Celtic have an Achilles heel at deadball deliveries that Aberdeen must exploit to reignite the bid to finish in third spot.
The defending champions are reeling after crashing 1-0 at Ross County on Sunday.
I won’t class losing to relegation-battling Staggies as a “shock” as Celtic are vulnerable if put under pressure defensively – particularly from deadball deliveries.
Of the goals Celtic have conceded this season, 43% have come from set pieces.
Their weakness is clear and Niall McGinn has the skill to exploit it at Parkhead on Saturday. That was underlined with his superb free-kick delivery for Callum Hendry to head home in the 1-0 defeat of Kilmarnock.
McGinn can supply pinpoint ammunition into the box and the Dons have the aerial threat to capitalise.
With the Reds trailing Hibernian by four points, who have a game in hand, with only eight games remaining – jumping the Easter Road side to secure third will be tough, but can it be done?
Victory at Parkhead could be the catalyst to ignite that bid.
Following a poor start in the 1-0 loss at Parkhead last week, the Reds found their rhythm in the remaining hour and were unfortunate to lose. McInnes went with a strike partnership of Florian Kamberi and Fraser Hornby in a 3-5-2 at Parkhead.
Hornby will be unavailable due to a thigh injury. However, that formation was proven to work so Callum Hendry should come in to partner Kamberi.
There is already a sense of “what if” about the Dons’ failure to punish Celtic’s collapse to push for a runners-up finish and Champions League qualification.
That is gone, but the season is still very much alive.
This campaign the race for third has taken on added significance as it could provide a fantastic opportunity of reaching the money-spinning Europa League group stages.
In next season’s Europa League, the seven domestic cup winners from associations currently ranked 8–14 in the Uefa coefficient standings will enter at the play-off round.
Scotland are sitting at 14th, so this season’s Scottish Cup winners would be just one two-legged tie away from the group stages, which bring £3 million in prize money alone. Add in almost £500,000 per group stage win and £165,000 per draw – and that is before crowd receipts are factored in (should supporters be allowed back in time for European ties).
This season it is looking increasingly like the Scottish Cup won’t be completed – so that Europa League play-off spot will subsequently go to the team finishing third.
Aberdeen have failed in the previous seven seasons to even reach the play-offs, crashing out six times at the third qualifying round and once at the second qualifying round.
Discover form domestically in the remaining eight games of the season and they can secure a highest ever Euro spot under the management of Derek McInnes – without kicking a ball on the continent.
Why are SFA letting officials go to Greece anyway?
The SFA’s Covid blunder over match official Graeme Stewart is embarrassing and sends out concerning mixed, and confusing, messages.
Stewart was the assistant referee for the Premiership clash between Hibernian and Hamilton at the weekend.
However, he should have been self-isolating.
Stewart was one of three Scots officials, alongside Bobby Madden and David Roome, who oversaw a Greek derby match between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos the previous weekend.
Roome later tested positive on their return, while Stewart and Madden both returned negative test results. It later emerged the SFA’s head of referees did not factor in differences between Scottish Government and Uefa protocols and should have ensured Stewart and Madden went into self-isolation as close contacts of Roome.
By the time the mistake was uncovered, Stewart had already run the line at Easter Road.
Why allow three officials to fly overseas to officiate a league match in Greece during the Covid-19 pandemic?
With travel restrictions imposed by the Scottish government, it seems like a needless risk. Surely Greece has enough officials?
It just brought more unwanted negative light on the game – especially after five Rangers players breached Covid protocol by attending a house party.
'Boris Johnson was chastised for non-essential travel to Scotland. Yet the SFA decided it was essential to send officials to Greece for a domestic league game.'@pfcofficial's Jim McInally fears SFA referee blunder has killed lower-league restart hopeshttps://t.co/gXKGv6aces pic.twitter.com/Idfe9aT6No
— EveningExpress Sport (@ee_sport) February 23, 2021
A step too far for Josh Kelly
Welterweight Josh Kelly stands at a career crossroads following his defeat to holder David Avanesyan in a European title fight.
Kelly has phenomenal natural talent, instincts and reflexes, but he also has to show he can go through the brutal dog rounds of title fights if required beyond the mid-rounds.
From the third onwards, Avanesyan was completely dominant and ground down Kelly.
Perhaps it was too big a step up too soon for Kelly.
But he deserves credit for taking it.
His trainer Adam Booth was right to throw in the towel in the sixth as Kelly was in real trouble.