Scottish Premiership preview: Will Rangers respond & can Lawrence Shankland score again?

1 January 2024 0 By Total Football News

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New Year, new start? Or just the same old, same old for Scotland’s top-flight clubs?

The first games of 2024 – the last before the three-week winter break – take place on Tuesday, with intriguing aspects all over the country.

Here are some of the things to look out for as all 12 Scottish Premiership teams go at it.

Game of the day – Rangers v Kilmarnock

Until Saturday, Rangers were flying. Seventeen games unbeaten – 16 of them under Philippe Clement – with a bit of silver in the cabinet and a Europa League last-16 tie to look forward to.

They were making serious inroads into Celtic’s lead at the top of the table, too. However derby defeat has stalled that momentum and shifted the title-race narrative again.

How Clement’s side – upholstered with new striker Fabio Silva – respond against an obdurate Kilmarnock will be instructive.

They are eight points behind their city rivals but retain two games in hand. So despite Saturday’s defeat, still in decent shape. Playing before Celtic kick-off on Tuesday also gives them a chance to reapply a little pressure.

But more spilled points could further dent their ambitions and Kilmarnock have shown they are capable of big results this season.

Rangers lost at Rugby Park on the opening day and Celtic have been humbled there twice this term. Granted, playing in Glasgow and on grass is a different matter, but Derek McInnes’ side are enjoying a fine campaign.

They sit fourth, with the chance of finishing the ‘best of the rest’ within their sights along with a European spot. The stage is set for a compelling contest.

Player to watch – Lawrence Shankland

Can Lawrence Shankland score for a sixth game in a row?

The last Scotsman to do so in the top flight was Leigh Griffiths for Celtic in September 2015. You wouldn’t bet against Shankland matching that feat.

Not only is he in stellar form – six goals in his last five games, 12 in his last 13, and 17 for the campaign – but Hearts’ hosts are bottom club Livingston, who have conceded 30 times in their first 20 matches this term.

Speculation continues to swirl around the Scotland forward, who has 18 months left on his deal and is attracting covetous glances from other clubs.

But rather than distract him, the talk appears to have focused the mind of the 28-year-old, who scored more than any other player in the top flight in 2023.

Manager in focus – Barry Robson (Aberdeen)

Barry Robson keeps saying Aberdeen will be fine. And there’s every chance they will be, given how strong their squad is in Premiership terms.

But he needs to start franking those words with deed if he is to reach the first anniversary of him taking charge in February.

Aberdeen are ninth, one point above Tuesday’s opponents Ross County in the relegation play-off position. For a club of their size, that is not good enough – even with the caveat of games in hand and the demands of continental competition.

St Mirren left Pittodrie with three goals, three points and the Dons’ dinner money on Saturday.

Captain Graeme Shinnie called it “embarrassing” and “totally unacceptable”. An angry Robson said it was “nowhere near the standard I expect”.

Defeat in Dingwall would be even worse.