The League Cup final is shaping up well
Aberdeen’s win at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium, a venue they lost at twice last season, and against a team they had failed to beat in four attempts, along with Celtic’s Friday night victory over Kilmarnock, sets up next week’s Betfred League Cup final nicely.
It means Aberdeen have bounced back with two victories since the last time the two sides met, while Celtic have continued their winning streak without playing as spectacularly as they were a matter of weeks ago.
Brendan Rodgers will no doubt stick with his back three/four hybrid, though will be able to welcome back a few individuals he omitted after their long trips back from international duty. Derek McInnes, as we know, likes to spring a surprise on the big occasion, and sometimes on the not so big occasion, and the most intriguing aspect is what he has planned for the big day.
The Rangers defence is much more settled
In an impressive campaign for Rangers in the Ladbrokes Championship last season, the centre of defence was identified as a weak spot. Be it down to the attacking nature of Mark Warburton’s system leaving them exposed, or sheer lack of ability, the Rangers back two struggled at certain points.
A bizarre switch in signing policy this summer culminated in Philippe Senderos’ slapstick intervention at Celtic Park during a 5-1 reverse. Since then, Rangers have conceded more than once on just one occasion and Clint Hill has, in that time, emerged as the leader of this more settled backline. He has now started the last six matches in which Rangers have conceded just three times.
St Johnstone’s home form his holding them back
At this stage last season, St Johnstone had played seven home matches, had won four and lost just one. Contrast that with their current home record: played seven, lost four, won two. That’s despite sitting fifth on 19 points, five points off Aberdeen in second spot.
This weekend’s embarrassing 4-2 defeat to Ross County at McDiarmid Park has accentuated just how poor Tommy Wright’s side have been at home this season. Dundee and Hearts are the only sides they have beaten there in the Ladbrokes Premiership while Celtic, Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle, and now Ross County, have all gone and won there.
It’s their away form that has them sitting where they are, with their only defeat on the road coming at Pittodrie.
The Ladbrokes Championship’s top two have contrasting ability up front
While there may be little separating the Ladbrokes Championship’s top two sides in terms of points, there appears to be a huge gulf in the firepower the respective side have at their disposal. Saturday afternoon’s results are a case in point. As Dundee United were being frustrated by future Scotland manager Jim Duffy at Cappielow, three different scorers and an own goal gave a rampant Hibernian a 4-0 victory over Queen of the South.
The same is apparent when considering the last five results of each side. While Hibs have scored 13 goals, Dundee United have scored just seven, four of which came in one match. They haven’t scored more than a goal in the any of the other four matches.
Hibs have done so with Jason Cummings benched and James Keatings, Brian Graham, Grant Holt and Martin Boyle all getting on the scoresheet. Dundee United have done so with inconsistent performers in the form of Simon Murray and auxiliary strikers such as Tope Obabeyi. Much will depend on the additions made in January but, as it stands, Hibernian are much more capable of scoring the goals required to win the league.
The return of domestic football hasn’t stopped the national side being dissected
Usually the return of the league fixtures spells the end of any international football talk for the foreseeable, not so this time. Most of this lunchtime’s radio coverage saw build up to the league fixtures sidelined in favour of more should-he-stay-should-he-go exchanges from ex-player pundits.
The SFA’s decision to retain/inability to pull the trigger on (delete as appropriate) Gordon Strachan in the last few days, along with persisting issues around the performance director and overall state of the game in this country, meant its coverage encroached onto the very thing that some of us use to forget the pain our national side causes us.
Thankfully we now have a stretch of domestic bliss within which we can shield ourselves. Hopefully the radio and TV producers, presenters and pundits follow suit.