Now that relegation is a mathematical impossibility* for Ross County F.C. I thought I’d take a look up the table at some other goals upon which the Dingwall men might wish to set their sights. First, there is “the split.” When the SPL expanded from 1o to 12 clubs for the 2000-2001 season the league was faced with the fact that if each club played each other club twice home and away, the season would last for 44 matches and with cup and European matches mixed in that was just to much. Thus, after 33 matches the SPL now splits into two groups of 6, the top six called the “Championship” group and the bottom six called the “Relegation” group. The idea being that the remaining five matches would be more competitive and have more at stake. All of this because apparently nobody in Scotland was willing to face the “horror” of an unbalanced schedule! Rest assured, this is not the stupidest set-up in world. No, Scotland will adopt that soon. Once you’ve finished with that link, keep three things in mind about it that the neither the article nor the various governing bodies have mentioned: First, that a version of this has already failed in Switzerland, and if there was ever a country that could make something complicated work… Second, if that’s not close enough to home, had the proposed new structure and the new splits (plural!) been in place this year, Ross County would already be in the relegation group, not fighting for a place in Europe. Finally, how do you sell season tickets for this nonsense when you don’t know if, during the final part of the season, you’ll be headed to County matches at Celtic Park or Cappielow? Anyway, back to the current split…
If Ross County want to be in the Championship group in four matches time it appears that at total of 51 points will seal the deal (they currently have 42). That number, however, would only come into play if all of the clubs in places 7-12 won all of their remaining matches, which would leave those clubs looking like this:
This scenario, however, cannot happen because many of these clubs will play each other over the next 4-5 matches. Plus, Dundee are done and Hearts would have to “win out,” County would have to “lose out,” and the scores of both clubs matches would have to result in a +16 in Heart’s goal differential- not going to happen.
I don’t have access to the league table after 33 matches for each SPL season starting with 2000-2001 (and lack the time and energy to go and do all of that math on my own!), but based on the final season point totals from those years, County are probably going to finish in the Championship group. 45-47 points has been the finishing point total for the 6th place during that span, which puts County only about a win or two away from making it a certainty.
And now for the real fun…
Here are the final points totals for the lowest clubs to make either the Champions League or Europa League in every previous SPL season (except for the current one) along with the place in the table where the club finished:
There are clearly a few major “outliers” here (which I’ll explain below), but for the most part it’s not hard to see that a point total in the mid to upper 50s has generally gotten the job done. Let’s take a look at the three seasons 2004-2005, 2005-2006, and 2008-2009 where there is the most deviation from the norm.
In 2004-2005 Rangers were champions and Celtic were runners-up, so both qualified for the Champions League. Hibernian finished 3rd and qualified for the Europa League- fine so far. The reason that 9th place Dundee United (with only 36 points- only three better than relegated Dundee!) made the Europa League is because the Scottish Cup runner-up got a space that year if the Cup winner had already qualified. The winner was Celtic, so Dundee United were in. The club on the outside looking in were Aberdeen with 61 points. A little on the high side, but in the general vicinity of “normalcy.”
In 2005-2006 the scenario was essentially the same: Celtic won the league and Hearts came second, so they went to the Champions League. Third place Rangers went to the Europa League, where they were joined by Second Division champions Gretna F.C. who were runners-up to the already qualified Hearts. This meant that fourth place Hibernian missed out (they did get into the Intertoto Cup, but that’s not relevant to the current European set-up), despite having 56 points- which fits right into the sweet spot on the list above.
Finally, in 2008-2009, a confluence of events and new UEFA rules essentially created a “one-off” season in the SPL. Rangers (champions) and Celtic (runners-up) qualified for the Champions League- nothing strange there. Hearts (3rd) and Aberdeen (4th) qualified for the Europa League- normal. However, Falkirk qualified for the Europa League as the Scottish Cup runners-up and Motherwell qualified because Scotland earned an extra spot by finishing 3rd in UEFA’s Respect Fair Play Rankings.
So, having explained the more obvious outliers, let’s eliminate them, leaving the numbers looking like this:
That’s a little more like it. I could get even deeper into a few of these seasons, but this is good enough for our purposes. Based on these numbers, the average point total needed to gain a European slot in SPL history has been 55 (54.82) and the average place in the final table has been 4th (4.09). The SPL currently only has three guaranteed European spots (2 Champions, 1 Europa), but could gain an addition spot in the Europa League through the Respect Fair Play Rankings. Not wanting to count on that, it would seem that County should have two goals moving forward.
#1 Catch third place Inverness Caledonian Thistle (County currently trail them by a single point)
#2 Take 13 points from the 27 they have available to them in the next 9 matches.
Get in there, County!
*Fine, fine, for this to be true there must be a County must earn 4 more points, Dundee F.C. must lose 4 more points, or some combination of that must happen.