When talking to the press Scottish football managers give fans the opportunity to play a game of cliché bingo.
“We’re taking one game at a time”. Mark off a square. “He’s not that type of player”. Cringe, mark off another. After a miserable defeat, “I can’t fault the players for their effort”. Get it marked! “It is a tough place to go”. Score it off and BINGO!
Every coach is wise to the football-speak, racking their brain for a positive and inventive answer only to too often fall back on the lexicon of clichés.
The most common cliché peddled by top-flight managers is the claim that “X is a tough place to go”, “you never get an easy game at Y” or “Z is a tricky venue to get a result.”
Surely not every away venue in Scotland can be tough. The SuperSeal Stadium can’t put the same fear of God in to opposition players as a trip to Tynecastle.
A visit to one of the Highland clubs is talked up as if a team, usually from the central belt, are a group of intrepid explorers venturing in to the unknown, rather than travelling up the A9 in a luxury coach.
It’s simply the case of managers attempting to pull the wool down over fans’ eyes, deflecting from a poor result or getting their excuses in early.
So which venues should worry visiting managers? While which team(s) should be circled and underlined on the football calendar as a good chance of three points?
The rebranding of Scottish football ahead of the 2013-2014 season seems a good starting point to crunch the numbers for this ‘study’.
In just over three-and-a-half seasons, 15 teams have played 808 matches, discounting play-off games. There has been 345 home wins, 184 draws and 279 victories for the away side. So, 34.5 per cent of games have been won by the travelling side.
The focus will on the current 12 Premiership teams, which means St Mirren, Dundee United and Hibernian are discounted.
Before getting on to the crux of the article just a quick look at those three teams currently ‘enjoying’ differing fortunes in the Championship.
Hibs were in the fortunate position, due to the intricacies of the split, of having 20 homes games in season 2013/2014. It will bring up painful memories for fans as it was their last top-flight campaign, their woeful home form playing a key role in their relegation via the play-offs. Their four home wins was the 11th worst record for that season.
Hibs have improved on that figure, but even now they aren’t the dominant force at Easter Road they perhaps should be. Despite leading the Championship by six points they currently only have the third best home record.
Dundee United rank first this season as they try to keep pace with Hibs in the promotion race. Prior to their relegation season, Tannadice could be correctly viewed as a ‘tough place to go’, winning 60.5 per cent of their home games.
As for St Mirren, since moving in to the Paisley 2021 Stadium, home fans have only witnessed their team win 24.5 per cent of league games. That is 37 wins out of 151. Oh dear.
Anyway, time to break down each Ladbrokes Premiership team. This shall look at their win percentage as well as their without defeat record.
Aberdeen – Pittodrie
Win: 60 per cent
Without defeat: 80 per cent
For teams who have participated in every season of the Premiership, Aberdeen have played the lowest number of home leagues games.
Prior to the arrival of Derek McInnes the Dons were a soft touch. He arrived late in the 2012-2013 campaign. They won six home games, the same as the year before and the year before that. Since then it has not dropped below 10, and are already on five this season.
The wind sweeping off the North Sea, seagulls the size of primary school children and a lot of crosses in to the box make this the archetypal dreaded away fixture.
While the win percentage is impressive in itself, the figure without defeat shows how tough away teams have had it. Even Celtic have been given the odd bloodied nose.
Tough place to go (TPTG) rating: Tough, very tough.
Celtic – Celtic Park
Win: 81.8 per cent
Without defeat: 95.5 per cent
Well, this isn’t overly surprising. Towards the end of the failed Ronny Deila experiment it was said that Celtic, and Celtic Park, was losing its ‘fear factor’. They still won 29 home league games under the Norwegian over two seasons.
It was, however, an understandable conclusion. Celtic were more predictable, easier to play against and stymie, which in turn frustrated fans. One only has to look at the vast empty spaces during Deila’s tenure.
That ‘fear factor’ has returned under Rodgers. With nine wins from nine and 26 goals scored there is the realistic concern of not only losing but been giving a hiding. Celtic are playing with a vibrancy and different angles of attack which can lead to long stretches of constant, asphyxiating pressure.
TPTG rating: They don’t come tougher.
Dundee – Dens Park
Win: 32 per cent
Without defeat: 68 per cent
The Dark Blues have won only 16 of 50 games in the Premiership in front of their home fans. There has not been a lot of joyous moments at Dens.
The come from behind win against Hearts recently and the relegation of rivals Dundee United. Offer the latter to the Dee support for winning less than a third of home league games and they’ll still likely have taken it.
While they don’t win too many they are still a problematic opponent. Add in draws and the percentage more than doubles. One of the disappointments under Paul Hartley is the number of draws, which prevented the club reaching last year’s top six.
TPTG rating: An away day without fear, although expect a slog.
Hamilton Academical – SuperSeal Stadium
Win: 28.6 per cent
Without defeat: 63.3 per cent
The venue formerly known as New Douglas Park. If this writer was to fall in to cliché talk THIS is a ground which hovers around the top.
There is that pesky artificial surface which seems so alien to many managers, one which allows for any number of groans. The bounce! Those pellets! Injuries! Dry surface! Football should always be played on grass! Nonsense. Get real. Contrary evidence available. Something a little water won’t fix. What about all those mud-baths from when football was supposedly at its best?
The pitch should not come in to consideration. The quality is fantastic, plus the vast majority of players train and/or have grown up on these surfaces.
It’s the high-tempo and energetic ethos of the team which can cause opponents trouble. Yet, less than 30 per cent of their 49 games have been won.
TPTG rating: Stop worrying about the pitch, embrace the venue and record some away points.
Heart of Midlothian – Tynecastle
Win: 46.9 per cent
Without defeat: 69.4 per cent
A surprising figure considering players, managers, fans and journalists are always quick to talk about the atmosphere and how close the fans are to the pitch, making it difficult for visitors. Away from the Old Firm grounds, Tynecastle is the ultimate example of the TPTG cliché.
The figure has been skewed by Hearts’ expected relegation from the league in 2014 following administration. Although it only jumps to 56.7 per cent when solely taking last season and the 11 games so far this season in to examination.
An expectant and often malcontent home crowd calls for brave home players. Away teams can use that disgruntlement and thrive off it.
TPTG rating: Doesn’t have the same mystique. A tougher place for home players.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Caledonian Stadium
Win: 40.3 per cent
Without defeat: 71.6 per cent
There is always anticipation about away fixtures in the Highland capital, especially from fans. A welcoming feel to the city awaits, plus an out of town stadium. Although one which sits on the river, albeit picturesquely, giving the ground a much feared ‘wind factor’. A chill just thinking about it.
Managers have come and gone but there is a spine of the squad which remains in tact. Solid, intelligent players who know how to eke out results, even if that know-how has escaped them this season.
ICT should perhaps win more, but only two teams who have competed for a full season have lost fewer.
TPTG rating: Tricky, tricky, tricky. Get a point, get on the bus, get home.
Kilmarnock – Rugby Park
Win: 30.3 per cent
Without defeat: 48.5 per cent
Once again a pesky plastic pitch crops up. Kilmarnock’s home record, coupled with Hamilton’s win percentage shows that far too much is made of the artificial surface advantage.
Killie have been struggling now for a fair few seasons, with fans unhappy with going-ons both on and off the park. A number of home hidings haven’t helped matters at all.
The play-off victory over Falkirk was no more than a bright day on an altogether miserable year. Actually, years.
TPTG rating: Fill your boots away teams. Fill. Your. Boots.
Motherwell – Fir Park
Win: 46.3 per cent
Without defeat: 64.2 per cent
On a personal level this writer looks out for visits to Fir Park and immediately writes off any prospect of a result. Like a trip to the dentist, supermarket and petrol station all rolled in to one. In the wind and rain. And you’ve forgotten your wallet.
Their record backs it up, to an extent. Their win ratio is respectable, well above average for the league. However, when draws are taking in to account the strength of their home record drops to middle of the road.
TPTG rating: It’s not nearly as tough as made out in the first paragraph. And remember to KEEP CIGARETTES AWAY FROM THE MATCH.
Partick Thistle – Firhill
Win: 26.5 per cent
Without defeat: 55.9 per cent
Thistle, through their home form, did their best to return to the second tier following promotion. They won a mere two games in front of their own fans. The first three points didn’t arrive at Firhill until late February.
It has improved since then. It had to! Yet, Maryhill is a happy hunting ground for away teams. No team has a lower win percentage, a fact that Thistle will be trying to improve drastically or, failing that, hide when it comes to season ticket renewals.
TPTG rating: A great away day for fans, players and coaches.
Rangers – Ibrox
Win: 63.6 per cent
Without defeat: 90.9 per cent
There was debate whether to include Rangers, considering sample size. Yet, such is their budget and the culture of apprehension of visiting teams the statistics are relatively true, especially the without defeat percentage.
It would be very surprising if the win percentage did not increase by around 20 per cent in the coming seasons. This season has been a struggle for Rangers at times in front of their own support as they labour to break teams down, which explains the variance between the two figures.
TPTG rating: Difficult already and only going to get tougher.
Ross County – The Global Energy Stadium
Win: 39.7 per cent
Without defeat: 48.5 per cent
It is the without defeat figure which is most startling. The same as Kilmarnock! For a team which are currently in the top six, have won silverware, finished in the top six and been in contention for the top six in recent years. Losing more than 50 per cent of home games should equal relegation battles.
Look deeper and it becomes clearer. Between March 26, 2014 and September 9, 2016 the Staggies did not draw at home once in the league. Two full league campaigns, and then some.
Stating the obvious, but winning two home games and losing four, is much better than four draws and two defeats. That has been the key to County’s home form.
TPTG rating: Expect a good game, if nothing else. Not nearly as tough as one would think.
St Johnstone – McDiarmid Park
Win: 43.3 per cent
Without defeat: 70.1 per cent
Looking at what Tommy Wright has achieved at St Johnstone, their consistency at reaching the top six despite their budget and their ability to compete on a game to game basis with the bigger teams it is quite surprising Saints’ win percentage is so low. In fact, it’s disappointing.
It is an issue that has popped up again this season, but Saints are prone to dropping daft points to teams who aspire to achieve what the Perth side have.
McDiarmid Park isn’t so much a TPTG, more a team who are tough to play any time, any venue. The without defeat figure is much more relevant to St Johnstone as a whole.
TPTG rating: Another venue where a point is a good result, but perhaps teams should be looking for more.