Thank goodness! There is now an official break from the break the SPL had to make space for an international break!
In what has been a dire week for Scottish fans, it is now mathematically impossible for the Scots to qualify for next year’s World Cup Finals. Many pundits before the Welsh game were stating that we don’t have the equivalent of a Gareth Bale to choose for in our national side. It is hard to argue against that train of thought. An injury stricken veteran, Craig Bellamy, the very efficient Joe Ledley and the young boy Williams, who replaced Bale in the second half at Hampden; do we have the equivalent of any of these players in our national squad?
Administration for Dunfermline and the ongoing league restructuring shambles continue to make the wrong kind of headlines in our footballing stratosphere! With regards to the latter, whatever formation the SFA/SFL/SPL eventually do come up with, it should not take effect until the season after next. To ‘move the goalposts’ at the tail end of the season is simply not on!
It is the remit of this columnist, however, to preview the SPL fixtures and then make awful predictions on the outcome of the matches! Apologies to all for the slight digression of that remit at the beginning!
On the subject of predictions, it was only a few weeks ago that it was stated here, of the weekend fixture list, “that it wouldn’t be a surprise if all games ended up as draws.”
Were it not for an injury time winner for Ross County against Celtic, there would have been five draws out of the six that weekend. (Number of correct predictions for this columnist ……one!)
The reason for that illusion is that once again this weekend’s fixtures have a very similar tight look about them. (Number of draw predictions made………zero!) The point being made is that if you are ‘prone to a punt’, it’s maybe better to ignore the predictions and go for the draws!
Once more, digression gets in the way of the summation of today’s four fixtures and it is now time to get down to the nitty-gritty battle to make the top six. Celtic and Dundee will occupy the north and south positions of the overall league come May. It is in the other positions where everything is up for grabs.
ABERDEEN v HEARTS at Pittodrie sees the Dons with a new manager who isn’t actually in charge yet! Derek McInnes will take over the reins after the split while Craig Brown takes the team for the next two games, before ‘moving upstairs’. Aberdeen are one of the teams who can still make it to the top six and this may give them the edge in what should be an exciting encounter. Anything less than a victory will consign them to the bottom six. Hearts, already destined to be playing in the bottom half, have still got plenty to play for claims Gary Locke. The more points they end up with will mean a higher place in that bottom six and therefore more SPL prize money – which Hearts badly need! Jamie Hamill may return to the Hearts squad (after more than a year out) while Ryan Jack and Clark Robertson may make it for Aberdeen. The Dons have not recorded a victory over the Edinburgh side, as of yet, this season. They do need the points more, however, and will want to impress manager incumbent, McInnes.
Prediction: Aberdeen to win in a hopefully open contest.
The DUNDEE v MOTHERWELL match at Dens Park sees the Steelmen return to action after their stunning 4-1 victory over Hibs before the break. Lasley and Law should have recovered from knocks, thus enabling Stuart McCall to choose from the same squad that hammered Hibs. Gary Irvine is suspended for the home side, while goalkeeper Steve Simonsen looks set to make his home debut, with Rab Douglas still ‘out of favour’.
Prediction: Stuart McCall to celebrate the signing of his new two-year contract with a ‘Well win as they surge for that coveted second spot.
At Easter Road HIBS v INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE looks a very interesting fixture indeed. Terry Butcher’s team have exceeded all expectations this season, sitting proudly in third place and snapping at the heels of Motherwell. Should they retain their form until the end of the season, they have a chance of qualifying for Europe. Hibs, on the other hand, go into this match on the back of that 4-1 defeat to Motherwell before the break, and are just clinging on to that coveted sixth place. (Should Kilmarnock win their game in hand, they would go above the Edinburgh side. Hibs go to Celtic Park next week.) Alan Maybury is suspended for today’s match but Tim Clancy may return. Jorge Claros’ inclusion will depend on his condition after returning from international duty. ICT have Graham Shinnie returning after suspension. Goalkeeper Ryan Esson and defender Gary Warren are out, however, and there are doubts over the match fitness of Chris Hogg. With a recent derby win over Ross County, Butcher will want to continue the winning habit. Hibs simply must win!
Prediction: Hibs have not been victorious over ICT this season and Butcher’s team have better recent form. Hibs players have a Scottish Cup semi final place to fight for and anything less than a victory today will mean a bottom half position after the split. (Ironically too, it would mean a fourth Edinburgh derby this season!) Therefore form is being ignored and a win is predicted for the Edinburgh side!
At Dingwall ROSS COUNTY v KILMARNOCK sees the other half of the Highland success story take on an Ayrshire side who have struggled on and off the park this season. Killie’s success in last season’s League Cup Final will certainly be marked as one of the club’s great achievements in recent history. They are another team, however, who are allegedly stricken with financial woes. To make the top six would certainly give them access to much-needed greater prize money. Despite somewhat indifferent form, Kilmarnock still have a very good chance of making the top six. They have a game in hand, and should they win their three games before the split (a big ask, admittedly), they will secure top six status. For today’s match, manager Kenny Shiels says that it may be too early for Kris Boyd to play from the start. Paul Heffernan is suspended and Cillian Sheridan is not certain to be fit, therefore he may be forced to start with Boyd. For County, Ivan Sproule is injured and Stuart Kettlewell suspended. Captain, Richard Britain returns, and this will be a boost. It would take a mathematical catastrophe to deny Derek Adams’ team a much deserved place in the top six. Kilmarnock are unbeaten against County this season and have their top six fate in their own hands.
Prediction: Kilmarnock to upset the odds and gain an away win.