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.
EUROPA LEAGUE LAST 32 DRAW AWAITS FOR DANGEROUS RANGERS
Rangers completed an impressive job in their Europa League group on Thursday night as they comfortably saw off Lech Poznan 2-0 away in Poland to top their section, providing them a seeded status heading into Monday’s last 32 draw. A much changed Rangers side won with goals from Cedric Itten and from Ianis Hagi (who nodded home from on the goal-line after Conor Goldson’s terrific header had hit the under side of the cross bar).
The Ibrox team have a range of opponents to draw on Monday with teams from Israel, Ukraine and France potentially lying in wait for Steven Gerrard’s team (pictured).
On paper, I think Gerrard’s men will happily draw many of the teams there especially considering their ruthless form and how dangerous they are looking. They might not want to draw a team with lots of travelling involved (e.g. Maccabi Tel Aviv) or a team who has had previous Europa League pedigree though (e.g. Red Bull Salzburg).
However, the way Rangers are playing right now, I think they can beat all of those teams and, in the long run, go deep in the competition.
It’s been a phenomenal time of things in Europe so far and I am sure many Rangers fans will be determined to make sure their European run continues for a while longer yet.
CURTIS THE MAIN MAN AS DONS BACK TO WINNING WAYS
Aberdeen really needed a result this weekend and they got one against a struggling Ross County side at Pittodrie.
Derek McInnes opted to give Curtis Main (pictured) a rare start in a red shirt and his decision was vindicated as the former Motherwell man netted a brace to give the Dons a 2-0 win at Pittodrie, notably without talisman Lewis Ferguson who was suspended.
There is no doubt Aberdeen need to find a balance to the team and start to be more ruthless in front of goal again. With Sam Cosgrove struggling for form and confidence, Main’s two goals yesterday will provide McInnes and his team with some much needed relief as they face Kilmarnock and Motherwell away next.
SINKING FEELING FOR COUNTY WHO SLIP TO BOTTOM
Despite their excellent League Cup win at Celtic Park recently, Ross County’s league form has not improved. The Staggies are still without a league win since September when they won 1-0 at St Johnstone and as a result Stuart Kettlewell’s (pictured) side have now dropped to the foot of the Scottish Premiership standings.
Two things worry me about Ross County at the moment.
Firstly, they do not score enough goals. The Staggies who have only netted ten times in their seventeen matches this season. Only St Mirren have scored fewer.
Secondly, they continue to concede too many cheap and easy goals. Last season, up until the pandemic, County had conceded 60 goals. This season so far they have conceded just over half of that with 32. Only Hamilton have conceded more with 40.
It is a big week coming up for the struggling Dingwall team with a League cup quarter final against Livingston and a massive six pointer at home to Hamilton.
Kettlewell and his team will need to get going again soon and provide some much needed Christmas cheer for their fans up Dingwall way. Back to back victories this week would provide the perfect tonic.
MCGRATH RAISES BUDDIES HOPES WITH RESOLUTE FIR PARK WIN
What a few weeks Jamie McGrath (left pictured) is having!
The former Dundalk midfielder has been a big player for Jim Goodwin’s team in recent weeks, netting in his last three matches to help the Buddies to some much needed league points and his winner against Aberdeen awarded St Mirren with the prize of a quarter final cup clash against Rangers this midweek.
Despite having to forfeit two matches against Hamilton and Motherwell due to COVID-19 breaches, St Mirren have been in good form of late in league and cup. They have not lost a competitive league fixture since early October when they lost late on at Pittodrie to a Lewis Ferguson goal. The Buddies are also not conceding much either with three clean sheets in their last four league games. Yes, Goodwin’s team perhaps need to score more goals as they only just averaging a goal a game but if you set your team up to be well drilled and tough to beat you have more chance of picking up results than not.
St Mirren have definitely been more resolute recently and have certainly found some form after an awful September and Goodwin and his team will now be looking upwards in their quest to get away from trouble at the bottom.
They face a free-hit in the Cup midweek against Rangers and if they can play as well as they did against Aberdeen in the last round, then Steven Gerrard’s team will need to be on their game to defeat the Paisley team. They then face St Johnstone, Hibernian and Ross County all before their final match of the year against Rangers. If they can realistically take six points from that run of fixtures, I think they will be in a good position heading into the New Year.
CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT WELL FACE BIG END TO YEAR
There is one thing that definitely is consistent this season; how inconsistent Motherwell are!
Stephen Robinson’s team (pictured) do not find the going well at Fir Park these days having only picked up two league wins at home this season so far and have picked up double that number of points on the road.
Furthermore, their league positioning has definitely been helped by the six points they were awarded for COVID breaches from opposing teams otherwise they would be in much bigger trouble. The Steelmen would have been ninth in the table had those points not been allocated which goes to show you how tight that midfield pack is in the standings.
The Fir Park have lost four of their last five competitive games having won four in a row prior to that. In games, when they score first, you feel confident Motherwell can go on and take points from games but when they go behind in matches, they just do not seem to find an answer. It seems like the team’s heads go down far too easily.
Motherwell need to find a consistent goalscorer in my view too as front players such as Tony Watt and Callum Lang are simply not scoring enough.
The Fir Park side’s next four matches are Rangers away, Aberdeen at home and Dundee United away before a home game with Kilmarnock come the end of the year. You would not know what team is turning up these days with Motherwell. They could fly and pick up a majority of points on offer in those games or they could crash and burn and pick up few, if any.
Make no mistake about it, it is a big end to the year coming up for the Steelmen.
MARTINDALE BOUNCE CONTINUES AS LIVI RECORD RARE AWAY WIN
The David Martindale revolution is continuing at Livingston!
The Lions produced another superb result on Saturday afternoon as they won away from home for only the second time this season at St Johnstone 2-1.
There is no doubt the players at Livingston (pictured) are really digging in and putting in some impressive performances of late with this latest one at McDiarmid Park at the weekend being their personal best.
Goals from Jon Guthrie and versatile player Scott Robinson got the job done for Martindale’s side as they rose to seventh in the table, just two points behind Dundee United in that coveted sixth spot.
With momentum continuing to be on their side, The Lions will now be targeting a cup semi final in midweek as they face Ross County at home before away matches at Hamilton and Kilmarnock before a home game against Aberdeen come the end of the year.
For St Johnstone, they will be disappointed not to have taken anything from this game to continue a really good unbeaten run Callum Davidson’s team had been on. Until yesterday, the Perth Saints had not lost a game in ninety minutes since that 2-0 defeat at home to Celtic at the start of October. They do need to turn draws into wins though having drawn three of their last five matches.
St Johnstone face a cup quarter final themselves in midweek away at Dunfermline Athletic before facing St Mirren, Rangers, Aberdeen and Hamilton before the year’s end. Davidson will want to make sure yesterday’s defeat at home to Livingston is not the start of another barren run for his team.
RUTHLESS HIBERNIAN FLEX MUSCLES AT ACCIES
Hibernian really flexed their muscles yesterday at Hamilton didn’t they?
Goals from Martin Boyle, Christian Doidge (pictured), Paul McGinn and Kevin Nisbet gave Jack Ross’ team a comfortable 4-0 away win at Accies to move into second place in the standings (albeit for 24 hours before Celtic won at home to Kilmarnock).
The Leith side got off to a strong start with an early penalty from Boyle and took the game by the scruff of the neck from there as they took Brian Rice’s side to the cleaners on their own patch.
It is now seven wins in ten league away games for Hibernian this season. Only Rangers can boast a more impressive return at this stage in the campaign. It is definitely looking rosier for the Hibees lately and with a cup quarter final in midweek against Alloa Athletic, the pursuit of a semi final spot and potential silverware is very much in play this week for Jack Ross’ side.
The Leith side can really make a statement in their season towards the end of the month as they have three home games to play out of four with Dundee United, St Mirren and Ross County all coming to Easter Road. They also face Rangers at Ibrox and will go into the match with confidence having being only one of two sides to have taken points off Gerrard’s runaway league leaders so far this season.
For Accies, after last week’s big win at home to Kilmarnock, they were picked apart here. They were overrun in the middle of the pitch and struggled to contain their superior opponents for large spells. Hamilton’s season will not be defined on games like this but their next two games at Ross County and at home to Livingston almost certainly will do.
TURNBULL CATALYST FOR RESUSCITATING CHAMPIONS?
David Turnbull’s (pictured) impressive performance against Lille in the Europa League in midweek must leave Neil Lennon and many Celtic supporters scratching their head.
The former Motherwell player has not featured much since his £3m move from Fir Park earlier in the year but he impressed in the Europa League encounter against Lille with a goal and an assist.
Yes, it was a pretty meaningless game in terms of qualification in Europe for Lennon and his team but you can be sure Turnbull was wanting to make this a meaningful game for him. For me, he has now played himself into Celtic’s plans short term as they look to seal a quadruple treble next weekend against Hearts in the Scottish Cup and long term in terms of closing the gap to runaway leaders Rangers.
It looks like Celtic may be beginning to resuscitate themselves after an awful time of things lately. Is it too late for them in their quest for ten in a row? Or is Turnbull’s recent performance against Lille the catalyst the Champions need?
One thing is for sure, if Celtic are to make a comeback in the title race, it has to start somewhere and from somebody.
TAVERNIER INSPIRES RANGERS TO GRITTY TANNADICE VICTORY
James Tavernier’s season just keeps getting better and better!
The full back added another goal and assist to his tally this season as Rangers maintained their advantage at the top of the table with a gritty 2-1 win away at Dundee United on Sunday aternoon.
Rangers were struggling to break down a dogged and well drilled United team for much of the first half until Tavernier (pictured) netted an outstanding 30 yard free kick that David Beckham would have been proud of! Normally a goal like that would have knocked the Terrors stone cold but credit to Micky Mellon’s side for equalising courtesy of Liam Smith’s fine finish.
Tavernier was to have the final say though. His free kick led to Conor Goldson netting the winning goal with a glancing header across goalkeeper Benjamin Siegreist and into the back of the net to settle the game for Steven Gerrard’s team.
It was a scrappy performance on the whole from Rangers who might have lost Alfredo Morelos to an early red card after his elbow incident in the first half. The Colombian picked up a yellow card for his challenge but Steven MacLean on another day could and perhaps should have shown him his marching orders.
Dundee United set up really well today but Mellon’s team (pictured) just lacked a bit of quality of their own in the second half as they searched for the equaliser but I think on the whole the former Tranmere manager will be relatively satisfied with his team’s performance albeit they did not take anything from the match.
Rangers, on the other hand, go marching on at the top with their unbeaten record intact.
YOUNG GUNS IMPRESS AGAIN AS CELTIC RECOVERY TAKES SHAPE
The young guns who impressed against Lille in midweek got another opportunity on Sunday for Celtic against Kilmarnock and Neil Lennon was vindicated with his decision.
Conor Hazard, Ismaila Soro (pictured) and David Turnbull kept their places after Thursday’s victory over the French side and all impressed again on Sunday as the Champions comfortably saw off Alex Dyer’s side at Parkhead.
It may have been Mohammed Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy who got the goals for Celtic but it was another astute display by those three. Turnbull had another assist to add to the one he got against Lille and Greg Taylor also played a big contribution for Norwegian Elyounoussi’s goal. It was also good to see Mikey Johnston make his return to first team action after being out since January.
It still wasn’t perfect from Celtic but it was better that what we have seen lately that was for sure. The confidence is slowly coming back to Neil Lennon’s’ team ahead of next week’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts where they have the chance to create history by winning an unprecedented quadruple treble.
A rare clean sheet will also be a big plus for Lennon and his team – their first in nine games.
Kilmarnock’s physicality caused Celtic problems in the first half but they did not create too many chances throughout on a rare occurrence where the Champions were untested which is not what you have been able to say in recent weeks. Danny Rogers (pictured) played well in goal, making a range of good saves but had no chance with the two goals.
These games won’t define the Ayrshire men’s season but they will need to bounce back quickly when they are back in front of the cameras next Sunday at home to Aberdeen.
CHAMPIONSHIP SIDES DREAMING OF MIDWEEK QUARTER FINAL UPSETS
Two Championship sides will be dreaming of a cup semi final this midweek as they face higher ranked opposition in the Scottish Cup.
Peter Grant’s (pictured) Alloa Athletic are the lowest ranked side in the competition left and they have the opportunity to make it an Edinburgh double as they face Hibernian at the Indodrill Stadium on Tuesday night. Grant’s team defeated Hearts in extra time in the last round courtesy of an Allan Trouten penalty kick and will definitely be giving it everything heading into this tough encounter.
The Wasps will also head into that match off the back of their first league win of the season at the weekend with a 1-0 away win at Arbroath.
Teams are usually given a stern examination at Alloa and make no mistake about it, Hibernian won’t have everything their own way at the Indodrill. Jack Ross’ side will need to be professional and put in a good performance if they are to get the job done. If not, they may face the same fate as their bitter rivals on the other side of Edinburgh.
I chatted to Peter Grant recently for the SPFL42 podcast and you can listen to our discussion here.
Another Championship side that will fancy their chances this midweek will be Stevie Crawford’s Dunfermline Athletic. However, the Pars will need to bounce back from their weekend defeat at home to managerless Morton. Their quarter final against St Johnstone for me is an indicator of where Crawford’s team are at in their development.
Until that defeat, Dunfermline had been impressive so far this campaign having seen off Hearts and Inverness CT on their own patch domestically this campaign as well as winning their league cup group and seeing off Arbroath in the previous round.
The goals from Declan McManus (pictured) have been important for Crawford’s team as has the leadership of their team across the pitch which will be vital as they take on St Johnstone at East End Park. I think this could be a really interesting match and I would not be surprised if Dunfermline bounce back from that rare defeat at the weekend and cause a surprise here.
The other two matches are between Livingston and Ross County while Rangers travel to St Mirren. I think Rangers will win at Paisley fairly comfortably but I think the Lions and the Staggies will be a tighter affair and I would not be surprised if extra time and/or penalties is required to settle that affair at the Tony Macaroni Stadium.