Scottish Premiership Matchweek 14 Preview
The Scottish Premiership has now gone over a month without a full weekend of 6 Scottish Premiership games being fulfilled, with Scottish Cup action breaking up the interruptions caused by COVID. There was still three games in the league last weekend as Rangers extended their lead at the top of the table to 9 points, a James Tavernier penalty the difference as they visited Kilmarnock. Dundee United got back to winning and scoring ways with a 2-1 victory over Ross County, whilst Motherwell were the latest team to take 3 points at the Tony Macaroni Arena, defeating Livingston 2-0. In the Scottish Cup, Celtic stopped their winless run by beating Aberdeen 2-0 whilst Hibs lost out to their city rivals Hearts, losing 2-1 after extra time. With 6 games this weekend including four on Friday night, there are a lot of close battles to anticipate.
Aberdeen Vs Hibernian
The two losing semi-finalists from last weekends Scottish Cup games will be looking to bounce back following the disappointments at Hampden. The previous meeting between the two saw Aberdeen leave Easter Road with the three points as Lewis Ferguson scored his second penalty of the season.
Aberdeen will be looking to get back to winning ways following consecutive games against Celtic where they haven't performed badly. There isn't any time for Derek McInnes' side to lick their wounds as they have yet another important game against Hibs. The Dons are currently a point behind Hibs with a game in hand, giving Aberdeen a great chance to overtake the Leith side and build a gap between the two sides. Aberdeen have already come away with a victory against Jack Ross' side as they managed to keep Hibs attacking threats at bay and inflict their first defeat of the season. Ross McCrorie should likely return to the middle of the park for this fixture as Aberdeen look to use their high energy midfield players to stop the supply to the likes of Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet. Sam Cosgrove is now back to bolster Derek McInnes' striking options, with the striker surely hungry to make an impact after missing the first few months of the season.
Last weekend would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Hibs fans as the sucker punch of losing the semi-final was made worse due to the opponents being their arch-rivals Hearts. Jack Ross did not look impressed following the game and will be demanding a lot more from his players to make up for the disappointment. As previously mentioned, Hibs are only a point above their opponents this Friday night so avoiding a loss is vital for if Hibs want to be the best of the rest this season. A victory in this match against their main competitors for third place would be the ideal way to bring some confidence back into this team as they'll be hurting at the moment. Hibs will find themselves unlucky to not have progressed in the Scottish Cup with a host of missed chances against an in-form Craig Gordon. This will be a test of Jack Ross' sides character and how they deal with a high-level blow, especially for those new younger faces like Ryan Porteous and Kevin Nisbet.
Key Battle: Sam Cosgrove Vs Ryan Porteous
A physical battle beckons this weekend as Sam Cosgrove and Ryan Porteous look to clash for the first time this season. Cosgrove should give Aberdeen more of a target to hit up top, with hopes the big striker can hold the ball up in order to link up with the likes of Ryan Hedges and Scott Wright. It looks to be a real fight between the Englishman and Ryan Porteous who isn't someone who'll shy away from a physical match up. With the Scotland Under 21 International's fiery persona, this one could get feisty and is one to keep an eye on.
Predicted Result: Aberdeen 1-0 Hibernian
St Mirren Vs Dundee United
The first meeting between these two sides is where Lawrence Shankland scored his first Premiership goal in a 2-1 victory at Tannadice. For St Mirren fans, it will feel like this fixture has just been played, with it being the third last league game they've played, despite it taking place way back on the 9th of September.
It's hard to really talk about St Mirren as they have now been out of action since the 10th of October, where they beat Queen of the South on penalties in the Betfred Cup. A series of positive COVID tests has seen games against Motherwell and Hamilton Accies be called off but it looks as if the Buddies may get the go-ahead for this Friday night. It will be a test to see if Jim Goodwin's side have managed to maintain a competitive level of match fitness after not playing for such a long time. Only Kristian Dennis and Ryan Flynn look set to miss this Friday's game, with the return of all their key defenders a massive boost for the Paisley club. The Buddies got off to a good start to the season with the likes of Richard Tait, Joe Shaughnessey and Jak Alnwick shining in the first couple of games. Since then, injuries, suspensions and COVID has meant these players haven't been able to kick on like Jim Goodwin would have hoped. St Mirren currently sit second bottom but hold at least a couple of games in hand over their closest rivals, giving Goodwin's side a good chance to move out of the relegation zone.
Dundee United ended their barren run in front of goals by scoring twice against Ross County last Saturday. A penalty from Nicky Clark would have settled nerves before the striker guided Mark Reynolds deflected effort into the back of the net to double United's lead, with it being the first time that United had scored in 2 league games. There will still be concerns that United aren't creating enough chances and are relying mainly on set-piece situations to get joy. United are still solid enough at the back, only conceding once in their last three games, something that has gone a long way in helping United pick up 5 points in the process. Logan Chalmers is set to miss out again but Marc McNulty may return after missing out last weekend, with United hoping they can finally get the best out of their new signing alongside Lawrence Shankland.
Key Battle: Jamie McGrath Vs Ian Harkes
Neither of these two sides are known for their midfield creativity, with both teams not creating an abundance of chances for the most part this season. There won't be much to separate these two on Friday with individual bursts of quality likely to make the difference this weekend. The Buddies are solid in defence so it is vital that United supply their forwards with good chances as it'll already be a tough enough weekend for some of their star attackers.
Predicted Result: St Mirren 0-1 Dundee United
St Johnstone Vs Kilmarnock
Callum Davidson earned his first win as St Johnstone manager in the first meeting between these two sides, with a last-minute Michael O'Halloran goal snatching a victory for the Perth side against Kilmarnock. The Saints haven't really been able to kick on since then, with this fixture being only one of two games where the Perth side have scored more than one goal in a league game.
St Johnstone seem to be an odd side this season. On paper, their squad looks reasonably good with a good mix of youth and experience but Callum Davidson's side lack consistency, especially in front of goal. The 5-3 win over Hamilton more than doubled the Saints goal tally for this season but the next week after, they struggled with their finishing against a Dundee United side who were there for the taking. If St Johnstone can get going properly in front of goal, they'll be expected to move away from the lower end of the table but it isn't a certainty they'll be able to achieve that. Only 4 points above the relegation and play-off spots, St Johnstone have had another sluggish start to the season in terms of gaining points but need a couple of strong performances to ease their supporter's nerves.
Kilmarnock will be out for revenge against St Johnstone this Friday as a poor mistake cost the Ayrshire side dearly in the last fixture between the two sides. Killie need to keep an eye on St Johnstone's pace in forward areas yet again as the likes of Michael O'Halloran and Steven May likely to give the Killie backline problems by trying to get in behind. Kilmarnock's last two outings has seen them be downed 1-0 to Hibs and Rangers, with competitive performances pleasing for Alex Dyer's side despite the negative result. Killie's last two victories have both been away from home and Alex Dyer's side will be looking to maintain their spot in the top 6 with a win at McDiarmid Park.
Key Battle: Craig Conway Vs Ross Millen
Ross Millen was guilty of gifting Rangers a penalty last weekend, with a clumsy handball proving to be costly. This weekend he'll face an experienced threat in the form of Craig Conway, a player who looks to be settling back into the swing of things at St Johnstone. The winger scored twice against Hamilton and had a strong showing against Dundee United and will look to continue his good form this weekend.
Predicted Result: St Johnstone 1-1 Kilmarnock
Ross County Vs Livingston
Jon Guthrie was the sole goalscorer as the Lions downed the Staggies back in August. Since then, neither side has been able to build up a great deal of consistency, with both sets of fans knowing that their sides are capable of doing much better.
Ross County go into this league game without a win in 5, with you having to go back to the opening day of the season to find the Staggies last win at home. Ross County do find themselves a point above their opponents, a good start to the season seeming a long time ago for County fans in recent weeks. Goals continue to come hard to find for Ross County, with Oli Shaw's consolation goal only the second they have scored in 8 games. Shaw's goal last game may put himself in starting contention as Ross Stewart and Billy McKay are both on 10 game scoring droughts. Stuart Kettlewell will want his side to be bolder and take the game to Livingston, especially regarding how poor the Lions have been at the back recently. It is the perfect opportunity for County to get back to winning ways, much like they did against the Lions last season following a poor run of form.
Livingston have been wildly inconsistent this season, with Gary Holt surely frustrated at his side's failings this season. Great wins against St Johnstone and Dundee United made it look like Livi had turned a corner but they have now lost their last three which includes poor home losses to Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Livi have not been their usual selfs, with Holt calling for his side to get back to doing the basics such as getting in teams faces and winning individual duals all over the park. The Lions sit in 10th position and need points urgently if they want to avoid being caught in a relegation battle, with this the first of 5 fixtures where they face teams outside the top 5. A positive result here would be a massive confidence boost and could kick start their season as they approach an important set of games. It will be interesting to see if Holt makes any changes in order to try to become more competitive and generally freshen things up.
Key Battle: Billy McKay Vs Jon Guthrie
Ross County will be looking at how this Livingston defence has been operating and urge their forwards to play on the shoulder of the Livi backline. Livi have conceded a lot of poor goals within their own 6-yard box which could give Billy McKay the opening to end his scoring drought. Jon Guthrie has to lead and marshal the Livingston backline and make sure they stay switched on at all times, otherwise, they'll be punished yet again.
Predicted Result: Ross County 2-2 Livingston
Rangers Vs Hamilton Academical
Goals from Ianis Hagi and James Tavernier gave Rangers a 2-0 win in what was a dominant performance from Rangers. Brian Rice's side struggled all afternoon and it looks likely that they could be in for another hard time this Sunday.
Up until the 75th minute against Benfica on Thursday night, everything seemed to be going perfectly for Steven Gerrard's side in the Europa League. Rangers were dominant against a 10 man Benfica, knocking the ball about, playing some lovely stuff and truly meriting their 3-1 lead. However, poor game management and a second Filip Helander mistake would see Rangers lose grip of their lead, sloppily dropping two points away from home. It is the first real instance that we have seen a poor display at the back from Rangers, a real shame as it completely overshadows what was an outstanding performance. A home game against Hamilton is ideal for Steven Gerrard's side to assert a dominant performance and make up for their wrongdoings in the Europa League, as their focus turns back to league duty. Currently 9 points clear, the whole country will be keeping an eye on the league leaders to see if they can handle the pressures of being at the top. This weekend's game looks unlikely to bring any hiccups but Steven Gerrard will be demanding his side remain professional in order to avoid dropping points against Hamilton at Ibrox in successive games. Rangers are likely to rotate as the likes of Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent, Ryan Jack and Steven Davis all played 90 minutes, with players such as Jermain Defoe, Kemar Roofe and Ianis Hagi looking to get some valuable first-team minutes.
It doesn't look good for Hamilton this weekend as they travel to Ibrox with the worst defensive record this season. Accies have been ripped apart in recent weeks by Aberdeen, St Johnstone and League 2 side Annan Athletic, conceding 12 goals in their last three games. Accies need to be at their best or they'll be on the end of a real drubbing this Sunday. The pressure is already on Brian Rice who hasn't taken the criticism he's received in recent weeks in the best manner. This weekend could come across a bit of a free hit for Accies as they won't be expected to take anything from this game. The loss of David Templeton to injury will be worrying for Accies as the former Rangers and Hearts man is their main creative source, leaving a big gap for somebody to come in and fill.
Key Battle: Jermain Defoe Vs Ryan Fulton
It's safe to say that Ryan Fulton is going to be in for a busy afternoon as Rangers will pepper the Accies keeper's goal with an abundance of attempts. Fulton needs to have the game of his life to stop the league's best attack, even if they decide to rotate. Defoe showed his class as he scored his 300th goal against Livingston in his first appearance since August and will be looking to take the chances that he is given. At age 38, Defoe will know he won't be the first choice but he'll still look to put pressure on those ahead of him and add more goals to that current tally of 300.
Predicted Result: Rangers 4-0 Hamilton Academical
Motherwell Vs Celtic
Celtic will likely be without two of their goalscorers from the first meeting between these two sides as James Forrest and Christopher Jullien look set to miss Sunday's game. Albian Ajeti was the other scorer in a 3-0 win but a lot has changed for both sides since then.
Motherwell have picked a great moment to build up some good form as they face a Celtic side who haven't been massively impressive over the course of the last month. Motherwell have had impressive victories over Ross County and Livingston in their last two games as Stephen Robinson's side are looking much more like the Motherwell of last season. The Well look a lot more solid in recent weeks and a lot more clinical in front of goal too. Two clean sheets have been capitalised on by Motherwell's forwards, with Tony Watt emerging as the main striker at Fir Park. The former Celtic player has scored in successive games for the first time in the Premiership since November 2012 and will surely take great confidence from these positive showings. A player determined to move on and make a name for himself beyond his former glories, Watt will be hungry to add to his tally against his former club.
The Scottish Cup semi-final would have given Celtic a massive boost but there showing in the Europa League will have them back down in the dumps. A shocking 4-1 loss against Sparta Prague has put the pressure right back on this Celtic side, with the performance on Thursday night being far from acceptable. Neil Lennon has a massive task on his hands this season and it seems to be getting harder and harder for the Nothern Irish man as the supporters are now getting on his back. The one positive for Celtic on Friday would be another impact from Leigh Griffiths, with the striker scoring again after coming off the bench. Celtic have a host of players underperforming right now and Lennon continues to call for his players to bring more to the team. Tom Rogic has recently come back into the fold but surely David Turnbull is knocking on the door to get some game-time. The midfielder is forward-thinking and won't shirk away from responsibility, something Celtic need right now. A fresh face in the squad could be just what is needed to get the Hoops back to their usual selves, although it seems unlikely the likes of McGregor or Brown will ever drop out the side. With a bad run of results and Celtic currently sitting 9 points behind Rangers, Neil Lennon and his players have to figure something out soon or it will be a season to forget at Parkhead.
Key Battle: Tony Watt Vs Shane Duffy
Shane Duffy needs a big performance and fast. He is losing the support of the Celtic fan base, with many even calling him one of their worst signings in recent times. The Irishman needs to have a great showing to get some of the fans back on his side before it is too late. Duffy struggles with pace and you can be sure that Motherwell will use Watt to try and get behind the experienced centre half and try force more mistakes. An in-form Watt should be fancying his chances against the underperforming Duffy, giving Motherwell a massive chance to take points off the champions this Sunday.
Predicted Result: Motherwell 2-2 Celtic