Football Features

Gerrard’s stylishly relentless Rangers promise a proper Scottish Premiership title fight in 2019/20

By James Richards

Published: 11:15, 20 November 2019

The Scottish Premiership is offering viewers an enthralling watch this season following several years where Celtic’s dominance has gone unchallenged in any meaningful way.

Steven Gerrard, in his first managerial role, has put together a superb side at Rangers and is currently enjoying a run of eight games without defeat and just one loss in 12 so far this season.

All this means that there is a real title race on the cards for the first time in some years. Celtic have had it all their own way since Rangers were demoted in 2012 and have now won eight titles in a row. Only Aberdeen have even come close to threatening that record.

So, with the season heading into deep winter, we take a look at the three winners of the Scottish Premiership campaign so far, and three losers.

Winner: James Forrest

In fairness, there are several Celtic players who have impressed this season, but James Forrest has caught the eye for his consistency.

The last two campaigns have seen him net 17 goals in all competitions on both occasions and he already has 11 in 25 games in 2019-20, five of which have come in his 12 league appearances.

His goal in the Stadio Olympico will be hard to forget after the Bhoys qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League by beating Lazio in both Rome and Glasgow. In the league, all of his goals have come in victories as they look to maintain their slender lead at the top of the division (currently ahead by a single goal).

It is not only his goals that have made him an indispensable member of Neil Lennon’s side this campaign, but also his creativity.

Forrest currently has eight assists in the Scottish Premiership, more than any other player in the division, taking his goal contribution in the league to 13 already. With the title race looking like it could go down to the wire, his efforts will go a long way to deciding whether Celtic make it nine-in-a-row.

Winner: Sam Cosgrove

Aberdeen might have picked up the bargain of the century when they paid a reported £40,000 to bring Sam Cosgrove to the club from Carlisle in January 2018.

Last season, his first full campaign at Pittodrie, he scored 21 times in 44 appearances in all competitions, 17 of which came in the league. This season the 22-year-old has continued his impressive form and is currently the clubs leading scorer with seven strikes in 12 league games and 16 in all comps.

He still has plenty of time to get better given his age and is on course for his most prolific campaign to date. Keep an eye on this young man as he certainly appears to have a bright future ahead of him.

Loser: The City of Edinburgh

While Celtic and Rangers are flying high at the top of the table, Hearts and Hibs are wading through the murky waters near the bottom. Neither side has looked like they are capable of climbing a molehill let alone the table.

Currently, they sit just one and two points above the bottom two and appear to have taken a step back from the disappointing campaigns they both suffered last season.

Hibernian have just appointed Jack Ross, a man who divided opinion during his time at Sunderland but who was unanimously praised for the work he did at St Mirren. While with the Buddies, Ross won the Scottish Championship and Hibs fans will be hoping the ‘negative’ football that saw him take Sunderland to a play-off final will be a lot brighter.

Hearts have won just twice all season, leading to the dismissal of Craig Levein back in October, and look as though they could really struggle to steer clear of relegation. This is not a good time to be a football fan in Edinburgh

Winner: Steven Gerrard

The Liverpool legend was considered a risk when Rangers appointed him as their manager. It was his first stint in the dugout and, while he came off the back of an excellent playing career, history has proven that this does not always translate into management.

Yet, so far, Gerrard has done a wonderful job. It is not just the way his side are relentlessly winning games of football but it is also how he has gone about doing it.

Attacking football is always appreciated by supporters and this season has seen Rangers win 4-0 twice, 5-0 twice and 6-1 once. They have matched Celtic, a side with a bigger budget thanks to years of Champions League qualification, for goals – hitting the net just one time fewer than their city rivals and have been defensively solid too – they’ve kept 16 clean sheets in 27 games in all competitions this season.

He is a man people want to play for and bringing in good young players, like George Edmundson from Oldham and Joe Aribo from Charlton, suggests he is building something for the long-term while remaining competitive right now.

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Loser: Hamilton’s tactical plans

It must be a nightmare for a manager when he sees his side make silly mistakes during important matches but then a player gets sent off it can throw all his tactical plans out the window.

For Hamilton boss Brian Rice, it has happened far too often in 2019-20. The Accies have seen five players receive their marching orders in just 13 games this season, including one in each of their last two matches – that is three more than any other side in the Scottish Premiership.

When you have conceded the third-highest number of goals (24) in the division, it is imperative to keep your discipline but this, for some reason, has not happened.

They will need to improve as the campaign progresses or risk being pulled down into the bottom two spots. They are sitting just one point above St Johnstone and three above bottom place St Mirren.

With just two wins all season, keeping XI on the pitch must be a priority over the coming months or things will remain tough for the foreseeable future for Hamilton.

Winner: Jermain Defoe

Defoe is 37-years-old and is proving that age is just a number. He certainly has rolled back time with some top finishing this season. He leads the Scottish Premiership scoring charts with 10 goals, one ahead of teammate Alfredo Morelos and Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard.

He has netted two hat-tricks, one against Hibs in their 6-1 trashing at Ibrox and the other against Hamilton when Gers ran out 5-0 winners. His experience and leadership have been invaluable for Steven Gerrard and, thanks to his consistency in front of goal, the Ibrox club have an excellent opportunity to push Celtic all the way.

All his goals have come from open play and he has hit the back of the net with 71% of his shots on target (10 of 14). He has done this with only 26 touches in the opposition box – to add some context, Alfredo Morelos has had 40, which shows he is in a rich vein of clinical form.

There is a long way to go but Defoe has yet again proved what an effective player he can be, even in the twilight of his career.

Winner: The Scottish Premiership

Unless you are a Celtic fan, the last few seasons have been less than enthralling with the Bhoys winning the title without much of a challenge. This is not good for the Scottish football (or the league) but 2019-20 has finally sparked something that most fans will be relishing in: a proper title fight.

Celtic won the league by nine points in both the last two campaigns and they were 30 ahead of Aberdeen when winning in 2016-17 – this is a procession and not a race, which is why having Rangers back and playing well is so enjoyable. It is making the Old Firm games even more mouth-watering as they could be title deciders and not just a chance to secure bragging rights.

Buckle up everybody – this one’s going to the wire.