Celtic 1.20, the draw 5.50, Hibernian 15.00
With Champions League football now secured until at least Christmas, Celtic can finally fully commit to their domestic objective of retaining their Scottish Premier League title. Despite a sluggish start on that aim, not many believe it’s something they won’t achieve.
But for all that, most consider Celtic’s title defence to have stuttered into action. Neil Lennon’s side sits atop the pile, despite playing a game less than the rest (barring Dundee United). It’s illustrative of how easy Celtic are expected to have it this season.
Hibs, on the other hand, have started well on their objective of making amends for last season, a rather surprising development considering their 3-0 defeat to Dundee United on opening day. Since then Pat Fenlon has used an encouraging draw in the Edinburgh derby as a platform, with on loan Wolves striker Leigh Griffiths and Eoin Doyle firing the Hibees to second spot. The signings of Paul Cairney from Partick Thistle and Gary Deegan from Coventry City look to have bolstered last season’s anaemic midfield, with captain, James McPake, now on a permanent contract, doing his best to synchronize their, all too often appalling, defensive line.
This may be a top of the table clash, but it might not have much bearing on the destination of the SPL trophy come May.
Motherwell, 2.10, the draw 3.25, Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3.40
When the league’s two draw specialists clash, only one outcome seems likely. Of course, form only counts for your preparation, not your operation, demonstrated by the SPL’s ‘form’ team, Dundee United last week, as they suffered a 3-1 defeat at Kilmarnock.
A glance at the form column shows Motherwell have drawn three out of their opening four league games, with Inverness matching that ratio.
Motherwell’s away form last term took them into the Champions League, and this year Stuart McCall’s side once again look more at ease on their travels - their only win this season coming at Kilmarnock.
The Steelmen’s attacking front four, of Michael Higdon, Chris Humphrey, Jamie Murphy and Henrik Ojamaa, haven’t yet been able to replicate the dynamic understanding that facilitated most of their team’s goals last season, although the performances of Nicky Law have been a plus point.
Conversely, Inverness look to have fully recovered from the loss of attacking talisman Johnny Hayes in the summer, netting seven times in their opening four league games. Instead, the problem has been at the other end, where the Highland side have conceded nine times in four games to offset the good being done up front. It’s a trait that betrays manager Terry Butcher’s defensive background.
Rangers 1.12, the draw 7.50, Elgin City 12.00
The Rangers faithful expected to be watching the Division Three leaders often, if not every week, this season. And indeed, the table toppers will take to the Ibrox pitch in front of an expected crowd of around 50,000. But it won’t be Rangers. Instead, Elgin City will arrive in Govan as the kingpins of Scottish football’s fourth tier.
While they may remain undefeated (by virtue of a baffling decision to rule out a Berwick winner last week), Ally McCoist’s side have struggled to adapt to the demands of Third Division football. A lack of a pre-season, wholesale squad changes and toxic speculation may have been factors in that, but fortunate draws away to Peterhead and Berwick have come as something of a surprise. Cue mocking jibes about how a point away from home is a valuable one.
Defensive instability has been a common theme for McCoist’s side so far. Last season’s solid centre-back pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian have looked complacent and frankly disinterested. Both were expected to leave. The latter has, on loan to Italian Serie B side, Spezia. The former was expected to join Goian in leaving sooner rather than later, but McCoist insists he expects the USA captain to stay.
Rangers’ home form has offered some form of comfort. 5-1 and 4-0 wins over East Stirlingshire and East Fife respectively have propped up their otherwise dismal start to the campaign. That trend is expected to continue. But then, expectations haven’t dictated things for Rangers so far this season.
Celtic to beat Hibernian at 1.20
Motherwell and Inverness to draw at 3.25
Rangers to beat Elgin at 1.12