Welcome to the latest installment of The SPFL Premiership Review. Written by myself, Ciaran Foreman, I’ll take you through all of the weekly talking points in the weird and utterly wonderful world of Scottish Football.
Livingston’s Unbeaten Run Ends at Hands of Saints
Since his appointment as Manager of Livingston, David Martindale was yet to taste defeat in his 14 games in charge, until upcoming Betfred Cup Final opponents St Johnstone spoiled the party in West Lothian.
The Saints came into this match in very good form, and their victory on Saturday afternoon extends this impressive run to just one loss in their last eight fixtures. Callum Davidson will certainly be encouraged as they prepare for this month’s Betfred Cup Final, but isn’t getting carried away as he claims ‘it will be a totally different game at Hampden’.
Other than a corner which saw Jason Kerr volley over the Livingston crossbar, chances were few and far between in the first half. Chris Kane took a few knocks early on, including an elbow to the head from Livingston Captain Marvin Bartley, before Aaron Taylor-Sinclair lunged into the striker on the edge of the box on the stroke of half-time.
The latter would be costly for Livi, as Scott Tanser dispatched the resulting free-kick with an excellent curled finish, sending the Saints a goal to the good as they went into the second half.
St Johnstone started the second forty-five in a lively fashion, Marvin Bartley brought Chris Kane down yet again to give the Saints another free-kick in the 50th minute. A floated cross from midfielder Liam Craig met the head of Shaun Rooney from the set-piece, and he glanced his header beyond Max Stryjek who was rooted to the spot.
The Saints nearly found themselves three up when they were awarded a penalty, but substitute Stevie May couldn’t beat Stryjek from 12 yards. This nearly proved costly as Scott Pittman pulled one back for the hosts in the 83rd minute. But it was too little too late for Livi, as St Johnstone saw out their victory in what was a very good performance from the visitors.
The win puts St Johnstone within just two points of the top six, although their competitors have games in hand. Meanwhile Livingston missed the opportunity to put more pressure on Aberdeen who currently sit in 4th place, with the gap remaining as five points between them.
Celtic Win Two in A Row
On the back of their 4-0 thrashing of Kilmarnock, Celtic made it two wins in a row for the first time in 2021, as they beat Motherwell 2-1 at Celtic Park on Saturday.
Neil Lennon claimed his side were ‘outstanding’ after the game, in a result which brought the gap between the current champions and rivals Rangers to 20 points come full time, and just 6 points ahead of 3rd placed Hibs.
The defeat for Motherwell sees them remain in 9th place, and with a big week ahead for the Steelmen, Graham Alexander claimed that his side gave Celtic a ‘free-hit’ as the new boss was disappointed they didn’t take a point from the game in a crucial part of the season.
Celtic couldn’t have hoped for a better start, when Stephen Welsh met a David Turnbull corner before bulleting a header into the back of the net inside 2 minutes. The goal would be Stephen Welsh’s first career goal, meanwhile, Turnbull claimed his 5th assist of the season against his former club.
Celtic built on their strong start with more attacking football, with some of their best football of the season on display in the first half. Odsonne Edouard nearly doubled the lead when his header flashed by Liam Kelly’s goal. David Turnbull then tried a speculative effort from distance following brilliant chest control, before flicking it up to himself for a half-volley to which Kelly gathered.
The visitors had a brilliant chance to level the game when Chris Long was brought down just outside the box. The striker failed to trouble Scott Bain from the free-kick.
Celtic continued with their intensity in the early minutes of the second-half, with Odsonne Edouard dragging a shot wide inside the box. The 23 year-old would be rewarded for his efforts though just moments later, after turning Robbie Crawford, Edouard fired a driven shot into the bottom left corner, taking his goal tally to sixteen for the season.
Liam Kelly was yet again forced into action when he tipped another long-range David Turnbull effort by the post in what would be Celtic’s only real chance after their second goal. Motherwell began to come into the game after the hour mark, and Celtic looked tired. Devante Cole had a shot saved by Bain, before Bevis Mugabi nodded wide from the resulting corner. The pressure was on.
After some very nice interplay on the right-hand side, Stephen O’Donnell flicked a pass on to Allan Campbell who shifted the ball onto his right foot before blasting a deflected shot which looped into the back of the net. Motherwell had pulled one back, and looked the more likely out of the two sides to get the fourth goal of the game.
Motherwell nearly did just that through Devante Cole, but the striker couldn’t get a clean contact on his header inside the six-yard box, all before Diego Laxalt had to clear a goal-bound Harry Smith header off the line in the dying embers of the game.
Hibs See Off Lacklustre Dons to Retain Third Place
Hibs extended their lead in 3rd place to five points, after defeating Derek McInnes’ struggling Aberdeen side who now only have two wins in their last ten games.
Following some scrutiny amongst the Hibs supporters after their Betfred Cup Semi-Final defeat and their 1-0 loss to Rangers, the Hibees have racked up three straight wins and looked to be in total control in Saturday’s win.
Aberdeen, on the other hand, introduced Fraser Hornby to the starting eleven in a bid for goals following the departure of Sam Cosgrove and Scott Wright. But the on-loan Stade de Reims striker couldn’t make the difference as Derek McInnes’ struggles continue, with many in the Aberdeen support calling for a change in the managerial position.
There was an immediate sense of nerves in this Aberdeen side in this game, when their carelessness in possession triggered a Hibs counter-attack which Greg Leigh intercepted, however, after stumbling and misplacing his back-pass, Chris Cadden should have opened the scoring for Hibs if it weren’t for Joe Lewis’ save.
Leigh subsequently had to be replaced, with Connor McLennan coming in as Aberdeen changed their shape.
Jackson Irvine followed up on his excellent performance against Dundee United up with another very bright start, the Australian found Martin Boyle with a through ball that broke the Aberdeen lines, and Joe Lewis was called upon yet again to save.
Shortly after this, Hibs were rewarded for their efforts when Jamie Murphy won a penalty after Lewis Ferguson brought the winger down. Derek McInnes has since spoken about the incident, calling it a ‘poor decision’ by Willie Collum.
Martin Boyle buried the penalty safely into the bottom left corner, putting Hibs 1-0 up in the 27th minute. Shortly after, Boyle was yet again denied by Joe Lewis who was doing very well to keep the scoreline down at this point.
Hibs began the second-half with a real look of intent that they would get the second goal. Jackson Irvine played another spectacular ball over the top of the Aberdeen defence which landed at the feet of Christian Doidge, but the Welshman couldn’t release the shot, and it was Joe Lewis again who kept Aberdeen in the game.
However, the goalkeeper was eventually beaten again by Martin Boyle, who got his second of the game following a through ball from substitute Lewis Stevenson, which he finished through the visibly disheartened goalkeeper.
The final attack of the game came when Fraser Hornby’s header deflected on to the crossbar, which nearly brought Aberdeen a late consolation. But it wasn’t to be for the striker or McInnes’ side, and a goal at that stage would have done the scoreline a large injustice.
Routine Victory Ensures Top Six Status Remains For St Mirren
St Mirren ensured that their top-six place would not be compromised following a 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock on Saturday.
It’s now three wins in their last four matches for Jim Goodwin’s side, and at this current moment in time, they look very good value to remain in the top six for the foreseeable future. Despite only being one point above 7th placed Dundee United, the Buddies have three games in hand on their top six rivals and could go as far as 10 points ahead of Dundee United if they manage to take the maximum points from them.
Kilmarnock, on the other hand, played their second game in a row without a manager, and it was evident in their lack of cohesion in the weekend’s performance. However, following today’s announcement that Tommy Wright will take immediate charge, you can expect to see an upturn in form soon.
The first-half lacked a lot of clear-cut chances, with Kilmarnock squandering the first real one of the game when Danny Whitehall broke through, but could only direct his shot wide of the target.
There were claims for a penalty amongst the St Mirren squad when Alan Power slid through Marcus Fraser in a heavy tackle, but the referee waved play on as the ball was won before the contact with Fraser.
St Mirren found the opener in the 38th minute after a burst of pace from İlkay Durmuş teed up his cross to the back post, where Kyle McAllister made no mistake in heading past Colin Doyle who hadn’t really been troubled until then. Jonathan Obika’s header which sailed over the bar would be the final chance in an otherwise cagey first half.
Kilmarnock’s lack of clinicality yet again cost them at the start of the second-half, with new loanee Brandon Pierrick scuffing a shot inside the box which would have levelled the game.
There was another penalty claim for St Mirren just shortly after Pierrick’s miss, when Jon Obika fell to ground following a slight nudge from Alan Power, the referee again waving play on. John Beaton booked Jim Goodwin on the touchline who disagreed with the referee’s decision not to award the penalty.
The next interaction between Obika and Power would be inside the Kilmarnock box when Power held onto the ball for too long, Obika quickly dispossessed the midfielder and tucked away a neat finish in what would be the nail in the coffin for Kilmarnock.
The last chance of the game would indeed fall to Killie, but yet again their late attempt went soaring over the bar. Kilmarnock finished the game with just one shot on target from twelve attempts.
Dundee United Breeze Past Ross County Up North
Dundee United picked up a much needed three points after a run of eight games without a win. The Tangerines defeated Ross County 2-0 in what was a big game for both sides.
Micky Mellon hailed his side after he claimed they showed ‘great composure’ in what was a big game for the newly-promoted side. The win for Dundee United may be crucial as they face a very tricky run of fixtures with the season rapidly drawing in.
Ross County remain in 11th place, now just three points ahead of Hamilton and John Hughes’ side find themselves well and truly in a battle for survival. The Staggies are still to come up against top six sides in Hibs, Celtic and St Mirren before the split, and the Ross County boss claimed they ‘shot themselves in the foot’ with their loss at the weekend.
Jermaine Hylton nearly got County off to a flyer, when his long-range effort was parried away by Benjamin Siegrist. However, it’d be the Staggies that would have to undergo intense pressure in the remainder of the half.
Lawrence Shankland found himself through on goal twice in the opening forty-five, opting to go round Ross Laidlaw both times, the first of which the striker ran out of play, with Laidlaw gathering the second.
Tony Andreu had a great chance to open the scoring for Ross County just before half-time, but the Frenchman dragged his shot wide of the mark as the ball bobbled over the surface and past Benjamin Siegrist’s goal.
The Staggies put Micky Mellon’s side under some pressure early in the second half, but their attacks lacked conviction and they weren’t overly troubling Siegrist. The game was very open at this point, and it looked like it could have gone either way.
But it was Dundee United that would strike the first blow in the game when they counter-attacked from a Ross County corner, Liam Smith received the ball at the right hand side of the area before feeding a ball into the feet of Shankland who nudged the ball into space, and slotted into the bottom left corner with a tidy finish.
In the 76th minute, Dundee United would secure the three points when Ryan Edwards got his second goal in as many games, nodding home from an in-swinging corner. The win for Dundee United keeps the pressure on St Mirren to win their remaining games in hand as the fight for top-six continues.
Hamilton’s Bravery Rewarded in Dramatic Draw With Rangers
In what was a shock result to many across Scotland, Hamilton drew 1-1 with Rangers in a game which could have saw the Accies take all three points.
As mentioned in the preview to the weekend’s fixtures, there was 56 points separating the two sides coming into this game. With top place Rangers looking like the overwhelming favourites against a side bottom of the league – and who they beat 8-0 when they last faced each other – Hamilton put in a fantastic showing to become only the fourth side to take points from Steven Gerrard’s side this season.
Hamilton started the game looking the more energetic of the two sides, forcing Rangers under some early pressure when on-loan forward Bruce Anderson pinched the ball from Filip Helander, before Allan McGregor denied the striker in a one-on-one.
Rangers were forced into a lot of long-range efforts which they couldn’t guide goalward, before being awarded a free-kick just outside the box, which James Tavernier also failed to get on target.
The sides would finish the first-half level, with not many clear-cut chances on show. However, the game completely opened up in the second forty-five, with Rangers having the first of the opportunities.
Ryan Kent burst in-behind the back-line of the Hamilton defence, and looked like he had all but scored, before the ball rippled into the side netting.
Suddenly, it looked like Hamilton were going to open the scoring after Allan McGregor parried a Scott McMann shot which fell to the feet of Ross Callachan, forcing McGregor into a brilliant double save before Marios Ogkmpoe’s shot flew high and wide, ending that particular Hamilton attack.
The Accies would continue to pile the pressure on to the league leaders however, forcing McGregor into yet another save just minutes later when Bruce Anderson was again denied.
Substitute Ryan Jack then played a brilliant through ball to Ryan Kent, who just about dug the ball out from under his feet, but dragged it wide of the mark as this game rapidly approached it’s boiling point.
Ross Callachan forced another big save from Allan McGregor, as the goalkeeper parried a free-kick that was heading for the left-hand corner.
Rangers eventually got their goal in the 80th minute through a Brian Easton own-goal following a Borna Barisic cross which goalkeeper Ryan Fulton tried to parry. It seemed like it was over for Accies at this point in the game, but their performance ultimately merited more, and they dug in for their reward.
After holding on through another Rangers attack when Kemar Roofe glanced his header off target, Hamilton pushed forward one last time through Scott McMann. McMann on the left side of the park, found substitute Ronan Hughes with a brilliant through ball, Hughes floated the ball into the box, it landed unbelievably at the unmarked Bruce Anderson who’s header Allan McGregor saved yet again…but Ross Callachan was there to sneak the ball under McGregor in an incredibly dramatic ending in the 94th minute.
Brian Rice hailed his Accies side as having put in a ‘top-class performance’ and it’s hard to disagree when many — including myself — had all but written the game off as a routine victory for Rangers.
Look ahead to upcoming fixtures
Wednesday, 10th February 2021:
Kilmarnock (10th) vs (9th) Motherwell – 6.00pm K.O
Livingston (5th) vs (12th) Hamilton – 6.00pm K.O
St Mirren (6th) vs Celtic (2nd) – 8.00pm K.O