By Liam Bryce
It’s officially the business end of the season as the SPFL releases its post-split fixtures for the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The split has divided opinion as much as it has teams in Scotland’s top flight since its introduction in the 2001-02 season, but almost always creates an added interest at the bottom of the table.
Runaway leaders Celtic are joined at the summit by Aberdeen, Rangers, St Johnstone, Hearts and for the first time, Partick Thistle.
The other half is comprised of bottom club Inverness CT, Motherwell, Hamilton, Ross County and Dundee.
The biggest losers from this year’s split are Ross County, who will be forced to play three of the remaining five fixtures away from home, while top six debutants Partick Thistle will ultimately play 20 home ties across the season.
After the fixture announcement this morning, we take a look at the most eye-catching ties from now until the end of the season.
RANGERS V CELTIC – 29 APRIL
It’s the obvious choice, but for Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha it forms part of an Old Firm baptism of fire as the Glasgow giants meet twice in six days.
The teams will clash at Hampden in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final just a few days prior, and the Portuguese coach has an opportunity to endear himself to the Ibrox support by halting Celtic’s march towards an unbeaten domestic campaign.
However, the new man will have to vastly improve upon his side’s fortunes in the fixture so far this season. With Mark Warburton at the helm, Rangers slumped to an humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of the rampant champions, before suffering a 2-1 loss at Ibrox on New Year’s Eve.
Caretaker boss Graeme Murty evoked a spirited showing from the Light Blues at Celtic Park in March, but only a last-gasp equaliser from Clint Hill saved the Ibrox club from another derby defeat.
For Celtic, a win over their fierce city rivals would be another significant step towards a flawless season.
INVERNESS CT VS HAMILTON ACCIES – 6 MAY
Hamilton Accies clung on for a spirited point against Ross County last weekend despite playing for over forty-five minutes with ten men, and could distance themselves further from the drop with victory over bottom side Inverness.
Forward Dougie Imrie claims his side are more than up for the fight, but they will have to find quality in front of goal if they want to preserve their top-flight status. Accies spurned two glorious second-half chances to score an unlikely victory over the Staggies on Saturday, and Martin Canning will be worried by his side’s profligacy in front of goal.
Inverness are stuck at the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership and their misery was further compounded by a 3-0 defeat to St Johnstone last time out. A 2-1 reverse over Rangers in February now appears to have been a false dawn, as Caley have failed to win in their six league outings since.
The two sides remain four points apart and although there are other fixtures in between, this clash could make all the difference for these clubs’ top-flight survival.
DUNDEE VS ROSS COUNTY – 13 MAY
Both these sides are skirting around the edge of the full relegation dog-fight, and although unlikely to finish bottom, the spectre of the play-offs is still looming.
After his side’s 1-1 draw with Hamilton at the weekend, Ross County boss Jim McIntyre warned his side that they are still a “long way” from safety, but they could further their survival cause by picking up points against a Dundee side in disarray.
The Den’s Park outfit have gone into free-fall in recent weeks, losing six games on the spin during a dismal run of form. Manager Paul Hartley will be all too aware that his side are now the most out of form team in the division, a statistic that rarely bodes in a relegation dog-fight.
The two teams will clash knowing that victory could secure their own safety, and plunge their rivals into the play-off mire.
The post-split fixtures kick-off on the weekend beginning 29 April, with the season concluding on 21 May.