In the leagues Morton went to New Douglas Park and came away with a two one victory in the First Division whilst Forfar and Dumbarton fought out a one-all draw, as did Brechin and Arbroath whilst Colin Cameron’s Cowdenbeath put distance between the leaders and the pack with a three nil win at home to Albion Rovers. The game of the week though was way up north as Elgin City managed a six one thrashing of a Peterhead side that had been improving. Clyde and Berwick Rangers sharing four goals in the final Valentines Day game in the Third Division complete the news of what was afoot in the SFL midweek.
So a mid table game in Division One, significant top of the table action in Division Two and goals aplenty in Division Three whilst Cup action kept the rest occupied makes for a busy week past – how does it make the weekend shape up though?
SFL DIVISION ONE
Top versus bottom kicks us off as it is Ross County v Ayr United. This sees Derek Adams going to make further changes after making significant changes in the side that was narrowly defeated by St Mirren mid week. Brian Reid is down to 14 fit players in his first team squad so this may be another tightly played game for United but the league leaders have a habit of breaking teams down. I would be very surprised if this was not a home win. Hamilton Academical v Falkirk sees Billy Reid determined to make up for the midweek loss at New Douglas Park whilst Steven Pressley will also want to bounce back after the cup defeat at Somerset Park. Reid has lost Thomas Cerny who has left the club and Scott Christie who has decided against extending his loan deal which means he has a goalkeeping issue on his hands. With Mark McLaughlin and Ali Crawford out things are looking even more difficult. Pressley however looks to have a full squad from which to choose so I would expect that may swing things for the visitors.
Queen of the South v Dundee sees two teams who the last time this was at Palmerston played out one of the most turgid nil nil draws I have ever witnessed. There will be hope that this is improved tie. John Potter is in the squad for Queens as injury rules out Kevin Smith and Marc McCusker. Dundee may be without Nicky Riley but the Dees know that league positions can be deceptive as the showing Queens had against Aberdeen midweek would suggest. Another draw seems likely to me. Partick Thistle v Greenock Morton has midweek victors Morton back up in the top four looking to maintain that momentum. Conrad Balatoni has signed on for Partick after being released by Hearts though Willie Kinniburgh won’t be available for Thistle. Allan Moore may be forced to keep with Peter Weatherson as a centre half as his defensive difficulties continue so it is very hard to call. If I had to I would say that Firhill ought to see a home win but I would not be surprised if it was Morton celebrating…
Finally new managers are always news worthy. When an SFL club brings in not one ex Hibs manager but two as a team it becomes even bigger news. John Collins and John Hughes will take in Livingston v Raith Rovers as the new dynamic duo. Not having had time to bed in with their new charges this could be a game too early on which to judge them, but it has to be said that the lift from having both around should see Livvi through his difficult tie and I would go for a home win.
SFL DIVISION TWO
There is no doubt what the game of the day is, however, Arbroath drawing midweek whilst Cowdenbeath winning takes some of the edge off it as we go into Arbroath v Cowdenbeath with the league leaders four points ahead. Last year’s Third Division Champions, Arbroath, won’t go top of the Division if they win but closing the gap must be enough of an incentive for Paul Sheerin’s lads. The news that Cowdenbeath have a long injury list will be welcome news for Arbroath but they have their own concerns. This could be down to who have the momentum to win. That would therefore, on paper, be the league leaders who could create a large gap at the top if they win. Fascinating enough for me to leave to fate to decide…
Dumbarton v Albion Rovers sees two teams who had disappointing results mid week. Rovers went down three nil to Cowdenbeath whilst Dumbarton couldn’t get past a draw with Forfar Athletic. Rovers will have Todd Lumsden in the dugout as Paul Martin is recovering from illness and will want to bounce back from the result that keeps them deeply in the relegation mix. It’s been a real see saw season for Rovers and they will find little sympathy from Alan Adamson’s men who want to consolidate third place. I think home advantage should see them through and more woes are on their way for the wee Rovers. Airdrie United v Stenhousemuir has last week’s third place Stenhousemuir trying to lick their wounds. Stenny will want to get a decent result against an Airdrie United side only three points behind them in the league and who themselves trying to gain access to the play offs. Last time round there were seven goals in this tie at the Shyberry Excelsior. I don’t think this will be the same type of game but with two significant absences for Stenhousemuir – both of whom were sent off last week end – in Ross McMillan and Kevin McKinlay the task isn’t made any easier. Airdrie United are only without the suspended Cameron MacDonald so I would expect another home win here.
John Robertson has a full squad from which to choose in the East Fife v Forfar Athletic match. Robbo is desperate to see his side climbing up rather than being dragged to the wrong end of the table. The Loons would welcome that type of optimism though their one all draw midweek with Arbroath will have given them some hope. I believe that East Fife will be too strong for them as Dick Campbell will be missing Jamie Bishop and may well also be without Nicky Low and Michael Bolochoweckyj. Finally Stirling Albion v Brechin City sees the Binos struggling to find form to get out of the desperate position in which they find themselves. Greig McDonald has targeted a better defensive performance as the key to getting the side up the table. Jim Weir’s side on the other hand have also slumped though their three draws look better than Stirling’s three defeats over the same period. Weir has significant absentees in Charlie King, Derek Carcary and Gerry McLaughlin. A tight away win seems likely…
SFL DIVISION THREE
Last weekend, Alloa got a fright with a one nil defeat to Berwick Rangers, although they remained well on top. They go into Elgin City v Alloa Athletic with the home side on the up after thrashing Peterhead six one midweek. Elgin’s squad selection is highly complex including awaiting international clearance for Graham Tatters from Thailand, Mark Durnan returns after suspension, Graeme Beveridge is struggling as are Mark Nicolson and Paul Millar whilst out is Paul Kaczan. It may seem simpler for Paul Hartley has no squad worries for this game. What may not be so simple is to pick them up after not losing for fifteen matches on the trot came to an end last weekend. The answer may be difficult but that has never stopped me guessing before so let’s go for an away win as Hartley’s men get right back on track.
Second placed Stranraer go into their home tie – Stranraer v Clyde – with no injury woes at all. That makes them firm favourites as Clyde had a hard game mid week. They have not had their troubles to seek this season – the Bully Wee – and this should continue as Jim Duffy has John Sweeney doubtful, Daniel Fitzpatrick out and Iain Gray suspended. They do have Declan Gallacher and Jason Marr back. Even home advantage doesn’t seem like an advantage for East Stirling as they welcome fourth placed Spiders in East Stirling v Queens Park. Their season has been woeful and with a full squad from which to choose John Coughlin will hope the time has come for some kind of tide to turn. Gardner Speirs will only be missing the suspended Richard Little. A tight game perhaps but one a team that beat Montrose five nil last weekend should win. That was Queens Park…
Berwick Rangers v Annan Athletic has two sides desperate to hold onto or find themselves in the promotion play off places looking for wins. Steve Notman is back for the Borderers whilst Stephen Tulloch and Kevin McDonald are out. Doubts remain over Ross Gray – on loan from Livingston. Annan will welcome back Aaron Muirhead though Bryan Gilfillan, Scott Gibson and Graeme Bell look likely to be out. This could be the tie of the day in this division or the drab nil nil score line we want to avoid as two teams cancel each other out. I know what I would prefer. Finally both teams in Montrose v Peterhead go into the game after heavy defeats. Jim McInally has only one injury victim – Scott Ross – and will want to make amends for a truly dreadful game against Elgin mid week. Ray Farningham has bigger injury worries with Paul Lunan and David Milta likely to join Steven McNally – who is suspended – out of contention. Back come Alan Campbell, Dougie Cameron and Terry Masson in a game that both will be desperate to win. Peterhead may be the hungrier though Montrose have shown in patches they are a good side. For me the home advantage will make up for the injury problems and Ray Farningham will be smiling whilst the trademark McInally frown will return.