There was a time in Scottish football where two Glasgow teams dominated the country’s top league. The Old Firm, better known as Rangers and Celtic have for the last 30 years had a stranglehold on the title, with one of the two winning every championship since 1986. The last team outside of the Old Firm to win the title was Aberdeen who managed to do so thanks in part to the managerial skills of one Alex Ferguson. When Fergie left the Granite City in 1986 for Manchester United, Rangers and Celtic took back control and have since conquered Scottish football. However after Rangers found themselves spectacularly relegated to the country’s lowest league follow administration proceedings in 2011, it has been left to Celtic to maintain control of the league and continue the Old Firms dominance. Under previous coach Neil Lennon, Celtic blitzed the league with ease but since his departure in the summer and the subsequent hiring of the fairly unknown Ronny Deila, Celtic have stuttered and now find themselves sitting 6th in the league and in trouble of losing their grip on the league.
Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Hamilton was Celtic’ second defeat of the season but now means that Celtic have dropped ten points in their first eight games. Hardly a reason to panic since Celtic still have a game in hand but it may be an early indicator of a longer term problem. Last season Celtic romped to the title with a massive 25 point gap between themselves and Aberdeen in second place. On route to the title, Celtic lost only one game and drew four meaning that they dropped a total of eleven points all season, one more than they have dropped this season so far. Granted they lost some key figures during the summer but they should have enough in their squad to cope with this. Added into that, the Premiership was seen as a weaker league this year after the relegation of Edinburgh duo Hearts and Hibernian to the Championship. Understandably the media is focusing on the differences between Lennon and Delia, blaming the new coaches’ inexperience for the clubs poor results to date. But in fact what we may be witnessing is something more – a changing of the guard and a chance for someone else to claim the title. Celtic are no longer feared in the league with others like Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and Hamilton smelling blood in the water. Celtic remains strong but are vulnerable now and without Rangers in the league, the title could slip from their grasp.
The cavalry in the form of a revitalized Rangers was expected to arrive back in the Premiership next season after rising back up the leagues to the Championship but things in Scotland’s second tier are not going as smoothly as expected. Ally McCoist’s men have been anything but convincing this season and find themselves second in the league behind Hearts who have raced into a six point lead. Four wins out of four at the start of the season appeared to mask smaller problems that exist within the first team at Ibrox but the problems have since grow so it’s hardly surprising to see McCoist’s side starting to struggle. The lack of goals from returning strike duo Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller has been underplayed with others like Nicky Clark and David Templeton picking up the slack. Added into this defensive frailties both in goal and at centre back have caused more headaches for the now bewildered Rangers boss. McCoist himself is coming under fire from the fans for the first time in his reign, with many believing that the coach has overstretched himself and doubt his decision making abilities. McCoist’s failures to address goalkeeping issues in the summer have hurt him badly this season and he is paying for it now. Current number one Cammy Bell has never really impressed the Rangers fans, whilst his deputy Steve Simonsen looks well past his best. Hope was lifted in July with the arrival of Craig Gordon on trial with many seeing him as the long term answer but McCoist’s failure to secure the free agent on a contract due to unknown reasons has come back to haunt him. Since leaving Rangers, Gordon has since joined arch rivals Celtic and become a revelation for them, demonstrating the form he showed in the past that persuaded Sunderland to spend £9 million on him.
With Bell now out injured, Simonsen has been drafted in and has struggled to show why McCoist decided to retain him for this season. With off field troubles continuing to spiral out of control and on field performances stuttering to a stop, it may be a while before Rangers can climb that final rung of the ladder back up to the Premiership. By then however the Old Firm’s dominance may be well and truly over with a new king sitting on the throne. Only Celtic can stop that from happening this season but if they continue to play like they did against Hamilton, it may be a long and hard season for Deila and his team.