SFL DIVISION ONE
Midweek games did not involve Ross County but the chasing pack – Dundee and Falkirk. Both results saw the two most likely to catch County slip up to mid table opposition that means with only 8 games remaining in the season the title goes to Dingwall if County win another 4. Today with Partick Thistle v Ross County they will be hoping to start that victory roll. Kai Naismith, Stuart Bannigan and Conrad Balatoni join the Thistle squad whilst injury stops Darren Cole and Aaron Sinclair, Scott Robertson is suspended. Fitness tests await Scott Fox though Ryan Scully would be disappointed not to keep his place after they beat Queen of the South 5 – 0 last weekend. Derek Adams welcomes back the influential Ian Vigurs whilst only having David McNamee unavailable. An away win for a team so high in confidence that the last time they lost in the league was way back at the beginning…
2nd on goal difference they may be but their goals against column had 3 added when midweek Hamilton hosted Dundee and beat them 3-1. Barry Smith was philosophical in defeat but he has no choice but to get the lads back on track today as it’s Dundee v Raith Rovers. Smith hopes to welcome back Carl Finnegan and Steven Milne from injury for this game. John McGlynn’s side snatched a draw last weekend in the 95th minute against their relegation rivals Ayr United so need to continue that form to climb out the downward spiral. They are without Brian Graham whilst David McGurn continues his comeback in nets. Dundee rarely have two off days so close together so a home win for me should see Dundee atone for their midweek blues. Just behind Dundee, Falkirk went down 2-0 at home to Morton and Steven Pressley knows that their chances of gaining promotion are more likely to come through some form of radical premier league reconstruction at a cloak and dagger secret meeting of the SPL than through their own efforts this year. Having said that, stranger things – like 10 SPL clubs waking up to reality – have happened. Falkirk v Livingston sees a familiar face return as the new manager of Livingston as Yogi Hughes goes to the place he made his managerial name. Falkirk will be missing goalkeeper Michael McGovern which may be significant though Farid El Alugui and Kieran Duffie are back which could be even more significant. Jason Talbot returns for Livi though they will miss Craig Barr, Liam Fox and Jonathon Brown. Whilst Falkirk have lost two on the trot the 4-0 hammering Livi had last weekend against Hamilton should be enough to focus their minds. I think an away smash and grab and the end of Falkirk’s hopes and dreams may be on their way this afternoon. For me this is the game of the day due to the footballing philosophies of each team. If I was to spend my money today it would be to go to the Falkirk Stadium to see the game the way it ought to be played.
It may well be the wrong time to visit New Douglas Park with Billy Reid’s side having scored 7 goals in their last 2 games and it may be the right time to welcome Queen of the South in Hamilton Academical v Queen of the South as they shipped 5 last weekend. A high scoring midfield and forward line against a dodgy defence should wet the appetite but this is a must win game for Queens whilst Hamilton could catch up the 2nd and 3rd placed teams and start to make their season look very respectable. For Reid this is important as he knows that this year is done but next year the master planner will have his sights set on a serious assault on the title. For Hamilton Ali Crawford is missing whilst under 17s starlet Stephen Hendrie is on duty for the Scotland squad. Queens might not have Nicky Clark whilst Marc McCusker and Kevin Smith remain out. Things look bleak down Dumfries way and this weekend should not look any brighter… Finally Ayr United v Greenock Morton has two sides who’s seasons have been a set of misfiring opportunities and mixed fortunes. With only 4 points between the sides this should be an intriguing tie. It better be – I’m going! United have Martyn Campbell, Andy Geggan and Alan Trouten back in the squad though Jamie McKernon and Sean Higgins are out. Higgins sums up the Honest Men’s season as he managed 7 minutes for the side before coming off with a suspected broken metatarsal. Peter Weatherston is suspended for Morton whilst Paul Di Giacomo and Stuart McCaffrey are also out. Morton went midweek to Falkirk and came away with a win. That should boost their confidence but their season has been one in which the phrase roller coaster has been used more than once. I suspect this may be another downward spiral and Ayr’s last minute draw against Raith Rovers may well spur them on to take all 3 points.
SFL DIVISION TWO
Cowdenbeath v Dumbarton should be the game of the day as the top tales on the 3rd placed Sons. Greg Stewart and Dean Brett return for the league leaders whilst David Cowan is a doubt. The Blue Brazil could only manage a draw last weekend against Stenhousemuir but this weekend things ought to be brighter. Dumbarton have slumped in recent weeks and a 3rd place that seemed so assured is now under threat. Bryan Prunty and James Creaney return for Alan Adamson whilst under 17 Scotland squad member, Ryan Finnie will be missing. 3 defeats in a row for Dumbarton should end soon. That might not be today though… Airdrie United v Arbroath gives 2nd placed Arbroath the opportunity to close the gap if Dumbarton can sort out their form as Airdrie are missing Jamie Stevenson, Graeme Owens, Nathan Blockley, Scott Sally and Scott Morton. Only Jordan Elfverson is missing for Arbroath so an away win should be achievable but with Jimmy Boyle’s side this season predictions are a messy business…
Stenhousemuir v Albion Rovers has Paul McHale back for the Warriors but Michael Devlin, Eric Paton, Brown Ferguson and Sean Dickson are all missing. Having managed a draw against Cowdenbeath last weekend Davie Irons will be hoping that his side can build on that and consolidate the play off spot. Rovers just need the points or they will drop back down to whence they came! Todd Lumsden is a doubt whilst Chris Boyle is out and James McGowan may feature as a trialist once again. I have a wee fondness for Paul Martin’s side and would love to see them stay up because of their story BUT sentimentality does not win games and this may be another from which they learn and pick up the pieces after wards… Glebe Park sees Brechin City v East Fife and both sides managed to win last weekend though Jim Weir’s side could count themselves fortunate. Gordon Durie welcomes back Stevie Hislop whilst other Stevie – Campbell – remains out. Craig Johnstone should return. Brechin are without Derek Carcary and David McClune in a game that they need to win, like East Fife do, to stay in the play off hunt. If there was ever a score draw…
Finally Forfar Athletic v Stirling Albion has Dick Campbell welcoming back Joe Shaughnessy, Jamie Bishop and Chris Templeman whilst out are Chris Hegarty, Iain Campbell and Greg Ross. Ross Campbell and Nicky Low are rated as doubts. Stirling would climb off the bottom with a win and that should be sufficient incentive though Gary Thom and Craig McLeish look set to be out. Greig McDonald will have Joshua Flood and Gavin McPherson back and if the boost of climbing the table is not enough then relegation is looking certain for the Binos. Massive game for both clubs and I think it may well be honours even.
SFL DIVISION THREE
A top 2 clash sees Alloa Athletic v Queens Park as the Spiders managed a 3-0 win mid-week against Clyde that brought them near to the top of the pile. Alloa are missing Stevie Masterton whilst Queens await news of Darryl Meggat whilst Craig Smith is back. This is clearly going to be the game of the day in the 3rd so it ought to be a cracker. For me Alloa have the strength and depth in their squad to take all 3 points but Queens should have the confidence from their midweek win. Hard to call which makes it great so possibly a score draw?
Stranraer v East Stirling sees 3rd placed Stranraer boosted by the return of Martin Gehan though Grant Gallagher is out. East Stirling and Peterhead have both been in the running for most improved sides over the season and John Coughlin will want to continue that trend. Ryan Frances and Alex Lurinsky are out for East Stirling though they should have more than enough to make a decent game of it. It could be another draw down the South West. Clyde v Elgin City sees Gavin Brown, Jason Marr and Ryan Kane probably back for Clyde though missing are Kieran Brannan, Jason Marr, Paul Hay, Kris Irvine and Daniel Fitzpatrick. Elgin will be missing David Niven, Mark Durnan and Jamie Duff in defence as well as Paul Kaczan, Grant Innes, Ross O’Donoghue and Stuart Leslie. Paul Millar and Brian Cameron may not manage it. The injuries and missing players may make this an intriguing tie and the players brought in should grab their chance though the lack of first team choices sometimes leads to dour battles. For me – an away win.
Annan Athletic v Montrose sees Annan, almost always the bridesmaid over the years, desperate to close the 7 point gap they have between themselves and the play offs. They really need to win and will be without David Cox, Graeme Bell and possibly Sean O’Connor. Even their attacking cover Bryan Gilfillan is struggling so goals may elude them. Midfielder Jack Steele is also out! Jonathon Smart will be missing for Montrose after his 3rd red card of the season and also out will be David di Milta and Terry Masson. A home victory must surely be assured… surely… Finally Peterhead v Berwick Rangers has the home side struggling with injuries up front. Bryan Deasley and David Ross are out whilst the Borderers have added Danny Handling on loan from Hibernian and Andy McLean and Fraser McLaren are both out. There is only 1 point between them and Peterhead want to try to catch Annan Athletic. An outside bet for a play off spot it may still be mathematically possible for both teams but the pride with which the Blue Toon are playing could be the difference in this tie.