The talk in the footballing business may be more about who Manchester United can get in the January transfer window, but it’s a different New Year tale for many SFL clubs as loans come to an end and are arranged and rearranged. Hogmanay hangovers should be disappearing just in time to head down the grounds, drink your fill of what is on offer and then drown your sorrows/celebrate the win as appropriate. The hangovers will then begin again in a 24 hour period but which teams will be celebrating after today and which shall be drowning their collective sorrows? Let’s take a look…
SFL DIVISION ONE
Ross County v Partick Thistle has the top club facing an in form side from the Wes End of Glasgow looking to push on from recent good results. County are not without their injury problems with Jonny Flynn and Marc Fitzpatrick out but they do have Sam Morrow back. Jackie McNamara has Willie Kinniburgh and Ryan MacBeth both missing but this is a tie that the club on the better run will be favourites for. 15 games without a loss for Derek Adams’ side should be enough to secure a victory. Livingston v Falkirk will have Falkirk hoping that Thistle do them a favour as Steven Pressley’s side take care of business away from home. Maurice Ross and Mark Fotheringham have agreed new deals to the end of the month for Livingston which is a welcome boost for Gary Bollan’s side. These have been exciting affairs between the two sides this year and hopes are high that Falkirk will build on the form they showed against Ross County lat time out and start to make a decent fist of the promotion race.
Raith Rovers v Dundee gives a resurgent Dundee the opportunity to keep tabs on the leaders against a Raith side deep in the doldrums. Raith should have Iain Davidson back after his stitches last week at Ayr United but John McGlynn is still without a full squad as Ross Laidlaw and Scott McBride are still out. Dundee will be without Rhys Weston and Stephen O’Donnell and may be the stronger side over the 90 minutes. Greenock Morton v Ayr United sees two sides that were beaten 4-1 at Palmerston during the season battling at the wrong end of the table. Dominic Cervi will play his last game on loan for Morton before going back to Celtic whilst influential defenders Stuart McCaffrey and Ross Forsyth remain out. Eddie Malone returns for Ayr and Ayr’s squad will only be missing long-term injury absentees Martyn Campbell and Dean Keenan. It ought to be an interesting tie which is difficult to call but a repeat of the 4-1 win for Morton last time is unlikely.
Finally Queen of the South v Hamilton Academical has bottom club Queens taking on an under pressure team and manager. Billy Reid is one of the most experienced in the SFL but recent results have really put him under pressure. Hamilton will again play Allan Combes as a trialist as Thomas Cerny remains out. Matt Paterson has gone back down south to Southend after his loan spell at New Douglas Park. Gus McPherson has a fully fit squad and this should be the game of the day with so much at stake. I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy Reid’s side however grind out a draw away from home.
SFL DIVISION TWO
Cowdenbeath v East Fife sees Kenny Anderson back for the Blue Brazil as Colin Cameron is looking for his third win against East Fife this year. An injury to Thomas O’Brien has meant the recall of Craig Winter from his loan spell at East Stirling. Cowdenbeath’s play has certainly attracted the idea of a team playing with sufficient confidence to be seen as champions in the making. For East Fife the task is clear to John Robertson – stop Colin Cameron playing and you stop Cowdenbeath. There is mixed news for John Robertson as Scott Dalziel, David White and Andrew Crook are out though Craig Johnstone and Paul McQuade are back. I am afraid it all points to a Blue Brazil victory…
Second place Arbroath are on their travels. Dumbarton v Arbroath sees them come to the west to play a fixture that has had 14 goals over the previous two encounters. Hopes are high that we shall see yet another tremendous game but hopes may be dashed. Arbroath need the win to keep pressure on Cowdenbeath and that pressure may lead to a nervy encounter. Stirling Albion v Stenhousemuir has Greig MacDonald hoping to see his first 90 minutes as a manager having had no fewer than 6 false starts to date! 3rd place Stenhousemuir need a win to keep momentum and there are few who would argue they should be able to achieve that, Stirling not having had a game for such a long time.
Yet another game that has a tremendous pedigree is Airdrie United v Albion Rovers. Last time round it was 7-2 Rovers so Airdrie and Jimmy Boyle will be seeking revenge. This derby game sees an Airdrie United side that has finally understood the 90 minute rule and last time out they worked to the end to get their 3-2 win against Forfar. This time round there may be less goals but I expect a home win and revenge for Airdrie. Finally Brechin City v Forfar Athletic has Jim Weir in search of his very first derby win as Brechin boss. Loan deals are all over this tie as Brechin have lost Scott Smith who has returned to Hibs, David Crawford is also due to return but there is the possibility that a further deal could be done. For Forfar, Jamie Langfield has returned to Aberdeen and Forfar are negotiating loan deals from Dundee United for goalkeeper, Marc McCalum and midfielder Dale Hilson. I think Jim Weir might just manage a first today.
SFL DIVISION THREE
Stranraer 4 Annan Athletic 2 was the final fixture of 2011 and a 6 goal cracker was in keeping with the season so far. Stranraer battled back twice from behind to stretch their lead at the top of the table beating one of their main rivals in the process. Sean Winter got 2, Stephen Stirling got 1 from the spot whilst Craig Malcolm got 1 late on for Stranraer. Ian Harty and Sean O’Connor getting Annan’s 2.
It raises the sakes for East Stirling v Alloa Athletic as John Coughlin has no need to seek any troubles. Injuries, loanees recalled and Ally Love and Nico Gibson leaving the club reduces his options. Alloa are on a decent run and Paul Hartley will be desperate to continue that to make it a more interesting run in to promotion. I think Alloa are likely to be celebrating at a quarter to five. Clyde v Queen’s Park sees Clyde captain Paul Hay suspended for this one, joining Gavin Brown and Declan Gallacher out the side. Queen’s have a doubt over Martin McBride and then a list of people out including Tony Quinn, Guiseppe Capuano, Michael O’Hara, Darryl Meggat and Steven Baillie. Clyde will be confident they can keep the points with a home win.
Berwick Rangers v Montrose has Berwick facing a defensive problem with no fewer than 3 missing. Montrose have more than a few in midfield missing so we shall have an interesting contest down in the Borders. Neither side have deep resources on which to draw so I think this could end up being a dour draw… Cue a 9 goal thriller then! Finally Peterhead v Elgin City takes us from the deep south right up to the top of the country. Unfortunately for Peterhead they are deep in the mire of the wrong end of the table although Jim McInally has a full strength squad from which to draw. Elgin have no fewer than 9 absentees so if there was ever a time for Peterhead to turn their pretty play to devastating effect this may be it! The irony of Jim McInally bemoaning the fact that Peterhead are failing to convert chances in front of goal is not lost on those of us who watched them snatch up the biggest goal scoring name in the summer transfer market – Rory McAllister. Peterhead may never have a better chance!