It has been another cracking weekend of football, followed by a few midweek fixtures and cup games that truly have set the heather alight. With at least one Championship team in the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup by Tuesday night the possibilities of further derby meetings – especially THAT derby – has many in the media all of a quiver… But in the leagues there are plenty of quivering fans too!
At the weekend my match of the weekend saw a dramatic ending as Heart of Midlothian’s Alim Ozturk scored a thundering 35 yard strike in injury time that cancelled out Hibernian’s Dominique Malinga’s opener. Rangers managed to gain ground as Kenny Miller, lee Wallace and Kris Boyd got the three goals to take the three points off Dumbarton. The big win of the day came in the Fife derby as Peter Houston’s Falkirk managed a 6-0 rout of Cowdenbeath. Rory Loy, David Smith, Alex Cooper, Peter Grant, David McCracken and Will Faulks got the goals for a Bairns team I reckoned would start to make waves. Livingston and John McGlynn got a draw with Queen of the South as goals from Danny Mullen and Gary Glen equalised Iain Russell and Gavin Reilly’s strikes for the Doonhamers. Finally Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic also shared the spoils as Liam Buchanan opened for the Wasps and then Grant Anderson equalised for Raith. Barry Smith saw Kyle Benedictus head for an early bath but his team hung on for the point.
It means that Hearts (29) are still top but have dropped a couple of points on their nearest challengers – Rangers (22). With a game in hand it could be claimed that Rangers are within touching distance, and as it is against bottom club Cowdenbeath that they are one win away from catching the Jambos. Of course they still have to collect those wins or Hearts need to slip again.
The playoff spots have Queen of the South (18) clear in third whilst Hibernian (15), Raith Rovers (15) and Falkirk (14) are very close by for fourth. We can now see that Hibs are starting to show that they are potential top three whilst the Bairns may well be on a wee run after Saturday – Peter Houston will be hoping so.
The relegation fight looks like being settled between Dumbarton (10), Livingston (9), Alloa Athletic (8) and Cowdenbeath (8). Smart money may start to being placed on the Blue Brazil for automatic relegation after a few years of saving their skins at the last day or through the playoffs but the layoff relegation spot could become highly contested. With only two points between tenth and seventh each weekend has a squeaky bum element. I reckon it might be Alloa who see their luck finally run out but Barry Smith has a decent squad that could just hang on. Then it is between the auld heid o McGlynn or the new one at the Bet Butler…
My match of the day, just like in the Championship, there was late drama as Declan McManus stuck in injury time for Greenock Morton after Thomas O’Ware had equalised Dunfermline Athletic’s Faissal el-Bakhtaoui’s opener. Ayr United fell further behind as Brechin City beat them 2-0 at Somerset Park; Robert Thomson and Kyle McAusland did the damage. Forfar Athletic are still top though they were held to a 1-1 draw by Stranraer as Sean Winter and dale Hilson got the goals. The Blues then welcomed, midweek, Peterhead and thumped them 5-0. The goals came from Jamie Longworth, with two, Willie Gibson, a Chris Aitken penalty and one from Danny Stoney. It followed Peterhead winning at the weekend against Stenhousemuir 2-1. Rory McAlister got both of the Blue Toon’s goals whilst Colin McMenamin got the consolation for the Warriors. Finally Stirling Albion and Airdrieonians served up four goals in a 2-2 draw. Dale Fulton and Gordon Smith got the goals for the Binos whilst Scott Fraser and Marc Fitzpatrick scored for the Diamonds.
It means that up top we now have Forfar Athletic (22) and Dunfermline Athletic (20) giving ground to the chasing pack. Both gave ground to Greenock Morton (18) and Stranraer (17) who sit in the playoff spots quite comfortably. Jim Duffy and Stephen Aitken can feel satisfied that the first 11 games have gone reasonably well though many in Greenock will see their club as bigger than the Pars and certainly superior to the Loons.
Ayr United (16), Brechin City (15) and Peterhead (15) are all lurking below. For Ayr this has bene a very serious slump and they need to arrest this or the season is going to look forlorn and lost very quickly. For the Hedgemen they have found another rhythm and stopped their decline – ironically by beating Ayr. For Peterhead mid table is good.
The bottom three are Stenhousemuir (11), Airdrieonians (10) and Stirling Albion (7). For the Warriors they are struggling more than they should given the investment in their squad whilst Gary Bollan must wonder why it takes his club so long to start up. The Binos just need a saviour and will hope to see the right and proper candidate in place soon. All three could do with a boost and the best that last weekend gave them were draws…
My match of the day last weekend had six goals in it as league leaders Arbroath blasted Montrose aside. Even the Red Lichties’ goalkeeper, David Crawford managed to score – from his own half – against one of his many former clubs. This added to goals from Simon Murray, Dylan Carreiro and two from Paul McManus. Arbroath didn’t grab all the headlines though as Garry Wood scored a penalty for Montrose and keeper Lucas Birnstingl was sent off in their 5-1 loss. Albion Rovers got themselves a 2-1 victory against Berwick Rangers on Saturday thanks to Darren Young and John Gemmell as Darren Lavery scored for the Borderers. Albion Rovers then travelled to Elgin City on Tuesday night and rattled four past them with Scot Chaplain getting two whilst Mick Dunlop and Gary Phillips got the other two. Annan Athletic managed to win by the odd goal in seven at home to East Stirlingshire. Peter Weatherston got two and David Hopkirk and Matty Flynn the other two for Jim Chapman’s side whilst Neil McCabe, David McKenna and Paul Brennan netted for the Shire. Clyde managed a 2-1 win at home to Elgin City as Kevin Watt scored both for the Bully Wee and mark Nicolson one for Elgin. Finally Queen’s Park got a very decent 3-0 win against East Fife thanks to Shaun Fraser, Ciaran McElroy and Darren Miller.
It means that Arbroath (27) remain seven points clear at the top. They are now being chased by both Albion Rovers (20) and Queen’s Park (19) but are truthfully well enough in front to not feel too much under pressure. In turn there is a six point gap before we have a handy ladder that sees fourth to tenth separated by five points. So we have Montrose (13), Annan Athletic (12), Clyde (12), East Fife (11), Berwick Rangers (10), East Stirlingshire (9) and Elgin City (8). All of these clubs could be in the playoffs or League One or up against the winners of the playoff between the Highland and Lowland Leagues. Right now Edinburgh City have an eight point gap at the top of the Lowland league and Brora Rangers are a point ahead of Wick Academy with two games in hand.