Top 6 Preview (& Review) MatchDay 34

This weekend see’s the first round of post split matches in the SPFL Premiership, to mark this occasion I decided to put together a preview of sorts of the upcoming weekend fixtures.  However, as is typically of most things Scottish football, I’ve made a bit of an arse of things and completely forgot to write the darn thing until after the weekend’s first game, St. Johnstone at home to Aberdeen.  But, as The Beautiful South once said, I’ll carry on regardless.

TOP SIX

Only Celtic and Aberdeen can now win the Premiership and with Celtic holding an eight point advantage it is the Hoops who are in the driving seat. Despite last weekend’s Scottish Cup defeat to Rangers and Ronny Deila’s subsequent decision to leave the club in the summer, Celtic’s advantage means that title number five in a row is surely theirs to throw away at this stage.

Hearts have secured third spot and European football for next season; a fantastic achievement for the newly promoted club.  They are currently eight points behind second place Aberdeen and therefore third is likely to be their final position, unless of course Aberdeen collapse (but that won’t happen, right?).

Elsewhere in the top six, Motherwell, St. Johnstone and Ross County are battling it out for fourth spot with only one point separating them after 33 games.

St. Johnstone Vs. Aberdeen (Fri)

Right, so, let’s start a preview with a review of a game that’s already been played.

The three previous St. Johnstone Vs. Aberdeen fixtures this season had served up 15 goals with both sides having scored in all three encounters, therefore goals should have been expected in tonight’s (Friday) game.  However the form book was in favour of a Dons win, not the relatively comfortable 3-0 stroll in the park for the Saints.

St. Johnstone had lost their previous two matches and were averaging one goal per game over their five matches; also conceding the same amount.  Aberdeen on the other hand had lost two of their previous three games but were outscoring their hosts by 0.8 goals per game.  Logic would also perceived that Aberdeen would be on a high following news of crisis at Parkhead and Deila’s impending summer departure.  Now was their last chance (surely) to mount a challenge for the title.  Victory at McDiarmid Park would put pressure on an already heavily under pressure Celtic team at a vital stage in the season.

Pre-game I would’ve put a confident Aberdeen as favourites and probably backed a 2-1 away win.  This is why I rarely bet.

Aberdeen 1 – 5 St. Johnstone 03/10/2015
St. Johnstone 3 – 4 Aberdeen 06/02/2016
Aberdeen 1 – 1 St. Johnstone 27/02/2016

 

Motherwell Vs. Hearts (Sat)

Motherwell are in the middle of the most intriguing battle left this season, albeit a rather anti-climactic one; the battle of course being the fight for fourth spot.  The anti-climactic part being that fourth place does not yield European football next season.  Fans of whichever club eventually finishes fourth can blame Ronny Deila for that, after all, he’s getting the blame for most things these days.  Despite no European qualification for finishing fourth, Motherwell et al will still be fighting tooth and nail to finish the season in said position as the extra cash in prize money for finishing higher up the table may well come invaluable during summer squad re-shaping.  Fourth could mean an extra quality addition or two.

Hearts on the other hand have only pride to play for.  Third place and European football have been secured and second place seems unlikely, despite Aberdeen’s slip up.  Having said, victory tomorrow would move the Jambos to within five points of Aberdeen with the sides still to meet at Pittodrie on the penultimate matchday.

Motherwell’s fine of form was brought to an end last time out against Celtic and they will be looking to return to winning ways immediately.  Hearts recent form has been patchy to say the least with two defeats and one draw in their five games, they have also seen their goals per game drop to 0.8 in the last five matches; something will surely deeply disappoint manager Robbie Neilson.

The Jambos are undefeated against Motherwell this term and showed recently against Aberdeen that they are a side full of character, recovering from the loss of an early goal to defeat the Dons and severely dent their title aspirations.  However, Motherwell have also recently recorded a win over Aberdeen and held Hearts at Fir Park earlier on in the campaign.

Another game where goals should be expected and a score draw being my prediction.

Hearts 2 – 0 Motherwell 12/08/2015
Motherwell 2 – 2 Hearts 28/11/2016
Hearts 6 – 0 Motherwell 16/01/2016

 

Celtic Vs Ross County (Sun)

It’s been quite the week at Parkhead.  Defeat to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final, followed by the news that Ronny Deila will leave in the summer and the impending media and supporter speculation over who will replace him.  Add to that calls for Peter Lawwell to fall on his sword, literally in some cases, and speculation over a number of alleged internal failings at Celtic and it’s been an interesting week.  On the plus side, Aberdeen look like they’ve Hibsed it for real this time following their defeat at St. Johnstone meaning that should Celtic beat Ross County on Sunday, the Hoops will have an 11 point lead with just 12 left to play for.  Even Hibs couldn’t Hibs that.

So there’s the motivation for Celtic.  Victory on Sunday virtually secures 5 in a Row and should give Ronny Deila a fairly stress free end to his reign in Paradise.  The perfect occasion for all those big time players who have been hiding of late to put in a Championship winning performance and leave us all asking “why have they not played like this all season?”

Like Motherwell and St. Johnstone, Ross County are gunning for fourth spot having sneaked into the top six at the last minute.  County’s form has been pretty poor since winning the League Cup and they currently have the worst defence in the league over the past five games, conceding on average 1.8 goals per game.  On the flip side they have been scoring over one goal per game themselves lately, and with Celtic hitting over 1.5 goals a game in their last five there should be goals at Parkhead too.

Unfortunately for County I think it is Celtic who will be scoring them given the significance of the game.  On head to heads this season Celtic are three nil up, having scored eight to County’s one.  Furthermore, and thanks to the wonders of the split, Ross County have already visited Parkhead twice this season losing two nil on both occasions.

This one has to be Celtic and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another two nil win, although County will make them work hard for it.  Or is it Celtic who will make themselves work hard for it?

Celtic 2 – 0 Ross County 01/08/2015
Ross County 1 – 4 Celtic 08/11/2016
Celtic 2 – 0 Ross County 13/02/2016

 

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