While Brendan Rodgers’ unstoppable Celtic side may deprive us of a title battle for another year, the clubs below them have plenty to squabble over. The scrap between Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and possibly St Johnstone (if they can find some form) looks set to be an exciting one, but it is the compact cluster of clubs below them that is beginning to look increasingly fascinating.
Just two points separate Motherwell in sixth place from Partick Thistle at the bottom of the pile and it seems every team is taking their turn of being the focus for all the wrong reasons. It was only a few weeks ago that Dundee were seemingly on course to follow their city rivals down to the Championship after a run of six straight defeats but they have hit back with three wins out of four and have now moved themselves up to the lofty heights of seventh place.
Ross County were the next to take their turn at the foot of the table before a share of the points with Rangers and a win at McDiarmid Park eased their worries – for the time being at least. And Partick Thistle are the latest club to find themselves in the relegation spot after conceding two late goals against Rangers. The Jags have certainly not been the worst side in the league this season and they play a lot of good football but their habit of conceding late goals has cost them on a few occasions recently.
However, a win against Hamilton at the weekend could propel them into the top half – it’s that tight.
While the competitive, unpredictable nature of matches this season may be exciting for the neutrals, it must be torture for the managers. So tight are the margins that every point already looks crucial. Every late goal, every dodgy decision and every missed chance.
But despite what is at stake, one of the most refreshing aspects of football in Scotland at the moment is the opportunities that young managers are getting and the length of time they are afforded. The domestic game in our country may have a lot of similarities with the English model, but thankfully, the habit of hiring and firing bosses is not one of them.
The English lower leagues, which once represented a chance for young coaches to learn and develop, has become as much of a laughing stock as the Premier League when it comes to trigger-happy chairmen, with seven managers (Alan Stubbs included) being sacked in the Championship alone since August.
It is refreshing to see that in Scotland – for the moment anyway – coaches are given a chance to turn things around. Had Paul Hartley endured six straight defeats and slumped to the foot of the table in an English league, the pitchforks would have been out and Tim Sherwood or Neil Warnock would probably have been lined up. As it is, he has begun to turn things around and they could yet go on to finish in the top half.
Martin Canning has been harshly criticised at times but he is another who has been given an excellent run in his first managerial role and has done extremely well on a tight budget. Richie Foran is the latest young coach being given an opportunity this season and he was given the full backing when his Caley Thistle side had an uncertain start to the season.
All clubs from Motherwell downwards face a crucial Christmas period and the cliched ‘who would be a manager?’ question will get asked on many occasions, with the margins finer than ever. Even just taking this weekend, for example, had Thistle held on for a minute longer then Alan Archibald’s side would be sitting in ninth. And if Alex Schalk’s goal had not been incorrectly ruled out for offside, Jim McIntyre’s Ross County would be celebrating back-to-back wins and climbing into the top half.
Who would be a manager?
It is set to be an exciting month and the likes of Kilmarnock and Hamilton will surely face their turn of having questions asked of them quite soon. But with the title race seemingly a non-event, it is refreshing to see such competitive battles elsewhere. There will be a few nervous managers picking at their turkey and mint sauce this Christmas, but let’s hope that chief executives and boards continue to look sensibly at the compact nature of the table and don’t turn our league into the embarrassment that the English lower divisions have become.