Scottish Premiership: What did we learn from the weekend’s games?

Team of the week

There was no international hangover for the Old Firm as reigning champions Celtic and nearest challengers Rangers continued where they left off before the break with victories that keep them neck and neck at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

There were plenty of talking points elsewhere too, with contrasting fortunes at Hearts and Hibs after management changes and St Johnstone managing to pick up a point despite having two players sent off.

Here are the 12 takeaways from the weekend matches…

Two managers in Glasgow smiling

It was a day when James Forrest added another two goals to his Celtic tally, 18-year-old right-back Jeremie Frimpong put in a performance that manager Neil Lennon described as the best he had ever seen and, crucially, it was a 4-0 win as the Glasgow side maintained top spot ahead of their Old Firm rivals Rangers.

But the story of the 4-0 win over Livingston was the return of Leigh Griffiths.

Celtic have not done too badly without him since they lost 2-0 to the same side at the start of October, winning six from six in the Premiership, beating Lazio home and away in the Europa League and reaching the League Cup final.

But, with the title race looking like it will be the tightest in years, a treble to defend and a Europa League last-32 place to look forward to, Griffiths’ return is a welcome one for manager Neil Lennon. A few miles further south at Hampden Park, a certain Steve Clarke will be punching the air too at having the 29-year-old back in contention for a Scotland call-up.

Kent on song as Rangers leave it late to make points safe

Ryan Kent scored his first goals of the season as Rangers beat Hamilton Academical 3-1.

The first was a fantastic strike, with manager Steven Gerrard describing the fizzing shot into the top corner as “world class”, while the second was a composed finish deep into stoppage time.

The £7m winger is not quite 100% fit after his summer move from Liverpool – a daunting thought for opposition full-backs.

Gerrard also described the 3-1 victory at Hamilton as “very mixed” and will know his side need to improve on moments of defensive slackness when it comes to Thursday’s Europa League trip to face Feyenoord. Jermain Defoe had scored four in his last two outings against Accies but looked out of sorts up front before Alfredo Morelos came off the bench late on to lay on Kent’s second goal and underline his status as the club’s ‘alpha striker’.

Aberdeen miss creative spark from midfield

Aberdeen have one of the league’s best defences and one of its most potent attackers in Sam Cosgrove. The Englishman’s goal against St Johnstone, his 17th of the league season, was a joy to behold but was more a piece of individual brilliance than the result of a flowing attacking move.

A ponderous attack has been a common theme for Aberdeen this term, with their midfield stacked with holding players of a similar mould and Jon Gallagher not hitting heights that might have been expected after good performances earlier in the season. Manager Derek McInnes is missing someone like Ryan Christie or James Maddison, who both spent time on loan at Pittodrie before going on to flourish, to add another dimension to their attack.

Perhaps, once Funso Ojo and Craig Bryson return to full fitness, the dynamic Lewis Ferguson could be pushed forward to fulfil that role.

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Highlights: St Johnstone 1-1 Aberdeen

Motherwell lack cutting edge

Although Hibs deserve plenty of praise for their 3-1 victory at Easter Road, it was by no means a poor performance from Motherwell. Stephen Robinson’s side started brightly and deserved their early lead when Liam Polworth struck after nine minutes.

Unfortunately for them, that sparked Hibs into life, with Jack Ross’ side producing their most scintillating half of the season to turn the game on its head. But, over the course of the game, the visitors edged the possession, had one more shot than Hibs and had 10 corners compared to just one for the hosts.

“What you do in the two 18-yard boxes is what counts,” Robinson said. “We didn’t finish chances when we had them and we didn’t stay with runners and got punished for that.”

That was Motherwell’s main problem – they failed to create any significant goal-scoring opportunities after taking the lead, while Hibs were able to carve them out relatively easily. They’re now without a clean sheet in their last six games and will be hoping to put that right when St Johnstone visit Fir Park on Saturday.

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Monday jury: Should Motherwell have had a penalty?

Burke rolls back the years

Angelo Alessio said: “I see Chris Burke every day and he seems not to be 35 years old. He’s like a young man.” The former Scotland winger was sensational as he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Hearts. Young left-back Aaron Hickey will be having nightmares about Burke running at him, while Michael Smith will be having cold sweats thinking about backing off as the Kilmarnock man charged at him for the best part of 50 yards before scoring.

Burke has Mohamed El Makrini to thank for his unselfish play in setting up the game’s first goal before the Scot turned provider for Eamonn Brophy’s sublime header.

Although Kilmarnock were frustrated by the scrappy nature of the second half, at no point did the hosts look like throwing this one away. With the damage done early on, they could afford to spend time on the ball and make Hearts do all the work.

With two wins, two defeats and a draw in their last five games, Alessio will be looking to turn this dominant performance into a run of consistent results that could be the foundation for a successful term for the Ayrshire side.

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‘It’s one of the best 45 minutes of the season’

Bad form may continue for County

Ross County hit the ground running at the start of the season with a run of form during which they lost just three of their opening 10 games in all competitions. However, such lofty heights now seem like a lifetime ago.

Indeed, Saturday’s defeat by St Mirren was an eighth consecutive league game without a win for the Highland side and just two points won from their last five is undoubtedly the kind of form that could result in the Dingwall side getting dragged into a relegation battle.

Co-managers Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell’s next task is to take points off Celtic before Hibs, Rangers and Kilmarnock await. Hardly the type of games you wish for when trying to resolve problems with your side.

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Highlights: St Mirren 2-1 Ross County

Too early for panic at Livi

Livingston’s defeat by Celtic left them without a win in six games. They have not won since beating the Parkhead side since October.

But playing Celtic and Rangers back to back is not easy for any team. Prior to that, they had posted draws with Hibs and Hearts, while only a late Allan Campbell goal denied them another point at Fir Park against Motherwell. Two international breaks in that time have made it seem like an age since they last picked up three points.

On the horizon, though, four of their next five games come against teams currently occupying the bottom six. Three of them are at home at a venue where only Aberdeen and Rangers have defeated Livingston this season.

After that, a truer picture will begin to emerge of how the season is likely to pan out for Gary Holt’s side.

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Highlights: Celtic 4-0 Livingston

Accies ready for ‘a dogfight’

Hamilton forward Mickel Miller will be kicking himself after a quite remarkable miss, squandering a close-range chance to bring his side level for a second time.

However, manager Brian Rice saw plenty to be pleased with as his side stayed in the game right up until Ryan Kent made it 3-1 to Rangers in stoppage time.

“We are going to be in a dogfight,” Rice said. “Let’s not make any mistakes about that. There are going to be five or six teams in a dogfight and we are going to be one of them.

“But I’ll tell you one thing: we are always up for a fight. You saw a team out there that never gave up. They play for one another, for me and for the club. There will be good days and there will be bad days.”

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‘Miller probably should be making it two-each’

Austin MacPhee’s managerial bid dealt a blow

Before kick-off, interim Hearts manager Austin MacPhee said he wanted “to get on the front foot” against Kilmarnock. After 19 minutes, his side were 3-0 down.

This performance will set alarm bells ringing for MacPhee if he is serious about getting the job on a permanent basis. Hearts looked flat and disorganised and it wasn’t until the second half when they looked capable of a comeback.

Craig Levein’s former assistant was audibly disappointed after not capitalising on his side’s home win against St Mirren before the international break. Where in that game Hearts were dominant and controlled the second half, this weekend, the capital side struggled to make any impact. Aaron Hickey was utterly outplayed down his left side as veteran Chris Burke rolled back the years and the youngster was hooked at half-time to spare his blushes.

Hearts have not scored in five away games

St Mirren call on defensive fortitude

While Saturday’s clash with Ross County was almost defined by St Mirren’s inability to convert chances into goals, the result itself was built upon strong, defensive foundations that have been evident since the start of the season.

Jim Goodwin’s side have only conceded two games at home this season. No other team in the Premiership can boast a better record than that and it is considerably better than the nine and 14 goals Hamilton and St Johnston have respectively shipped in front of their own fans so far this season.

Which may explain why St Mirren are now above them in the table.

St Mirren have the joint-best home defensive record in the league

Hibs find winning formula

Jack Ross’ first week at Hibernian could not have gone much better. A convincing win at home to one of the Premiership’s in-form teams is exactly how he would have wanted to start his time at Easter Road.

Although, by his own admission, Ross did not have to do too much preparation for this game. Last week’s interim manager, Eddie May, had produced a 4-1 win away at St Johnstone as a blueprint for Ross to follow – and so he did. A completely unchanged line-up and, but for a slow opening nine minutes, it worked like a charm.

Hibs’ strike duo – Christian Doidge and Florian Kamberi – proved once again to be a handful, with both getting on the score-sheet. Vykintas Slivka and Melker Hallberg dominated and controlled the middle of the park. Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon dealt comfortably with the barrage of crosses and corners sent into their box, although the former may have been lucky to avoid giving away a penalty and consequently earning a second yellow card.

Nonetheless, it was a very good performance from top to bottom, offering entertaining, attacking football with a solid base off the ball. Unless Ross feels the need to rotate the squad and rest players, it would be a surprise to see any changes for Tuesday’s trip to St Mirren.

Sparkling Kennedy needs help

Matty Kennedy grabbed the all-important equaliser for St Johnstone against Aberdeen on Saturday as the Perth side moved level on points with the three teams above them at the foot of the table.

The winger’s pace and superb finish for the goal was far from his only contribution, though, as he rampaged down the left flank to give Aberdeen right-back Shay Logan a torrid afternoon.

However, Tommy Wright’s side have scored just 13 Premiership goals so far this season, the second fewest, with Kennedy their top scorer in the league with three. The Northern Irishman needs more from strikers Stevie May and Callum Hendry – and their other forward players – if they are to steer clear of relegation. Particularly as their defensive record is the second worst in the Premiership.

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