Scottish Premiership Matchweek 17 Preview
Matchweek 16 was yet another busy week in Scottish football with plenty of drama and shocks to go around. Rangers continued their brilliant run of form with a 4-0 victory over Ross County, putting the Gers 13 points clear at the top. This gap was boosted by Celtic failing to win yet again, with Mohamed Elyounoussi's header rescuing a point at home to St Johnstone as the pressure continues to grow on Neil Lennon. Despite a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen, St Mirren fell to the foot of the table due to Hamilton's 1-0 victory at home to Kilmarnock that takes Brian Rice's side up to 10th place. Livingston moved up to 9th with a deserved victory over Dundee United as Hibs regained 3rd spot with an impressive 3-0 win over Motherwell. This weekend brings another action-filled set of fixtures with a host of tight affairs that could go either way.
An inspired performance from Scott Tiffoney gave Livingston a 2-0 victory when these two sides last met, with the young forward notching a goal and an assist back in September. The games between these two sides are usually close affairs with this weekend likely to be no different as the two sides have experienced recent boosts.
Callum Davidson's sides 1-1 draw at Celtic Park means that the Perth side are unbeaten in 11 games. Last weekend's result was thoroughly deserved as the Saints were impressive with an abundance of energy and great solidity at the back. Tommy Wright set his side up to be solid and Callum Davidson has maintained that despite quite a slow start to the season. The St Johnstone squad has great balance to it who are buying into how Davidson wants them to play and it is paying dividends. St Johnstone now sit 3 points outside of the top 6 and on their current form, you can really expect them to mount a serious challenge to end up in the top half. St Johnstone are certainly on the up, with Davidson managing to make Stevie May become quite a nuisance again whilst using the talents of Michael O'Halloran and David Wotherspoon very intelligently. There is still more to come from St Johnstone as they continue to improve each and every week. Much like last season, it seems as if the Saints will have a better second half of the season than the first, meaning fans of the Perthshire club can be optimistic for the upcoming months.
Livingston are still without a manager for the time being but haven't let that get in their way from bouncing back in great fashion. A resounding 4-0 win over Ayr was backed up by a great second-half performance against Dundee United, with the Lions emerging as 2-0 victors. Scott Pittman's drive and finish will be one of the most underrated goals of the season and was much more like it from the Livingston number 8. Davie Martindale seems to have reinvigorated this Livingston side as they look to have that extra yard ahead of their opponents again and showcasing the usual defensive capabilities we've come to expect from them. Martindale has publicly stated that he feels ready to take over the responsibility on a full-time basis and if results continue like this, it'll be hard to argue against that. The main concern Livingston should be wary of is how much different this leadership will be to that of Gary Holt's. There's no taking away from how great Holt was for the club but it did seem as if Livi had been taken as far as they could by their former manager. Teams were suddenly outdoing Livi in a number of areas including basics such as work rate and concentration. WIth Martindale having been there with Holt the entire time, it may not bring the needed fresh ideas in the long run. However, you can't argue with the impact he has already had and if Livi get a result this weekend, it'll be very hard for Livi to not give him the job.
Key Battle: Jason Kerr Vs Matej Poplatnik
The loss of Lyndon Dykes has been something that has impacted Livi's season massively as they've struggled to replace the Scotland international. Different options were tried out but now looks as if Martindale as chosen Slovenian Matej Poplatnik as his main man. The former Kerala Blasters forward needed some time to get used to the Scottish game but seems to be improving in each game and is the club's most prolific creator with 5 assists in all competitions. Jason Kerr has had a solid start to the season and is another player who continues to impress, with a great performance at Celtic Park last weekend boosting his credentials. Kerr will look to keep Poplatnik quiet and command the backline in order to continue the Saints great run of form.
Predicted Result: St Johnstone 1-0 Livingston
Two sides with different fortunes in the recent forfeiting of games, with Motherwell earning 6 points whilst St Mirren lost the chance to gain as many. One of the games that the Buddies lost out on and Motherwell gained from was the scheduled first meeting between these two clubs, with this becoming a bit of a grudge match due to the circumstances.
Motherwell continue to baffle this season as it was another mixed week for the Lanarkshire club. The club's exit from the Betfred Cup was soothed by the news that Motherwell would be given 6 points as St Mirren and Kilmarnock would be forced to forfeit the postponed games due to alleged breaches in COVID protocols. These 6 points would be a massive boost for the Well as they jumped up to 5th place, leapfrogging Dundee United, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone in the process. Looking at the league table, things don't look too bad for Stephen Robinson's side, although last weekend's game against Hibs certainly showed otherwise. Motherwell had a goal controversially disallowed before crumbling to a 3-0 defeat that only showcases how inconsistent Motherwell have been this season. Stephen Robinson will be incredibly frustrated at how hot and cold his side have been this season, with them failing to kick on from last season's brilliant third-place finish. It seems likely that this next month may be the last chance for many of Motherwell's underperforming players as Robinson will look to bring in new faces to freshen things up and turn around his side's fortunes.
St Mirren have had the opposite week to Motherwell, with their progress in the Betfred Cup topped off with a draw against Aberdeen in the league last weekend. This point wouldn't be enough to keep the Buddies from dropping to the foot of the table, as Hamilton were another one of the teams who were handed points due to postponements. Spirits will be high at the Paisley club as the performances have been there lately, they've just been desperately unlucky with these proceedings. Jim Goodwin's defence remains solid as ever whilst the arrival Jake Doyle-Hayes has certainly boosted the Buddies attacking output. If Goodwin can strike a good balance between his defence and his attack, then the Saints will be comfortable in avoiding relegation this season. St Mirren are now 5 games unbeaten in all competitions, the club's best form of the season and heading into this weekend's game against an underperforming Motherwell side, they'll be fancying their chances of coming away with points.
Key Battle: Tony Watt Vs Joe Shaughnessey
Tony Watt has been one of the bright elements of Motherwell's season and his displays have been key in the victories that Motherwell have secured so far this season. Joe Shaughnessey will have to be fully aware of Watt's pace to avoid Motherwell getting behind the rigid St Mirren defence and causing problems that could sway the game in the home side's favour.
Predicted Result: Motherwell 0-0 St Mirren
It was a nervy ending between these two clubs in the previous meeting this season as Hibs almost squandered a 3-0 lead against Accies. An own goal and some slack defending gave Accies a chance to rescue a point from the grave but were only able to cut the deficit in their 3-2 loss at Easter Road.
They're doing it again, aren't they? Just as everyone thinks this is finally going to be the season that Accies finally bite the bullet and are relegated, they have an incredibly lucky week that gives them a massive boost. After dropping to the bottom of the table and 3 points behind St Mirren, they are awarded 3 points from their postponed match against the Paisley side. To top this off, an early Clevid Dikamona sending off gave them a great opportunity to take all three points at home to Kilmarnock. Accies were awarded a penalty that was dispatched by Ross Callachan which not only lifted them from bottom but now sits the club in 10th place. We probably shouldn't be surprised at these kinds of events anymore as Accies somehow manage to pull something out of the bag at the correct time. Accies still need a few more additions to improve their attacking quality due to their reliance on set-pieces but must have great spirit to constantly keep popping up with key results.
Not many people will have predicted Hibs to come away from the win against Motherwell as 3-0 victors but Jack Ross' side deserves great credit for a brilliant result. The first half wasn't too convincing and Hibs should have went into the break a goal down but the second-half performance saw Hibs come out as deserved winners. Martin Boyle was back to form with his first goal since September with Christian Doidge and Stephen McGinn netting after coming off the bench to finish the game off. The win took Hibs up to 3rd place and with the next three games being against Hamilton, Dundee United and St Mirren, Hibs fans will be expecting maximum points to maintain their position as the best of the rest. To maintain their position, Hibs will need to sort out a small issue where they seem to fall out of the game for certain periods of time, with defensive lapses costing them points or making games much harder for them to see out. A fair amount of Hibs fans have concerns over how they are a one-half side, meaning they are considerably better in one half than the other. It's clear Jack Ross' side have the attacking quality to see off most teams but a few tweaks are needed to ensure they maintain control over the 90 minutes.
Key Battle: Lee Hodson Vs Jamie Murphy
Jamie Murphy has had a revival in Scottish football since joining Hibs on loan from Rangers and has added balance to the Hibs attack with Martin Boyle on the other flank. Hodson was a former teammate of Murphy's at Rangers and will know his game very well, setting up an interesting clash this weekend. If Hodson can keep Murphy quiet from creating chances, Accies have a great chance of continuing this revival.
Predicted Result: Hamilton Academical 0-2 Hibernian
It was as one-sided as a game could be as Aberdeen easily brushed aside Ross County with a 3-0 victory at the Global Energy Stadium. The Staggies didn't register a single shot on target against Derek McInnes' side in an afternoon where Lewis Ferguson scored two penalties and Marley Watkins scored his first goal for the club.
Derek McInnes has been getting quite the grilling in recent weeks as Aberdeen have dipped in form. There's no win in four games in all competitions as Aberdeen have lost to Rangers and St Mirren whilst dropping points to the Buddies and Hamilton in recent weeks. There's a massive concern over the reliance Aberdeen have on Ross McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson, with the two being absent for most of the previously mentioned games. The squad players at Aberdeen don't seem to be up to standard as they have failed to deliver when they have been giving opportunities to make a name for themselves. Ferguson will be missing this weekend as he was sent off against St Mirren meaning it is yet another opportunity for a player to grasp, although recent weeks performances won't fill many fans with hope. At home to Ross County, nothing but a win will be acceptable for Aberdeen fans as they look to catch up on Hibs in the race for 3rd place.
As expected, Ross County were unable to produce a similar defensive performance against the free-scoring Rangers side as they did against Celtic the week prior. County struggled to deal with the presence of Rangers wide players and will need to be wary of the threats posed by the likes of Ryan Hedges and Scott Wright who will look to stretch the game to their advantage. County tend to leak goals against the league's top sides, conceding 14 in 5 league games against the top 4 this season so far. The Staggies will need to tighten up at the back to avoid another drubbing but with Aberdeen struggling for form as of late, they will go to Pittodrie with intentions of causing them a number of problems. Ross Stewart consistently proves to be a handful with his high energy and with Aberdeen not performing nearly as well as they can, County have every chance of causing an upset.
Key Battle: Thomas Hoban Vs Ross Stewart
Aberdeen will likely control this game and due to this, Ross County will have to make the most out of their attacks. They might not get many chances but it is vital that they take advantage of them, much like St Mirren and Hamilton have done. Stewart will be the focal point with Kettlewell looking at recent results against teams of similar quality and go to the Granite City with the intention of punishing an out of form Aberdeen side.
Predicted Result: Aberdeen 1-1 Ross County
Rangers eased to a 4-0 victory at Ibrox as Dundee United made their return to Ibrox in the top flight. It was a showcase of the Rangers attacking options as James Tavernier, Ryan Kent, Kemar Roofe and Scott Arfield all got on the scoresheet in an emphatic victory for Steven Gerrard's side.
Dundee United are easily the oddest team in the league this season. Despite a number of attacking options, they don't look the least bit threatening with toothless attacks that sees them have the least amount of shots on target per game in the league. Despite this, they are still in the top 6 and have been for a good part of the season. To see more about United's strange season, please check out this written piece that goes further into detail as to what United are struggling with and what is keeping them so high up the table (https://www.angussmcgregor.com/post/the-strange-season-of-dundee-united). Dundee United will have to play much better than they did against Livingston as they were extremely slack on the ball yet again. It will be worrying that the goals conceded were easily avoidable, with Livi's first seeing Pittman travel with the ball from the halfway line to the 18-yard box uncontested. United certainly can't afford to give Rangers this freedom as they will be heavily punished. It could be a long afternoon for United as they will have their backs against the wall for most of this game against the league's top side. They already create few chances and this is unlikely to change against Rangers, meaning the likes of Mark Reynolds and Benjamin Siegrist have to be at their best for United to come away with anything.
I feel like this weekly mention of Rangers is becoming extremely repetitive but what can I say, they're just excellent right now. Another week, another convincing win with strong performances from the entire team. It's really hard to see Rangers being caused any issues this season as they not only continue winning but continue to keep clean sheet after clean sheet. Steven Gerrard's side are in electric form this season and only seem to go from strength to strength. James Tavernier scored his 10th league goal and registered his 7th assist of the season, boosting his total goal contributions to 28 in 25 games in all competitions. As things go, he is a certainty for Player of the Year. Rangers win over Lech Poznan was very special as the quality didn't dip with a rotated squad. Cedric Itten and Nathan Patterson shone as a 2-0 victory sent Rangers through to the knockout stages as a seeded team due to their 1st place finish. The 14 points total is a record for a Scottish team in European competition, a massive achievement especially considering the teams in their group. There is a real hunger for success in this Rangers team and it transcends throughout the squad. With hefty competition boosting performing standards, the club being on a high and a bunch of refreshed stars, this weekend could be a
Key Battle: Mark Connolly Vs Alfredo Morelos
Connolly didn't have the best of times up against Livi's Matej Poplatnik who would drop deep to get involved with build-up play for the Lions. It'll be a similar feature this weekend as Alfredo Morelos has a new role which seems him more involved in attacks rather than finishing them. United have to be wary of this or they will be punished heavily in what looks like a game that will be a tough watch for United fans.
Predicted Result: Dundee United 0-4 Rangers
A Chris Burke penalty cancelled out a Ryan Christie opener as Kilmarnock drew 1-1 at home to Celtic. Back then, in simpler happier times for Celtic fans, this result wasn't that big of a deal but you can be sure that the furore will continue if there's a similar showing this weekend.
Celtic continue to have great woes as they dropped points yet again, this time at home to St Johnstone. That result means Celtic have now only won once in the last 5 league games and that they are 13 points behind leaders Rangers. It's the same issues again as Celtic's turgid attack has flattered to deceive with the squad clearly needing to be freshened up. Neil Lennon would rest some players as the final Europa League game against Lille was meaningless in terms of the competition with Celtic already being eliminated. There were starts for David Turnbull, Ismaila Soro and Patryk Kilmala whilst Ewan Henderson came on as a sub early on into the game. All four players definitely gave the Celtic squad a boost and didn't shirk from their responsibilities with Turnbull and Soro deservedly earning great plaudits. Soro was brilliant as a holding midfielder as Turnbull excelled playing as an advanced midfielder, earning an assist and a goal on his first start in European competition. Neil Lennon now has a massive headache in midfield as he has to decide whether he sticks with the old guard or gives more time to the players who performed so well against Lille. With these young players not playing too much in recent weeks, it may open the door for the likes of Brown and Christie to come straight back into the starting XI, with hopes to breed these players into the squad in the next coming weeks after building fitness.
Kilmarnock were unable to bounce back and win a game with 10 men for the third time this season as they fell to a shock 1-0 defeat away to Hamilton. Clevid Dikamona's early sending off made it hard for Kilmarnock who were unable to get going in the fixture, registering only two shots on target. Killie have now lost 5 of their last 7 league games as they seem to be another team this season who are struggling to maintain consistency. Thankfully for Alex Dyer's side, they are playing Celtic at the right time as the Hoops are very low on confidence and vulnerable in each and every game. This is a great opportunity for Kilmarnock to earn their first victory at Celtic Park since October 2012 and kickstart their season as they have really struggled for form recently. If Killie look to break into the top 6, they need to stop losing games and there's no better time to start than against a stutter Celtic side.
Key Battle: Kristoffer Ajer Vs Eamonn Brophy
Celtic have struggled in recent weeks with forwards who put themselves about and have a decent turn of pace. Ryan Hedges, Ross Stewart and Stevie May are examples of the types of players who are causing Celtic problems, even at home and Brophy could do the same this weekend. Part of the reason Celtic aren't performing so well is the fact that their defence is being exploited due to the number of bodies pushing forward due to how desperate Celtic are for a victory. If Brophy can get at the Celtic defence, the woes for Neil Lennon may continue yet again.
Predicted Result: Celtic 2-0 Kilmarnock