Scottish Premiership picks: Edinburgh derby to settle fourth & shootout to avoid play-off

Scottish Premiership picks

Going into the last round of games in the Scottish Premiership, most of the major issues have been resolved.

Dundee United are doomed for the drop, barring an unlikely sequence of results, but we still don’t know who will be in the play-off. It just so happens the two contenders are facing off.

Fourth place is still up for grabs and the two sides in the running also meet – in a derby no less.

Champions Celtic need two goals at home to Aberdeen to equal the Lisbon Lions’ league tally of 111, although it should be pointed out the famous class of 1966-67 played four games fewer.

Here are just a few of the things to look out for on the final weekend of a memorable campaign.

Saturday’s game of the day – Heart of Midlothian v Hibernian

Edinburgh derbies are rarely classics, but they are always feisty and this one has some extra spice.

With two points separating the city rivals, Hearts will clinch fourth place and the guarantee of European football if they avoid defeat at Tynecastle. Hibs must win.

Hearts are placing extra emphasis on attack under the temporary guidance of Steven Naismith, while Hibs have been more menacing in the second half of the campaign thanks to the return of Kevin Nisbet and the blossoming of Elie Youan.

Both sides have an issue with coughing up cheap goals too.

The form book favours Hearts, with seven wins from the past 12 derbies to Hibs’ two, while the visitors have won just five league games on the road this season.

However, Hibs were celebrating a thoroughly deserved victory when the teams met at Easter Road last month, having been battered twice by their neighbours in January in league and cup.

Hearts have not had much to shout about at the end of term of late, losing their closing match in each of their past five Premiership campaigns and without a final-day win in the top flight since 2003-04, but they did come out on top the last time the curtain fell with a derby back in 1999-00.

Sunday’s game of the day – Kilmarnock v Ross County

If nerves are jangling in Gorgie, spare a thought for these two who meet at Rugby Park, with the prospect of a play-off to avoid relegation awaiting the loser.

Ross County are three points behind but have a superior goal difference. They need to win to avoid a two-legged shootout for survival against Partick Thistle or Ayr United, who play their second leg on Friday evening.

Kilmarnock will be feeling good after swatting aside Dundee United on Wednesday, almost certainly consigning the Tannadice outfit to relegation in a high-stakes game. They are also unbeaten in six Premiership home games against County, winning four of them.

The visitors might be a bit scrambled after conceding last-gasp goals in their latest two encounters, a 1-0 defeat by Motherwell and a crazy 3-3 draw with St Johnstone on Wednesday.

But they did show great resolve to come back from 2-0 down in midweek and they have won on five of the six occasions when their final match of a top-flight season has come away from home, with two of those coming at Rugby Park (2016-17 and 2014-15).

There is a worst-case scenario for County where they finish bottom, but that would require a bedraggled United winning away to in-form Motherwell and an improbable eight-goal swing.

Player to watch – Kevin van Veen (Motherwell)

Motherwell striker Kevin van Veen
Motherwell may well be tempted to cash in on Kevin Van Veen, who has one year remaining on his contract

If Dundee United go gung-ho chasing a bucket load of goals at Fir Park, a certain Mr Van Veen will be licking his lips.

He might already be salivating given United’s bad habit of gifting goals.

The Motherwell striker has scored in 10 consecutive Scottish top-flight games and he will be determined to add to that tally in what is very likely his farewell game in claret and amber.

There is also the incentive of becoming the league’s highest scorer since he is just one behind Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi and level with Hearts’ Lawrence Shankland.

Manager in spotlight – Steven MacLean (St Johnstone)

St Johnstone’s Steven MacLean is one of two interim bosses at the helm in the league and he will be desperate to impress.

Since replacing Callum Davidson, the former Saints striker has won two, drawn two and lost one. If he can sign off with a home win against Livingston then it looks like a pretty straightforward decision for those running the show at McDiarmid Park.

However, Livi have had St Johnstone’s number this season, winning all three of their league meetings, and they are only one point behind in a tussle with Motherwell to end up top of the bottom-six tree.

Lose and suddenly MacLean’s brief CV starts to look rather ordinary.

BBC News

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