A festive celebration of Scottish football continues with a full schedule of Premiership matches on Wednesday.
There are plenty of winter tales behind the six devices and here’s a selection of what to look out for…
Midweek game: Dundee United v Ross County
Hibernian v Celtic is always a big game, even when one side is underperforming – as is the case with seventh-placed Edinburgh. However, Easter Road – where Celtic have won just once in their last six visits – remains one of the few places where one could imagine Ange Postecoglou’s relentless frontrunners dropping points other than in Old Firm derbies.
However, the same night’s result in Tannadice is arguably more important given the home side’s precarious position at the bottom of the table.
If Dundee United lose, Ross County will take a five-point lead over their hosts and deal a heavy blow even if the battle to avoid relegation – which could also involve Motherwell and Kilmarnock – has yet to reach the halfway point. .
United were only denied the three points by Heart of Midlothian on Saturday thanks to Lawrence Shankland’s late penalty.
However, despite drawing confidence from a courageous performance against the fourth-seated team, they have still only won once in eight outings, the initial improvement in results after Liam Fox took over from Jack Ross in as a head coach is now a distant memory.
That said, of United’s five most recent defeats only one has been by more than one goal – and even then they appeared to leave Celtic Park with a surprise point before conceding twice in stoppage time.
While Malky Mackay’s side arrive on the back of three straight defeats, those too were only a goal clear – and two against the Old Firm.
Although United are unbeaten in five games against County since a 2-0 home defeat in May 2021, October’s 1-1 draw at Dingwall suggests we are set for another close competition with so much at stake.
Player to watch: Zander Clark (Heart of Midlothian)
It won’t be the circumstances he would have chosen, but Zander Clark will be in the spotlight after Saturday horrible broken leg suffered by Hearts and Scotland number one Craig Gordon.
Clark went from first-choice at St Johnstone and national team member to substitute at Tynecastle when an expected switch to English football failed to materialize after the 30-year-old rejected a new contract at Perth.
After making his debut in the final 15 minutes at Tynecastle as Hearts went 2-1 to draw, he is set for his first start on Wednesday. And, as the football gods have so often said, he returns to McDiarmid Park against the team he served for 11 years.
Since the uncapped Clark pulled out of Steve Clarke’s national team in June because he was due to get married, he’s found himself behind Liam Kelly and Motherwell Rangers Jon McLaughlin and Robby McCrorie, in as Gordon’s understudy.
Now, with his club captain ruled out for the rest of the season, Clark not only has the chance to justify Hearts’ decision to sign such an experienced replacement and help Robbie Neilson’s side qualify for the Premier League again. ‘Europe, but also to try to obtain a return. to Scotland’s squad for Euro 2024 qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain in March.
Coach Spotlight: Steven Hammell (Motherwell)
Steven Hammell’s honeymoon period as manager of Motherwell is well and truly over.
The 40-year-old former left-back will be given extra leeway by Fir Park fans given his status as a club legend and he can point to two successive draws as clues that his side are improving.
However, losing a two-goal lead against Kilmarnock to 10 on Saturday shows lingering frailty.
The Fir Park side have now won just once in their last nine outings and sit just five points clear of Dundee United and three ahead of Ross County in the relegation play-off.
That’s a far cry from the four wins from six at the start of Hammell’s tenure after taking over from Graham Alexander after their disappointing Europa League qualifying loss to Sligo Rovers.
Improving a 31% win rate under Hammell is a big short-term ask given they visit second-placed Rangers on Wednesday. Although they have drawn on their last two visits to Ibrox, they have not won there in nine visits since a famous Premiership play-off success in May 2015.
Getting to Livingston on January 2 won’t be easy either – and his first full transfer window in charge could be vital to his side’s chances of avoiding the drop.