Andy Harrow of The Terrace Scottish football podcast picks four games to look out for in the SPFL this weekend.
Heart of Midlothian v Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Last encounter: Inverness CT 3-3 Hearts (29.10.16)
One of the games of the first half of the Premiership season as Hearts rallied from 0-2 and 2-3 down to earn a draw in the Highlands. David Raven volleyed Inverness ahead and Lonsana Doumbouya made the most of a quick counter-attack to put the hosts two ahead after 32 minutes. Bjorn Johnsen reduced the arrears before half-time then Hearts levelled in fortuitous circumstances; Faycal Rherras’ deep cross evaded everyone, including goalkeeper Cammy Mackay, and found its way into the net. Aaron Doran soon put Inverness back ahead but Robbie Neilson’s side equalised for a second time when Arnaud Djoum drilled the ball past Mackay.
February has seen a dramatic upturn in form for the Jambos. After picking up only one league win throughout December and January, which saw the Edinburgh side drop off the pace for second, this month began in explosive fashion. The 4-1 victory over Rangers at Tynecastle was a real statement of intent from Ian Cathro’s revamped charges. They followed it up with a 3-0 away win over Motherwell and, although the Scottish Cup draw with rivals Hibernian was the very definition of a stalemate, Hearts go into Saturday in confidence and looking to chase down Rangers and Aberdeen.
Richie Foran will be hoping there’s no hangover from his side’s 6-0 defeat at Parkhead last weekend. Prior to that game, his team had shown spirit to come from two goals behind against Dundee to grab a point and the manager will be looking for more of the same on Saturday. The Premiership's bottom club haven’t won a league game since a 3-0 victory away to Motherwell in October and sit three points behind second-bottom Hamilton. A win at Tynecastle, therefore, would be invaluable to the Highland club’s aspirations of avoiding relegation.
Raith Rovers v Hibernian
Last encounter: Hibernian 1-1 Raith Rovers (24.12.16)
This draw at Easter Road was, perhaps, most notable for being the last time Raith Rovers picked up a Championship point. A win for Rovers would have moved them into the promotion play-offs but, as it was, a draw was enough to keep on the coat-tails of Falkirk. Hibs, meanwhile, slipped behind Dundee United into second place. In the time since, six straight defeats have seen the Kirkcaldy men drop to third bottom, while Hibs have moved back ahead of Dundee United, opening up a six-point gap in the process.
As for the game itself, Jean-Yves M’Voto headed the away side into the lead just after half-time and, despite constant Hibernian pressure, looked like they would hold out for the win until Martin Boyle steered in from a Grant Holt flick with two minutes to go.
Rovers’ disappointing form since October has seen the club slide down the table and a 1-0 defeat at home to Morton ultimately put paid to Gary Locke’s tenure at the helm. John Hughes has arrived on a deal until the end of the season and the experienced ex-Hibs and Inverness manager will be looking to get off to a good start against his old club on Saturday.
Since the Christmas Eve draw with Raith, Hibs have moved into a dominant position at the top of the Championship. Good wins away to Falkirk, Dumbarton and Queen of the South, and at home to Dundee United, have left them with breathing space in first. However, following a draw at home to Ayr last time out, they will know there are still plenty of twists and turns in the division to come.
Queen’s Park v Alloa Athletic
Last encounter: Alloa Athletic 1-1 Queen’s Park (17.12.12)
It was all square the last time the sides met. A win would have moved the Spiders level with fourth-placed Alloa and they took the lead at the Indodrill Stadium through Ross Millen but Greig Spence pulled the hosts level seven minutes later. Two months on and Alloa are one point and one place above the Spiders, with both in the top four.
Two goals in two games from Hearts loanee Dario Zanatta have helped keep the Spiders in promotion contention. The young Canadian was on target as the Hampden side drew 2-2 with in-form East Fife and he scored again last weekend as the 10 men of Queen’s Park overcame Stenhousemuir. Having started the season in Glasgow, Zanatta found himself back at Tynecastle to help his parent club knock out Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup. Back for a second spell at Queen’s Park, he’s started impressively.
Alloa may not have won in three, but their last result and performance would have given Jim Goodwin encouragement. Against runaway leaders Livingston, he saw his side relinquish an early lead only to recover and snatch a point with four minutes to play. That spirit will serve the Wasps well, as will the fact they’re playing away from home – Alloa’s last three victories have all come on their travels.
Elgin City v Clyde
Last encounter: Clyde 2-1 Elgin City (05.11.16)
Clyde effectively won this match within the first six minutes. David Gormley fired the hosts ahead after two minutes then Peter MacDonald doubled the lead. Although Elgin pulled a goal back through Darryl McHardy on the hour mark, the Highlanders couldn’t find an equaliser.
Forfar may appear untouchable at present at the summit of League 2 but Elgin are sitting comfortably within the promotion play-off places. Four points ahead of Annan and eight ahead of Montrose in fifth, they can take a step closer to the end-of-season showdown with a win on Saturday. Three wins and a draw – against Forfar – in their last four mean they go into Saturday in form and high in confidence.
Saturday may prove crucial in defining Clyde’s season. Currently, Barry Ferguson’s men sit sixth, eight points behind fourth-placed Annan, so a defeat would make reaching the promotion play-offs a tough ask. Despite a strong start to the season, form has dipped of late and the last league victory came in November against Berwick. However, Clyde do have three games in hand on Annan and will be buoyed by their performances in the Scottish Cup against Ayr over the past week.