SPL Weekend Round-Up
The Scottish Premier League returned this weekend after the Scottish Cup last week, and a total of 16 goals were scored across the six fixtures.
Celtic extended their lead at the top of the table to 18 points following their win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday, while at the other end of the table, Dundee saw the distance between themselves and safety increase even further.
In between is where the excitement really is, with only five points separating ninth place from second and all of those sides still hopeful of qualifying for Europe come the end of the season.
Let's take a closer look at what went on this weekend in the SPL.
Dundee 0-2 Ross County
Fourteen points behind St. Mirren and in 11th place, Dundee went into Friday's game with Ross County knowing that only a win would do to hang onto their slim hopes of SPL survival.
As it was, they were competitive for almost the whole game, but unable to make the breakthrough despite the return of Gary Harkins. Goals from Paul Lawson and Gary Glen were enough for County to secure the win.
County now sit ninth in the table. Dundee, quite clearly now without any hope of staying up, will hope to remain competitive through the remaining months of the campaign, and will look to ensure they're in a good position to mount a challenge to come straight back up next season.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1-3 Celtic
Ahead of Celtic's Champions League Round of 16 tie with Juventus on Tuesday, Neil Lennon made a number of changes to his side in order to keep key players fresh, but still managed to get all three points from Saturday's lunchtime kick-off.
Celtic fell behind to a Nick Ross goal after just nine minutes, but drew level soon after through Kris Commons, one of the few in the team likely to feature on Tuesday night. New signing Rami Gershon gave the champions the lead with a goal on his debut shortly after halftime.
Billy McKay had a chance to level for ICT, but his close-range effort was cleared off the line by Adam Matthews, and eight minutes from time, Miku doubled Celtic's lead to put the result beyond doubt.
After months of waiting, Celtic are now able to turn their attention fully to their illustrious midweek opponents.
Aberdeen 0-0 St. Mirren
After a reasonably promising start to the season, Aberdeen have hit a bit of a rough patch in recent weeks. They are now without a win in their last five games, with their last victory a 3-1 win over Dundee on Dec. 29th.
In contrast, St. Mirren have seven points from their last five SPL fixtures, and in that time qualified for both the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup and the final of the League Cup.
Saturday's game between these two sides was a fairly dull affair. While St. Mirren were given a slight advantage after Mark Reynolds's second yellow card reduced his side to ten men, they were unable to capitalise and make their numerical advantage count.
The first half was devoid of any real scoring chances, and while the second was a marginal improvement, it never looked like the paltry crowd of just over 7,000 were going to see a goal.
Dundee United 3-1 Hearts
Jackie McNamara's arrival at Tannadice seems to have lifted the spirits around the club, and they followed up last Saturday's defeat of Third Division side Rangers with a comfortable 3-1 home win over Hearts.
Much like last week, Johnny Russell gave his side an early advantage. From then on, it was difficult for Hearts who struggled to cope with United's threat going forward.
Willo Flood scored just after the hour mark, and although on-loan striker Michael Ngoo grabbed his second goal for Hearts with 15 minutes remaining to halve the deficit, they were unable to find the equaliser. Michael Gardyne sealed the three points for his side in the 89th minute, opening his account for United in the process.
After a disastrous run of home form, United have now won two in a row, and with the league as tight as it is, they have every chance of finishing in second place.
Kilmarnock 2-0 Motherwell
So often a problem for SPL clubs, consistency has been a major issue for Motherwell this season, preventing them from pushing ahead and making that second spot their own.
Saturday gave them the chance to move three points clear of Inverness after Terry Butcher's side lost to Celtic in the lunchtime kick-off, but they failed to turn any of their 13 shots into a goal. After a Stevie Hammell own goal had given Kilmarnock the lead after 13 minutes played, William Gros headed home with 20 minutes left to give Kilmarnock their second home win in succession.
To make matters worse, Motherwell had two men sent off, with fouls by Keith Lasley and Fraser Kerr giving the ref little choice but to issue automatic red cards.
Although they've played a game more, Kilmarnock now find themselves only five points behind Motherwell. With 13 games in the season left to play, they'll give themselves every chance of at least making it into the top six, despite the fierce competition for positions.
Hibernian 1-3 St. Johnstone
It's a question everyone seems to be asking: How is it that St. Johnstone have so many options going forward?
Despite having one of the more limited budgets in the SPL, Steve Lomas has the luxury of choosing between four quality forwards—Rowan Vine, Nigel Hasselbaink, Steven MacLean and Gregory Tade—and they demonstrated their attacking prowess Monday night, seeing off Hibs three goals to one at Easter Road.
Rowan Vine gave the Saints the lead after just 20 minutes when Ben Williams was only able to parry the original shot back into the path of the Englishman, who fired home.
Vine doubled his side's lead shortly after, and even though Steven MacLean missed from the spot, Paddy Cregg's goal just before the hour mark put the game beyond doubt.
Leigh Griffith's late goal offered Hibs some hope, but in the end it was nothing more than a consolation.