This Scottish Premiership season should be one for the ages.

The place is bursting at the seams with storylines to keep us fascinated from now until the end of the campaign.

Not only is there a genuine title race, but Celtic and Rangers are far from infallible; perfectly illustrated this past weekend by a Hearts side, who had huge swathes of the support turning against the management and board in the previous seven days, going to Parkhead and winning for the first time since 2009. It means that any match featuring the two overbearing giants of this country will be fraught with danger, rather than the standard expectation they will win every game until one of them slips up and hands the other the initiative.

Speaking of Hearts, they just won their toughest fixture in the midst of a brutal run and have justified their credentials as one of the many teams who could finish in third place. Like the previous two terms, assuming the Scottish Cup is won by either Celtic or Rangers, there is a big fat carrot dangling at the end of the stick with assured group-stage football in European competition to placing 'best-of-the-rest'. This adds an extra element of spice and there is legitimately about five clubs at this point who will fancy themselves capable of grasping that much-coveted prize.

At the bottom of the division, Livingston looks incapable of scoring goals and that is generally viewed as a hindrance for accruing the number of points necessary for survival, but even if they're cut adrift the play-off place keeps it interesting. Similar to the race for third, there are four or five clubs who will be worried they'll find themselves in 11th spot when the music stops. At which point they'll likely face the loser from the strongest Championship title race Scottish football has witnessed in years.

This is what's great about the Scottish top flight. The split might annoy folk. Playing opponents four times a season might be tedious. But it means that we consistently get a lot of drama and this campaign is the perfect example of that.

If you're wondering where the "but..." is coming from, here it is: despite all of the above, this campaign is not a good one, and that's because the product on the park has not been up to standard. Far from it.

Ok, Scottish football is not going to serve up the type of technical brilliance we see in the English top flight, or in La Liga, or even in Spain or Italy or the Netherlands or... you get the idea. Not on a regular basis, anyway. But a game of football doesn't need to have 22 players with a flawless first touch to be entertaining. It just has to have two teams who prioritise attack above defence. And there just aren't enough teams in the Scottish Premiership this season willing to do that.

This past weekend was a good example. Hearts winning at Celtic Park was the headline - and a very good one at that - but elsewhere it was pretty grim. Not other team scored until Graham Carey did for St Johnstone in the 57th minute against Hibs, and only one further goal would be scored across the rest of the afternoon. In total, Saturday read: five games, four goals.

It's not just goals-per-game that's the issue. Teams are scoring 1.22 times, on average, which isn't great, but it isn't even on pace to be the worst mark across the previous five campaigns, which belongs to the lockdown season of 2020/21 (though there were extenuating circumstances involving that).

There does seem to be a bit of a talent deficiency. There are too many grafters and not enough mercurial magicians, but the way teams are setting up is the huge issue which I want to focus on. Other than the Old Firm and Hibs, the rest are largely going with a three-at-the-back system. Now, this isn't a knock on the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation in isolation. Some of the most attacking teams in the world deploy them. It's the manner in which Scottish top-flight teams are using them. To make it an attacking system, you need at least one wing-back who is more about 'wing' than 'back'. You need at least one, preferably two, defenders who can step out with the ball at their feet. And you absolutely should not be playing with more than one defensive midfielder in the centre of the park, since you have three central defenders anyway. The vast majority are setting up with either seven or eight (including goalkeeper) defensive players in their team.

Derek Adams commented on the quality after his side's defeat to Dundee at the weekend: "The standard is shocking. I’ve been back and I see the standard and I think ‘wow - any chance?’ If I’m a spectator watching this today, I’m thinking ‘is this what Scottish football is all about?’ It needs to up it’s game.”

Although, on the face, I don't necessarily disagree with what he's saying, it's a bit rich coming from a man who set out his team with three centre-backs, two defensive midfielders and two full-backs for a home game against recently-promoted Dundee.

So what's the solution? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. The same competitiveness which brings the storylines and the drama also puts more pressure on managers to get results. And, as we all know, managers are more likely to go into defensive shells rather than spread their attacking wings when the pressure intensifies. But they should be braver for those who pay their wages.

People can say, 'it doesn't matter what the style of play is, it's the result that counts'. Yes, however, it's only true to a point. Managers who prefer negative football will always have a much shorter leash among supporters. And it's not just individuals who have to be careful about fans turning against them.

Hamilton Accies are a cautionary tale. They remained among the top flight for seven years - their longest stretch since 1947 - and yet their crowds dwindled. The football was dreadful to watch and it's not worth it to remain in the top flight purely for the sake of being there. You want to enjoy a Saturday at the football.

The intention of this column is not to knock Scottish football in general. When at its best, I ***love*** watching Scottish football: the speed of the game, the intensity, the tough tackling, the chaos factor, the 'they-don't-like-it-up-them' attitude, the gallusness, the passion of the crowd. It may not be the best in the world, but it is ours and it can be bloody good fun.

Supporters responded brilliantly both during the pandemic and after it. It reminded us all that our game is nothing without supporters and there's nothing like going to watch your favourites at the weekend. Crowds are booming despite a cost-of-living crisis. But fans are fed up across the league and the lack of entertainment is a significant factor.
Clubs, and the managers they employ, need to prioritise giving punters value for their hard-earned money.