Scottish Premiership Matchweek 4 Preview
There has been two matchdays since the last weekend preview, with midweek fixtures following the second round of fixtures, meaning a lot has happened but not only on the pitch.
Weekend Games: Hibernian kicked off last weekend with a resounding victory over Livingston as Kevin Nisbet netted a hat-trick at the Tony Macaroni Arena. A Billy McKay goal made the difference as Ross County downed Hamilton Accies to continue their 100% record without conceding a goal. Motherwell suffered a disappointing loss at home to Dundee United, with United skipper and former Well defender Mark Reynolds scoring in the second half. Rangers would blow away St Mirren, with Alfredo Morelos returning to his usual form in a busy afternoon. And Celtic would drop their first points of the season, a Chris Burke penalty cancelling out a long-range effort from Ryan Christie.
Midweek Games: Hibs would make it 3 from 3 as a single goal from Christian Doidge would give the Hibees a 100% record at the expense of Dundee United. Ross County were unable to continue their 100% record though, drawing 2-2 with Kilmarnock where Chris Burke scored for the 3rd game running. Motherwell and Livingston both got their first points of the season with a 2-2 draw with both being able to take positives away from the game. And Rangers ruined Liam Craig's 400th appearance for St Johnstone, with a 3-0 victory that sees Steven Gerrard's side sit at the top of the league, still yet to concede a goal.
Celtic P-P Aberdeen
After a botched trip by Aberdeen players to a pub, we were all hoping that the league wouldn't suffer any other disappointments relating to negligence from players. However, that was not to be the case as Boli Bolingoli decided upon himself that he'd take a wee trip to Spain prior to last weekend's game against Kilmarnock. News broke afterwards with the stupidity of the Celtic left-back putting the league in jeopardy as well as possibly causing harm to his own teammates, coaching staff, opponents and anyone else he came across on that matchday. Thankfully, all tests have come back negative and seems as if everyone is okay but still, this is a joke from the Belgian defender. Celtic now join Aberdeen on the naughty step, both now having to sit out for an extended period of time due to their players actions and again, both are lucky to not face further punishment. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it very clear that this is the last warning in regards to these breaches, with the next instance surely leading to our game being postponed once again. Hopefully, it doesn't come to this but in all honesty, it wouldn't be a surprise if another case was to happen.
Hamilton Academical vs St Mirren
An interesting match up as Hamilton square off against St Mirren this weekend with both teams sitting out midweek due to the postponements from the previously mentioned actions. Hamilton currently sit bottom via goal difference with two losses from two so far this season whilst St Mirren were unable to add to their opening day win as they lost a tough game away to Rangers. The two sides squared off three times last season, with Jim Goodwin's side coming out the better of the two, winning one and drawing two in low scoring affairs.
Hamilton showcased some threats against Celtic but were unable to properly carve something up against Ross County which will concern Brian Rice most. These are the types of games that Hamilton need to take points from and to barely land a glove, especially at home, if they want to survive again. As for St Mirren, so far in their two opening games, they've set up to absorb pressure and spring counter-attacks to try and shock teams on the break. It's unlikely they'll do the same against Accies, with St Mirren likely to receive a larger share of the ball in this fixture. The Saints strong point against Livingston was how they crowded threats out but with more freedom to go forward for Goodwin's midfielders, bigger gaps may emerge within the play. Nonetheless, the Buddies have very capable threats in midfield going forward with Jon Obika likely to receive more support from the likes of Jamie McGrath and Ilkay Durmus. This will undoubtedly be a competitive game between the two sides with an important three points up for grabs.
Key Battle: Ross Callachan vs Sam Foley
This will undoubtedly be a competitive game between the two sides with an important three points up for grabs. The midfield battle will be very key in this fixture, with each team battling away in an end to end game. There will be a lot of huffing, puffing and battling as the two teams fight for every inch, with the two players highlighted likely to go from box to box against one another. Sam Foley shined against Livingston and will be hoping his energy can keep any threats poised by Hamilton at bay. Callachan has floated around the top flight for a couple of clubs but has been unable to nail down a starting position consistently for the likes of Hearts and St Johnstone but seems to be favoured just now by Brian Rice. This is the exact kind of game where Callachan needs to make an impact to stake his claim, with a closely contested midfield battle that could make all the difference in the outcome.
Predicted Result: 1-1
Kilmarnock vs St Johnstone
St Johnstone were the unlucky side to miss out last weekend, the same time where Killie received a massive confidence boost with a great draw against Celtic. The previous meetings last season saw an even split in terms of results, a win apiece and a draw in between.
St Johnstone will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing display against Rangers but the Perth side did threaten through Callum Hendry. The Saints performance on the opening day after going down to 10 men has already shown how Callum Davidson's side has resiliency within their ranks. We're yet to fully see what St Johnstone are capable of this season as they have an interesting squad with young players who will look to continue flourishing this upcoming season. With a trip to Ayrshire against Kilmarnock, we should get a good idea as to where the Perth side are at under their new manager.
Kilmarnock will think they are very unlucky to still be winless so far this season, with a poor refereeing performance costing them a victory against Ross County on Wednesday night. With a lack of true improvements to the Killie starting 11, it seems as if you know what you can get from facing Killie but it is the older players, particularly Chris Burke, who are causing problems for opponents just now. Alex Dyer will be hoping his solid core of players can sharpen up at the back as they have been guilty of conceding poor goals this season through avoidable mistakes.
Key Battle: Chris Burke vs Callum Booth
At the age of 36, Chris Burke continues to pose a massive threat, showcased with the midfielder becoming the first Killie player to score in the first three league games since Ronnie Hamilton in 1964 (stat courtesy of John Livingston from the Kilmarnock Twitter). The midfielder continues to roll back the years with impressive performances, leading by example. This weekend poses an interesting test, with St Johnston recently opting for a 5 at the back formation using wing-backs meaning Burke will be tested further up the pitch and expected to track back furthermore. With Calum Booth likely to start on the left-hand side, it could be a very busy afternoon for the veteran as he'll have to track the dangerous deep runs from his flank. On the same note, Burke may find instances where he is found in acres of space and can punish the Saints, much like how he took his goal against Ross County.
Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 1-1 St Johnstone
Ross County vs Dundee United
The reunion of the first and second-placed teams in the 2018/19 Championship season sees Ross County welcome Dundee United to the Highlands. The Staggies pipped the Terrors to the league title by 5 points that season with United unable to join the champions in the top flight but regrouped well for the next season.
Ross County have started the season well, with their forward players getting at teams and making the Staggies look really threatening at times. Ross Stewart and Billy McKay are constantly busy whilst young defender Josh Reid has settled well in the first team, filling the gap left by former captain Marcus Fraser. The Staggies have managed to tighten up defensively so far, not conceding in their first two games of the season. However, their last outing against Kilmarnock saw the club ride their luck as they somehow did not give away at least one penalty.
The loss of Lawrence Shankland has meant the nation has to wait to see how the striker gets on in the league and his absence has been noticeable. Against Hibs, the Terrors were lacking that extra something up front as their talisman missed out through injury. If the striker is back for this weekend's fixture, it'll be a massive boost for United and real test for Ross County, letting us see if they've truly sharpened up at the back. Nonetheless, United are still a competitive team, with young Luke Bolton and Ian Harkes taking the step up from the Championship within their stride so far. United have done well so far, competing well with the likes of Hibs and Motherwell, showing so far that they deserve to be back in the top flight.
Key Batlle: Josh Reid vs Luke Bolton
This Saturday brings a battle between two youngsters as Dundee United's 20-year-old right midfielder Luke Bolton will be directly up against County's 18-year-old Josh Reid. The two are in similar situations, both taking their first steps into professional football which can be hard at the frantic level our game can be in the top flight. These two young prospects will be looking to get the edge over one another as they continue to make their names in the game at such young ages. In a game that looks to be a close contest, this battle, in particular, looks the most interesting to keep an eye on.
Predicted Result: Ross County 2-1 Dundee United
Hibernian vs Motherwell (Live on Sky Sports, 5:30 KO)
Last season's 3rd placed team face off against the team tipped to finish third this season as Motherwell travel to Edinburgh to face Hibs. The two sides starts to the season have been completely different with 8 points separating the two already.
Hibs have enjoyed great form so far, sitting pretty with a 100% record and scoring 7 goals in 3 games so far. Jack Ross' side are punishing teams with great attacking options, with Kevin Nisbet, Christian Doidge and Martin Boyle spreading the goals amongst themselves. The addition of Alex Gogic is adding an extra bit of grit that has been needed in the middle as Ross' decision to stick with two up top is causing teams many problems. It's all looking up for Hibs right now, with fans gutted to be missing out on their team playing some great football.
Motherwell picked up their first point on Wednesday against Livingston but Stephen Robinson was unimpressed overall, claiming his side are playing with 7 players. It seems as if Robinson has made it clear that his side are currently carrying passengers and will be looking to amend this very quickly. Motherwell still only have 2 wins in 2020 from 12 games which the club will need to fix soon or they'll face troubles in remaining in the top 6. Motherwell have the squad to turn things around but Robinson's recent comments seem to suggest some players head's are full of hopes of moving on and are forgetting their tasks here and now. The likes of Allan Campbell and David Turnbull continue to perform but coming up against an inform Hibs team, they're going to need a lot more from the rest of their outfit. New signing Stephen O'Donnell may give some players a boost with the right-back signing until January in what seems like a surprising move.
Key Battle: Martin Boyle vs Ricki Lamie
Ricki Lamie had quite a torrid time up against Alan Forrest on Wednesday, with the winger's pace and trickery seeing him get the better of the former Livingston man. It'll be a similar test for the left-sided defender on Saturday as Martin Boyle will look to do the exact same, looking to get in behind to shoot himself or tee up his on-form strikers. Hibs have been deadly in front of goal and Lamie will need to be a lot sharper defensively in order to keep the Australian international at bay this weekend.
Predicted Result: Hibernian 2-0 Motherwell
Livingston vs Rangers (Live on Sky Sports, 4:30 KO)
Rangers travel to the Tony Macaroni Arena and will have to endure the horrors of the dreaded astroturf pitch that seems to worry teams an abnormal amount. Or at least it used to, perhaps it has all changed with Hibs' demolition of the Lions last weekend where Livi looked incredibly weak against a strong attack.
Despite a positive attacking performance, Livingston's defence still left a lot to be asked of after their 2-2 draw with Motherwell, conceding two weak goals in the process. The past two season's have saw the Lions built a great reputation as a defensive unit but so far this season they have been far from it recently. The Lions are making many silly mistakes and are being rightfully punished at the back. This isn't ideal as you welcome the league's joint-top scorers who have plenty of threats around the pitch. Throw in some injuries and the manager yet to decide on a settled backline and the Lions could be in real trouble this Sunday. Livi's midfield looked a lot more up for it which will give the Lions confidence they can battle it out but they'll need to put in an even bigger shift this weekend. The Lions have been paid a huge sign of respect from Steven Gerrard, with the Rangers manager subbing off a number of his key players early into the second half on Wednesday in preparation for a possibly tough game in West Lothian.
Rangers are playing some quality stuff right now, with the likes of Ryan Kent and Borna Barisic flourishing so far this season with Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi always looking to cause issues for teams. Rangers are very fluid with their attacks with great movement that helps create space in the final third, leading to goal scoring opportunities. Rangers are yet to concede so far this season either as Steven Gerrard's side have got off to the best possible start. With Celtic not playing, this is a chance for Rangers to get more points on the board and put a little bit of pressure on Celtic to perform when they return, something they haven't managed to do in recent years.
Key Battle: Jack Fitzwater vs Alfredo Morelos
It hasn't been a great start for Fitzwater so far at Livingston, with the defender looking suspect at times and even making fatal mistakes at the back. It certainly doesn't get any easier for the Englishman as he is set to face off against £17 million rated Alfredo Morelos who has looked a lot more like his usual self in recent weeks. The Colombian is a constant nuisance who will drop deep to get on the ball as well as look to get in behind the lines. Lapses in concentration have cost Livi already this season and Gary Holt will be hammering the message of being aware at all times into his players before Sunday. The Colombian was substituted early into the second half without a goal so will be raring to get back onto the scoresheet as Fitzwater may be on one of his last chances to prove his worth in the starting XI.
Predicted Result: Livingston 1-3 Rangers