Celtic v Hearts & Dundee United v Rangers, SPL, May 24, 2009
It may be the same two clubs as always slugging it out for the SPL title on Sunday, but no one can deny Celtic and Rangers don’t know how to make the Scottish title race dramatic.
This is the fourth time in seven years that the race for first place has gone to the final day of the season, with previous campaigns in 2003, 2005 and 2008 offering up drama and tension right up until the final whistle of the season.
The final day denouement of the season even has a nickname, “Helicopter Sunday,” describing how the SPL have to charter a helicopter to ferry the trophy to the correct destination come full time on Sunday afternoon. The pilot for the helicopter, John McKenzie, has already been profiled in the Scottish papers and last year Setanta tried to secure a camera on the chopper to record events.
Rangers have taken the spoils dramatically on the first two occasions and the blue half of Glasgow are sitting in the ascendancy as we approach the final furlong. Walter Smith’s side lead by two points, although Celtic have a superior goal difference, but there have been so many twists and turns in recent weeks that predicting a winner is no easy task.
Last season, Rangers were foiled on the last day as their quest for a quadruple was hit by exhaustion. As a result, they will now be eager to prevent Celtic from securing their fourth consecutive title. But a visit to fourth-placed Dundee United is undoubtedly a challenge for Rangers.
Tannadice has not been a happy hunting ground for Rangers in recent times. Their last win at Dundee United came in April 2006 (Rangers a 1/2 to win this weekend, the draw is 11/4 and the home win is 5/1) and they have failed to gain all three points in their last five visits.
On a more positive note, the league’s top goal scorer Kris Boyd hasn’t scored in his last three matches and is due at least one more goal this campaign, and the experience of their midfield schemer Pedro Mendes is bound to play a part. Barry Ferguson also made his comeback from injury in the 2-1 win over Aberdeen last week and who would bet against the former Scotland International capping a nightmare few months with a crucial goal in what will likely be his last game for the club.
Celtic blew their chance to reclaim top spot last week with a 0-0 draw at Hibernian and, although they are at home to third-placed Hearts on the last day of the season, the match will unlikely be a stroll in the park. The last two games between these two sides have ended in draws and Gordon Strachan’s side may have already psychologically lost the title.
Hearts are also eager for some payback after Celtic nicked the title from under their noses in 1986 on another example of final day drama in Scotland. Under Strachan, Celtic have developed a team good enough to beat the lesser teams in the division and Georgios Samaras, Scott McDonald, and Scott Brown are usually too good for visiting teams to Parkhead. (Celtic are 2/9 for the home win, the draw is 9/2 and the Hibs win is 9/1)
This particular gambler is going for Rangers to win the SPL by grabbing the win they need. Walter Smith’s side deserve some luck after last season’s heartbreak and will prevent a fourth successive title for their rivals in green. Celtic will rue the draw last week and leaving Aiden McGeady on the bench for the recent Old Firm game may well have cost them the title.
Fulls odds for the Celtic-Hearts match can be seen here.
Fulls odds for the Dundee United-Rangers match can be seen here.