A Christmas like no other has passed us by, and with it another array of entertaining fixtures in Scottish football. These games have seen the majority of SPFL Premiership sides reach or surpass the halfway point of the season, and so we can safely assume the current league standings give us a fair indication of each side’s domestic performance so far.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to rate and award a grade to each team based on their showings since Scottish football returned back in August. So who has impressed the most? Which team has room for improvement? Is a league position always a fair reflection of performances? Read on to find out.
The Dons currently sit in third place after 19 games, are two points clear of closest challengers Hibernian, and can move further clear if they win their game in hand. In terms of Aberdeen’s status in Scottish football, this is exactly where they want to be.
Having missed out on third place in their two previous seasons, Derek McInnes will be confident that his side can finally stop the rot and get back to where they belong. They have scored an impressive 27 goals and have the joint-third best defence in the league, which stands them in good stead going into the second half of the season.
A 3-0 league defeat to Motherwell and a disappointing League Cup exit at the hands of St Mirren will be among the major disappointments in what has been a solid effort so far from Aberdeen.
It’s certainly been an interesting campaign so far at Celtic Park. Pressure on boss Neil Lennon, protests against the owners and underperforming stars have all contributed to what has been widely perceived as a poor season.
At the end of the day, however, Celtic have still only lost a single league game (albeit an important one against Rangers) and only eleven points have been dropped. It’s not necessarily been dreadful; it has been Rangers’ stellar form that has made things look even worse than they are.
That doesn’t mean it’s been good for the Bhoys. They must win all three of their games in hand to get to within seven points of Rangers, and exited a cup competition for the first time in four years after being stunned by basement boys Ross County. Nine league titles and four trebles in a row have resulted in expectations rising exponentially, and Celtic haven’t matched them.
If you had told Micky Mellon his side would be sitting fifth after 20 games of their first season back in the top flight, he’d have probably called you a pipe dreamer. It’s been a positive return to the big time for United and they do indeed sit fifth, in a prime position to consolidate a top half finish.
Nicky Clark has been scoring aplenty, while Liam Smith has impressed at the back. Catching Hibs or Aberdeen looks to be too far-fetched an ambition this season, but building on their current form will be a necessity if their long-term aims are as high as that.
It’s been more of the same for Accies this season; they’ve ground out the odd result, lost the majority of their games and yet still find a team playing even worse than they are. If the goal is to try and survive via the relegation play-offs again, then Brian Rice is right on track.
It’s still been poor from Accies, though. Their 45 goals conceded is a league worst, and they do remain just one point above bottom place. Positives include Ross Callachan’s performances and the fact Ross County and St Johnstone are having equally poor seasons.
It’ll be a battle as always, but these Accies players frequently seem to find a way of getting over the finishing line.
Hibs are finally getting back to where they belong – the upper sections of the Premiership table. Embroiled in a battle for third place with Aberdeen, their hopes and aspirations will be high and there is no reason they can’t maintain this current form.
Kevin Nisbet’s ten goals this season have helped massively, but the fact they haven’t been entirely reliant on him makes this Hibs team even stronger; Christian Doidge and Martin Boyle both have five goals apiece as well. Jack Ross has complimented this attacking flair with a strong defence, and it’s therefore no surprise to see the Hibees sitting in fourth place.
With Celtic and Rangers both out of the League Cup, Hibs now find themselves the favourites for that competition as well. This could be a special season.
The post-Steve Clarke hangover has continued for Killie this season. It’s been a mixed bag of results, but they ultimately find themselves languishing in the bottom half of the table and a couple of poor games away from a relegation battle. Things will need to pick up as the season progresses.
Solace has been found in the strong performances of Gary Dicker and Alan Power, while Chris Burke’s goalscoring exploits offer hope of a revival.
Kilmarnock should be too strong to go down, but fans will certainly be hoping for more come the latter stages of the 2020/21 campaign.
Livingston were in big trouble just a few weeks ago, but it has been a remarkable turnaround since then. Ex-manager Gary Holt’s exit will have been sad for supporters, and yet recent results have provided the perfect remedy. Six straight wins (four in the league) have propelled them into the top half of the table and now they’re looking up rather than down.
Replacing Lyndon Dykes was always going to be tough, and it’s perhaps telling that Livingston’s top scorer is defender Jon Guthrie. However, new boss David Martindale looks to have found a winning system and fans will be hoping he can keep up the good work going into the new year.
Motherwell looked cosy until the end of last week, when their two automatic wins over St Mirren and Kilmarnock were temporarily subtracted. Suddenly, a top half position became a potential relegation dogfight.
Performances haven’t been bad, but they’ve not been great either. It’s been a common theme for Motherwell to dominate a game and fail to take their chances, with their lack of a regularly clinical striker shooting them in the foot. A last-16 exit in the League Cup added to their disappointment.
Like Kilmarnock, the Steelmen should be too strong to fall into deep trouble and will hope to push back towards the top half. However, they’ll need to sort out their issues at the top of the pitch if they want that outcome to become a reality.
Grade – C
What can you say about Rangers? It’s been an irresistible start to the season, with two draws the only black spots on an otherwise perfect unbeaten start to the season. 54 goals scored, just five conceded. 56 points from a possible 60. If Celtic can catch them from here, it’ll be a miracle.
The football has been free-flowing at times, the defence has been rock solid and Gerrard seems to have got his tactics spot on – a fact highlighted by their success in the Europa League as well.
The only issue has been their League Cup exit to St Mirren. The importance of this defeat cannot be overestimated; Rangers were finally given a free hit at a Celtic-less competition and they still couldn’t take advantage. That result stops them taking top marks so far this season.
It all started so well for Ross County with 1-0 wins over Motherwell and Hamilton back in August, but it’s been downhill ever since. Their last league win came on the 19th of September and the Dingwall side have slipped to the foot of the Premiership table. Things do not look good.
The appointment of John Hughes will bring hope, but County are winless and haven’t scored in their previous six games. What is there to build on if defending is poor and attacking lacks quality?
A League Cup semi-final place gives them a sole gold star, courtesy of their shock (and well-earned) win over Celtic away from home. Aside from that, lots of work is needed if they want to preserve their Premiership status.
It hasn’t been much better for St Johnstone. Used to battling it out for a top six spot at worst, they now find themselves well and truly caught up in a relegation battle. It’s no accident, either; the third worst goal difference in the league, coupled with just four wins from 20 games, shows they deserve no more than their current situation.
The Perth side haven’t won in the league since a 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock in early November, with their League Cup run has bringing the only real ounce of excitement to their season.
Callum Davidson will need Stevie May firing on all cylinders if his side are to try and propel themselves up the league standings.
Another side who, like Livingston, have enjoyed a recent revival are St Mirren – and theirs has been perhaps even more impressive. A solid start to the season was followed by six straight league defeats, and fans can be forgiven for believing they were in for another year in and around the foot of the table.
Their recent form has been nothing short of remarkable, however. St Mirren have lost only once in their last twelve games, and now find themselves just three points from the top six with two games in hand.
Of course, those two games in hand could still be stripped away if their original 3-0 automatic defeats for breaches of COVID-19 guidelines are upheld. That, however, takes nothing away from what is turning into their best Premiership season in a number of years.
Feature image Credit:SPFL