Friday, June 18, 2021
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Aberdeen look to break Old Firm stranglehold

Aberdeen FC badgeThose upstarts at Aberdeen FC clearly haven’t read the script. What other explanation can there possibly be, for the fact that the Pittodrie club have had the temerity to pose what is increasingly being described as a serious league title challenge to champions-elect Celtic?

 

 

 

Back in August, the feeling was that we’d all been in this movie before, the one where Celtic, with arch rivals Rangers continuing to lurch from one financial crisis to the next, would romp away with the SPL title. The only question worthy of serious consideration was how wide the points margin separating them from the rest would be when the curtain on the season falls in May.

 

The Championship, we assumed, would be the main talking point given the second tier contains the likes of Rangers, Hearts and Hibs. But Hearts’ domination of that particular race to date has seen attention return to the SPL, and mercifully that has proven more interesting than previously assumed.

 

Understandably, those closely associated with Aberdeen are playing down all talk of possibly dethroning the Scottish champions. Rumour has it that any player who indulges in title talk publicly will receive a club fine for his trouble - but there is little doubt that, at the very least, Ronnie Deila’s men are not having everything their own way thus far.

 

The Dons’ position at the summit of the league at the new year should not be under-estimated – you need, after all, to go back three decades to discover the last time a team other than either of Glasgow’s big two were leading the pack when the bells heralded a new year.

 

Whether Aberdeen’s challenge will be sustained until the end of the season remains to be seen, although it is worth considering the reasons behind the current unexpected outbreak of healthy competition.

Inevitably, much of the focus has centred on Celtic’s apparent fallibility during this campaign.

 

For all that there is little doubt that Ronnie Deila has the strongest squad of players to select from in the country, the tactical ability of the manager, in this his maiden season in charge, has been called into question on numerous occasions.

 

Allied to this have been some bewildering selection decisions, none more surprising than the regular omission of last season’s player of the year and top scorer Kris Commons from the starting eleven.

 

Despite the fact that Commons is currently involved in a bit of a stand-off with the club over his contractual negotiations, he remains the club’s most effective player in the eyes of many. And Celtic’s performances in his absence have suggested that they miss the forward’s creativity and goal-scoring prowess.

 

The absence of Rangers from the top flight has in turn led to a reduction in investment in the playing staff. The Board could reasonably claim- why invest heavily in a squad which should be more than capable of winning the league with the personnel currently at its disposal. And this, of course, is being lamented by many Celtic fans, a significant number of whom appear to be staying away from Celtic Park these days judging by the rows of empty seats on match days.

 

So, is that why we have a challenge? Have Celtic become complacent, assuming that until Rangers get their act together (don’t hold your breath on that front) the league title will be theirs without so much as a cursory challenge, thank you very much?

 

Such an attitude could be understandable, of course, especially when you consider the enormity of the gulf separating Celtic and the rest over the past couple of seasons, title canters won by 16 and 29 points respectively. And whatever the case about investment, the club do regularly remind us that the squad is undergoing a period of transition under a new management team.

 

However, even allowing for all that, Aberdeen’s resurgence has taken the game by surprise. Admittedly the club won the League Cup under relatively new boss Derek McInnes last season – their first silverware in twenty years – but in terms of the league, they finished a whopping 31 points behind Celtic, and precisely the same number the season before that.

 

Other clubs are taking the opportunity to stake a claim too – below Celtic no fewer than three teams are within four points of the champions. Thus lending weight to the argument that the current situation is at least as much to do with Celtic’s malaise as a resurgent Aberdeen.

 

Whatever the case, the fact remains that Aberdeen, currently on a record-equalling eight game winning run during which they haven’t conceded a solitary goal, (the like of which hasn’t been enjoyed in the north east since the Alex Ferguson days back in the 1980s) lead Celtic by four points, albeit the latter have two games in hand.

 

McInnes’ men are scheduled to visit Celtic Park on league business at the end of February, and if they remain at the top of the league at that point, things may become very interesting indeed.

 

 

At the very least, nobody could then dispute that their Premiership title challenge was and is a credible one. Astonishingly, without one half of the Old Firm, Scottish football might just have a title race on its hands this season after all.

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