Wednesday, February 02, 2011

SPL Tonight: Top And Bottom

Last night’s SPL results had ramifications for the teams battling it out at both ends of the table.

St Johnstone’s 2-0 win over Hamilton means Hibs remain second bottom as they host third bottom St Mirren. Tonight’s result at Easter Road could have a big, big influence on how the relegation battle eventually pans out.

At the other end Rangers meet Hearts again with the Ibrox side now eight points behind Celtic who put three past Aberdeen in another episode of the SPL’s most one-sided and long winded sagas. With three games in hand Walter Smith might have expected nothing less. But the constant need to play catch up might become tiring in itself.

A few thoughts on tonight's games. All a bit hurried. A further look at the transfer window. And one signing in particular to come. Who could it be? Akpo Sodje?

Hibs v St Mirren

I wrote at the weekend that only when Calderwood had made significant changes to the squad could we begin to judge him properly. It might be time for that now with six players leaving Easter Road and six coming in - a recruitment drive matched only by Kilmarnock.

That the manger didn’t sign a centre half in the window will raise eyebrows with anybody who watched the Hibs defence struggle yet again at Tannadice on Sunday. More players might still arrive but for now Calderwood needs to get a goal and some kind of result from the players he’s got.

St Mirren were as restricted as manager Danny Lennon feared during the window with only Jim Goodwin arriving from Hamilton and Jure Travner’s loan deal being made permanent.

Remarkably these two clubs have managed only one league goal between them this year. This might be a night best avoided by neutrals.

A real test for Hibs this. The magnitude of the game will not be lost on St Mirren. Will Hibs be able to match whatever desire and unity the Buddies bring to Leith?

My verdict is a classic cop-out: draw.

Inverness v Dundee United

A strange game for United on Sunday. While not playing particularly well they might have found themselves cursing only scoring three goals against a Hibs defence that offered about as much resistance as a wet paper bag.

It was an emphatic enough way to call a halt to their recent run of draws and Peter Houston will have been delighted to see three different players get the goals.

Inverness have gone somewhat off the boil and are now without a win in ten SPL games, a run that Terry Butcher will be very keen to halt.

They might not manage that this evening but I’ll back them to get a point in a scoring draw.

Motherwell v Kilmarnock

Anguish and satisfaction for Stuart McCall after Sunday’s semi final defeat to Rangers. Anguish that his team lost so narrowly. Satisfaction that he could point to the best performance since he arrived as manager.

Was that simply players rising to the occasion? McCall’s next trick needs to be ensuring that a brave cup defeat can lead to a sustained run of form.

Mixu Paatelainen will be concerned over Kilmarnock’s strange habit of losing late goals. By my reckoning they’ve lost nine points in the last four games to goals scored in the last 20 minutes. Each time they’ve been in a winning position.

That’s a worry for Mixu who’s been taking his mind off things by ducking and diving in the transfer window to bring in half a dozen new faces. McCall, frustrated in all his attempts to secure players, will be looking on jealously.

Mixu will also be chuffed to have held on to have held on to Alexei Eremenko who returns from suspension this evening.

Could be another tight game this one but I’m backing the away win.

Rangers v Hearts

Rangers might still be wondering how they lost to Hearts at Tynecastle a couple of weeks ago after totally dominating for large periods.

The rest of us are now talking wistfully in pubs across the land of that halcyon three day period when Hearts were mounting a real challenge to the dominance of the Old Firm.

Hearts remain without the injured Kevin Kyle whose absence robbed them of much of their momentum as they snuck past Rangers before coming a cropper at Celtic Park.

Rangers could hand debuts to David Healy and controversial loanee El Hadj Diouf. If that’s the case then expect every movement Diouf makes to be scrutinised for signs of bad behaviour. And get used to it. We’re going to get this all season.

This could be another rumbustious affair. Strangely I’d expect Hearts to both enjoy more of the game than they did at Tynecastle but also to lose. Home win.

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