• Angus McGregor

Scottish Premiership Matchweek 9 Preview

Last weekend's action brought a lot of exciting action, with another 19 goals scored in the 6 games, the highest-scoring weekend of the season so far. The formidable Rangers defence finally conceded goals this season as they were frustrated to a 2-2 draw with Hibs, a game that has added some extra animosity between the two teams by the looks of social media. Celtic went top of the league for an evening following their 3-2 win over Livingston that had a nervy ending. Aberdeen were stunned at home as Motherwell scored 3 in 23 minutes to lift Stephen Robinson's side off the bottom of the table. Lawrence Shankland returned in fine fashion with a great goal as Dundee United saw off St Mirren 2-1. Eamonn Brophy saw red for Killie but the Ayrshire side were valiant and pulled off a great win against Hamilton considering the circumstances. And an Iain Vigurs goal was the difference between Ross County and St Johnstone as the Staggies picked up a good win away from home.

Motherwell Vs Rangers

Last season's second and third-placed teams have had contrasting season's so far, although Stephen Robinson's men have started to turn a corner. Motherwell will be looking to beat Rangers in league business for the first time since Boxing Day 2002, where a certain 19-year-old James McFadden scored the winning goal. With both teams in Europa League duty on Thursday, it can be expected to see a bit of rotation within the teams as they clash on Sunday.

Motherwell had a poor start to the season but now see themselves on good form, with 4 wins from their last 5 games in all competitions. The weekend's victory against Aberdeen was undoubtedly the most impressive as Stephen Robinson's side were truly clinical, something they've been lacking this season. Goals early in the first half from Mark O'Hara, Chris Long and Bevis Mugabi saw the Steelmen double Motherwell's goal tally in the league within 23 minutes of football as they capitalised on mistakes from the Aberdeen defence. This is the exact kind of result that could kickstart Motherwell's season and will definitely bring a massive confidence boost ahead of this weekend's game. The last two games have brought goals to 'Well's misfiring strikers, providing Chris Long, Tony Watt and Callum Lang with much-needed confidence boosts. Motherwell will be unable to list Jake Hastie for the weekend's game due to being ineligible to play against Rangers but there may be a first appearance for new loan signing Robbie Crawford, who recently arrived from Livingston.

Rangers dropped points for only the second time this season as they were unable to finish Hibs off at Easter Road. With this, there are murmurs coming out questioning Rangers title credentials but to base this off a single result is extremely reactionary. It will indeed have added a little extra pressure to Steven Gerrard's side as their fate at the top of the table is now in the hands of their rivals games in hand, meaning Rangers have to recontinue winning games in order to not fall further behind. Alfredo Morelos scored his third goal in two games as the Colombian striker looks to have returned to form, with the competition in the striking department looking to have an impact on the highly-rated forward. The depth up front has had a positive impact on the club's performances but recent injuries to Ryan Jack, Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun show the club could maybe do with another few extra additions in key areas, especially if they look to go far in cup competitions yet again this season. Ryan Kent shined yet again in the 4-0 victory over Willem II, continuing his impressive start to the season as Rangers progressed in the Europa League in very fine fashion.

Key Battle: Declan Gallagher Vs Alfredo Morelos

The battle between Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Porteous was heavily publicised last weekend following some off the ball encounters as the young Scottish defender looked to get under the Colombian's skin. Morelos could be in for a similar game against the physically imposing Gallagher who will look to put the Colombian off in any way possible. Morelos is back in the goalscoring mood and will be looking to add his tally this season at Fir Park, with hopes of bringing three points back to Glasgow. Gallagher will be looking to redeem himself following his red card in the Europa League loss to Hapoel Beer Sheva as Motherwell crashed out with a 3-0 loss.

Predicted Result: Motherwell 0-2 Rangers

Hamilton Academical Vs Dundee United

The first meeting between the two sides since the lacklustre 2017 Premiership Play-Off where Hamilton kept Dundee United in the Championship for a second straight season. Only Scott McMann and David Templeton (both Accies) featured that day and remain at the club today but United will still be looking for revenge nonetheless.

Brian Rice will be disappointed that his side couldn't build upon the away win at Livingston as his Accies side failed to capitalise on Kilmarnock being reduced to 10 men. Hakeem Odoffin was again the bright spark for Accies, continuing his good form and scoring a second career goal but it wouldn't prove to be enough at Rugby Park. Perhaps the disturbance of possible positive COVID tests hampered Accies preparation although manager Brian Rice has refused to place any blame on these issues. Accies are seeing yet again the importance of getting points on the board early, as wins for Killie and Motherwell put the Lanarkshire side back into 11th place. Lee Hodson will be available for selection following his self-isolation as Accies can expect a near full strength for the first time this month.

The return of Lawrence Shankland may do wonder for United as their talisman is back and scoring straightaway. His finish against St Mirren was sublime and showed exactly why he is so highly rated, with the striker on his way to proving doubters wrong already. It was the striker's first goal in the top flight and if United are to continue their decent start to the season, they'll need Shankland to continue scoring. The win against St Mirren was a great response following a couple of difficult fixtures where United conceded 8 goals in 2 games. Issues in defence haven't disappeared just yet, with a Mark Reynolds mistake leading to a St Mirren goal that made for a nervy ending but United held out. Micky Mellon's side currently sit in 6th place, with a victory this weekend and results going their way leaving a good possibility for United to set a bigger gap between them and those in the bottom half of the league.

Key Battle: Shaun Want Vs Lawrence Shankland

There will be an expectancy for Shankland to score a lot of goals now he's fit again and a fixture against Hamilton a great opportunity for the Scotland striker to do so. Accies have a poor home record so far this season, losing all three of their home ties so far and not registering a single goal. Accies have struggled to create clear cut chances at home and with United having a good start to the season, it seems likely Hamilton will pick up points mainly through a solid defensive performance.

Predicted Result: Hamilton 0-2 Dundee United

Livingston Vs St Johnstone

The Tony Macaroni Arena hosts the league's current worst defence against the league's current worst attack as two side's look to improve on their woes so far this campaign.

Despite losing 3-2, it was a much more encouraging performance from Livingston albeit still suffering from similar problems. The Lions continue to be easily exploited through low crosses into the box, leaving easy finishes for opposing forwards to tap in as evident by Celtic's second goal at the weekend. Should Livi continue to not sharpen up from this position, the punishment will surely continue. As the Lions struggle to deal with defending from wide, they have also started to show more threat from their flanks, mainly due to their full-backs. Nicky Devlin and Julien Serrano's attacking outputs have been a positive for the club, with Serrano rewarded last week with his stunning speculative effort. Scott Tiffoney had a tough task on his hands against Celtic but after winning a penalty and looking like a threat with his pace, the youngster may be set for his second start of the season, whether that be upfront or out wide. The return of Ciaron Brown also saw the return of the 3-5-2 formation which was put on the back burner due to poor results and the injuries of Brown and Jack Fitzwater. Whether Holt continues to use this following the positive performance against Celtic will need to be seen, even though the setup has been largely unsuccessful so far this season.

St Johnstone's main issue against Ross County was a lack of quality in front of goal, something that has plagued them too much already this season. Despite this, Callum Davidson's side will be confident that they will be able to create a couple of clear cut chances against Livingston that could make all of the difference, just as Hamilton did two weeks ago. As the goals continue to be scarce for the Perth side, manager Davidson may be looking for alternatives upfront, perhaps turning to veteran striker Chris Kane for a run in the team or playing someone like Michael O'Halloran in a more central position. Despite far from poor performances, the Saints sit only two points above Livi which highlights how the lack of a goalscorer has placed them toward the bottom of the league early on in the season. This shouldn't trigger alarm bells as the Saints squad has plenty of experience and quality that should see them through games but the goals need to come urgently.

Key Battle: Julien Serrano Vs Danny McNamara

With both teams likely to set up in similar 3-5-2 formations, the importance of the full backs could very well decide the outcome. St Johnstone will surely be looking to exploit Livi out wide and the quality of deliveries into the box from wide players could send the Saints on their way to victory. Young full back Danny McNamara has had a bright start to life in Perth and will be expected to get into dangerous positions, with instructions to put the ball into key areas for strikers to gamble and potentially finish. Serrano performed admirably at Celtic Park last weekend and the Lions will need the Frenchman to produce a similar performance both in attack and defence this Saturday.

Predicted Result: Livingston 1-1 St Johnstone

Ross County Vs Aberdeen

The first Highland derby of the season takes place in Dingwall as Ross County host Aberdeen. The last two meetings between these two sides saw the away team come out with the victory, most recently County winning 2-1 at Pittodrie through a Billy McKay double.

Ross County snatched a win away to St Johnstone last weekend, a first half Iain Vigurs goal enough to take the three points back to Dingwall. The win ended County's 5 match winless streak and gave the Highland side their third win of the season, all 1-0 victories. County have started the season similarly to last season, only one point worse off with the same amount of goals conceded and three less goals scored. However, the Staggies face a very tough set of league fixtures, playing three of the top four, starting with the Dons this weekend. A poor run of results here could see them drop closer to the bottom but Staurt Kettlewell's men have the important points in hand already, with the teams in the bottom half needing to capitalise in order to catch up. The win last weekend will have given the Highland side a massive confidence boost, with County looking to capitalise on a fatigued Aberdeen side.

Aberdeen will play their third game in 7 days as they make the journey to Dingwall, less than 72 hours after their trip to Lisbon in the Europa League. Derek McInnes is already operating with a smallish squad which hasn't been helped by the sale of Scott McKenna, leading to Ash Taylor returning to the starting XI. It's been a tough week for the Dons following their 3-0 loss to Motherwell and being eliminated from the Europa League by Sporting Lisbon. Aberdeen's performance on Thursday night was a lot more encouraging than last weekend's game, with McInnes' side holding their own against a good outfit, it's just whether they have enough gas left in the task to compete as well yet again. A bit of squad rotation should be expected, as a large number of players featured heavily in the previous fixtures, with Joe Lewis, Ross McCrorie, Lewis Ferguson, Ryan Hedges, Jonny Hayes and Andrew Considine playing all 180 minutes. This may lead to a weakened side but also presents an opportunity for those who haven't been favoured to make an impact.

Key Battle: Josh Reid Vs Niall McGinn

Niall McGinn did not feature on Thursday night against Sporting so may be one of Derek McInnes' first choices to feature this Sunday. Despite not being quite the attacking threat he used to be, McGinn is more than reliable and experienced enough to be called upon and is one of those players who will be looking to stake his claim for a starting position. McGinn has recently been called upon from the bench following a minor injury and will be looking to get back on form very quickly. This would also provide a good test for young Josh Reid, with the 18-year old featuring in every league game so far this season. The young full-back has had a solid season so far and a tough test against one of the league's veterans will go a long way in his development. Reid will have to be on top of his game as any mistakes will likely be punished by the Northern Ireland international.

Predicted Result: Ross County 1-1 Aberdeen

St Mirren Vs Kilmarnock

These two sides only faced each other twice last season, with both games finishing 1-0 in favour of the home team. St Mirren will be looking for a similar result this season, as they look to end a run of 5 games without a win.

St Mirren's good start of the season could be pinpointed largely to how solid their defence started the season, with new signings Alnwick, Tait, Shaughnessey and Fraser helping make Jim Goodwin's side very hard to break down. The first four games saw the Buddies win two, draw one and lose to Rangers, a very solid start to the season. However, with Joe Shaughnessey's red card and Jak Alnwick's self-isolation, that defensive unit has not played together since, with St Mirren losing all of the four games since. Shaughnessey returned last week but Richard Tait will now also miss out following his straight red card against Dundee United as Alnwick may continue to sit out yet again, dependent on testing. Buddies fans will be eager for their full squad to be available soon as they've shown what they can produce already but have been hit with bad luck. The Saints rely on their defence as they don't score an awful lot of goals, only five from eight so far with the Buddies yet to score twice in a game yet. The likes of Jon Obika and Lee Erwin will need better supply from their more creative teammates as the forwards are restricted to few chances each game.

Kilmarnock will also be missing a key player through suspension, as Eamonn Brophy also received a straight red card last weekend. Despite being reduced to 10 men, Alex Dyer's side performed excellently and didn't seem to be affected by their man disadvantage, with Nick Kabamba's goal making it his 7th goal in 11 games at Rugby Park. The recent DR Congo call-up is yet to score away from home for Killie but with Brophy absent, he will be the main goal threat for the Ayrshire side. It's been a very mixed start for Killie as they look certain to be an up and down side this season, as they are more than capable of competing on their best day but also flattering to deceive at times. Killie have only picked up a single point on the road this season but facing a weakened St Mirren side could provide a great opportunity for their first away win since the 5th of February.

Key Battle: Joe Shaughnessey Vs Nicke Kabamba

The importance of these two players to their sides have been showcased this season through Kabamba's goals and how St Mirren have been weakened through the absence of Shaughnessey. These two will certainly have a physical battle this weekend, competing for every single ball in order to give their team the edge. The Buddies will be desperate to stop their poor run of form and a solid performance from their star defender will go a long way to making that happen.

Predicted Result: St Mirren 1-2 Kilmarnock

Celtic Vs Hibernian

The game of the week this weekend takes place on Sunday as Neil Lennon welcomes his former side to Celtic Park. Last weekend's results have added extra interest to this game where an attacking display can surely be expected from both teams.

Neil Lennon claimed it was a very good performance from his team as they squeezed by Riga in the Europa League qualifiers through a Mohammed Elyounoussi goal. The comment hasn't gone down too well as Celtic were far from impressive in this outing, with the substitute appearance of Jeremie Frimpong the only real aspect worthy of great praise. Odsonne Edouard made his way back into the team but the Frenchman clearly didn't seem near full fitness, making it likely Albian Ajeti will feature from the start at the weekend. There could be further rotation within the squad as Celtic have plenty of options who sat out for the most part of Celtic's two games this week already, most notably new signing David Turnbull. Lennon's selections of formation and persistence with certain players has been scrutinised heavily this season and this weekend will be no different following their Europa League victory. James Forrest hobbled off through injury in said weekend so looks likely to sit out with Jeremie Frimpong more than capable of taking over on the right flank.

Hibs became the first side this season to penetrate the Rangers defence this season as they drew 2-2 with the Glasgow side last weekend. Jack Ross's side threatened the Rangers goal with their strong attack and look a lot stronger at the back following the arrivals of Paul McGinn and Alex Gogic and emergence of Josh Doig this season. Hibs were the first team to properly attack Rangers this season and were rewarded for doing so, with the likes of Doidge, Nisbet and Boyle causing trouble. Jamie Murphy will be available for selection again, adding even more threat to a Celtic goal that they will be confident they can get goals against. Celtic dominated most of the game last weekend but did look vulnerable at the back at times, something Hibs will be in a much better position to exploit. Hibs should be full strength going into the game this weekend and will be full of confidence facing a fatigued Celtic side, taking last weekend's performance as an example that they can compete well with the league's top teams.

Key Battle: Scott Brown Vs Joe Newell

When Scott Brown is fit, he plays and usually plays the entire 90 minutes. He did so against Livingston and Riga and it certainly won't be a surprise if Lennon favours him for a third time in a week. Joe Newell has emerged as a reliable figure in the middle of the park and has formed a good partnership alongside Alex Gogic so far this season. As Gogic sits deeper, Newell will be more likely to come against the deep-lying Brown as he is the more offensive of the Hibs midfield. Newell has shown great composure and class on the ball this season and with great attacking players in front of him, he can certainly cause damage by starting attacks. Brown will have to be constantly wary of the Englishman and prove again that he deserves his spot in the Celtic starting XI.

Predicted Result: Celtic 3-2 Hibernian

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