Aberdeen vs Ross County
As the SPL has aged it’s started to move further north. Whereas Aberdeen were once the far north's sole representatives, they’ve been joined by Inverness, and for the first time this season, Ross County, who they face on Saturday. There might not be an official term for this match (the Highland derby is between Inverness and Ross County) but an expected crowd of over 13,000 at Pittodrie suggests this tie has its own selling points.
Both sides started their league campaigns well last week, although neither were able to secure a first win of the new season, with Aberdeen returning from Celtic Park with nothing to show for an admirable display. Dons boss Craig Brown looks to have added the flair they desperately lacked last season, through the signings of Niall McGinn and Johnny Hayes.
Ross County were everything they were expected to be against Motherwell in their opener, with centre-back Grant Munro demonstrating he can play just as well at the top level as he did in Division One last season. But for all that the Dingwall side’s defensive resolution appeared strong, they lacked a creative spark going forward without the injured Rocco Quinn. Quinn will be missing this weekend, but will County’s attacking potency go missing with him again?
Hibernian vs Hearts
The new season brings hope and no SPL team needed that hope like Hibernian. Had it not been for Dunfermline, a team many considered to be the worst top-flight team in some time, Rangers might not have been the only SPL giant to sink into the Scottish Football League over the summer. Even a first Scottish Cup final appearance in over a decade will want to be forgotten as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for the Hibees, 5-1 thrashings at the hands of your biggest rivals, Hearts, tend to stick in the memory.
So considering all that blighted last season, an extensive overhaul was expected at Easter Road. Yet when Hibs kicked off a new league campaign against Dundee United on Sunday, nine of the team that suffered humiliation at Hampden Park in May featured. Not quite a revolution, most would agree.
There appears to have been little evolution either. Sunday’s 3-0 defeat in their SPL opener demonstrated that the same problems still persist for Hibs. Despite the impressive James McPake’s best efforts, the Edinburgh side’s backline is still a shambles and their central midfield still doesn’t seem to understand the importance of such a position in football, neither protecting the defence or supporting the attack. Given such failings it’s somewhat cruel they now face a Hearts side that can boast one of the strongest midfields in the SPL.
A lot of things appear to have remained the same for Hibs over the summer and Hearts will be hoping another trait will stick with their Edinburgh rivals; Hibs haven’t beaten Hearts in 11 league meetings.
Peterhead vs Rangers
Scottish football has become very good at talking about everything and anything besides football over the summer. If there is one positive to take, it is that the country can now boast a fan-base educated in extremely complex financial legislation and processes. But for the club at the centre of those problems, football is back on the agenda as Rangers start life in the Third Division at Peterhead.
The contrast in quality between the two sides is astonishing. Peterhead were once considered to be the big spenders of Division Three, persuading striker Rory McAllister to opt for them instead of several SPL suitors last summer. They can no longer claim that title.
Rangers have continued to add to their squad this week with the signings of Dean Shiels, Kevin Kyle and Francisco Sandaza. All three players are reported to be receiving over £5,000 a week, in a league where many are signed to contracts that don’t even cover their travelling costs.
The price of getting to Peterhead will be significant for the 3,000 fans expected to head north from Glasgow on Saturday, but they should be rewarded with a rather convincing win over an inferior standard of opposition.
Back a draw between Aberdeen and Ross County at 3.40.
Back Hearts to win by 2+ goals vs. Hibernian at 3.85 (3-way handicap market).
Back Rangers to beat Peterhead at 1.30.