Welcome to the latest installment of The SPFL Premiership Preview. Written by myself, Ciaran Foreman, I’ll be looking ahead to all the upcoming action in the SPFL Premiership as another weekend of footballing drama beckons.
Betfred Cup Final Showdown
It’s Cup Final weekend in Scotland as Livingston face St Johnstone in what is set to be a cracking affair between two sides who have defied the odds this season.
It’s the first Betfred Cup Final without Celtic in four years, meaning that the trophy will go to someone outwith the Old Firm for just the 29th time since Rangers first won the competition in 1947.
Livingston have won the Betfred Cup (League Cup) just once in their history, meanwhile their opponents have never won the competition. However, St Johnstone’s Scottish Cup glory in 2014 under Tommy Wright will still live fresh in the memory of the Perth faithful, and they will hope that Callum Davidson can add another trophy to the cabinet on Sunday.
It’s set to be a close encounter- the last meeting between the teams saw St Johnstone take a 2-1 victory, ending Livingston’s astonishing 14 game unbeaten run. Before then however, Livingston had taken two victories, winning 2-0 at home under Gary Holt, before a 2-1 win at McDiarmid Park in David Martindale’s third game during his interim charge at the time.
Heading into this one, the shift in momentum has definitely changed as St Johnstone seem to be the in-form side. In their ten games so far in 2021, Callum Davidson’s men have only lost twice – to Celtic and Rangers respectively. Through this spell, they have picked up impressive victories; a second-half comeback away to Kilmarnock, ending Livingston’s run in West Lothian before thrashing Motherwell at Fir Park. There’s no doubt about it, The Saints will feel confident.
However, David Martindale will have his side ready for the challenge. Despite being winless in three, you simply cannot forget the form Livingston have shown this season. As mentioned, the defeat by St Johnstone ended an unbeaten run where they picked up an incredible 11 victories from 14 games – looking untouchable at times. With a 3-0 romping by Dundee United following that St Johnstone defeat, before taking just one point at St Mirren, Livingston will want to get back to winning ways, and what better way to do it than bringing home the cup.
Writers Prediction: Livingston 1-1 St Johnstone (After 90 Mins & ET). Livingston to win on penalties.
Life After Lennon Begins as Kennedy Takes Interim Charge
There is a sense of change coming from the East End of Glasgow. With the departure of Peter Lawwell and Neil Lennon inevitably coming after a disastrous season, Celtic host Aberdeen on Saturday as they aim to finish the league campaign as respectably possible.
Last Sunday’s 1-0 humiliation at Ross County would spell the end of Lennon’s second reign in charge of the Parkhead club. Before this game, John Hughes publicly disclosed his then bottom of the table Ross County side’s game plan to defeat a Celtic team who had been so dominant over the last decade.
Even despite this loss showing such a calamitous fall from grace, Lennon’s resignation was still seen as a surprise to many, due to both himself and the Celtic board claiming that he could turn it around. However, that was never going to come to fruition, and the Dingwall loss was the final nail in the coffin.
John Kennedy will take interim charge of Celtic, and many are curious to see what the highly regarded coach will bring to the table, beginning with Saturday’s home tie against Aberdeen.
Just over a week ago, this exact same fixture saw Aberdeen lose 1-0 thanks to a long-range David Turnbull effort – a loss which would make it six games without a win or a solitary goal for Derek McInnes’ side. Following that defeat, Aberdeen would go on to pick up a 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock which was a massive three points in their aim to finish in a European place yet again.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting game from both teams’ perspectives. Will Celtic show the metaphorical ‘bounce’ we so regularly see after a managers departure, or will it be more of the same?
On the other hand, it will be telling of where Aberdeen are to see if they can take advantage of a potentially fragile situation. They are yet to beat Celtic this season, but Derek McInnes will know that he must pick up some impressive results to prove that he is the right man to keep leading The Dons, both now, and in the future.
Writers Prediction: Celtic 3-1 Aberdeen
Hibs Look to Make it Five Wins in a Row
Hibernian will host the struggling Motherwell at Easter Road on Saturday as the home side aim to build on their very strong run of form.
The hosts come into this game on the back of four consecutive victories and have only conceded one goal during this run. These results have built a platform for Jack Ross’ side to move into 3rd place, with a victory on Saturday potentially extending that gap to five points above Aberdeen.
Their opponents on the other hand, are not in good form. With Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at St Mirren extending their winless run to three games, Motherwell face a tricky run in as they look to put some important points on the board to distance themselves from any relegation talk.
In the two encounters between the sides this season, Motherwell are yet to come out on top. A goal-less draw at Easter Road in August saw nothing between the two, before Hibs thrashed Motherwell 3-0 at Fir Park last December.
This is the first time Jack Ross has faced Graham Alexander since he took charge of the Fir Park side, and I think the latter will be up against it on Saturday.
Writers Prediction: Hibernian 2-0 Motherwell
St Mirren Host County
6th placed St Mirren will host 10th placed Ross County on Saturday in what is a big game for both sides.
Having now played the same number of games as Dundee United in 7th place, St Mirren find themselves safe by just two points in the top six as the split rapidly approaches. From a potential 12 points in their previous four games, Jim Goodwin’s side have only picked up four, failing to distance themselves ahead of Dundee United to all but secure their top-half finish.
Their opponents come into this game on the back of their stunning 1-0 victory over Celtic, but John Hughes will know that despite that victory, it is only important if they can build on it by getting more points on Saturday. As they only sit two points above Kilmarnock and Hamilton, losing this game on Saturday could see County fall back into the relegation zone as the season heads towards its rapid conclusion.
In their previous fixtures thus far, St Mirren were held to a 1-1 draw at home before going on to win 2-0 at Dingwall in what was John Hughes’ second game in charge of Ross County.
I suspect that there won’t be much in this tie, and despite it not being the most favourable of results to both sets of fans, I can’t see either side coming out with a victory.
Writers Prediction: St Mirren 1-1 Ross County
Struggling Killie Face Tangerines
Kilmarnock will face Dundee United at Rugby Park on Saturday, as the home side aim to end their terrible run of eight losses in a row.
In what will be Tommy Wright’s fifth game in charge on Saturday, Kilmarnock have failed to score in any of the prior fixtures since the Northern Irishman took charge. With this coming to a collective two goals in eight games, where they have lost all of these, it is truly worrying times for the Kilmarnock fans who find their team in the relegation zone.
On the other hand, their opponents come into this game on the back of two straight victories before their loss at Ibrox – where they beat Ross County 2-0 before dismantling Livingston 3-0 at Tannadice. United’s recent form will certainly be encouraging for Micky Mellon as his team look to put pressure on St Mirren for a top-six finish in their first season back in the top flight of Scottish football.
The previous fixtures between the sides saw two very different outcomes. At first, under Alex Dyer’s leadership, Kilmarnock emphatically defeated Dundee United 4-0 at Rugby Park in just the sixth game of the season, before Dundee United won 2-0 at Tannadice in December with quickfire first-half goals from Marc McNulty and Lawrence Shankland.
Despite Kilmarnock’s recent struggles, I think they will manage to take a point from this fixture. Having watched the chances they created against Aberdeen last week, they could have taken more from that game had they got the basics right, and I think they will learn from their mistakes with a point on Saturday.
Writers Prediction: Kilmarnock 1-1 Dundee United