SPL Betting Preview: Does anyone want to win this championship?
A topsy-turvy few weeks in the SPL have seen Celtic hand the intiative to Rangers only for Walter Smith's men to spurn their chances. John Girvan looks ahead to a weekend when there are no easy games for anyone...
Seven weeks ago a Scott McDonald strike saw Celtic leave Ibrox with a 1-0 victory and a seven point cushion in the championship. The Parkhead side traded as low as [1.32] for the title and seven days later, with Rangers at Inverness on the Sunday, they had the opportunity to go a massive ten points clear. They drew with Dundee United however and with Rangers picking up maximum points the following day there was hope yet for Walter Smith's side.
The champions then shipped four goals in a defeat at Aberdeen which made The Gers own visit to Pittodrie a week later crucial. However, the Ibrox men spurned the chance to go top with negative tactics. But Celtic were then held at Inverness two weeks ago so the gap is two points again and it's very much in the balance.
Including Sunday there are only 14 games remaining to decide the destination of the championship and looking at the run-in it has to be said that a draw this weekend is a slightly better result for Rangers.
Gordon Strachan's men face trips to Motherwell, Dundee Utd and Hearts whereas Rangers toughest away trips looks to be at Hibs and possibly Hamilton. Also, the post-split Old Firm encounter takes place at Ibrox this term so that gives Rangers three home games and two away ties with Celtic facing the opposite.
Celtic remain favourites in the championship race, at [1.61], and with home advantage on Sunday they are favourites in the Match Odds at [2.38]. A Rangers win, at [3.45], would see them take maximum points from both visits to Celtic Park this season. It would be the first time this has been achieved since the 1996/97 season when, in Walter Smith's first reign in charge, the club made history by equalling Celtic's long standing record of nine league championships in a row.
The record books tell you that the Old Firm just don't do draws. In 25 league meetings since 2002 there has been only two games that ended level and only seven of the 40 they have played in the last decade have finished this way. The stalemate, priced at [3.35], doesn't often suit both parties but it probably would on Sunday and, regardless of the stats, seems the most likely outcome.
There was a big pay-out for six goals or more in the Total Goals Market the last time these two met at this venue but at just [21.37] there's not much value. A much tighter affair it promises to be, not too dissimilar to the match at Ibrox recently, so Under 3.5 goals, at [1.3], looks almost certain.
In the Celtic Clean Sheet Market the "No" verdict appeals at [1.43]. Dundee and Queens Park both got on the score sheet in Scottish Cup defeats at Celtic Park where the hosts haven't kept a clean sheet in their last five matches in all competitions.
What happens on Sunday depends a lot on the line-ups. Celtic haven't been playing well recently so virtually no one is guaranteed a starting place but I would be amazed if Barry Robson is omitted. His approach to the game is what Old Firm rivalry is all about and his inclusion might prompt "Yes" backers, at [2.6], in the Sending Off Market.
Nakamura and McDonald were both in Japan on World Cup duty in mid-week so one, or both, might only make the bench.
Rangers will most probably flood the midfield and employ Lee McCulloch in a 4-1-4-1 similar to what we seen at Pittodrie last month. It wasn't popular with the Ibrox faithful on that occasion but preventing a Celtic victory will be Walter Smith's priority. Playing for a draw is dangerous however and Rangers will surely have learned from last season when they attempted this twice last April in a tactic that proved crucial in Celtic retaining the title.
Elsewhere there are no easy games for anyone this weekend. Dundee United are the only SPL side who find themselves odds on favourites but The Terrors have lost key personnel and have followed up their agonising League Cup exit with two defeats on the bounce. They will not relish a visit from Inverness who's current predicament makes this no home banker.
Terry Butcher's new side stopped the rot in the league with a 0-0 draw at home to Celtic and disposed of Killie in the Scottish Cup last week so confidence is growing. Lay Dundee United at [1.82].
I maintain my theory that St Mirren should be opposed between now and the end of the season. They could only manage a draw in the curtain raiser at their new home two weeks ago and host Falkirk in a six-pointer this weekend. The Bairns have Inverness breathing down their necks but they have hit a bit of form of late with two wins over sides in the top six and the draw at [3.5] looks most likely.
Read More UK & Ireland Football
Rangers' Old Firm triumph might have only delayed the inevitable as far as Celtic are concerned, but it has at least stopped the rot for Ally McCoist's defiant Gers......
Celtic's shock cup defeat blew their treble ambitions out of the water, but an Old Firm win on Sunday will soften the blow......
Given their stunning form and formidable Scottish League Cup record, it will be a huge upset if Celtic are denied by frequent final losers Kilmarnock......
Michael Lintorn expects a low-scoring game when Inverness welcome Rangers on Sunday, and wouldn't be surprised if the hosts claim a point or three......