The Scottish Premiership Review of the Week – 1st November 2020

Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant

The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.

SPIRIT OF MARIUS SHINES BRIGHT ON BITTERSWEET DAY FOR JAMBOS

It was a bittersweet, yet emotional day for all associated with Hearts yesterday.

On the field, they edged out their bitter rivals Hibernian in an enthralling Scottish Cup semi final 2-1 after extra time, while, off the pitch, fans of the Jambos, Rangers and Scottish Football alike, were coming to terms with the news that former captain and defender Marius Žaliūkas (pictured) sadly passed away at the age of 36.

Distraught fans pay tribute to 'real Hearts hero' and 'legend' Marius  Zaliukas | Edinburgh News
Acknowledgement: Edinburgh Evening News

When the news filtered through from Liam McLeod on BBC commentary at the start of the second half, I was personally absolutely shocked. This is a guy who had his whole life ahead of him after football. It just goes to show you are never sure what is around the corner. Through these uncertain times with coronavirus, we all need to cherish every moment we have with our friends and family.

36 is just far too young to die.

When I think of Žaliūkas, I think of three words. Committed, passionate winner.

On the pitch, he gave everything to the cause but off the pitch he seemed like a really lovely guy. Michael Stewart, Danny Grainger, Rudi Skacel and Craig Gordon were just four of many Hearts people who passed lovely comments onto a guy who just gave his all for the Jambos.

Marius leaves behind a great legacy: captaining Hearts to Scottish Cup success in 2012, representing his country Lithuania on the international stage and just being a happy-go-lucky guy.

Mad Dog' Marius Zaliukas is cleary missing a bit - in his case a proper  nickname
Acknowledgement: The Telegraph

It seemed only fitting that Hearts won that semi final yesterday against Hibernian. The spirit of Marius shone down on the men from Gorgie on Saturday evening and there is no doubt yesterday’s bittersweet day should give Robbie Neilson’s side extra motivation to go on and recreate 2012 all over again come December.

My own personal thoughts go out to all at Hearts, Marius’ family, friends and connections alike.

Rest In Peace Marius.

A TALE OF TWO PENALTIES…AND THREE HEADERS

In terms of the on field action at Hampden, the Edinburgh Derby was an affair that grew as the game progressed.

A tight first half was only kept scoreless by a quite sensational save from Craig Gordon to keep out Kevin Nisbet with a flashing header (pictured). Gordon rolled back the years yesterday with some top class goalkeeping showing Celtic what they were missing out on but also giving himself confidence as well ahead of what could be a huge season for the Jambos. It’s been a great week for the Scotland goalkeeper with news on his Instagram this week that he and his partner are expecting a baby early next year. Congratulations to Craig and family on this glorious news.

How the Hearts players rated as they defeated Hibs to reach Scottish Cup  final | Edinburgh News
Acknowledgement: Edinburgh Evening News

The second half sprung to life when Craig Wighton headed in a textbook delivery from Ollie Lee to open the scoring for Hearts before the Leith men equalised with a header of their own from Christian Doidge.

Extra time didn’t look like it was going to seperate the teams until the second period exploded in an extraordinary five minute spell where two penalties were awarded by referee Willie Collum: one for either side. Kevin Nisbet, struck the post with his spot kick before Liam Boyce (pictured) scored his for Hearts.

I didn’t think either penalty Collum gave should have been awarded. There was minimal contact in both circumstances. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, it all came down to nerve.

Boyce held his from 12 yards and Nisbet did not. Football is a game of fine margins.

Liam Boyce keeps his cool to guide Hearts into Scottish Cup final |  FourFourTwo
Acknowledgement: Four Four Two

Ultimately, this result will be a big disappointment for Jack Ross’ side when the dust settles. Yesterday was Hearts day but it felt like a missed opportunity for Hibernian. They did not play badly but found Gordon in inspired form and ultimately did not take their chances at key times.

They will need to bounce back next week when they travel to Pittodrie on Friday night to face Aberdeen. That could be a huge match in terms of how their season unfolds moving forward.

FAMILIAR STORIES TOLD AS CELTIC QUADRUPLE TREBLE DREAM GOES MARCHING ON

The other semi final was Celtic and Aberdeen meeting for the second time in seven days at the National stadium.

This one was much more straightforward as Celtic got back to doing what they do best. Winning cup matches. Two goals in five minutes from Ryan Christie (pictured) and Mohammed Elyounoussi put Neil Lennon’s side in total control as they left Derek McInnes’ side trailing in their wake. It was much more like the Celtic we know when they are in full flight. Tom Rogic was in excellent form once again – he ran the show. Diego Laxalt is also growing all the time in green and white and across the pitch the Bhoys were always sharper than their Granite City opponents.

Scottish Cup semi-final: Celtic 2-0 Aberdeen - are holders cruising into  final? - Live - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

A familiar tale.

And it is an all too familiar story of disappointment for Aberdeen.

More often than not taking on Celtic and being taken to the cleaners. The game was over midway through the first half but in truth it was over before a ball was even kicked.

Aberdeen fans must be sick of watching their side in semi finals and finals playing Celtic and coming up short. Not since 1992 under Willie Miller did the Dons last defeat Celtic at Hampden and that was in the League Cup semi finals. Indeed, it is now eight semi-final or final defeats by Celtic in a row at Hampden Park. It’s becoming an increasingly unwarranted record.

Realistically, Aberdeen cannot challenge for the league but the cups do provide an opportunity for them to win some silverware. There have been times where they have been unlucky but Chris Sutton coined a good phrase back in 2018 after the League Cup final defeat to Celtic:

“Aberdeen are a nearly team”.

In fact, the Dons remind me of Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino (pictured). They have improved vastly since the days of Mark McGhee and have built a lot under the foundations laid by McInnes’ predecessor Craig Brown. Alas, apart from that 2014 League Cup final win on penalties, rewards have been few or far between.

Mauricio Pochettino to join Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football for  Leeds United vs Leicester City | Football News | Sky Sports
Acknowledgement: Sky Sports

There is no doubt Aberdeen are a decent side on their day and there is probably little doubt they will be top three or four in the league again this season. However, as is so often the case, in a competition where they have a realistic chance of winning, the Dons fell well short.

It’s back to league affairs for the Dons on Friday as they host Hibernian. Win that and they will likely be favourites for third again. Will that be good enough for fans of the team in red and white? I somehow think many would take a trophy over finishing 3rd any day. 1990 is a long time for Aberdeen to be going without winning the Scottish Cup that’s for sure.

For Celtic, the quadruple treble dream goes on and in December they will face Hearts in the final with a chance to write themselves into footballing folklore once again.

On Sunday’s evidence, they will take some stopping.

TAVERNIER SENDS RESOLUTE RANGERS NINE CLEAR AT TOP

On the domestic front, the golden carrot of a nine point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership was the prize on offer for Rangers if they could see of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, a place the Ibrox team have struggled at over the last few years.

An early James Tavernier penalty for his tenth goal of the season was the only goal that decided a tight game down in Ayrshire but Steven Gerrard will not care one jot. It’s another clean sheet and above all another three points to continue their fine form over the last few weeks.

James Tavernier is Rangers' most vital cog and any West Ham bid must be  'serious money' - latest podcast - Daily Record
Acknowledgement: Daily Record

For Kilmarnock, they will be disappointed not to have created too many opportunities. They frustrated Rangers for much of the game but Allan McGregor had a very easy afternoon in between the sticks. Ultimately, a silly handball by Ross Millen ended up costing Alex Dyer’s side dear.

Rangers face Hamilton at home next while Kilmarnock face St Johnstone in Perth. You would fancy Gerrard’s men to continue their dominant start to the season but Accies did beat them at Ibrox on their last visit there. For Killie, they will be looking for revenge having lost the game in the final ten minutes from a goal up against Callum Davidson’s men in the reverse fixture.

CLARK DOUBLE PROVIDES MUCH NEEDED WIN FOR TERRORS

Saturday 19th September 2020. The significance of that date?

The last time Dundee United won a match in the Scottish Premiership.

It’s been a long time coming for Micky Mellon’s side but they picked up all three points on Saturday as they beat Ross County 2-1 at Tannadice to move up to fifth place in the Scottish Premiership table.

This was a repeat of the scoreline in Dingwall back in August and just like in the reverse fixture, Nicky Clark (pictured) proved to be the difference between the two sides. His three goals in the two matches against County have been crucial and provide more evidence that United have more players than Lawrence Shankland who can come up with the goods in key matches.

Dundee United 2-1 Ross County: Mellon says people 'forget' Tangerines are  new to Premiership - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

For the Staggies, it is now five games without a league win for Stuart Kettlewell’s side. They have lost four of those too, continue to struggle for goals and still concede too many soft, cheap goals at the back.Despite a late consolation from Oli Shaw, this was only County’s 8th league goal this season. In fact, you have to go back to St Johnstone back in mid September for their last league goal which was also their last victory.

It is worrying times for the Staggies who face a huge game with Livingston on Friday night in what has to be a huge six pointer.

Anything less than a win and I think there will be mounting pressure on the County boss.

FOUR WINS IN FIVE FOR SAVVY MOTHERWELL

Motherwell are really making up for lost time aren’t they?

This was another excellent display by the Steelmen as they recorded their fourth win in their last five matches with a 2-0 away win at Livingston on Saturday. It was also the second succesive game Tony Watt got in amongst the goals and Callum Lang also got on the scoresheet for Stephen Robinson’s side.

Callum Lang (@callumlang10) | Twitter
Acknowledgement: Twitter

Robinson has described his side as “savvy” in recent weeks and it is a word I would use to describe them too. They have gone back to basics with their game: getting the ball down on the deck and passed it well, creating lots of good openings from wide areas. Most importantly though, they are converting chances which they were not doing earlier in the campaign.

They are also shoring things up defensively too. The 5-1 drubbing at home by Rangers aside, Well have kept clean sheets in those four victories they have had as well: Livingston yesterday (2-0), County at home last week (4-0), Aberdeen at Pittodrie (3-0) and St Johnstone at home (1-0).

It is a welcome return for a Well side who early on in the season were conceding cheap goals . It is undoubtedly chalk and cheese now. Credit must go to Robinson and his side for turning things around after a slow start. It has been very impressive to watch. They face Celtic next and with their new found confidence and form, you can see them giving Neil Lennon’s me problems.

On the flip side, It’s now three league defeats in a row for Gary Holt’s Livingston (pictured) since that victory they had at Tannadice at the start of October. They are also are struggling to win games at home these days too which is massively unlike them. The Lions have recorded just 2 home wins so far this season in the seven games they have played which is concerning.

Livingston boss Gary Holt never lost his self-belief despite having two  years out of the game - The Sunday Post
Acknowledgement: The Sunday Post

That six pointer in Dingwall on Friday night now looks a massive game for, not just for County, but Livingston too.

MORELOS WINNER CONTINUES MOMENTUM FOR WELL-OILED RANGERS

The momentum train is running like a well-oiled machine for Rangers on all fronts right now and in Europe on Thursday night, Alfredo Morelos made sure the Gers perfect European campaign continued as they edged past Polish side Lech Poznan at Ibrox.

It was not a classic match in Govan on Thursday night but Morelos came off the bench to net a winner midway though the second half and see Rangers join Benfica at the top of their group with six points out of six. This is a great trait for Rangers to have these days: not playing at their best but picking up the three points. There is more than one way to win a football match. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done.

Kenny Miller says Rangers should cash in on Alfredo Morelos to halt  ten-in-a-row - and believes he WILL leave this summer | Glasgow Times
Acknowledgement: Glasgow Times

Gerrard’s men now face a double header against the Portuguese side and they should go into these matches with confidence and optimism. They have already seen off Porto and Braga in past Europa League ventures and played well in those encounters too. I fancy them to win the game at Ibrox. They have looked awesome at home, on the whole, so far this season and I think they are looking assured defensively which gives them every chance of a positive result. If they were to get a draw over in Portugal too, I think many Rangers fans would take that.

If they did get the four points I predict them to get, I think they will go onto win their group. A group which looked fraught with danger on paper before a ball was kicked.

SPARTA DOUBLE HEADER POSES QUESTIONS FOR CELTIC

The double header against Czech side Sparta Prague will give us a greater idea of Celtic’s European credentials this season after they spurned a two goal lead in France on Thursday night drawing 2-2 with Lille.

Mohammed Elyounoussi scored two very clever and well taken goals to put the Scottish Champions 2-0 up and when Scott Bain saved a first half penalty from Jonathan David, it looked like Neil Lennon’s side were going to get a confidence boosting three points. However, they could not withstand a French fightback and goals from Zeki Çelik and Jonathan Ikone rescued a point for the hosts.

Lille 2 - 2 Celtic - Match Report & Highlights
Acknowledgement: Sky Sports

It leaves Celtic third in their group behind leaders AC Milan and Lille with Sparta Prague bottom of the pile. If Celtic have any aspirations of getting out of this group they simply must take maximum points from the two games against the Czechia side. However, with the Champions already 9 (7 or 6) points behind their arch rivals Rangers in the Scottish Premiership title race, plus the potential quadruple treble still very much on the line, will Celtic sacrifice a run in Europe for getting back on track domestically?

It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds.

Published by Dr. Grant Campbell

My name is Grant and I am the host of "The only show where bad predictions are cancelled out by good craic": Campbell's Footballs. This podcast will host plenty of wild football predictions as well as interesting stories from a diverse range of guests from all life within football such as grassroots, media and journalism, ex-professionals and genuine football fans. Contributions, shout outs and conversations encouraged! In Association with music from Toby Johnson and Rory Hope.

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