Congratulations though to the Ramsden’s Cup winners, Falkirk. Their 1-0 win over Hamilton Academical last Sunday showed just how bad my predictions could be.
SFL DIVISION ONE
With a midweek game to come at Somerset Park for champions in waiting, Ross County they have the chance of taking the title this weekend or during the week. Either would suit as they have had their ground share plans with Inverness passed and the work on their stadium could be completed for a second year in the SPL. All things alien to football of course – proper fiscal planning.
GAME OF THE DAY
So whilst all eyes from the big media boffins will be on the progress of the boys from Dingwall for me the game of the day is one for both teams that is not about this year but next. Dundee v Falkirk could have had a different feel to it if either had maintained their promotion push. As it stands it should be interesting enough to see if they can maintain the progress that should be firm foundations for a push next year. Dundee have ended up having a decent season when during the year they had plummeted down towards the relegation area. Falkirk have received plenty of plaudits and sufficient points on the board to look like they could have gone the distance but like a colic child have hiccupped and stuttered all year. For Barry Smith, Nicky Riley is available again but without match fitness may not be risked whilst they are missing Neil McGregor. Steven Pressley’s Cup winners have only once face missing – Stewart Murdoch. This should be entertaining as both sides like to play football. Although there doesn’t seem much at stake both clubs have been built on pride and playing the game the proper way. I think the home side will shade it but it will be close. Midweek Falkirk entertain Hamilton once again in what should be another decent footballing game whilst Dundee will see Queen of the South travel to Dundee in a game that could go a long way to defining the Doonhamers season.
Livingston v Ross County has the first opportunity for SPL promotion hanging over it for County. Derek Adams may be befuddled as to why people don’t like County’s style of football but there are few that would argue it hasn’t been a success. It’s certainly a rate of success that Livi supporters would welcome after a season where they have changed managers and are only now beginning to see that change take real effect. Jason Talbot comes back for them whilst there’s a doubt over Iain Russell and Liam Fox is definitely out. Colin McMenamin returns whilst David McNamee is out for County. I would, unfortunately, suggest the champagne will stay on ice and travel midweek to Somerset Park. They will take all three points here but Ross County will come to Ayr United looking for the final point to secure promotion. As for Livingston they will lick their wounds and entertain Raith Rovers midweek. I believe they will take all three points then. Raith Rovers v Hamilton Academical has Billy Reid’s side licking their wounds of disappointment from the Ramsden’s Cup Final last week and a wee jaunt over to Kirkcaldy could be exactly what the team Doctor ordered. Billy Reid will have Martin Canning and Ali Crawford back whilst Mark Stewart is a doubt. John McGlynn has no squad worries and his side have been starting to play each game around the 85th minute recently so fitness levels are good. Hamilton need to look forward and this may give Raith an opportunity to take all 3 points. I would therefore go for a home win or another draw that keeps the relegation battle very much alive. Midweek Hamilton are away to Falkirk and may well get their revenge for last weekend whilst Raith have a tricky tie at home to Livingston which could continue to make things interesting as John Hughes will be working to make his side real prospects for next year.
Ayr United v Partick Thistle is a tie which has those at Somerset hoping the recent run is a blip. Two years ago the collapse at the end of the season was hard to watch as Ayr United imploded and went straight back down to the Second Division. Three games against the relegation threatened teams around them and with 0 wins, 2 draws and a very sore loss in the last 3 weeks, the Honest Men are beginning to watch games through their fingers again. Sean Higgins remains out and Eddie Malone is a doubt whilst David Rowson, Darren Cole and Tommy Stewart are all missing for Jackie McNamara’s side. It’s been a pretty mediocre season at Firhill and the departure of Ian McCall a dim and distant newsworthy point in a season that has delivered very little. This should be about Ayr delivering 3 vital points and I think it will be. They have Ross County midweek and will probably lose that one or end up giving County the draw they require to clinch the title so 3 points is vital here. Thistle losing could drag them into the relegation battle especially if they can’t beat Morton midweek. Finally Greenock Morton v Queen of the South has an interesting tussle at the heart of the Morton defence – who is left to pull on the jersey? Allan Moore has Grant Evans, Ross Forsyth and Marc Smyth suspended whilst Stewart McCaffrey remains injured. If there was any lucky white heather round Port Glasgow it has surely been nicked. Gus McPherson heads north with a side that won the war of nerves against Ayr United at home last weekend and could do a lot of good with 3 points here today. Long term casualties Marc McCusker and Kevin Smith remain out so there should be some real momentum and the twists and turns here could prove decisive. Queens are another side that could do with 3 points as they travel to Dundee midweek in a tricky tie. I think they might get it and if Ayr, Raith and Queens all win today, Morton, Livingston and Partick are in real trouble. Morton entertain Thistle midweek and the memories of that 5-0 thrashing at Firhill could spur a creaking squad at the tail o the bank into action making the run in hugely entertaining at the wrong end of the table.
SFL DIVISION TWO
There will be no champagne corks popping this weekend for Champions but there is one possibility that a play off place could be secured in the game that could see the Champions elect move closer to their crown. Qualifying early for the play offs means that teams can relax and prepare for the games that extend their season. It can also prove decisive at the other end as teams relax a bit too much and games that looked beyond relegation threatened clubs become winnable. But there is no doubt where the game we should all be heading for this weekend is to be played.
GAME OF THE DAY
Cowdenbeath v Arbroath has the police already intervening to ensure crowd control through segregation so a bumper crowd is rightly to be expected. David Cowan’s return means that Colin Cameron has a fully fit squad whilst Arbroath will be without Keith Gibson and Jordan Elfverson. Paul Sheerin will harbour slim hopes of the title still but realistically this should be another 3 points on the board for the Blue Brazil. A win for Arbroath though would secure their play off spot. I think Arbroath will have to wait a week till they are at home to Forfar but no matter what happens today, next week or in the play offs, Paul Sheerin – manager of the year?
Albion Rovers v Dumbarton is a very interesting tie that a few weeks ago would have been an away win without any doubt. The doubt now is thanks to a resurgent Rovers who took the points last weekend against Cowdenbeath. With Todd Lumsden and John Gemmell back in the frame they could be a very tricky prospect. The Sons’ single goal victory against Forfar last weekend stopped their slide and they really need more points on the board or they will be sucked into an all mighty battle for the play offs. Mark Lamont should be available for them and with a fully fit squad I expect them to take all 3 points. It would have been the game of the day had the top two not been clashing but Stenhousemuir v Airdrie United has two teams on equal points with Stenny in the play off spot by dint of goal difference. Eric Paton and Sean Dickson are out for the Warriors whilst Ross McMillan returns. Paul Lovering is the only absentee for the Diamonds and I would take Jimmy Boyle’s team to take all 3 points. Davie Irons does need to halt Stenny’s slide and with this game before an away tie to Dumbarton next weekend it has to happen very soon. I don’t think it will be this weekend though.
It would make Forfar Athletic v East Fife a much more enticing prospect from a fan’s point of view as Gordon Durie’s side are also on the same points as Stenhousemuir and Airdrie United. A win for them would keep them on the coat tails of either of the other two and is a tremendous incentive. The incentive for Dick Campbell’s side is to try to get out the relegation zone. It won’t happen for them this weekend but Albion Rovers’ form is a real worry at Forfar. The Fifers are without Andrew Crook and David White whilst Martyn Fotheringham is in a battle to prove his fitness for the Loons. I expect a real tussle and a draw… then again it could really go either way… Finally Brechin City v Stirling Albion has Greig MacDonald’s side chasing everyone else whilst Jim Weir’s side know they could get right back into the play off places with a win. It’s a high stakes game but Albion are increasingly looking like the side most likely to fall into the Third for next year. Losing this game would not condemn them but chubby ladies would be exercising their vocal chords if they came back with nothing. They are currently adrift by 4 points. David McClune and Derek Carcary are out for Brechin whilst Kevin Kelbie and Shaun Fagan are out for the Binos. I think it is looking more and more like Stirling are dropping through the leagues quicker than our interest in the Ranger’s saga. Jim Weir’s side like the play offs and for me will probably take all 3 points.
SFL DIVISION THREE
With Alloa Athletic sitting ready to take the Championship they could do it this weekend if Stranraer let them. Stranraer though could cement their play off place and therefore their away tie to Clyde could see them postpone the inevitable until next weekend. A win for Alloa and celebrating the Championship at home would be better than having to go to Berwick to win it so all Wasps will be Clyde supporters for the weekend!
GAME OF THE DAY
Alloa Athletic v Elgin City sees fourth placed Elgin travel down to try to be party poopers. Ryan Harding is out whilst Stevie Masterton looks like he will be back for the Wasps. Ross O’Donoghue and Paul Kaczan are out for Elgin whilst Brian Cameron and Jamie Duff are doubts. For me it could be the title party is at Alloa as the story of the year, Paul Hartley’s first year as manager, looks like a successful one.
Clyde v Stranraer has Stranraer on the cusp of cementing their play off place though Steven Noble and Grant Gallagher will be missing for the South West side. Clyde are having to raid their youth set up as they are without Brian McQueen, Jack Sloss, Jason Marr, Kris Irvine and Daniel Fitzpatrick. This could be one where the spirit of the home side will be a stumbling block for the visitors and I would suggest a wee surprise at Broadwood as Clyde take all 3. Queens Park v East Stirlingshire has 3rd placed versus the bottom club and should be a safe 3 points for the home side. Queens have David Anderson back as well as possibly Craig Smith whilst Michael Daly is another doubt and Jamie Brough is out. East Stirling are missing Alex Lurinsky and Lewis Horner. Looks like a safe 3 points for Queens and cementing their play off spot. It would make things much more interesting with an away win but I just cannot see it.
Annan Athletic v Berwick Rangers sees a forlorn hope of a play off place beginning to look increasingly distant but if Elgin cannot beat Alloa it could be Annan’s day. They will be without David Cox, Steve Swinglehurst and Steven Sloan whilst Sean O’Connor is doubtful. Fraser McLaren is back for the Borderers whilst Eliot Smith and Chris McLeod are out and Michael Deland is a doubt. I would hope that Harry Cairney’s side can keep things interesting with a win whilst Berwick have hopes they can keep their play off hopes alive but that is as far off as ever. For me, if there is a winner it will be a home one. Finally Peterhead v Montrose sees Peterhead with Russell Duncan available but no Graham Sharp, Davie Ross, Bryan Deasley and Paul Jarvie. Gary Wood, Alan Campbell and Jonathon Smart are out for the visitors. Contracts are available in each squad and that is probably all that is stake in this game but Peterhead have been resurgent under Jim McInally so next year could be an interesting prospect if the Peterhead plumber – Rory McAllister – decides to stay. For me I think we should see a home victory.