Ross County will give themselves some vital breathing space at the top of the Championship by beating derby rivals Caley Thistle tonight, according to three-quarters of the P&J’s sports panel.
A cracker in front of BBC Scotland’s cameras on their shiny new channel is on the cards from 7.05pm tonight and both sides are desperate for the points.
County’s lead over Dundee United at the top of the table has been trimmed to just two points, leaving nerves jangling around Dingwall.
Granted, they still have two games in hand over United, but back-to-back league defeats have raised questions about the side’s mentality.
Away to their greatest rivals, they will be desperate for a Highland derby pick-me-up.
Caley Thistle meanwhile have strengthened their play-off credentials and are unbeaten in five matches, although Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate with Falkirk was pretty uninspiring.
They will be buoyed by the memory of knocking County out of the Scottish Cup on penalties in February but in five meetings with the Staggies so far this season, they have been unable to win in 90 minutes.
We all know that the repetitive nature of the Scottish football calendar takes a pretty regular hammering.
But even though this is the sixth meeting between these two – and there could be another two after that if they both wind up in the play-offs – it’s still a hotly-anticipated encounter for both sides.
Despite the glut of draws in the fixtures so far this season, our brave panel of sports reporters Andy Skinner, Paul Third and Jamie Durent and digital reporter Stuart Findlay have all stuck their necks out and plumped for decisive results.
Here’s what they reckon, but what do you think?
Caley Thistle 1 Ross County 2
Both teams are in healthy positions as we near the business end of the season, but the recent memory of County’s Scottish Cup defeat on penalties remains fresh in the mind and could act as some form of impetus on their return to Caledonian Stadium.
In the theme of this season’s derbies I do not see there being much in this one, but I back the Staggies to take a big step towards that Championship title.
The idea that they could squander a lead which could have been as much as 14 points only a fortnight ago is one they will be desperate to kill off as soon as possible, and they are looking to get a poor result against Alloa Athletic out of their system.
Caley Thistle 0 Ross County 1
I’ve made the mistake of sticking my neck out, picking a winner and getting it horribly wrong in this fixture already this season so may as well continue the trend.
Caley Thistle have produced their best performances in this fixture this season but in the league do not have a single victory to show for it which is surprising.
County, crucially, boast one win and will be desperate to bounce back from their weekend loss at Alloa in what they will regard as a season-defining week for the club.
I tend to agree. This, the sixth meeting of the clubs this season, ensures there will be no surprises but with County having the chance to go five points clear at the top before an even bigger game against Dundee United on Friday I fancy that will be enough to give them the win – but only just.
Caley Thistle 2 Ross County 1
Both sides are in need of a big win here but I’m giving this one to Caley Thistle.
The last couple of encounters between the two sides – the Scottish Cup ties in February and the league meeting in December – have had no shortage of edge and incident and it would be no great surprise to see something similar again.
A lot is on the line for both clubs but the sparkling recent form of Aaron Doran, often a key player in Highland derby fixtures, may well prove pivotal again.
Caley Thistle 1 Ross County 3
After five closely fought encounters between these two in 2018-19 we are due a decisive victory and I think it will come tonight.
County seemed to be cruising to the Championship title just a few weeks ago but a couple of slip-ups have turned the heat up a bit.
The penalty shootout defeat in Inverness coupled with the recent defeat to bottom side Alloa will have lit a fire under the Staggies and I can see them coming flying out of the blocks tonight with a point to prove.