Football Expert & Columnist
Our new SPL columnist Andy Walker can't see Rangers winning the title if they lose Kenny Miller.
Last Updated: 17/01/11 12:08pm
Hardly a week goes by in Scottish football without the need to comment on the latest spat between Celtic and the Scottish Football Association.
Make no mistake, both sides have been itching to get at each other after a series of rows about refereeing standards over the last 18 months or so and the truth is there's plenty more to come now that Celtic have hired one of the country's top lawyers to fight manager Neil Lennon's recent six-game ban for his behaviour on the touchline during the 2-0 defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle last November.
Trust me, this dispute will run for months.
In the middle of all that astonishing business, there's a championship to be won and right now, it's still too close to call.
Rangers got back to within five points of Celtic with the Ibrox men having played three games fewer than the current league leaders with a convincing 4-0 demolition of Hamilton Accies.
Kenny Miller didn't manage to add to the 21 goals he's scored already this season but it's fair to say that Walter Smith's best hope of claiming a third successive title must surely rest with the immediate future of his top scorer.
Birmingham City and Fiorentina both want to take the player now and the latest club to show an interest are Turkish champions Bursaspor. If Miller leaves Ibrox this month, I can't see how Rangers can win the title.
Rangers supporters won't be short of options up front if he goes but it's simply unrealistic to think that Nikica Jelavic, Kyle Lafferty, James Beattie or Steven Naismith can match Miller for a similar return of vital goals in the second half of the season.
Quite simply, the January transfer window could define the season.
Celtic already have the edge on their rivals in terms of squad size and will probably flex their superior financial muscle to ensure one or two quality players are added to the squad before the window closes.
My money is on a defender and another striker for the challenges that lie ahead in the business end of the season.
Two goals from Antony Stokes and one from fit again Gary Hooper gave them a comfortable 3-0 win against a struggling Hibs side. The tricky cup-tie away to Ayr Utd on Tuesday night will go a long way to shaping the relationship new manager Colin Calderwood has with the Hibs supporters.
They'll quickly forget the good work he's done at Northampton, Nottingham Forest and Newcastle if they go out to a Second Division side.
One thing we would all welcome in Scotland is a three-horse race for the title with Hearts putting together the strongest squad they've had in years.
Their game against Dundee United was postponed but it has to be said that Hearts always threaten to get into the race for the title but rarely deliver. It was a big surprise to see them knocked out of the Scottish Cup last week, losing 1-0 at home to St Johnstone - their next run of games will tell us if they can cope with the pressure.
Rangers visit Ibrox on Saturday and then Jim Jefferies will take his men to Celtic Park four days later. If they can manage to get closer to the Big Two after those games, I'll begin to take them seriously as title contenders.
But for me, the most impressive manager of the year so far has to be Mixu Paatelainen at Kilmarnock. With Kilmarnock minutes away from being relegated last season, the change in their fortunes under Mixu has been nothing short of remarkable.
Lying fourth in the table, the goals of Conor Sammon will be missed as he looks likely to sign for championship side Scunthorpe. His last strike earned the Ayrshire side a point at home to St Johnstone in Saturday's 1-1 draw.
Motherwell and Inverness Caley Thistle also shared the points at Fir Park in a no-scoring draw and like Kilmarnock, Motherwell will have to cope without the services of one of their top players for the second half of the season.
Mark Reynolds is on the move to Sheffield Wednesday and striker Alan Gow has also moved on; new boss Stuart McCall is hoping to use his contacts in the lower leagues of England to beef up his squad.
As expected, Craig Brown has made an immediate impact at Aberdeen. After working his magic at Motherwell, he has taken on the task of bringing some respectability back to a club that has stumbled from one bad result to another.
When he came in they were joint bottom of the table but a new winning mentality has seen them climb the table and threatening to get back into the top six and there's a good chance he could take his squad to a cup final.
Celtic at Hampden in the semi-final of the League Cup is a daunting prospect but one they'll go into with growing confidence at the end of the month.
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