Domestic football returned after the international break and Celtic remain top on goal difference ahead of Aberdeen following their 1-0 win over Dundee at Parkhead on Saturday, while Partick Thistle slumped to the bottom after losing 2-0 at home to Kilmarnock.
Dorus de Vries is an able deputy
Dorus de Vries played his first competitive game in over a year as Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers shuffled his squad for the visit of Dundee. With the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in Germany on Wednesday in mind, Rodgers made seven changes with the 36-year-old Dutchman taking over from Scotland keeper Craig Gordon.
De Vries had not played a competitive game since being replaced at half-time with an injury in the 6-1 win over Kilmarnock at Celtic Park on September 2016. But he kept Dundee at bay in the closing stages with three fine saves to help the league leaders to a 1-0 win which extended their unbeaten domestic run to 59 games.
Once again it shows the squad depth at Celtic Park. Question may have been asked about the strength of the goalkeeping department but that, like most areas in the squad, is in rude health.
Rangers on the defensive
Rangers won 3-0 at St Johnstone on Friday night with most of the attention on Carlos Pena who scored a double before Graham Dorrans wrapped up the points. However, the Rangers defence answered questions posed by the McDiarmid Park men in a fashion sure to encourage Light Blues fans, who have watched some indifferent defending in recent seasons, especially from corners.
Experienced Portuguese defender Bruno Alves kept the rearguard in check as they repelled a series of corners and attacks to keep a clean sheet. Fabio Cardoso was okay alongside Alves but continues to suffer from an eagerness to win the ball which results in him either getting turned by a stronger forward or the giving away of a foul.
Withouth Michael O’Halloran St Johnstone did not possess their biggest counter-attacking weapon. Rangers are still liable at leaving gaps when pushing forward. However, positives were there and will bolster their confidence going into Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final against in-form Motherwell at Hampden Park.
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Steve Clarke raises standards at Kilmarnock
Caretaker boss Paul McDonald may have been the one picking the team and barking the orders from the touchline, but there is little doubt the news of Clarke’s appointment as the permanent successor to Lee McCulloch had much to do with Kilmarnock’s first win of the season against Partick Thistle.
Killie, who had looked low on confidence all season, suddenly found a spring in their step, and the eager players will have impressed Jose Mourinho’s former right-hand man with their 2-0 win over the Jags.
Clarke is a fantastic appointment for the Rugby Park side. His CV is exceptional, having coached some of the best players in the world over the last ten to 15 years. It demonstrates the standing of Scottish football that the likes of Clarke and Brendan Rodgers are managing in the top tier of the game.
Although he has a tough job on his hands guiding his new side to safety, if they can match the effort levels shown at the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill they will begin to look up rather than worry about what lies beneath.
Things go from bad to worse for Accies
It has been a miserable week for the Lanarkshire side. They announced on Friday they had been victim to an “elaborate fraud” which had cost them “a substantial sum of monies”, and any hope for respite on the pitch was ended with a sloppy performance in the first derby of the season against Motherwell.
Manager Martin Canning has bemoaned a succession of individual errors in recent weeks, and Ioannis Skondras’ poor clearance cost his side dearly as Accies slumped to a fifth defeat on the bounce.
The caveat is that Accies were missing a number of key individuals, yet the positive start to the season may have been a false dawn. Pundits who had tipped Hamilton for the drop were walking back their words, especially after an impressive win at Easter Road. But they could have been correct all along.
Gary Mackay-Steven is up and running
The winger netted his first league goal for Aberdeen to earn a victory at Easter Road after twice going close earlier in the game. Mackay-Steven gave Lewis Stevenson a difficult afternoon and looked more like the player that went from Dundee United to Celtic.
It has not been an easy first few months at Pittodrie for the summer signing, having found himself on the front page rather than the back page following his rescue from Glasgow’s River Kelvin, as well as being hit by several minor injuries. But he looks set to kick on now.
At the other end of the pitch, since the Betfred Cup defeat to Motherwell Aberdeen have kept three clean sheets in three league wins. In the closing stages at Easter Road had seven defensive-minded players on the pitch, each one having played at the back at some point in their career, but it proved effective as the win was edged out.
Scott McKenna and Kari Arnason put in another assured display with the protection of Anthony O’Connor in front of them to allow the front players to concentrate on attacking matters.
No team has put fewer crosses into the box than Hearts this season. But when the team possesses the triple threat of Esmael Goncalves, Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Walker they are always a danger, and so it proved in the 2-1 defeat of Ross County. Walker and Goncalves combined for the first goal, while Lafferty was involved in the second which Walker thundered into the back of the net.
It was another hard-fought victory for Hearts who had to play the 25 minutes plus another six injury time with ten men, while both Don Cowie and 16-year-old Harry Cochrane were removed due to injuries at half-time. Prince Buaben was a solid presence in midfield, while they finished with 19-year-old Jamie Brandon and 17-year-old Euan Henderson.
This isn’t the strongest Hearts squad but there is a fight and spine to the side which had been missing for many months.