By Oscar Aje
From the moment the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership campaign ended with a points-per-game (PPG) ranking system, the debate over the pros and cons of such a decision has raged with ferocity.As such, was it ultimately right or wrong to cancel the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season?
One city, two opinions
Most people outside of Glasgow would accept that Celtic’s title is warranted. They ultimately won out by a significant PPG margin (0.36), thanks much to a return of 20 wins from their final 22 league games played since the end of the October international break. The only blemishes were a home derby defeat to Rangers and a 2-2 draw at Livingston, while a significant 80% (sixteen) of their wins in that sequence came by a margin of two goals or greater.
As for Rangers, a victory in the final derby of the season, at Ibrox – which had been scheduled for 15 March – would most certainly have boosted Rangers’ chances of making a late title charge, and upsetting the exciting fixed odds that surround the Premiership.
With Rangers having seen that opportunity stripped away, the bad blood between the Glasgow giants will reach newfound levels of venom next season. Their home league form was also strong, with Rangers taking 31 points out of 33 prior to their shock reverse to Hamilton on 4 March.
The expected podium of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen was rendered impossible by the Premiership’s cessation. Beating Aberdeen to third place, by just 0.03 average PPG, Motherwell are clear beneficiaries of this unforeseen situation.
As the designated third-placed team, Motherwell will play in the next full Europa League campaign. The Lanarkshire club has never played in the group phase of the competition, last participating in its ‘proper’ stages in August 2012. Even that was a fleeting experience, with Motherwell losing 3-0 on aggregate to Levante in the playoff round.
At any rate, it will be a first European outing for ‘The Well’ since July 2014, and with second place firmly beyond their grasp, every Motherwell fan will be secretly grateful for the decision made. Notably, Motherwell were spared matches against Aberdeen and Rangers, as part of a difficult run-in that could have denied them this opportunity.
Hearts deserve only the deepest sympathy, even if their PPG of 0.77 was puny compared to that of 11th placed Hamilton Academical (0.90). Miracles do happen though, and at face value, it seems as though the decision to relegate Hearts is largely for the sake of variety.
Of course, that was certainly not the motive for relegating Hearts, with Dundee United (boasting a 0.44 difference over Inverness) being well worth their automatic promotion. Even so, the fact that the Scottish system has not yet done more to accommodate 13 top-flight teams in 2020/21 rankles greatly.
Right or wrong?
Those behind the decision to abandon 2019/20 made a huge statement that was never going to be without its critics. In the context of the top and bottom-end of the Scottish Premiership, there is much in the way of argument against it.
Yet, those with the power to abandon the season undoubtedly acted for the greater good. The safety of everyone connected with the Scottish top flight was rightly paramount, and ultimately, there never was a perfect solution.
Unprecedented times call for fan faith
Perhaps the only real controversy at the top of the table is the fact that the cessation automatically takes Celtic one step closer to Rangers’ all-time title tally.
Even so, many fans believe that this will come to pass within the next several years in any case. In turn, the issue of Hearts’ relegation – which was far from certain at the point of cessation – promises to dominate the agenda.
Should their relegation stand, Hearts would be amongst the default favourites to gain immediate promotion, as they did back in 2014/15 under Robbie Neilson. Yet, the spectre of relegation combined with a potentially costly legal battle may change that in due course.
In any case, the cost of Hearts’ mere involvement in an abandoned Premiership season is also yet to be fully accounted for. Thus, without doubt, Hearts will lose far more than second-tier winners Dundee United will gain from the current situation.
At present, drastically restructuring the leagues for 2020/21 appears to be the only solution that could pacify everyone.
Yet, with the Scottish leagues already looking forward to the 2020/21 season, time is running out to determine just how that may be done in practice.
Hence, fans across Scotland may well need to go against their principles, and put some rare trust in the powers that exist, if they are still hoping for a ‘perfect’ solution.