Scottish Premiership things to watch: Time running out in top-six scramble

Scottish Premiership things to watch: Time running out in top-six scramble

Just two games remain before the Scottish Premiership splits in two for the final run-in.

There are seven sides jostling for three spots in the top half, with a mere four points covering Dundee United in fourth to Aberdeen in 10th.

Meanwhile, Dundee and St Johnstone continue their scrap at the wrong end of the table.

Let’s take a look at what’s in store on a busy Saturday afternoon.

McGhee still waiting for first winDundee have picked up just two points in the seven matches Mark McGhee has overseen since replacing James McPake.

However, there were promising signs in a rousing first half at home to Rangers last time, and McGhee has had another 12 days on the training ground to get his ideas across.

He will certainly be hoping for a better outcome against former club Aberdeen than his last experience – a 7-2 defeat with Motherwell in February 2017.

Having won 12 league meetings on the trot against the Dark Blues, Aberdeen lost on their last visit to Dens Park and a repeat of that mid-October reverse could snuff out their chances of a top-six finish.

Jim Goodwin managed a win at his fifth attempt in the most recent round of fixtures and the new Pittodrie boss will want to see more energy and influence from Lewis Ferguson, who made his first Scotland start in Tuesday’s draw with Austria and ran the show while converting two penalties in that 3-1 success against Hibs at home.

Hibs in a hurry to end goal droughtHibs have failed to score in two home games since a double from Jake Doyle-Hayes against Ross CountyDundee United are best placed in the congested race to join the top three down the closing stretch thanks to Marc McNulty’s 96th-minute winner at St Mirren on 19 March.

With a two-point cushion over hosts Hibs, a draw would be a very handy result for Tam Courts’ side.

But a cagey approach may be counterproductive since they were a team transformed in the second half in Paisley when chasing the game and McNulty’s close-range header was just reward for their attacking endeavour.

It should also be remembered that United turned in their most clinical performance of the season for a 3-0 victory at Easter Road back in October, a first win in 10 attempts against the men from Leith.

Hibs avenged that result with 3-1 success at Tannadice in what was manager Shaun Maloney’s second game in charge. Since that Boxing Day triumph, only five more goals have been added in 11 Premiership outings – one of those was a cross that flew in and one was an own goal.

With a tough Edinburgh derby assignment at Tynecastle to follow, this is a match the home side really need to win, but can they summon the firepower?

Nothing between Motherwell & St MirrenMotherwell haven’t won a league match in 2022, but rather thank sink like a stone, they have gently wafted down the table like a falling feather.

The Steelmen ended last year with four successive home wins, keeping three clean sheets, but since then have managed just one blank in a soporific stalemate with Hibs.

With games to come against St Mirren and Livingston, Graham Alexander’s side still have a chance to end their aimless drift but defensive improvements must be found.

St Mirren have lost their way since Goodwin left for Pittodrie and, with Rangers up next, this looks like their best shot at claiming a highest top-flight finish since 1985.

The Buddies have only lost two of their last seven visits to Fir Park, while the points have been shared in four of the last five meetings between the clubs, who stand on the same points and same goal difference.

The Paisley side are the Premiership’s draw specialists with 12 so far, but it could be a case of three points or bust to avoid another bottom-half finish as manager Stephen Robinson plots against his old team.

Hearts playing for semi-final placesHearts are short of central midfield options with Cammy Devlin (above) not yet fit and Beni Baningime a long-term absenteeMiles ahead of the rest in third place, Hearts are unburdened by pressure but will seek to maintain momentum for a league and cup double-header with Edinburgh rivals Hibs.

After a February wobble, Robbie Neilson’s men are unbeaten in five games in all competitions, winning four.

Hearts haven’t lost in their last eight Premiership visits to Dingwall (W4 D4) and, with back-to-back derbies to follow, the players chosen should be well motivated to impress the head coach and a central midfield place is up for grabs with the influential Beni Baningime out for the rest of the season.

Ross County are unbeaten on their own patch this year and aiming for a third home victory on the bounce but have only won one of their last 17 top-flight games against Hearts (D9 L7).

Can Livingston cash in again?St Johnstone’s home form has picked up as they battle for survival, with two wins and two draws from five outings at McDiarmid Park in 2022.

However, Livingston are up next in Perth in a fixture that has favoured the away side in recent times, with four of the last five league matches going the way of the visitors.

For so long Livingston used to rely on doing well on the West Lothian plastic, but they are enjoying playing on grass these days and have earned 51% of their league points this season away from home (19/37) – only St Mirren (56%) have picked up a higher proportion on the road.

David Martindale’s side went five games unbeaten before losses to Celtic and Hearts and look a good bet to repeat last year’s top-six finish, which would represent a difference of around £500,000 in prize money and gate receipts.

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