Celtic miles ahead, Top Six Race and a tight Relegation Battle

This weekend sees the last round of fixtures in the SPFL’s top flight ahead of the split where the league breaks into two groups of six which each club playing the five their sides in their part of the table and it’s clear that there’s no free slots in the top six in the Scottish Premiership.

Making the top six will be a priority target this weekend for three sides – St Mirren, Hibs and Livingston with two going to make it and one dropping into the bottom half of the table. Motherwell lost their admittedly slim chance of making the top six last weekend with their surprise defeat to strugglers Dundee United at Fir Park and Stuart Kettlewell’s side face the daunting task of taking on Celtic in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday afternoon.

Ange Postecoglou’s outstanding side has a 100% home record this season in domestic football and will be very keen to protect that by picking up the three points that will take the 15 points of theRangers in second place, ahead of their difficult trip to Pittodrie to face Barry Robson’s on form Aberdeen side.

Luis Duk Lopes has been outstanding for Aberdeen this season.  Seen here during the Scottish Premiership match between Ross County and Aberdeen in Dingwall, on 14 April 2023. Photo Stephen Dobson PSI

Hearts currently find themselves five points adrift of Aberdeen in the race for third spot in the Scottish Premiership after a dreadful run of results that has cost Robbie Neilson his job. He has been replaced by former Hearts and Scotland forward Steven Naithsmith until the end of the season.

Hearts this Saturday face Malky Mackay’s relegation threatened Ross County at Tynecastle in a match were both sides will be going all out for the three points.

Callum Davidson with the League Cup, he went on to win the Scottish Cup that season. Photo: Andrew Milligan

Quite remarkably St Johnstone this week sacked Callum Davidson, proving that in Scottish football memories are very short indeed. Outside of the almost all-conquering exploits of Celtic in recent times, Davidson has been the most successful manager in Scottish football. In the covid season – when Celtic decided to take a break from the trophy lifting – Davidson outperformed Steven Gerrard at theRangers by winning two major honours to the former England captain’s one. For a club like St Johnstone that is a remarkable achievement, unmatched in their entire unbroken history and yet the sack Davidson even though his side are clear of relegation trouble, for now at least.

St Johnstone welcome a Hibs side fresh from their Edinburgh Derby win over Hearts last weekend to McDiarmid Park this Saturday and it’s hard to see how the home side are going to benefit from not having Davidson in charge.

St Mirren’s home form this season has been excellent, they even defeated Celtic 2-0 in Paisley last September, thus inflicting the one and only domestic defeat suffered by the Champions and runaway league leaders. The Buddies are at home to Derek McInnes’ Kilmarnock, who have been decent at home but poor on the road all season. That looks likely to be a St Mirren win.

Derek McInnes’ side have been poor on the road this season

Dundee United, as already mentioned secured a vital three points at Fir Park last week and Jim Goodwin will want to build on that by getting the better of David Martindale’s Livingston at Tannadice. That’s one of the better venues for playing football in Scotland and many neutrals will accordingly hope that Dundee United stay up.

That just leaves the top two, Celtic should be too strong at home to Motherwell on Saturday while one Sunday match, which is live on Sky Sports, could have an impact on when – not if – Celtic win the league. Other than dropping five points from six against Celtic (and also losing the League Cup final to Ange Postecoglou’s side) Michael Beale has a perfect record against the rest of the league since his arrival.

Celtic celebrate as Kyogo scores in the League Cup Final win over theRangers

In December up at Pittodrie, his side were trailing deep into stoppage time but managed to score twice in the most dramatic of circumstance to get the points to hand onto Celtic coattails. However despite his best efforts Celtic have widened the gap and that leave theRangers manager knowing that it’s all about next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden against Celtic.

That is perhaps the final before the final as there are two lower league clubs – Falkirk and Inverness Caley Thistle – in the other semi-final and it would be astonishing if either of them could beat the winners of the other semi-final to lift the trophy. Suppose you can’t entirely rule it out, it is as they say a funny old game.

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