The Scottish game from the Borders to the Highlands & Islands and beyond
It’s all going really well for Hearts now. After taking Celtic’s scalp earlier in the season, they’ve only gone and done the same to Rangers to elevate their chances of challenging for the SPL title. What could possibly go wrong?
The fans must be dreading when their absentee owner, Vladimir Romanov, will remind everybody he’s still around as the Edinburgh club start to look like title contenders. After all it wouldn’t be the first time the eccentric Lithuanian will make a sudden reappearance to dampen the mood.
For the Hearts’ supporter’s sakes, he’d better not at a time when they took a massive leap to coming between the Old Firm duopoly this season as they moved to within two points of second placed Rangers by beating Walter Smith’s men 1-0.
After years of no stability and in influx of often poor players loaned in from Romanov’s other football interest, FBK Kaunas in Lithuania, it looks as though he’s finally left things to get on, with Jim Jefferies enjoying his second spell as Jambos boss.
He’s been back a year and already the former Kilmarnock and Bradford boss has restored the Scottish backbone that the club badly missed. So when Ryan Stevenson poked home Hearts’ winner 13 minutes from time, it affirmed Hearts’ intentions and now having gone 11 league games unbeaten, the Old Firm are looking over their shoulders.
As for Rangers, who dominated much of this game, it would be too easy to pin their profligacy on the absence of Kenny Miller, who left for Turkish champs Bursaspor during the week, but Walter Smith’s side need a goalscorer to step up to the plate and quickly.
As Hearts storm up the SPL table, it appears Hibernian are falling down the league almost as quickly. An eighth game without a win for the Easter Road men as Motherwell cruised to a 2-0 win at Fir Park, saw Colin Calderwood’s men plunge to second bottom and now the knives are out, somewhat unfairly it must be said, for the manager.
The former Nottingham Forest boss hasn’t had the best of starts since taking over from John Hughes in October, as two wins in 15 matches will back-up, but losing to Motherwell, courtesy of goals from Jamie Murphy and Steven Saunders, following on from the Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Second Division Ayr United in midweek means the knives are out.
In Glasgow, Aberdeen were back on the very ground where their worst ever defeat was inflicted just over two months ago. Demons had to be exorcised and if you compare the Dons’ 9-0 defeat to Celtic at Celtic Park to the slender 1-0 loss on Saturday then you can make the assumption Craig Brown as manager is improving things.
Anthony Stokes’ solitary first half strike gave Neil Lennon’s side the advantage as Rangers slipped up in Edinburgh, while Aberdeen fans were just glad not to be witnessing another massacre. What Mark McGhee’s side didn’t do in that horrible November day, Craig Brown’s men did on Saturday.
It ended the Dons’ brief revival when they won three out of four since Brown’s appointment, but they’ll get the chance to get back to winning ways at Inverness this midweek. Celtic though have the chance to stop the Hearts juggernaut as it heads to Parkhead.
Kilmarnock are still feeding the fish over at Rugby Park and despite Conor Sammon’s 14th league goal of the season, they’ll feel disappointed as Dundee United nicked a point courtesy of Garry Kenneth’s wonder strike in the last minute. Yes, you read that correctly!
It’s hard to know if he was as surprised that his well-struck 35-yard effort went in as I am even writing the sentence, but United need to start turning the draws into wins. Saturday’s was their seventh in eight games, counting the two Scottish Cup stalemates with Ross County, but they have games in hand so there’s no panic yet.
Hamilton Accies need goals though, and fast, if they want to stop what could be a slow road back to Division One. Mickael Antoine-Curier scored from the spot just before half time to cancel out Dani Sanchez’s opener for Inverness, but it was only their third goal in ten SPL matches. Now the man that calls himself 'Rockstar', for some reason, will need to get his team-mates in tune.
And the less said about St Johnstone’s 0-0 draw with St Mirren the better, by all accounts.
Hearts’ surge has obviously caught the eye of some and there is genuine hope that there could be a challenge to the Old Firm. Cynics are quick to point out that like many before them, they’ll peter out. Celtic, who host them on Tuesday, could be the team to do it.
Stuart McCall is also impressing those in the media, but not for the steady job he’s done in his short spell at Motherwell so far. The fact that the Yorkshire born Scotsman can be seen cutting about in sub-zero temperatures wearing shorts has raised eyebrows. Now that’s proper hard!
And finally, Sol Campbell, if the papers are to be believed, has now decided he wants a move to Celtic now after snubbing them for Newcastle in the summer. Surely the last thing Celtic need is an ex-Arsenal veteran receiving a high wage for a short term contract. Oh, wait! Never mind...
WEEK 23 RESULTS Sat 22 Jan Hearts 1-0 Rangers, Celtic 1-0 Aberdeen, Inverness CT 1-1 Hamilton, Kilmarnock 1-1 Dundee United, Motherwell 2-0 Hibernian, St Johnstone 0-0 St Mirren.
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