CELTIC vs. HEARTS
After taking 12 points from a possible 12 in December, Celtic’s 1-0 defeat to Hibernian before the turn of the year came as something of a surprise. Their 100% record over the festive period had seen the Hoops stretch their lead at the top of the SPL table to 10 points, but their first defeat in nine games brought an end to the streak.
Celtic’s backline struggled to deal with Hibs’ direct style, with an angled long ball from deep providing Leigh Griffiths with the opportunity he needed to score the only goal of the game.
The Hoops were unlucky not to find a leveler late in the game, with Gary Hooper and Paddy McCourt both coming close, but Neil Lennon’s side had been disappointing on the whole. That will have concerned Lennon, who only recently expressed his delight that his team seemed to have focused fully on domestic matters with the Champions League on break until February. Celtic still hold a nine point lead over second place Inverness, and are unlikely to concede such a lead between now and May, but the lack of a genuine title challenger this season has undoubtedly shaken their domestic focus.
However, Celtic have kept a clean sheet in five of their last six games (in all competitions) and are available at 1.78 to make it six in seven.
Hearts’ new-look frontline, of Gordon Smith, Ryan Stevenson and John Sutton, has gone someway to solve their goalscoring problems, although a 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock in their last league fixture (their game against Ross County was postponed before the SPL’s winter break) put a stop to a run of form that had seen the Jambos take seven points from nine, scoring six in the process.
Considering Hearts’ new potency infront of goal, over 2.5 goals between the Jambos and Celtic is available at 1.65.
HIBERNIAN vs. DUNDEE
Hibernian’s first league win over Celtic since 2008 lifted them to within three points of the SPL’s much coveted second spot, taking them above Aberdeen and into the top four.
Leigh Griffiths, who had gone six games without scoring having netted 10 times in the nine games before that, returned to form against the SPL champions. The 22 year old latched on to an angled long-ball from deep to fire past Celtic keeper Fraser Forster from a tight angle, as the on loan Wolves reiterated his importance to the Easter Road side. Hibs manager Pat Fenlon pulled off a major coup this week by securing Griffiths to a loan deal until the end of the season, when it had seemed likely he would return to Molineux in light of Stale Solbakken’s dismissal there.
Hibernian are available at 2.00 to be winning at half-time, something they’ve only done once in their past eight games.
Dundee have failed to take a point from their last five league fixtures and are without a win since a 3-1 win over Hibernian in November. Barry Smith’s side must start to claw back the gap between them and the rest of the league now if they are to avoid immediate relegation back to the First Division, although many doubt whether they have the quality or experience to avoid such a fate.
Dundee are available at 46.00 to repeat the 3-1 win they recorded over Hibs earlier in the season.
INVERNESS vs. ABERDEEN
Rangers might not be competing with Celtic for the SPL title this season, but their presence is still being felt in Scotland’s top flight. Former Blues Terry Butcher and Stuart McCall are leading the charge for the league’s coveted second place, with Inverness and Motherwell respectively.
Butcher’s Caley Thistle team, in particular, have exceeded expectations so far this season, with players like Billy McKay and Andrew Shinnie demonstrating their manager’s ability to identify and harness talent. The Highland side are unbeaten in their last seven league games, a run of form that saw them go level with Celtic at the top of table at one point, albeit temporarily.
With Inverness unbeaten in their last eight games, they are available at 2.80 to suffer defeat for the first time since November.
When Aberdeen manager Craig Brown said he wanted to inject some flair and energy into his side in the last summer transfer window he could hardly have predicted his signing of Niall McGinn on a free transfer would pay off so magnificently.
The Northern Irish midfielder has netted 16 times in his last 21 games for the Dons, including an incredible, swerving freekick from 25 yards against Dundee United earlier in the month.
However, with Andrew Considine suffering a broken leg against Dundee the Aberdeen backline looks decidedly lightweight heading into a busy fixture backlog, demonstrated by the goals conceded to Dundee United on Wednesday.
The Dons were edged out in their last clash against Inverness and are available at 25.00 to reverse the 3-2 scoreline they were on the wrong end of two months ago.
Back Celtic to beat Hearts 2-0 at 6.50.
Back a draw between Hibernian and Dundee at 4.00.
Back over 3.5 total goals between Inverness and Aberdeen at 2.90.