What stood out in the 2014-15 Scottish football season?

Hamilton topped the Scottish Premiership in October
Hamilton Academical topped the Scottish Premiership in October

After nine months, or 41 weeks or, most precisely, 288 days, the conventional Premiership season came to a close at the weekend. There is still the play-off final to be contested, between Motherwell and Rangers, but time can to be taken to reflect on the campaign that has just passed.

The assumption was always that Celtic would retain their title, and the relegation places were filled for long enough by St Mirren and Motherwell for it to seem expected that they would finish as the bottom two clubs.

Enough analysis has been carried out on those outcomes, but they bookended plenty of drama and intrigue. So what moments and storylines stood out in the 2014-15 top-flight season?

The rise and falter of Hamilton Academical

Alex Neil began his season with a Scottish League Cup tie against Arbroath, and finished it overseeing Norwich's Premier League play-off final victory over Middlesbrough. In between, he guided Hamilton to a startling first season back in the top-flight, a tale that briefly looked as though it might eclipse all others this season.

For 26 days in October, Hamilton topped the Premiership, a remarkable feat for a side that had not been in the top-flight for four years. The club kept faith with the players who had earned promotion by defeating Hibernian in the play-off final, and trusted that Neil himself could adapt to top-flight management in only his second season in charge.

Instead, he excelled. Playing composed, ordered football, catching opponents on the break and allowing attacking freedom to the likes of Dougie Imrie, Tony Andreu and Ali Crawford, Hamilton went on a run of nine unbeaten league games after losing their opening match to Inverness.

That sequence included a 1-0 win at Celtic Park, their first victory at the stadium since 1938.

Alex Neil has taken Norwich City to the English Premier League in his first season
Alex Neil has taken Norwich City to the English Premier League in his first season

Neil left for Norwich on January 9, and Martin Canning was eventually confirmed as his successor, with the club hoping that by appointing the captain as manager there would be an element of continuity. Canning instead encountered a period of upheaval, not helped by Andreu joining Norwich, and the team went 13 games without a win.

Even so, a seventh-placed finish would have been beyond their hopes at the outset. It also proved that a reliance on young homegrown talents and a structured style of play can be rewarding.

Timing is everything - Dundee United

Jackie McNamara was preparing for a League Cup final against Celtic, a Scottish Cup quarter-final against the same side, and his side was fourth in the Premiership and still hopeful of qualifying for Europe when Dundee United sold Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic.

The deal made financial sense for the Tannadice club, with Mackay-Steven having already agreed to move to Celtic Park as a free agent in the summer, while United need to sell players to cover for operational losses each season.

That logic did little to soothe the mood of United fans, though, as the team slumped into a malaise. A drawn-out run of games against Celtic didn't help, with United losing the League Cup final, being knocked out of the Scottish Cup and being defeated in the Premiership.

Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong left Dundee United for Celtic in January
Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong left Dundee United for Celtic in January

The sense was of a team that had been diminished overnight, and it did not help that the sale came so late in the transfer window that United could not adequately replace two of their most important players.

The aftermath exposed underlying tensions, with some fans railing against the chairman Stephen Thompson. It also then emerged that McNamara's remuneration package includes a bonus related to transfer fees, although the manager plays no part in the decision-making process regarding sales, which are sanctioned by the board.

United ended up finishing fifth, with St Johnstone in line to qualify for Europe if Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who finished third, win the Scottish Cup. What the summer holds for the club, the chairman and the manager remains unknown.

Managerial ups and downs - the dramas of Rugby Park

Events at Kilmarnock were often bewildering. Allan Johnston oversaw a run of only two defeats in the opening 10 league games, taking Kilmarnock to fourth place in mid-October. They then failed to win in seven league games.

The inconsistency was marked, but did not appear to be threatening to the club's position in the Premiership. Yet days after the transfer window closed, Johnston had departed. He seemed to make the decision on the spur of the moment before entering a press conference, when he announced that he would leave at the end of the season, but the board dispensed with his services the following day.

Johnston was particularly irked by the late sale of Robbie Muirhead to Dundee United, since he was only told about the deal after the transfer window had closed. His assistant, Gary Locke, was appointed interim manager, and the team won two and drew four of their next six games. After Locke was confirmed as permanent manager, Kilmarnock lost six in a row and needed to win their penultimate game of the campaign to confirm their top-flight place.

A new chairman is in place, and Kilmarnock have shed their debt, but the club remains inconsistent and unable to harbour a period of progress.

Greg Stewart (left) was nominated for PFA player of the year alongside (from middle left) Stefan Johansen, Adam Rooney and Virgil Van Dijk
Greg Stewart (left) was nominated for PFA player of the year alongside (from middle left) Stefan Johansen, Adam Rooney and Virgil Van Dijk

One to watch - Greg Stewart

Last summer the striker was a part-time footballer at Cowdenbeath. Now, he is an established top-flight player, having scored 13 goals. Stewart went from working at the Grangemouth oil refinery to adapting to the rigours and demands of full-time football.

His progress was so impressive that he was named on the four-man shortlist for player of the year by his peers in the PFA Scotland poll.

"Last season, I was getting up for work at six o'clock in the morning, Monday to Friday, and having to rush home at four o'clock to get something to eat and jump back out the door on a Tuesday and a Thursday night to make training," the 25-year-old said.

"So when I got the chance to become a full-time footballer, I grabbed it with both hands."

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