So what happens when a two-horse race loses one of its runners? We are about to find out as the Scottish Premier League resumes this weekend without one of its two main players.
The Old Firm have dominated Scottish football for so long an SPL without one of them seems unthinkable, but Rangers will not be competing with arch rivals Celtic for the league title this year: demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football due to the ongoing financial chaos that has engulfed the Ibrox outfit over the last few seasons, a shadow, shell of a football club now exists where a once proud institution stood.
The financial chaos at Ibrox, precipitated by Sir David Murray and continued with some aplomb by Craig Whyte, has not only just left the blue side of Glasgow in distress: losing Rangers must feel like the equivalent of losing an arm for most of the SPL clubs, so heavily reliant are they on the Old Firm rivalry for both match day income and television rights money.
Motherwell finished third behind the Old Firm last season and, crucially, had a great record against the other nine sides in the division, losing only five of 30 games.
Their demise has left the whole of Scottish football in a perilous position on the eve of a brand new season that many clubs may actually struggle to finish given the state of their finances.
It is a sorry tale of football eating itself (and one not limited to Scotland – it could well happen in England to a huge club, too) and, in terms of the title race, it ruins any competition the SPL had left. Celtic will win the league, we all know that before the season begins, and quite how interested people are going to be in the SPL is questionable in the extreme.
From a betting point of view, the 3/100 on Celtic winning the league isn’t going to tempt people in (although, for what it’s worth, I did expect them to be even shorter than that) so the main interest will come from who comes second, and it is a market that is wide open.
In the SPL title betting without Celtic, Dundee United are the 7/4 favourites, with Heart of Midlothian a shade longer at 2/1. After that, Motherwell are 5/1 with Aberdeen 8/1 before you get to the double figure sides, headed by St. Johnstone at 14/1.
You can forget anybody else (Dundee, who took Rangers’ place in the SPL by virtue of their second place finish in the First Division, are 66/1 outsiders) but the teams mentioned above look set to engage in a battle which is likely to go down to the wire.
With very little money about, clubs have had to wheel and deal as they remian unsure abiout what the future brings. Aberdeen have bought reasonably well – former Everton defender Gary Naysmith and Celtic’s Niall McGinn among them, but the loss of the highly-rated Fraser Fyvie to Wigan is a blow.
Meanwhile, I see Dundee United as poor favourites at 7/4. Boss Peter Houston has bemoaned the budget cuts (United have brought in four players for no transfer fee) and has said his aim is to make the top four for the fourth year in a row, while Hearts are in similar financial distress, which led to the departure of manager Paulo Sergio.
It is Motherwell who may make the best value at 5/1. Stuart McCall’s men finished third behind the Old Firm last season and, crucially, had a great record against the other nine sides in the division, losing only five of 30 games. They have lost some players, but all the other sides are in the same boat.
This makes them the best bets in what looks set to be an incredibly open market – and one which should ensure interest in the SPL is sustained throughout the season for outsiders looking in.
Recommended bet: Motherwell to win the SPL without Celtic @ 5/1
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