It’s been another topsy-turvy year in Scottish football, with plenty of drama and action to talk about and be remembered. It’s the first year under the new SPFL banner and it definitely helped to bring in some new excitement at the bottom of the Premiership and the top of the Championship with new promotion and relegations places up for grabs. Although some of the winners and losers of the season were predictable, there were definitely some shockers in amongst them too. 2013-14 will be remembered as one of the most unpredictable and interesting Scottish seasons in a long time.
Both the Premiership and League One had perhaps the most uninspiring and uninteresting title races for years, with both Old Firm teams wrapping up their championships before mid-March and losing only one game between them. They are to be congratulated for being the best teams in their leagues, but it’s hard to give their players and management teams much praise for cantering to wins with budgets much higher than those of the other clubs around them.
If you look outside the Old Firm, though, Scottish football is thriving with exciting stories. Aberdeen, for so long the sleeping giants of the game here in Scotland, have returned to the top under Derek McInnes to be a strong challenger for the Europa League spots. Their league form this year was fantastic, finishing 3rd in the league for the first time since 2007, and their success in the League Cup brought silverware to the Granite City once again, ending one of the longest droughts in the club’s history. They also had a great run in the Scottish Cup, coming close to reaching the final of that competition as well only to be denied by St Johnstone, and more specifically their star striker Stevie May. Aberdeen also hold the distinction of being one of only two teams (the other being Morton) to beat Celtic domestically this season. The future looks bright for the Dons, with owner Stewart Milne pledging to help fund some big signings to help the side build up to their former glories once again. It’s unlikely that Aberdeen will be able to make any real challenge to the dominance of Celtic in the next few seasons, but along with Motherwell a real battle is developing for 2nd place.
Motherwell once again proved themselves as best of the rest, with Stuart McCall guiding them to their 3rd consecutive season with that distinction. Their achievements were perhaps overlooked with the Aberdeen story unfolding over the course of the season, but by no means were Motherwell any less impressive than before – racking up their most league wins since 1982 and their highest points total ever.
The bottom half of the Premiership could well have been dull and unimportant in any other season. Hearts’ relegation was almost confirmed last June as the team were lumped with a 15 point deduction for going into administration. With little money, and a transfer embargo to make matters worse, the Edinburgh side were left with no room to manoeuvre in the transfer market and had to play most of the season with a young and inexperienced line-up. To their credit, they have performed magnificently and matched the form of the other sides in the bottom six for most of the season, but they couldn’t manage to overcome their hurdle and will be in the Championship next season. With an exodus of top players from their squad, and a new manager in place, it may be difficult for them to gel in time to mount a serious challenge in what will be a tight league.
However, with the 11th placed team facing a relegation play-off with the SPFL’s new structure, the bottom half of the Premiership this season – particularly at the end of the campaign – was thrilling. As results conspired, had Hearts not had a points deduction every single bottom six club would have gone in to the last day of the season with the threat of relegation hanging over their heads. The other five teams were involved in the struggle all the way from February or so, being separated by as little as two points at times and with goal differences all hovering around the -19 point. The team destined for the play-offs changed hands multiple times through the bottom six race, with Killie, Hibs, Ross County and Partick all feeling the heat by finishing a matchday in 11th in the last few games. St Mirren, Ross County and Partick all secured their status in the top flight in the week before the end of the season so Hibs and Killie went into their clash at Easter Road on the final day knowing it was one of them that would be facing off against a Championship team in the play-offs. Killie won the game courtesy of Kris Boyd’s 23rd league goal of the season and Hibs went into the play-offs without a win in 13 games.