Scottish Premiership Matchweek 15 Preview
A lot has happened since the last run of league fixtures, with an International Break taking the nation by storm as Scotland boogied their way to the European Championships. David Marshall was the hero in the penalty shootout as the entire Scotland squad became instant legends as they ended a 22-year wait to make a major tournament. The success of the National Team massively overshadowed the Betfred Cup action which saw all Premiership teams, bar three, progress to the next round of the tournament. Livingston and Hibernian went through with 100% records whilst Kilmarnock, Dundee United and Hamilton dropped out of the competition. There's sympathy for Killie as they missed out due to issues with COVID, whereas Hamilton's loss against League 2 Stranraer ended Brian Rice's sides chances of progressing into the next round. League action returns this weekend with 5 games this Saturday as well as a televised game this Sunday, with 1st versus 3rd, 2nd versus 4th and 10th versus 11th in a Premiership weekend that could make a big impact to team's seasons. With this sort of lineup, you'd imagine our broadcasters and advertisers would make the most to showcase our game's action but it has unsurprisingly been very minimal.
Hibernian Vs Celtic
Goals from Callum McGregor, Albian Ajeti and Mohamed Elyounoussi were enough for Celtic to down Hibs with a 3-0 victory back in September, with the Hoops triumphing after a couple of early scares. With both teams suffering disappointments lately, both will be looking to make an impact as they chase those positioned ahead of them.
There was no break for Hibs they continued their efforts in the Betfred Cup, defeating Dundee 4-1 to proceed to the next round and face... eh... Dundee again. The game was a decent battle with Hibs quality shining through in the end, with three goals in the last 14 minutes giving Jack Ross' side the all-important three points. A pair of assists for Martin Boyle and a goal for Kevin Nisbet saw some of Hibs key players keep ticking over during the international break but the Betfred Cup tie gave chance for a number of players to make an impression. Stephen Mallan came into fill the void left by Cyprus' Alex Gogic and scored a stunning long-range effort, with James Gullan also impressing well with a goal to his name. The pair will be hoping for more chances to impress in the coming weeks as the schedule remains packed, putting pressure on the players ahead of them to perform in order to keep their spot. Hibs should look to approach this game as they would any other this season as they have the attacking talent that can cause this seemingly shaky Celtic defence issues. The likes of Kevin Nisbet and Christian Doidge could make all of the difference as Hibs will get chances against Celtic, it's just whether they can take advantage of them, unlike their previous meeting.
Who knows what Celtic is going to show up this weekend. The Hoops have been wildly inconsistent in recent weeks, with strong wins against Aberdeen and Motherwell sandwiching a shocking loss in the Europa League against Sparta Prague leading to a lot of questions being asked about the current setup at Parkhead. The International break may have come at a good time for Neil Lennon's side, with a final win before the break allowing this Celtic side to get out of the spotlight for at least a little while. Neil Lennon and co will surely have been hard at work as they try to fix the issues that are causing their side so many issues. Lennon showed before the break that he will look to shake things up a bit more by choosing to drop Odsonne Edouard and Shane Duffy in what was a surprise to many. The past few weeks has seen a couple of positives with certain players taking their opportunities when given them, most notably Tom Rogic and hat-trick hero against Motherwell, Mohammed Elyounoussi. There are plenty of players waiting for their chance in the Celtic squad, namely Leigh Griffiths and David Turnbull, with Lennon having the possibility to rotate his team if necessary. The likes of Shane Duffy, Callum McGregor, Nir Bitton and Ryan Christie will have played a lot of football in the recent international fixtures, with some possibly requiring some much-needed rest and opening the door for certain players to leave an impression.
Key Battle: Kevin Nisbet Vs Kristoffer Ajer
Nisbet proved to be handful last time out, causing the Celtic defence problems by getting in behind the backline. As has been highlighted so often this season, the Celtic defence has been poor and can be forced into mistakes when put under pressure. It is massively important for Hibs to give Nisbet service as he can be the man who can punish the Glasgow side and give Hibs their first victory against Celtic since December 2018. Kristoffer Ajer is the best equipped out of the Celtic backline to deal with the nippiness of Nisbet, with the Norweigian having to keep close tabs on the forward at all times.
Predicted Result: Hibernian 2-2 Celtic
Kilmarnock Vs Ross County
These two teams shared the points as they drew 2-2 back in August, with a Ross Stewart penalty adding to Ross Draper's effort to cancel out goals from Killie's Alan Power and Chris Burke. A single point separates the two teams as Kilmarnock sit in 6th place and County sit in 9th.
Despite three consecutive losses in the league, Kilmarnock still sit in the top 6 but only just. Only goal difference separates Alex Dyer's side from Motherwell and St Johnstone, with Ross County and Livingston also hot on the heels of the Ayrshire side. With this, it puts pressure on Killie to keep on producing performances as there are a number of teams ready to replace them in the top 6. A fourth loss in a row would see Killie drop out of the top 6, with a lack of goals the main problem for Killie in recent weeks. The three losses have all been 1-0 as Killie haven't been able to break down the defences of Hibs, Rangers and St Johnstone leading to Dyer giving Danny Whitehall a run out in the Betfred Cup. Whitehall would take his chance by scoring twice and notching an assist in his first two starts for the club since joining in the summer. Eamonn Brophy also scored his first goal since the 29th of August in the 2-0 win over Dumbarton in what could be a much-needed confidence boost for the striker. The striker has completely fallen out of contention for the Scotland National Team with a lack of goals at club level failing to impress former Killie boss Steve Clarke. Brophy does have talent and will have aspirations to get back into the setup, especially with the European Championships on the horizon. Brophy is a far outside shout to join the squads any time soon but if the striker needs any motivation to get back to his best, this should be it. There's a lot of football to be played from now until the summer, giving not only Brophy but many others a chance to make names for themselves. With this in mind, even if it isn't enough to feature for the Tartan Army, Killie will hopefully benefit from their striker returning to form.
Ross County will be without Ross Draper as they travel to Kilmarnock this weekend but also may miss the recently prolific Oli Shaw as well. Shaw has scored in each of his last four games but was substituted a few minutes before half-time against Stirling Albion in the Betfred Cup after suffering an injury. Shaw had picked up the slack as County's other forwards Billy McKay and Ross Stewart have failed to score in the last 11 league games for the Staggies. Shaw would be a massive loss at this point as County have been scoring very few goals in the league this season, with only 9 in 14 games so far this season. Stuart Kettlewell needs more from his team as they sit in 9th place and only 5 points above the play-off zone, with St Mirren having three games in hand over the Highland club. County have a tough run of fixtures following this weekend's game with Rangers, Aberdeen and Celtic making up three of County's next four league opponents, meaning the Staggies could end up in a lower position than they currently sit in. With that run of games on the horizon, this is one of Ross County's better chances to pick up three valuable points.
Key Battle: Chris Burke Vs Josh Reid
The battle of an experienced veteran up against a fresh-faced 18-year-old brings an interesting battle at Rugby Park this weekend. Burke has been one of the league's top performers and will be a great test for the young Reid who has emerged as a very bright prospect this season. Burke has been excellent and will look to add to his 6 goal involvements already this season, with Reid looking to help aid County's defensive issues.
Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 1-0 Ross County
Livingston Vs St Mirren
Richard Tait was the hero on his St Mirren debut as his goal on the opening day of the season saw the Buddies pick up a valuable three points over Livingston. Gary Holt's side will be out for revenge as Jim Goodwin's men travel through to West Lothian for the first time this campaign in a massive fixture at the bottom of the table, with 10th place Livi looking to build a bigger gap ahead of 11th St Mirren.
Livingston have failed to maintain a good level of consistency this season as they have now gone 4 games straight without a win. Last time out in the league, the Lions battled back to draw away at Ross County as Nicky Devlin scored his first goal for the club. The Betfred Cup has been a jot for the West Lothian club as they picked up maximum points in the four games, scoring 15 goals in the process. Alan Forrest scored 4 times in the two latest games whilst Jay Emmanuel-Thomas got off the work with a brace against Airdrieonians which will provide a massive confidence boost for the striker. The striker had failed to score in his first 6 games for the club with fans questioning whether he was the best option for Gary Holt's energetic side. JET definitely relished having someone playing directly off him, with Matej Poplatnik and Scott Robinson playing almost as second strikers during the cup competition. If JET is to play for Livi, this is how Livi need to use him as he isn't mobile enough to be a goal threat up top on his own so there is a massive urge for the likes of the aforementioned players as well as Alan Forrest, Josh Mullin and Craig Sibbald to get into dangerous positions to punish teams. If Livi aren't going to be as solid defensively, they need to make up for it in front of their opponent's goal or they will continue falling down the league table. This weekend may see the return of Robby McCrorie in goals, with the Rangers loanee being dropped for the past two league games whilst missing the Betfred Cup due to being on international duty with Scotland Under 21's. Max Stryjek had taken the young keeper's spot but tested positive for Covid and may not be cleared in time, opening the door for McCrorie to redeem himself. It's been a tough season for McCrorie as some high-level errors has seen him drop out of the team but this weekend could provide him a chance to show his real quality and make a statement as to why he should be Gary Holt's number 1.
St Mirren have only played two league games since October due to COVID interruptions which means they haven't had a lot of chances to improve on their league record. The Buddies are winless in their last 8 league games but have found some joy in the Betfred Cup despite not the best of performances. Jim Goodwin's side needed penalties to see off Championship sides Queen of the South and Greenock Morton, with a single Jon Obika goal enough for St Mirren to beat Queen's Park 1-0 and see the Paisley side through to the next round. St Mirren urgently need to improve their attacking output if they want to remain in the league as they currently only have 6 goals in 11 games, the lowest tally within the league. Jon Obika makes up for a third of those goals and has 3 goals in the Betfred Cup showing the Buddies relience on the forward at this time. Jim Goodwin needs to find a way to get the Englishman more support and the return of Ryan Flynn could be a big boost to the Buddies attacking credentials this season. Flynn made his return as a second-half substitute, recording his first appearance since the 5th of February. The winger will need to build up match fitness but is undoubtedly a great option to have, even if just off the bench for the first few weeks.
Key Battle: Marvin Bartley Vs Jamie McGrath
Last time around, Livingston simply did not get into the game and were far too passive, especially in midfield. Not enough pressure was put on the St Mirren players which is most noticeable from the single goal scored. Livi haven't been their usual selves with a hard press and need to get back to it this Saturday should they want the three points. Jim Goodwin's side will be solid and will battle, with the likes of McGrath expected to show good quality as well as winning personal duels.
Predicted Result: Livingston 2-1 St Mirren
Dundee United Vs Hamilton Academical
Both teams prolific goalscorers found the back of the net in the first meeting between these two sides this season, with Hakeem Odofin cancelling out an early Lawrence Shankland opener. This draw back in September was the last time Accies picked up points as they now sit bottom of the league, with United enjoying a spell in the top 6.
Dundee United continue to have struggles in front of goal, with the 0-0 draw against St Johnstone last weekend in the Betfred Cup being yet another game that United have failed to register a shot on target. This has now happened in 2 of the last four games for United, with only 1 shot on target against St Mirren not the greatest either. Micky Mellon isn't getting the best out of his great attacking talents but will take some pride in the fact his defence aren't leaking goals, with 4 clean sheets in the last 5 games. Goalkeeper's Benjamin Siegrist and Deniz Mehmet have been in good form when called upon with some great saves earning valuable points for their side. Nonetheless, United should be doing more in attacking phases to take the pressure off their defence and give them some breathing space. As they face the league's worst defence this weekend, United fans will be unhappy if their team fails to score yet again. United sit in the top 6 just now despite their goal droughts but will need to improve urgently should they want to keep their spot.
It certainly isn't a good time to be an Accies fan as it is beginning to look like this will be the year they will finally go down. An 8-0 defeat away at Rangers was bad enough as the league leader's decimated Brian Rice's side but Accies plight in the Betfred Cup will be much more worrying for Accies fans. Accies were beaten by League 2 opposition on two occasions, as Annan humiliated Hamilton 3-1 before Stranraer would pick up a 2-1 victory, only their second win of the season. Upsets can happen in the cup but to have two happen in quick succession against teams three tiers below you is unacceptable. Accies fans have a right to be aggrieved by their club's current performances as it all seems to be going wrong at this moment in time. Crashing out of the Betfred Cup and sitting bottom of the league whilst conceding 39 goals in 15 games so far this season, Brian Rice needs to fix things to save not only Accies but also his own job.
Key Battle: Paul McMullan Vs Ross Callachan
McMullan has only just came back into the starting XI and is the kind of player United need right now. A good runner with the ball and a player who wants to make things happen, McMullan could be the player who can finally link United's attack and midfield. McMullan will need to get to full fitness but will fancy himself to create chances against a defensively weak Accies side. Accies will be looking at the United midfield and thinking they could get a result should they stop the supply getting to the likes of Shankland and Clark up front, with a much-needed performance from Accies needed to bring some positivity back to the club.
Predicted Result: Dundee United 2-0 Hamilton Academical
St Johnstone Vs Motherwell
Alan Campbell's solo effort gave Motherwell their first win of the season against St Johnstone back in September at Fir Park. Both sides sit midtable but will be disappointed with their performances for the most part of this season as we still haven't seen the best of these two sides yet.
St Johnstone are another team in the league who simply aren't scoring enough goals, as Callum Davidson's side have put up several strong performances but have failed to break through opponents defences. Like Dundee United, the Saints seem solid enough in defence to get by but need to be a lot more clinical in front of goal as they chase a spot in the top 6. Considering St Johnstone went on a run of scoring only 1 goal in 7 games, they have managed to stay relatively unscathed and remained away from the relegation zone. Recent wins against Hamilton and Kilmarnock have gone a long way to improving the mood around McDiarmid Park. St Johnstone are now three games unbeaten in the league but face a tough run of fixtures that sees away trips to Hibs and Celtic in the next few weeks. This Saturday provides St Johnstone a good chance to pick up points before a couple of games where any points would seem like a bonus.
Motherwell were just beginning to get into a decent run of form before they were defeated 4-1 at home to Celtic before the international break. The 4-1 scoreline was harsh on Motherwell who do look like they're slowly getting back to their best, with victories against Ross County and Livingston bringing performances that Stephen Robinson's side should be producing. It seems as if Robinso had to take some time to figure out his best starting XI, with new arrivals and complacency complicating matters at the beginning of the season. Motherwell seem more settled now with the likes of Tony Watt and Liam Polworth stepping up to the plate and declaring vacant positions as their own. The Celtic game was a setback and Stephen Robinson will be frustrated that his side will have had to wait to make amends for the loss as this season has seemed very stop-start for Motherwell this season due to the club not participating in the Betfred Cup just yet. A bit of a rest for certain players may be a good thing but Motherwell would be looking to keep up any momentum and sitting out every couple of weeks or so won't help in achieving that.
Key Battle: Steven May Vs Declan Gallagher
Gallagher will be on a massive high following his vital role in Scotland's qualification to the European Championships but will face a different test to that of Aleksander Mitrovic from Serbia. Steven May will look to use his pace against the physical defender to give his team the edge and improve his league scoring rate. This will be a competitive game all over the park with individual moments of quality likely to make the difference in this fixture.
Predicted Result: St Johnstone 1-1 Motherwell
Rangers Vs Aberdeen
Despite it only being 1-0, Rangers win away from home against Aberdeen was extremely one-sided as the league leaders kicked off their season in impressive fashion. Aberdeen looked very poor on this day with questions coming regarding their credentials for the upcoming season but have bounced back very well since, leading to an interesting battle coming this Sunday.
It's going to be pretty damn hard for Rangers to improve on their last performance in the league; an 8-0 victory against Hamilton where they didn't allow their opponents to have a single shot on goal. This performance showcases just how good Rangers have been in the league both in attack and defence, with 37 goals scored and only a mere 3 conceded in their opening 14 games. That is a ridiculous record and Steven Gerrard deserves huge credit for how professional his team has been this season. The silly mistakes that cause points to be dropped seem to be a thing of the past as Rangers look stronger and stronger after every game. With the club dropping silly points in the past when leading the league, everyone is looking at their fixtures as games where they could potentially slip up making every game more important than the last. Rangers have done a truly admirable job at remaining focussed and making these slip-ups seem like a thing of the past but it will be interesting to see if the club can maintain this extremely high level over the course of the season. With plenty of depth and players chomping at the bit to stake their claim in the starting XI, it doesn't look as if anything is going to get in the way of Rangers stopping 10 in a row. The club also deserve credit for how they have handled the situations involving Jordan Jones and George Edmundson's COVID breach, with both now to serve 7 match bans for their stupidity. The duo won't really be missed as Rangers look to have a full squad available bar the duo who would be unlikely to feature in such a big game anyway.
Aberdeen will be without Ross McCrorie as he is ineligible to play against parent club in what will be a big blow for the Dons. McCrorie has been one of the signings of the season with strong performances in a number of different positions. Immediately Aberdeen will be worse off due to the quality McCrorie brings but it provides a chance for somebody to come in and make a name for themselves with a strong performance. Dylan McGeouch would usually be the player to come in and fill the void but will also miss out through injury, leading to a potential return to the starting XI for the likes of Funso Ojo or Connor McLennan permitting on the formation McInnes goes with. Sam Cosgrove is a player who is back though and has made an impact since returning from injury as the Englishman netted a delightful finish against Hibs last time out in the league. Cosgrove will provide a physical battle for this Rangers side and is the kind of player who can force mistakes due to his nuisance style of play. If Aberdeen can get adequate support to their main forward and remain compact in defence, they will have a great chance of pulling off a result at Ibrox like they have done in 3 of their previous 5 visits to the Glasgow stadium.
Key Battle: James Tavernier Vs Matthew Kennedy
Tavernier has been the league's top performer this season with the Rangers captain producing great displays in defence and attack. Kennedy has recently come back into the fold at Aberdeen and playing as a sort of left-wing back, he will have the difficult task of keeping Tavernier quiet. Kennedy will need to be on top form to stop Tavernier as the right-back will cause Aberdeen a number of problems if they don't stick to him tightly.
Predicted Result: Rangers 2-0 Aberdeen