Andy Harrow of the Terrace Scottish football podcast casts his eye over four of the big games across the SPFL this weekend…
Motherwell v Rangers
Last meeting: Rangers 2-1 Motherwell (21.01.17)
Saturday's game – live on Sky Sports at 12.30pm – offers Motherwell a quick chance for revenge after Rangers knocked them out of the Scottish Cup with two late goals last weekend. Louis Moult had headed Motherwell into the lead with a quarter of an hour remaining but Kenny Miller bagged a double to send Rangers through. The score had been the same the last time the sides met in the league and, again, Miller claimed a late winner. On that occasion, back in August, Scott McDonald tapped in on 19 minutes but Harry Forrester and Miller in stoppage time turned it round.
Rangers had picked up 13 points from a possible 15 before their defeat to Celtic on Hogmanay. Their good form, which had seen them record victories against Hamilton, Hearts, Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, saw them move five points clear of Aberdeen in second with a game more played but that has now been narrowed to two points.
Well have only recorded one win in seven league fixtures and are ninth in the table. The only win in that period came away at Inverness, where goals from Craig Clay and Scott McDonald sealed a 2-1 victory, but manager Mark McGhee will be buoyed in the knowledge that his side have only lost one in the last five.
Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee United
Last meeting: Dunfermline 0-1 Dundee United (12.11.16)
Through a fixture list quirk, thes sides met twice in the space of four days in November. In a further twist, both were settled by a single goal and, in both cases, Dunfermline finished the game with 10 men. The first match, a Championship game at Tannadice, was settled by a solo Simon Murray goal following the sending off of Nat Wedderburn. A few days later the sides locked horns again - an early Mark Durnan goal was enough to see off the Pars, who had Lewis Martin dismissed in the second half.
It’s a good time to be a Dunfermline fan. It took the Pars a few months to acclimatise to their new Championship surroundings, but since their double defeats to Dundee United in November they’ve gone unbeaten in the league and find themselves in sixth, only six points off the play-offs. Their last league fixture was a home draw with St Mirren and, prior to that, they notched up excellent 2-0 victories at Stark’s Park and Somerset Park.
After a superb run of 12 games without loss – of which nine were victories and saw Ray McKinnon’s men leapfrog Hibernian, results have taken a slight dip. A surprise 1-0 defeat at Dumbarton saw United slip off top spot at New Year and they fell further behind Hibs after a 3-0 defeat at Easter Road. A thriller at Tannadice last time out saw Queen of the South take a 3-1 lead with 25 minutes to go, only for the Terrors to impressively fight back for a late point, leaving them six points behind Hibs and five ahead of third-placed Morton.
Livingston v Brechin City
Last meeting: Brechin 0-3 Livingston (29.10.16)
It was first versus second last time Brechin and Livingston met on League 1 business. It was Brechin who led the way back in October, a point ahead of Livi, but pole position would change for the ninth time in 11 weeks following this match. After a goalless first half, Liam Buchanan’s shot wrong-footed the keeper and Jackson Longridge doubled the visitors’ lead before Shaun Byrne tapped into an empty net on 86 minutes to complete the scoring.
The hosts go into the game nine points clear of second-placed Alloa with a game in hand; a dominant position which makes them big favourites for automatic promotion. However, Livi have not had things all their own way of late – two league defeats in their last three have given their opponents some hope that the gap can be made up. After festive defeats to Queen’s Park and in-form East Fife, David Hopkin’s men won 3-2 at Peterhead but they were knocked out the Scottish Cup by East Fife last week.
City may have occupied top spot the last time the sides met but since that 3-0 defeat they’ve struggled to recapture their early-season form. The Glebe Park men won the following week but six defeats in eight thereafter have seen them slip to fourth. Only four points separate second from sixth, so there is still everything to play for but Brechin will be aware there’s little room for error if they are to secure a play-off spot.
Forfar Athletic v Cowdenbeath
Last meeting: Cowdenbeath 3-4 Forfar Athletic (17.12.16)
If you’re looking for a seven-goal thriller this weekend, look no further than Station Park. Incredibly, both fixtures this season have ended 4-3 to the Angus side, with Gavin Swankie scoring a late winner in both. After Forfar triumphed in August, the two met again in mid-December in another classic. Fraser Mullen curled in a free-kick after 27 minutes to put the Blue Brazil ahead but Lewis Milne equalised against his former club soon after. Swankie got the first of his brace just before half-time, but Cowdenbeath responded with Mullen, again, and Kris Renton swinging the game back in the home team’s favour. Forfar, who extended their lead at the top following the win, equalised through Josh Peters before Swankie’s dramatic stoppage-time intervention.
The Loons have kept the rest of League 2 at arm’s length for much of the season as they hunt down both the title and only automatic promotion spot. Since a sticky period in October – when they picked up a solitary point over three matches – it’s been rare for the league leaders to drop points, let alone lose. In their last seven encounters, they’ve won five (including two 4-3 victories) and drawn twice. As it stands, they sit eight points clear of Arbroath at the top of the table.
It sometimes seems as if there’s a different side in 10th position of League 2 almost every weekend. For a division where six teams are only separated by six points, perhaps that is no surprise but it’s Cowdenbeath who are currently two points adrift. A four-game unbeaten run between November and early December suggested the Blue Brazil might pull away from the relegation play-off spot, but since then Liam Fox’s men have managed only one win in six, losing the other five.