Why does the Scottish Premiership split? Fixtures, table & teams in each section

Daniel Candeias Rangers Oliver Ntcham Celtic 2018-19Getty Images

Scottish football is relatively unique in the United Kingdom in that its top division splits into two sections towards the end of the season.

It is a peculiar method of concluding the league, but it has been used for nearly two decades and, despite occasional complaints over the years, that suggests it serves its purpose well.

So what exactly is the Scottish Premiership split and how does it affect clubs like Celtic and Rangers?

Goal takes a look at the approach, when it was introduced and how it will work in 2018-19.

Why does the Scottish Premiership split?

Simply put, the Scottish Premiership splits into two sections in order to minimise the fixture burden on clubs.

Scotland's top division was expanded to include 12 teams from the 2000-01 season on and the split concept was introduced at that time to avoid the need for each team to fulfil 44 games.

Prior to the 2000-01 season, 10 teams competed in the league and they played each other four times - a total of 36 matches.

What happens now is that each team plays each other three times, bringing the number of games to 33 and the league is then divided into two six-team sections. Each team within a particular section plays the other five teams in their section once, bringing the total number of games played in the league season to 38.

Daryl Horgan Hibernian Stephen Gleeson Aberdeen 2018-19Getty

The idea was inspired by the Swiss Nationalliga (now Swiss Super League), which had deployed a split model at the time, before changing format from the 2003-04 season on.

It has not been without its critics in Scotland, though, with some players, officials and fans decrying the potential for fixture disparity - i.e. having fewer home games - and the fact that clubs in the bottom section can end up having more points than those in the top section.

However, SPFL CEO Neil Doncaster has defended the approach, telling the Telegraph in 2018: "The split creates tight finishes top and bottom and sometimes that means helicopter finishes on the last day of the season. Ultimately the hallmarks of our game are passion, drama and excitement and the split creates that."

Scottish Premiership 2018-19 table before split

Steven Gerrard, RangersGetty

After 33 games the top six comprised of Celtic, Rangers, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hibernian and Hearts. These teams contest the 'Championship Group'.

The bottom six teams were: St Johnstone, Motherwell, Livingston, Hamilton Academical, St Mirren and Dundee. They compete in what is known as the 'Relegation Group'.

The table as it stood before the split can be seen below:

7St Johnstone3313515-1244
10Hamilton Academical337422-4825
11St Mirren335622-3721

It should be noted that it is possible for clubs in the relegation section to finish the season on a great number of points than some of those in the championship section. However, after the split, teams do not move out of their own section.

Scottish Premiership 2018-19 fixtures after split

Alfredo Morelos Rangers Scott Brown Celtic 2018-19

The first of the final five gameweeks begins on April 20 and the last concludes on May 19. You can see all the post-split fixtures below.

Fixtures of top six

DateGameKick-off (BST)
Apr 20Hearts vs Rangers12pm
Apr 20Kilmarnock vs Aberdeen3pm
Apr 21Hibernian vs Celtic12:30pm
Apr 27Celtic vs Kilmarnock12:30pm
Apr 28Hibernian vs Hearts12:15pm
Apr 28Rangers vs Aberdeen3pm
May 4Aberdeen vs Celtic12:30pm
May 4Hearts vs Kilmarnock3pm
May 5Rangers vs Hibernian3:30pm
May 10Aberdeen vs Hearts7:45pm
May 11Kilmarnock vs Hibernian3pm
May 12Rangers vs Celtic12pm
May 19Celtic vs Hearts3pm
May 19Hibernian vs Aberdeen3pm
May 19Kilmarnock vs Rangers3pm

There are a number of enticing fixtures to look forward to in the championship section.

Celtic's lead at the top of the table is formidable and they are unlikely to be deposed by Rangers, but the race for a place in the Europa League is much more competitive. As well as Rangers, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen are in the mix, with Hibernian and Hearts needing a flawless run of results to truly challenge.

April 28 will see an Edinburgh derby between Hibernian and Hearts, while the Old Firm derby is scheduled for May 12. It seems likely that there will be little but pride to play for when Celtic and Rangers meet, but that shouldn't get in the way of a typically ferocious derby.

Fixtures of bottom six

DateGameKick-off (BST)
Apr 20Hamilton Academical vs Motherwell3pm
Apr 20Livingston vs St Mirren3pm
Apr 20St Johnstone vs Dundee3pm
Apr 27Hamilton Academical vs Livingston3pm
Apr 27Motherwell vs Dundee3pm
Apr 27St Mirren vs St Johnstone3pm
May 4Dundee vs Hamilton Academical3pm
May 4Motherwell vs St Mirren3pm
May 4St Johnstone vs Livingston3pm
May 11Livingston vs Dundee3pm
May 11St Johnstone vs Motherwell3pm
May 13St Mirren vs Hamilton Academical7:45pm
May 18Dundee vs St Mirren12:30pm
May 18Hamilton Academical vs St Johnstone12:30pm
May 18Motherwell vs Livingston12:30pm

When it comes to the relegation section three teams - St Johnstone, Motherwell and Livingston - appear fairly assured of their divisional integrity.

Dundee, St Mirren and, to a lesser extent, Hamilton Academical are the teams who are in a serious fight for survival.