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Scottish Premiership: Things to watch out for on Saturday

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Celtic begin life without Neil Lennon on a weekend off for league leaders Rangers.

Aberdeen are back at Celtic Park for the second time in 10 days and Hibernian are looking for a third home win on the bounce after taking 28 months to get two in a row.

As the scrap for survival intensifies, Ross County aim for a third win in four outings, while Kilmarnock desperately seek a cutting edge.

Kennedy needs giant strides rather than ‘small steps’ at Celtic

Is John Kennedy a serious contender for the Celtic job following Lennon’s departure?

The quietly spoken 37-year-old looks like the odd man out on a heavyweight list of possible replacements, but this is his chance to stake a claim.

Having also worked under Ronny Deila and Brendan Rodgers, the newly-installed interim boss has been part of a hugely successful dynasty that has unravelled in such spectacular fashion this season.

The fact that defensive failings have been such a glaring weakness may be a black mark against the former centre-half. It will be interesting to see how Celtic fare in that department now that Kennedy is in charge, but his hands are tied somewhat, with Kristoffer Ajer and rookie Stephen Welsh the only available central defenders for Sunday’s defeat at Ross County.

Kennedy has spoken of “small steps” and “stripping it back to basics”, but this an audition for a job – even if he insists it is not an audition – that looks as if it will entail major surgery on the team and a big summer rebuild.

A strong league finish and Scottish Cup success was enough to elevate Lennon from an interim position into his second stint as manager in 2019. Kennedy, who starts at home to Aberdeen, is surely going to need something extra special from a squad that has unperformed miserably to be in with a shout.

A chance for Hibs to open up some daylight on Dons?

If Celtic’s players do respond positively to Kennedy’s temporary promotion it would make it a good opportunity for Hibs to pull away from Aberdeen in the race to finish third.

Jack Ross’ side are looking for a fifth successive league win and that hasn’t happened in the top flight since March 2011.

Back-to-back home victories have greatly improved what was a wobbly record at Easter Road and the prospect of making that a hat-trick is enhanced by the sparkling form of Martin Boyle and Motherwell’s recent downturn.

Boyle, so often used wide on the right, has thrived in a central striking role alongside workhorse Christian Doidge and has five goals from that four-game winning sequence, although he did have a penalty saved by Hamilton Academical’s Ryan Fulton last weekend.

Can Martin Boyle continue his scoring his scoring streak at home to Motherwell?
Can Martin Boyle continue his scoring his scoring streak at home to Motherwell?

Motherwell, patched up in central defence of late, dug out a goalless draw at St Mirren on Wednesday following two heavy home losses, but they haven’t picked up three points in Leith since August 2013 (D3 L4).

The Steelmen have scored 26 goals in 30 Premiership games this term. When last season was curtailed at the same stage, that figure was 41.

For Hibs, already four points in front of Aberdeen with a game in hand, the numbers are much the same – 41 goals in 29 this time, compared to 42 in 30. The big improvement has been at the back, with 26 goals conceded after letting in 49 across one more match last time.

Can Kilmarnock stop the rot?

Tommy Wright is still waiting for his first points as Kilmarnock manager. The Northern Irishman has opened with three successive 1-0 defeats, extending the Ayrshire club’s losing run to eight.

That alarming slump has left them level on points with bottom side Hamilton, while Accies and Ross County in 10th both have recent successes to build on.

Killie desperately need to find some momentum in their three outings before the league split; Dundee United at home, Ross County away and Motherwell at home.

Kyle Lafferty
Can Kyle Lafferty end Killie’s run of five games without a goal?

New arrival Kyle Lafferty got 45 minutes at Pittodrie last Saturday and the 33-year-old may be their best hope of survival. For that to happen, the former Rangers striker will need much-improved service from the flanks.

United, in a tussle for sixth spot, were overwhelmed at Ibrox last time and have won just one of their last 13 away league outings (D6 L6). Home fans clutching at straws will note the last time they suffered back-to-back away defeats was in September – against Kilmarnock and Rangers.

A win would be big for Buddies’ top-six ambitions

St Mirren have become February’s draw specialists, with four in a row, and they could do with a victory as United and St Johnstone give chase for the one up-for-grabs spot in the top half of the table.

The Buddies have their noses in front in that contest and have the apparent advantage of facing strugglers County and Hamilton either side of a trip to Ibrox before the divisional split.

Jim Goodwin, recently rewarded with a new contract, always has his side well organised, but the goals have dried up and Wednesday’s drab stalemate with Motherwell will not live long in the memory.

“We need to go for the jugular and get that all-important win,” Goodwin said, but how easy will that be against a side buoyed by a win over Celtic last Sunday?

Well, the Dingwall side haven’t managed back-to-back victories since the opening weeks of the season in August and have only won one of their last six top-flight league trips to Paisley (D2 L3).

However, they will be scrapping for their lives and left with maximum points on their last away trip at Hamilton.

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