Scottish Premiership Clubs Positives & Negatives So Far
We're now at the halfway stage of the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership season with most teams playing at least 19 of their 38 league games. The midway point usually gives a good idea of where teams are likely going to be placed but for most of the sides, this is still up in the air. Only 10 points separate 5th from 12th, showing that there are a lot of teams who could easily wind up securing a top 6 finish or could end up being dragged into a relegation battle. At the top, there's a tight battle between Hibs and Aberdeen for third place whilst Rangers lead over Celtic in the title race has been well documented already.
There's a lot to play for in the second half of a very important season in Scottish football but before we get to that, it is the perfect time for a bit of reflection, both positive and negative. Finding the positives for some comes quite easy whilst others lean heavily toward the negative side and a select few will have a bit of both already this season. With this in mind, here is a positive and a negative from each Scottish Premiership side so far this season.
Positive: Maintaining Solidity
Based on not the most attractive transfer window from the Dons and how their current squad looked to be lining up, many were tipping this to be the year where the Dons started to drop off a bit. Throw in the sale of Scott McKenna and a very dismal opening day of the season showing against Rangers and things were looking a little bleak in the Granite City. However, Aberdeen have managed to maintain a good level of consistency that sees them currently sit in 3rd place, two points ahead of nearest rivals Hibs with another two games in hand over the Leith side. Aberdeen have only lost 3 of their 19 games this season with two of those being at the hands of league leaders Rangers as Derek McInnes' side have largely avoided major slip-ups so far this season. McInnes has managed to keep Aberdeen being a team that his hard to beat which has been the main difference as to why Aberdeen haven't been caught up with the teams from 5th onwards.
Negative: No Real Progression
Although it is a good thing that Aberdeen haven't suffered a real drop off from previous seasons, it is worrying for fans that the club doesn't seem to be moving forward. A rigid style of play that has relied on individual brilliance has led fans to become further frustrated with Derek McInnes as manager. Aberdeen already look like a much weaker side when they are without Lewis Ferguson or Ross McCrorie as fans will be concerned about the effect that one or two missing players have on their team. Aberdeen fans aren't particularly enjoying watching their side just now and would have hoped to be in a better place by now under the current regime. Perhaps McInnes has taken this side as far as he can and faces a thankless task nowadays but Aberdeen need to show a bit more in order to change the morale of some of their punters.
Negative: The 17th of October to the 6th of December
Heading into the Old Firm game on the 17th of October, spirits were fairly good at Celtic. The Hoops had brushed off their Champions League exit with fine league form where they had only dropped points in 1 league game out of 9. A convincing defeat at the hands of their rivals seemed to have a massive effect on Neil Lennon's side as Celtic went through a massive slump, one that could cost them a 10th title in a row. Celtic would only win 2 games out of 12 in all competitions with embarrassing performances against Sparta Prague seeing Celtic lose consecutive games 4-1 against the Czech outfit. The form would transfer domestically, with Ross County knocking Celtic out of the Betfred Cup whilst Aberdeen, Hibernian and St Johnstone all took points off Celtic leaving them further behind Rangers in the title race. This sort of form is unacceptable for Celtic and Neil Lennon is a very lucky man to still be in the job. Lennon and the Celtic board have constantly come out and said that they can turn things around, although it looks like they will need some sort of miracle to repair the damage that has been done.
Positive: The Quadruple Treble/Emerging New Stars
Despite the shaky season so far, Celtic's victory over Hearts on penalties won them the 2019/20 Scottish Cup and gave the Hoops their 12th trophy in 4 seasons. The performance in the final itself wasn't so positive but you can't deny how big an achievement this is as it is something that we probably won't ever see again in our lifetimes. This glory hasn't been celebrated in usual circumstances due to there being no fans and of course, the unhappiness from the Celtic support in recent months. With this, many Celtic fans will feel the main positive for their club so far is the emergence of David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro, two players who have helped change the Hoops fortunes in recent weeks. This Celtic side needed freshening up and Neil Lennon was guilty of being too loyal to his under-performing stars, prompting fans to question why creative new signing David Turnbull was unable to break into the team. Since the 10th of December, Turnbull has started 6 games and has registered 4 goals and 2 assists, having an immediate impact on the team. Meanwhile, Soro has added an energy that was missing in the middle of the park from Celtic as the pair will make team selections a lot tougher for Neil Lennon.
Positive: Benjamin Siegrist
At the time of writing, Dundee United sit in 5th place, a very comfy position for a newly-promoted side. A huge amount of credit must go to goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist as the Swiss keeper's form has earned the Arabs a lot of points already this season. Without a keeper of Siegrist's quality, United would be further down the table as the keeper leads the league in saves made. Performances against Aberdeen (H), St Johnstone (H) and Hibs (A) have been very important in keeping United in the game and earning them points that have kept them clear of the relegation zone so far this season. If United are to stay in the top half for the rest of the season, they'll need their star player so far this season to keep on producing great performances.
Negative: Attacking Output Not Up To Scratch
Dundee United fans will be frustrated so far this season, even despite being in 5th place. United haven't been great going forward and will know that they could be a lot better off had they created more chances in front of goal. Due to this, we haven't seen the best of Lawrence Shankland, with it now being a strong possibility that the forward may lose his position in the Scotland squad. There have been some improvements in recent weeks from United but they need to start doing more going forward as there will be games - like the 4-0 loss at Kilmarnock - where they get punished heavily for their misfirings.
Negative: Small Squad Stretched To The Limit
We all know what to expect from Hamilton and due to their budget, they should be the weakest team in the league. Due to this, it is to no shock that Accies are bottom of the league but Brian Rice has had severe bad luck with his side this season. It'll be rare to find a matchweek where Accies have been able to field a fully fit team, with lengthy injuries, suspensions and COVID ravaging their team on a number of occasions already this season. It's already a very tough task for the league's bottom side but they have not had any help this season in terms of lucky breaks within their squad. Accies sit at the bottom by 1 point and will be disappointed to not have had a full-strength squad during this period as they could have notched a couple of more points to steer them away from the relegation zone.
Positive: Survival Instincts Still Intact
Despite their struggles so far, there have already been instances where it has looked like a gap was going to be created between Hamilton and a number of other teams but Accies have pulled off an incredible result. Away wins against Motherwell and Livingston earlier in the season were massive results whilst the recent victory on the road against Ross County could be massive come to the end of the season. Accies have a great knack of pulling out shock results that help keep their spot in the top flight and so far this season, we've seen instances where it could very much happen again. Hamilton currently sit bottom but as the season gets closer to culminating, no team will be 100% sure of taking all three points off the specialist survivors.
Positive: Kevin Nisbet
Before the start of the season, if you were prompted the question of who will be the league's top striker, many wouldn't have placed Hibs' new signing Kevin Nisbet at the top. But at this moment, no striker in the league has more goal contributions than the former Dunfermline forward's 12, with only Rangers Kemar Roofe matching the 23-year-old. Nisbet has had a great first half of the season and must be in Steve Clarke's plans for the upcoming Scotland squads due to his output. Nisbet is a fantastic finisher who can make the difference to earn the Hibees crucial points to move them up the table. If Nisbet continues like this, Hibs will struggle to hold onto him, with Sheffield United already rumoured to be considering making a move for the Leith sides striker. Hibs are in a great position to either not sell or make a massive profit, although if they choose the latter they may struggle to replace their prized asset. Nonetheless, Nisbet's season has been a great highlight so far and hopefully, he can keep it up as the European Championships approach.
Negative: Home Form
Hibs have improved from last season by moving up into the top 6 and seemingly cementing a top 4 finish for themselves already. However, despite this Hibs fans will feel a little disappointed in stages this season as they have dropped a lot of points that would see them sitting in third place, with their home form the main culprit. Hibs have only won 3 of their 10 home games so far this season, drawing 5 and losing 2. Among these results are two 2-2 draws against the Old Firm which will be seen as positives - although mistakes cost them dearly against Celtic - but the games against some of the lesser sides have been poor from Jack Ross' side so far. This isn't a new problem for Hibs as for the last time Hibs won two home games in a row, you have to go back to the start of the 2018/19 season, where Hibs under Neil Lennon beat Kilmarnock and Hamilton. When looking at that stat, it becomes much more understanding as to why Hibs fans may be aggrieved and is something that Jack Ross needs to fix if they are to push for a third-place finish.
Kilmarnock have really struggled to maintain consistency so far this season, with their 8th place positioning fitting for a side who are so hot and cold. With 6 wins, 12 losses and 2 draws, Kilmarnock have went through this season having spells both good and bad. Killie's 2-0 victory against Motherwell last weekend was the Ayrshire side's first win in 5 games in which they had not scored a single goal. Consistency going forward has been a massive issue for Killie as they have only scored in 11 of the 20 league games so far, a problem that has plagued a lot of teams this season already. With a lack of goals and far too many losses, the pressure is on Alex Dyer to turn things around as they could get dragged closer to the bottom than the top 6 if they continue this way. A good run of home fixtures against St Mirren and Hamilton gives Killie a good chance to get some wins under their belt and boost the team's confidence. After those two games, though, they travel to Hibs and Livingston before hosting Celtic, a run that could easily see them develop another losing streak.
Positive: Chris Burke
Easily the top performer for Killie this season, the 37-year-old Chris Burke has turned back the years with impressive showings down the flanks for Killie this season. With 6 goals and 2 assists, Burke has by far been the main creative spark for Kilmarnock so far this season, although his output has diminished in recent weeks. Burke has been the main spark and will need more from their most prolific star if Kilmarnock are to get their season back on track. Burke's quality from set pieces and out wide has the possibility to trouble any team and could be a pivotal role in Alex Dyer's fortunes picking up.
Negative: The End of Gary Holt's Tenure
Livingston definitely surprised many people last season by deservedly finishing in the top 6, a massive achievement from the West Lothian club. The question was posed though whether Livi could maintain that high level of performance and early into the season, the answer appeared to be no. 1 win from the first 8 league games saw the Lions lose grip of their immense home form where they rarely lost or gave up many goals. Within Livi's first 4 home games, they had already lost the same amount of games that they did the season prior, the tally this season now stands at 5. This poor form saw Livi become very unlike themselves, they weren't nearly as tenacious and it prompted Gary Holt to resign from his role as manager. Holt felt he had taken the club as far as he could and the performances were showing that. A dismal display against St Mirren would be the final act as manager for Holt in what was a sad way for a club legend to leave the club.
Positive: Martindale's Magic
The old saying goes, "when one door closes, another door opens" and with Gary Holt leaving, it allowed David Martindale to show his capabilities. Martindale has been an influential part of the Livingston coaching staff for many years now and took over initially as interim manager with a Betfred Cup game against Ayr United. Whatever Martindale did in his few days as leading man must have worked as Livingston came out fully energised and raced to a 4-0 lead before half-time. Successive league wins over Dundee United and St Johnstone soon followed before Martindale guided Livingston through to the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup, with a date at Hampden awaiting the Lions this month. Martindale was made permanent manager and made it 3 away wins on the trot with wins against Hamilton and Kilmarnock, meaning Livi had won the same amount of away games under their new manager than they have in the previous two seasons. When Holt left, there were worries of Livi being cemented to a relegation battle but now under Martindale, it seems like a different story. It's amazing what a couple of wins can do but the Lions look a lot like their old selves again and currently sit in 6th place. David Martindale should be Manager of the Month for December due to how he's turned Livi's season around so quickly and as a Livi fan, long may it continue!
Negative: The Whole Campaign Really
In the Livingston section, we talked about how a manger had taken a club as far as they could and the same issue has happened in Lanarkshire with Motherwell and Stephen Robinson. Motherwell finished 3rd, a massive achievement for the club as they earned a Europa League qualification spot. However, 2020 was a terrible year for Motherwell as the Fir Park side only won 6 of their 28 league games in the calendar year, the same as 11th and 12th place Ross County and Hamilton Academical. Motherwell's poor form sees them sit in 10th place and only 2 points ahead of the aforementioned Hamilton in what is a very worrying position for the Steelmen. Hearts proved last year that ruts like this can be disastrous, even if you have a very solid squad on paper. With Stephen Robinson resigning, Motherwell need a manager to come in and give them a bounce quickly as they could very easily stay in the relegation battle for the rest of the season. The awarded 3-0 wins due to forfeit put Motherwell in a false position and now they've been removed, the picture is clearer on what has been an unacceptable season so far at Fir Park.
Positive: Have Shown Briefly That They Still Have Quality
There aren't many highlights to Motherwell's season so far but to say there have been none would be harsh. There have been a few occasions where Motherwell have shown that they have quality and have punished teams in convincing fashion. From the 4 victories the Well have had this season, 3 of them have been with impressive performances to go alongside them. Away to Aberdeen, Motherwell punished mistakes and killed the game off in 23 mins, winning 3-0. Motherwell were also completely dominant away to Livingston - winning 2-0 - and the 4-0 home win over Ross County was a great, clinical display. These games have shown that Motherwell are capable of a lot more and that their squad has the talent in it to move them up the table. On paper, they should be able to turn this around but need more performances like in this 3 games to get them out of this mess.
Positive: Nearly Everything
Rangers have played 32 games in all competitions, with a breakdown of 1 loss, 4 draws and a massive 27 wins so far this season. 86 goals have been scored with only 15 conceded in what has been an electric campaign for Steven Gerrard's side as they have been ruthless, intelligent and just fantastic overall. There appears to be no real weak link in the Rangers side as their top players are all performing, most notably James Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Steven Davis. There's been little room for error this season as the Ibrox side currently sit 16 points clear at the top of the league - although Celtic have 3 games in hand. If Rangers can continue this form, they'll win the league at a canter, although it may be tough to keep up this truly ridiculous form throughout the rest of the season. Nonetheless, Rangers have been absolutely sublime so far and deserve all the credit they're reciveving right now.
Negative: Failing To Capitalise On Potential Glory
The last few years, Rangers have got close to glory but have not pulled through when it mattered. Last season's League Cup Final was agonising for Rangers as they couldn't quite get over the final hurdle and they also crashed out of the Scottish Cup at the hands of struggling Hearts. This season's Betfred Cup offered Rangers a massive chance to get their hands on their first major trophy since 2011 as Celtic were shockingly dumped out of the cup by Ross County. Frustratingly for Rangers fans, the Gers would be eliminated in the next round against St Mirren, squandering a great chance to end their trophyless duct. This raises questions over whether Rangers have cleared that hurdle of winning when it matters as we've seen yet again that they haven't coped when it has been needed most. How Rangers cope with the rest of the pressure that will come in this title race is yet to be seen but that one loss against St Mirren does provide something to be concerned about.
Negative: Not Enough Goals
Ross County have only scored 12 goals so far this season, the lowest in the league so far. With Ross Stewart and Billy McKay playing up front for the most of this season, you'd expect the output to be a lot higher as they are good strikers but it has not been clicking this season. Stewart and McKay only have 3 goals between them with McKay's single effort the only one from the duo in open play. The Staggies have failed to score in 11 of their 21 goals this season as they have been very blunt in front of goal which has seen them float near the bottom. Little improvement to their defensive numbers has shown that the highland club haven't been able to make up for their lack of goals elsewhere, leaving John Hughes a big task on his hands to try and turn around.
Positive: Oli Shaw Returning
He's not played a lot of football so far this season due to injury but whenever Oli Shaw plays, he looks threatening. Shaw broke into the County team earlier this season and scored in 5 out of 6 appearances, putting him in the starting XI due to other players misfiring. This form was brought to an abrupt end due to Shaw picking up an injury that left him on the sidelines for 4 games. Shaw had to get up to speed again once he returned from injury but is back on the scoresheet yet again, scoring the second in the 2-0 win over his old club Hibs. If Ross County stay up, Shaw will have played a big part in them doing so with his goals and workrate if he can manage to maintain fitness.
St Johnstone have had a very similar season to Kilmarnock. Both sides have had spells where they've been decent enough but also gone on lengthy winless streaks that sees them sit one place behind Killie in 9th place. Callum Davidson's side got off to a decent start before losing 6 of the next 7 games and only scoring a single goal in that run of games. Pressure built on Davidson who then took the Saints on an 11 game streak without losing that included a draw away to Celtic. Since then, it's back to poor form as St Johnstone haven't won a league game since early November. Callum Davidson needs to sort out this issue as like Kilmarnock, they are very hot and cold which could lead to a very uncomfortable second half of the season.
Positive: A Semi-Final To Look Forward To
The league form hasn't been the greatest but St Johnstone have a great chance to pick up some silverware this season as they progressed to the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup. The Saints are currently the lowest positioned team in the competition but will fancy their chances against Hibs, Livingston or St Mirren on a one off game. This cup competition could bring a massive boost to the Saints squad as they are only two games from glory that could provide some much needed confidence to kickstart the Perth side's season.
Positive: New Signings Make Big Improvements
When chief executive Tony Fitzpatrick said that he thought St Mirren could finish in the top 6, a lot of people laughed and said the claim was ridiculous. With the Buddies playing 18 games so far this season, they are in 7th place and only three points behind 6th, meaning Fitzpatrick's claim could very well come true. St Mirren have been solid this season as Jim Goodwin's new signing's have done an excellent job in making the Paisley side even harder to beat. Jak Alnwick and Richard Tait are contenders for signings of the season and even for the Team of the Year whilst Joe Shaughnessey and Marcus Fraser have been good additions to the Saints backline. Jake Doyle-Hayes has made an instant impact as St Mirren strive to make their side a bit more balanced, offering a good outlet to link midfield and attack together. It all looks good for St Mirren right now and they'll enter the New Year with an abundance of confidence.
Negative: Their Time With Goodwin May End Up Being Limited Now
It was really hard to pinpoint a negative for St Mirren as they have exceeded expectations and improved massively in the last year. Jim Goodwin has done a magnificent job at assembling a team on a budget and making them very difficult to play against. Due to this, there will no doubt be interest in the St Mirren manager as the great job he is doing will catch the eyes of many suitors as sackings become more frequent at this time of the year. Whether a team can tempt him away from the Paisley club will have to be seen but when you're one of the brightest emerging young managers, you can be sure there will be sides chancing their luck to take Goodwin away. In an inadvertent way, Goodwin's brilliance so far could wind up being a negative, just simply because it could take him away from the Paisley club.