Of the many titanic battles that take place throughout the SPFL Premiership, the fight for third place is always among the most enthralling. From Motherwell pipping Aberdeen to a lockdown-assisted European spot last season, to Kilmarnock squeezing ahead of the Dons on goal difference a year prior, we are almost always treated to some of the most competitive action Scottish football has to offer.
If the performances of Aberdeen and Hibernian so far this season are anything to go by, then we’re in for one of the most ferocious tussles seen in recent years – and that’s saying something. Both sides added to their ever-growing lists of impressive results on Saturday as they fought to keep pace with one another.
Hibs temporarily moved to second in the table after thrashing Hamilton Accies 4-0, and showcased everything good they’ve brought to the table so far this season: ruthless attacking and sturdy defending. A Martin Boyle penalty preceded Christian Doidge’s second goal in two games, before Paul McGinn and Kevin Nisbet finished things off in the second half.
The Edinburgh side now sit third in a variety of tables. They are behind only the Old Firm in terms of league position, goals scored and goals conceded, which will continue to give Jack Ross hope that his side can go all the way this year and qualify for Europe.
Aberdeen weren’t as flashy but were just as effective in their 2-0 win at home to Ross County. The Staggies seem intent on making things as hard as possible for themselves, having not won in the league since September 19, but that takes nothing away from Aberdeen’s performance.
Curtis Main notched his first two Premiership goals of the season to give himself a much-needed confidence boost ahead of an important run of form for Derek McInnes’ side where every goal will count. They can still move above Hibs into third place if they take advantage of their game in hand.
For Accies and Ross County, it’s time to regroup and try to get as many points on the board as possible. In stark contrast to Hibs and Aberdeen, these two occupy the bottom two places in the table and could slip further adrift if St Mirren win their extra game. Accies’ form has been slightly more positive than County’s, but a boost in quality from both is needed if they want to ensure survival for another season.
The staff at Fir Park will have been looking on at Main’s two goals for Aberdeen green with envy; Motherwell could certainly have done with finishing of that standard from their former striker as they slipped to a 1-0 loss against St Mirren.
Despite having more of the ball, creating more chances and having more shots at goal than the Paisley side, Motherwell lacked a clinical edge as their winless run stretched to five games in all competitions. The Steelmen have lacked a real poacher ever since Louis Moult departed for Preston North End, and it looks like that’s what they need to turn these kinds of defeats into wins.
For St Mirren, however, it was the latest success in their most impressive run of form this season, with Jamie McGrath scoring for the third game running. There doesn’t seem to be a good time to face Rangers at all these days, but the Buddies’ build-up to their League Cup quarter final has been as good as they could have hoped for.
Livingston made it three wins from three since Gary Holt’s resignation, with David Martindale doing his CV no harm should he consider applying for the manager’s job on a permanent basis. St Johnstone’s Christopher Kane had cancelled out John Guthrie’s opener, but Scott Robinson struck to ensure a tough away trip to Perth was worth the petrol money. Livingston leapfrogged their opponents in the standings and are now just two points from the promised land that is the top six.
The result brought an impressive eleven-game unbeaten run to an end for St Johnstone. These things never last forever in football but they’ll be frustrated to have been knocked down on their own turf after impressive away draws at Easter Road and Celtic Park.
Rangers’ imperious run of form stretched on for another week, but they were made to work for their money this time around. Despite having won their previous three league games with an aggregate score of 16-0, a trip to Tannadice was never going to be easy and Dundee United proved that point.
The Gers’ defenders came to their aid yet again, and this time it was in spectacular fashion. James Tavernier’s free kick will be a goal of the season contender, and Connor Goldson converted once more to wrap up the three points.
United, however, will take plenty of positives from the game. Liam Smith equalised in the first half with what was just the fourth goal Rangers have conceded in the league this season, and they restricted a free-scoring side to a ‘mere’ two goals. They remain in the top half of the table but have a tough run of fixtures coming up (including matches against direct rivals Kilmarnock and Motherwell).
Back in Glasgow, Celtic finally picked up their first league win since thrashing Motherwell back in early November. Mohamed Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy took the plaudits with their goals, but again it was Celtic’s upgraded midfield that made the difference. Ismaila Soro impressed again and David Turnbull racked up another assist after a strong European showing. Neil Lennon looks to have found an answer (of sorts) to his side’s dip in form. Whether it works in the long term remains to be seen.
As for Kilmarnock, they won’t be too disheartened. There’s never an incredible amount of shame in losing to the Old Firm, and they’ll be turning their focus to crunch matches against Aberdeen and Dundee United as they look to climb back into the top half of the table.
Featured image credit: Daily Record