DUNDEE UNITED vs. ABERDEEN
It would be wrong to say Dundee United’s season hasn’t started. In fact, it started very well. An impressive 3-0 win over Hibernian on the opening day suggested the Tangerines might even mount a challenge on Celtic’s supremacy. But their campaign has stalled since then.
September saw a team that most considered the strongest candidates to take the SPL’s vacant second spot concede seven times, register just two points and fail to find the net in four straight games. It seems the United side that so convincingly dismantled Hibs have been left behind on opening day.
An injury to Scotland Under 21 winger Gary Mackay-Steven initially disrupted Peter Houston side’s rhythm, as did an ultimately unsuccessful Europa League qualifying tie with Dynamo Moscow, but now there is no rhythm to disrupt, as United head into this weekend’s clash with Aberdeen on the back of a five game winless streak. It’s for this reason the Tangerines are available at a generous 2.20 to win on Saturday.
For United’s opponents Aberdeen, there are no such problems. A number of shrewd signings made in the summer window has finally added attacking flair to a side that always presented a solid basis. Former Celtic midfielder Niall McGinn has become something of a talisman for the Dons, contributing four assists in his last three games. However, in all of their previous five league fixtures Aberdeen have gone into the break leading, and are available at 2.10 to make it six successive games.
HEARTS vs. MOTHERWELL
Despite leaving the club in the summer, cult hero Rudi Skacel still casts a shadow over Hearts. The Czech, who is still a free agent, has been training with the Gorgie club this month with a view to a third spell with the side he’s won two Scottish Cups with. The Jambos’ recent form hasn’t eased the clamoring for Skacel to sign on.
A 3-0 win over Dundee United proved to be a false dawn as Kilmarnock stuck three past Hearts in their next league fixture, and with manager John McGlynn even admitting that his side struggle to find the net, Skacel could be a last ditch attempt to save this season. With a transfer embargo in place, he won't be registered in time for this Saturday, though, and misfiring Hearts are available at 3.25 not to score.
Motherwell captain Keith Lasley believes the Lanarkshire club’s success has turned them into a “scalp” for the rest of the SPL. “We have become victims of our own success, to an extent,” he admits.
Indeed, the Fir Park side’s success in recent years has strengthened the club’s stature, but considering their current league standing, perhaps Lasley should be focusing on sustaining that success.
Motherwell might’ve lost just once, to champions Celtic, since reaching the summit of the SPL table last month, but the competitiveness for that coveted second spot means one poor result has significance. Should ‘Well fail to overcome Hearts on Sunday it’s possible they could slump into the bottom half of the table, a difference of seven places in just two fixtures.
Against Celtic Stuart McCall’s side appeared anemic when going forward, unusual for a side that netted nine times in their previous three games. They are available at 2.70 to repeat that goalless performance.
ROSS COUNTY vs. HIBERNIAN
Avoiding relegation is meant to be tough for promoted sides. For a time it looked like Ross County would attest differently. Seven points from their opening four league games suggested Derek Adams’ side would ensure their first SPL campaign wouldn’t be their last. But things have changed since then.
In their last three fixtures, County have conceded ten goals. To put that into perspective, only league champions Celtic had found the County net before then (and in just one game against St Mirren the Dingwall side conceded five goals).
Some suggest that a 40 game unbeaten run forced County into a conservative, resolute style of play, a style that has now been cast aside, perhaps to their detriment. Their last three league fixtures have averaged at over five goals a game, and over 4.5 total goals against Hibs on Saturday is available at an intriguing 7.75.
Together with Aberdeen, Hibernian are leading the long awaited resurgence of Scottish football’s sleeping giants. Somewhat surprisingly, given last season’s dismal eleventh place finish that saw them flirt with relegation for most of the season, Pat Fenlon’s side have put together a run that’s seen them lose just once since the opening day humbling at Dundee United.
The summer signings of Paul Cairney and Gary Deegan are credited with giving the Leith club the midfield presence they dearly lacked last term. Striker Leigh Griffiths has found such form that many uttered his name when the Scottish national team suffered injuries to key attackers ahead of their recent World Cup qualifiers. His record of six goals in nine appearances stands up against the best in the league and he must take a fair share of the credit for Hibs’ excellent early season form.
However, should Hibs’ new found attacking potency abate at any time, their lack of defensive solidity would surely undermine Griffiths’ efforts. Despite an impressive run of form, that saw them snatch a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park, the Hibees have only managed to register two clean sheets this season. Ross County to score isavailable at 1.30.
Back both Dundee United and Aberdeen to score at 1.85.
Back a draw at half time between Hearts and Motherwell at 2.05.
Back a draw between Ross County and Hibernian at 3.20.