How the Scottish Premiership's relegation battle is shaping up with the substandard six

There is currently a six-way relegation battle in the Scottish Premiership. Picture: SNS
There is currently a six-way relegation battle in the Scottish Premiership. Picture: SNS
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While the Scottish Premiership title race is clearly between Celtic and Rangers, at the bottom it is much more open.

Only six points separate the bottom six going into this evening's midweek matches. Over the next three weeks all six will play at least once against another, starting tonight with Hearts v Livingston.

Livingston have won just once in 11 league games. Picture: SNS

Livingston have won just once in 11 league games. Picture: SNS

How is the relegation battle shaping up...

Livingston - 7th on 14 points

The situation

The West Lothian side have won just once in their last 11 - a 2-0 defeat of Celtic. They have perhaps deserved more from that run of games. They were by far the better team in a home loss to Aberdeen but simply didn't take their chances, while they also played well against Rangers, even taking the lead at Ibrox before going down 3-1.

Ross County haven't won in nine. Picture: SNS

Ross County haven't won in nine. Picture: SNS

Positives

That 'pesky' plastic pitch. It is an advantage but probably more to do with the fact it will be the focus of the visiting team's mindset in the build up. The artificial surface feeds into the team spirit which has been fostered at the club and that is a huge positive when struggling at the bottom. If players continue to stick together they will get results, especially a team like Livi.

The Tony Macaroni men also have a formidable midfield. Robbie Crawford and Marvin Bartley have been shrewd summer additions, adding to the likes of Keaghan Jacobs, Scott Pittman and Steve Lawson who all impressed in spells last term.

Concerns

Hamilton are familiar with a relegation battle. Picture: SNS

Hamilton are familiar with a relegation battle. Picture: SNS

Gary Holt doesn't have a lot of depth in key areas, especially in attack. Lyndon Dykes has assimilated well to the Scottish Premiership after making the step up from Championship Queen of the South. If he is injured the replacement is Scott Robinson. Versatile and useful but limited as a focal point.

Last season, much was made of Livingston's robustness, they were difficult to play against. They gave up two or more goals in the league 12 times. We aren't half way through this campaign and they have done so nine times. Within that, they have had a habit of losing points from winning positions.

The reality

A team like Livi, with a strong mentality and spirit, you don't expect them to go on a run which consists of only winning one in 11 . But looking around and comparing them to their relegation rivals, you see a team with a spine, players which can be relied upon, a decent amount of quality and those scrapping attributes you need in a team in Scotland.

Hearts have struggled with and without a manager. Picture: SNS

Hearts have struggled with and without a manager. Picture: SNS

Ross County - eighth on 14 points

The situation

Another team which find themselves in a higher position than their recent form suggests. The Staggies haven't won in nine league games.

Positive signs

No team has scored more in the bottom six. County haven't, and shouldn't, struggle for goals despite taking the second fewest shots in the league. Billy Mckay has that Premiership-scoring experience. Brian Graham is enjoying an Indian summer, while we are still waiting to see the Motherwell version of Lee Erwin. Then there is Ross Stewart, who has made a seamless transition from the Championship with ease. The ability to score goals is a massive advantage in a relegation battle.

Concerns

Jim Goodwin has had a tricky start to his career as St Mirren boss. Picture: SNS

Jim Goodwin has had a tricky start to his career as St Mirren boss. Picture: SNS

Conceding goals isn't. And that's by far the biggest concern in Dingwall. They are giving up more than two goals a game - their 34 conceded is the most in the league. Only Hamilton give up more shots. It is, however, the nature of goals they are giving away. And giving away is the best way to describe what they have been doing. You could easily put together a blooper compilation from County alone so far.

There is the sense that Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson haven't settled on a defensive combination and their best XI.

Also, Billy Mckay has extensive experience of relegation from the Premiership.

The reality

Until they sort out the defensive issue the Staggies are always going to be in danger. January will prove to be a crucial time. Not only will the management duo get time to drill the team on the training ground but also bring in reinforcements. If they can get some sort of solidity in defence and consistency in the line-up they will be fine.

Hamilton Academical - 9th on 12 points

The situation

The Accies find themselves where many expect them to be, in the lower echelons of the league but just outside of the relegation spot.

Positive signs

In Jamie Hamilton and Lewis Smith, Accies have two players with talent and a lot of potential. The latter has made his mark in an attacking sense when they have needed it so far. Then there is Luke Southwood who has found himself installed between the sticks of late. The on-loan keeper is a much-needed upgrade on Owain Fon Williams.

Manager Brian Rice has been keen on two up front. If he can get Steve Davies and George Oakley paired over a prolonged period of time they will trouble defences.

Concerns

The stats. Fewest shots, crosses and touches in the opposition box. The most shots conceded. They have been averaging just 35.6 per cent of the ball. That spark they have had in previous season, provided by David Templeton, Lewis Ferguson, Greg Docherty and Ali Crawford is lacking.

The reality

There is something about Accies and their ability to get results when you don't expect them to. Their tendency to keep their head above bottom spot has to be admired and respected. They, more than any other team, probably need a wee bit more quality but, as a club, that experience of surviving will be essential.

Heart of Midlothian - 10th on 11 points

The situation

The team with the fourth-highest budget currently have the same number of points as St Johnstone and St Mirren at the bottom of the table and are without a manager.

Positive signs

The big positive is the news that Daniel Stendel is expected to be appointed as the new boss... if an agreement can be made with Barnsley. It is hoped - and expected - that his arrival will have a transformative effect. The team are in desperate need of clarity and direction.

Concerns

Where do you start? Nine wins in the last 41 games. A team which has the 'big, physical' stereotype, one which is hard to play against - they have been anything but. Goals have been given up easily, while the team lacks pace and dynamism. There is an over-reliance on ageing players, and a 17-year-old. There is a growing malaise at the club and the fans are becoming increasingly angry or apathetic.

The reality

Fans thinking the season was heading for a write-off were wrong. The team have been heading for a relegation battle. Comparing the squad to those around them, they shouldn't be in this position. A new manager should be the catalyst for change.

St Mirren - 11 on 11 points

The situation

Sitting second-bottom of the Scottish Premiership on goal difference.

Positive signs

The Buddies possess the fifth-best defensive record in the league, helped by having one of the most talented goalkeepers in the league in Vaclav Hladky. One of the concerns a few weeks ago was the lack of goals. But in the last four games that is slowly but surely being rectified.

Concerns

The first relates to Hladky. The Czech goalkeeper is out of contract at the end of the season and there may be interest in him in January. It is crucial St Mirren hold onto him. It is also crucial they start winning games. Jim Goodwin's men have been competitive for most of the season and have started being more forceful in their attacking play of late, but they have still lost five of their last six. They need to start turning the upturn in performances into results.

The reality

Jim Goodwin was dealt a tricky hand. He arrived late in the summer and the squad was still being put together ahead of the league opener. January will likely see more business being done but he has shown himself to be able to organise a team. With a bit more quality they can start looking up.

St Johnstone - 12th on 11 points

The situation

Bottom of the league with fans and pundits beginning to actually question whether they are capable of turning around the disastrous start to the season.

Positive signs

Few and far between. Ali McCann has been excellent in the middle of the pitch, showing up more experienced team-mates. In Matty Kennedy, Saints have a match winner who can turn defence into attack. They have a favourable run coming up shortly, playing Hearts, Hamilton, St Mirren and Ross County before New Year.

Concerns

They have kept just one clean sheet all season. As a team they are too easy to play against but defensively they have been shambolic. Tommy Wright has noted the lack of experience in the backline and that has really come back to bite him. Jason Kerr, a fine centre-back, has regressed with the captaincy. In addition, Saints have more 'names' than they have ever had under the Northern Irishman: May, Kennedy, Wright, Swanson, O'Halloran, Swanson, Ralston. Few are delivering.

The reality

Saints are in trouble. The nature of their recent performances has made that clear, especially losing 4-1 to Hibs and 4-0 to Motherwell. They desperately need to be shrewd in January, starting with an experienced centre-back.

St Johnstone have kept just one clean sheet all campaign. Picture: SNS

St Johnstone have kept just one clean sheet all campaign. Picture: SNS