ANOTHER Premiership League campaign has come to an end, with just the small matter of the Premiership playoff to determine next seasons makeup. It’s been a testing season for all our clubs adapting to playing in front of no supporters, alternative dressing rooms and travelling on more than one team bus (in some cases by their own cars). Some have adapted better than others, but how have the top flight clubs performed compared to their pre-season expectation? Here’s my personal opinion from top to bottom.
1. Rangers – A. Their aim was to stop Celtic clinching ten in a row, and they done so in some style. From day one, they were relentless and ruthless as they blew the opposition away on their road to an invincible league season, drawing only six of their 38 games and conceding just 13 goals. Europe was also another positive as they came through three Europa League qualifiers en route to reaching the last 16 for a second consecutive season. The only negatives in Rangers season came in the Cup competitions, going at the Quarter Finals stages to St Mirren and St Johnstone respectively, which could’ve elevated them to an A+, but the main aim of that League title and the manner it was done makes this a season to remember for them.
2. Celtic – F. In most other nations, finishing second would achieve a higher grade, but not up here and with everything that’s gone on at Celtic Park. Everything that could’ve went wrong has went wrong, both on and off the park. From the moment Boli Bolingoli decided to breach all quarantine rules by flying to Spain on his day off, it has been a PR disaster for the club in a season that should’ve been historic, but instead has been littered in chaos that included the controversial and ill-timed Dubai trip and Neil Lennon’s sacking. To end up 25 points behind Rangers was embarrassing for them, and the domestic cups that they’ve held for four years saw them exit timidly at the last 16 stage to Ross County and Rangers timidly. Europe has also been pitiful with exitsto Ferencvaros at home in the Champions League and a dreadful Europa League campaign that saw them exit the competition with two group games to play. With no manager officially in place yet for next season, these are concerning times for Celtic.
3. Hibernian – B. Jack Ross can’t have too many complaints about his first full season at Easter Road. Eleven away League wins, bettered only by Rangers, played a big part in them comfortably securing third place and Europa League football, and also made it to Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final. The progress of young left back Josh Doig has been great to see and he’s held his own in the Hibs side, and the goals of Kevin Nisbet have played a huge part in their third place achievement. The main negatives towards Hibs this season are that they didn’t push Celtic hard enough for second when they were there for the taking, and the 3-0 Betfred Cup Semi Final loss to St Johnstone when the competition was theirs for the taking was a hard one for the Hibees to take. However, they have the chance to gain revenge over the Saints at Hampden and that could elevate their grading to a B+.
4. Aberdeen – D. It’s been a frustrating campaign for The Dons, after what looked like a promising start to the season when they won six out of seven matches following the opening day defeat to Rangers. However, the campaign gradually fizzled out and the goals really dried up, scoring just 36 times in 38 league matches compared to 40 in 30 last season, resulting in Derek McInnes’s sacking after 8 years at the helm. Former player Stephen Glass was brought into the hot seat in April but hasn’t had the desired effect so far, winning just two of his seven matches so far (Livingston in the Scottish Cup was only achieved on penalties) and oversaw a timid Scottish Cup Quarter Final defeat to Dundee United at home. Glass has a massive job to overhaul a squad past its peak and devoid of confidence, especially in front of goal, and time will tell if the rookie manager can prove that Dave Cormack was right to lure him back to Pittodrie from Atlanta B.
5. St Johnstone – B+. When Tommy Wright left Saints after seven years in charge, many worried for St Johnstone, some predicting their relegation from the top flight. Enter Callum Davidson, former Saints player, Assistant to Wright and who worked with Stoke and Millwall before coming back to McDiarmid Park as number one. After a difficult start, Davidson has worked wonders with the team, culminating in a first ever League Cup Final triumph over Livingston. They then managed to overhaul St Mirren in the final pre-split matches to get into the top six, finishing fifth and guaranteeing European Football – and it could get better as they reached the Scottish Cup Final as well! It’s an extraordinary story for the club that they could achieve a Cup Double, a feat only achieved by the Old Firm and Aberdeen. If that happens, not only do they get upgraded to an A- minimum, but Davidson would, arguably, go down in history as the clubs greatest ever manager after just one season!
6. Livingston – B-. Livingston’s season can be told in three crazy months from November to February. Gary Holt left with the club struggling, and most observers thought they would be embroiled in a relegation battle. Step forward David Martindale! An incredible 15 game run followed his appointment, beginning as Interim Head Coach before landing the role permanently, and the run catapulted them into the top six and reached the League Cup Final for only the second time in the clubs history. However, they lost to St Johnstone that ended that run before the same opposition done them again at Hampden in the Final. Their run towards the end of the season was concerning, picking up just one win in their last 12 games that saw them miss out on European football, again to St Johnstone. Given their budget, expectations and where they were before Martindale stepped in, they deserve a high mark for their efforts this season.
7. St Mirren – B-. Season 2020/21 is definitely a case of what could’ve been for St Mirren. Two Cup Semi Finals and missing out on the top six in the dying minutes of game 33 of the season, there is understandably a sense of disappointment within the Buddies camp that they didn’t achieve more from their season. After knocking both Aberdeen and Rangers foot the League Cup, losing to Livingston at Hampden with a poor performance was tough to take, then going down to a St Johnstone side who pipped them to the top six just rubbed salt into the wound. However, they shrugged off their reputation of perennial strugglers to get to finish seventh and it was the first time in 39 years they reached both Cup Semi Finals in the same season so there is a lot to be proud of as well. In Jim Goodwin, they have a progressive manager destined to go onto better things, and you wouldn’t rule against him taking St Mirren to a cup final next season if he’s still there.
8. Motherwell – D+. When you consider that Motherwellfinished third last season and the hope was they’d be fighting for the European places this campaign, you have to say it’s been a disappointing term this time around. For long spells of the season, Motherwell were embroiled in a relegation battle, which led to the resignation of Stephen Robinson mid-season, and were leaking too many soft goals. Graham Alexander came to Fir Park in January, steered the club comfortably away from the threat of relegation and was a penalty shootout away from a Scottish Cup Semi Final appearance. The Steelmen have a tendency to follow a good season with a bad season, so Alexander will be hoping that is flipped around for 2021/22.
9. Dundee United – C. First time back in the top flight for four years, the main objective for United was that they consolidated their position in the Premiership, and they done so with relative ease. Never in real danger of relegation, but also never looked likely to reach the top six either and found goals hard to come by, in fact they were the lowest scorers in the league with just 32. The Scottish Cup Quarter Final win at Aberdeen showed glimpses of what United are capable of on their day though they were ultimately disappointing at Hampden in the Semi Final. Overall, Mickey Mellon can be content with his first season at Tannadice and will be optimistic that his side will improve further over the course of the next twelve months.
10. Ross County – C-. Expected to struggle, you could argue it was objective met for Ross County as they survived relegation and the playoff on the final day of the season. Bottom at Christmas, ruthless chairman Roy McGregor acted by firing Stuart Kettlewell and brought in John Hughes. The move paid dividends, especially towards the end of the season as County picked up ten points from the final five matches, including winning all of their last three games, to keep themselves in the Premiership. They also ended Celtic’s 35 game winning streak in domestic cup competitions by dumping them out of the Betfred Cup, and also beat them in the League that proved pivotal in their survival. If they are to kick on next campaign, they will need to sort their leaky defence, and will hope Hughes can now stay onto oversee their progress.
11. Kilmarnock – E. Quite simply, it has been an appalling season for Kilmarnock. Despite a promising start, they hit a bad run and couldn’t get out of it, leading to Alex Dyer’s sacking in January. It took nearly three weeks for them to get Tommy Wright in as his replacement, and he himself needed to wait six games before recording their first win under his tenure. The short term signing of Kyle Lafferty has proven to be the difference between automatic relegation and the playoffs thanks to his eight goals in just nine league games. However, the goalkeeping position has been a constant problem with neither Danny Rodgers and Colin Doyle doing enough to solidify that spot. Two recent matches against St Mirren in the Scottish Cup and Premiership sum up the erratic nature of both keepers and the defence in front of them, and a big reason why Killie have to go through the torture of the Premiership playoffs against Dundee. Defeat will downgrade their season to a flat F, and end a 28 year stay in the top flight.
12. Hamilton Accies – F. This turned out to be the year that Hamilton’s luck ran out after an impressive seven years in the top flight, beating their previous post-war record by four years. Brian Rice did well to survive a dreadful Betfred Cup performance, which included defeats to fourth tier Annan Athletic and Stranraer, and an 8-0 drubbing by Rangers in November, and it looked as though they were turning a corner when they drew with Rangers and defeated Motherwell 4-1 in February. However, one win in the last eleven games was never going to be good enough for Accies and they now have to prepare for life in what will be a very difficult Championship to call.