What every Scottish Premiership club has to play for going into the post-split fixtures
The Scottish Premiership resumes next weekend with the first of five post-split matchdays. We look at what every top-flight club has to play for going into the home stretch of the 2020/21 season.
Seven points behind Hibs with five games to play, it’s unlikely they’ll get third place. However, in this strange campaign, with Celtic always on the verge of a meltdown and Rangers with little to play for, it isn’t inconceivable they could catch the Easter Road side. Mainly, though, these matches will be an exercise for Stephen Glass to figure out what needs to change ahead of next season, while they also have to be careful they’re not caught in fourth by Livingston.
There’s no chance of them moving out of second place so it’ll all depend on whether they plan on hiring a new manager before the end of the season or allow John Kennedy to see out the campaign in interim charge. Either way, these will be the last five fixtures in a green-and-white-hooped shirt for a lot of players.
It’s almost mathematically impossible they’ll be relegated so the only thing to concentrate on is trying to finish best of the rest. Supporters will also want to see some football that doesn’t want to make them donate their eyeballs to medical science. Micky Mellon has been frustratingly conservative at times this campaign, but since it’s became apparent they were in little danger of going down he’s loosened the leash somewhat.
The league’s bottom club still have 15 points up for grabs as they aim to perform another great escape in the Premiership relegation dogfight. A point from Kilmarnock and two from Ross County, it’s far from inconceivable they’ll do it again, especially with attackers Ross Callachan and Bruce Anderson in good form. They’ll need to avoid the injury bug that’s plagued them all season, though.
Third place is within reach, they just need to grasp it. In order to do so, they’ll have to improve on many of their Easter Road showings this season when St Johnstone and Livingston come to town. Jack Ross’ men have won just six of 16 home matches, compared with ten of 17 away. Otherwise, with trips to Pittodrie and Ibrox and a final-day visit from Celtic, this has the potential to go spectacularly wrong.
The Rugby Park side sit in 11th place, just a point off the bottom. The good news is that they’re also just a point away from safety and supporters will be hoping the recent 4-1 victory over Motherwell, their first in 10 matches and first under new boss Tommy Wright, signals a corner being turned. They also hold a vastly superior goal difference compared with either of their relegation rivals. A last-day trip to Hamilton has the makings of a thrilling decider.
With just one victory in eight, the season is in real danger of petering out for the Lions. But there is still a lot to play for with the prospect of European football on the horizon. Should the Scottish Cup winner come from any of teams occupying the top four places then fifth will represent entry into the Europa Conference League qualifying rounds when the competition launches next term. There’s also the opportunity to qualify without worrying about the cup by catching Aberdeen, who sit just four points ahead.
The only likely interloper to crash St Mirren and Dundee United’s battle to finish best-of-the-rest in the bottom six. Otherwise, manager Graham Alexander will be having a close look at his squad as he looks to shape it in his own image ahead of next season. No fewer than 17 players are out of contract at Fir Park in the summer.
Unable to catch Celtic’s record points total from the 2016/17 season, the only thing left for the Ibrox club to conquer in the Scottish Premiership between now and the end of the campaign is matching the feat of Brendan Rodgers’ men and remaining unbeaten through 38 games. Avoiding a loss against Celtic in the May 2 meeting at Ibrox (unless they’re drawn together in the Scottish Cup) would also give them a first undefeated top-flight season against their rivals since 1999/2000.
Like Hamilton and Kilmarnock, John Hughes’ side are fighting for their top-flight lives. They current sit in tenth place, a point above Kilmarnock and two above Accies. Results have been patchy but certainly improved compared with Stuart Kettlewell’s tenure. They also defeated both Killie and Accies the last time they met, which should give them a confidence boost going into those post-split clashes. They end their season with a trip to Motherwell.
Saints snuck into the top six on the final day thanks to an injury-time equaliser from Accies against St Mirren and they’ll be determined not to simply make up the numbers. Livingston are just four points ahead. Going on form over the last couple of months, Saints have every right to believe they can climb over the side they defeated in the Betfred Cup final and claim a European place that looked improbable just a couple of months ago.
Jim Goodwin will be looking to pick his players off the canvas after conceding the late equaliser at New Douglas Park which cost them a top-six place and their highest league finish since the mid-80s. A club on the up, St Mirren will be looking to make another assault on the elite half of the league next term. Letting this campaign merely peter out will not be good for their momentum heading into 2021/22.