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Scottish Premiership: What did we learn from the weekend’s games?


Scottish Premiership: What did we learn from the weekend’s games?

Media playback is not supported on this device Thommo’s Team of the WeekThe Old Firm continued to dominate, manager-less Hearts are still struggling, Hibernian blew another lead and Hamilton, Ross County and Livingston can’t buy a win at the moment.So, was it a monotonous weekend in the Scottish Premiership? Absolutely not. It was still an…

Scottish Premiership: What did we learn from the weekend’s games?

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Thommo’s Team of the Week

The Old Firm continued to dominate, manager-less Hearts are still struggling, Hibernian blew another lead and Hamilton, Ross County and Livingston can’t buy a win at the moment.

So, was it a monotonous weekend in the Scottish Premiership? Absolutely not. It was still an action packed card with last-minute levellers, penalty saves and some cracking goals.

Here are the 12 takeaways from the weekend matches…

Christie key to Celtic success

Celtic may have to make do without striker Odsonne Edouard for the time being but Neil Lennon will be thankful for being able to rely upon the goal-scoring talents of Ryan Christie. The Scotland international bagged two in the first half of his side’s win over Ross County and provided an assist in the second.

So far this season the 24-year old has provided 14 combined goals and assists in the Premiership. That works out as Christie either scoring or assisting no less than 31% of all of Celtic’s goals in the top flight. A remarkable return for the player and a reminder of just how important he has become for the Glasgow club.

Rangers stay focused

Manager Steven Gerrard will have been delighted that his side’s next fixture after an exhausting midweek battle with Feyenoord came against a Hearts side in disarray and showing no signs of recovery under caretaker Austin MacPhee.

His fear before kick-off was that they would take the eye off the ball ahead of more challenging meetings in three competitions – Aberdeen in the league, Celtic in the League Cup final and Young Boys in the Europa League.

They responded magnificently by exploiting Hearts’ lack of confidence to the full and Gerrard will have ended the weekend further pleased with the strength of his squad as Scott Arfield and Joe Aribo, restored to midfield, and Greg Stewart played important roles, the substitute attacker finding the net twice.

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Dons struggle with shape shift

Derek McInnes’ defensive tinkering almost backfired against struggling St Mirren. The Aberdeen manager’s decision to set up with a back three looked an alien concept to his players as the visitors exploited gaping gaps in the first half and had several free headers.

The formation gave them plenty of space out wide and they were a constant danger going forward, but such defensive disarray could have been punished.

Still, a much improved display after the break – and Joe Lewis’s penalty save – continued the Reds’ momentum with 13 points collected from the past 15.

Big month for Motherwell

Rarely is a 4-0 win described in such sullen terms, but Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson was not getting carried away after collecting the three points against St Johnstone.

He was honest enough to acknowledge his side toiled for long spells against the league’s bottom side, but when the chances came their way they took them. Every team below them in the table dropped points on Sunday, which only helps to boost their chances of a first European foray since 2014-15.

Four of their six festive games are against bottom-six opposition which gives ample opportunities to continue to pick up points, and keep Kilmarnock and Hibernian behind them at arm’s length.

Killie never say die

For an hour of their draw at Easter Road, Kilmarnock were limp and sluggish, in stark contrast to the all-action blitzing of Hearts last weekend.

It took them nearly an hour to register a shot, but still, back they roared. Even though Hibernian created chances of their own in the final quarter, it was Kilmarnock who made theirs count.

Under Steve Clarke and now Angelo Alessio, resilience and a never-say-die attitude has been a constant theme in the Rugby Park side’s success across the past two seasons. They kept peppering the Hibs box with deliveries and their equaliser came with virtually the last touch of the ball.

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Highlights: Hibernian 2-2 Kilmarnock

Ross needs to build Hibs’ resilience

For all of the progress Hibs have made in recent weeks, racking up victories over St Johnstone, Motherwell and St Mirren, there still lurks a defensive fragility that Jack Ross has not yet managed to remove.

In surrendering a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Kilmarnock, they shipped a lead for the seventh time this season. It’s the second time they have surrendered a two-goal advantage, and in five of those games, they have conceded goals in the final 10 minutes of matches.

Ross has Hibs playing with swagger and slickness with the ball, but he has work to do to add steel to their defence.

Winless run drags on for Livi

Gary Holt stated post-match on Saturday that “he couldn’t fault” his players following the 0-0 draw at home to Hamilton, but behind closed doors the Livingston manager might be concerned.

Saturday’s draw means Livi are without a win in their past seven games, and they have failed to register a goal in their past 270 minutes of football. Holt will feel unfortunate as his side had the better of the chances and deserved to claim all three points on Saturday. But for a post, Jon Guthrie’s header would have gone over the line.

However, Holt himself will know these hard luck stories can only stick for so long. Three points from the past 21 available is relegation form, so if Livingston want to build on last season and avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight, they will have to improve.

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Highlights: Livingston 0-0 Hamilton Academical

County lack character to get back in to games

No team in the Scottish Premiership has picked up fewer points in their past five games than Ross County. If you stretch that run back to the past 10 games then they sit second bottom, with one more point than Livingston. Although the Highland side may still be eighth in the league table, their form has undoubtedly been that of a relegation candidate.

One reason for that may be the manner in which County struggle to get back in to games once they go behind. In the five league games they’ve been losing at half time this season they’ve gone on to lose each and every one. By contrast, of the eight games they’ve been drawing at half-time they’ve only lost two. And of the two games they’ve been winning at half-time they’ve gone on to win one and draw one.

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Highlights: Ross County 1-4 Celtic

Toothless Accies settle for point

Similar to Livingston, Saturday’s draw means that Hamilton’s own winless run extends further, as the Lanarkshire side haven’t won in their past eight games.

However, unlike Livingston, it could be regarded as a point gained for Accies. Brian Rice’s side failed to have a single shot on target across the 90 minutes and still walked away with a point that lifts them two places up the league to ninth.

Rice said: “Any time you come to Livingston and take something from the match, you’ve done something right. It’s a difficult place to come. I’m delighted to come here and get a clean sheet.”

In their previous away game against Kilmarnock, even though they gave away a 2-0 lead, Rice’s side managed to take a point from Rugby Park after being reduced to 10 men just half-an-hour in. This resilience will be key to whether Accies sink or swim this season, as they look to defy the odds again.

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Hamilton’s Sam Stubbs has an embarrassing moment in their 0-0 draw with Livingston.

Another own goal for Hearts

A trip to Ibrox to face a rampant Rangers when you are auditioning to replace Craig Levein as manager is not ideal.

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So it was for Austin MacPhee and his Hearts side failed to help his chances of taking the role permanently as they meekly succumbed to a five-goal hammering.

Captain Christophe Berra has now scored one more in his own net – three – this season than any of his team-mates have at the right end of the pitch and whoever does replace Levein will inherit a squad bereft of confidence.

Buddies need a cutting edge

St Mirren’s lack of goals is killing them. For the second time in four days they put in a decent performance against a talented side and ended up with nothing.

In the first half at Pittodrie on Saturday, Jim Goodwin’s men played with slick abandon but only had Jonathan Obika’s equaliser to show for a series of efforts on goal.

They couldn’t even convert a penalty – Tony Andreu the late culprit – and have netted just 11 times in 15 matches while losing all eight away outings.

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Young defensive pairing ‘suffering’

Before the game, manager Tommy Wright said he was after an experienced defender in the January transfer window. In his post-match interview with BBC Scotland, he admitted he may need two. Three of their goals were conceded virtue of set pieces, with his side beaten in the air all too easily.

Former St Johnstone striker Billy Dodds feels centre-back pairing Wallace Duffy, 20, and Jason Kerr, 22, are unfairly feeling the brunt of their struggles.

“It could really set them back,” Dodds told BBC Scotland. “People will say, ‘they will learn from it’, but mentally that can absolutely demoralise you if you keep conceding goals. I would like to see them split up. They’ve got to be brought on in stages and throwing them on together doesn’t look like it’s working. They’re suffering at the moment and I really feel for them.”

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Highlights: Motherwell 4-0 St Johnstone

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