Scottish clubs enter Premiership pre-split business end: Celtic-Rangers tussle, are Hearts home and dry, Hibs top-six chances

The final three rounds of matches before the split will have a huge bearing on so many issues in Scotland’s top flight

With three rounds of fixtures to be played before the Premiership splits in two, we look at the lie of the land in Scotland’s top flight ahead of the international break:

Title race

Celtic go into the international break as top dogs following their 3-1 win over St Johnstone at the weekend. They lead Rangers by a point, whose match against Dundee on Sunday was controversially called off due to a waterlogged pitch. The decision infuriated the Ibrox boss Philippe Clement, who no doubt wanted to go into the international break with their two-point lead restored at the summit. Rangers had prepared diligently for the game at Dens Park in the wake of losing to Benfica last Thursday and now face the prospect of finding a new date for the Dundee clash before the split.

Hibs and Dundee are fighting for a place in the top six.Hibs and Dundee are fighting for a place in the top six.
Hibs and Dundee are fighting for a place in the top six.
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This is going to cause Rangers some logistical headaches, as they will want a full week’s preparation ahead of the Old Firm clash with Celtic at Ibrox on April 7. Before that, both Glasgow rivals are in action over Easter weekend. Rangers host Hibs on March 30, while Celtic are at Livingston on March 31. If Dundee v Rangers is not rescheduled in the midweek of April 2/3, then it is likely to be played on Wednesday, April 10, four days before the Ibrox club travels north to Dingwall to play Ross County. Celtic are at home to St Mirren the day before.

The Old Firm clash will have a huge bearing on the title race, but there will be one after the split and both teams have challenging fixtures to navigate away from the Ibrox showdown. On paper, Rangers’ tests against a revived Hibs, Dundee and away at Ross County look tougher than Celtic’s, but Clement’s men have shown an ability to grind out results amid testing periods.

Race for third

Can we really call it a race? Third-placed Hearts are 11 points clear of Kilmarnock with eight games remaining. The Jambos relinquished a sizeable advantage to Aberdeen last term to miss out on being best of the rest and this would be an even bigger collapse should the same happen again. Hearts welcome fourth-placed Killie to Tynecastle when league action reconvenes on March 30 and Derek McInnes’ men will likely need to win to put any sort of pressure on a Hearts team that has largely been foot-perfect this season. After that, Hearts are away at St Mirren and then at home to Livingston. Kilmarnock are arithmetically not in the top six yet, although their crushing 5-2 win at St Mirren certainly helped their cause. Eight points clear of seventh-placed Dundee, who have a game in hand, McInnes’ men finish off the pre-split campaign at home to Ross County and away to St Johnstone.

Aberdeen picked up a big win over Motherwell on Saturday.Aberdeen picked up a big win over Motherwell on Saturday.
Aberdeen picked up a big win over Motherwell on Saturday.

Who will finish in the top six?

We are at that time of the season when a handful of clubs scrabble to be on the right side of the split. As mentioned, Killie look pretty good to be in the top six alongside Celtic, Rangers and Hearts, but who else is in the mix? St Mirren are currently fifth on 42 points and the odds are they will make it despite their Rugby Park collapse last weekend, shipping five goals in 19 crazy minutes. They face three testing matches next: Motherwell away, Hearts at home and Celtic away. A poor return from that trio of fixtures could leave them at the mercy of Hibs and Dundee, depending on how they fare.

Hibs are in a good run of form right now and leapfrogged inactive Dundee to take sixth place going into the international break. They are on 38 points and their three remaining pre-split fixtures are in this order: Rangers away, St Johnstone home and Motherwell away. The Dees are two points worse off on 36 points and as well as the aforementioned game-in-hand against Rangers, have St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, a home clash with Motherwell before finishing off at Pittodrie against Aberdeen.

Speaking of the Steelmen, they have an outside chance of reaching the top six, but would need to win at least two of their next three matches – St Mirren at home, Dundee away and Hibs at home – and hope that those above them fall out of the winning habit.

Ross County are in 11th place but closing in on the teams above them.Ross County are in 11th place but closing in on the teams above them.
Ross County are in 11th place but closing in on the teams above them.

Avoiding the dreaded play-off

Ross County’s resurgence has lit up the battle to avoid 11th place and the relegation play-off. The Staggies backed up a midweek draw against Hibs by overcoming Hearts 2-1 at home and they are now just one point behind tenth-placed St Johnstone on 27 points. Aberdeen had been in free-fall but their 1-0 win over Motherwell moved them up to ninth and three points clear of County, with the eighth-placed Fir Park side on 32 points. It appears these four teams are the prime candidates to finish second bottom.

Managerless Aberdeen and County meet on March 30, which could go a long way to deciding the fortunes of both teams. On the same day, Saints host Dundee and Motherwell take on St Mirren. County’s last two games are at Kilmarnock and at home to Rangers. St Johnstone are at Hibs and then host Killie, while the Dons are at Livingston before Dundee on game-week 33. A positive string of results for either of the quartet would be most welcome but post-split, there is likely to be a battle royal to keep heads above water.


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Even taking into account the sickness bug that ravaged Livingston last week, their performance in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat by Hibs screamed of a team facing relegation. Ten points adrift in bottom spot, David Martindale’s Lions return to action against Celtic on Easter Sunday before hosting Aberdeen and then travelling to Hearts before the split. Time is running out for them to preserve their status as a Premiership club.