Warnock reunion, red-hot Bair & Rodgers feels heat

Warnock reunion, red-hot Bair & Rodgers feels heat

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It’s hotting up at the top of the Scottish Premiership, with Rangers now level with Celtic and only behind the leaders and reigning champions on goals scored.

Meanwhile, although Heart of Midlothian appear to have third place sewn up, the battles for European football- as well as the top six and to avoid relegation remain tight before five games on Saturday and Rangers’ visit St Johnstone on Sunday.

Here are some of the major talking points this weekend.

Game of the week – Aberdeen v Hibernian

This season’s underachievers meet at Pittodrie looking for a spark that could ignite a climb up the table.

Both sides have identical records of six wins and eight draws from 24 outings, which is why they are languishing in the wrong half of the Premiership, behind four rivals who are run on much more modest budgets.

One third of Hibs’ victories have come against Aberdeen, thanks to a couple of 2-0 successes. In between, there was a drab League Cup semi-final, nicked by the 10-man Dons.

It’s worth noting that almost 20 years have passed since the Edinburgh side enjoyed three top-flight wins in a row against Aberdeen.

Hibs head coach Nick Montgomery played under Neil Warnock for seven years at Sheffield United, so there will be a nice reunion, but that’s where pleasantries will end.

Warnock will be hoping it’s third time lucky as he seeks a first league win after a narrow defeat at Ibrox and Wednesday’s topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at home to Motherwell. Montgomery is without a win in seven league matches, losing five of them.

The spirit shown in a stirring comeback from 3-0 down delighted Warnock, while the Hibs boss will be heartened by a much-improved display in a cruel loss to Celtic and a comfortable cup win in Inverness last time out – with five January signings in the starting XI at Caledonian Stadium.

This has the feel of a huge match for both managers as time to rescue a respectable campaign ticks away.

Player to watch – Theo Bair (Motherwell)

Motherwell's Theo Bair and Adam Devine celebrate
Theo Bair and Adam Devine shared Motherwell’s goals on Wednesday

The cry of “feed the Bair” has gone from being a commentating novelty to a footballing cliche in recent weeks given the Motherwell striker’s surprise goalscoring streak.

Adam Devine spoiled the ‘Three-Oh Bair’ headline by beating the 24-year-old to their side’s third goal at Pittodrie in midweek, and the hosts’ unlikely three-goal comeback took most of the attention – but the Canadian’s opening two added to one of the narratives of the season.

Some eyebrows were raised when Well signed him despite only hitting the net once in 36 outings before being released by Premiership rivals St Johnstone – but Bair’s eight goals in his latest eight games have quietened the doubters.

It takes his total for the season to 10 in 28 games, which is not bad going considering Well’s struggle for consistency and mid-table position.

Indeed, Saturday places the Premiership’s two in-form strikers head-to-head, with Heart of Midlothian’s Lawrence Shankland now one shy of his 50th Premiership goal after 11 in his latest 10 league appearances. That’s 25 in 35 games this season.

Dare we say that a goal apiece could be the Bair minimum to expect from the rival hotshots.

Manager in focus – Brendan Rodgers (Celtic)

Celtic have lost twice in the league this season. The champions are unbeaten in their latest nine games in all competitions, winning eight.

And yet there are grumbles.

Rangers have made up ground to sit level on points with the leaders, so what kind of reaction will the Celtic Park produce before Saturday’s game?

Kilmarnock have twice bloodied Rodgers’ nose since his summer return, accounting for one of those Premiership defeats and sending Celtic tumbling out of the League Cup – both of those upsets coming in Ayrshire.

However, Celtic have lost just one of their past 82 home matches against Killie in all competitions (W64 D17), the solitary reverse in that run coming in October 2012.

Performances may be workmanlike in comparison to the high-octane thrills under previous manager Ange Postecoglou and that prompted Gordon Strachan’s recent remark that following the Australian is like “headlining a concert with The Rolling Stones as the support act”.

While Rangers are on exactly the same mark as they were at this stage last season, Celtic are nine points worse off.

There are gripes about recruitment that are likely to frustrate Rodgers as much as fans and the manager has had to do without key trio Reo Hatate, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Liel Abada for large chunks of the campaign.

However, in a division that throws up so many mis-matches against the ‘big two’, his side are expected to steamroller opponents most weeks.

With a proper title race on, right now it’s just about finding a way to win every time.

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