Scottish football's sprint finish: Celtic and Rangers' battle royale, Hibs and Aberdeen fight, Dundee Utd-Raith ticket row, Falkirk on brink

The domestic game is about to come to a crescendo – and this weekend just adds to the noise

If you’ve been left a little gloomy by the international break and two fairly depressing Scotland results, the run-in to the domestic season can act as the perfect antidote.

Park all thoughts of Euro 2024, Germany, steins of beer and lederhosen to one side. You won’t need them until May at the earliest. Scottish football has some very tasty dishes coming your way as we sprint to the finish, be it title races, battles against relegation or bids to get into the top six.

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While the Championship and lower leagues ticked along last weekend, the Premiership returns from its two-week holiday on Saturday. Has much happened there in the interim? Aberdeen are still searching for a manager. Far from pitch-perfect Dundee are eyeing up a groundsman from across Tannadice Street. Hearts are collecting out-of-contract players. But in the main, we’ve had the calm before the potential mother of all storms.

Rangers and Hibs meet again - the Ibrox club have yet to concede a goal to Nick Montgomery's team this season.Rangers and Hibs meet again - the Ibrox club have yet to concede a goal to Nick Montgomery's team this season.
Rangers and Hibs meet again - the Ibrox club have yet to concede a goal to Nick Montgomery's team this season.

Eight rounds of fixtures remain in Scotland’s top flight – with the bonus of the rearranged Dundee v Rangers match on April 10. As a reminder of the vitals, Celtic lead Rangers by one point. Hearts are 11 points clear in third place. There is a right good battle to reach the top six before the league splits in three weeks time. Fourth-placed Kilmarnock are probably home and hosed but St Mirren, Hibs, Dundee and Motherwell all harbour varying degrees of hope about occupying the final two spots. At the bottom, Livingston are ten points adrift and look a condemned club, but who will finish 11th and take part in the dreaded relegation play-off? Ross County currently have that ‘privilege’ but St Johnstone, Aberdeen and the Steelmen are all nervously looking over their shoulders.

Almost every club has something to play for in the Premiership – and this weekend’s fixtures carry plenty of significance. Five matches take place on Saturday at 3pm, the pick of them narrowly being Rangers v Hibs at Ibrox. Philippe Clement’s men can go top again, at least for one day, if they continue their dominance over the Hibees at Ibrox. Rangers have won all three previous meetings in the league and cup this term without the concession of a goal and while Hibs have improved recently, in part thanks to strong showing from winter window recruits Emi Marcondes and Myziane Maolida, they will need to step it up several levels to get a result in Govan.

A defeat for Hibs opens the door for Dundee, currently in seventh, to leapfrog them back into the top six. Tony Docherty’s men have been idle now for two-and-a-half weeks following the controversial postponement of their last match against Rangers due to a waterlogged pitch. They make the short journey west along the A90 to play tenth-placed St Johnstone, whose recent travails mean they are flirting quite brazenly with the relegation play-off berth. Craig Levein will be looking for improvement from his Saints, who must be wary of Ross County’s resurgence under one of their manager’s former players, Don Cowie.

County head to Pittodrie therefore with confidence as they take on Aberdeen in a match of huge consequence at the foot of the table. A win over Hearts last time out means they are a point behind St Johnstone and three off their Saturday hosts, with the Dons sitting in tenth place. Aberdeen had hoped to have a new boss in place for this game, given its significance. A slightly uncomfortable-looking Alan Burrows addressed the Red Army on Thursday, the chief executive revealing what we all had long suspected: the new man won’t be in the dugout for the visit of the Staggies. It will fall upon interim manager Peter Leven to take the team once more. Aberdeen clearly have the players to sit higher up the table but such is the mess within the club right now, it is understandable for them to be distracted by events outwith their control. Barry Robson’s January departure feels a lifetime ago, as does Neil Warnock’s – and that took place earlier this month. On the flipside, an Aberdeen win would go a long way to quell fears of finishing second-bottom.

Still managerless Aberdeen take on Ross County in a big match at the foot of the table.Still managerless Aberdeen take on Ross County in a big match at the foot of the table.
Still managerless Aberdeen take on Ross County in a big match at the foot of the table.

Hearts and Kilmarnock have no such concerns. The third-placed Jambos lead Killie in fourth by 11 points and only an away win would resuscitate the battle for best of the rest. Even then, Hearts look solid under Steven Naismith, who is already planning for next season after pre-contract deals for Motherwell playmaker Blair Spittal and Livingston defender James Penrice. Spittal will be asked to help Motherwell’s faint hopes of reaching the top six in the meantime. They need to win their next three matches to stand a chance, starting against St Mirren at Fir Park on Saturday. The Buddies have had a long time to stew over conceding five goals in 20 second-half minutes last time against Kilmarnock.

On Sunday, the Sky Sports cameras are at Livingston for their meeting with Celtic. Brendan Rodgers’ men often find life tricky on Spaghettihad’s synthetic surface, yet time is running out if David Martindale is to pull an Easter rabbit out of the hat and rescue the Lions, who look booked for the drop.

All this, and we haven’t even touched upon life outside the Premiership. Game of the weekend comes at Tannadice, where Championship leaders Dundee United take on Raith Rovers, who are a point behind them. The build-up to this match has been dominated by a ticket row, with the Rovers only getting approximately 1350 briefs for the match. Raith have a game in hand over United and have won the last two meetings. Defeat is unthinkable for Jim Goodwin and his Tangerines.

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In League One, Falkirk – who are at Montrose for a 5.30pm kick off – have it in their own hands to lift the title but could be crowned champions beforehand if Hamilton Accies’ fail to defeat Queen of the South earlier in the day. The Bairns are the only team in the country with an unbeaten league run and are six games away from an invincible season. Near neighbours Stenhousemuir could also win League Two on Saturday, but would need to beat Dumbarton and hope Peterhead slip up at home to Clyde.

The cinch is back after the break – and what a finale we have in store.



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