Scottish football: The 10 greatest moments of 2016

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As it says on the tin - unsurprisingly, the men’s national team feature nowhere on this list.

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Moussa Dembele fires the ball through the legs of Wes Foderingham during the first Old Firm derby of the 2016/17 season. Picture: John Devlin

Moussa Dembele fires the ball through the legs of Wes Foderingham during the first Old Firm derby of the 2016/17 season. Picture: John Devlin

10. Hibs’ cup comeback at Tynecastle

The Cup curse looked alive and well heading into the final 11 minutes of a cup tie between the two clubs at Tynecastle. Hibs had been the better side to that point, but trailed 2-0 thanks to first-half goals from Arnaud Djoum and Sam Nicholson. Then Jason Cummings scored a header which defied the laws of physics before Paul Hanlon found the equaliser in injury-time. There was still time for Hearts to hit the crossbar and have a header cleared off the line right at the end of a truly unforgettable cup tie. Hibs would go on to win the replay at Easter Road, and we all know what happened three months later.

9. Edinburgh City winning promotion

In general, 2016 wasn’t big on progression. However, in the lower reaches of Scottish football we did see a momentous shift towards equality and diversity. For years, clubs in the bottom tier of the league structure could assemble ragtag squads with the security that, regardless of how pathetic they were on the field, they could never be relegated. All the while, well-run clubs outside the league structure (with ambitions of getting in) could do little other than grumble and wait for the league to expand or someone to go out of business, and even then...

That all changed this past season when Edinburgh City, unsuccessful in the play-off semis the previous year, became the first team to gain promotion from the Lowland/Highland leagues to League Two. And, after a dreadful start, they’ve recently shown their worth in the SPFL.

8. Falkirk v Hibs play-off semi-final

In terms of absolute balls-to-the-wall drama, nothing can beat the play-off semi-final showdown between Falkirk and Hibs.

There were a couple of pieces of real controversy, one in each game which both went against Hibs, while five lead changes occurred across the two games, as it went 0-1, 2-1, 2-3, 4-3 and finally 4-5 in favour of Falkirk.

When Bob McHugh had netted in injury-time at the end of the second leg and it was finally all over, it was advisable for anyone watching at home to take a couple of deep breaths and compose themselves before continuing with the rest of their lives. How it took the top flight of Scottish football so long to reintroduce the play-offs is anyone’s guess.

7. Celtic’s 3-3 draw with Manchester City

Is it a little contrived to use a draw as one of the greatest moments in Scottish football this year? Yes, probably. However, this is where we are as a football nation.

Pep Guardiola and his seemingly unbeatable team came to Glasgow and everyone thought they were going to wipe the floor with Celtic because the leaders of the English Premier League are always going to be much stronger than the leaders of the Scottish Premiership. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in now. Thankfully, Celtic had other ideas, and pride in Scottish football was ever-so-slightly restored as they went toe-to-toe with City, earning a well earned 3-3 draw.

This is Scottish football in 2016. We’ll take the positives where we can get them.

6. Tom Rogic’s winning goal against Killie

It felt right to include a single goal in this list; one moment of individual brilliance to stand out above all others. There were a few candidates to choose from, but ultimately this one got the nod for its added significance.

It was the final minute of a frustrating afternoon for Celtic at Rugby Park. The match looked certain to be heading for a 0-0 draw. It was a result which would give Aberdeen a massive boost in the title race as, with eight games to go, they had the chance to overtake Ronny Deila’s side later that day with a win at Motherwell. Then Rogic unleashed his thunderbolt into the top corner. Two and a bit hours later, Aberdeen lost at Motherwell and the title was as good as over.

For the goal alone it’s a worthy winner. Of the other considerations some were excellent volleys - such as James Tavernier’s opener in the Challenge Cup final - but they didn’t have the surprise factor of Rogic’s goal. There’s always a sense of expectation that something special could happen when someone attempts a volley. The pace on the ball and its elevation from the earth lends itself to the spectacular. Rogic, by contrast, ran on to a rolling ball without much momentum, having just turned his marker and gotten it out of his feet. It had no right to travel with such speed, power and accuracy from such a distance. He hit it so well that even if he were another ten feet out it still would have beaten the goalkeeper. That’s why it was better than other long range examples, like Souleymane Coulibaly’s effort earlier this term. There’s no source of blame; no defect on the part of the defence or goalkeeper. It was perfect.

5. Women’s international team qualified for major tournament

In 2017, this nation will have representatives at a major international tournament for the first time in 19 years when the Scotland Women’s team take part at the Euros.

While the men’s game flounders from abject failure to baffling decision and back again, the women’s game has gone from strength to strength in this country. Head coach Anna Signeul and the players deserve an enormous amount of credit for becoming the first Scottish Women’s team to qualify for a major tournament. They managed to get over their play-off heartache in each of the previous two Euro qualification campaigns to make it to next year’s tournament with a game to spare.

If you’re a frustrated Tartan Army supporter pining for a trip to an international football festival, get yourself over to the Netherlands in July next year.

4. Dundee relegating Dundee United

Sorry United fans, but this one will live long in the memory, even if you don’t want it to.

For the past, erm, 40 years, United have been the more successful club in the City of Discovery. They’ve won league titles, league cups, Scottish cups and gone on some great European adventures. Dundee, by contrast, have reached three finals, winning none, and entered administration twice.

It’s fair to say it has been a frustrating generation or two for the blue half of Tannadice Street. However, that made it all the sweeter when they were given the opportunity to impose the ultimate ignominy on their struggling neighbours by relegating them at Dens Park.

In typical Dundee style, despite going into the match as clear favourites they made heavy work of it as Edward Ofere put United in front shortly after half-time. They would draw level through Kosta Gadzhalov and although a 1-1 draw was good enough to relegate their rivals, without a victory it wouldn’t be quite as sweet. Then, in stoppage time, boyhood Dundee fan Craig Wighton sent his fellow supporters into a state of delirium – and a ‘Mike from Breaking Bad’ lookalike into floods of tears – with a famous finish.

3. Dembele’s Old Firm hat-trick

The match itself could have been included as it’s certainly been the most talked about game of 2016. Although, an Old Firm hammering, while not exactly common, does come along more often than once in every 50 years.

It was in 1966 the last time someone netted a treble in an Old Firm league encounter. That was until Moussa Dembele ran riot in Celtic’s 5-1 victory in the first derby of the season. It announced the arrival of a much-anticipated summer signing who’s quickly established himself as one of the most wanted and highly sought after prospects in Europe. It also highlighted the vast improvement in Celtic under Brendan Rodgers.

2. Rangers upsetting Celtic in the Scottish Cup

There had been an Old Firm semi-final the year before, but due to the contrasting realities facing each club at the time there was never going to be much of a contest. Celtic were at the peak of the Ronny Deila era, while Rangers were essentially rudderless. They had an interim boss in Kenny McDowell who barely looked like he wanted to be there, and they were an absolute shambles behind the scenes.

Fast forward a year and two months and things were very different. Rangers had all but wrapped up the Scottish Championship crown and by defeating Dundee 4-0 in the previous round they’d shown themselves to have top flight pedigree throughout the side. Meanwhile, Celtic were limping over the finishing line as Deila’s tenure was coming to an inevitable conclusion. An upset was on the cards and so it proved.

From a Rangers perspective, the best thing about the day was that it could scarcely be argued they deserved the win. The second period and both halves of extra-time were fairly even affairs, but Mark Warburton’s side dominated the opening 45 minutes.

It’s not been all plain sailing for Rangers in 2016, but nothing can take away from the fact they defeated their arch-rivals while they were still a lower league club. It’s the first and probably only time it’ll ever happen.

1. Hibs winning the Scottish Cup

How could it be anything else?

Some may have insisted that it was “bound to happen” one day, but such an argument doesn’t hold weight when 114 years (ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN YEARS) had passed without it happening.

Over the past couple of decades, Hibs’ failure to win the Scottish Cup had gone beyond fact and was firmly entrenched in the Scottish football zeitgeist. From the late 90s through to May of this year, there seemed to be some sort of fundamental flaw at the heart of Hibs culture. In the two years leading up to the triumph, “Hibsed it” had become a popular term, not just within the confines of Edinburgh but the wider Scottish landscape. For many Hibs fans it was a continuous rotation of frustration, heartache and disappointment. So much so that crowds dwindled lower than 10,000.

And yet, all of that was forgotten when David Gray met Liam Henderson’s corner and directed it into the Rangers goal, giving Hibs a 3-2 lead in stoppage time. It was a true moment in history that, regardless of allegiances, no one in Scottish football will forget.

AMENDMENT

Bonus moment - Ross County winning the League Cup

I can’t believe I left this out of the top 10. It wasn’t even a matter of forgetting it. I actually wrote it down in the shortlist and then accidentally deleted it without realising.

It was a great match, with a memorable finale, which enabled the club to win their first ever major trophy. It was the culmination of a terrific journey for Ross County and Dingwall overall. Their club has gone from the Highland League to Hampden glory over these past two decades.

Jackson Irvine, one of the best players in Scottish football last year, had an absolute stormer, and we’ll all remember Alex Schalk for celebrating the injury-time winner by whipping off his top and showing everyone his sports bra.

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