At a glance, the Scottish Premiership table looks like business as usual. Celtic are top, on course for an eighth title in a row, with the usual suspects jostling for position in the champions’ rearview mirror.
But look closer and you’ll see a much more tightly-bunched arrangement of the country’s top four clubs.
The Hoops remain clear of Old Firm rivals Rangers and Kilmarnock at the summit, with Aberdeen still in touch down in fourth.
It’s much closer than 12 months ago. At this stage last season Celtic were already 11 points clear of Aberdeen and a whopping 19 ahead of fourth-placed Hibernian.
Thankfully for the neutral, it looks as though Celtic will be denied another procession to the title. Here, we preview matchday 24.
Kilmarnock v Hearts
It’s third against fifth in a cracking Friday night game at Rugby Park. The hosts have been in excellent form of late; unbeaten in their last seven in all competitions, including five wins.
Last time out, Steve Clarke’s men battled for a hard-fought point away to Aberdeen but will hope to get back to winning ways against Craig Levein’s side and keep the pressure up on Celtic and Rangers.
Recent encounters between these sides have been close. In fact, each of their last seven league meetings have finished either as a draw or a win by the odd goal. In November, Ross Millen’s first goal for Killie decided matters at Tynecastle and Clarke would take the same scoreline this time around, especially now that the veteran striker Kris Boyd is suspended after his red card last weekend.
Hamilton v Dundee
Hamilton Academical host Dundee in a huge bottom-of-the-table clash. The Accies are a point and a place above their opponents but are looking to stop the rot after five straight defeats in all competitions, which resulted in Martin Canning being dismissed from his managerial post.
Guillaume Beuzelin has been put in temporary charge and hopes to guide the club to their first league win since December 1.
There have been signs of life from the visitors in terms of league form, however. After stunning Hearts on their last game on the road, they were unlucky to walk away from last weekend’s clash with Motherwell empty-handed, The Well needing a David Turnbull penalty to prevail.
Dundee’s mood was soured midweek, though, dumped out of the cup after a 3-0 defeat to Queen of the South.
Dundee have won their last four games against Hamilton and, with the home side reeling after a week of upheaval, it could be another three points for Jim McIntyre’s men, which would be enough to move them above Hamilton and into tenth.
Hibernian v Aberdeen
Canning wasn’t the only major news regarding Scottish top-flight managers in the past week, of course, with Neil Lennon having left Hibs.
The Northern Irishman was suspended from duties last week before officially leaving the club, alongside his assistant Garry Parker, on Wednesday afternoon.
But the club must move on quickly as they look to secure back-to-back league wins when they welcome Aberdeen to Easter Road.
After their scoreless stalemate with Killie, the Dons can ill afford more dropped points as Derek McInnes’ men aim to clinch third spot and qualify for next season’s Europa League.
Motherwell v Livingston
Another game featuring two sides separated by just one place in the table. Livingston can move six points clear of ninth-placed Motherwell with three points at Fir Park.
But wins have been few and far between for Gary Holt’s side of late, with their last success that stunning 5-0 win over Hearts in mid-December.
The goals have dried up for Livi, too. After Hearts avenged that win to knock them out of the cup, The Lions drew blanks against St. Johnstone and Rangers.
Motherwell have found the net just five times in their last seven games, so expect this to a low-scoring clash.
Rangers v St. Mirren
Steven Gerrard’s Gers got back on track after their defeat to Killie with a 3-0 win away to Livingston and the Liverpool legend will expect an equally convincing display at home to basement club St. Mirren.
Rangers have had no trouble in the two previous encounters with the Buddies this season, both games finishing 2-0.
Alfredo Morelos, the league’s top marksman, will be looking to find the net again, having already struck home and away against the strugglers.
St. Johnstone v Celtic
The second meeting between the sides in just four days sees Celtic travel to McDiarmid Park.
Brendan Rodgers’s side ran riot here in October, with James Forrest scoring four in a 6-0 demolition.
Celtic’s previous Premiership trip to this ground resulted in a 4-0 win so the Hoops certainly have happy recent memories of making the trip up to Perth.
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