Scottish Premiership picks: Daunting task for managerless Aberdeen as Shankland & Martindale stick around

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Of course, January could not come and go without incident in the Scottish Premiership.

Results, VAR controversies and signings continued apace as January rolled into February, but the week’s big news was the first top-flight managerial sacking of 2024 – Barry Robson.

He left Aberdeen almost a year to the day he took over from Jim Goodwin as caretaker, later formalising the role.

Continued domestic struggles resulted in Robson’s dismissal and the task for his replacement – Peter Leven on a temporary basis – looks even more daunting as the next round of fixtures arrives on Saturday.

Game of the day – Aberdeen v Celtic (12:30 GMT)

If Leven was given the choice of his first fixture as Aberdeen caretaker boss, there’s next to no chance it would be Celtic.

And it’s not just because of the visitors’ status as reigning champions and league leaders.

Aberdeen have not taken so much as a point off Celtic in nine meetings, last beating them almost six years ago.

Since that 1-0 win at Celtic Park, four different Aberdeen managers have watched on as Celtic have scored 56 goals against the Dons (16 on Robson’s watch) over 23 games in all competitions. Fourteen goals have gone in at the other end, meaning Celtic average four goals to every one by Aberdeen.

This season, the Dons have issues at both ends of the park. Only three sides have netted fewer times and their goals against tally of 33 is higher than seven of their peers.

The game is not just about Aberdeen and their woes. Celtic have the chance to re-establish an eight-point lead at the top – at least until second-placed Rangers face Livingston later in the day.

However, with such a strong record at a ground where they have not lost in eight years, Brendan Rodgers’ side travel with confidence as they seek a seventh consecutive victory.

Player to watch – Lawrence Shankland (Heart of Midlothian)

The winter transfer window came and went and Lawrence Shankland is still a Heart of Midlothian player.

The Scotland striker’s much-touted move to Rangers, or indeed anywhere else, did not materialise and, with a new contract on the table, there’s every chance the 28-year-old will remain at Tynecastle beyond this season.

Dundee are in his sights next as Hearts seek to maintain their comfortable position in third.

And Shankland has demons to arrest, having failed to score against the Dark Blues already this season and missed a penalty when Hearts defeated Dundee 3-2 last month.

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Manager spotlight – David Martindale (Livingston)

While Robson was shown the door at Pittodrie, staying put in the dugout is Livingston counterpart David Martindale.

A morale-boosting performance and a point against Ross County on Tuesday at last gives the side sitting bottom of the table something to build on as they plot a course to safety.

Livingston are six points adrift of County and Derek Adams’ side have played two games fewer.

And up next for Livingston? Title-chasing Rangers at Ibrox.

Not the place where you want to go as you look to end a 15-game run without a league win.

Especially so since Livi have conceded 15 goals in four straight defeats by Rangers without scoring, have not beaten the Ibrox side in 20 meetings since September 2018 and have never won in Govan after 23 visits.

But records, as ever, are there to be broken.

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