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5 things we learned from the cinch Premiership action on Boxing Day

St Johnstone v Celtic – cinch Premiership – McDiarmid Stadium
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

The cinch Premiership Boxing Day fixtures took place under strange circumstances with fans and squads affected by the upsurge in Covid-19 cases.

On the park, Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Motherwell and Hibernian all stayed in the top five with victories, while Aberdeen leapfrogged Dundee United by beating their opponents’ city rivals.

Here are five things we learned from the festive action.

Who needs Tony Watt?

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The Premiership’s top-scorer, Tony Watt, was benched by Motherwell boss Graham Alexander amid reports he was set to pledge his future to Dundee United beyond the summer. Kevin van Veen stepped up in Watt’s absence with a superb double in a 2-1 win over Livingston, the second goal brilliantly set up by Watt’s replacement, Connor Shields.

The early break is needed for players as well as fans

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The SPFL took the decision to start the winter break early and postpone two rounds of fixtures in an attempt to get more fans back in for the rearranged games. But it was evident that some squads have also been badly affected by the latest wave of the pandemic and recently-introduced rules on self-isolation for household contacts. Dundee only had two goalkeepers, a 17-year-old and 40-year-old assistant manager Dave Mackay among their substitutes at Aberdeen, none of whom were used; Dundee United were missing 14 players in defeat by Hibernian and both St Johnstone and Celtic were missing several players in Perth, while St Mirren continued to be severely hampered. Dundee boss James McPake felt the SPFL had put his and Aberdeen’s players and their families at risk by refusing to postpone their match while St Mirren boss Jim Goodwin said: “I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a break as much in my life.”

Some fans will find a way

Celtic fans

Celtic fans outside McDiarmid Park (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Most clubs allowed 500 lucky season ticket holders into grounds under the new restrictions on live events, while Hearts decided to close their doors completely rather than let a small proportion of fans in. While most fans watched their teams on online streams or television, some Celtic supporters found a vantage point on a hill overlooking a gap between two McDiarmid Park stands, while at least one climbed a tree for a better view.

A split is opening up

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The six clubs who go into the winter break in the top half of the table all won on Boxing Day, including Aberdeen, who moved above Dundee United following the Tannadice club’s fifth defeat in a row. United have been badly hit by absences in recent weeks and will still fancy themselves to push for the top six after the break but the bottom five face an uphill task in pushing into the upper echelons of the league.

Rangers are in pole position

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The champions enter the break with a six-point lead over Celtic, who need to get players back from illness and injury, and welcome some new arrivals, by the time play resumes. Ange Postecoglou’s side face playing Rangers on February 1 without key players Tom Rogic and Kyogo Furuhashi because of international commitments, though, and the Light Blues have only conceded one goal in seven league matches since Giovanni van Bronckhorst took charge.

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