Dundee United vs Dundee
The SPL may have lost the Old Firm derby over the summer, but that is not to say the league is devoid of intense rivalry this season. In fact, there are those who believe the fixture’s omission from this season’s league schedule will benefit rivalries elsewhere. After Sunday’s Edinburgh derby, that theory will be put to the test once more on Saturday, this time in the ‘City of Discovery’, Dundee.
Of course, this fixture wouldn’t even have been part of that schedule this season had Rangers not dropped down the leagues, as Dundee were promoted from Division One to fill the vacant place in the top flight. That place wasn’t even confirmed by the SPL until two weeks before the start of the new season. Subsequently, the Dens Park side are heavy favourites for the drop.
Even manager Barry Smith has acknowledged he has his work cut out in the transfer market if he is to build a squad of SPL standard. “Two weeks ago we were preparing for a different league”, revealed Smith after his side’s league opener. Smith’s team has indeed looked in need of strengthening in their opening two fixtures, picking up just a single point without finding the net once.
Dundee United’s start to the season has been more difficult to judge. Excellent displays against Hibs (a 3-0 win) and Dinamo Moscow (a gutsy 2-2 draw) in a Europa League qualifier suggested the Tangerines might take the ‘best of the rest’ title in the SPL this season. A 5-0 thumping in the second leg of that qualifying tie stemmed those predictions ever so slightly.
However, United’s exciting brand of attacking football, played by young talents like Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven, has made Peter Houston’s side the neutral’s favourite and despite their European humiliation they will still be contenders for that coveted second place spot. As for Dundee, their season might be determined in the fortnight that remains of this transfer window.
Rangers vs East Stirling
There were those who were adamant that Third Division life for Rangers would be an unbroken procession. That notion was shattered last week as Ally McCoist’s side needed a late goal from Andy Little to salvage a point against little old Peterhead, a team spearheaded by a plumber and a maritime engineer.
As McCoist sheepishly stood in front of an inquisitive hack pack he asserted: “If any of them thought they were going to turn up and pick up points without going through any hard work then that might just be a rude awakening.”
Now, if complacency taints Rangers’ display on Saturday, they will have their own fans as well as their manager to answer to. The club’s Ibrox home was a source of comfort and support during their troubles last season. Another below par performance might see that change.
The performance of 17-year-old Barrie McKay at Peterhead was a rare plus point for McCoist, as was the impact of substitute Kevin Kyle, but his defensive three of Kirk Broadfoot, Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian will need to up their game; a striking criticism when considering last week’s opposition sit on the bottom rung of Scottish football.
One Rangers fan insisted on a radio phone-in show after last week’s game “sometimes you just have to snigger, even if it’s at your own team.” Another performance like the one at Peterhead and those sniggers will turn to boos.
St. Mirren vs Hibernian
Kenny McLean’s 30-yard strike against Dundee was a moment for the cameras. Not just because of its quality, but because it put St. Mirren top of the table. Buddies’ fans could be forgiven for gathering photographic evidence of that too, just to prove that it really did happen.
Danny Lennon’s side look to be continuing a process of steady progression since the former Hibs player arrived at the club from Cowdenbeath two years ago. Last season the style and swagger Lennon has instilled in his team was widely praised. Now, he must factor in substance in the form of results. A good start on that objective has been made.
As for Hibs, the expected humbling in last week’s Edinburgh derby never materialised and manager Pat Fenlon finally has a platform to build on. The same defensive lapses persisted, with Hearts taking the lead after a weak header back to his own keeper by Alan Maybury, but despite losing Garry O’Connor in the summer, Hibs look to have an attack worthy of guiding them beyond last season’s dismal 11th place finish. Their frontline of Leigh Griffiths and Eoin Doyle will cause most teams they’ll face this season problems. If they stay focussed, that is.
Fenlon’s position was rumoured to be under threat had his side lost the derby. Now that he’s survived he finally may be able to look forward. Looking forward might be the only way his side know how.
Back Dundee United to beat Dundee by two goals or more at 2.24 (3-way handicap market).
Back Rangers to beat East Stirling at 1.08.
Back the draw between St. Mirren and Hibernian at 3.20.