Celtic 1.28, the draw 5.25, Dundee United 9.00
Having angled their season towards Europe, Celtic will have to re-focus on domestic matters quickly after Tuesday’s crushing 3-0 Champions League defeat to Juventus.
The gamble of fielding Efe Ambrose, who had returned to Glasgow from the Africa Cup of Nations just hours before kick-off, back-fired in style, as the Nigerian made two crucial errors leading to Juve goals. Pulling back a three-goal deficit appears well beyond Neil Lennon’s side now.
If there is to be a backlash Dundee United could find themselves on the end of it. Lennon could give starts to Anthony Stokes and Miku, who both featured in the 3-1 win over Inverness, or he might opt to start his strongest side in an attempt to make a statement.
Dundee United’s resurgence under new manager Jackie McNamara continued with an impressive 3-1 win over Hearts last week. Goals from Willo Flood, Michael Gardyne and Johnny Russell downed the ten-men Jambos but Saturday’s trip to the home of the SPL champions will provide a tougher test and a sentimental return for McNamara, who spent a decade as a player at Celtic.
Hearts 1.95, the draw 3.40, Kilmarnock 3.60
In an unstable environment Hearts’ defence has been a relatively reliable platform for what has been a mixed season. That will be tested by the ankle injury sustained by captain Marius Zaliukas in last week’s defeat to Dundee United, with the Lithuanian now out for the rest of the season.
Hearts will be without midfielder Ryan Stevenson, who was controversially sent off at Tannadice, meaning manager John McGlynn will be left to find his attacking traction somewhere else.
Kilmarnock’s 2-0 win over Motherwell might’ve been slightly fortunate, defending desperately for much of the game, but the performance of William Gros is encouraging for the Rugby Park side.
It was only the Frenchman’s second goal for the club since arriving two years ago but his performance even marked him out for praise from opposition manager Stuart McCall.
Before Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Inverness, Killie had kept two consecutive clean sheets as manager Kenny Shiels attempts to find the right balance between going forward and defending well. Recent evidence points to a more resolute Killie backline.
St Mirren 2.25, the draw 3.30, Hibernian 3.00
If there is one side to have benefitted from Rangers’ SPL banishment it could be St Mirren. With Rangers sent to the Third Division, Dundee were promoted alongside Ross County to take their place in the top flight. Had they not been lifted into the SPL, St Mirren would likely be more concerned about the threat of relegation.
As it is, despite a relatively poor season, the Paisley side looks safe in second bottom place, 15 points above Dundee.
Saints’ league form has been steadily improving (excluding a 4-1 defeat at home to Ross County) with last week’s goalless draw at Aberdeen another well-earned point.
Hibernian’s reliance on Leigh Griffiths can now be classified as an unhealthy one, demonstrated by Monday’s blowout 3-1 defeat to St Johnstone. The on-loan Wolves striker netted Hibs’ only goal of the game in the 82nd minute, by which time Saints were out of sight after a first-half that saw them score three and miss a penalty.
Pat Fenlon’s side remains without a league win in 2013, scoring just three goals in their last five games. Such a poor run of form threatens what has been a general positive season for Hibs, with the Easter Road side now outside the top four for the first time this season.
Hibs have come on top in both of their clashes with St Mirren earlier in the season, winning both games 2-1. A third successive win over Danny Lennon’s side would be a welcome outcome for the increasingly insipid Hibees.
Back over 3.5 total goals between Celtic and Dundee United at 2.25
Back a draw between Hearts and Kilmarnock at 3.40
Back Hibernian to beat St Mirren 1-0 at 9.50
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