• Angus McGregor

Scottish Premiership Matchweek 18 Preview (+ Scottish Cup Final)

With 15 goals over the 6 Scottish Premiership games last weekend, there was no shortage of action in the Scottish top flight. Rangers continued their dominance with a 2-0 victory away to Dundee United with a wonderful James Tavernier free-kick in said game a candidate for Goal of the Season. Celtic got back to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock, a second win of the week for Neil Lennon's side who look much better with the recent additions of David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro to the starting XI. HIbs brushed Hamilton aside with a comfortable 4-0 away win whilst Aberdeen continued to chase the Edinburgh side with a 2-0 home win against Ross County. Livingston jumped up to 7th place thanks to a winner from Scott Robinson in a 2-1 victory away to an in-form St Johnstone side. St Mirren also climbed up the table to 10th with a 1-0 victory away to Motherwell that sees Ross County drop to the foot of the table.

Midweek saw the commencement of the Betfred Cup, with Hibs and St Johnstone's wins over Championship sides Alloa Athletic and Dunfermline saw them book their places in the semi-finals. Livingston's 2-0 win over Ross County that sees the Lions reach their first major semi-final since 2006 was completely overshadowed by the events at the Simple Digital Arena. St Mirren round up the unusual final four as they defeated Rangers 3-2, ending Steven Gerrard's sides unbeaten run this season. The Buddies will face Livingston with Hibs and St Johnstone squaring off in the first semi-finals since the 2013/14 season to feature neither of the Old Firm.

This weekend we have 5 league games and the novelty of the 2019/20 Scottish Cup Final taking place alongside the 2020/21 campaign. There are a lot of teams looking to build on impressive form whilst others look to bounce back from setbacks and get their seasons back on track.

(Form pictured in the graphics now features all competitions rather than just League games)

A 76th-minute winner from Billy McKay gave Ross County their second win in 2 games away to Hamilton earlier in the season. Since then, there's not been an awful lot to cheer about for both teams who find themselves as the league's current bottom clubs. It is a massive game for both sides and could have huge implications for what happens at the end of the season.

It certainly has been a rough week for Stuart Kettlewell's side as they suffered 2-0 defeats at the weekend and during the week. It was a toothless performance from the Staggies as they rarely threatened the Aberdeen goal and were punished for some slack defending. Midweek would have been a harder pill to swallow as County crashed out of the Betfred Cup in frustrating fashion, with a controversial opener and shocking mistake costing them dearly. County created more against Livingston but yet again, were not ruthless enough in front of goal as Ross Stewart and Billy McKay had golden chances to get the Staggies back into the game. The opportunities were there for Ross County to take matters into their own hands but poor finishing has cost them yet again. There aren't enough goals in this County team with only 10 so far this league campaign. The goals have dried up from Ross Stewart and Billy McKay as neither has scored in open play in the league since August, with the duo only scoring one other time in open play in all competitions this season. Oli Shaw made his return to the squad from injury and should look likely to return to the starting XI as soon as possible. Shaw was in good form before his injury with 4 goals in as many games and neither of the strikers who have taken his place has been able to cement the position as their own. It may be too soon for the former Hibs striker to start but Stuart Kettlewell will be desperate to get Shaw back into his side. Regan Charles-Cooke may miss out this weekend as he was substituted early in the first half against Livingston whilst new signing Jason Naismith is ineligible until the January transfer window re-opens.

Hamilton were unable to kick on from their shock win over Kilmarnock as their defensive issues plagued them against Hibs. Accies were unable to threaten Hibs as it was a poor showing at the Fountain of Youth Stadium. Hamilton will need a much better performance this weekend and should need no motivation to get up for this weekend's game as they know how big it is for their season. It would be a huge result for Brian Rice if his side can pick up an away win against fellow strugglers Ross County and would lead many to believe that they have enough to stay in this league once again. Brian Rice needs a big performance this weekend and will be hopeful due to County's weakness in front of goal so far this season. Accies have already shown this season that if they can hang on, they will get a chance and can punish teams, leading to shock away wins over Motherwell and Livingston earlier this season. If not, they could see themselves drop to the foot of the table yet again.

Key Battle: Alex Iacovitti Vs David Moyo

County are either solid or calamitous at the back, there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground. The Staggies should control most of this weekends proceedings but will need to be wary of the threats Accies possess, particularly from set plays. If County switch off, they could be punished with the likes of Moyo looking to pounce on any mistakes made.

Predicted Result: Ross County 1-1 Hamilton Academical

Christian Doidge was the solo goal scorer as the Welshman secured Hibs a big three points away from home at the start of the season. These two sides have featured three times in 2020 due to the two meeting in last seasons Scottish Cup, a tournament that will still be going on by the time these two play this weekend.

Hibs avoided being the second Edinburgh team to fall victim to Alloa Athletic as Christian Doidge stepped up yet again to secure his team the win. A Paul Hanlon own goal made it less comfortable than Jack Ross would have liked, with it taking until the 83rd minute for the Leith side to take the lead. It was a very poor goal for Hibs to concede as they were slack at the back and not for the first time this season. With a good midfield and attack, it looks certain that priorities for Hibs in the upcoming transfer window will be some defensive players, even if to add depth and keep the current starting players on their toes. The main thing during the week for Hibs was progressing in the cup which they managed to do to cap off a great week for the club. An away tie against a Hamilton side who were on the up could have been a potential banana skin but Hibs were completely professional and commanded the entire game. Amongst the goals in the 4-0 win was Christian Doidge who now has 4 goals in his last 3 games, making a great impact since returning from a small spell in the injury room. Doidge is returning to full form which will be a massive benefit to this Hibs side as the forward not only chips in with goals but gets involved in the build-up play. Kevin Nisbet has already benefitted from Doidge's presence this season and with Hibs looking to cement third place, they'll need their striking duo to perform at their best. Alex Gogic may still be out injured for this weekend's game, although Hibs may not notice his absence as much in a game they should fully expect to control at Easter Road.

After watching Dundee United play Livingston and pose very little threat, it made many think they would be in big trouble against the free-scoring league leaders Rangers. However, United produced a solid performance that will undoubtedly frustrate their supporters as they looked more threatening than they did the week prior. United are still yet to find that balance within their team but will take positives from last weekend as they stayed in the game, with a piece of individual brilliance being a deciding factor in the fixture. United still need to strike a balance between their attacking and defensive play as we are still yet to see the best of Marc McNulty and Lawrence Shankland. The duo looked better against Rangers but are still being starved of service, something that could end up costing Micky Mellon's side a spot in the top 6. The two week period that has seen a few of United's first-team players miss out due to COVID regulations will be complete by this weekend, making way for the likes of Nicky Clark and Paul McMullan to make their way back into the team. These players are two of United's better ballplayers who can help make the difference in the final third and try boost United's very poor attacking numbers so far this season. The game against Rangers was the 10th - out of 17 - league game this season in which United have registered only two or fewer shots on target, showing that United need an injection of quality quick.

Key Battle: Joe Newell Vs Jeando Fuchs

Dundee United's midfield will look to snuff out any danger from Hibs players whilst rarely threatening the opposition themselves. Jeando Fuchs and co will need to have a combative performance and stop the likes of Joe Newell from advancing from midfield and producing key chances at Benjamin Siegrist's goal.

Predicted Result: Hibernian 2-0 Dundee United

10th host 9th this weekend as Callum Davidson's side travel to Paisley to face off against Jim Goodwin's St Mirren. St Johnstone came out as 1-0 victors the last time around, with a Stevie May goal sealing the win. Both teams will be in great spirits as both reached the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup, leading this to be a possible dress rehearsal for the final come February.

Jim Goodwin and St Mirren will be absolutely buzzing with their recent performances which have seen them be rewarded handsomely. Following up two impressive results against Aberdeen, the Buddies went into their game against Motherwell sitting at the bottom of the table but moved up to 10th with a very good 1-0 away win. Things would get even better midweek as St Mirren battled valiantly and handed Rangers their first loss of the season with a massive 3-2 win to send the Buddies into the semi-finals. With the teams left in the competition and looking at the sides who St Mirren have put out already, they certainly look capable of going the whole way and winning the competition. St Mirren are now unbeaten in the last 10 games played with 5 wins in the last 6 games, with spirits only seeming to rise at the club right now. Jamie McGrath has been in exquisite form as of late, scoring 5 goals in the last 4 games as the Buddies have started to look a lot more threatening going forward. The Saints solid defence has been the main feature of Jim Goodwin's side but now look to be striking a good balance within their squad. Jake Doyle-Hayes looks like an inspiring signing as the young midfielder looks to have been the missing piece to the Saints becoming effective going forward. The 21-year-old has great class on the ball, most noticeably with his delightful vital control that kept the ball in the Rangers penalty area where the Buddies would eventually get their winning goal from. It is important that St Mirren don't get too carried away just yet and continue to plough away as there is still a long way to go before they guarantee Premiership safety. With the way they're playing, it doesn't seem like they should be in trouble come the end of the season.

It was a mixed week for St Johnstone as last weekend they suffered a disappointing home loss to Livingston that ended their 11 game unbeaten run. The Saints got too dragged into a fight with Livingston and although they competed well, they struggled to create clear cut chances that would cost them a valuable three points. Callum Davidson's side wouldn't have long to lick their wounds as a massive Betfred Cup quarter-final coming up against Championship side Dunfermline. Zander Clark would be the hero for St Johnstone, saving two penalties in a penalty shoot-out that put the Perth side into the semi-final to face Hibs in January. It wasn't the most comfortable of showings for St Johnstone but in the end, the main thing that matters is the result. St Johnstone will need a lot better showing this weekend than in their last two games should they want to come away from Paisley with a victory. St Johnstone need to be more clinical going forward and need to create better clear cut chances. The Saints threatened Livingston mainly down the wings, even getting their goal from it, but with Livi playing with a back 5 for most of the second half, the St Johnstone attack were often crowded out. A little more creativity is needed from Callum Davidson's side but as they face a solid backline in the form of St Mirren, they may face similar issues.

Key Battle: Jon Obika Vs Jamie McCart

St Johnstone were caused problems last week by energetic strikers giving them no time to play out normally and found their defenders getting dragged out of position on several occasions. Jon Obika will look to do something similar in a lone striker role, holding the ball up and encouraging runners to get beyond him and exploit space, just like what happened in the second goal St Johnstone conceded against Livingston. Obika is always St Mirren's main outlet and a strong performance from the forward could go a long way to giving his side the advantage.

Predicted Result: St Mirren 1-1 St Johnstone

It was a very comfortable showing for Rangers as they met Motherwell at Fir Park earlier in the season, recording an emphatic 5-1 away victory. Braces from James Tavernier and Cedric Itten combined with a single Jordan Jones goal as Rangers cruised the game back in September.

For the first time this season, Rangers have been defeated. It took until mid-December with a run of 27 games for it to finally happen but Steven Gerrard's side have finally succumbed to their first loss of the season at the hands of St Mirren. Despite this fantastic run, a few questions have been raised by a small section of the Rangers support as it is another missed opportunity to win a trophy, leading to some worries about Rangers credibility whenever they are presented with a chance to succeed. It may just be paranoia due to recent years but some of the reactions from fans is over the top as Rangers deserve more credit for how they've performed this season. What is important now for Rangers is that they bounce back this weekend and don't allow this to turn into a bit of a slump and give an improving Celtic any more belief that they can come back from this current 13 point deficit. A big reaction is needed from Steven Gerrard's side and it is likely to happen as Rangers will be expected to field their strongest XI in order to make sure another slip up does not happen. Alfredo Morelos will still be unable to feature due to his two-match suspension, with Jermain Defoe or Cedric Itten taking his place in the starting XI. Itten has been favoured in recent weeks but Steven Gerrard may look to the experienced Defoe to help his team get back to winning ways quickly. Rangers will be expected to be win this weekend but will definitely feel a bit more pressure on them now.

Motherwell continue to have a poor season with the 6 points they gained from forfeited games the only thing in recent weeks that has been positive for Stephen Robinson's side. Without those 6 points, Motherwell would only have 15 points and a goal difference of -7, a tally that would see Motherwell sit in 9th place. The performances simply haven't been there this season as the league positioning certainly does not tell the story of Motherwell's season so far. Nonetheless, Motherwell are in a great position despite being very poor this season and should they recapture some form, they could maintain their spot in the top 6. Stephen Robinson needs his side to step up soon and there will be a lot of players fighting to stay at Fir Park as the January transfer window approaches. As things stand, there are a lot of players who Robinson will be looking to replace as they simply haven't been cutting it this season and the side are in desperate need of being freshened up. Motherwell had a busy summer transfer window so if players are to come in, you would imagine it would lead to several players departing to free up some wages. This weekend may not be the best chance for players to prove their worth as they will have their backs against the wall for the most part but a strong showing here would certainly go a long way in helping certain players.

Key Battle: Kemar Roofe Vs Declan Gallagher

With Morelos out, Roofe may be the man to fill the gap left by the Colombian in which a forward is involved more so in the buildup play rather than bursting into the box. With Kent and Defoe/Itten looking to pose threats running beyond the striker, Gallagher an co will have a busy afternoon and have to keep an eye on Roofe as the forward makes late runs into the box.

Predicted Result: Rangers 3-0 Motherwell

An early goal from Ross McCrorie awarded Aberdeen the three points when Kilmarnock travelled to the Granite City for the first meeting between these two sides. Both sets of fans will be hoping for a more exciting affair this time around as the game was limited to very few chances from either side.

Kilmarnock had a solid first half showing against Celtic but their opponents eventual class came through in the end to make it two defeats in a row for Alex Dyer's side. In the league, it is now 1 win from the last 6 games as Killie have been unable to capitalise on team's poor form so far this season. Kilmarnock are another strange team this season as they have players capable of causing team's problems but also have the occasional slip up that leaves you puzzled. Killie have really struggled this season to take points off the teams near the top of the table, albeit they have done well to stay in the game against the majority of them. In the games against the top 6 already this season, they've only picked up 1 point in 7 games against the top 4 this season. With this stat and the fact they have only scored twice in these games, it doesn't necessarily look great for them this weekend. Kilmarnock always give teams a tough time at Rugby Park and should look to get at Aberdeen who have showcased vulnerability in recent weeks and try get their top 6 bid back on track. Killie will still be without the suspended Clevid Dikamona but should have the rest of their squad available for this fixture.

Aberdeen got back to winning ways after a rough spell that saw them unable to beat St Mirren twice and Hamilton. A Curtis Main double was the striker's first goals since August as the striker has had an injury ridden season. Main has been quite unfortunate as he actually ended last season pretty well with 3 goals in the last 7 games. Since then, he's been unable to cement a place in the Aberdeen team due to fitness but his brace at the weekend should put him in contention to start again this weekend. Goals from Aberdeen's forwards have been lacking this season so far with Sam Cosgrove not having the same impact as he has in previous seasons. Aberdeen have also relied quite heavily on penalties this season, with 6 of top goalscorer Lewis Ferguson's 8 goals coming from the penalty spot. They all count but Derek McInnes will be looking for more input in open play, especially if they want to finish ahead of Hibs in third place. Aberdeen need a big performance this weekend as it is 1 win in the last 5 for the Dons but last weekend's showing was most definitely a step in the right direction. Derek McInnes' side will welcome Lewis Ferguson back into the squad whilst Niall McGinn gets closer to full fitness, with the Northern Ireland international returning in a brief cameo last weekend.

Key Battle: Brandon Haunstrup Vs Ryan Hedges

Ryan Hedges has been one of Aberdeen's key men this season with 3 goals and 3 assists so far this season as he has improved in this new system under Derek McInnes. Hedges has the freedom to drift and can cause teams issues by popping up unsuspectingly in the final third, often coming in from wide areas. Brandon Haunstrup has recently come into the Kilmarnock side and done fairly well but will have a tough task in keeping Hedges quiet.

Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 1-2 Aberdeen

It's extremely unusual circumstances to have last season's Scottish Cup running alongside the 2020/21 season but here we are. Celtic defeated Aberdeen with a 2-0 victory to reach the final whilst Hearts saw off city rivals Hibs 2-1 AET to set up a Premiership Vs Championship finale. This is also a repeat of the 2018/19 final, with Odsonne Edouard netting a winner as Celtic came back from behind to lift the cup.

Despite their recent troubles, Celtic have the chance to continue making history as the go for a quadruple treble. That achievement will probably be under-celebrated as this season's troubles will undoubtedly overshadow an achievement that may never happen again in these supporters lifetimes. For those involved tho, this will be massive for them although they may not have time to celebrate as they look to catch up in the league. Neil Lennon has got his side back to winning ways with much better performances at home to Lille and Kilmarnock with a number of fresh players stepping up to the plate. Neil Lennon has quite the headache this weekend with a lot of tough decisions to make. It will be interesting to see if Lennon sticks with the main core who got the club to the final and have been involved frequently in the past or if he continues using the new batch who seem to have rejuvenated the squad. David Turnbull should start but Ismaila Soro will probably miss out as Scott Brown will surely come back into the fold for a cup final, even despite recent performances. Regardless of who plays, this is a massive game for Celtic as if they are defeated by a Championship club, the fans will only continue to be rowdy with their displeasures. This is the final where Celtic have had the most pressure on them by far but could be a massive turning point for the Hoops this season. They will be expected to win but picking up a trophy could be the boost this squad needs to wake up and get back on form this season. Mikey Johnston returned last weekend as Celtic have a near fully fit squad for this weekend, with only James Forrest the notable absence for Neil Lennon this weekend.

Hearts have a massive chance of becoming the fourth side to win the Scottish Cup from outside the top flight, joining Queens Park (1893), East Fife (1938) and Hibernian in 2016. With the way Celtic have been in the past few months, Hearts will go with the belief that they can pull off quite the upset. It hasn't been the best of starts to the season for Hearts as they have disappointing showings against Dunfermline and Alloa Athletic already this season. Last weekend was more like what we expect from them as they demolished Queen of the South 6-1 at Tynecastle. That result will be a massive boost coming into this game as such an emphatic victory is always a good thing, regardless of opposition. It's no secret that this Hearts squad has the quality of a team in the top flight which is what makes this a much more interesting match up. The likes of Craig Gordon, Steven Naismith and Liam Boyce are a few of the players who are still more than capable of performing at the top level in this country and have valuable experience that could get Hearts through this final. Sure, the squad isn't at the level of Neil Lennon's but it is one that shouldn't be underestimated at all. With Celtic not in the best of form, the worst thing they can do is come into this game off the boil, as Hibs found out in the semi-final, this Hearts team is capable of punishing team's errors. Robbie Neilson also has some decisions to make due to squad competition, with Andy Halliday, Peter Haring and Josh Ginnelly all players who were on the bench against Queen of the South who could possibly make their way into the starting XI this Sunday. Hearts have a full squad available this weekend as they go into this weekend looking for their first Scottish Cup win since 2012 and their 9th win.

Key Battle: Scott Brown Vs Steven Naismith

The two veterans are most definitely likely to square off and as two players who wear their hearts on their sleeves, this will be a battle to keep an eye on. Naismith will certainly look to ruffle some feathers and not let Celtic settle in the game. Hearts will know they can get against Celtic who haven't' reacted the best to adversity in recent months. Naismith may need to be more defensive than usual as Celtic look to break down a stubborn Hearts backline but will have a big role in bombing forward to capitalise on any potential counter-attacks.

Predicted Result: Celtic 2-0 Hearts

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