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The stats suggest the Premiership title is up for grabs



For those of us bored to tears by Celtic's seven consecutive and pretty much unchallenged titles, and who grew up during the era of Rangers' nineties nine in a row, the current Scottish Premiership table makes for good reading.

League Table

Scottish Premiership

Team P GD Pts
1 Hearts 8 8 19
2 Hibernian 8 13 17
3 Celtic 8 9 16
4 Kilmarnock 8 6 16
5 Livingston 8 3 15
6 Rangers 8 10 14
7 Aberdeen 8 2 12
8 St Johnstone 8 -11 8
9 Hamilton 8 -10 6
10 Motherwell 8 -6 5
11 St Mirren 8 -13 4
12 Dundee 8 -11 3

Hearts lost at Ibrox last time out but they're still top, and with Hibernian just behind them. The SPFL are going to have a real headache after the split this season, as they work out when to schedule the Edinburgh derby title decider.

I jest, I jest. There are thirty league games left. That's plenty of time for a return to the status quo. It's just a blip.

Or is it?

Steve Clarke celebrated a year as Kilmarnock manager this week. Remembering they were bottom of the league when he took over in October 2017 - and had won their first league game of the season only two days before,  under caretaker management - I went and looked at his stats for those 12 months in charge.

Kilmarnock's league record under Steve Clarke:
Played 37
Drawn 9
Lost 8
Scored 55
Conceded 41
69 points

That is really rather outstanding https://t.co/9QEO6UrXGw
— Narey's Toepoker (@Nareystoepoker) October 14, 2018

You've got to say that's pretty impressive. For comparison, his three predecessors (Lee McCulloch, Lee Clark and Gary Locke) won 21 league games between them...out of 99. Clarke is the first Kilmarnock manager with a win percentage above 45% since Willie Waddell, who led them to their only title in 1964-65.

Then for interest, I thought I would compare Clarke's record between October 2017 and now with other clubs.

Points since Steve Clarke became Kilmarnock manager a year ago:

Celtic 75
Hibernian 71
Kilmarnock 69
Rangers 67
Aberdeen 62
Hearts 56

(NB note how well Hibs have done, too!)
— Narey's Toepoker (@Nareystoepoker) October 14, 2018

That's over a 37 game period, so not quite a full league season's worth. But that is quite a big sample size. And in that sample, Killie have more points than everyone except Celtic...and, er, Hibs.

Hibs? Yeah.

Because it turns out Hibs have been terrific too. For a whole year - in 2018 they have lost only three league games, away at Celtic, Hearts and Livingston. Despite losing John McGinn in August they've kept going and their 6-0 annihilation of Hamilton Accies was frighteningly good.

A league table for the whole of 2018 so far would look like this:

Hibernian 49
Kilmarnock 49 (played 1 game extra)
Celtic 47
Rangers 44
Aberdeen 42
Hearts 38

Heck, Hibs have scored fifty league goals than anyone else - only Rangers (fifty-two) have more - and have the joint best goal difference (with Celtic, +25).

That isn't a blip, not at all. That's sustained success.

And you know, it's actually Hearts who are top of the league.

Of course, as I stated earlier, there's plenty of time for things to reset to the default. Celtic have such an advantage both in quality and depth and over a whole season that tends to shine through. And in resource terms, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Kilmarnock aren't even fighting at the same weight as Rangers, let alone their neighbours.

But the conditions for a diddy team title challenge have not been this favourable for a long, long time. Both Celtic and Rangers have to battle on multiple fronts because of their Europa League progress. Aside from international weeks, neither have a free midweek until just before Christmas. With Rangers still a bit short on numbers and Brendan Rodgers seeming to lack trust in his backup players, there's a real chance of fatigue setting in.

And whilst their wage bills are dwarved by those at the other end of the M8, both Edinburgh clubs have put together teams that are far closer in quality to Celtic's for a long, long time. Sure, part of that is down to Celtic stagnating a bit, but most of it is due to the excellent work down by Hearts and Hibs.

So whilst it is understandable that Celtic are still massive odds-on favourites - 1/4 with most bookies - to win the title, since when has there even been a 20% chance that they wouldn't do so?

Miracles do happen. And, even better, perhaps a miracle is no longer needed for there to be a proper title battle in Scotland.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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