It was a sense of déjà vu as the three leagues went back to the leaders who had been up top up until last weekend. So it is that Heart of Midlothian, Ayr United and Arbroath sit pretty at the top of each league. The news of the weekend seemed to be that pre season favourites are not having it all their own way as Rangers, Dunfermline Athletic and Clyde all stuttered.
My match of the day saw a single goal settle it as former Lion, Martin Scott scored for Raith Rovers to beat Livingston. At the newly crowned Indodrill Stadium Ranger’s David Templeton squared the tie after Alloa Athletic’s Jonathon Tiffoney put the Wasps ahead. It was the same result between Falkirk and Dumbarton at the Falkirk Stadium as Chris Kane for the Sons got a late equaliser after Craig Sibbald had put the Bairns ahead. It was all jam at the Jambos as Heart of Midlothian beat Cowdenbeath 5-1. Billy King had put the Blue Brazil ahead before Callum Gallagher, Jamie Walker, an Osman Sow penalty and two from Dale Carrick sealed the win for Robbie Nielson’s side. Finally James Fowler is making a real play for the job at Palmerston permanently as his Queen of the South side earned a 1-0 win against a woeful Hibernian thanks to Ian McShane.
Hearts (16) sit three points clear and it is even clearer that the clear out before the summer is paying dividends. There are some exciting young talent at Tynecastle and they sit at the top of the league on merit. Rangers (13), having sent Inverness out of the Scottish Communities League Cup, faltered at Alloa. It was always going to be a difficult ask to replicate the results of the last two years in what is an incredibly challenging season ahead. Just behind Rangers, Raith Rovers (12) are sitting pretty. The Kirkcaldy side were not quoted as potential playoff contenders by many but it has been a good start to the season for Grant Murray’s charges. Queen of the South (11) make up the playoffs as they sit in 4th and despite the loss of their manager have a gap between them and the rest. With a 5 point gap, the Doonhamers would be a great club for any manager out of a job but James Fowler will take some shifting as he got a great result at the weekend.
The chasing pack have Livingston (7) slipping and John McGlynn will know that if you are not fighting for the top playoff spot there is a likelihood you will get sucked into the relegation scrap. It’s the same message for Alloa Athletic (7) whose draw with Rangers looks like a fantastic result right now. Just underneath Hibernian (6) and Falkirk (6) are both teams we expected to be up top. For Hibs it is bemusing that they have changed manager and slipped further. The number of managers and players that have gone to Easter Road and failed is faintly embarrassing. Peter Houston was a decent appointment at Falkirk but he needs to get his club closer to the playoffs. Dumbarton (5) may be in the relegation playoff spot but Ian Murray is still the man most likely to get the Sons building so those above should be careful.
It leaves Cowdenbeath (1) languishing at the bottom of the league. To be fair I think most people expected the Blue Brazil to be somewhere like this in a league that has the “big three” fighting for the championship. Last year Jimmy Nichol got them back in through the playoffs when the year before Colin Cameron managed to keep them in the league on the last day of the season. It will be a long and hard campaign ahead for them and I expect they shall occupy this spot for a wee while yet and perhaps all the way through the season.
My match of the day was a simple joy for me as Ayr United managed to slip 4 past Brechin City to retake top spot. The story of the game was Brechin going ahead thanks to Alan Trouten, Ayr levelling with a penalty from the feet of Scott McLaughlin, Jamie Masson putting the Hedgemen back ahead, Craig Beattie equalising for a second time for Ayr before a McLaughlin penalty and a second from Beattie sealed the win. Greg Cameron was sent off for the home side in a decision that all believed turned the tie in Ayr’s favour. Airdrieonians almost got the win against Stranraer that they craved but it wasn’t to be as they ended up drawing 3-3. Paddy Boyle, Bryan Prunty and Luca Gasparotto scored for the Diamonds whilst Jamie Longworth, Craig Malcolm and then Adam Forde got the equaliser deep into injury time for the Blues. Greenock Morton managed to climb the table as they dumped Dunfermline Athletic 2-1. Declan McManus put Morton ahead, a Ross Millen penalty equalised for the Pars before Conor Pepper got the Ton the win. Steven Noble scored the only goal of the game for Peterhead against Stenhousemuir whilst it ended all square at Forthbank. Omar Kader and Gavin Swankie got the goals for Forfar Athletic whilst Stirling Albion substitute Sandy Cunningham got both goals for the Binos.
It means that the league is much more evenly spread as Ayr United (13) sit top. They have Greenock Morton (12) close by. Jim Duffy, may not have been a high profile choice for Morton the way that Kenny Sheils may have appeared but there does seem to be a steadying influence starting to pay dividends. Forfar Athletic (11) occupy third and their draw with Stirling lost them less than it could have. This is because Dunfermline Athletic (10) losing to Morton means that it’s the Pars who fall beneath them. I still think Dunfermline will take the title but it is looking increasingly like they need more consistency to achieve it.
Under the playoff spots we have Brechin City (9) who may be only 1 point behind the Pars but are licking their wounds after losing their unbeaten tag. It’s been a good start to the season but out of those 5 first games 3 have been draws; they need some wins on the board. Peterhead (8) have had a decent start to the campaign. A consolidating year in the league should be their aim and I reckon that Jim McInally’s troops have the ability to achieve that. Stranraer (6) and Stirling Albion (6) have disappointed themselves but I don’t think many are surprised that they are where they are.
Finally we have Stenhousemuir (4) and Airdrieonians (2) occupying the last two spots. Airdrie have déjà vu for the umpteenth season whilst the Warriors are not used to being out of contention for the playoffs at the other end. I do still believe it will be Stenny who drop but a new and young manager in Scott Booth could yet manage to get them out of this.
My match of the day saw a disappointing draw between Berwick Rangers and Albion Rovers; the goals came from Paul Currie and Mark McGuigan. Clyde have found out just how tough life can be in the lower reaches as a sending off turned their game on its head and they ended up on the wrong end of a 5-2 defeat from Arbroath. Paul McManus and Scott McBride scored for the Bully Wee with two from Dylan Carrero, two from Scott Ferguson and one from Simon Murray for the Red Lichties; Brian McQueen was who got their marching orders in the game. There were 4 goals at Bayview where East Fife drew with Queen’s Park. The goals from the Fifers came from Caolan McAleer and Liam Smith whilst Darren Miller and Paul Woods got the goals for the Spiders. East Stirlingshire were back on familiar territory as they lost 1-0 to Annan Athletic. Peter Weatherston for Annan got the goal whilst it was Paul Watson who gave Montrose victory over Elgin City.
It means that Arbroath (15) sit back at the top of the league. They deserve credit for getting back there and even if it was thanks to a sending off that they found their groove, Allan Moore will expect them to keep in it and keep up top. Albion Rovers (13) are not that far behind and they still have a 4 point gap between themselves and those below them. The other playoff spots are now shared between Montrose (9) and Berwick Rangers (8). They may have a slender advantage over the chasing pack but it is there nonetheless. Montrose’s win and Berwick’s draw keeps the momentum going but it needs more than that to stay up in the top four.
Underneath there is the usual pack including East Fife (7), Annan Athletic (7), Elgin City (7), Queen’s Park (7) and East Stirlingshire (6). With so little between them this could again be the most competitive league in Scotland. With a Tuesday game between Clyde (4) at the bottom and Montrose 5 points above them, and with a very favourable win Clyde could go from 10th to 4th… It is THAT tight and nobody is safe.
The lack of safety comes courtesy of two leagues with decent teams vying for promotion and the playoffs of their own. In the Lowland League we have Edinburgh City continuing to be well out in front on 23 points. They had a decent win against Gretna 2008 at the weekend whilst in the Highland League it is much closer. Brora Rangers’ draw with Cove Rangers keeps them top – also with 23 points – but they have Inverurie Loco Works (22) who beat Clachnacuddin, Formartine United (22) who beat Fort William and Turriff United , who beat Forres Mechanics (21) truly breathing down their necks.