Celtic v Aberdeen
Celtic’s season so far has been a peculiar one. European ambitions have defined their campaign, with an admirable group stage performance leading them to the knockout stages.
However, having been eliminated by Juventus last week the Hoops must now focus on domestic matters, where their performances have been less convincing, despite holding a 15-point lead at the top of the SPL.
Neil Lennon admitted he had been let down by his players following last week’s 3-2 defeat at Ross County, their second successive league defeat.
Despite their loss in the Highlands, Celtic’s place at the top of the SPL is hardly under threat, yet a valid point can be made regarding their apparent lack of domestic focus. It could be said that a lack of genuine opposition has slackened Celtic’s mindsets.
In-demand stars Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama continue to be key figures for Lennon’s side despite their poor form, something that may worry Lennon considering that both are expected to leave the club at the end of the season.
Celtic’s last home clash against Aberdeen saw them snatch a fortunate 1-0 victory thanks to a late Kris Commons goal. They are available at 7.00 to secure a second 1-0 home win against the Dons.
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown’s announcement on Thursday that he will step down at the end of the season came as no surprise. At 72 years old Brown’s retirement was always looming (although he will now take a place on the Aberdeen board) but having suffered a poor run of form that has seen the Pittodrie side slide down the table, the decision also has its basis in on-the-pitch-evidence.
The Dons haven’t scored more than once in a game in ten attempts, as last season’s attacking issues begin to take hold once again at Pittodrie. Aberdeen are available at 2.00 not to find the net against Celtic.
Dundee United v Dundee
Jackie McNamara’s impact at Dundee United has been a powerful. Since leaving Partick Thistle for Tannadice at the end of January the Tangerines have lost just once in eight fixtures.
However, United have now recorded three straight draws in the league, two of them goalless. McNamara must spark his frontline into life, with the attacking trio of Jon Daly, Gary Mackay-Steven and Johnny Russell all misfiring of late.
Dundee United are available at 14.00 to record a third successive goalless draw.
Just 130 yards up the road, the ‘new manager effect’ hasn’t quite had the same impact at Dundee. Interim boss John Brown hasn’t managed to lift the Dee out of trouble at the foot of the SPL table, though he has steadied a team that had been falling rapidly towards the First Division.
If Dundee are to stage an unlikely fightback the energy brought to their frontline by striker John Baird will be key, with the former Raith Rovers player netting in Dundee’s 1-1 draw with Inverness last week. Dundee are available at 6.00 to record their first win over their city rivals this season.
St Mirren v Hearts
When Danny Lennon’s St Mirren overcame SPL champions Celtic in a thrilling 3-2 win last month, it felt like something tangible had been achieved. Instead, all they’d achieved was a place in Sunday’s League Cup showpiece, where the Paisley side will return to Hampden to face Hearts.
If Saints are to claim the prize, their boss Danny Lennon will need to find a way to spark his ailing attack into life, having found the net just twice in their last three games.
Striker Steven Thompson, so often St Mirren’s talismanic figure, will be key to any Saints win, as will Paul McGowan, whose display in the semi-final win over Celtic was exceptional.
The national stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Hearts in recent times, where they have won the Scottish Cup twice in six years. This Jambos side might be the worst team to visit Hampden in that time (they are currently slumped in 10th position in the league) and are still looking for a successor to the sacked John McGlynn, but they remain favourites to lift their first League Cup trophy since 1963.
Hearts have won just once in their last eight games in the build-up to their Hampden date, something that contributed to the dismissal of McGlynn.
Sunday’s League Cup final pits the SPL’s 10th and 11th places teams against each other, presenting each with an opportunity to salvage their season.
The Jambos are available at 2.40 to come out on top against St Mirren on Sunday.
Back over 3.5 total goals between Celtic and Aberdeen at 2.45
Back a draw between Dundee United and Dundee at 4.00
Back St Mirren to beat Hearts at 2.70