Can Celtic put their recent woes behind them? Can Rangers succeed where their Old Firm rivals failed? Who will win the battle of the SPL’s bottom two? Can Motherwell cement second place, and how will St Johnstone get on after losing their manager?
Bwinbetting’s Neil Sargent ponders all the big questions in Scotland this week as he previews another unpredictable weekend in the SPL.
Saturday, 22nd October
Motherwell v Kilmarnock (12:45)
Home win: 19/20 Draw: 23/10 Away win 14/5
You get the impression that Motherwell’s flying start to the SPL season has come as a shock even to their own players and fans. Despite the distractions of match fixing allegations against one of their star players, Motherwell continue to occupy second place in the SPL at the expense of Glasgow giants Celtic, much to the surprise of pretty much everybody.
On Saturday they welcome Kenny Shiels’ slick yet unpredictable Kilmarnock side to Fir Park looking to close the gap on leaders Rangers to four points, but much will depend on which Killie side show up on the day. Killie demonstrated their Jekyll and Hyde nature in microcosm against Celtic last Sunday, racing into a 3-0 half time lead before shipping three goals in seven minutes to undo all their good work in the second half.
Although credit must go to Motherwell for their impressive start, they have only won once in the last five matches against Kilmarnock and they haven’t scored more than one goal per game against them in the last six meetings.
Motherwell’s bubble may have survived some prickly terrain in recent weeks, but Killie could be the thorn that finally bursts their fragile shell, and I fancy Kilmarnock to be winning at both half time and full time at odds of 11/2.
Dundee United v St Johnstone (15:00)
Home win: 11/10 Draw: 12/5 Away win: 9/4
On Wednesday St Johnstone said goodbye to manager Derek McInnes as he headed south to take up the reins at Championship strugglers Bristol City, and Tayside rivals Dundee United will be hoping that this provides the chink in the Saints armour that they so desperately need to exploit.
United are on a horrible run which has seen them pick up just two wins in eleven SPL games this season, and they have conceded three or more goals in six of them. St Johnstone on the other hand have scored two or more goals in six of their last eight games, winning five of them, so the form guide certainly suggests a difficult afternoon in store for United.
But with McInnes’ exit likely to have deflated the Saints somewhat, United could see this as the break they have been looking for. One thing is for certain – this game has got goals written all over it. At odds of 39/20 on more than 3.5 goals in the game, this seems like too good an opportunity to miss.
Inverness CT v Dunfermline (15:00)
Home win: 17/20 Draw: 5/2 Away win: 29/10
It is bottom against second-bottom at the Caledonian Stadium on Saturday, and even at this early stage of the season, this could be a real relegation six-pointer.
The sides drew 3-3 in a thriller at East End Park at the start of August, and that point was Caley’s only away point of the season so far. The other seven points they have earned so far have all been won at the Caledonian Stadium, and with that in mind manager Terry Butcher will be happy to have home advantage this time around.
Dunfermline won their first two away games of the season by one goal to nil, but since then they have picked up just one point in the SPL (a home draw with Hibernian) and conceded a worrying 19 goals in the last six games.
With neither side high on confidence, a tight affair is expected, but Dunfermline’s poor away record coupled with their leaky defence gives Inverness the edge. You can find odds of 18/5 on Inverness to win and less than 2.5 goals to be scored in the game – new Bwin customers who stake their free £25 bet on this outcome stand to win £115 if successful.
St Mirren v Hibernian
Home win: 6/5 Draw: 21/10 Away win: 23/10
After an impressive 1-1 draw away to high-flying Rangers last weekend, St Mirren are looking to consolidate their place in the top six when they take on struggling Hibs at St Mirren Park on Saturday.
Hibs sit third from bottom having amassed only nine points all season, and without the goals of Garry O’Connor to carry them they would more than likely be rooted to the bottom of the table and staring relegation in the face already.
Luckily for Hibs O’Connor has been on fire since his return to the club and his goals have been responsible for eight of the nine points that Hibs have to their name. But there is only so much one man can do on his own, and O’Connor desperately needs his teammates to start pulling their weight before they find themselves in serious relegation trouble.
St Mirren beat Hibs 2-1 at Easter Road earlier in the season, but they have only beaten them once in the last five meetings in Paisley. Neither side has scored more than once per game in any of those five meetings, and so another low scoring affair could be on the cards.
Expect O’Connor to find the net, but don’t expect a goal-fest. I say 1-1 is a good shout, and you’ll get tempting odds of 19/4 with Bwin on this outcome.
Sunday, 23rd October
Hearts v Rangers (12:30)
Home win: 4/1 Draw: 13/5 Away win:13/20
Just three weeks after humbling Celtic 2-0 at Tynecastle, Hearts welcome the other half of the Old Firm to Edinburgh’s West End looking for a repeat performance.
The Jambos started the SPL season with an impressive 1-1 draw against Rangers at Ibrox, and although their manager has changed since then the squad remains the same.
Rangers need no reminding about what a tough venue Tynecastle can be – they have lost there four times since 2005 and would have watched on with interest as Celtic were put to the sword before the international break.
If Hearts want to complete the Old Firm double they will believe that their best chance is keeping it tight early on and then hitting Rangers in the second half when the game becomes stretched. This is how they beat Celtic, and at odds of 18/5 for Hearts to win the second half there should be no shortage of takers for this option.
Rangers, on the other hand, have the most potent strike force in the SPL, and they will surely believe that attack is the best form of defence on Sunday. If Rangers can break through early they will be expected to dominate the game, and if the early goal does come then odds of 5/1 on there being more than 2.5 goals in the first half could prove to be a money spinner.
Celtic v Aberdeen (15:00)
Home win: 1/4 Draw: 17/4 Away win: 10/1
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is desperate for a win to ease the mounting pressure on him and his side, and the history books suggest that he couldn’t have asked for a better side to do it against than Aberdeen.
Celtic’s 9-0 victory over Aberdeen last season was an SPL record, but sadly for Aberdeen it was just another huge defeat in a catalogue of embarrassing collapses in Glasgow’s East End.
Since the SPL began in 1998 Aberdeen have lost 7-0 at Celtic Park twice, 6-0 once, and conceded three or more goals on no less than twelve occasions. It is a woeful record for any team, but even more so for a side who once routinely plundered victories from Glasgow in the glory days of the ’80s and early ‘90s.
Conversely, it is Aberdeen who arrive in Glasgow as the form side having won their last two SPL games and scored seven goals in the process, while Celtic followed up their defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle by scraping a 3-3 draw away to Kilmarnock, so Aberdeen fans might just see the value in long odds of 10/1 on an unlikely away win.
Nevertheless, a comfortable home win is surely a foregone conclusion again at the weekend, and at odds of 333/100 for there to be five or more goals in the match, put your money on this outcome to see a successful weekend’s return.
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