Scottish Premiership Matchweek 2 Preview
The first weekend of Scottish Premiership action has come and gone to good success with no hiccups - or so we thought. The Champions sent out a statement of intent with a comfortable 5-1 victory over Hamilton, with star man Odsonne Edouard notching a hat-trick on the back of claims that the Frenchman did not seem interested anymore. Jim Goodwin and St Mirren got everything tactically right as debutee Richard Tait scored a diving header to beat an unusually flat-footed Livingston 1-0. A stunning free-kick from Chris Burke would not be enough to undo the damage caused by a Martin Boyle brace as Hibs edged a 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock. Ross County pulled off a minor shock against Motherwell, a game that saw the Well miss a penalty and have Callum Lang sent off in his debut in a frustrating evening for the Lanarkshire side. Dundee United's squandered a chance to take three points against ten-man St Johnstone, where a Liam Craig volley cancelled out Nicky Clark's penalty. And the season properly kicked off in Aberdeen, where a Ryan Kent goal for Rangers would send Dons players to the pub to drown their sorrows...
Postponed: St Johnstone vs Aberdeen
The weekend was supposed to open with Aberdeen visiting McDiarmid Park to face off against St Johnstone but sadly has been called off. A poorly judged visit by a number of Aberdeen players to a public house has seen a few players test positive for the Virus, leading a further six to self isolate. Considering Aberdeen were already missing strikers Sam Cosgrove and Curtis Main, as well as the recently suspended Andrew Considine, this could have had caused catastrophic repercussions to Derek McInnes' selection against the Saints. Fortunately for the Dons, pressure from the First Minister has seen the game postponed with Aberdeen very fortunate that the game hasn't been awarded to St Johnstone by default. The restart of Scottish football came about through agreements of club's strictly sticking to guidelines in order to avoid any hiccups, which disappointingly, we have come across only one week into the season. The game will now take place on Thursday 20th August, with this having a knock-on effect to Aberdeen's game against Livingston which now take place a day later on Sunday 23rd August. Hopefully, this is the only example we'll see of this happening with those involved being rightly condemned for their participation.
Livingston vs Hibernian
Perhaps the game of the weekend brings the "Lothians Derby" - Hibs fans you'll just have to deal with that for local rivalries this season - as Livingston welcome Hibs. Since Livi's return to the top flight, the encounters between the two sides have been close contests, with Livi edging the 6 matches with 2 wins, Hibs winning 1 and a further 3 draws. Only one occasion has seen a team fail to score with an average of 2.67 goals scored in this fixture recently and the same can probably be expected again.
Hibs got off to a much better start than the Lions, with Martin Boyle's pace causing problems for Kilmarnock last week as the Australian international grabbed a brace. Hibs have had a good summer so far, adding quality in prospect striker Kevin Nisbet and destroyer Alex Gogic into defensive midfield/centre-back. The duo seem to have had an effect on the club already, both starting and Nisbet earning an assist on his debut. Livi didn't get off to the best of starts, with an unusually lackadaisical seeing the West Lothian club fail to trouble St Mirren as they lost 1-0. There were debuts for Allan Forrest, Jack Fitzwater and Salim Kouider-Aissa but Livi lacked any real dig or creativity to threaten the Paisley side. The Lions will certainly need to be a lot better this time round if they look to take anything away from this fixture but the style of the opponent will be entirely different, with Hibs looking to be more attacking compared to St Mirren who soaked up the pressure.
Key Battle: Marvin Bartley v Scott Allan
Last week I highlighted how the differences in energy and tenacity made a massive difference between Livi and St Mirren, with the Lions drive seeming to lack. Livi can't afford for the same to happen again as Hibs have more quality in midfield who could really hurt Livi, none more so than Scott Allan. Livi can't afford to give players like Allan so much time on the ball or they will truly be punished by the attacking midfielders intricate passing. Club captain Marvin Bartley patrols the holding midfield position and will be kept busy by his former teammate who will constantly be looking forward to thread through the likes of Boyle and Nisbet. This will be the key battle as should Livi's midfield play as they did last week, they will surely be torn apart. At the same time, If Bartley and co can get going and silence these threats, the Lions could have a successful outing in their first home game of the season.
Predicted Result: Livingston 1-2 Hibernian
Hamilton Academical vs Ross County
From the majority of predictions of the final league positions, this clash seems to feature the two teams tipped to finish in the bottom two places. The two sides in fairness finished in 10th (County) and 11th (Accies) albeit the season ending early but both teams did show bright sparks in the opening weekend.
It may seem strange to many to read that there were positives to take from Accies losing 5-1 to Celtic but hear me out, the Accies actually gave a good account of themselves. Considering they were facing the Champions, Accies more than threatened with the likes of Moyo threatening the Celtic defence in the air with Accies troubling at set-pieces. Against other teams, Accies will have more luck and their efforts will give fans hope that they can remain in the league yet again. Many would have tipped Ross County to face defeat at the hands of Motherwell but a strong, energetic performance saw the Highland club pull off a mini-shock against Stephen Robinson's side. County's forward line played massively into the club's success on Monday night, with striker Ross Stewart already building upon his impressive reputation. The trio of Stewart, Lee Erwin and Billy McKay caused Motherwell an abundance of problems before the Highland club arguably rode out their luck a little in the second half.
As previously mentioned, set pieces could make all the difference but not only due to Accies threats. Ross County didn't cope well last season with dead ball situations, conceding 17 as a hand of free-kicks, corners and long throws whilst also giving away 6 penalties, with 3 directly scored. It is yet to be seen as to whether County have completely solved this and based off Accies efforts against Celtic, they'll be looking to exploit this issue. However, on the other side, Accies did show weakness down the flanks, where Ross Stewart managed to expose fairly well against Motherwell. County will also possess somewhat of a mental edge, knowing they can expose the Hamilton defence, doing so 5 times in 2 league games last season.
Key Battle: David Moyo vs Coll Donaldson
Fresh off signing a new contract, striker David Moyo will be looking to repay the faith shown in him this weekend against Ross County. The Zimbabwean striker worked tirelessly, looking to attack the ball from crosses and was unlucky with an effort in the first half. As highlighted before, County can be slack in these situations, whether that is giving away clear cut chances or conceding penalties. One of the guilty parties at time for County is Coll Donaldson, who gave away a penalty against Motherwell on Monday night. Donaldson was extremely hard done by but he is no stranger to putting his hands on opponents, which may see a reputation around the defender develop within the minds of the officials. Donaldson should be the centre half attacking incoming threats but he is yet to win over admirers of the top flight just yet, making too many errors so far. With an energetic presence such as Moyo, Donaldson will need to be on top as the Accies forward won't give him a second.
Predicted Result: Hamilton Academical 2-2 Ross County
Motherwell vs Dundee United
For the last time that these two faced off, you have to go back over 4 years to the 11th of March 2016, where Motherwell would defeat United 2-1 with goals from Marvin Johnson and Louis Moult. United would be relegated and the two would avoid each other in cup competitions ever since. The two will finally be reunited in a game where both teams will be looking to prove something.
United have been tipped by many to finish in the top 6 but I’m not quite sure there’s enough evidence to support that just yet. Squandering the chance to take a good three points off 10 man St Johnstone will have been disappointing for the Terrors who are still adapting to life without Robbie Neilson. It’ll perhaps take some time for Micky Mellon to get adjusted and for us to see exactly how Dundee United will cope this season in the top flight.
On paper, a trip to Motherwell looks an extremely tough fixture but Motherwell haven’t been in great form. Of course, it’s hard to gauge a team based on last season’s form but a sluggish performance against Ross County doesn’t improve the Fir Park sides form in 2020, only two wins from 10. Of course, Motherwell have plenty of talent and a good manager in Stephen Robinson and should be able to turn things around. However, should the newly promoted side shock the Lanarkshire club, worries may creep into the minds of some fans, especially in regards with the race for 3rd place. Again, it would only be two games into the new season with a long way to go.
Key Battle: Declan Gallagher vs Lawrence Shankland
One of the best centre-halves of the Premiership up against the best striker in the Championship last season, this is the kind of battle fans of Scottish football fans will be keeping an eye on, especially in order to see if Shankland copes at this level. The duo have came a long way since their last encounter against one another, that coming in a 4-1 win for Gallagher’s Livi against Shankland’s St Mirren on Boxing Day in 2015 - how I could have done with a similar result last weekend. Nonetheless, the two have built great footballing reputations since and both have even been called up together for the National Team. If Shankland is to be what we hope for Scotland, he’ll have to perform well against the likes of Gallagher consistently each and every week. Disappointed to not score last week, Shankland should be even more hungry to get back on the scoresheet in the Premiership. Gallagher was at fault for the penalty that was the sole difference between Motherwell losing against Ross County so will also be looking to make amends in what looks certain to be an intriguing clash.
Predicted Result: Motherwell 2-0 Dundee United
Rangers vs St Mirren
With strikers incoming and possibly going, there may be a little bit of uncertainty and more pressure heaped on the Ibrox club at this moment. The signings of Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten look exciting and the duo will be fully expected to hit the ground running especially if Alfredo Morelos is to move to Lille. With rumours of a deal close to agreement, manager Steven Gerrard may not include the Colombian and favour one of his new signings instead with an eye toward the future. This will undoubtedly bring heaps of pressure on the new signings as this season is massive for Rangers as they try to stop 10 in a row and will be expected to start scoring straight away. It could be a dream debut for one of these signings, with the possibility of becoming an immediate fan favourite at such a massive club a mouth-watering thought.
In saying this, it will not be an easy task for Rangers as they welcome St Mirren, a team who showcased their defensive capabilities last weekend. St Mirren were well organised against Livingston, with plenty of energy in midfield and a defence who won everything that came into the box capping off an impressive display. Jim Goodwin has wasted no time in getting his new defensive recruits up to scratch and buying into his playing style, with it seeming as if the likes of Shaughnessey, McCarthy and Tait had been playing together for years. Last season, it became clear that Rangers were struggling more against some of the smaller teams, failing to break them down and getting caught on the counter. This is exactly how St Mirren will shape up and look to frustrate Steven Gerrard’s team and hope to come away with something.
Key Battle: Ianis Hagi vs Marcus Fraser
The way Rangers are setting up just now is very interesting, with the two wide players often drifting inward to receive the ball and attack. £3 million signing Ianis Hagi will look to do exactly this, with the Romanian preferring a more central position and it seems like he has been given the freedom to roam. This will be a real test to the Buddies defence, with the full-backs having to decide whether to follow their man or stick in formation. On one hand, should they follow, space is created in behind but should they allow players to move freely, it runs the risk of a player winding up in a threatening position unmarked. Marcus Fraser will need to be on top form to deal with Hagi, requiring complete concentration at all times if St Mirren want to come away with someone. After last week, the Buddies defence will be full of confidence but Rangers will, of course, bring a much tougher challenge for Jim Goodwin’s men.
Predicted Result: Rangers 2-0 St Mirren
Kilmarnock vs Celtic
Last season, this fixture bizarrely finished 3-1 on each of the three occasions, all in favour of the Glasgow club. Killie have shown some promise in these games, taking the lead twice early on through Eamonn Brophy but eventually, Celtic’s quality comes through, in particular, that of Odsonne Edouard who scored in each of the games last season. The way things are going, it seems like we can expect a similar tale.
Celtic kicked off the season with great intent, a free-flowing attacking performance giving the Hoops an expected convincing victory against Hamilton. Celtic seem to have started from where they left off last season and look deadly with a core of players hungry to get on the scoresheet. With Edouard flying and both Taylor and Frimpong getting involved, Celtic look threatening all over the park with great creativity and quality.
The same isn’t the case with Killie, with the lack of a quality final pass and some defensive errors making the difference in their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Hibs. After conceding a couple of goals, including a very poor opener, Kille began to come into the game more and actually dominated in terms of possession. Unfortunately for the Ayrshire side, they were unable to turn this into clear chances, with a moment of brilliance from a Chris Burke free kick giving them hope. Kilmarnock simply cannot afford to start off in similar fashion against Celtic or they’ll face a hammering for their troubles. With Eastwood substituted due to an "injury" last week, it may be expected that Danny Rogers will make his starting debut this weekend and will most definitely be called into action on numerous occasions.
Key Battle: Stuart Findlay vs Odsonne Edouard
It’s hard to go against the man in form for players to look out for but if Killie are to have any chance of beating or even drawing with Celtic, they need to stop Odsonne Edouard. It’s going to be a busy day for Kilmarnock’s Stuart Findlay as the former Celtic youth player will have to stick closely to the highly-rated Frenchman or suffer a similar fate to Accies last weekend.
Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 0-3 Celtic