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N Forest 1 – 2 Newcastle



Alexander Isak’s injury-time penalty saw Newcastle come from behind to win 2-1 at struggling Nottingham Forest and boost their Champions League hopes.

Forest made the breakthrough against the run of play after 26 minutes when Emmanuel Dennis took advantage of a Sven Botman error to brilliantly chip his side ahead, only for Newcastle to level matters in first-half stoppage time through Isak’s outrageous finish.

After substitute Elliot Anderson had seen a first-ever competitive goal for his side ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee for offside, Newcastle did deservedly take all three points when Moussa Niakhate handled in the box in stoppage time with Isak doing the rest from the spot.

Alexander Isak scored Newcastle’s winner from the penalty spot

As a result, Newcastle have moved to within a point of Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth and final Champions League spot, while Steve Cooper’s team stay 14th in the table, two points above the drop zone, but having now played a game more than four of the six clubs below them.

Player ratings

Nottingham Forest: Navas (7), Aurier (6), Niakhate (5), Felipe (5), Lodi (5), Shelvey (5), Yates (6), Gibbs-White (6), Johnson (6), Ayew (6), Dennis (7)

Subs: Williams (6), Surridge (6), Freuler (6), Scarpa (6)

Newcastle Utd: Pope (7), Trippier (7), Schar (6), Botman (6), Burn (7), Longstaff (7), Guimaraes (7), Willock (7), Murphy (7), Isak (9), Saint-Maximin (5)

Subs: Ritchie (6), Anderson (8)

Man of the match: Alexander Isak

How Newcastle came from behind to maintain top-four push

It had been 24 years since Forest last hosted Newcastle in the Premier League, a season that ended with them being demoted, and Cooper’s side began this contest like a team fighting relegation as the visitors dominated the early exchanges.

Newcastle were unlucky not to take a 12th-minute lead after a cleverly worked free-kick caught the Forest defence napping, only for Isak’s shot across the six-yard box to be deflected onto his own bar by the stretching Renan Lodi.

Emmanuel Dennis gives Nottingham Forest the lead against Newcastle
Emmanuel Dennis gave Nottingham Forest the lead against Newcastle

However, just as it seemed the Magpies would turn their early pressure into the opening goal of the night, Forest took the lead after a mistake by Botman, who failed to see Dennis lurking in the box when passing back to Nick Pope.

The Nigeria international still had work to do to find the net, and he produce a stunning chip that floated over both Pope and Kieran Trippier on the line.

Newcastle's next six fixtures

Newcastle continued to push for an equaliser, hitting the woodwork again 10 minutes before half-time when Sean Longstaff’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected onto the bar, this time by Felipe’s sliding tackle.

But Eddie Howe’s team did deservedly draw level with virtually the last kick of the first half thanks to a sensational goal from Isak, who somehow managed to volley home Joe Willock’s floated cross from the right byline when it seemed the centre was behind the Sweden international.

Team news

The big news from Nottingham Forest’s line-up was that Brennan Johnson was fit enough to start.

There were concerns that he would miss out with injury, but Forest’s top scorer was playing alongside Emmanuel Dennis and Andre Ayew up front, with Morgan Gibbs-White operating in behind them.

Jesse Lingard and Orel Mangala were hooked at half-time in last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Spurs and are now both out of the squad.

Ryan Yates started in midfielder in place of Mangala, while Moussa Niakhate replaced Joe Worrall at centre-back.

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe named the same side which beat Wolves 2-1 last Saturday.
Match-winner Miguel Almiron, though, dropped out of the squad after the Paraguay national team coach reportedly said he would be sidelined for three weeks after suffering an injury in training.

Howe brought on Anderson for the ineffective Allan Saint-Maximin at the break, a change that gave the visitors even more impetus as they went in search of a winner.

And it was the midfielder who thought he had given his side the lead midway through the second half after outjumping Serge Aurier at the far post to powerfully head in Isak’s inviting centre, only for the VAR to ask referee Paul Tierney to go over to the pitch-side monitor.

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Gary Neville said he was ‘bemused’ that Elliot Anderson’s goal for Newcastle against Nottingham Forest was ruled out for offside. Neville explained that he couldn’t understand why the goal was not given.


The on-field official decided Forest defender Felipe had not deliberately attempted played the ball when the cross came over, meaning Longstaff was offside in the buildup.

By this point, though, it was one-way traffic, and Newcastle made their second-half pressure tell after a moment of madness from Niakhate, who inexplicably handled a cross from the left as the game entered its first of six minutes of injury time.

Alexander Isak drew Newcastle level before the break with a creative volley
Alexander Isak drew Newcastle level before the break with a creative volley

The ice-cool Isak stepped up to convert the resulting spot kick, his third in two games, as his goals right at the end of each half sent Newcastle into the international break in good heart.

A worrying Forest trend – Opta stats

  • Nottingham Forest have opened the scoring in 10 home Premier League matches this season, the joint most of any side along with Manchester City. However, they have failed to win in five of those (W5 D2 L3), the most of any team when scoring first in home games.
  • Newcastle United won a Premier League away match with a 90th minute goal for the first time since December 2015 against Tottenham Hotspur, when Ayoze Pérez scored the winner at White Hart Lane.
  • Nottingham Forest have lost consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since losing five in a row between August and October.
  • Newcastle United haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of their last six Premier League games, their longest run under Eddie Howe and longest since going the first 14 games of last season without a shutout.
  • Newcastle United’s winning Premier League goal was a 90th minute penalty for only the second time, also doing so in December 2007 against Fulham via a Joey Barton penalty.

FPL stats: Nottingham Forest vs Newcastle

Goals Isak (2), Dennis
Assists Willock
Bonus points Isak (3pts) | Willock (2pts) | Dennis (1pt)

Can Isak fire Newcastle to the Champions League?

Analysis by Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:

One wonders how much higher up the table Newcastle United would be right now had Alexander Isak been fit for the whole season?

The Sweden striker, bought for £63m from Real Sociedad last summer, scored on his debut at Liverpool in August, only to then suffer a serious hamstring tear just as he was settling in at St James’ Park.

That injury sidelined Isak for the rest of 2022, with the forward missing 16 games in total, before he finally returned in January.

However, since regaining full fitness, the 23-year-old has begun to show the type of form we were seeing from him before his layoff, and after Friday night’s brace at the City Ground, he has four goals in his last two matches for the club.

And his manager Eddie Howe now seems to have decided to go with Isak ahead of trusted frontman Callum Wilson for the run-in, and you can see why given his impressive scoring rate for the Magpies.

In fact, Isaak now has now scored six Premier League goals in just 10 appearances for the club this season at an impressive rate of a goal every 115 minutes.

What the managers said..

Forest boss Steve Cooper:

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Steve Cooper reflects on Nottingham Forest’s late defeat to Newcastle after Alexander Isak’s stoppage-time penalty condemned Forest to a 2-1 defeat at the City Ground.

“It is always the worst way to lose in the last couple of minutes having fought in the game. We came up against a really good team and we knew it was going to be like that. I am just disappointed with our decision around the goals and the timing of the goals. It is injury time in the first half and injury time at the end of the game. We need to look at ourselves because we made some poor football decisions.

“I think it is a foul on Andre Ayew for the first goal. But I am not going to moan too much about that. It was a strange performance from the ref but we have to look at ourselves first. We made some poor football decisions. The penalty decision is something that we can only blame ourselves for. We have given three penalties away in the last three games and all of them have been self-inflicted.

“I’m as disappointed with the first goal in terms of the timing of it and the football decisions that we made, just see the half out and get in. We needed to sort a few things out but things change. It is a tough one to take but we blame no one but ourselves. We haven’t covered ourselves in glory over the goals.”

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe:

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Newcastle manager, Eddie Howe said his players deserved huge credit for coming back to win against Nottingham Forest and is pleased with how Alexander Isak is getting fitter, sharper and stronger.

“I had a feeling after we had so many chances in the first half that it would be one of those nights but the lads kept going and I thought we deserved to win the game.

“For the majority of the game apart from a 10 or 15 minute spell after they scored where we lost our way a bit I thought we were really good.”

On putting Isak on the left before his equaliser: “Alex can play there so that is a role that we see him playing in. He versatile and has the tools to play in different positions.

“Saint-Maximin was struggling with a hamstring but still being effective so decided to let him do less running and put Alex wide for a spell.”

On Newcastle’s first half: ” We had a number of really good chances. I think back to Willock’s early on in the game and I think Alex has hit the post and Longstaff hit the bar.

“It’s been a similar story in recent weeks when we haven’t really taken our chances but that’s where I credit the players because going 1-0 down is very difficult to come back and the players deserve huge credit for that.”

On the VAR: I haven’t had a chance to watch it back. I couldn’t believe it at the time that the referee was going to the monitor for an offside. I’d need to be sat down and explained the rules on that one. Disappointed for Elliot because that was a massive moment in his career.”

On Elliot impact: “Really like him, he is a technical player, can play in different positions, wide left and inside. He can handle the ball and he is a player for big moment as well.”

What’s next?

Forest host fellow strugglers Wolves on April 1 (3pm), while Newcastle entertain Man Utd on April 2 in a game you can see live on Sky Sports Premier League.

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WPL has changed landscape of women’s cricket forever, says Phoebe Graham | Cricket News



The WPL has changed the landscape of women’s cricket forever says Thunder player and Sky Sports blogger Phoebe Graham, as she reflects on bumper contracts, big crowds, high-pressure games and Mumbai Indians winning the title…

​​​What a tournament the Women’s Premier League has been.

High scoring, exceptional overseas talent and great crowds. India put on a spectacular competition which not only captured their nation but the globe.

After the inaugural auction weeks before the tournament, we knew the WPL was going to be a showcase event. Overnight, it became the highest-paid franchise tournament in women’s sport with the best players in the world up for selection.

Smriti Mandhana was bought for £340,000 by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the inaugural WPL auction

India’s Smriti Mandhana (£340,000) and Australia’s Ashleigh Gardener (£320,000) were the highest earners. That life-changing money is more than their national contracts and showed the direction of travel women’s cricket is going in.

Having just come back from a pre-season tour to Dubai and Mumbai with North West Thunder, I was lucky enough to attend two WPL games. The sheer number of fans in the stadium and the noise that they were making took my breath away.

At the Dr DY Patil Sports Academy Mumbai, we watched a group game with 35-40,000 fans. The atmosphere was electric – you could feel the energy before even walking into the stadium. It added an extra level of pressure and intensity, one that only India can provide.

That pressure and intensity is exactly what the women’s game needs.

This tournament helps grow India’s domestic game and adds to the heritage of Indian cricket but also provide overseas cricketers a heightened stage to perform on and be a catalyst for growth for women’s cricket globally.

Mumbai Indians win Women's Premier League (Getty Images)
Mumbai beat Delhi by seven wickets in Sunday’s final at Brabourne Stadium

‘WPL will stimulate growth for other leagues’

The level of energy and excitement added to Sunday’s final.

Delhi Capitals posted a low-scoring total of 131-9. Their strong top order crumbled under pressure with soft dismissals for Shafali Verma, Alice Capsey and Jemimah Rodrigues.

It could have been a roll over without a last-wicket stand of 52 between Shikha Pandey and Radha Jadav but with runs on the board in a final, low-scoring totals can often cause headaches.

Mumbai Indians looked in trouble at times and it ended up being a nail-biting game going down to the last over. Nat Sciver-Brunt was the star of the show, playing a beautiful and timely innings of 60 off 55 balls to get her team over the line.

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Check out Issy Wong’s incredible hat-trick for Mumbai against UP Warriorz in the WPL Eliminator

What an achievement for Mumbai! English stars Sciver-Brunt and Issy Wong have become rockstars overnight, while Charlotte Edwards adds to her silverware collection as one of the most successful women’s coaches of all time.

This experience for players to play under such intense pressure and in front of big crowds and big expectations is second to none. It will dramatically improve India’s national team and overseas talent such as Wong and Sciver-Brunt will shine.

The WPL will stimulate growth for other leagues as well, like the PSL and in the Caribbean, and we will also see the impact on player choice. For example, the Australians can enjoy the break in their schedule in August or play in The Hundred.

The WPL is the most lucrative women’s tournament in the world and the sheer investment has changed the landscape of women’s cricket forever. It’s such an exciting time for the game and I can’t wait to see how it evolves over the next few years.

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Aden Durde: Dallas Cowboys coach talks Micah Parsons, Sam Williams, four-man pressures and defensive coordinator speculation | NFL News



Could Aden Durde find himself in a defensive coordinator role in the coming years?

Could Aden Durde find himself in a defensive coordinator role in the coming years?

Aden Durde’s primary agenda consists of his Micah Parsons-led Dallas Cowboys front conquering as the most potent, the most productive of its kind in the NFL – the rest will all fall into place.

‘The rest’ being prospective ladder-climbing, the number of rungs between him and a defensive coordinator post seemingly decreasing with every passing season.

As the annual NFL coaching cycle resumed this offseason and Dan Quinn’s name naturally catapulted back towards the top of the market, fans and media alike pondered his potential successor as defensive governor in Dallas. Durde was a popular opinion.

The Cowboys were mid-playoff run at the time and their British defensive line coach, who worked under Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons, admittedly blind-eyeing speculation.

“To be honest I don’t think about it at all, I’m not going to lie,” Durde told Sky Sports. “The reason why I say that is because it’s nobody I know talking about it, it’s other people talking about it. Normally when you’re talking about these things [hirings] we’re playing [in the playoffs] so I just want to focus on what we have to do. I admit sometimes it gets hard but when you do that you’re doing what you say you’re doing, you’re trying to achieve the goal you’re aiming for at that time.

“Truthfully I just focus on the games because losing in the playoffs is not fun. I’m constantly trying to think about that.”

Durde's defensive line has asserted itself as one of the most dominant in the NFL Durde's defensive line has asserted itself as one of the most dominant in the NFL

Durde’s defensive line has asserted itself as one of the most dominant in the NFL

It was confirmed on January 26 that Quinn would be staying put in Dallas for the upcoming season, pressing pause on talk surrounding both his future and that of Durde.

For now, maximizing what may be perceived as a championship window for the Cowboys takes precedence. That is not to say the next rung has not crossed Durde’s mind.

“You always think about it, you always think about moving forward,” Durde continued. “But I really think to myself more about the work you do, there’s so much to learn, you just keep pushing and keep learning because when the opportunity does come, if it does come around one day, you’ve got to be prepared to do it.

“For me every opportunity is my opportunity so that’s the way I look at it. I’ve got to be prepared for everything, right now my opportunity is coaching the d-line for the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s one of the most fun times I’ve had in coaching so I want to carry on doing it.”

The Cowboys saw their campaign end in defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs after they had blown away Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Wild Card weekend. The feeling is they are close, which made falling short all the more tough to take.

“It’s hard, when you finish in the playoffs and don’t necessarily get to where you want to go to it’s very final so I think emotions are raw at that time,” he said “But when you go back and reflect we did some really good things, it’s just playoff football. I was really proud of my group of guys, I was proud of the defense and the way the defense played, they represented the kind of standard, just got to keep pushing forward.”

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs

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Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs

Durde’s front gashed opponents with as much success and consistency as any team in the league last season, leading the way for a defense that ranked first in pressure rate and second in EPA/play.

Asked whether he takes more pride in such areas than in sack numbers, he points to the ‘danger’ of getting bogged down in stats. Durde takes pride in “earning the right to rush the passer” by way of stopping the run first, with the knowledge he has the edge-rippers primed to roar when given the green light.

“Once we do that we can go to work and I think if you look at those stats they show we can rush the passer, we’ve got to get to those opportunities to rush the passer,” he said. “We know we have good players which helps.”

Micah Parsons is a good player. Maybe the best in the league at what he does, in fact.

He led the team with 13.5 sacks and 41 pressures last season as he was deployed off the edge on a more full-time basis having spent his rookie year shape-shifting between the off-ball linebacker as which he had entered the league and fully-loaded quarterback hunter.

His efficiency in the trenches may have seen him drop into Durde’s jurisdiction, but it has not drawn the line on work at the second level.

“I think that’s more a question for DQ (Dan Quinn), but Micah’s versatility is one of his gifts, one of his superpowers so he’ll always be in different positions,” Durde said of finding the balance in his usage.

“Even when he’s on the ball there are times when he’s off the ball, in the playoffs he was more on and off the ball so it’s how DQ moves him around.”

Durde hailed his continued willingness to learn and develop despite the immediacy of his ascent since arriving in 2021.

“He’s very receptive,” said Durde. “Like most players he wants to get better, so if you evaluate the game and look at the areas of the game they need to work on and can show proof of why they need to improve on those and then look at the game and let them talk about what they want to improve on and then create a plan then you’re obviously getting it. He’s a great kid, very receptive.”

Behind a freedom to move Parsons around has been depth in production from those beside him, DeMarcus Lawrence contributing six sacks, 21 pressures and 65 tackles last season while 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong logged a career year with 8.5 sacks, 18 pressures and 33 tackles.

“Definitely, DA (Armstrong) has come along so much in the last two years and I think he’s shown what he can be consistently in the league, he’s laid down two real good years,” said Durde.

“D Law (Lawrence) is an every down player and does a great job at that, he plays with a physicality and way that is rare at times, it’s fun to watch. Dante (Fowler Jr) has had a great year, Osa (Odighizuwa) has had a great year. If we’re dressing nine players they’ve all got to have the ability to play.”

Here's a look at some of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons' best sacks in his NFL career so far

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Here’s a look at some of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons’ best sacks in his NFL career so far

Here’s a look at some of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons’ best sacks in his NFL career so far

Such has been the trend in recent years that the league again gravitated towards dropping six or seven men into coverage while operating with four and five-man rushes as a means to blunting the league’s splash-play quarterbacks and the influx of off-script artists capable of creating outside the pocket.

Durde and Quinn are among those blessed with the personnel to follow suit. Flood the second and third levels, muddy the quarterback’s field diagnosis, let the big men feast up front.

“I think you have to start with the premise that you have to be able to rush four guys, because if you can’t then you have to be able to create pressure,” said Durde.

“The ultimate thing in this league is how to create pressure up front, if you can’t do that how are you doing it? Are you doing it through simulated pressures? Are you doing it through bringing five guys, six guys? But you want to have enough coverage, you want to slow down a guy’s thought process by putting shell coverage and rotating and disguising it, how do you do that?

“If you can just rush it makes everything a lot easier because you can basically cover with more people. The premise is to start with that and work out if you can or can’t. We’ve been lucky enough that we can, and we’ve got to keep doing it.”

A component to that has been drawing on stunt efficiency as an occasional replacement for blitzing, Durde’s cross-rushing having become a familiar theme to his unit’s appearance.

“We stunt a lot, I think so especially on first and second down, especially because of how fast the football comes out,” he added.

Behind Durde’s line in the trenches Coach Quinn has tinkered and evolved the Cover 1 and Cover 3 presentations that inspired so much success during his time in Seattle. While the Cowboys have dialled up Cover 1 at the second-highest rate in the league over the last two seasons, there has also been a notable variation of late in his use of the Cover 2 looks that have swept the NFL.

Asked if it has been a conscious effort on Quinn’s part to tap into the league’s two-high movement, Durde insists “that’s a question for him!”.

“Playing Cover 1, Cover 2, it doesn’t necessarily change how we play versus the pass, it may change how we play versus the run but not the pass,” he says.

“You need to give your DBs a rest at times because if you’re playing a lot of match defense then there will be times when you need a rest, 2 is a good way to do that sometimes because they’re playing zone in that situation.”

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys' clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Wild Card game

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Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys’ clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Wild Card game

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys’ clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Wild Card game

Durde’s focus remains the frontline, on which he hopes to nurture and unleash another of the league’s most impactful pass rushers in second-year defensive end Sam Williams.

Williams was drafted out of Ole Miss in the second round in 2022 before managing 22 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and one pass defense in 11 games as a rookie.

Durde has forecast a “huge leap” for the 23-year-old across the next season.

“Sam is a super talented kid, he’s smart, he’s ultra strong, I haven’t been around as many players as strong as Sam,” Durde said. “He’s going to do well, he’s just got to stick to the process, continue growing.

“He’s why you coach, he’s super fun to coach, I love him.”

Williams closed out his final season at college with 57 tackles, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass defense, off-field problems seeing him drafted later than might have once been the case.

“I think if you look at his athletic stats, he’s super athletic and he had the production to match,” added Durde.

“He played lots of different roles, he played in that Ole Miss style at the time which was that 3-5 stack so he was playing some 4i, we wouldn’t play him in those positions so it was exciting to say ‘okay if we put this guy outside, how are we rushing him?’.

“He’s a development guy, he’s raw, he went to JUCO (Junior College) so started playing football a bit late.

“To me, his ceiling is super high and we thought it was an opportunity to take a young guy and see him develop.”

The NFL Academy is a major initiative by the NFL, which aims to use American football to create life-changing opportunities for young people in the UK. To find out more information on the NFL Academy please visit


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Scottish Premiership: Celtic vs Rangers, the race for third & relegation struggles | Football News



The international break offers respite in the frantic Scottish domestic campaign but season-defining moments are upon us and there will be plenty to play for when the Premiership reconvenes on April 1.

Michael Beale’s unbeaten league start to his time as Rangers boss has failed to halt a relentless Celtic side who remain nine points clear at the top of the table with nine games remaining. Rangers must win both Old Firm matches – the first of which is on April 8, live on Sky Sports, – and hope their Glasgow rivals slip up elsewhere if they are to take the title race down to the wire.

Celtic and Rangers will meet again at Celtic Park on April 8

But there are compelling matters to settle outside of Glasgow, perhaps most notably in the capital where it had been assumed that Hearts were almost guaranteed to secure a third-place finish but three defeats in four league matches has allowed Hibernian back into the race, with the likelihood of two Edinburgh derbies to come.

A resurgent Aberdeen may well pip both to that third spot, however, with interim boss Barry Robson steadying the ship following Jim Goodwin’s departure and doing his chances of landing the job on a permanent basis no harm.

Livingston and St Mirren remain outside bets for those European spots, with both enjoying fine campaigns thus far that would be capped by at least a top six finish and a welcome cash boost going into the summer transfer window.

Things are also beginning to look very interesting at the bottom of the table.

Stuart Kettlewell has impressed so far at Motherwell

Stuart Kettlewell has seemingly steered Motherwell away from relegation danger, alongside St Johnstone, leaving Kilmarnock, Ross County and Dundee United to battle it out to avoid the drop.

Can Jim Goodwin find the points needed to secure United’s top-flight status? Do Kilmarnock have enough squad depth to avoid an immediate return to the Championship?

Sky Sports News looks at all the key questions facing the Scottish Premiership as the domestic season heads for another thrilling conclusion.

Title race over?

In most other seasons Beale’s appointment would have heralded the start of a miraculous transformation at the top of the table which re-shaped the nature of the title race in the Premiership.

Indeed, Rangers could hit the 100-point mark – which would have been enough to top the table in every season with the exception of three since the turn of the century – and still come up short in the title race.

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Highlights of the last Old Firm in the Scottish Premiership this season as Celtic drew 2-2 at Rangers

Celtic have been relentless this term under Ange Postecoglou, dropping just five points all season. Rangers and Celtic have gone blow for blow every matchday since the dismissal of Giovanni van Bronckhorst with neither giving an inch thus far.

Postecoglou’s side have not wavered in the face of Rangers’ much improved consistency and could themselves better the points haul amassed by Brendan Rodgers’ invincibles side in 2017.

Rangers will have a chance to make up for their lacklustre League Cup final display at the end of next month with a return to Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final where they will bid to put the brakes on Celtic’s treble charge.

Celtic's Daizen Maeda celebrates as he makes it 1-0
Celtic’s Daizen Maeda celebrates putting his side ahead against Rangers in January

Before that, however, they have an opportunity to ask the question of Celtic ahead of the split when the two sides meet at Parkhead on April 8, live on Sky Sports. The hosts will be looking to provide an emphatic answer which would all but put the seal on their title defence.

Race for third place

Hearts were 10 points clear of Aberdeen at the beginning of February, with third place and a likely European group spot all seemingly wrapped up. But a glitch seems to have set in over in Gorgie.

Robbie Neilson’s side have lost four out of their last five in all competitions and, with Aberdeen picking up three wins on the bounce, including an emphatic 3-0 victory over the Jambos before the international break, that deficit has been reduced to just four points.

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Highlights of Aberdeen’s 3-0 win over Hearts in the battle for third

Hibernian have lost their last two to both halves of the Old Firm but Lee Johnson’s side have definitely seen an upturn in form since their Scottish Cup exit to Hearts in late January. They host their Edinburgh rivals at Easter Road on April 15, in what could prove to be a vital encounter in the race for third.

That third spot in the league would likely mean Europa Conference League group stage football at the very least, with a place in Europa League qualifying preceding it.

The winners of the Scottish Cup are handed a place in Europa League qualifying, with a drop into Conference League group stages from there if that side is unsuccessful in navigating the early rounds. Given that Rangers and Celtic are favourites for the Scottish Cup and have already booked a European berth each then that Scottish Cup winning place would go to the team that finishes third in the league.

The team finishing in fourth would go into qualifying for the Conference League.

Fixtures ahead of the Premiership split

Hearts: Kilmarnock (a) St Mirren (h) Hibernian (a) Ross County (h)
Aberdeen: St Johnstone (a) Kilmarnock (h) Ross County (a) Rangers (h)
Hibernian: Motherwell (h) Dundee United (a) Hearts (h) St Johnstone (a)
Livingston: St Mirren (a) Motherwell (a) St Johnstone (h) Dundee United (a)
St Mirren: Livingston (h) Hearts (a) Rangers (a) Kilmarnock (h)

Sky Sports pundit Andy Walker thinks Hearts will still seal third place and a likely return to European group stage football – but says there is still work to do for Neilson’s side.

“I think there’s a little bit of doubt about Hearts cementing their place as third best in the league,” he said. “They’re five points in front of Hibs, they’ve still got them to play a couple of times. They’re four in front of Aberdeen who seem to be on a bit of a resurgence under Barry Robson. There’s still a bit of work to do.

Hibs' Josh Campbell celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0
Hibs are aiming to chase down Edinburgh rivals Hearts in third place

“I do still think Hearts have the strongest squad and I expect them to see it out, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how it’s played out over the coming weeks.”

Aberdeen’s 3-0 win over Hearts at Pittodrie before the break catapulted the Dons back into serious contention for third. After the chaotic final days of Jim Goodwin’s time in charge – which included heavy defeats to both Edinburgh sides – Robson has quietly re-established Aberdeen as a credible force in the race for Europe.

Duk’s four goals since Robson took charge have been invaluable, with the 23-year-old thriving under the interim boss. He will be a key player going into the final weeks of the season if the Dons are to catch Hearts and potentially land Robson the job on a permanent basis.

“I think it’s understandable what’s happening at Aberdeen,” Walker added. “When you had the uncertainty with Dave Cormack and his health, that fact that they brought in a new chief executive in Alan Burrows, I think it’s been sensible to buy themselves some time and in that time Barry Robson can’t do much more.

Can Barry Robson lead Aberdeen into Europe?

“I think he’s impressed everyone with what he’s got a tune out of the players that were vastly underperforming. Who knows, he may well get the job before the end of the season. I think the players would probably like that, they’ve already reacted well to him.

“If they can get their recruitment right again this summer then you want to see Aberdeen, your big city club, doing the best they can and being up there with Hearts and getting the occasional victory over Celtic or Rangers just to ensure that the league is really strong.”

The battle for the top six?

With Livingston sitting just a point behind Hibs in the table it would be wrong to discount David Martindale’s side from the race for Europe. The Livi boss has spoken in the past of his dream of bringing European football back to West Lothian but admitted in December that “the goal’s to stay in the league and try and finish in the top six”.

St Mirren boss Stephen Robinson (R) and Livingston manager Davie Martindale
St Mirren boss Stephen Robinson (R) and Livingston manager David Martindale are battling it out for the top six

But why not aim higher? Livingston have been a consistent presence in the top half of the league under Martindale, with the 48-year-old continuing to overperform given the club’s budget. Their four fixtures before the split are all winnable and positive results there could propel them further into the continental conversation.

Walker thinks, however, that Livi may be more involved in a shootout for that final top six berth with St Mirren. The two sides meet when the league reconvenes on April 1.

Stephen Robinson’s side have been impressive, especially at home, and remain the only team to beat Celtic domestically this season. And the Sky Sports pundit thinks the prize money on offer for a top half finish would be vital for the Buddies.

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Sky Sports pundit Andy Walker believes VAR is not helping referees after a weekend of controversy in the Scottish Premiership.

“I think one of them will get in [to the top six]. You’re looking at Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Hearts and Aberdeen then it’s between St Mirren and Livingston.

“I know they play after the international break, that will be a massive game and it will have a big impact on who might just clinch that top six spot. It’s vital for them. I don’t think St Mirren have ever been in the top six, the idea of them going up against the big boys and getting that extra bit of money would obviously serve them well in the summer transfer window.”

Relegation – who will beat the drop?

Despite rallying at the turn of the year Dundee United’s run of one point from eight games saw Liam Fox leave his role at Tannadice. That slump sees United prop up the table once more having lost key fixtures against direct rivals Kilmarnock and Ross County in recent weeks.

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - MARCH 04: Dundee United manager Jim Goodwin looks dejected at full time during a cinch Premiership match between Dundee United and Aberdeen at Tannadice Park, on March 04, 2023, in Dundee, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Can Dundee United manager Jim Goodwin steer his side to safety?

Motherwell and St Johnstone seem to have pulled themselves clear leaving those three teams to battle it out ahead of the split. None appear to have a particularly kind run of fixtures before that. United return from the international break with a visit to Ibrox, Ross County welcome Celtic on April 2 and Kilmarnock will meet Hearts, Aberdeen and the league leaders ahead of the split.

None of the sides can claim to be in any sort of form. Ross County’s win over Dundee United nearly a month ago was the last time any of the sides picked up three points. The head-to-head matches after the split will be crucial but any points picked up over the next four games – either to create a gap to the bottom two spots, or to keep up with those around them – will be crucial.

Fixtures before the Premiership split

Kilmarnock: Hearts (h) Aberdeen (a) Celtic (h) St Mirren (a)
Ross County: Celtic (h) St Johnstone (a) Aberdeen (h) Hearts (a)
Dundee United: Rangers (a) Hibernian (h) Motherwell (a) Livingston (h)

Relegation would be a significant blow for United and could have ramifications in the long term, with reports in the Scottish media last month that Tayside businessmen were exploring a bid to buy the club.

Jim Goodwin may have been scarred by his Aberdeen exit but he will not have much time to reflect on his Pittodrie spell as United need to start amassing points quickly or they could be cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

Derek McInnes is more used to challenging at the other end of the Premiership with Aberdeen but did miraculously rescue Bristol City from the drop from the English Championship back in 2012 against all odds. He will need to call on all his experience now.

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Highlights of the Scottish Premiership match between Kilmarnock and St Johnstone.

Kilmarnock are the only side in the division yet to win away from home and have managed to score just six goals on the road all season. That may need to change if Killie are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. McInnes may sense an opportunity against an out of form Hearts side at Rugby Park on April 1, especially while United and County face the Old Firm the same weekend.

Ross County failed to pick up a point in March but will be buoyed by their recent results against Dundee United (4-0) and Kilmarnock (3-0) since the turn of the year. That kind of form will hold them in good stead in the post-split fixtures.

However, County need goals – only Kilmarnock have scored fewer than them this season and Malky Mackay’s side are the team with the lowest number of shots, and shots on target, in the league this term.

Eamonn Brophy failed to find the net for St Mirren in the first half of the season but the striker has hit three goals in six games since moving to Dingwall on loan and Andy Walker thinks he could prove to be the difference maker for Mackay in one of the tightest relegation battles in years.

Ross County's Eamonn Brophy celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 during a cinch Premiership match against Kilmarnock
How important could Eamonn Brophy’s goals be for Ross County in the run-in?

“I think St Johnstone and Motherwell have got enough to keep out of the bottom two places,” Walker said. “I think it’s any two from three. Kilmarnock, Ross County and Dundee United have still got a bit to do so every point will be a prisoner between now and the end of the season.

“Clearly Dundee United have to get some run of form going because they’re the team that are struggling badly at the moment. I can see any of the three of them finishing third from bottom, they’ve all got strong squads.

“Ross County struggle to score goals, but since bringing in Eamonn Brophy they seem to be a different team. Kilmarnock’s home form will always give them a bit of comfort, it’s been terrific all season. Dundee United will surely get a lift from Jim Goodwin coming in and Steven Fletcher is beginning to score goals. It’s going to be a really close call between now and the end of the season.”

Scottish Premiership fixtures live on Sky Sports

Sunday April 2: Ross County vs Celtic, kick-off 12pm

Saturday April 8: Celtic vs Rangers, kick-off 12.30pm

Sunday April 9: Dundee United vs Hibernian, kick-off 12pm

Friday April 14: Ross County vs Aberdeen, kick-off 7.45pm

Sunday April 16: Kilmarnock vs Celtic, kick-off 12pm

Saturday April 22: Hearts vs Ross County, kick-off 12.30pm

Sunday April 23: Aberdeen vs Rangers, kick-off 4.30pm

Scottish Premiership & SWPL on Sky Sports

Sky Sports will broadcast the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Women's Premier League
Sky Sports will broadcast the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Women’s Premier League

Sky Sports – This season up to 48 cinch Premiership games will be available across Sky Sports’ flagship channels, including Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event, plus at least five SWPL matches. From 2024/25, up to 60 cinch Premiership will be live on Sky Sports, in addition to the SWPL.

Sky Sports News – Running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Scottish football fans can enjoy Sky Sports News’ (channel 409) rolling editorial coverage of the cinch Premiership and SWPL throughout the season.

Sky Sports Digital – Follow all the latest from Scottish football across and app, including exclusive features and interviews, plus dedicated live blog coverage, in-game clips from matches live on Sky Sports and free highlights.

Sky Sports Social – Alongside coverage and visibility for the league across all Sky Sports’ main social media channels, the bespoke Twitter channel @ScotlandSky will continue to be the home of all Scottish football content on Sky Sports.

Highlights show – Tune in for a dedicated round-up from the cinch Premiership every week on Sky Sports Football.

To download the Sky Sports app click here, to visit Sky Sports website click here.

Sky Sports is the home of domestic football in the UK and Ireland, with more than 400 games per season across the SPFL, SWPL, Premier League, WSL, and EFL.

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