Saturday, February 12, 2011

The SPL Today: A Handful of Previews

What a week, what a seismic week.

Scotland dismantled a side ranked above them in the world rankings. Destroyed them with a goal blitz.

Who cares that the FIFA rankings are essentially meaningless or that Northern Ireland were just not very good?

Actually there was a lot to be positive about after Scotland’s 3-0 win in Dublin. And that’s a nice, if unusual, feeling.

But reality must strike and once again we dive headlong into the murky waters of the 2010/11 SPL campaign.

Hamilton v Hearts

H is for Hamilton v Hearts. How sorely Hamilton wish they weren’t where they are. They retain their two games in hand. But where will the points come from?

Their only wins so far have come on the road, against Inverness and, most recently, against Motherwell all the way back in October.

Fine results. But not enough.

Organised, determined. There is much to admire about Billy Reid’s side. But if they can’t find a spark from somewhere then you have to fear that they are only headed one way.

They’ll not relish a visit from Hearts today, having lost 2-0 at home and 4-0 away in their previous two clashes.

Hearts now seemed destined for a best of the rest no man’s land, too far ahead to worry about a challenge from below but not close enough to challenge for second. All they can do is keep going, keep learning, keep improving.

I suspect they will do just that today. Away win.

Hibernian v Kilmarnock

Kilmarnock ended their strange run of losing late goals with an 81st minute winner of their own last time out.

On the same night Hibs were finally getting a win and at last getting those much longed first goals of 2011.

They are hardly dancing on the streets of Leith. But I think I detect just a glimmer of optimism, a satisfaction with some of Colin Calderwood’s additions and an easing - although certainly not a complete removal - of relegation worries.

A new Hibs then? Certainly there are easier teams to prove that against and you have to suspect that Mixu would relish a win at Easter Road having lost out 2-1 back in October.

Kilmarnock might find a more combatitive Hibs midfield set out to stop them playing while Akpo Sodje will provide a physical defence for the Killie defence.

Hard really to predict how this one will go. Kilmarnock are strong but not without weaknesses. Hibs remain a work in progress.

I’ll back a draw with both sides to score.

> Colin Calderwood has suggested he's staying with Hibs after being linked with a coaching role at West Brom. I've said before that he can't be judged until he has had a period of stability as Hibs manager. It looks like he will now get that. On the whole I think that's a good thing for Hibs.

Rangers v Motherwell

After the Old Firm drama of the Scottish Cup, Walter Smith will have welcomed his players back from international duty with a number of concerns playing on his mind.

Traditional worries about fixture congestion aside, the more pressing worry is if Rangers’ current form and personnel is going to be able to keep up a title challenge against what is looking like an increasingly strong Celtic.

At the moment, despite Rangers’ games in hand, the title momentum looks to be with Celtic. All Rangers can do is keep grinding out wins and hope they get a break from somewhere further down the line.

They absolutely can’t afford any slip-ups. The recent League Cup semi-final showed that Motherwell are capable of making life tricky for the Ibrox side but Stuart McCall is still searching for the consistency that would allow him to make a real impact.

Whatever else the season holds this one is a home win for me.

St Johnstone v Aberdeen

A cup win apiece will have gone down very well in Perth and Aberdeen, both side negotiating First Division opposition and Aberdeen throwing in a late, late winner for good measure.

Both sides too will be hoping for a top six spot. To achieve that they need to win games like this.

St Johnstone have struggled with a lack of goals although, in fl-hair player Steve May, they look to have uncovered an exciting young striker.

Aberdeen’s Craig Brown revolution gives the impression of having stalled of late largely because of their seemingly interminable run of games against Celtic and the rather under par (ho hum) performance they produced in beating Dunfermline last week.

The truth, I suspect, is that these two are likely to be evenly matched today. So a draw it is.

St Mirren v Inverness

Ten games now since Inverness enjoyed an SPL win, a run that includes a defeat to St Mirren.

As Terry Butcher searches for his side’s early season form, Danny Lennon will still be smarting from St Mirren’s defeat to Hibs.

In the relegation battle you can’t afford to lose to the teams around you and a defeat to a Hibs side enduring a woeful run of form has to be seen as poor result and one that pretty much denies St Mirren the chance to drag themselves out of the dogfight.

Both sides will be desperate for a win today. Which allows me to sit on the fence again. Draw.

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