top six between now and mid-April then we can throw around a few predictions as to how each side will cope with the more high-intensity matches.
Taking a look at each club’s record against the other five sides and taking the average amount of points won in those encounters, we get a graph like the one seen above. And as we can see, each club has had varying success which could come to dictate where they end up finishing in the league table.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the graph is just how poor Aberdeen have been this season when asked to match a team of similar strength or quality. McInnes’ side haven’t won a single point against Celtic or Rangers this season and only have a decent enough record against Kilmarnock. At this point in the campaign, it’s probably fair to say they’ll struggle to win games once the split gets underway. And despite wins over Rangers and Celtic, Kilmarnock shouldn’t be expected to claim too many scalps either.
Alternatively, this is where Neil Lennon’s team could really come into their own. Although Hibs have a relatively poor record against Aberdeen this season, they have bested both Hearts and Rangers on numerous occasions. And should fancy their chances of matching Kilmarnock, while throwing what they can at a Celtic team that haven’t looked entirely comfortable when asked to beat this rowdy gang from Leith.
Indeed, if Hibs can pick up maximum points in their remaining pre-split games and then head into the top-six showdown with the same determination and talent that has troubled each and every top-half club in the division this season then there’s a strong chance that they could catch Aberdeen and even Rangers.