Celtic's rivals face mission impossible; Rob Maclean picks his team of the (half) year

Celtic celebrate after beating Rangers
Celtic are 19 points clear at the top after beating Rangers 2-1 on Saturday

BBC Scotland football commentator Rob Maclean looks at the key themes to emerge from the weekend's football.

Mission impossible for challengers

The big problem for Rangers and Aberdeen in trying to play Scottish Premiership catch-up is that runaway leaders Celtic are no sitting target.

Manager Brendan Rodgers had some chilling words for the chasing pack after Celtic ended 2016 with their third Old Firm win of the season so far.

If they beat St Johnstone in their first game after the winter break, they'll be 22 points clear at the top after 21 matches.

Rodgers says his team, already far too good for any domestic challenge, will be even better on the back of the January shutdown.

Celtic will aim to get the title won at what could be a ridiculously early stage, take their first steps towards completing a treble and further strengthen the squad for another crack at the Champions League next season.

In a Scottish context, they're in a class of their own, disappearing into the distance.

Trying to hang on to their coat-tails is clearly mission impossible.

Team of the (half) year

Partick Thistle's Liam Lindsay celebrates
Partick Thistle's Liam Lindsay is one of the few non-Celtic players to make the top 11

Six Celtic players make it into my Premiership team of the season so far, which will be too many for some of you and not enough for lots of others.

Erik Sviatchenko, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele are the half-dozen in hoops.

Kieran Tierney would probably have made it seven had he not picked up a bad injury. That means Rangers captain Lee Wallace is in at left-back.

Aberdeen's Joe Lewis has to be in goal and Callum Paterson of Hearts is my right-back.

Completing the central defence - there aren't too many battering the door down - is Partick Thistle youngster Liam Lindsay.

And, while you're still shouting out in protest, Jonny Hayes will pip James Forrest and Barrie McKay for the final place.

So the team is: Lewis; Paterson, Sviatchenko, Lindsay, Wallace; Brown, Armstrong; Hayes, Rogic, Sinclair; Dembele. Knew you'd agree!

Dons just dandy, fading Hearts

Jonny Hayes hooked in the match winner at Tynecastle on Friday night and Aberdeen look to have reignited their bid for runners-up spot, ending the old year with three wins on the bounce.

The other consequence of that result in Gorgie could be Hearts starting to drop out of the race for second place.

I say "could be" because the next few weeks might see them boost the quality of their squad for the second half of the campaign.

But the reality is Hearts won only one of their six games in December and their hopes of getting back in Europe are in danger of fading away.

Foran needs striker

Inverness Caley Thistle manager Richie Foran looks disappointed against Ross County
Richie Foran was critical of himself after the 3-2 defeat by Ross County

Rookie gaffer Richie Foran has been brutally honest about the responsibility he has to take for the grim run of results that leave Inverness Caledonian Thistle kicking off 2017 at the bottom of the Premiership.

"I'm letting supporters down, I'm letting the board down," he said after the 3-2 Highland derby defeat in Dingwall on Hogmanay made it 10 games since their last win.

The New Year transfer window will surely hold the key to their chances of escaping the relegation dogfight and Foran will need to be equally brutal about the team improvements he has to make to start climbing the league.

A midfield protector in front of the back four has to be a priority.

I still think Gary Warren and Josh Meekings are a good central defensive pairing, but they need help to stem the flow of goals conceded, which is currently running at nearly two per game.

A regular goalscorer to follow in the footsteps of former players Adam Rooney, Billy Mckay and Foran himself would be useful too.

Let's hope the board don't let their manager down as he targets the new faces they need to secure survival.

Sons shine during December

What a show of defiance from Dumbarton in December as they hauled themselves nine points away from bottom spot in the Championship.

Lots of pre-season football forecasters were expecting the Sons to be deeply involved in the battle against relegation and there's still every chance they will be.

But Stephen Aitken and his team ended 2016 on a high with a home win against league leaders Dundee United - a couple of weeks after beating Falkirk - and 11 points stashed away from their last six matches.

Only United and title rivals Hibs can match that monthly total.

In contrast to that leading pair, Dumbarton operate on a bargain basement budget.

But what they do have is spirit by the spadeful, which gives them plenty hope of keeping up their impressive recent record of clinging on to their place in Scottish football's second tier.

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