BY CHRIS MARSHALL
It’s just a few days after Sean Maloney put a full stop on the 2014/15 Scottish football season with an equaliser against Ireland that kept the Tartan Army’s dream of red wine and camembert very much alive. While my body has just about recovered from my jaunt to the Emerald Isle, my mind is still customising itself to the rigours of everyday life once again, so please bear with me as I give you a final blow by blow account of the Scottish Football Season that was.
Let’s start with the national team. The recently crowned Qatar Airways Cup champions have been reinvigorated under Gordon Strachan and despite a pretty dismal performance in the AVIVA Stadium (viewed from perhaps one of the worst away ends in modern football) the dream lives on that 18 years of big tournament absence is soon to come to an end. A trip to Tbilisi awaits our heroes in blue and with that comes a chance to exorcise some of the demons of 2007 when a team of Georgian teenagers beat Alex McLeish’s men 2-0 thus rendering an impressive double demolition of France redundant. This time though things will be different…we hope.
Domestically, things had a familiar look at the top where Celtic were crowned champions once again whilst the Ronny Roar was also in force at Hampden in March where Celtic won game 3 of their seemingly neverending series of games with Dundee United to win the League Cup. Whilst the Norwegian will be satisfied with his first season, it was the efforts of his contemporaries that won the largest praise.
Derek McInnes and Aberdeen finished runners up, although the February excitement of a potential title chase always seemed a little far-fetched, with some astute signings for the season ahead already made, the Dandies seem set for another season as Celtic’s closest challengers. As impressive a season as Aberdeen had, the real stars of the show were Inverness Caledonian Thistle, bringing both European football and the Scottish Cup to the Highlands for the very first time. John Hughes deserves enormous credit for carrying on the Invernesian tradition of turning non-league journeyman into a cohesive and attractive football playing unit. With Graeme Shinnie, Billy McKay and Marley Watkins already moving onto bigger and better things, next season’s bargain basement regeneration could be the most important yet. Is this Caley’s zenith or could they achieve even more?
At this stage honourable mention should also go to Tommy Wright who guided St. Johnstone to a fourth successive season of European football and Paul Hartley who guided newly promoted Dundee to a top 6 finish. Across the City of Discovery, Dundee United showed plenty of promise but the sales of Stewart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic weeks before a national cup final seemed to kill any momentum. Things at Tannadice continued to nose dive when it was revealed that manager Jackie McNamara made a profit on weakening his team whilst chairman Stephen Thompson seems obsessed with purchasing A-League side Newcastle Jets, to the detriment, many fans feel, of the Arabs’ own ambitions.
Speaking of people called Steven Thompson (albeit with a different spelling) who will forget that time the former Scotland international speared, that’s right I said speared, his St. Mirren teammate John McGinn during training. An act nearly as comical as the Buddies season in its entirety that started with the appointment of Tommy Craig as manager and ended with relegation, a brief highlight only being brought by Stephen Mallan’s Maradona-esque goal of the season against Dundee. They have since brought in Ian Murray from Dumbarton and in the hands of one of Scottish football’s brightest managerial prospects, things are looking up. Motherwell flirted with the automatic relegation places for most of the season but their ability to be almost as good as they were awful saw them safely through the relegation play-offs against Rangers (more on them later).
For Ross County it was a case of the great escape, with a remarkable run of form seeing them safe with plenty to spare and for Kilmarnock it was nearly a case of the great collapse as an awful run of form seemed to have them destined for the play-offs before a completely out of character 4-1 away win at Partick Thistle secured their safety. The Jags were safe even earlier than expected as they continued to be the punter’s nightmare such was their inconsistency, whilst a final nod has to be given to Hamilton Accies. Promoted via the playoffs, they were everyone’s favourite for the drop but guided by the excellent Alex Neil they were top come the festive period. With Neil’s departure, things tailed off dramatically but recovered enough to finish unofficial champions of the bottom 6. With Neil now excelling down south (much to the joy of most Scottish football fans) it will be interesting to see how the Accies and in particular new boss Martin Canning acquit themselves next season, perhaps once again shorn of some of their young stars.
Making their way up to next season’s Premiership will be Hearts who did the job that Rangers were supposed to do by romping to the Championship title, in fact their victory was so dominating that it made the top of the division positively mundane. In fact, the Ibrox side couldn’t even muster second with Hearts city rivals Hibernian taking the runners up crown. The Proclaimers favourite sons though failed in their ultimate goal of promotion. Next season will be important not only for the Hibees but also for manager Alan Stubbs who was given the gift of time such had been the list of catastrophes that went before him.
And then there’s Rangers, I could give you a fairly long winded dissertation on the tragic comedy that has been their season, but instead, I thought I’d list just five of the key points that accentuate this past season’s ridiculousness.
They hired Bilel Mohsni as a football player. Part man, part drunken gazelle with the footballing intelligence of a blueberry muffin. His woeful attempt at kung fu towards the end of the season was a testament to just how awful a football player he was.
They also signed Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd, who along with Jon Daly, meant the cumulative age of their strike force was 217 all with the turning circle of a cruise liner and the searing pace of 3 snails on tranquilizers.
They still haven’t won the Petrofac Training Cup, spectacularly blowing a two goal lead against part timers Alloa Athletic.
The highlight of the season at Ibrox was a boisterous rendition of the The Beatles classic Twist & Shout by Motherwell fans after their side had cantered to a 3-1 victory in the first leg of the promotion playoffs.
Yes, it was indeed an awful season but with a new board and new management in place confidence is high that finally the Petrofac Training Cup could be heading down Govan way.
Elsewhere in the division, Queen of the South finished best of the rest and have since seen their squad decimated whilst Falkirk, who just missed out on the playoffs, can take some comfort from a Scottish Cup Final appearance, a game they very much could have won. Dumbarton and Raith Rovers stayed safe whilst Livingston, despite points deductions and embargoes, not only managed to lift the much vaunted Petrofac Training Cup (remember, you always have to give it its full name) but also avoided the drop on the final day of the season demoting Cowdenbeath in the process, whilst the aforementioned Alloa triumphed over Scottish football’s own dad’s army Forfar Athletic in the promotion/relegation playoffs to retain their place in the division.
Forfar, along with Stranraer, were pipped to the title by Morton in the most competitive league in the country, and the team from Greenock will be no doubt salivating at the prospect of 4 derbies with old foes St Mirren next season. Along with Ayr, Peterhead, Airdrieonians, Brechin City and Dunfermline Athletic, those who fell just short can keep Ochilview in their satnavs as Stenhousemuir beat Queen’s Park in the playoff finals whilst adding sunny Coatbridge, home of League Two champions Albion Rovers, to their favourites list.
In the bottom tier, Montrose had the dubious honour of being the first senior Scottish club to participate in the Pyramid Play-offs. After Highland League champions Brora Rangers (who didn’t even want to get promoted) beat their Lowland League counterparts Edinburgh City over two legs, they faced the ‘worst’ team in Scotland and promptly lost meaning the SPFL remains a closed shop for now.
In the juniors it was business as usual in the West as Auchinleck Talbot won the Superleague as well as adding yet another Scottish Cup to their haul with a 2-1 victory over Musselburgh Athletic at the ‘Theatre of Pies’ Rugby Park. Kelty Hearts caused a bit of a surprise by winning the East Superleague beating the likes of Linlithgow Rose and Bo’ness United whilst in the North, Hermes flew away (terrible Greek mythology pun) with the title with all three forming part of the junior representation in next season’s Scottish Cup.
It was also business as usual in the women’s game with Glasgow City winning their 8th consecutive SWFPL title. On the continent, they went where no Scottish team had been in over 20 years by making it to the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition the Champions League before finding PSG a team too far. For Scotland’s Women it was another case of so near but yet so far as a solid qualifying campaign for the Women’s World Cup in Canada was ended by the Netherlands and with that their hopes of carpet burns and finding endless rubber pellets in orifices they didn’t even know they had were put to bed for another year.
On a personal level I reached the landmark 100th pie, (check out Meat Filled Pastries if you haven’t already). I made it onto the telly, took part in judging for the World Scotch Pie Championships and made a few appearances on the radio for good measure as well. I’ve had a few freebies and now I’ve resolved to turn my first ton of pie into a fully-fledged novel, but we’ll see how that goes.
Well that was the season that was, and thanks to UEFA co-efficients it all starts again in four weeks time, so I’ll see you then.