Lennon to Levein to Dundee derby - 12 storylines for the remainder of the Scottish football season
There is still plenty to be decided in the SPFL this season. Joel Sked looks at some of the storylines between now and the end of the campaign.
To the untrained eye - including this writer - Celtic look worse off under Neil Lennon than they were under Brendan Rodgers.
Since his return - a 2-1 win at Tynecastle - the team have not hit the same heights as they did when the former Liverpool boss was in charge. Against Hearts, Dundee, and Rangers, two of whom were down to ten men, they have secured victory in the final five minutes. Still, they are unbeaten in eight and swept past Aberdeen at the weekend in the Scottish Cup semi final.
There are some among the Celtic support who are apprehensive about the possibility that Lennon will get the job permanently. It would be seen, at best, as a sideways move, a safe pair of hands to guide the club to 10-in-a-row. However, analysis from Blair Newman comparing Lennon and Rodgers makes for interesting reading.
What it may come down to is the style in which success is achieved. It makes the next six games, including the Scottish Cup final against Hearts, a mini job interview. If Celtic achieve victories and the Treble Treble with greater panache, Lennon would have to be the huge favourite. Lose to Hearts in the final and it will be hard to come back from that.
Rangers season is effectively over. They’ll finish second, an improvement on the last two years, with a much better points total, but they will do so empty handed. Preparation is underway for next season, but will they be doing it without Alfredo Morelos?
The Colombian will interest a number of teams across the continent this summer and Rangers could find it difficult to keep him at Ibrox.
Before then the final Old Firm game of the season is big for Steven Gerrard. A win could provide another signal that they are on the right path. Within that, can Morelos keep his emotion in check? Can he finally score against Celtic?
Finding the back of the net in a win could be a lovely parting gift. The last thing required is a sixth sending off...
Race for third
Kilmarnock and Aberdeen meet this weekend as the race for third place hits the home straight. Level on points, it is impossible to make a prediction as to who will emerge as victors on Saturday. Yet, if either side does it will put them into the driving seat.
The clubs have identical records against sides in the top six. Kilmarnock are gaining momentum with Youssouf Mulumbu back and a real steeliness to the side. Aberdeen have to reach third after a strange season to make it a decent rather than disappointing campaign.
These final five games could mark the last time we see Steve Clarke as Killie boss and Graeme Shinnie as Aberdeen captain with both possibly leaving in the summer.
Heckingbottom to thwart Lennon
You have to think that Hibs have a little bit too much to do to finish third. Six points behind, they’d need to win at least four of their five fixtures. Not impossible but improbable.
Paul Heckingbottom has proven that some pundits and writers were foolish in condemning Hibs for parting company with Neil Lennon. There is plenty of positivity with ‘Hecky at the wheel’. These games allow him to make further tweaks and decisions ahead of next season when the club will regroup.
Levein's cup opportunity
For Hearts, the remaining league games are nothing more than supporting acts to the main event. Yes, there is a chance to jump back above Hibs, but the Scottish Cup final is what matters.
The side will go in as underdogs but it presents an interesting staging post in the career of Craig Levein. Lead Hearts to victory and he becomes a legend and perhaps offers the ideal time to step aside for another manager. Lose and he will be up against anger and apathy, especially if the team start slowly next campaign.
St Johnstone record
As we enter the split, St Johnstone are the most improved team from last season in terms of points. They have earned six more compared to this time last season and are a place higher in the standings. Yet, they remain in the bottom six.
It does, however, present an opportunity for Tommy Wright’s side to record the best ever points total for the club in the top flight. To do so, they would have to win all five games.
The remaining fixtures also give Wright the chance to work out his team for next season with the club likely carrying a smaller squad.
Motherwell could, and likely will, lose two exciting academy graduates at the end of the season. Chris Cadden and Jake Hastie are both out of contract. The former has had a difficult season and is probably eyeing a fresh start elsewhere. The latter has been linked with Rangers but could potentially do with staying at Fir Park for at least another season.
Could the final fixtures influence their next move?
Race at the bottom
Hamilton just about look safe from the drop, seven points ahead of Dundee, who are three points from St Mirren.
The battle for the drop could all be over after the first couple of fixtures. But the hope is it goes to the last day. Dundee welcome Hamilton in the third split fixture, then Hamilton travel to St Mirren in the penultimate weekend of the league season before we finish with Dundee playing host to the Buddies at Dens Park.
The only issue is that Dundee already look doomed. Which isn’t good news for the next point...
Dundee play-off final?
What a way to the end the season. A Dundee derby in the play-off final. A packed out Tannadice. A packed out Dens Park. The colour, the noise, the atmosphere, the drama, the entertainment.
Both Dundee clubs are familiar with instability, either on or off the field, which only adds to the narrative. As does the fact United were consigned to the Championship thanks to a Craig Wighton goal. At Dens.
It may be unlikely. But it would be glorious.
The Championship relegation battle is the most exciting thing happening in Scottish football at the moment. Seven points separate the bottom six teams with three games remaining.
However, it could get even more exciting after this weekend’s fixtures with all six involved in games against another of the relegation battlers.
Falkirk host Greenock Morton, Queen of the South welcome Dunfermline Athletic and Alloa Athletic travel to Partick Thistle. Three homes wins would see the gap between fifth and tenth close to four points.
Raith Rovers Return
There is also an exciting relegation battle in League One with four points between the bottom four.
Then there is Raith Rovers. The only full-time team in the league but 13 points behind champions Arbroath. Their slip into third-tier mediocrity started with Gary Locke and continued under John Hughes. A possibly play-off final against Falkirk or Partick Thistle is mouthwatering... well, for Scottish football fans.
Wee Gers v Wee Rovers
Could the only English team playing in Scotland drop out of the league? If their form is anything to go by, yes. One win in 20 league games. They have failed to score in 11 of those.
Not helped by Albion Rovers being awarded a 3-0 win after Clyde fielded an ineligible player, the Wee Gers sit bottom of League Two, two points behind the Cliftonhill side.
Pressure has been mounting on manager Johnny Harvey. He even got a fan to do a post-match team talk.
Berwick and Albion come up against each other in the second last weekend of the season.