ST. MIRREN vs. CELTIC
For St Mirren a league cup semi-final provides some relief for what has been a difficult season. Last week’s 4-1 home defeat to Ross County dropped the Paisley side to within a point of second bottom - hardly the ideal preparation for their Hampden date with league champions Celtic. But Saints will take encouragement from Kilmarnock’s Hampden triumph over Celtic last season, with manager Danny Lennon already insisting the “underdog can have its day” on Sunday.
St. Mirren reached the final of this competition in 2010, where they were defeated 1-0 by nine-man Rangers. However, the Saints have failed to score a single goal against Celtic, never mind record a result, with Lennon in charge.
In Celtic, St Mirren face a side that have dominated Scottish football at a canter this season. The Parkhead club has managed to keep hold of its best players during the transfer window and they will need them if they are to stand a chance of progressing into the last eight of the Champions League (Celtic have been paired with Juventus).
Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Dundee United showcased Celtic, particularly Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama, at their very best. If that team turns up at Hampden it’s hard to imagine any other side ending the day victorious. The Hoops are available at 1.30 to win.
ABERDEEN vs. HIBERNIAN
Although a marked improvement on last season, Aberdeen’s league campaign so far has been something of a puzzle. At times the Dons look a genuinely potent proposition, with Niall McGinn adding the flair and creativity they desperately lacked last term. And the Pittodrie side has been as high as second in the SPL table. Yet defeats like last week’s 3-0 loss to Inverness are not uncommon. On Boxing Day Craig Brown’s side were humiliated 4-1 by Motherwell. The week before that they were convincingly beaten at home by Kilmarnock.
Only six points separate the Dons with second place Inverness, but the sense of underachievement still dogs their season. Aberdeen have netted in the first half in four of their last five league fixtures and are available at 2.70 to be in the lead at the break against Hibernian.
Hibs’ reliance on on-loan Wolves striker Leigh Griffiths was emphasised last week, when against his former club Dundee, the 22 year old dragged his side to a draw with an outstanding equaliser. The form of captain James McPake has to be a concern for Fenlon, with the Northern Ireland international failing to rediscover the form that saw Hibs turn his loan deal last season into a permanent contract during the summer.
The Easter Road side has yet to score more than a single goal in any of their last five games and under 1.5 total goals between Hibs and Aberdeen is available at 3.90.
DUNDEE vs. KILMARNOCK
Unfortunately for Dundee their season has conformed to expectations so far. Manager Barry Smith revealed a number of months ago that he had taped pundits’ predictions that his side would finish bottom of the SPL table on the dressing room wall. It’s doubtful whether he has that table pinned up alongside it.
Smith recognizes his side needs to start clawing back the difference at the foot of the SPL table. Last week saw Dundee fall further adrift at the bottom, due to County’s win, but they can take encouragement from their performance in the 1-1 draw with Hibernian, with striker John Baird providing the sort of threat in attack they have lacked. Dundee are available at 2.90 to register their first win in nine fixtures.
Kilmarnock’s unbeaten run of five games was brought to an end last week as Kenny Shiels’ side suffered defeat against Dundee United. However, with administration staved off by virtue of an agreement reached with creditors owed around £16,000 it has hardly been the most concerning issue at Rugby Park this week.
The latest SPL club to face financial problems, Shiels has admitted he’ll turn to youth to fill the gaps left by the departing midfielder Liam Kelly and Michael Nelson, something that could impact their league performance between now and the end of the season.
Killie’s away form has been slightly better (four wins compared to five wins) this season and are available at 2.25 to come away from Dens Park with three points.
DUNDEE UNITED vs. ROSS COUNTY
With manager Peter Houston leaving the Tayside club at the end of the season the search has already begun for his replacement. This season could easily slip into irrelevancy, yet the Tangerines demonstrated their continued determination to give Houston a final season to remember with a 302 win at Kilmarnock last week (although they were humbled 4-0 at Celtic on Tuesday night).
Johnny Russell’s magnificent hat-trick was illustrative of the young talent Houston has nurtured at the club during his time as manager, and it is this flair and exuberance that United must use as a springboard for the rest of the season. United haven’t kept a clean sheet since the 3-0 win against rivals Dundee, eight games ago, and are available at 1.38 to continue the trend.
Ross County have made good use of the January transfer to strengthen their squad, with Ivan Sproule joining from Hibs, and scoring a double on his debut against St. Mirren last week, and German striker Steffen Wohlfarth switching third-tier club SV Wehen for the Staggies this week.
The 4-1 win over St. Mirren demonstrated just how dangerous County can be at their optimum and although County appear relatively safe from the threat of relegation (11 points separate them from bottom side Dundee) manager Derek Adams has set a target of improving his side’s league place before the end of the season. County have won their last two away fixtures and are available at 4.30 to continue that streak against Dundee United on Saturday.
Back Celtic to beat St Mirren at 1.30.
Back Hibernian to keep a clean sheet against Aberdeen at 4.30.
Back a draw between Dundee and Kilmarnock at 3.25.
Back Dundee United to beat Ross County 2-1 at 8.00.