• Angus McGregor

Scottish Premiership Matchweek 8 Preview

In August of 1989, Scottish Football coincided with the first weekend of the new Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter led 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure', with a stacked fixture list compiling of three local derbies. 31 years later, there is a similar trend as the duo of goofballs return in 'Bill and Ted Face The Music' along with a set of interesting fixtures for us to enjoy this weekend.

Last weekend produced 17 goals from the 6 fixtures as Celtic, Rangers and Hibs all hit big whilst Hamilton managed to pull off a great result away to Livingston. Ross McCrorie continues to shine as Aberdeen defeated Kilmarnock by a single goal, a result matched in Lanarkshire as Motherwell took three points against St Johnstone.

Celtic Vs Livingston

As Celtic gained their 9th title in a row, the season didn't see the Glasgow side drop many points, only dropping 8 points from the 30 games played. 5 of those points came at the hands of the team they face on Saturday, Livingston, who valiantly defeated the Hoops last October before drawing in one of the league's best games last season. Both these results did happen in West Lothian, with the encounter in Glasgow ending in a comfortable 4-0 win for Celtic. With the way this season has gone so far, a similar scoreline - or worse - could very well be on the cards this weekend.

Following a midweek 2-1 win away to St Mirren on Wednesday night, Celtic now sit three points behind Rangers with a game in hand over their rivals. With a current goal difference of +14, should Celtic beat Livi by more than a single goal, they will go top of the league for at least the night, with their positioning to be determined the next day through other fixtures. With Celtic scoring 17 times in 6 games this season, they'll be relishing the chance to build upon this attacking output on home soil against one the league's poorest defences so far this season. Shane Duffy has 2 in 2 and will offer a massive threat from set plays as James Forrest will have received a boost from his quality header against the Buddies. Odsonne Edouard will be raring to go again after a disappointing night where his weak penalty was denied - costing many fans crucial fantasy football points. Neil Lennon partly rotated his side prior to this weekend's game with Albian Ajeti, Jeremie Frimpong and Olivier Ntcham used as second-half subs. With the size of Lennon's squad, he could afford to rotate yet again, with the likes of David Turnbull, Mohammed Elyounoussi and Christopher Jullien all available despite not playing midweek.

Life for Livingston this season hasn't been great, with the loss last weekend against Hamilton at home showcasing just how things aren't clicking for Gary Holt's side this season. The Lions have been very poor in defence compared to their usual standards, conceding 11 goals in 7 league games, including 6 at home already. Despite the losses of Lyndon Dykes and Steven Lawless, the most disappointing aspect of Livi's season is their defending as the Lions backline are lacking concentration when defending their own goal. Robby McCrorie has been left helpless due to this as Livi concede poor goal after poor goal. As they travel to Parkhead this weekend, they will need to be on full alert as their opponents have clear goal threats all around the park and will surely punish any mistakes or opportunities given to them. It's been a week of departures in the striking area for Livingston as Anthony Stokes left without kicking a ball for the club, with young Jack Hamilton and Salim Kouider-Aissa loaned out to East Fife and Partick Thistle respectively. Lars Lokotsch will have a huge task on his hands upfront against the Celtic backline on his own but has shown promise in his own right in his two appearances for the club.

Key Battle: Albian Ajeti Vs Jon Guthrie

As previously highlighted, Livingston's defensive performances haven't been up to standard, with the Lions conceding poor goals with unmarked attackers in deadly areas. Albian Ajeti has 3 goals in 7 appearances - only one of these a starting role - with each of the goals showcasing the striker's predatory instincts. Ajeti has shown he has the awareness to spot dangerous areas and reacts quickest to loose balls within the penalty box, something Livi have struggled to defend with this season. Guthrie will need to lead his backline and ensure there is no space for the likes of Ajeti to have an easy opportunity on goal, or otherwise, his side will be punished yet again.

Predicted Score: Celtic 6-0 Livingston

Kilmarnock Vs Hamilton Academical

For the second week running, Hamilton will be travelling away from home but playing on a familiar 3G surface. Killie will be looking for revenge against Accies, as the Ayrshire side failed to beat Brian Rice's men last season, with the Lanarkshire side coming out with two wins and a draw from the three encounters. In each of these games, Accies came out the game with 10 men, with all three being straight red cards.

Killie suffered another setback this season as they were defeated 1-0 by Aberdeen that put Killie joint bottom alongside Livingston and Motherwell. Alex Dyer's side were unable to build upon their impressive 4-0 win against Dundee United before the break, the rout remaining Killie's only win so far this season. With a home game against a weakened Accies side, Killie fans will be expecting nothing less than 3 points, especially in order to try to move away from the foot of the table. The Ayrshire side may be without defender Clevid Dikamona who came off late against Pittodrie through injury as Killie narrowly lost out at the weekend. Killie full-back Aaron McGowan will face his former side for the first time if he plays although manager Dyer may continue to favour Ross Millen.

The team news for Accies remains uncertain as a series of COVID testing has ruled out a further three players alongside Lee Hodson to self-isolate following positive test results. There has been a bit of a scare and disturbance within the Accies squad as follow up tests will have taken up preparation time but thankfully has brought back no further positive results in recent days. After a great result away to Livingston, Brian Rice's side will have real confidence as his young squad have a great team spirit amongst them which was showcased in their comeback victory. It would be really unfortunate for Accies to not have a proper chance at building upon their result with a depleted squad in another tough away match but with the current climate, this won't be the only unfortunate example. Despite this, Scott McMann will be available following his suspension in what will be a boost for Accies despite a number of other players missing out. Kyle Munro will be hoping to start in consecutive weeks, with the 18-year-old scoring the winner on his first full start for the club.

Key Battle: Eamonn Brophy Vs Hakeem Odoffin

Odoffin was instrumental in Accies win last weekend, excelling in defence and proving a threat at the other end. The former Livingston man was brave in blocks and was exceptional in the air as Accies managed to frustrate the Lions. This weekend, it will be a different test as Killie are likely to play with two upfront, with Brophy looking to get in behind the Accies backline. Brophy has decent pace and will look to feed off strike partner Nicke Kabamba and Odoffin may be called into action in order to deal with the forward's speed. Odoffin excelled at centre half and is a better match to go toe to toe with Brophy than centre back partner Shaun Want, especially when bearing down on goal. Brophy will be chomping at the bit to add to his single goal this season and with potential woes to the Accies team, he'll be looking to get one over his former club.

Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 2-1 Hamilton Academical

Aberdeen Vs Motherwell

Both sides progressed to the third qualifying round of the Europa League on Thursday night as Aberdeen defeated Viking 2-0 and Motherwell squeezed past Coleraine on penalties following a 2-2 draw. The duos victory - alongside Rangers win - means that Scotland has 4 clubs still competing in this season's Europa League.

Before this season started, there were a lot of people questioning Aberdeen's credentials this season and a poor display at home to Rangers on the opening day seemed to back it up. However, since then Derek McIness' side has been flawless, winning 6 games straight on the bounce with much better performances backing them up. In this time, Ross McCrorie has emerged as one of the league's Players of the Season so far, settling in excellently wherever McIness has deployed him, with the defender/midfielder even scoring in consecutive games this past week. Aberdeen's form has also seen a resurgence within Scott Wright, with the winger taking his chances in the first team since returning from a lengthy injury last season. Derek McInnes deserves credit for how his side has started this season, especially regarding the injuries lost to players in striking positions. Marley Watkins is still looking for his first goal for the club since joining on loan from Bristol City as the one criticism of this Aberdeen side may be that they aren't scoring enough. 5 goals in 5 league games may not seem like a lot but as long as the Dons continue their impressive defensive displays - only conceding twice in those 5 games - it may not matter.

Despite their 1-0 victory against St Johnstone last weekend, Motherwell still sit at the bottom of the league as a single Allan Campbell goal wasn't enough to make up enough goal difference to put Livingston at the foot of the table. Even if Motherwell lose this weekend, it seems likely the Lanarkshire side will move and off the bottom of the table as Livi face Celtic, unless Motherwell have a calamitous performance in the Granite City. Stephen Robinson's side will be boosted by their first league win and looked well on their way to truly turning a corner against Coleraine but their second-half performance will be worrying. Goals from Callum Lang and Tony Watt put Motherwell 2-0 up but the Lanarkshire side seemed to switch off and hold back, inviting the Northern Irish side back into the game. A Trever Carson masterclass in the penalty shootout spared any blushes as Coleraine brought the game back to 2-2 and to penalties where Carson would save all three attempts from Oran Kearney's side. If Motherwell are to get back on track, they'll need to apply themselves a lot better than they did in that second half as the Fir Park side became very complacent, not for the first time this season.

Key Battle: Ross McCrorie Vs Allan Campbell

Both sides best player's so far this season are teammates for the Scotland Under 21's side and the two contesting against one another will be an interesting battle. Both players have shown their capabilities both in defensive and attacking transitions of the game and with the pair in direct competition with one another - should McInnes deploy McCrorie in midfield - this will be a clash of two of Scotland's best upcoming talents. Campbell has been the main driving force for Motherwell this season and will need to be on top form if Motherwell look to take any points away from this fixture, with the midfielder scoring 2 of the 3 Motherwell goals so far this season.

Predicted Result: Aberdeen 1-0 Motherwell

St Johnstone Vs Ross County

St Johnstone and Ross County are two of the teams who don't get an awful lot of coverage and due to this, it will probably surprise many that both teams are sitting in the top 6 right now. Ross County have picked up 8 points from 7 games whilst St Johnstone sit directly below the Staggies with 7 points. This is a good indication of how tight the league is this season, with St Johnstone only two points off the bottom which shows how important clashes between these kinds of teams are, even very early into the season.

St Johnstone's main issue this season appears to be a lack of goals, with Callum Davidson's side only mustering 4 goals from 7 games. The Saints have competed fairly well but a lack of firepower has seen them lose out narrowly on a number of occasions already, with 1-0 defeats to Aberdeen, Hibs and Motherwell showcasing their need for a goalscorer. Young Callum Hendry has been unable to build upon his goalscoring form from the end of last season as Stevie May has a single goal to his name following cameo appearances coming off the bench. As the season goes on, the Saints will need a better output from their forwards or they might see themselves caught in amongst the chaos at the bottom end of the table, despite not overly poor performances. The Saints have acquired former Aberdeen and Derby County midfielder Craig Bryson, with the veteran likely to be in the squad for Saturday's game

Ross County will need to brush themselves off after a 5-0 defeat to Celtic but the Staggies will still be confident they can cause teams trouble as they brought the Celtic keeper into action on several occasions. It is well known that County have quality in forward areas and have players who can punish teams in close encounters, something that St Johnstone have fell to this season already. County are without a win in the last 5 games, though, and Billy McKay came off early against Celtic and may be ruled out for this weekend's clash.

Key Battle: Callum Hendry Vs Coll Donaldson

Hendry has been favoured so far by new manager Callum Davidson but is yet to score this season which could eventually lead to Davidson rotating his strikers, with Stevie May and Chris Kane waiting for their chances. A goal or solid performance for the young forward would bring a needed confidence boost as he looks to get off the mark in the 2020/21 season. County are without a clean sheet since their 1-0 win against Hamilton on the 8th of August so Saints will be looking to capitalise on this but the Staggies will also be confident due to the Perth sides lack of goals. There won't be much between these two sides and single moments of quality look likely to be the deciding factor in this fixture, with both sides hoping to improve on their issues at both ends of the park.

Predicted Result: St Johnstone 0-0 Ross County

Dundee United Vs St Mirren

The last time these two sides faced off, it was in incredibly dramatic fashion in the Scottish Premiership Play-Off Final. A draw following two legs - and a very questionable John Beaton performance - saw St Mirren and Dundee United go to penalties for a place in the 2019/20 Premiership. Former Buddies keeper Vaclav Hladky would be the hero on that day as he saved three spot-kicks as United missed all four penalties in a dismal penalty shootout. United were stuck in the Championship for a fourth consecutive year but now will have their chance for revenge as the two sides meet for the first time in the top flight since January 2015.

The news that United fans have been looking for since the start of the season has been for the long-awaited return of prolific goalscorer Lawrence Shankland. Micky Mellon confirmed the striker would be nearing full fitness and the Scotland international made a late appearance in the loss at Rangers last weekend. It may still be too soon for the forward to start but it is a massive boost for United to have him back in any form. Mark Connolly is definitely going to miss out as he is the latest player to breach COVID rules, following refusing to wear a facemask following a night out in Dundee earlier this week. The defender is apparently injured with an ankle injury so this incident should not affect Mellon's plans for this weekend's game.

As for St Mirren, the Paisley side are still missing Jak Alnwick and Dean Lyness following self-isolation so emergency loanee Bobby Zlamal will be expected to start for the third time in a week. It was a tough week for Jim Goodwin's side as they suffered home defeats to Hibs and Celtic, the latter a valiant effort where new signing Lee Erwin scored his first goal for the club. With three games within a week, Goodwin will have to be wary of fatigue as a lot of his players will come close to over 200 minutes of football in tough encounters this weekend and a smallish squad with missing player may lead to minimal rotation.

Key Battle: Mark Reynolds Vs Jon Obika

A home game against a depleted side who have been worked hard through a busy schedule should be appealing for United this weekend and fans will be hoping for three points. Jon Obika, however, was rested for most of the game midweek so should be fairly rested before this encounter and looks to be the main focal point for this coming weekend. Obika will have a lot work to do upfront as St Mirren may become leggy and rely on the striker to buy them some breathing space and of course, cause damage to the United goal. If Reynolds and co can keep on the Saints attacking threats and execute a high energy, relentless game plan, they will look likely to come away with three points which highlights the importance of the likes of Obika for St Mirren this Saturday.

Predicted Result: Dundee United 2-0 St Mirren

Hibernian Vs Rangers

The game of the weekend and the only fixture available on TV this weekend takes place in Leith as Hibs welcome Rangers to Easter Road. The last few seasons have brought some very good games between the two sides, with last season having 13 goals within the three games between the two sides, although Rangers did dominate.

Hibs welcomed back Kevin Nisbet against St Mirren and the forward wasted no time in getting his name back on the scoresheet as he scored in 14 minutes. It was another impressive attacking performance from Jack Ross' side as they are shaping up rather nicely this season as they press for European football. Hibs are doing well to create a good balance within their squad, with the acquisitions of Alex Gogic and recently Stephen McGinn bolstering their steel within the middle of the park and allowing the attacking players to flourish. Hibs will be without two attacking threats this weekend though, as a mysterious illness has ruled out Scott Allan and Jamie Murphy is ineligible to play against his former club. Drey Wright may take the place of the missing Murphy as Ross will have an interesting decision to make on whether to stick with two strikers or not against the league's leaders. With nothing to lose and confidence within the ranks, Hibs fans will be hoping Ross lineups to attack Rangers, something the Glasgow side have rarely faced this season.

A 5-0 win against Lincoln Red Imps in the Europa League continued Rangers great form to the start of this season, with Steven Gerrard's side not conceding in the 2020/21 season so far. Rangers have been excellent and professional this season with 20 goals scored in the 8 games so far this season showing a clinical side to their game. Gerrard will still be optimistic that the best is yet to come as Kemar Roofe continues to settle in Glasgow and the return to goals for Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe on Thursday evening. Ryan Jack picked up an injury last weekend and should join Joe Aribo on the sidelines for this weekend, something that has left Rangers fan to ask for more cover in the centre of midfield. This fixture will be the best indicator of where this Rangers side are as they should expect a lot more of an attacking threat from Hibs, leaving a big job for the likes of Conor Goldson and James Tavernier in defence.

Key Battle: Paul McGinn Vs Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent has enjoyed a great start to the 2020/21 season and looks very much like the £6.5 million player Rangers paid for in 2019. Kent has been relentless in attack and is always getting involved to the point where he is now the main man in Rangers team. His goal last week against Dundee United was pure class as he turned the Dundee United defence inside out before finishing well, getting the Gers well on their way to victory. Paul McGinn has also enjoyed a very good start to the season, being a key man yet again under Jack Ross in a few positions. McGinn's toughest test will come at the hands of facing Kent this weekend and it will be a busy afternoon for the former St Mirren player as Kent has been a true handful this season.

Predicted Result: Hibernian 1-3 Rangers

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