Kris Boyd previews Rangers’ trip to Hearts, Motherwell vs Aberdeen and the relegation battle

Jermain Defoe celebrates after scoring to make it 5-0 during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Rangers and Aberdeen at Ibrox 1:20
Former Rangers striker Kris Boyd feels optimistic about their chances this season but stressed the importance of winning games against the likes of Hearts, who they play on Sunday

Sky Sports pundit Kris Boyd looks ahead to the return of the Scottish Premiership as Rangers face another test of their title credentials at Tynecastle, while Motherwell host Aberdeen in a fascinating clash at Fir Park.

The Premiership returns this weekend with Rangers on top after they took advantage of Celtic's surprise slip at Livingston last time out.

Celtic will be looking to get back to winning ways against Ross County on Saturday and can return to the top of the league with a win ahead of Rangers' visit to Edinburgh the following day.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Image: Celtic will be looking to get back to winning ways against Ross County

There is a mouth-watering fixture in store at Fir Park as third-place Motherwell meet an Aberdeen side just one place below them. Steve Robinson's team have won five out of six in the league since their defeat to Celtic on August 10 and Kris Boyd looks at whether they can sustain a challenge at the top end of the table throughout the season.

Elsewhere, there is an early-season relegation clash to look forward to as bottom side St Johnstone travel to St Mirren looking for their first league win of the season...

A test for Rangers

Celtic obviously play before Rangers on Saturday and if they can pick up the points then it is back over to Rangers, but it is the first time in a number of months now where they have gotten themselves ahead.

I feel as though there is a feel-good factor inside Ibrox. I was there missing a penalty [at the Rangers Legends vs Liverpool Legends match] last week but you can tell the place is bouncing. I think that is going to be crucial between now and the end of the season.

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Jermain Defoe celebrates after opening the scoring for Rangers against Hamilton 5:42
Highlights of the Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and Hamilton

It is a very difficult game going to Tynecastle but the fans are right behind the team, the performances at Ibrox have been unbelievable in terms of the goals they have scored and they are not conceding a lot.

It's been a very difficult period for Hearts, we keep hearing every single week about how Craig Levein is struggling. Even after the two-week spell where they beat Hibernian in the derby and they beat Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup it has not really got any better.

They lost to Kilmarnock last time out which would have been disappointing. Craig Levein's record against Rangers is not great either so it is going to be a big test for Hearts at the weekend but if Rangers are going to become league champions then these are the games you need to go to and get the three points.

Aaron Hickey celebrates for Hearts
Image: Aaron Hickey celebrates for Hearts against Hibernian

After the Kilmarnock game, for me, it was pretty telling in terms of his interview because I thought Craig Levein has protected his players even though everybody else has been having a go. He has taken responsibility with a lot of things - 'we'll work on it, it will get better' - but after that game it was a case of 'it's not happening anymore'.

There were a few people who were letting the team down and were not performing at the level they should be performing at. Craig Levein had a go at the players, he is not going to be protecting them anymore. For me it was a man who was on his last legs.

The title race resumes

You would rather play first, get the points in the bag and then the pressure is on the other team and that is one reason why Rangers fans would not have wanted Celtic to qualify for the Champions League - apart from the financial reasons - playing on a Saturday every week rather than a Sunday. Now there are no excuses for either team.

2:10
Former Celtic striker Andy Walker believes Rangers can push his old club to the edge in this season's title race

It makes for an exciting season. You would rather be that team that is playing first, get the points and put the pressure on the opposition and by doing that then the fans will get nervous. It is up to whoever is playing first to go and win the game, and then ask the question of the opposing side of the Old Firm.

Motherwell vs Aberdeen - early race for third?

From what I have seen Motherwell can [sustain a challenge for third]. They will be very disappointed that it is not 18 points from 18 after they lost at home to Ross County. But, again, that shows you it is very difficult to win four, five, six games in a row in this league.

James Scott celebrates with Richard Tait in Motherwell's win over St Mirren
Image: Motherwell are third in the Premiership

It is a bigger test for me for Aberdeen, with their budget, the way the fans expect their team to be performing and to be up at the top of the table and challenging. I think it is a bigger game for Aberdeen than Motherwell.

The recruitment at Motherwell has been excellent and I would not be surprised if bigger clubs are after Steve Robinson. He has done a terrific job and if a few jobs come up in Scotland then he will be at the top of the list.

Sam Cosgrove made it 1-1 for Aberdeen against Hibernian at Pittodrie
Image: Sam Cosgrove made it 1-1 for Aberdeen against Hibernian at Pittodrie

Results on the football pitch, his recruitment on a shoestring budget compared to some clubs in this league has been excellent and if there is a manager who deserves a crack at a bigger club then it is him.

St Johnstone search for their first win

I think there are signs of encouragement for St Johnstone because they are scoring goals. They have got goalscorers within their team, they have got players who can create opportunities.

They can play a different style as well. They can go long if they want to, they can mix it up, and they can play football, especially against the teams they are in about with in the table right now.

I'd be more worried if I was St Mirren - they are not scoring goals. Yes, they might be able to stay in games but you can only stay in games for so long being defensive. They are very difficult to break down, they beat Aberdeen but they lost out to that Borna Barisic free-kick against Rangers.

St Johnstone's Steven May celebrates his goal during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Ross County and St Johnstone at the Global Energy Stadium
Image: Stevie May celebrates his goal during the Premiership match between Ross County and St Johnstone

There have been other games where they have been in the match but they do not look like scoring and that would be a worry from their point of view.

It is a massive game early on in the season and this will be one that Tommy Wright will be looking at thinking 'if we can go here and get the three points then it is time to look up'. I'm sure they will be confident going into the game because they are scoring goals and it is only a matter of time before they get that first three points.

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