After Hearts and Rangers secured wins in contrasting fashion on Saturday to keep the all-important race for second place in the balance, the fixtures computer threw up the tantalising prospect that it could go to the wire and be decided in a final-day face-off.
The title is already Celtic's, meaning the only outstanding issue of significance is who fills the runners-up slot and wins access to next season's Champions' League. Hearts' 4-0 win over Dunfermline keeps them three points clear of Rangers, who stuttered past Motherwell 1-0.
With five games remaining, the "split" comes into play, with the top six facing each other once more, and the same again in the bottom half. The computer has handed Rangers three away games (at Celtic, Kilmarnock and Hibernian), sandwiched between next weekend's Ibrox match against Aberdeen and the season-ending home game with Hearts on 7 May.
Hearts have three home games left, starting with Kilmarnock next weekend. They then play an Edinburgh derby at Hibernian before hosting Celtic and Aberdeen ahead of the denouement at Rangers. A weekend of derbies in a fortnight's time already looks pivotal. Hearts play at Hibs on 22 April, followed by Rangers at Celtic the next day.
On Saturday's evidence alone, Hearts are not just in the driving seat but revving to the finish while Rangers' clapped-out season is threatening to splutter to the line. Hearts made the kind of storming start that has been a trademark of their best performances this campaign, going 3-0 up within 25 minutes through Michal Pospisil, Roman Bednar and Saulius Mikoliunas. After easing up, the fourth arrived via a substitute, Juho Makela, eight minutes from time.
Rangers scored a good goal through Kris Boyd, ably assisted by Thomas Buffel and the outstanding Barry Ferguson. But against limited opponents, they were profligate, timid and uninspired. Playing at home with a huge incentive to win comprehensively, they should never have been sitting back, content to counter on the break. Yet they did, and almost paid for it late on, when Ronald Waterreus was forced into making saves to hold on to the victory.
"I'm not saying it was a brilliant performance but it was a good win," Alex McLeish, the Rangers manager, said. An immediate concern is the health of Peter Lovenkrands, who pulled up lame late on while dashing for a ball. Tests will show early this week whether he has torn a groin muscle or not.
Remaining fixtures in the race for second place: Sat 15 April: Hearts v Kilmarnock; Rangers v Aberdeen. Sat 22 April: Hibernian v Hearts. Sun 23 April: Celtic v Rangers. Sat 29 April: Kilmarnock v Rangers. Sun 30 April: Hearts v Celtic. Tue 2 May: Hibernian v Rangers. Wed 3 May: Hearts v Aberdeen. Sun 7 May: Rangers v Hearts.
Scottish society is riven by bigotry, says Lennon
Neil Lennon, the Celtic captain, has said that religious bigotry is prevalent in Scottish society. A Catholic who grew up in Northern Ireland, Lennon (right) signed for Celtic in 2000 and two years later retired from international football after receiving death threats, apparently from Loyalists.
"[Bigotry] is alive and kicking to the detriment of the majority of the people here," he said yesterday. "It is not going to go away. You can't pull any punches when it comes to Rangers and Celtic, it is an intense hatred but I would like to see it just for the 90 minutes.
"I don't mind people calling me this, that or the other as long as it doesn't spill into my private life but that's the problem, it has.
"In the incident with the two students [in Glasgow in 2003]... the only thing holding me back was the press reaction. It was two students, who you would assume to be very clever. So if that is the effect bigotry has then it's not just in the working class, it's running right through society."Reuse content