SFL Weekend Preview: Saturday 3rd March 2012

SFL DIVISION ONE

There was only one game midweek for the 1st Division and in a pulsating tie at Somerset Park a Richard Brittain hat trick beat a Keigan Parker double to give Ross County all 3 points. The win for Ross County has brought the right amount of focus for the team as they face another basement battler in Ross County v Queen of the South in Dingwall. Derek Adams has little to trouble him though his side have not had the best of runs recently. With those 3 points midweek meaning that is the size of their cushion with 2 games in hand over 2nd placed Falkirk, he knows that as has been said all season there are no easy games in the 1st Division. Gus McPherson meanwhile has the usual faces missing and Allan Johnston nearer to fitness after injury. Johnston’s presence in the side can be crucial so without him County should triumph. Even with him it is hard to see past the league leaders but the Doonhamers have had a habit of unsettling those at the top. Ayr United v Falkirk has another top versus bottom feel as 2nd top plays 2nd bottom. Ayr were hugely unlucky midweek and will be ready to make amends. Despite claims they are struggling to field a team the one going out on the pitch has been, in recent games, turning on the style for Brian Reid. Steven Pressley has nothing on the injury front to concern him and I have suggested each week and for some time that Ayr would lose at home – notably last week against Livingston – and they keep getting results. This time though it may be a step too far…. Isn’t it?

Livingston v Dundee has John Hughes back at the home pitch to try to pick up the pieces of last week’s defeat against Ayr. With news that Kenny Deuchar has gone on loan to Stenhousemuir it is clear that the new management team want to keep things fresh and interesting in West Lothian! Dundee come into the game after no fewer than 5 successive draws. If they wish to keep the pressure up on the front 2 that will have to change or they will be playing for nothing more than pride and future contracts towards the end of the season. I expect this one to keep that draw record going. It is the one however that if I was choosing what to go and see would have me there in a flash. Partick Thistle v Hamilton Academical has Jackie McNamara’s side looking to banish the memory of their defeat to Raith Rovers last week. To do so would mean they keep climbing away from the relegation zone. For McNamara that is a necessity and the return of Willie Kinniburgh could be the key. For Billy Reid’s side they sit in 4th detached from the pack at the top so rebuilding for next year’s push may start to be the tactic employed for the rest of the season unless they can prove they are serious contenders. Beating Partick away from home would help that. Mark McLaughlin should be back for them so expect a hard-fought game from the visitors. I expected Hamilton to be challenging this year and am surprised they are not at the moment. A wee win here should help them though…

Finally Raith Rovers v Greenock Morton has two teams who’s promise has not shown this year and they sit near the foot of the table. The season for each set of supporters has been a hard one, particularly for Morton fans who sat atop the table at one point. There are 6 points between them and bad news for Allan Moore is getting to be tiresome. John McGlynn’s side is at full strength whilst Morton are struggling at the back once again. I expect though that Morton away from Cappielow could be a different prospect and they may record a win.

SFL DIVISION TWO

Midweek 8 of the 10 teams were in action. Arbroath missed the opportunity to go top, being held to a 2 all draw at home with Airdrie United. It was a welcome scoreline for Jimmy Boyle though as he tries to steer his side away from trouble. Dumbarton, with a convincing 3-0 victory at home against Stenhousemuir, widened the gap between them to 10 points. Davie Irons will have been disappointed at the result and over his shoulder will be a worrying sight as he sees East Fife and Brechin breathing down their necks. Fortunately though for Stenny, as they faltered so too did East Fife – losing 3-2 to Forfar Athletic – and Brechin City – losing 3-1 to Stirling Albion. Both basement clubs did themselves huge favours closing the gap on those above them. Not quite out of the woods for either but at least in a clearing where they can see better.

Airdrie United v Cowdenbeath sees Jimmy Boyle’s side up against 1st having held 2nd to a draw midweek. It is a huge ask for his side and the return of Grant Adam and Sean Lynch should be a help. Colin Cameron is the only player sidelined for this game for the Blue Brazil and his influence which has been missing of late has been sorely felt. It makes me think a home win is on the cards. Arbroath v East Fife has a new manager at the helm of East Fife – Gordon Durie. We had always known that the long term plan for the Fifers was that John Robertson would pave the way for Durie to take over but the 3-2 defeat midweek to Forfar hastened that. Durie takes charge for the 1st time without Paul McQuade but hoping for the return from injury of Scott Durie and John Ovenstone. Arbroath have Mark Baxter and Collin Samuel available again and they were significantly absent midweek in the draw with Airdrie United. For me this has a home win all over it though East Fife need a victory to stay in the play off hunt…

Brechin City v Dumbarton is possibly the tie of the day in the 2nd Division as 3rd placed Dumbarton host play off chasing Brechin. Jim Weir’s side had a midweek shock against Stirling and really need to get back into the hunt whilst the Sons despatched 4th placed Stenhousemuir with calculated efficiency. Unfortunately for both managers their injury list is a major cause for concern and it may be decided on the treatment tables rather than on the pitch. For me a draw looks a reasonable bet. Forfar Athletic v Stenhousemuir is another tricky tie to call. Forfar will be boosted by their narrow win against East Fife whilst Stenhousemuir are licking their wounds over the loss to Dumbarton. Only Sean Dickson is out for Stenny though Kenny Deuchar has signed on loan from Livingston to boost the team. Forfar have a number out of contention so it should be back to winning ways for Davie Irons and back to the drawing board for Dick Campbell.

Finally Stirling Albion v Albion Rovers sees 9th and 10th square up in a basement battle that has all the requisite tension required after the Binos managed to win midweek and draw level on points. With Forfar 3 points above both this could see all 3 places alter at the bottom dependant on who wins what and by how much! Mark McCulloch and Darren Smith are doubts for Stirling whilst only Todd Lumsden is unavailable for the wee Rovers. Paul Martin is expected back in the dugout as this may be decided by the odd goal which for me may well be an away win…

SFL DIVISION THREE

Midweek winners were Queens Park and Peterhead. Queens Park took 2nd place whilst Peterhead managed to keep convincing everyone that they may well manage a play off promotion push before the end of the season. With Elgin managed to draw with Clyde 1 all and allow Blue Toon fans to dream that this might be a possibility it is mid table the interest is beginning to be raised. The 2 teams beaten mid week – Montrose and Berwick Rangers – have been left without much to scramble around for as they are losing touch with the play off spot – like Berwick – or being caught up by East Stirling – like Montrose.

Earlier in the season Annan Athletic v Alloa Athletic was a top two clash but with 14 points between them it looks more like a home win is on the cards without too many expectations at Galabank. Alloa have a fully fit squad but have lost twice to Annan this year so will not be taking this lightly. With no fewer than 6 players out or doubtful it makes it increasingly likely that Annan will be beaten by Paul Hartley’s side. Stranger things though… Elgin City v Queens Park is the game of the day in the 3rd for me as Elgin chase the play off spot and Queens, newly in 2nd place look to keep Stranraer at bay. Elgin will hope that Alloa can do them a favour at Annan whilst they deal with the Spiders. Boosted by the return of Graeme Beveridge and Ross O’Donoghue Elgin will hope they can improve on their midweek 1-1 draw with Clyde. Queens Park, on a roll at the moment, have only 2 out. This should be an away win but travelling to Elgin can do funny things…

David Mitchell, Stephen Stirling and Michael Moore are set to return for 3rd placed Stranraer in Stranraer v Berwick Rangers. Berwick will be without Kevin McDonald as they attempt to recover from a bad run. This should be a Stranraer win as they have struggled recently but with the return, particularly of goalkeeper David Mitchell consistent form may ensue.  East Stirling v Peterhead was once a basement battle between the bottom 2 but now Peterhead are sitting just outside of the play offs whilst East Stirling remain at the foot of the table. East Stirling though are catching Montrose and there is every possibility that, by the end of the year they could be off that bottom spot. Steven Jackson is back for East Stirling whilst Peterhead have Rory McAllister back and a full injury list. This looks interesting and is a hard one to call. Perhaps a high scoring draw – here’s hoping!

Finally, Clyde v Montrose sees the two teams languishing in terms of league positions and performances meet at Broadwood. Clyde are boosted by the point they got at Elgin mid week whilst Montrose have been struggling hard of late and need the win to keep bottom spot at bay. Both teams have significant injury issues and this could just depend on who has the hunger on the day. For me that is more likely to be … difficult to decide.

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