Well, that’ll teach me for trying to claim the Championship race was ours. Despite registering 15 shots on target against already-relegated Morton, Dundee asphyxiated at the summit of the Championship and passed the baton to Hamilton, who now only have to make it past Dumbarton and Morton to claim the title and condemn Dark Blue fans to another month of agony in the playoffs. With Falkirk breathing down our necks and still in the title hunt too, it could be that the Dens Park outfit slip from automatic promotion to a 6-game playoff marathon.
However, if this season has taught us anything, it’s that the top of the league is an unsettling place to be. Dundee, Hamilton and Falkirk have, at various times, slipped up and relinquished their advantage at the summit. End-of-season pressure, player fatigue and the added stress of knowing that next year’s Championship will be very difficult to escape from will only make the likelihood of further slip-ups higher. Hamilton’s opponents on Saturday, Dumbarton, are still in the hunt for the final playoff spot, and their danders will be up. As Dundee fans know all too well, Morton have the capability to sting the sides at the top, and an end-of-season run from them against their final two opponents, Falkirk and Accies, would go some way to relieving the pain of last week.
Although the initiative is certainly with Hamilton, no outcome can be written off, particularly with all three top teams away from home this weekend. It is frustrating that the title is (for the time being) out of our hands, but the advent of the playoffs does reduce my stress levels a little. As I said last week, securing second place is imperative, as it would give us a little time to recuperate and plan ahead for the playoffs instead of diving straight into a 6-game run. As Tom Duthie and Liam Kennedy remarked on this week’s Terrace Talk podcast, Dundee winning every game they have left this season guarantees Premiership football next season, whether automatically thanks to a Hamilton slip or the hard way. Knowing Dundee, if we are to achieve it, it’ll be the hard way.
Last week was, despite the final result, a sign of improvement. We’re creating chances- even if the usually reliable Peter MacDonald wasn’t able to convert any of them- and have a bit more zip about the team than before. As strange as it sounds, I think that we have more to fear from the Championship side(s) we could face in the playoffs than whichever Premiership side falls through the trapdoor. As well as the morale-sapping nature of their predicament, the likes of Wighton, Kerr and Boyle could cause problems to Premiership teams expecting a physical and conventional Championship side. If we end up facing Hibs, then it’s written in the stars that Nade or Beattie will score the winner…
I still hold some hope that my playoff permutations become nothing more than an academic exercise. At this stage of the season, every fan is doing the same mental arithmetic and trying to find justifications for the mix of hope and belief that their team will prevail. If we’re all being honest, all we can do is cheer on our side in the final two fixtures and hope the cards fall our way elsewhere.