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The wanderer returns with a (shortish story)!


glamdring

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OK, so the thread title refers more to me than my story, but I'm in an unimaginative mood and couldn't think of one relevant to my story. I wrote it ~1-2 months ago and am a bit rusty after a break so it may not be all that good - it's an 8 part self-contained story just about the end of one of my seasons.

Yes, I'm afraid it is about Scotland yet again, but since writing is something that you have to do with some element of passion and enthusiasm, for me it had to be about the country I love best for me to keep the enthusiasm after a break.

This is the 2004/5 season (in CM 03/04) with English and Scottish leagues running. For those who don't like such games I should say that I am actually managing Kilmarnock, Hibernian, Aberdeen, Rangers and Ayr United (plus a few teams in England and Ross County in SD1), but I'm managing each to the best of my ability without any fixed results between my teams - I just enjoy watching my teams being pitted against each other for a bigger challenge icon_smile.gif Managing a single team becomes no challenge once you get established at the top icon_frown.gif

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OK, so the thread title refers more to me than my story, but I'm in an unimaginative mood and couldn't think of one relevant to my story. I wrote it ~1-2 months ago and am a bit rusty after a break so it may not be all that good - it's an 8 part self-contained story just about the end of one of my seasons.

Yes, I'm afraid it is about Scotland yet again, but since writing is something that you have to do with some element of passion and enthusiasm, for me it had to be about the country I love best for me to keep the enthusiasm after a break.

This is the 2004/5 season (in CM 03/04) with English and Scottish leagues running. For those who don't like such games I should say that I am actually managing Kilmarnock, Hibernian, Aberdeen, Rangers and Ayr United (plus a few teams in England and Ross County in SD1), but I'm managing each to the best of my ability without any fixed results between my teams - I just enjoy watching my teams being pitted against each other for a bigger challenge icon_smile.gif Managing a single team becomes no challenge once you get established at the top icon_frown.gif

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Gatecrashing the party

It was a bit of an anti-climax perhaps, a single Garry O'Connor goal settling the tie, but as Billy Anderson watched his players leave the pitch he felt a great sense of satisfaction, pride and excitement. News had just come through that arch rivals Kilmarnock had done their part, easing to a 2-0 win over Heart of Midlothian. It didn't matter that here, at Easter Road, his team had failed to create a single goal scoring opportunity - the world and his brother had expected Hibernian to win and win they did. For Ayr United though, newly promoted from Division 1, the last 5 games of the season would be a party, a celebration of a great achievement and a box seat to see the title race unfold. Having had a roller-coaster season, Billy's team had pulled themselves back together, under pressure from Dundee United and Hearts to grab the 6th place which had been their's for much of the season, just a single point clear of the Edinburgh side.

For the general Scottish football fans however, interest in the Kilmarnock vs Hearts match was for very different reasons and apart from a brief congratulatory comment or two no-one outside of Ayrshire really cared too much for Ayr's plucky exploits. Ayr United had just become the fly in the ointment, the peasant at the top table, the joker in the pack. For now the SPL would split and whilst the has-beens and nobodies in the bottom half played out the season and Partick Thistle attempted to condemn Dunfermline to the Division 1 abyss as they had done to Motherwell 12 months previously, Ayr United would have a ringside seat as the top 5 went head to head in what promised to be one of the best title races for years. Even if the title race would ultimately prove to end in a whimper rather than a bang, the race for the 2nd Champions League place was almost certain to result in fireworks. Indeed, the fireworks had already started up at Pittodrie as Aberdeen fought back to hold Glasgow Rangers to a 1-1 draw which had left the Glasgow giants realing.

It could have been 4 points, but with Kilmarnock keeping their heads and Rangers losing theirs, the top five would be covered by a slightly more cavernous 9 points as they charged headlong into the head to head clashes now scheduled for the top half teams. As for Ayr United, they find themselves 17 points adrift of Glasgow Rangers, but knowing full well that, even if they lose all their remaining games and Hearts win all theirs to finish 14 points ahead, Ayr will still finish in 6th place and Hearts in 7th. Such is the madness of the SPL rules. That said, those self-same SPL rules, pitting the title challengers against each other and leaving the dregs to scrap it out amongst themselves have certainly achieved their purpose for this season.

Billy would obviously be looking to his own club's results and indeed, his team could have a huge a major say in the destination of the title as they, one by one, take on the title challengers with nothing to lose. Like everyone else though, he would be fascinated to see, from his ringside seat, how that title race would pan out.

At this point the reader is probably screaming at the page wondering just what the exact situation is as we head to the last 5 matchdays of the SPL so without further ado, here is the league table after 33 matches:

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Rangers

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

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1st Kilmarnock 33 21 6 6 71 36 +35 69

2nd Hibernian 33 20 4 9 63 28 +35 64

3rd Aberdeen 33 19 6 8 62 25 +37 63

4th Glasgow Celtic 33 19 5 9 54 33 +21 62

5th Glasgow Rangers 33 16 12 5 56 27 +29 60

6th Ayr 33 13 4 16 52 53 -1 43

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7th Hearts 33 11 9 13 42 55 -13 42

8th Dundee Utd 33 12 4 17 29 53 -24 40

9th Dundee 33 9 6 18 47 62 -15 33

10th Livingston 33 8 6 19 31 68 -37 30

11th Partick Thistle 33 7 6 20 31 59 -28 27

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12th Dunfermline 33 6 6 21 25 64 -39 24

</pre>

Next: The challengers and how they came to be where they are now.

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The Challengers - part 2

Aberdeen:

Fans of "the beautiful game" will probably be cheering on Aberdeen to come out on top in the title race. If ever a team was built to pass the ball freely around then Aberdeen are it. 6 clean sheets in a row to start the season and over 10 hours in total without conceding a goal clearly demonstrated Aberdeen's greatest strength as the season began in similar style to the previous one. Aberdeen got through last season conceding a miserly 25 goals in 38 league matches, 5 of them coming in one ridiculous capitulation at home to Dundee! Hibernian finally broke through the demon defence in the 7th game of the season, but until recently when the team have conceded a goal in each of their last 6 matches the defence has remained very strong.

A rock solid defence is always a good starting point and Aberdeen are by no means a defensive minded side, they attack with gusto, whenever the opportunity presents itself, spraying the ball around with a delicate ease, rarely giving the opposition a chance until a shot is either placed over the bar, wide or in the net. Stringing together a huge number of neat passes is all very well, but fans have sometimes become frustrated as the team fail to produce an end product to grace enough of their moves. That said, only Kilmarnock and Hibernian have scored more goals, but Aberdeen have a habit of winning some games 4-0 and losing others 0-1, lacking the consistency of form that could have seen them top of the table by now. Like so many of the main protagonists, Aberdeen stumbled towards the SPL split, scoring just a single goal in their last 3 matches when the opportunity was clearly there to reel in the league leaders.

Whilst many thought Aberdeen were the team most likely to catch Kilmarnock as Rangers faltered it remains to be seen if they can end the season with more consistency than they have shown of late. If not they could find themselves repeating last season's 4th placed finish or worse and again falling just short of the European qualification the fans so crave. Having conceded a somewhat disproportionate 13 of their total 50 league goals conceded this season and last to Dundee, Aberdeen will at least be delighted that their nemesis team are not in the top half of the table.

Notable signings: Aaron Wilbraham (S C), Keigan Parker (F RC), Martin Wood (S C)

Whilst Rangers have spent big and almost totally transformed their first eleven over the last year, Aberdeen have preferred to keep their mostly Scottish squad with large amounts of homegrown talent, searching only for the goalscorers they so lacked last season. Aaron Wilbraham was as much of an answer as they found to their lack of goals last season, but he has yet to kick a ball in anger this season. Instead young James Morgan and 16 year old 2004 youth academy striker Chris Cunningham have vied with former Montrose forward Martin Wood for the second striker slot with the youngster proving to be the most consistent. At least Aberdeen have now found the answer to some of their goalscoring problems however in the shape of ex. St. Johnstone striker Keigan Parker.

Key men

Russell Anderson and Phil McGuire: To mention one of these centre-backs without the other would be akin to seperating Holmes and Watson, Morse and Lewis or salt and vinegar. Alexander Diamond has played well as the 3rd of the 3-man central defence, but the two senior partners have been exceptional and, together with 'keeper Ryan Esson, are largely responsible for the club's impressive defensive record, stonewalling many a frustrated strike force as well as starting off the attacking moves. The pair have also transferred their partnership to the national team with great effect.

Keigan Parker: If their defence is Aberdeen's strongest point, Keigan Parker is a god-send at the other end of the pitch. With 26 league goals this season (28 in total), Keigan is the SPL's top scorer and has been remarkably consistent at finding the back of the net having started every one of Aberdeen's 33 league matches so far this season. Keigan has also created numerous goals as well as well as making his Scotland debut this season, scoring 3 goals in 4 appearances so far, albeit 2 of them from the penalty spot.

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Hibernian:

Much the same as Aberdeen, Hibernian have a very talented team of mostly Scottish youngsters, capable of beating anyone in the division on their day, but lack the consistency to have really taken control of the league so far. 5 wins out of 5 to start the season without conceding single goal gave fans hope that the club could take the division by storm, but a 2-0 defeat at Kilmarnock who had also won 5 out of 5 soon dampened the spirits and an erratic set of results saw them dumped out of the UEFA Cup and League Cup (0-1 at home to an Inverness side who had a single shot on goal whilst Hibs had 26!!) whilst continuing to compete strongly in the league.

Avenging Kilmarnock by finally putting an end to their 16 game unbeaten start to the season in the return fixture between the 2 clubs pleased the fans greatly and gave hope that the title was still up for grabs, but with an alarming lack of consistency, Hibs continued to bob around between 2nd and 4th without seriously threatening either 1st or 5th place. Hibs are in fact very similar to Aberdeen in many ways, capable of winning 5-0 one week and then meakly capitulating at home to a lesser side the next week, but they are a superb side to watch when they are in the mood. Their 5-0 demolition of Dunfirmline in which they passed the ball around to perfection and created almost 30 shots on goal was a true footballing lesson to their hapless opponents.

As with Rangers and Aberdeen, if Hibernian can find the consistency to go with their immense talent, they can become a formidable force and are best placed to overhaul Kilmarnock over the next 5 games. Whether they manage to do so or not will depend a lot on how the fixtures fall, but also on whether the players can rise to the occasion as they face back to back matches against each of their biggest challengers.

Notable signings: Ricky Waddell (AM/F RL), Mark Burchill (S C), Grétar Olafur Hjartarson (S C)

Whether any of Hibs' signings can really be described as "notable" is debateable. Having signed no-one new at all last season, just 3 players arrived to give further options upfront this season with the £2.5 million sale of Stephen Dobbie to Leeds United. Between them, however, they have managed just 11 starts and 23 substitute appearances in the SPL contributing a somewhat unimpressive 4 goals and 5 assists between them! 16 year old Paul McGregor from the 2004 youth academy crop has been given a few starts on the right wing and the club are hoping to use largely home grown talent in the coming years.

Key men

Johnathan Baillie: The 19 year old centre-back wasn't expected to figure much this season, but his performaces when given the chance were so good that he is now a permanent fixture in the side and one of the most consistent performers. Hibernian may not have quite the defence that Aberdeen do, but Johnathan will be a crucial player at the back for the team in upcoming games when they will be facing some of the most lethal strikers the division has to offer.

Garry O'Connor and Tom McManus: Much the same as the Aberdeen centre-back pairing, O'Connor and McManus go together like a horse and carriage, forming a formidable partnership upfront for Hibs. O'Connor has hit 19 goals this season as well as assisting a further 14 whilst Tam McManus has netted 21 times in total, setting up a further 8. Rangers, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock may all have a more prolofic striker than either of these two, but only Rangers can truly claim to have a partnership that works as well together as McManus and O'Connor do.

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Kilmarnock:

To many observers of the Scottish game, it would be a traversty if Kilmarnock do not go on to win the SPL this season. The Scottish Cup holders and finalists again this season have been a breath of fresh air to the SPL, taking the division by storm with a brand of swash-buckling cavalier football not seen from anyone outside the Old Firm in many a long year. Whilst Aberdeen and Hibernian competed to see which club could manage the longest run of games without conceding a goal to start the season, Kilmarnock quietly got on with the business of winning games, keeping a relatively tight defence, but with the capability and attitude to just head up the other end and score another whenever they conceded a goal. After winning the much anticipated clash against fellow '5 wins out of 5' side Hibernian, Kilmarnock went from strength to strength, only dropping the odd point here and there to drawn games.

By the time they visited Easter Road, Kilmarnock were 16 games unbeaten and 9 points clear in the SPL, but it was perhaps poetic justice that it was Hibs who returned Killie's favour by finally ending their long unbeaten run with a 3-2 win. Defeat at home to Aberdeen soon followed and, as Rangers closed to within 5 points, the Glasgow-centric national media were full of headlines proclaiming that the bubble had burst and that Rangers would sweep past. Those self-same journalists were rather less outspoken just 18 days and 2 games later, John Paul Boyle's hat-trick trumping Dean Ashton's brace at Rugby Park as Kilmarnock beat Rangers 3-2 to move 10 points clear again at the top and 11 ahead of Rangers. In Europe too Kilmarnock acquitted themselves admirably, trouncing Heerenveen and exiting only on away goals to Lazio in Rome. The Yo-yoing continued however and after enjoying their lofty position for just a few weeks, losses at Partick Thistle, Celtic and Hibernian were broken only by a welcome 5-2 win at home to Dundee. A 3-1 defeat in the table topping clash at Aberdeen followed and suddenly the gap was down to just 2 points and Kilmarnock were in worse form than anyone else in the division.

2 wins and 2 draws since the Pittodrie encounter, allied to the wheels falling successively off Aberdeen, Hibernian and Rangers' wagons as they all fell over each other in their politeness saying "after you" sees Kilmarnock now head into the split with a 5 point lead over Hibernian. Given their points advantage, their goal difference is effectively inferior to both Aberdeen and Hibernian, but the Ayrshire club will be hoping it doesn't come down to that anyway. As the only team, apart from Celtic, to have strung together anything resembling consistency for most of this season Kilmarnock certainly deserve the title, but if they falter now perhaps they don't. After all, 16 games unbeaten at the start of the season may be impressive, but it's the end of the season that really counts. On past form, Kilmarnock always beat Ayr and usually beat Hibernian, lose to Aberdeen and draw with Rangers whilst against Celtic they win and lose in equal measure, but never draw!

Notable signings: Martin Cameron (S C), Andy McLaren (AM/F RL), John Spicer (M C), Michael Gray (D/AM L), Gary Holt (DM C), Stephen Caldwell (D C).

Similarly to Hibernian, questions could be raised as to just how many of Kilmarnock's signings have made an impact at the club. Caldwell, Spicer and McLaren's contributions have been minimal with the latter probably contributing more of a negative nature than positive with some truly appalling performances filling in for an injured James Fowler. Martin Cameron too has struggled to command a starting place ahead of Kris Boyd. Michael Gray and Gary Holt have made solid, unspectacular contributions to the Kilmarnock cause, quietly doing their jobs whilst others make the headlines.

Key men

Frédéric Dindeleux: Kilmarnock's defensive rock, the Frenchman has been a stalwart of the Kilmarnock defence for the last 6 seasons, getting better and better with age and is always one of the first names on the teamsheet whilst the rest of the club's centre-backs scrap it out for the other defensive berth. Kilmarnock's defence may not be the most water-tight in the league, but that is far more down to their style of play than to any defensive failings from Dindeleux.

Stephen Murray: 21 assists and 6 goals in all competitions from the left wing this season have catapulted Stephen Murray into the national team and haven't gone un-noticed elsewhere either. One of the most deadly wingers win the division, Stephen has kept a constant stream of ammunition ready to supply the team's two lethal goalscorers. Kris Boyd owes a good many of his 19 goals this season to the work of Murray down the left and as for Kilmarnock's other hotshot striker...

John Paul Boyle: Whilst Glasgow Rangers have gone out and bought 4 top class strikers to fire them to domestic and European success, Kilmarnock instead delved into their U19 squad last season to pluck out a young striker by the name of John Paul Boyle. With 20 goals in 31 games last season he proved he would be a major threat in the 2004/5 season and he hasn't disappointed. 41 goals, 10 assists and 16 man of the match awards from 48 starts for the 19 year old this season have eclipsed what even the most optimistic of Kilmarnock fans had thought possible. With 16 of his goals coming in cup competitions this season, Boyle lies one goal behind Aberdeen's Keigan Parker in the SPL goalscoring charts and will be eager to overhaul him to win the coveted golden boot, although even he is unlikely to match Steve Lovell's amazing 37 league goals for Dundee last season!!

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Oops, I seem to have missed out a part as I ran out of time and was hurrying on Friday! Here it is anyway...

The Challengers (and Ayr!) - part 1

Ayr United:

Ayr may not be involved in the title race, but as the final team of the top 6, they will no doubt have their say in the Champions league race and possibly the title race. They may be the new kids on the block, plucky upstarts getting in the way of the established teams and causing Dunfirmline to suffer the ignomy of relegation, but Ayr are clearly here to stay. A very up and down season has seen them run through the full spectrum of results, sequences and emotions, with the noteable exception that after the first 2 games of the season they have not even flirted with the idea of relegation.

The season didn't start too well as Kilmarnock came to town for a local derby and left with 3 points and a 0-1 win before Aberdeen outclassed Ayr at Pittodrie to leave them with no points or goals and 5 goals conceded after 2 games. A brilliant 4-0 win over Dundee United was then followed by a sensational battling 0-1 win at Ibrox to show that Ayr had well and truly arrived and from there they didn't look back as they clung to the coat-tails of the top 4 leaving even Glasgow Celtic trailing. Pre-season predictions had had them as relegation favourites and ultimately it was fitting that they eventually fell somewhere between the two extremes - Celtic got their act together and steamed past leaving Ayr to fall into the clutches of Hearts and Dundee United as they suffered 5 defeats on the trot. Ayr may not be in the best of form heading for the split, but with Dundee United losing 4 out of their last 5 matches they didn't need to be.

Notable signings: David Weir (D C), Darren Byfield (S C), Nigel Reo-Coker (M C), Michael Gordon (F RC), Mikele Leigertwood (D C), Nick Colgan (GK).

With a total transfer outlay of just £120,000 in the Summer, albeit taking full advantage of Wimbledon's financial crisis in getting relegated from English Division 1, Ayr can be justly proud of their achievement in finishing 6th their first season in the SPL.

Key men

Darren Byfield: When he isn't galavanting off to the Carribean every few minutes for yet another of Jamaica's miriad qualifying matches and friendlies, Darren is Ayr's main goal scoring threat with 16 goals so far this season and will cause problems for each of the title contenders.

Nigel Reo-Coker: Nigel hasn't had the best of seasons, but was a bargain at just £55,000 and is undoubtably a talented player who makes the Ayr midfield tick.

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Glasgow Celtic

To say Glasgow Celtic didn't make the best of starts to the SPL season would be somewhat of an understatement. A solitary 2-0 win over Dunfirmline was sandwiched in amongst 5 defeats from their first 6 matches. A 4-0 defeat at Glasgow Rangers together with 3-0 and 1-0 defeats at Kilmarnock and Dundee United did little to help the Glasgow giants recover as the New Year dawned, but since then Celtic have been like an almost unstopable juggernaut, finally leaving Ayr to eat their dust as they launched into an incredible pursuit of the top 4 who could only be seen with high-powered binoculars from Celtic's 5th position at the time.

A run of 12 league games unbeaten followed the New Year including wins at home to Kilmarnock (4-0) and away to both Aberdeen and Hibernian as well as a goal-less draw with Rangers. Allied to the somewhat erratic form of those 4 teams, Celtic suddenly found themselves within touching distance having been written off just a few months earlier. As the form side in the division, many were beginning to think they could steam-roll their way right to the top, but a trip to Somerset Park and a 2-1 defeat to Ayr United slowed them down somewhat. Rangers' draw at Aberdeen on matchday 33 was significant however as Celtic overtook their great rivals for the first time this season and could leave SPL holders Rangers staring at a 5th placed finish.

Notable signings: Julio César Enciso (DM RC), Ümit Davala (DM R), Martín Liguera (AM C), Jesper Grønkjær (AM RL)

It is no coincidence that Celtic's return to form coincided with the £7.25 million capture of Danish winger Jesper Grønkjær from Juventus in the January transfer window. Celtic had a quiet Summer in the transfer market with largely free transfer signings who have made little impact, but Uruguayan creative midfielder Martín Liguera, signed for £1.8 million has impressed.

Key men

Henrik Larsson: It's impossible to discuss Celtic without mentioning him. He may be 33 now, but Henrik Larsson is still the nemesis of many an SPL defence and is a huge influence on the whole club. His return of 14 goals from 33 starts in all competitions is unimpressive for a player of his quality, but the skill is still undoubtably there.

Jesper Grønkjær : Had Celtic signed the Danish international winger in the summer, the whole season could have been very different, but as it is he has only played in 8 league games so far scoring 6 goals. With lightening pace and dribbling ability, able to play with either foot on either wing, his creative ability will be a major factor for Celtic as the season reaches its business end.

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Glasgow Rangers

The fact that Celtic and Rangers are just 2 points apart after 33 games and could easily have been level, had Rangers held on to win at Pittodrie, is certainly proof of the saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Whilst Celtic opted to give Kilmarnock a 15 point head start after just 6 games and then fight back with a vengeance, Rangers have been there or there abouts all season without ever finding the consistency to make the push that everyone kept expecting. An early shock defeat at home to Ayr United meant that Rangers never managed to hit the top of the table, but instead have drifted around between 2nd and 4th for most of the season.

A somewhat uninspiring run of 5 consecutive league draws leading up to the split did little to put the club in a prime position to challenge for the title as Kilmarnock began to falter. In fact, having closed the gap at the top to 5 points mid-season, many expected Rangers to go on and blast past the faltering Ayrshire side, but a damaging 3-2 defeat at Rugby Park followed by a 0-0 draw at Celtic coincided with a resurgance in form for Kilmarnock and suddenly Rangers found themselves 10 points adrift.

As SPL holders and double League Cup winners, Rangers were clear pre-season favourites with an almost completely new look side from a year earlier and are clearly capable as their brilliant European form has shown. 5 wins and a draw eased them through their Champions League group ahead of Porto, Anderlecht and Celta Vigo before they set the continent alight with a 5-0 demolition of Monaco. A 2-2 draw in the principality setup a quarter-final with Juventus which was narrowly negotiated courtesy of a 2-0 home win and some stout defending for a 1-0 defeat in Turin. Rangers head to Tyneside midweek to face EPL leaders Newcastle United in what promises to be an epic semi-final. Whether that will prove a distraction from the league or an inspiration remains to be seen, but such a talented side should be capable of greater consistency.

Notable signings: Michael Dawson (D C), Phil Jagielka (D/M RC), Sean Thornton (M RC), Dean Ashton (S C), Darren Bent (S C), Julian Joachim (F RC), Victor Agali (S C), Danny Gabbidon (D RC), Milan Baros (S C), Chris Sedgwick (AM R)

Having offloaded numerous high earning underperforming foreigners, Rangers have spent a year and a half building an impressive team largely from raiding the cream of the English 1st Division. The further additions of Nigerian international Victor Agali on a free transfer and Czech striker Milan Baros for £4.3 million from Liverpool have given Rangers more than enough firepower to score the goals needed to challenge on all fronts. The club's talented young defenders have added to the experience of Craig Moore and Fernando Ricksen to provide the 2nd meanest defence in the league. The team are probably too far behind Kilmarnock now, but the fans will demand Champions League football next season which requires probably a 5 wins out of 5 finish to the SPL or a sensational Champions League victory this year.

Key men

Dean Ashton: The former Crewe striker is undoubtably a huge talent and has so far notched up 26 goals this season including 18 in the SPL and 5 in the Champions League. With 27 goals to his name last season, Dean is clearly a lethal goalscorer of the type Rangers have long being looking for since Marco Negri blitzed the top flight a good many years ago.

Darren Bent: The other half of Rangers' prolific young English strikeforce. Everything said of Dean could equally well apply to Darren who also has a keen eye for goal with 22 so far this season, 8 of them coming in 10 Champions League matches. With so many good players at the club, it is perhaps over-simplistic to choose the two strikers as key men, but at the current stage of the season it is goals that Rangers really need more than anything else - they defend well as a unit.

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SPL Matchday 34

Aberdeen vs Kilmarnock

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Aberdeen 6 wins, Kilmarnock 2 wins, 2 games drawn. Aberdeen have scored 15 goals, Kilmarnock have scored 4 goals.

Team News: Aberdeen still without Kevin McNaughton, Scott Morrison deputises at left wing-back. Chris Cunningham partners Keigan Parker upfront. Kilmarnock are still missing James Fowler. Danny Invincibile continues on the right wing with youngster Darren McCann in central midfield. 60 goal strike partnership Kris Boyd and John Paul Boyle continue together in attack.

Match Report:

Aberdeen make most of the early running with Keigan Parker and Paul Sheerin both shooting wide whilst Chris Cunningham's shot is easily saved by Graham Smith in the Kilmarnock goal. Gary Holt and Darren McCann both have shots on goal for Kilmarnock before a Peter Canero corner is brilliantly met at the near post by Shaun Dillon to give Killie the lead on 34 minutes. Chris Cunningham and Fergus Tiernan both test Smith as the first half grows to a close, but to no avail.

HT: Aberdeen 0-1 Kilmarnock

Straight from the kick-off, Aberdeen put together an excellent passing move culminating in a viscious shot narrowly wide from Cunningham just 25 seconds in. Darren McCann fires in a 20-yard effort for Kilmarnock, easily saved by Ryan Esson, but on 54 minutes, Esson's kick-out is intercepted by John Paul Boyle who evades Russell Anderson to charge forward and slot coolly home for 0-2. Paul Sheerin receives the ball 30 yards out and send in a dipping drive, but Graham Smith is equal to it. With 58 minutes on the clock Aberdeen fall further behind as another Canero corner is headed in by Shaun Dillon for a carbon copy of the opening goal. Aberdeen bring on James Morgan for Paul Sheerin and switch to 3 upfront, but the game looks well beyond them now. With just 12 minutes to go, Aberdeen pressure finally pays off after a number of good efforts as a 55 yard pass from Alexander Diamond finds Keigan Parker clear behind the defence, Parker curls in a delicious shot for 1-3. Aberdeen create a few more chances, but Kilmarnock are never truly troubled and hold on for a crucial victory.

FT: Aberdeen 1-3 Kilmarnock

Hibernian vs Glasgow Rangers

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Hibernian 2 wins, Rangers 4 wins, 3 games drawn. Hibernian have scored 14 goals, Rangers have scored 20 goals.

Team News: Hibernian welcome back Ian Murray to the defence alongside Johnathan Baillie. Riordan and Brown continue on the wings with O'Connor and McManus upfront. Rangers recall Milan Baros, who was cup tied for the midweek defeat at Newcastle, in place of Darren Bent who drops to the bench. Danny Gabbidon partners Michael Dawson in the centre of defence.

Match Report:

Glasgow Rangers make the early running with Dean Ashton testing Hibs' 'keeper Morten Hyldegaard early on. The goal is not long in coming either as Danny Gabbidon rises to head home a Michael Ball corner after just 10 minutes to put Rangers 0-1 up. Hibs win a corner 5 minutes later and Stefan Klos saves brilliantly twice in quick succession from Derek Riordan. Julian Joachim brings down Johnathan Baillie on the edge of the area to concede a freekick which Klos saves again from Riordan and Ian Murray slides the rebound agonisingly wide. Riordan puts another freekick narrowly over the bar on 25 minutes as Hibernian continue to turn up the heat. Scott Brown is causing problems for the Rangers defence and in the 41st minute gets away down the right, cuts infield, commits the goalkeeper and squares for Tam McManus to tap in the equaliser. As the game heads into first half injury time Hibs move the ball forward via Riordan wide left who swings in a pinpoint cross for Garry O'Connor to head home unchallenged and turn the game around.

HT: Hibernian 2-1 Glasgow Rangers

The 2nd half begins quietly, but O'Connor is injured just 5 minutes in and has to be replaced by Icelandic striker Hjartarson for Hibs. With Rangers under the cosh for much of the second half, Michael Ball concedes a freekick in a dangerous position, pickingup a yellow card too. Riordan floats the freekick in, straight onto the head of Mathias Doumbe who has an easy header for Hibs' third. Straight from the kickoff Rangers attack down the left with Lovenkrands whose shot is over the bar. Rangers are attacking again in the 72nd minute and Joachim crosses for Milan Baros to fire straight at Hyldegaard who makes a good stop. Rangers throw caution to the wind, bringing Darren Bent on for Michael Dawson to essentially play 5 upfront including the two wingers. Scott Brown's fierce shot hits the post and is turned away for a corner to Hibernian on 75 minutes. As the game reaches its conclusion, Klos saves well from Brown and Hjartarson, but Rangers are unable to break Hibs down at the other end despite Dean Ashton's best efforts.

FT: Hibernian 3-1 Glasgow Rangers

Glasgow Celtic vs Ayr United

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Celtic 2 wins, Ayr 1 win, 0 games drawn. Celtic have scored 5 goals, Ayr have scored 3 goals.

Team News: Celtic surprisingly leave out Henrik Larsson and Stillian Petrov. Shaun Malonely partners Chris Sutton upfront whilst Liguera and Enciso play in central midfield. For Ayr, Darren Byfield is back from international duty and starts alonsgide Andrew Ferguson.

Match Report:

Steven Ferguson blazes over the bar in the 2nd minute for Ayr after good build-up play. A minute later, Steven Ferguson's sublime 25-yard strike is ruled out for an offside earlier in the move. In the 12th minute, Umit Davala picks out Chris Sutton with an excellent pass, but Sutton's shot is turned away by Nick Colgan and cleared for a throw-in. 4 minutes later, Davala lays the ball wide for Shaun Maloney who narrowly beats the offside trap to give Celtic the lead with a rasping volley. As the half wears on, Hedman saves well from Byfield whilst Gronkjaer's effort is also well held by Nick Colgan. A superb run by Stuart McGrady on 28 minutes culminates in a poor shot well wide when one on one with Hedman. McGrady soon makes up for it however, squaring for Andrew Ferguson to score an easy equaliser on 33 minutes. Just 4 minutes later however, Chris Sutton robs Steven Ferguson in the Ayr defence and fires in from 20 yards to restore Celtic's lead. An excellent first half ends with Nigel Reo-Coker blazing over the bar from 20 yards.

HT: Glasgow Celtic 2-1 Ayr United

Just 6 minutes into the 2nd half, Shaun Maloney's powerful shot is turned away for a corner from which Ulrik Laursen heads Celtic 3-1 infront. Celtic continue to dominate in the 2nd half, but seem content with the 3-1 scoreline as Ayr run out of ideas.

FT: Glasgow Celtic 3-1 Ayr United

A rather predictable result for Billy Anderson and his Ayr United lads, but the learning experience continues, safe in the knowledge that Ayr will be playing Celtic at least 3 times more next season. That win sees Celtic move 5 points clear of Rangers now and above Aberdeen after both suffered very damaging results. Rangers are now having to face up to the fact that they are likely to be without European football at all next season unless they can finish with 4 wins. Unfortunately for them, the league cup does not provide a European place in Scotland.

As for Aberdeen, their's was the surprise result of the day perhaps. Whilst he has to stay neutral when it comes to doing his best to beat each team in turn, Billy, in common with the rest of those attached to Ayr won't exactly be dancing in the streets if Kilmarnock win the title, but even he has to grudgingly admit they are the best team in the league. Aberdeen have been the most troublesome team over the last two seasons for Kilmarnock so winning with ease at Pittodrie with 3 home games and just a single away game left was a massive step towards the title and all but ends any faint hopes Aberdeen had. Celtic travel to Rugby Park next knowing they need to draw at the very least and probably to win, otherwise only Hibernian will be realistic challengers to Kilmarnock for the title.

Whilst 1st place may not be so fiercely contested as many might have hoped as the season draws to its close, the battle for 2nd place is likely to go down to the wire with any of the 4 teams in contention still mathematically capable of grabbing that all important Champions League spot. With only 2 UEFA Cup spots available and one of those assigned to the Scottish Cup, one of the challengers is certain to miss out on Europe completely. With Kilmarnock contesting the FA Cup final with Celtic, the Glasgow side are almost guaranteed a UEFA Cup spot if they fail to grab 2nd place, which could allow the 4th placed league finishers to qualify also.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Rangers

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

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1st Kilmarnock 34 22 6 6 74 37 +37 72

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2nd Hibernian 34 21 4 9 66 29 +37 67

3rd Glasgow Celtic 34 20 5 9 57 34 +23 65

4th Aberdeen 34 19 6 9 63 28 +35 63

5th Glasgow Rangers 34 16 12 6 57 30 +27 60

6th Ayr United 34 13 4 17 53 56 -3 43

</pre>

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SPL Matchday 35

Ayr United vs Hibernian

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Ayr 1 win, Hibernian 3 wins, 0 games drawn. Ayr have scored 5 goals, Hibernian have scored 11 goals.

Team News: Ayr are without injured left winger Stuart McGrady. 16 year old ex. youth academy player Craig Robertson deputises. For Hibernian, Yannick Zambernardi is suspended so Allan Dempsie comes in at left back. Otherwise both sides are unchanged from their last matches.

Match Report:

A quiet start sees little meaningful action in the first 15 minutes, with Darren Byfield for Ayr and Kevin Thomson for Hibs both blazing over before Garry O'Connor hit the side netting after a mixup in the Ayr defence. A minute later, Darren Byfield is sent clear by Steven Ferguson, but his shot agonisingly rebounds off the far post parrallel to the goal line before being hoofed clear. Steven Ferguson puts a very poor freekick well wide from 20 yards out after 22 minutes as Ayr continue to create the better chances. Hibs come back into the game with Scott Brown and Tam McManus combining well to trouble the Ayr defence, but not the goal.

HT: Ayr United 0-0 Hibernian

A dull start to the second half sees precious little action until Mark Campbell is stretchered off on the hour for Ayr, Mikele Leigertwood replaces him. On 70 minutes, Jamie McKenzie takes to the field for Hibs in place of the ineffectual Kevin Thomson as Brown and Riordan push up down the wings in search of a goal. In the space of a minute, Nick Colgan in the Ayr goal saves well from both Brown and Riordan, two of his ex. team-mates. With just 8 minutes left, the Ayr defence totally misjudge a goalkick from Hyldegaard and Tam McManus is away, one on one with Colgan and slots home neatly to put the away side infront. Hibs take complete control in the closing minutes, but Colgan denies Brown and Doumbe whilst O'Connor and McManus put shots wide.

FT: Ayr United 0-1 Hibernian

Glasgow Rangers vs Aberdeen

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Rangers 4 wins, Aberdeen 1 win, 2 games drawn. Rangers have scored 10 goals, Aberdeen have scored 7 goals.

Team News: Robert Malcolm replaces the suspended Michael Dawson for Glasgow Rangers. Phil Jagielka and Craig Moore are both still out injured. Upfront, Darren Bent returns to the starting line-up with Milan Baros dropping to the bench. With a fully fit squad to choose from, Aberdeen make just one change from the side beaten 1-3 by Kilmarnock - Kevin McNaughton is back in place of Scott Morrison at left-back.

Match Report:

A lively opening, Rangers on the attack early with Lovenkrands shooting over the bar after just 40 seconds. Aberdeen's first meaningful attack of the game, in the 5th minute, sees McNaughton send Keigan Parker away down the left, the striker firing just over the bar from out wide. Aberdeen's second attack results in a freekick in a dangerous position which Paul Sheerin steps up and fires into the back of the Rangers net, a slight deflection off Danny Gabbidon wrong-footing Stefan Klos. A lovely Aberdeen build-up on 38 minutes ends with Keigan Parker shooting well over the bar. Stephen Hughes curls a shot over the bar for Rangers, but the home side are looking very unimpressive against a strong defence.

HT: Glasgow Rangers 0-1 Aberdeen

The second half gets underway and after 5 minutes a neat passing move by Rangers sees Dean Ashton cross for Darren Bent to head home the equaliser. With an hour gone, Keigan Parker's cross from the left finds the head of Chris Cunningham, but the youngster's header is easily saved by Klos. Rangers push forward in search of the winner, but Lovenkrands' fierce shot is well held by Ryan Esson in the Aberdeen goal. Robert Malcolm is replaced by Milan Baros in an attacking substitution by Rangers on 67 minutes, the home side now switching to 3 at the back and 3 strikers. 10 minutes later, Michael Ball curls a freekick over the bar as Aberdeen continue to frustrate Rangers. Martin Wood replaces the fairly anonymous Fergus Tiernan for Aberdeen, with Paul Sheerin dropping back and Wood playing in the hole behind Parker and Cunningham. With just 4 minutes left, Aberdeen break quickly upfield, but Chris Cunningham's cross is headed at the keeper by Keigan Parker and Klos again gets down well to turn the second shot round the post. With time running out, Rangers' Danny Gabbidon sees red as Aberdeen pile forward, dominating the match. Ross O'Donoghue has a chance to win the game for Aberdeen in the 92nd minute, but puts his shot wide from 15 yards.

FT: Glasgow Rangers 1-1 Aberdeen

Kilmarnock vs Glasgow Celtic

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Kilmarnock 4 wins, Celtic 4 wins, 0 games drawn. Kilmarnock have scored 11 goals, Celtic have scored 13 goals.

Team News: League leaders Kilmarnock welcome back James Fowler from injury. Danny Invincibile moves infield with Darren McCann dropping to the bench as Fowler returns on the right wing. Celtic recall Henrik Larsson and Stilian Petrov in place of Shaun Maloney and Julio Cesar Enciso.

Match Report:

A very poor first half sees little attacking play as both sides cancel each other out. Invincible for Kilmarnock and Gronkjaer for Celtic both force saves from the opposing 'keepers, but Kris Boyd's 40th minute freekick, high and wide is symptomatic of the game's other efforts on goal. 2 minutes later, a scrappy Celtic move breaks down and Gary Holt spreads the ball wide with a glorious pass to send James Fowler away down the Kilmarnock right. With no-one else forward, Fowler duly strides forward and plants the ball past Magnus Hedman to put Kilmarnock 1-0 up.

HT: Kilmarnock 1-0 Glasgow Celtic

The second half begins evenly, but Dindeleux's tackle on Henrik Larsson sees the ball squirt back towards his own goal with Chris Sutton reaching the loose ball just before Kilmarnock 'keeper Graham Smith to equalise. The second half continues in much the same way as the first until, on 74 minutes, Alan Thompson's accurate cross is fired home by Jesper Gronkjaer to put Celtic 1-2 up. Target-man Martin Cameron replaces Kris Boyd upfront for Kilmarnock as they push for an equaliser. Cameron quickly makes an impact with a towering header to knock on Smith's goalkick for John Paul Boyle to chase out wide. Boyle slides the ball infield to Stephen Murray in a reversal of their usual roles and Murray places his shot into the far corner of the goal for 2-2. Kilmarnock continue to attack and only a swift intervention by Ulrik Laursen prevents Boyle from scoring the 3rd. A minute later, Boyle's nearpost shot is tipped over the bar by Hedman for a Killie corner. Canero's corner is brilliantly headed in by Freddy Dindeleux at the near post for a crucial Kilmarnock goal. In the closing minutes both sides have chances with Martin Cameron shooting just wide for the home team with the best of the chances.

HT: Kilmarnock 3-2 Glasgow Celtic

For Billy's Ayr, Hibernian, Glasgow Rangers and Aberdeen it was a case of second time around as the fixtures of matchday 33, which saw Ayr squeeze into the top 6 for the split and Aberdeen deny Rangers, were reversed. Despite the best efforts of Billy's men, it was to be more learning, but no points as the only remaining credible title challengers kept their hopes alive with a late winner. Rangers and Aberdeen did themselves no favours as they again cancelled each other out, failing to take advantage of Celtic's defeat at the in-form league leaders. Kilmarnock have returned to form with a vengeance at just the right time of the season and Dindeleux's late winner ensures that they retain their 5 point rather than a 3 point lead, with the two teams scheduled to meet at Rugby Park in 10 days time after the small matter of a trip to Somerset Park, Ayr for Kilmarnock.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Rangers

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1st Kilmarnock 35 23 6 6 77 39 +38 75

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2nd Hibernian 35 22 4 9 67 29 +38 70

3rd Glasgow Celtic 35 20 5 10 59 37 +22 65

4th Aberdeen 35 19 7 9 64 29 +35 64

5th Glasgow Rangers 35 16 13 6 58 31 +27 61

6th Ayr United 35 13 4 18 53 57 -4 43

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SPL Matchday 36

Hibernian vs Aberdeen

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Hibernian 3 wins, Aberdeen 2 wins, 3 games drawn. Hibernian have scored 9 goals, Aberdeen have scored 10 goals.

Team News: Hibernian rest Kevin Thomson with Jamie McKenzie moving into the attacking midfield role and Kevin O'Neill coming onto the bench as their only changes. Yannick Zambernardi is still missing. Aberdeen make just one change from the side which drew 1-1 at Ibrox, Martin Wood replacing Chris Cunningham in attack.

Match Report:

Hibernian create the first goalscoring opportunity as Russell Anderson picks up a yellow card, conceding a freekick, but Riordan's effort is comfortably saved. Aberdeen win a corner on 9 minutes, the ball headed straight at Morten Hyldegaard by Phil McGuire and is turned away with the rebound put out for a goalkick. The game sees very little action until a neat passing move by Hibernian in the 24th minute sees Scott Brown's effort palmed out by Ryan Esson, Aberdeen managing to scramble the ball away. A tight first half draws to a close with little further goalmouth action, but yellow cards for Hibs' Doumbe and Riordan and Aberdeen's Esson.

HT: Hibernian 0-0 Aberdeen

The first noteworthy action of the second half comes after 54 minutes as Paul Sheerin flashes a freekick just wide of Hibernian's far post. 5 minutes later, a Dempsie cross is headed straight at the goalkeeper by Garry O'Connor and Aberdeen again escape. A raft of substitutions follow on the hour, with the match so far going nowhere. For Hibs, Tam McManus is replaced by Mark Burchill and Jamie McKenzie by Kevin O'Neill, for the Dons Martin Wood makes way for Chris Cunningham whilst James Morgan takes to the field in place of Fergus Tiernan. Keigan Parker drops back into the hole with Paul Sheerin moving back to midfield. Yellow cards follow for Paul Sheerin and Kevin McNaughton as the two sides continue to cancel each other out. Keigan Parker skimming the bar from 30 yards out is the closest either side comes to a goalscoring opportunity as the game approaches the final 10 minutes. The deadlock is finally broken with just 6 minutes remaining as excellent Hibs build-up play culminates in a shot from Scott Brown rebounding off the far post to the feet of Mark Burchill who tucks it into the Aberdeen net for a crucial late goal. With new confidence from the goal, Hibs push forward again with Brebner trying his luck from 30 yards, but only finding the stand.

FT: Hibernian 1-0 Aberdeen

Glasgow Celtic vs Glasgow Rangers

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Rangers 6 wins, Celtic 0 wins, 3 games drawn. Rangers have scored 14 goals, Celtic have scored 3 goals.

Team News: Celtic make just 2 changes from the side beaten at Kilmarnock, John Kennedy and Johann Mjallby replacing Ulrik Laursen and Dianbobo Balde, who is away on international duty, in the defence. Danny Gabbidon is suspended for Rangers so Mark Phillips comes in at the back. Michael Dawson is also still suspended with Phil Jagielka and Craig Moore still out injured. Victor Agali is away on interational duty with Nigeria.

Match report:

The two sides show little invention in an abysmal first 20 minutes which sees more passes going astray than finding their intended target. On 22 minutes however, a superb Rangers counter-attack sees the ball fed to Darren Bent who picks out strike partner Dean Ashton to finish with aplomb and give the away side the lead. With their tails up, Rangers continue to pile on the pressure with Lovenkrands testing the Celtic 'keeper from 20 yards out a few minutes later. Celtic move the ball swiftly up the other end however, Gronkjaer and Sutton combining to send Henrik Larsson clear to slot home the equaliser after 26 minutes. 2 minutes later, Sutton shoots wide as Celtic look to take control. Rangers escape courtesy of Umit Davala's 20-yard pile-driver rebounding off the near post with Klos totally beaten in the 35th minute. With just 3 minutes left of the first half, Stephen Crainey slides in on Dean Ashton in the Celtic box and the Rangers striker has the chance to put his side 1-2 up from the penalty spot, but his penalty is hit straight at Magnus Hedman and it remains 1-1. Just minutes later however, it is Celtic who are infront, Umit Davala this time making no mistake from almost the same position as his last effort.

HT: Glasgow Celtic 2-1 Glasgow Rangers

Rangers make an enforced change 7 minutes into the 2nd half as Julian Joachim limps off to be replaced by Chris Sedgwick on the right wing. Celtic replace Davala and Liguera with Nyron Wau and Julio Cesar Enciso, but the 2nd half drifts on with very few sights of goal for either side. With 73 minutes on the clock, Rangers bring on Milan Baros in place of Robert Malcom and switch to 3 at the back and 3 up front. After just 2 minutes on the pitch, Baros is given a glorious opportunity to equalise from Sedgwick's cross, but fires a weak shot straight at Hedman. Celtic create a few late chances, but ultimately neither side is able to add to their goal tally and Rangers' barren spell continues.

FT: Glasgow Celtic 2-1 Glasgow Rangers

Ayr United vs Kilmarnock

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Ayr 0 wins, Kilmarnock 4 wins, 0 games drawn. Ayr have scored 3 goals, Kilmarnock have scored 7 goals.

Team News: Ayr are still without left winger Stuart McGrady whilst Mark Campbell is injured and Andrew Ferguson suspended. Mikele Leigertwood comes into the defence with Michael Gordon replacing Ferguson upfront alongside Darren Byfield. 16 year old youth academy product Craig Robertson continues to deputise for McGrady. With a full squad to choose from, league leaders Kilmarnock remain unchanged from the side which beat Glasgow Celtic 3-2.

Match report:

The 5th Ayrshire derby of the past 2 years kicks off and it takes Kilmarnock just 16 seconds to win the first corner of the game as Nick Colgan becomes the first Ayr player to touch the ball, turning John Paul Boyle's shot around the post. 10 minutes later, a Michael Gray ball upfield finds Boyle outpacing the Ayr defence to fire past the onrushing 'keeper and give Killie the lead with his 43rd goal of an amazing season. Ayr pile forward in search of the equaliser and only poor finishing and brilliant goalkeeping deny them as Graham Smith in the Kilmarnock goal denies Michael Gordon twice and Steven Ferguson all in the same move. A lively start to the match becomes even livelier on 17 minutes as Freddy Dindeleux receives a straight red card for a cynical challenge on Franck Djadjedje. Numerous chances follow at either end with the best coming from a teasing Michael Dunlop cross for Ayr which Smith saves brilliantly from Byfield's powerful header. Byfield is again in the thick of the action in the next Ayr move however, finishing off with a brilliant curling shot from out wide to equalise. With just 10 men on the pitch against a rampant Ayr side, the league leaders really will have to show what they are made of now to get anything from this game. With Ayr continuing to dominate, the second goal soon comes, Reo-Coker and Byfield exchanging passes before teeing up Steven Ferguson who blasts home a wonder goal from 35-yards out. John Paul Boyle fires Kilmarnock's only effort since the sending off wide with the last kick of an entertaining first half.

HT: Ayr United 2-1 Kilmarnock

The second half gets underway, with the first meaningful action on 54 minutes seeing Marc Smyth booked for a foul on John Paul Boyle. The resulting freekick is exquisitely taken by Kris Boyd, Danny Invincibile receiving and controlling neatly with his back to goal to play the ball into Gary Holt who picks out James Fowler unmarked on the right, the Kilmarnock winger punishing Ayr's sloppy defending with a deadly finish to make it 2-2. Invincibile for Killie and Ferguson for Ayr both go close, but as the hour mark passes, it is still 2-2 when the first substitutions are made. Stewart Kean replaces Michael Gordon for Ayr, Gordon Greer replacing Michael Gray to stiffen up the Killie defence and upfront the largely ineffectual Kris Boyd makes way for Fraser Logan. Kilmarnock now have two young strikers on the pitch who began last season in their U19's squad. Disaster strikes for the visitors on 72 minutes as Ayr swiftly break upfield for Djadjedje to setup Byfield who sidesteps the 'keeper to fire home Ayr's 3rd goal. 5 minutes later, Djadjedje again supplies the cross as Byfield strikes the ball at the goalkeeper and Stewart Kean fires the rebound onto the post. Into the last 5 minutes, Kilmarnock push forward with Invincibile shooting just wide and Boyle skewing a shot well wide whilst at the other end Byfield scoops a shot over the bar.

FT: Ayr United 3-2 Kilmarnock

Having played well for much of the season leading up to the league split, Ayr were well due a victory over one of the top teams and the scene seemed to be set for the upset today. All obvious statistics pointed to a win for Kilmarnock - they had won all 4 recent meetings, they were the league leaders and unbeaten in 7 league and cup games whilst Ayr were on a run of 3 successive defeats and just 2 wins in their previous 10 league matches. All of which meant that many were predicting an upset today at Somerset Park. The sending off of Freddy Dindeleux had a major effect on the game, but Ayr manager Billy Anderson was just pleased to beat his arch-rivals and wasn't about to go into the whys and wherefores as to whether they'd have won against 11 men. 19 shots on goal with 14 on target was sufficient evidence for Billy that his team thoroughly deserved the win which at least keeps them within 3 points of Dundee United in 7th!

For Glasgow Rangers and Aberdeen though the nightmare continues. Aberdeen narrowly missed out on Europe this season and so it is not catastrophic for them to do so again next season, but it will be disappointing to not have progressed at all from last season's 4th placed finish. For Rangers though, comfortable champions of the 2003/4 season and surprise semi-finalists in the Champions League, this season is a disaster with the club now on a run of 8 games without a win in all competitions. With a 0-3 deficit to overturn against Newcastle United at Ibrox on Wednesday their chances of European football next season are beginning to look slim. However, there is one ray of light for either Aberdeen or Rangers from an unlikely source. With Kilmarnock and Celtic due to contest the FA Cup final and Kilmarnock having already guaranteed a Champions League spot, Celtic automatically qualify for the UEFA Cup, allowing the team who finishes 4th to take the one remaining UEFA Cup spot from the league. No doubt the post-mortem of this season will get under way in earnest over Summer, but a glance at the league table gives a good indication of the problem for Rangers. Together with Kilmarnock, Rangers have lost the fewest games of all teams this season, but 13 draws sees them a massive 14 points behind the Ayrshire side with so many silly points dropped.

So, with Hibernian scoring yet another late winner and Kilmarnock failing to pick up any points, the scene is set for a dramatic clash at Rugby Park next Saturday as the top 2 meet in an all or nothing clash, at least for Hibernian. With current form now on Hibernian's side and the challengers having very little to lose, having pretty much come up on the rails as Rangers and Aberdeen faltered in their bids, nerves will be jangling amongst Kilmarnock fans and players, knowing that in a tie such as this home advantage will be very small indeed. Clashes between these two sides so far this season have been pivotal. The first, of course, saw both sides come into the match with 5 wins out of 5 to start the season and Kilmarnock's win that day meant so much more than just 3 points. It was the springboard for a 16 game unbeaten start to the season, a run which was only ended by the visit to Easter Road for the re-match. Quite apart from the points swing from that one match, the phsycological effect of that match was even more important and it is only as a result of Kilmarnock's faltering form later in the season, when they lost 4 out of 5 matches, that Hibernian have recovered to a position where they now know that a win at Rugby Park will send them into pole position with one game to go. The Scottish public await the confrontation with baited breath...

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Rangers

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1st Kilmarnock 36 23 6 7 79 42 +37 75

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2nd Hibernian 36 23 4 9 68 29 +39 73

3rd Glasgow Celtic 36 21 5 10 61 38 +23 68

4th Aberdeen 36 19 7 10 64 30 +34 64

5th Glasgow Rangers 36 16 13 7 59 33 +26 61

6th Ayr United 36 14 4 18 56 59 -3 46

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7th Dundee Utd 36 15 4 17 33 54 -21 49

8th Hearts 36 12 10 14 46 60 -14 46

9th Dundee 36 10 7 19 51 65 -14 37

10th Livingston 36 8 7 21 33 74 -41 31

11th Partick Thistle 36 8 6 22 34 62 -28 30

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12th Dunfermline 36 7 7 22 30 68 -38 28

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Ah, yes...actually that's one of all too many phrases that I am familiar with when spoken, but when it comes to writing it or considering the literal meaning (if I spell it wrong) I don't actually know what it means or how it should be spelled (spelt? icon_razz.gif)

SPL Matchday 37

Aberdeen vs Glasgow Celtic

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Aberdeen 3 wins, Celtic 2 wins, 2 games drawn. Aberdeen have scored 8 goals, Celtic have scored 4 goals.

Team News: Aberdeen recall Chris Cunningham in place of Martin Wood, but otherwise remain unchanged, with an astonishing 8 players having started in every single league match of the season for the Dons! For Celtic, Dianbobo Balde is back from international duty and replaces Johann Mjallby who drops to the bench. Otherwise Celtic keep the side which beat Glasgow Rangers 2-1.

Match Report:

Early action sees Kevin Rutkiewicz and Keigan Parker both come close for Aberdeen whilst at the other end Gronkjaer shoots wide and Larsson forces Esson to make a good save. A neat passing move by Aberdeen ends with a wayward shot well over the bar by Ross O'Donoghue in the 16th minute as the Dons continue to probe for an opening. With half an hour gone there has been little more goalmouth action with Keigan Parker firing a good chance straight at Magnus Hedman. The halftime whistle arrives none too soon for many in the ground.

HT: Aberdeen 0-0 Glasgow Celtic

It's an amazing 9 games since Aberdeen, formerly the best defensive team in the country, last kept a clean sheet and it soon becmes 10 as a stromash in the Aberdeen box sees the ball fall at the feet of Henrik Larsson who gratefully accepts the gift to put Celtic 0-1 up. Paul Sheerin blasts a shot over the bar from 20 yards as a frustrated and out of form Aberdeen go in search of the equaliser. With 67 minutes on the clock, Aberdeen throw caution to the wind, replacing Paul Sheerin with Darren Mackie in the attacking midfield role, now behind 3 strikers as James Morgan replaces Alexander Diamond, leaving just 2 centre-backs and 2 attacking full-backs. For Celtic, Alan Thompson and Nyron Wau take to the field 3 minutes later in place of Gronkjaer and Davala. Within a minute of the substitutions, Larsson sends Petrov through, but his shot is well saved by Ryan Esson. Straight up the other end for Aberdeen as Ross O'Donoghue again fires over the bar from well outside the box. With 78 minutes on the clock, Mackie gives the ball to Morgan who slides it onto Keigan Parker, but the out of sorts striker fires a tame shot at the 'keeper, but at least wins a corner. After much pinging around in the box resulting from the corner, Darren Mackie eventually gets the shot off which rebounds off the crossbar before being scrambled away. With Aberdeen stretched at the back, Chris Sutton wastes an opportunity to score, having to settle also for a corner. Further chances follow at both ends with Aberdeen dominating, but Celtic looking likely to score every time they break upfield. It's certainly an entertaining end to the game, but the one thing that remains missing is a further goal as time ebbs away taking Aberdeen's hopes with it.

FT: Aberdeen 0-1 Glasgow Celtic

Glasgow Rangers vs Ayr United

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Rangers 2 wins, Ayr 1 win, 0 games drawn. Rangers have scored 8 goals, Ayr have scored 5 goals.

Team News: Rangers welcome back Phil Jagielka at right-back in place of the suspended Fernando Ricksen and Michael Dawson and Danny Gabbidon return to replace Mark Phillips and Robert Malcolm at the heart of the defence. Scott Agnew starts on the right wing in place of Julian Joachim whilst Milan Baros remains on the bench. For Ayr, Andrew Ferguson, Mark Campbell and Stuart McGrady all return, Michael Gordon, Mikele Leigertwood and Craig Robertson all dropping to the bench.

Match Report:

It takes just 5 minutes for Rangers to take the lead, Michael Ball sending the ball down the wing to Peter Lovenkrands who crosses for Darren Bent to finish off emphatically. Rangers continue to dominate the first half with Stephen Hughes twice, Darren Bent and Michael Dawson all forcing saves from Ayr 'keeper Nick Colgan whilst Sean Thornton also blazes over the bar. At the other end, Ayr are yet to have a shot on goal as the half time whistle draws to an end a fairly drab and uncompetitive half.

HT: Glasgow Rangers 1-0 Ayr United

Stephen Hughes again tests Colgan as the second half gets underway, before Darren Bent rattles the crossbar, but still Ayr hold firm in resistance of the 2nd goal. With an hour on the clock a Rangers ball forward is lazily headed back towards his own goal by Marc Smyth and rebounds off the post before Colgan gratefully scoops it up. Ayr finally have their first shot on goal in the 66th minute, but Steven Ferguson's long range effort lands in the crowd. Rangers bring on Milan Baros for Dean Ashton and Julian Joachim for Sean Thornton as they look to score the 2nd goal which should secure the 3 points. When the goal finally arrives, it is a bizarre one - brilliant play by Scott Agnew on the wing sees him evade the Ayr defence to move into the box before firing his shot straight at the far post where it rebounds to the Ayr 'keeper Nick Colgan who fumbles it into the net for an own goal. With Ayr looking totally bereft of ideas, Milan Baros again hits the post for Rangers with the Ayr defence looking all at sea. Baros makes amends for his miss however as the game enters injury time with a thunderous shot from 10 yards out after being sent through by Agnew to wrap up the 3 points and a welcome victory with news from Pittodrie that Aberdeen are on the verge of being beaten. If Rangers can score another 4 in injury time they will move into 4th! Unsurprisingly it doesn't happen, but a win of any kind is welcome at Ibrox and for the first time in a while the fans go home happy.

FT: Glasgow Rangers 3-0 Ayr United

Kilmarnock vs Hibernian

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Kilmarnock 4 wins, Hibernian 2 wins, 1 game drawn. Kilmarnock have scored 13 goals, Hibernian have scored 10 goals.

Team News: The home side make 2 changes from the side which lost to Ayr. Freddy Dindeleux, despite having had his 3 match ban for the sending off in that match overturned is now out injured for 2 months so Gordon Greer takes his place in defence. Up front, Kris Boyd is dropped to the bench as Fraser Logan makes just his 4th start of the season. For Hibs, Zambernardi is back in place of Allan Dempsie at left back and Ricky Waddell comes in on the left wing to replace the suspended Derek Riordan. Having being rested against Aberdeen, Kevin Thomson returns to the midfield with Jamie McKenzie on the bench.

Match Report:

So, the most eagerly awaited Scottish league match in recent history kicks off as the nation waits to see which club will become the first since Aberdeen in 1985 to break the Old Firm strangle hold. Killie's Gary Holt and Hibs' Mathias Doumbe both pick up early yellow cards before a single shot on goal. Kilmarnock make most of the early running, passing the ball around as they look for an opening and John Paul Boyle eventually finds one, but hits the post with his shot. Stephen Murray fires narrowly over the bar after a Johnathan Baillie defensive error, but halfway through the first half it is still 0-0. With the pressure of the occasion getting to both sides, a scrappy first half sees little further action until Scott Brown wins the ball on the right wing and cuts infield, but shoots straight at Graham Smith who fists the ball away. Stephen Murray picks up the 3rd yellow card of the game, but the first half ends goalless.

HT: Kilmarnock 0-0 Hibernian

The second half begins a little more brightly with Tam McManus given an early opportunity which he hits too tamely straight at the 'keeper. John Paul Boyle picks up another yellow card for Kilmarnock. With 64 minutes on the clock, still 0-0, Kilmarnock bring on Kris Boyd and John Spicer to replace Fraser Logan and Gary Holt. Hibernian likewise make changes, Mark Burchill taking Tam McManus' place and Kevin O'Neill coming on for Ricky Waddell. Into the 80th minute, a Hibs goalkick comes off Shaun Dillon with Garry O'Connor lurking to pick up the loose ball. O'Connor's shot is well saved, but there is nothing Graham Smith can do to stop Mark Burchill yet again putting away a late rebound to give Hibs a dramataic lead. Kilmarnock react instantly, bringing on striker Martin Cameron to replace left-back Michael Gray and switch to 3-4-3, but it may be too late. In the 85th minute, John Paul Boyle's shot is blocked by Mathias Doumbe who hurriedly kicks the ball out for a corner to Kilmarnock. Canero's corner comes back to him, but his fierce shot is well held by Morten Hyldegaard. Good work down the left from Burchill wins Hibernian a freekick with just 2 minutes remaining. After a suitable amount of time wasting, the corner is taken and headed out for a Kilmarnock throw-in as the 4th official holds up the board informing the anxious crowd that there will be just 2 minutes of injury time. From the throw-in, Invincibile takes the ball all the way down the wing before Brebner tackles resulting in another corner for the home side. Murray whips in the corner, but too close to Hyldegaard who calmly rises to catch the ball. As a frustrated Gordon Greer hacks down Burchill on the halfway line in a desperate attempt to win back the ball in the 92nd minute, Kilmarnock know their hopes are over and the final whistle duly sounds as soon as Baillie hits the freekick.

FT: Kilmarnock 0-1 Hibernian

To get the lesser action concluded first, Aberdeen's wretched form continued, but Glasgow Rangers bounced back with a long overdue win. Indeed, thanks to Aberdeen's almost total collapse, failing to win any of their last 7 league games, Rangers find themselves level on points with the Dons heading into the final game of the season in search of that all important UEFA Cup qualifying spot. For Ayr, it was a case of being outclassed again, but not really caring in the end whilst Celtic have secured 3rd place thanks to their brilliant mid-season run and good end of season form.

But it was to Rugby Park that all eyes were turned and the table topping clash between Kilmarnock, who had held top spot in the league ever since matchday 6 when they beat Hibernian 2-0 at Rugby Park, and Hibernian. That Hibernian are now in prime position to win the title is a source of much surprise to many as, after that explosive start to the season, they have been largely anonymous, always in the chasing pack, but never really finding the form to mount a credible title challenge. Suddenly though, the neat, tidy, quietly efficient team who now have the best defence in the league have deposed the snazzy, swashbuckling and freescoring side who many felt had all but wrapped up the title. 2 defeats in a row have proved highly costly for Kilmarnock however as their opponents hit form at just the right time with 5 wins on the trot, albeit in somewhat uninspiring form with 3 successive 1-0 wins with the winning goals coming on 83, 85 and 80 minutes. The question of who deserves the title most is often a controversial one, but ultimately it has to be said that the team who puts the most points on the board over 38 games deserves the title, however they manage to do it. Hibs may not always be the exciting expansive side that Kilmarnock are, but they have certainly put in some impressive attacking displays - the public however tend to remember the games at the business end of the season far more than the 5-0 and 6-1 victories of earlier in the campaign.

Of course, the title race is not over yet and now seems like an opportune moment to point out this small fact. In fact, the final day of the season promises to be just as tense as today as the Old Firm, still licking their wounds, have their say in the destination of what both consider to be their title. Glasgow Celtic play host to Hibernian with nothing to play for, but pride will ensure that they do everything within their power to finish the season with a win to head into the cup final. Glasgow Rangers on the other hand have absolutely everything to play for at Rugby Park. Their destiny is not in their own hands, but one thing that is for sure is that if they lose they will not be playing in Europe next season unless Aberdeen are pasted at Ayr. Whatever happens in a week's time, it will be a day to remember and at this point it is anyone's guess where the title will end up. Kilmarnock could take the title with a draw, but that would require the best defence in the league to open like the Red Sea at Celtic Park so realistically Killie have to beat Rangers and then look to Glasgow to see if that is enough...you pays your money, you takes your chance, but this narrator is staking 10p on Hibernian taking the title!

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Rangers

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

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1st Hibernian 37 24 4 9 69 29 +40 76

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2nd Kilmarnock 37 23 6 8 79 43 +36 75

3rd Glasgow Celtic 37 22 5 10 62 38 +24 71

4th Aberdeen 37 19 7 11 64 31 +33 64

5th Glasgow Rangers 37 17 13 7 62 33 +29 64

6th Ayr United 37 14 4 19 56 62 -6 46

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7th Dundee Utd 37 15 5 17 34 55 -21 50

8th Hearts 37 12 11 14 47 61 -14 47

9th Dundee 37 10 8 19 53 67 -14 38

10th Partick Thistle 37 9 6 22 36 63 -27 33

11th Livingston 37 8 7 22 34 76 -42 31

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12th Dunfermline 37 7 8 22 32 70 -38 29

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SPL Matchday 38

Ayr United vs Aberdeen

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Ayr 1 win, Aberdeen 3 wins, 1 game drawn. Ayr have scored 4 goals, Aberdeen have scored 13 goals.

Team News: Young left winger Chris Robertson is injured for Ayr so Dougie Ramsey replaces him on the bench. The starting eleven for both teams remains the same as their last matches with 8 Aberdeen players having played in, and started every single SPL match this season - Ryan Esson, Russell Anderson, Phil McGuire, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Fergus Tiernan, Ross O'Donoghue, Paul Sheerin & Keigan Parker. Alexander Diamond and Kevin McNaughton have missed just 2 and 3 league games respectively.

Match Report:

A tight first half sees relatively few goalscoring opportunities, Nigel Reo-Coker and Mark Campbell both testing Ryan Esson and Paul Sheerin forcing 3 saves from Nick Colgan at the other end. In the 36th minute Ayr finally make the breakthrough with a training ground routine, Stuart McGrady's corner headed home by Darren Byfield to put Ayr 1-0 up. Franck Djadjedje and Steven Ferguson have further chances before half time, but there are no further goals.

HT: Ayr United 1-0 Aberdeen

Just 5 minutes into the 2nd half, Paul Sheerin plays a delicious defence-splitting pass to put Fergus Tiernan clear, but the midfielder shoots straight at Nick Colgan who parries the shot. Ayr immediately go on the offensive with Darren Byfield curling a shot just over the bar. 5 minutes later there is no mistake however as McGrady's left wing cross is blasted in by Darren Byfield for his 20th goal of the season. The 2nd goal shakes Aberdeen into action and almost immediately they string together a series of neat passes, looking for a breakthrough which eventually comes as Tiernan feeds Ross O'Donoghue who steers his shot around Nick Colgan to put the Dons back in the game at 2-1. It takes Ayr just 3 minutes to re-establish their 2 goal lead as Andrew Ferguson rises at the near post to head McGrady's corner goalwards. Phil McGuire gets his foot on the ball, but only succeeds in turning it into his own net. Aberdeen bring on Darren Mackie and James Morgan in place of O'Donoghue and Cunningham in an attempt to turn the game around. Ayr wrap up the points on 75 minutes as Steven Ferguson plays a freekick forward for Andrew Ferguson to slide through the legs of Ryan Esson for 4-1. From the kickoff Aberdeen begin to build, feeding the ball right to James Morgan whose pinpoint cross finds Keigan Parker's head at the nearpost to make it 4-2 with his 30th of the season. Darren Mackie and Keigan Parker have further chances, but spurn them as Aberdeen end a dismal finish to the season with yet another defeat. Keigan Parker's 28th league goal of the season puts him 1 clear of John Paul Boyle's total before Kilmarnock's match at home to Rangers.

FT: Ayr United 4-2 Aberdeen

Glasgow Celtic vs Hibernian

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Celtic 4 wins, Hibernian 2 wins, 3 games drawn. Celtic have scored 12 goals, Hibernian have scored 12 goals.

Team News: Celtic switch from their 4-4-2 formation to a 5-3-2 for this match. With Gronkjaer out, Mark Pembridge comes in to play on the left. John Kennedy drops to the bench whilst Stilian Petrov and Martin Liguera are dropped completely with Liam Miller, Paul Lambert and Neil Lennon all coming into the midfield. Upfront John Hartson partners Nyron Wau with Larsson and Sutton both dropped to the bench. Hibernian select an unchanged side with Derek Riordan still suspended so Ricky Waddell continues on the left wing.

Match Report:

The first shot on goal of the game comes in the 6th minute as Nyron Wau flashes his shot just wide of the far post for Celtic. Hibernian's first attack of the game comes from Yannick Zambernardi feeding Ricky Waddell down the left, Waddell crossing for Tam McManus to shoot, but Hedman makes an excellent save. Wau sends another shot wide on 15 minutes as Celtic continue to pressure the Hibs defence. 5 minutes later Wau is clear again, but Doumbe clips him from behind to concede a penalty which Steven Crainey steps up and bangs into the back of the net. The inevitable consequence for Doumbe and Hibs is a straight red card, leaving the league leaders in serious trouble, a goal down away from home with 10 men. Into the last 5 minutes of the half, Hibs begin to fall apart as Nyron Wau turns Mark Pembridge's cross into the net for 2-0. 2 minutes later, Hibs are back in it however as Paul Lambert misses the ball allowing Tam McManus to whip in and fire past Hedman for 2-1.

HT: Glasgow Celtic 2-1 Hibernian

Celtic start the second half strongly and soon take a 3-1 lead through John Hartson, reacting first after Hyldegaard brilliantly palmed away Larsson's fierce effort. Just 2 minutes later Hartson strikes again as Hibs crumble, now 4-1 down and still with 40 minutes to play. As the hour approaches, an unmarked Umit Davala is allowed two attempts to put away a Serge Branco corner, the first being saved, but landing straight at his feet to score the 5th...an important goal which means that a draw for Kilmarnock at Rugby Park will now give them the title unless Hibs can score again. Hibs make a triple substitution - Hjartarson, Burchill and McKenzie replacing O'Connor, Waddell and Brebner. Celtic have now taken total control and are pummelling the Hibs goal with shots as the second half continues. The 6th goal comes from Henrik Larsson after Umit Davala's shot was saved by Hyldegaard who has played fairly well despite conceding 6 goals!! Larsson also nets the 7th as the Hibs fans in the away end become resigned to listening to the updates from Rugby Park, willing on Glasgow Rangers for a win.

FT: Glasgow Celtic 7-1 Hibernian

Kilmarnock vs Glasgow Rangers[/i]

Previous meetings over the last 2 seasons: Kilmarnock 3 wins, Rangers 2 wins, 6 games drawn. Kilmarnock have scored 13 goals, Rangers have scored 12 goals.

Team News: Kilmarnock are still without Freddy Dindeleux (groin) and Gordon Greer and Gary Holt are both suspended. Stephen Caldwell comes in at the back with Gary MacDonald replacing Holt in the midfield. Upfront Kris Boyd returns to the starting line-up with Logan dropped to the bench. Rangers make just 1 change with Milan Baros replacing Scott Agnew. Darren Bent switches to wide right with Baros joining Ashton in attack.

Match Report:

Kilmarnock make a lightening start with Stephen Caldwell playing the ball forward to James Fowler, Fowler heading it on and Kris Boyd finding the gap in the defence to receive the ball and fire home after just 44 seconds. Further shots from Invincibile and Boyd again follow as Kilmarnock dominate the opening 10 minutes. Another flowing move from Kilmarnock on 28 minutes sees the ball move from right wing to left with Boyle crossing for Stephen Murray, but the winger can only fire his shot at Stefan Klos in the Rangers goal. Rangers finally get a chance in the 36th minute as Sean Thornton intercepts a Killie pass to start a fast counter-attack which ends with Lovenkrands shooting inches wide of the far post. In the closing minutes of the first half, Stephen Hughes' corner is headed straight at Graham Smith who saves comfortably. Just a minute later Rangers get the equaliser, Milan Baros clinically finishing a move started just seconds earlier by goalkeeper Klos.

HT: Kilmarnock 1-1 Glasgow Rangers

Kilmarnock again start strongly with John Paul Boyle testing Stefan Klos early in the second half. Invincibile fires well over the bar in the 55th minute as Kilmarnock attempt to take control of a slightly scrappy game, knowing that they need a win to have a chance unless Hibernian lose heavily. On the hour, news of Celtic's quickfire 3rd, 4th and 5th goals filters through to the Rugby Park crowd who now realise that as things stand Kilmarnock will be champions and that a win will guarantee it unless 10 man Hibs score an improbable 5 more goals. Almost the same moment the news filters through however, a shocked silence descends over the ground as Dean Ashton's scuffed shot beats Graham Smith to put Rangers 1-2 infront. Kilmarnock instantly throw on Martin Cameron in place of Gary MacDonald and switch to 4-3-3. Rangers replace the injured Jagielka with Fernando Ricksen. With 15 minutes left, Boyle charges down the left wing to cross for Martin Cameron, but the tall striker's weak header is easily saved. Just 2 minutes later, Boyle astonishingly misses from 3 yards out at the near post as the home fans bite their nails, knowing that with Celtic now 6-1 up against Hibs, a draw will be enough if Kilmarnock can just equalise.

Dean Ashton and Milan Baros (twice) fire shots wide and high respectively as things get more and more tense into the final 5 minutes of the game, Celtic now 7-1 infront. Into the 87th minute, Stephen Murray comes away down the left wing and looks to pick out a man in the box, his cross floats over the top of Boyle and Cameron, but James Fowler arrives at the far post to launch himself at the ball which dribbles over the line after being parried by Klos. Kilmarnock are level with just 3 minutes to go!! In the 90th minute Sean Thornton finds himself clear, one on one with Graham Smith, but Michael Gray somehow gets back to get in a vital challenge as Thornton gets ready to unleash an unstopable effort. Kilmarnock hold on and the final whistle finally blows as the Killie players drop to their knees. It wasn't quite the end to the season they had envisaged, taking 1 point from their last 3 games to win the title on goal difference, but no-one cares any more how they managed it!

FT: Kilmarnock 2-2 Glasgow Rangers

The script could hardly have been written better for this final day - the emotions at Celtic Park and Rugby Park could hardly be more contrasting. For Hibernian, so long nowhere sensibly close to challenging for the title, they had snatched victory only to have it snatched back in a cruel twist of fate. As the reality of the situation sunk in, Hibs' players and fans knew all too well that even a 4-1 defeat at Celtic Park would have given them the title, but Mathias Doumbe's sending off just made it all a bridge too far. At Rugby Park, fans of both sides are elated as news not only from Celtic Park, but also from Somerset Park, Ayr filters through that Aberdeen have been beaten and Rangers have bagged 4th place and the UEFA Cup qualification spot. From the reaction of fans and players, anyone would think they had won the league, but the reality is that they have rescued the absolute minimum required from the season due to stumbling across the finishing line marginally better than an Aberdeen side whose finish was worse than that of a 3-legged constipated camel. Just a single win after the league split for Rangers and indeed 1 win from their final 11 league games is hardly form to be proud of, but somehow it brought them 4th place!

Despite the obviously momentous events of Celtic Park and Rugby Park, the last word will go where the first word went, to Ayr United. They weren't in the title race and finished a distant 6th with fewer points than Dundee United in 7th, but 2 wins in those last 5 games was a highly respectable return and their first season after promotion has been a truly memorable one. The only downside was arch-rivals Kilmarnock sneaking the title despite Ayr's best efforts!! Worthy of final note is the amazing achivement of Ayr United's Steven Ferguson who managed to scoop the top 3 goals in the goal of the season competition with a hat-trick of long-range pile-drivers!

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

Holders - Kilmarnock

Pos Inf Team Pld Won Drn Lst For Ag G.D. Pts

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1st C Kilmarnock 38 23 7 8 81 45 +36 76

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2nd Hibernian 38 24 4 10 70 36 +34 76

3rd Glasgow Celtic 38 23 5 10 69 39 +30 74

4th Glasgow Rangers 38 17 14 7 64 35 +29 65

5th Aberdeen 38 19 7 12 66 35 +31 64

6th Ayr United 38 15 4 19 60 64 -4 49

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7th Dundee Utd 38 15 6 17 35 56 -21 51

8th Hearts 38 12 11 15 48 63 -15 47

9th Dundee 38 10 9 19 53 67 -14 39

10th Partick Thistle 38 9 7 22 36 63 -27 34

11th Dunfermline 38 8 8 22 34 71 -37 32

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12th R Livingston 38 8 8 22 35 77 -42 32

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I was considering a 1 post epilogue covering the basics of the following season, but I might not bother - I've moved on to FM mainly now...

You'll be pleased to know though that Aberdeen were very strong the following season, taking 2nd place on goal difference from Hibs as Rangers finally got their act together and blew everyone away icon_razz.gif

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