Foregone conclusions negated
10 May ~ Scotland's new league body still lacks a sponsor but the battle to play in its top division has become the SPFL's most marketable asset. Last Saturday, on the final day of the Championship, three clubs contested the sole automatic promotion spot – one scored ten goals in a final effort to go straight up. On the same day just two points and two goals separated five Premiership teams trying to avoid the new relegation play-off spot. St Mirren confirmed survival last weekend; Ross County secured Premiership status on Tuesday, Partick Thistle on Wednesday.
A week of "winner stays up" drama peaks this Saturday when Hibs host Kilmarnock in what both sides hope is their last game of the season.
A play-off between the second and top flights was introduced during last year's league reorganisation. Although still heavily weighted in favour of the second-bottom Premiership club – who meet the victors of play-offs between the second (Hamilton), third (Falkirk) and fourth (Queen of the South) Championship sides – it was regarded as a concession to popular demand. Why any fan of a top-flight club would welcome this kind of torture remains unclear.
Introducing this play-off was arguably a bargaining tool to keep the second-tier clubs onside with the new ruling body. It was perhaps to hasten the top-flight return of sponsor-friendly Rangers. But it's clear the media enjoy it most, especially as Hearts' administration and 15-point deduction made the automatic relegation issue as inevitable as Celtic's title win.
Rangers' top-flight absence created the "battle for second place" – also down to the wire, between Aberdeen and Motherwell – but that's a contest bound to emphasise the impossibility of finishing higher. Celtic and Rangers now play in separate divisions but both still cruise to the top. The Premiership's truest excitement is provided in the bottom half. This after the late-season split from the top half which is suddenly useful after a decade as the SPL's main "innovation".
When it comes to silverware, the cup competitions are providing the biggest departure from the old order. Both this season's major finals will be non-Old Firm affairs. Like the last three League Cups, the 2012 Scottish Cup and even the Ramsdens Cups contested with Rangers in the lower divisions, the country's two biggest playing budgets no longer monopolise the trophies.
The Championship concluded last weekend, Dundee finishing top with a nervy 2-1 victory over Dumbarton. Had Dundee conceded an equaliser, Hamilton Academicals could only snatch the title with an eight-goal victory over Morton. In a league where no one has scored more than five in a game all season, Accies won 10-2. Ex-Rangers midfielder turned Radio Scotland reporter Derek Ferguson announced he was setting down his mic to applaud Hamilton off the pitch. With half their divisions won by Christmas, perhaps the SPFL deserves similar plaudits for maintaining the domestic drama. Alex Anderson