What each SPFL team has to play for going into the split

The first thirty-three rounds of Scottish Premiership fixtures have been played and the customary split has taken place. The fixtures for the remainder of the campaign have been announced with the first six taking place this weekend.

On Saturday, Rangers and Motherwell, along the bottom half of the table will face off with the remainder of teams playing each other on Sunday and today, I’ll be examining what each side has to play for going into the split. 

Celtic and Rangers - Title glory and bragging rights 

Let’s be honest, no one would’ve expected the Scottish Premiership table to look the way it does right now with five games to go. 

Celtic lead the way, sitting six points ahead of Rangers going into the split. The Hoops have came on leaps and bounds since the appointment of Ange Postecoglou and winning this league title would be bitter sweet, particularly due to the adversity that was experienced in the east end of Glasgow at the beginning of the campaign. 

Both sides will be desperate to get their hands on the trophy in the next few weeks and whoever does so will almost certainly secure Champions League group stage football for the 22/23 season, making this season’s league title all the more valuable. 

After Rangers dumped Celtic out of the Scottish Cup at the semi final stage, the Bhoys’ sole focus will be on winning the league title as it is the only competition they will be playing in between now and the end of the season whereas Rangers, as mentioned, are in the Scottish Cup final as well as the Europa League semi-finals.  

To what extent the Gers’ European exploits will affect their league trail going into the final few games remains to be seen however one thing is certain, both Callum McGregor and James Tavernier will be yearning to hold up that highly sought after piece of silverware come the final game of the season. 

Hearts - In the league, practically nothing 

Hearts wrapped up third place in the Scottish Premiership against Hibs in the final game prior to the split and a week later in the Scottish Cup semi-final, the Jambos were their rivals’ nemesis once more, winning 2-1 at Hampden. 

As a result of this win, Robbie Neilson’s men made sure they will be playing European group stage football next season whether it be in the Europa League or Europa Conference League. This is down to the Scottish Cup winners earning a place in the Europa League play offs however even if Rangers defeat Hearts in the final, the Jambos still get their Europa League play off place as it is demoted to third place in the Scottish Premiership if the cup winners are competing in Champions League qualifiers next season, something Rangers will be. 

To sum up, the only competitive match Hearts have left to play in the remainder of the season is the Scottish Cup final against Rangers. Therefore, all of their post-split games are practically meaningless thus causing player psychology to come into the fray however every single player that takes to the field for the Jambos in the remainder of the campaign will be eager to impress boss Robbie Neilson going into that showpiece final on the 21st of May. 

Dundee United, Ross County and Motherwell - The remaining European places

Out of these three, Dundee United looked the most certain to gain a top six finish. Tam Courts’ team lived up to the expectations however who finished in the final two top-six spots was utterly unpredictable. 

A colossal 1-0 victory at Pittodrie saw Ross County make their way into fifth place whilst a last-gasp Ricki Lamie header at the Tony Macaroni Arena helped Motherwell snatch a top-six place from David Martindale’s Livingston. 

With Hearts safely ahead of the pack in third and through to the Scottish Cup final, there is two more European place available to either of these teams.

Fourth and fifth will enter the second round of qualifying for the Europa Conference League at least, something that would be a big achievement for the likes of Dundee United and Motherwell but in particular Ross County after narrowly escaping relegation last season and the start they endured to the current campaign. 

Going into the run in, the final two European places are likely to be two of the most hotly contested in the Scottish Premiership. It will be intriguing to see where else in Scotland European football will be coming to next season with it already confirmed it will be being played Glasgow and Edinburgh in 22/23. 

Hibernian and Livingston - Except from trying not to lose an eight point lead on St. Johnstone, not much

Hibs rather harshly sacked Shaun Maloney at the beginning of this week and David Gray was reinstated until the end of the season. It will be intriguing to see who takes the reigns at Easter Road come the summer however right now, along with Livingston, they sit eight points above the relegation play off spot and thirteen above the foot of the table therefore it may seem the two teams don’t have much to play for going into the split. 

In spite of them most certainly not automatically dropping down into the Championship, Hibs and Livingston will be well wary of the eight point gap between themselves and St. Johnstone who occupy the relegation play off spot. 

However, it would take a dramatic collapse for either Hibs or Livi to even take part in a play off and one would think the focus for the David Gray and David Martindale will be to progress their sides’ football and give the fans something back going into the final five games of the season. 

Aberdeen and St. Mirren - Not getting dragged into the dogfight 

Both sides have went under managerial change in the past few months with Jim Goodwin leaving St. Mirren to take charge of Aberdeen and Stephen Robinson coming through the door at the SMiSA Stadium to replace the Irishman. 

The Dons and the Buddies have not been playing well since the appointment of their new managers and sit ninth and tenth respectively in the Scottish Premiership going into the final five games of the season. They both sit on thirty-six points although that is only six more than St. Johnstone who occupy the relegation play off spot. 

Therefore, with five games to go, St. Mirren and Aberdeen will be desperate to make sure they do not get dragged into the relegation dogfight however it is something you wouldn’t bet against happening with the form the two teams have been showing in recent weeks. 

St. Johnstone - Guaranteed survival 

They had been gathering some momentum throughout March and early April however a 7-0 defeat at Celtic Park brought St. Johnstone back down to earth. 

Callum Davidson’s side endured a terrible start to the league season, managing to win just three games up until February however the January transfer window combined with the return of loanee Callum Hendry has helped St. Johnstone enjoy a modest upturn in form. 

Two wins over Livingston and victories against Hearts and Motherwell have put the Sainties in an improved position to what they were previously in going into the split. 

St. Johnstone are six points ahead of Dundee who occupy the bottom spot in the league however they have still to play the Dee before the end of the season. 

Nonetheless, the priority for the Perth side will not be falling into this berth but finishing in one higher than they currently lie which would give them guaranteed survival in the Scottish Premiership rather than a dreaded relegation play off. 

Dundee - Their lives 

Under Mark McGhee, Dundee have shown the slightest signs of progression. They have drew 2-2 in their previous two matches yet remain rock bottom of the Scottish Premiership, five points behind St. Johnstone with five games to go. 

However, there is hope yet for the Dee with their maiden game after the split being against the side who sit directly above them. Taste victory and the great escape could well and truly be on although should they lose, Dundee could be staring at a place in the Scottish Championship for the 22/23 season. 

It is fair to say Dundee are well and truly fighting for their lives going into the final five games of the campaign. 

We have five rounds of fixtures between now and the end of the Scottish Premiership season and by then, we’ll know if the title is heading to Ibrox or Celtic Park, who will be playing Championship football next season, which side will compete in the relegation play off and who will earn the final two European spots. 

There will be no shortage of drama in Scotland’s top flight over the next few weeks and it will be engrossing to see the final outcomes of the 21/22 version of ‘the cinch’.  

Thank you for reading this article. If you have any thoughts or opinions, leave a comment below. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @Josh_Footblog for even more Scottish football content. 


Popular posts from this blog

Celtic Transfer Options - J. League

Celtic’s Guchi dilemma

Celtic Player Ratings v Hibs