With the final international break of the season now out of the way, we’re into the final run-in of the domestic season. Eight league games remain, with a Scottish Cup semi final and hopefully a final to round it all off before the Republic of Ireland send over a team to face Celtic for Scott Brown’s testimonial.
After yet another disappointing slip up away to ten-man Motherwell before the break, we’re once again looking to put together that run that will see us clinch a seventh title and hopefully take us to Scottish Cup glory and the never before achieved back-to-back treble. With the gap in the league at ten points and a game in hand over second place, and twelve points over third place, we now need thirteen more points to officially secure the title.
But you knew that if you read my last blog when I said it was fourteen and we got a point at Fir Park!
Six of those thirteen could be picked up over the next two home games, as we face off against two teams in the middle of a relegation battle. In fact, even next weekend’s game is away to another team in that position, so our last three games before the split come against three of the bottom four.
Of course, when you’re fighting off relegation at this point in the season then every single point you can get matters, especially if they’re the unexpected points you can get from teams you wouldn’t expect – like us for example.
First up then is the home game against the team currently three points adrift at the bottom of the table. Ross County are on manager number three of the season, having sacked Jim McIntyre not long after we beat them 4-0 at Celtic Park in September thanks to goals from Tom Rogic, Moussa Dembele and two from James Forrest.
McIntyre’s replacement was Owen Coyle, and he was in charge when we won 1-0 in Dingwall courtesy of a wonderful Leigh Griffiths free kick. Speaking of Leigh, it’s great to hear that he’s fit and available for selection once more and that he might even feature today. With him back we might start scoring in the league again – despite scoring five goals away to the two teams immediately below us in the league we haven’t scored any goals in three of our last five league matches!
Coyle resigned at the start of March, and Ross County are currently co-managed by Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell. Ferguson was previously in charge for a few days between McIntyre and Coyle, although I don’t think he actually managed them during any games at that point.
In the two games since Coyle’s resignation, County have lost 3-2 at Kilmarnock and drawn 2-2 at home to Hamilton. They’re certainly scoring goals, but they can’t keep them out at the other end. They’ve not had a clean sheet since their November trip to Tynecastle, just after they lost to that Griffiths free kick.
Griffiths isn’t the only one coming back from injury. Patrick Roberts came off the bench at Fir Park and probably came closest to scoring when he hit the top of the crossbar with a curling effort. It’s great to see him back, and hopefully he’ll give us all he can in these remaining games. He’s as disappointed as anyone as to how this second loan spell has turned out due to injury, so I’ve no doubt he’ll be keen to make sure to make up for lost time.
However, it’s not all good news as Kieran Tierney is still out injured. With no real cover for Tierney, and with Mikael Lustig also being out at the time, Motherwell saw us basically play four centre backs! That’s not ideal, especially since Jozo Simunovic was suspended – and indeed will still be suspended today. But clearly Motherwell didn’t score so maybe we shouldn’t complain too much.
Unless you worry about the lack of Tierney’s attacking abilities, in which case we’re going to have the same problem today.
You’d like to think we’ll still have enough to see off Ross County, but the way this season has gone I don’t think anyone is quite as confident as we should be. Maybe though a couple of decent games over this next week or so will help build that confidence ahead of the crucial Scottish Cup semi final the week after.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)