Craig Fowler looks into his non-functional crystal ball to give five Scottish football predictions for this weekend.
Another twist in the title race
The 2015/16 Ladbrokes Premiership title race has been a bit like a mediocre horror film. There was a bit of promise in the beginning, a couple of shocking moments, but soon all realism quickly began to evaporate. Since then it has gone on far too long without having additional moments worth remembering, while one of the characters just refuses to die. Whether Aberdeen embody the role of the screaming protagonist who defies certain death numerous times or the blood-thirsty killer who comes back even after suffering decapitation is up to you and your own personal bias.
Celtic should have the league all but wrapped up, yet they keep allowing Aberdeen to hang around in the background. This weekend they’ll face their toughest test since the last time they faced Derek McInnes’ side in the form of Hearts. Deservedly, they remain heavy favourites for the clash, as Hearts haven’t defeated Celtic since the Scottish Cup semi-final victory back in 2012 and Deila’s side currently sit 13 points ahead of them in the table. However, Robbie Neilson’s side have battled competitively with Celtic through their three meetings this season, with two draws and a 2-1 victory for the Glasgow club in the League Cup being all that’s separated them in the head-to-head battle.
The visitors should have fresher legs having essentially been given two weeks off due to the international break. The only likely starters to represent their country on Tuesday were John Souttar and Sam Nicholson, whereas Celtic saw most of their squad forced into midweek action.
Of course, in true Aberdeen form, even if Hearts do manage to sneak a surprise and get a result at Parkhead, they’ll likely drop points at home to struggling Hamilton.
Hibs to finally win on league duty
Incredibly, the Hibees have now lost four straight Ladbrokes Championship games. To add weight to that stripped down statistic, they’ve not faced either of the top two – Rangers and Falkirk – within that time. Though many a foolish gambler has lost money using the old law-of-averages logic, it’s surely about time Alan Stubbs’ side got back to winning ways.
On paper, it’s a dangerous host which greets them on Saturday. St Mirren have won three of their last four and are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance under the new management team of Alex Rae and David Farrell. However, any St Mirren fan will tell you the performances have been far from satisfactory as they eagerly await the summer when Rae can rip up the underachieving squad and start again.
Getting a much needed break due to the international double-header should give Hibs the lift they require. They won comfortably at the Paisley 2021 Stadium earlier in the campaign and will be looking for a repeat performance.
Barrie McKay to net against Raith Rovers
While McKay has played consistently well for the Ladbrokes Championship leaders this season, he’s only managed to score in fits and spurts. He netted three times in a period of five games earlier in the campaign before going 14 games without doing so again. Once he ended that barren spell he scored three in six before going another nine without getting on the scoresheet prior to the 3-2 loss at Falkirk a fortnight ago. Having performed very well for the Scotland under-21s he should be extra fired up for this encounter.
Rangers could win the title if they secure a victory on Saturday and Hibs fail to defeat St Mirren, but the champagne will likely be kept on ice for another few days.
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Motherwell’s run to come to an end
The Steelmen have won four games on the spin going into this weekend’s trip to Inverness. It’s no fluke they’ve gone on such an impressive run, as they’ve been re-energised by a system change that’s got the best out of Marvin Johnson, Scott McDonald and Louis Moult. But due to the ‘any given Saturday’ nature of the Premiership it’s bound to come to an end sooner rather than later. No team outside the top three has won five on the bounce this season.
Inverness will look to use Motherwell’s soaring confidence against them this weekend. The home side may wish to go and attack their visitors, but Yogi Hughes’ side have been at their most lethal this season when hitting opponents on the break, and they’ll need to flood their own penalty area to deny as much space as possible for the three-headed visiting attack to thrive in. Such an approach could lead Motherwell getting a false sense of security, piling too many men forward and being hurt on the counter.
Dundee and Ross County to meekly paw at each other
A few months ago, it seemed inconceivable that Saturday’s opponents at Dens could both miss out on the top six, but with three points separating sixth place Ross County from eighth place Partick Thistle, with Dundee wedged in the middle, it’s a very real possibility.
Throughout the entire season to this point, Dundee have looked on the verge of figuring everything out and putting together an impressive run that would see them live up to their pre-season billing as a side capable of breaking into the top four. Instead, they’ve stuttered their way through, picking up a decent result every now and then but never putting together a sustained period of form.
Ross County, on the other hand, looked like they had everything sorted before running into poor league form just before the turn of the year. It seems other sides, unless playing them in the League Cup, have sussed how to get at the Staggies. With each team low on energy and confidence, it’s not exactly set up to be a classic at Dens Park, even if there is a top-six spot up for grabs.
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