Scotland's greatest top-flight title fights


Rangers have clawed back what was a seven-point gap to Celtic when Philippe Clement took over to truly ignite the closest top-flight title race in Scotland for years.

Celtic are now just a point clear of their rivals – having played a game more – heading into Sunday’s Old Firm clash, with this season now the closest title race since 2010-11. Rangers lifted the trophy that season, edging Celtic by a single point.


Sunday 7th April 11:00am


Kick off 12:00pm


As we gear up for a dramatic race to the Scottish Premiership finish line, Sky Sports looks at some of the closest and most dramatic title fights in Scottish football’s recent history…

2010-11

Champions: Rangers

Runners-up: Celtic

Rangers won the SPL title on the final day for the 2010/11 season
Image:
Rangers won the top-flight title on the final day for the 2010/11 season

In one of the most dramatic title races in Scottish football history, Rangers would pip Celtic to the trophy on the final day of the season after a campaign filled with controversy and entertainment.

Both sides of the Old Firm had won their opening eight league fixtures going into their first clash of the season at Parkhead, with Rangers winning 3-1 – their only derby victory in the league that term.

An unprecedented referees’ strike in November rocked Scottish football but Celtic had raced into an eight-point lead by late February after an emphatic 3-0 win over their rivals, even if Walter Smith’s side did have two games in hand.

Celtic lost at Inverness to hand advantage to Rangers
Image:
Celtic lost at Inverness to hand advantage to Rangers

When Celtic left Ibrox with a 0-0 draw on April 24 – a point behind but with a game in hand – many believed the title was theirs. However, a shock 3-2 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in May handed the initiative back to Smith’s side.

A win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on the final day would hand Rangers their third title in a row and any pre-match nerves were extinguished instantly as the visitors raced into a three-goal lead after seven minutes, eventually winning 5-1 in Smith’s final match in charge.

2008-09

Champions: Rangers

Runners-up: Celtic

Kris Boyd celebrates Rangers' title triumph in 2009
Image:
Kris Boyd celebrates Rangers’ title triumph in 2009

Celtic went into this season looking to complete four-in-a-row but it was Rangers who would finish in top spot after another chaotic title race went down to the final day.

Despite Rangers winning the first Old Firm clash of the season at Parkhead, thanks to a double from Kenny Miller, it was Celtic who proceeded to pull clear at the top of the table, winning 12 games in a row while Rangers stuttered.

An Old Firm victory at Ibrox meant Celtic were seven points clear going into the new year but Gordon Strachan’s side would win just seven of the next 14 games ahead of the final meeting between the two teams in Govan on May 9.

Rangers' Steven Davis celebrates after scoring in 2009
Image:
Rangers’ Steven Davis celebrates after scoring in 2009

Steven Davis scored the only goal of the game to move Rangers two points clear at the top of the table and, while Celtic briefly clawed ground back after Rangers could only follow that up with a draw at Hibernian, Strachan’s side also then played out a stalemate at Easter Road on the penultimate weekend of the season.

That meant Rangers went into the final round of the season two points clear and a 3-0 win over Dundee United at Tannadice sealed their first title in four years, while Celtic were held at home to Hearts.

2007-08

Champions: Celtic

Runners-up: Rangers

Celtic clinched the title in 2008
Image:
Celtic clinched the title in 2008

Another action-packed season in the Scottish top flight saw Celtic make it three title wins in a row on the final day of an all-consuming campaign.

Walter Smith’s first full season back at Ibrox saw his side in the running for a domestic and European quadruple but they would fall short on the final day in the league, eight days after losing the UEFA Cup final to Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester.

The closing stages of the season were clouded in controversy as Rangers battled a fixture backlog that saw them play nine games in just over three weeks in May, with the season being extended by four days due to their involvement in the European showpiece on May 14.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scores for Celtic in 2008
Image:
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scores for Celtic in 2008

Gordon Strachan’s side came out on top in an Old Firm double in April, taking six points at Parkhead to move clear of their rivals as the fixture pile-up began to take its toll on Rangers. Draws either side of those defeats to Celtic, as well as another stalemate at Motherwell on May 17 meant the two sides went into the final day level on points, with Celtic on top thanks to their superior goal difference.

It did not come down to goals in the end as Celtic beat Dundee United 1-0 at Tannadice, while Rangers finally succumbed to the schedule, going down 2-0 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie. They would console themselves with a Scottish Cup final win over Queen of the South at Hampden two days later to secure a cup double.

2004-05

Champions: Rangers

Runners-up: Celtic

Rangers won the 2004/05 title on a dramatic final day
Image:
Rangers won the 2004/05 title on a dramatic final day

When a group of Celtic fans unfurled a banner at full-time declaring that the league had been sealed at Ibrox in April 2005 very few could have disagreed. Martin O’Neill’s side had just won 2-1 to move five points clear with four games remaining – the title was surely done. What followed, however, was one of the most remarkable episodes in Scottish football history.

Celtic followed up that win with a shock 3-1 defeat at home to Hibernian and, with Rangers winning in Aberdeen the same weekend, the gap was back to two.

Celtic fans thought the title was won after victory at Ibrox
Image:
Celtic fans thought the title was won after victory at Ibrox

It remained that way until the 88th minute on the final day.

Rangers had done all they could – winning 1-0 at Hibernian. Over at Fir Park, Celtic squandered their 1-0 lead and the title with two minutes remaining, with boyhood Celtic fan Scott McDonald scoring a looping equaliser for Motherwell as the clock ticked down, before adding another 60 seconds later to hand the title to Rangers in the most dramatic of circumstances.

With that equaliser, one of the most iconic pieces of commentary in modern Scottish football history was born as journalist Peter Martin told radio listeners “the helicopter is changing direction” as the circling top-flight trophy began its journey along the M8 to Easter Road. Waiting was a jubilant but stunned group of Rangers players celebrating on a day now known as ‘Helicopter Sunday’.

2002-03

Champions: Rangers

Runners-up: Celtic

Manager Alex McLeish led Rangers to their 50th league title in 2003
Image:
Manager Alex McLeish led Rangers to their 50th league title in 2003

This race went down to the final kick of the season as Rangers clinched their 50th title amid extraordinary scenes at Ibrox.

Alex McLeish’s side were eight points clear of Celtic on April 19 after their Old Firm rivals lost 2-1 to Hearts at Tynecastle, although they did have a game in hand. However, Celtic would not drop a point after that while Rangers started to stutter.

A 2-1 derby defeat at Ibrox was followed by a 2-2 draw at Dundee as Celtic wiped out the deficit and both sides went into the final day level on points and with the same goal difference.

A dejected Celtic boss Martin O'Neill salutes the the fans after the final whistle at Kilmarnock
Image:
A dejected Celtic boss Martin O’Neill salutes the fans after the final whistle at Kilmarnock

That final day swung back and forth – Alan Thompson’s 54th-minute penalty at Kilmarnock gave Celtic a 3-0 lead which put them on top of the table for 10 minutes as Rangers were beating Dunfermline 3-1 at Ibrox.

Stiliyan Petrov added a fourth for Celtic but Thompson missed a second spot-kick as Rangers, 5-1 up at that point, were awarded a penalty of their own in time added on. Current Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was the coolest man in the country as his kick clinched the title.

Rangers would go on to win the treble, while Celtic, who had lost the UEFA Cup final to Jose Mourinho’s Porto just four days before that heartbreaking final day, would remarkably end the season with nothing.

1997-98

Champions: Celtic

Runners-up: Rangers

Celtic ended Rangers' 10-in-a-row bid in 1998
Image:
Celtic ended Rangers’ 10-in-a-row bid in 1998

Rangers’ bid to win the Scottish holy grail of 10-in-a-row was to fall flat on the final day as Celtic finally ended Walter Smith’s reign of success in his first spell at Ibrox.

It had been announced in October of 1997 that Smith was to leave the club at the end of the season but he had aims of doing so with a 10th successive title in tow. The prospects of that looked promising after an Old Firm win at Ibrox in April moved Rangers back to the top of the league.

However, Rangers’ hopes of becoming record-breakers imploded in the final four games of the season with defeats at Aberdeen and then, crucially, at home to Kilmarnock on the penultimate weekend of the season seeing Celtic take advantage to win the title, despite drawing two of their last three games of the season.

The Parkhead side had been revitalised since Fergus McCann’s takeover in 1994 and had been pushing Rangers closer under Tommy Burns but it was Wim Jansen who would finally lead Celtic back to the top after a decade in the wilderness.

1990-91

Champions: Rangers

Runners-up: Aberdeen

Rangers beat Aberdeen to the title in 1991
Image:
Rangers beat Aberdeen to the title in 1991

Rangers had seemed on course to retain their Scottish Premier Division title with a seven-point lead at the top (two points for a win) by the end of January 1991 before their campaign was nearly derailed in the closing stages of the season.

Graeme Souness was to leave Ibrox for Anfield with just four games remaining after completely revitalising the club during his time in Glasgow. His assistant Walter Smith took over but Rangers had been stuttering even before then.

Indeed, Aberdeen were top on goals scored going into the final day of the season after a remarkable run of form saw them drop just one point in 12 games. Rangers, by contrast, had stumbled badly – losing three, including a 3-0 defeat away to Motherwell on the penultimate weekend of the season – and drawing twice in the same period.

Aberdeen lost at Rangers on the final day of the 1990/91 season
Image:
Aberdeen lost at Rangers on the final day of the 1990/91 season

As it happened Aberdeen would visit Ibrox on the final day knowing that a draw would be enough to seal the title in what became a championship decider. Instead, two goals from Mark Hateley clinched Rangers’ third successive title and set Smith off on a path of success that would culminate in nine-in-a-row.

1985-86

Champions: Celtic

Runners-up: Hearts

Celtic won the 1985/86 title on goal difference
Image:
Celtic won the 1985/86 title on goal difference

Hearts were on course to claim their first league title in 26 years going into the final day of the season in 1986.

Alex MacDonald’s side had started the campaign poorly, with just two wins from their opening nine league fixtures. However, a defeat to Clydebank in late September would be their last until May as a 27-game unbeaten run propelled them to within a point of glory.

They were two points clear of Celtic (in the days of two points for a win) and had a superior goal difference of four ahead of their visit to Dundee on May 3, 1986. They needed just a point to make sure of the title, while even a defeat would be enough as long as Celtic did not get the goals they needed to deny them.

Albert Kidd denied Hearts their first title in 26 years
Image:
Albert Kidd denied Hearts their first title in 26 years

Instead, two goals from Albert Kidd in the final seven minutes broke their hearts. Celtic would go on to lift the title in dramatic fashion after a 5-0 win over St Mirren saw them pip the Jambos on goal difference.

Rangers finished in fifth before Graeme Souness really started his Ibrox revolution but this was an enthralling title race with Dundee United and Aberdeen involved after the Dons had won the previous two titles following United’s success in 1983.

1982-83

Champions: Dundee United

Runners-up: Celtic

Jim McLean lead Dundee United to the title in 1983
Image:
Jim McLean led Dundee United to the title in 1983

Jim McLean led Dundee United to their first and only Scottish top-flight title in 1983, finishing just a point ahead of Celtic and Aberdeen in a remarkable league campaign that ended with the ‘City of Discovery’ being at the heart of Scottish football on the final day.

The Tannadice side put an impressive run together in the second half of the season that saw them lose just once in 17 games as they beat Celtic in April, with Billy McNeill’s side also faltering three days later against title rivals Aberdeen.

It meant United could guarantee title success with a win on the final day at Dens Park – home of city rivals Dundee. Both Aberdeen – who had beaten Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup three days earlier – and Celtic won their final fixtures, against Hibernian and Rangers respectively.

Celtic and Aberdeen finished joint second in the league in 1983
Image:
Celtic and Aberdeen finished joint second in the league in 1983

Early goals from Ralph Milne and Eamonn Bannon helped to seal a 2-1 win, ensuring United topped the table by a single point ahead of Celtic and Aberdeen.

The league win took Dundee United into the European Cup where they reached the semi-finals the following season only to be eliminated in hugely-controversial circumstances against Roma.

1979-80

Champions: Aberdeen

Runners-up: Celtic

Sir Alex Ferguson won the title with Aberdeen in 1980
Image:
Sir Alex Ferguson won the title with Aberdeen in 1980

Alex Ferguson clinched the first of his three top-flight titles as Aberdeen boss in May 1980 after a remarkable season which saw his side recover from a 12-point deficit to be crowned champions ahead of Celtic.

Billy McNeil’s side let the title slip from their grasp as they lost twice to the Dons in April, either side of a 3-0 defeat to Dundee United and a 5-1 loss to Dundee.

By contrast, Aberdeen lost just once in 20 as they battled re-arranged fixtures and cup final heartache to emerge victorious in the league with a 5-0 win over Hibernian at Easter Road all but confirming the title while Celtic were held at St Mirren.

Celtic won the 1980 Scottish Cup after losing out on the league title
Image:
Celtic won the 1980 Scottish Cup after losing out on the league title

The win put Aberdeen level on points with Celtic but with a superior goal difference. Indeed, Ferguson’s side still had a game to play at Partick Thistle after the Parkhead side had completed their fixtures. Mathematically, Celtic still could have been declared champions had Thistle beaten Aberdeen by 10 goals but the Dons would eventually finish a point clear in the standings after a 1-1 draw.

Many of the Aberdeen players would go on to deliver more silverware under Ferguson, including a European Cup Winners’ Cup three years later.

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!

Sky Sports WhatsApp channel

You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!

Find out more here…



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top