Did Celtic Just Get The Merest Hint Of Next Year’s Title Challenge?

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I am an open-minded person, and always happy to be proved wrong.

I’ve also been watching football long enough to believe in Gordon Strachan’s theory about closing gaps; you have to get yourself out of that place in your head that wishes you could just erase a big margin in a week. You have to do it slowly, carefully, one game at a time. Don’t set yourself big targets, or big goals, just focus on doing it little by little, point by point. Take care of your own business and be patient.

I’ve been hypercritical on here about Aberdeen, and in particular about Derek McInnes. But I’ve also long suspected that the challenge would come from the north of Scotland and last night the first proper vindication of that belief was seen in the match between Aberdeen and Motherwell. McInnes’ team is now in front of Sevco on points, and with a goal difference margin that is just about insurmountable considering the poverty of their squad.

What you have to remember here is that to properly mount a title challenge a team doesn’t have to be as good as Celtic or as filled with top players as our club is; it simply has to be better than the other SPL teams, and to be capable of winning consistently against them. This is where Sevco fans have long had high hopes; the atrocious signings mean they have a team that lags far behind the squads at Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and others.

Their club is in freefall. They can be dismissed from the equation whilst run by an egotist like King and trying to spend money they don’t have. A club that builds slowly, carefully, in a sustainable way, poses a bigger threat to us than theirs does.

The media never talks about this when they complain of Celtic being “so far ahead.”

Last time I looked you played teams in the top six four times apiece; beating them all doesn’t create a 24 point gap if one of them is capable of beating the rest. It creates a 12 point gap. The answer to the conundrum isn’t to hamper Celtic; one or more of them has to get better, and it’s really as simple as that. Give Sevco their due in one regard, they won’t settle for McInnes’ so-called victory of securing a meagre 70 odd points. Neither should the Dons.

Aberdeen, and the two Edinburgh clubs – albeit Hibs need to be back in the top flight first – are where the challenge will emerge. These clubs have good philosophies and strong directors. They have long term plans; Hearts are building a spanking new stand to take their ground up to a 20,000 plus capacity and Aberdeen plan on building a new stadium. Their directors say that these projects will definitely not interfere with development of the squad.

This is smart thinking, the kind we definitely need in Scottish football.

If these two clubs get it right and Hibs follow suit then we could be watching something very exciting happen. These clubs aren’t run by dafties; they know there’s a moment here, whilst Sevco lurches around like a drunk, to definitively erase any notion that we’re heading for a duopoly again.

Last night, Aberdeen were simply brilliant. Their players look confident again after their slippery period earlier in the season, and McInnes has dismissed stories of going to Sevco. He knows he’s at a stable, well run club. He knows that it’s a bigger job than managing the shambles at Ibrox. He has deficiencies in this own approach, and his teams are wildly inconsistent, but for this season that might not matter if Sevco continues to fragment.

If they can get a good run of form going, that changes everything for the league. If McInnes can get more from his players than he has up until now he can change the dynamic. A secure second spot this season allows him to focus on next, and a bigger target than 70 points.

They won’t catch us; for the foreseeable future no-one will. We could set a record points tally this season and I think we’ll do it. If we maintain anything like our own consistency next year it won’t matter what happens anywhere else, it’ll be more than enough to get us over the line.

But little by little, that gap will close, at least in terms of what we win the league by. If Aberdeen had won just three more games last year, including an extra one against us, they’d have taken the title race to the final day, because our own form was all over the place.

Last season they dropped points in 16 games out of 38 … if they can change that, get that win ratio up, and start turning in more performances like last night … the challenge we need will be there, three or four years down the road.

I look forward to it, and to watching it unfold.

Congrats to Derek McInnes and his side on taking second on points.

On Sunday, they play Kilmarnock in the early kick-off. Win that and the pressure, all of the pressure, is on Murty’s Sevco side later on in the day. I think if Aberdeen perform they’ll crack, and then that second spot starts to look a little more secure.

Aberdeen are our biggest challengers; time they started to act like it.

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