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Runners and riders – Part two

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Leagues One and Two take centre stage in this round–up and I’ll have a look at the likely promotion and relegation candidates in each league and also delve into the pyramid system which could see a new addition to the league set up next season. The system isn’t quite as well organised as the one we see down south but it is a step in the right direction and it will ensure competitive action right up until the last kick of the ball this season.

The popular opinion in Scotland is that we are managing a decline and when you look at proud clubs of old like Airdrieonians, Dunfermline Athletic and Ayr United languishing in the lower leagues you can understand why people believe that to be the case but could this year be the renaissance of Greenock Morton and a much-needed boost for the Scottish game.

Cappielow is home to one of Scotland’s most traditional clubs, its ramshackle terraces have of late witnessed a club floundering in its own existence but this season and with the help of a young, vibrant squad they have set up returning the club to its former glories. They have gainfully picked up young players in their early twenties who have either lost their way slightly or have been released from bigger clubs and given them a platform to play on where they can showcase their talents, giving them experience and in turn moving The Ton forward as a club.

League One

Title and Play-offs

Morton, under the stewardship of veteran manager Jim Duffy, sit proudly at the summit of league one but have three clubs behind them as the race to be crowned champions and automatic entry in to the Championship looks set to be a frantic finale for all involved. A two point lead over Stranraer and with Brechin City and Forfar Athletic only a couple of wins away from catching Duffy’s side you can be sure that the whole squad will be looking to continue their fine run which has seen them go unbeaten in their last six, winning five.

Much will come down to whether or not the teams can keep going right until the final day. Morton have gone eight games without defeat but Brechin surpass that with an astonishing sixteen matches since their last loss and if Ray McKinnon’s side are to be promoted they will be hoping that Alan Trouten will continue scoring the goals.

Trouten has scored 12 goals so far this season one behind Declan McManus on loan at Morton, form Aberdeen, as the league’s second top goalscorer. Brechin possess an experienced squad in comparison to their title rivals with an average age of 24.8years, Morton sit at a youthful 23.5years below the league average of 24.3years.

The other two promotion hopefuls hold the aces when it comes to experience and could that be enough to see them last the journey as the going gets tough? Players like Gavin Swankie, Rab Douglas and Darren Dods provide knowledge of the Scottish game that may well stand their Forfar Athletic side in good stead when it comes down to the crunch. Jamie Longworth, Sean Winter and former Pars man Willie Gibson will be the men Stevie Aitken will be relying on to hopefully help guide his team in to the Championship.

A fascinating final few weeks in store but who will be crowned Champions in the end and who will have to settle for the lottery of the play-offs?

Relegation

Stirling Albion look set to drop into League Two after a horrendous season for the Binos who have lost eighteen of their twenty-seven league matches, winning only two. Their inability to score goals has cost them dearly, twenty-eight goals in the league so far, and they have often surrendered in matches at the other end with four of these defeats coming as a result of losing by four or more goals.

Stenhousemuir and Ayr United are the clubs who sit above the Forthbank club although with an eleven point gap between ninth placed Stenny and Stuart McLaren’s men it’s safe to say that The Honest Men and The Warriors will be battling it out to avoid the League One play-off.

Stenhousemuir will point to their latest result which seen them beat high-flying Stranraer at Ochilview and they will be hoping to build up a wee run of form as they enter the home strait. The pair clash a week on Saturday (14th) and the contest at Somerset Park will be some occasion for both sets of supporters.

Veteran striker’s Colin McMenamin (Stenhousemuir) and Craig Beattie (Ayr United) will be handed the task of scoring the goals which would secure safety and both will thrive on that pressure. Can their teammates create enough chances for them to do what they are good at? Both clubs have struggled for goals this year and they will need to find that midas touch if they are to survive.

Ayr United have only scored three or more this season on four occasions, Stenhousemuir have only managed to do that in three matches, now would be a great time for the ageing pair to start banging them in.

Predictions

Champions: Greenock Morton
Play-offs: Stranraer, Brechin City, Forfar Athletic
League One Play-off: Ayr United
Relegated: Stirling Albion

League Two

Title and Play-offs

Long time leaders Arbroath have been replaced of late at the top of Scotland’s lower leagues and both Queen’s Park and Albion Rovers will be hoping to maintain their slight advantage over the Red Lichties.

Fifteen goal Simon Murray and strike partner Paul McManus will hope to score the goals that see Arbroath promoted as champions but they will have to start soon to halt a horrible run which sees the Gayfield club winless in their last six matches. The strike duo have helped Arbroath score a whopping 2.04 goals per game and if they are to regain the lead then they will have to find their early season form once more.

Conversely Queens Park and Albion find themselves in the higher echelons of the league due to their strong defensive units. The Hampden outfit have conceded twenty-five goals in twenty-seven matches and their Coatbridge counterparts have only seen their defence breached on twenty-four occasions in twenty-six league games.

These figures have seen them rise up the league and provide real competition in the final few weeks of the 2014-2015 season.

East Fife are the form team in the league with five wins and no defeats in their last six league games and they will be hoping former Hibernian striker Derek Riordan can add to their goal tally, averaging 1.62 per game, as they look to end the season in the play-offs ahead of Annan Athletic. Riordan has played two games as a trialist scoring two and assisting a couple and has now put pen to paper on a deal until the end of the season.

Could be a shrewd move by Fifers gaffer Gary Naysmith who has been earning rave reviews since he took over the reins in Methil back in December 2013.

Relegation

Montrose are languishing at the bottom of league two with Berwick, East Stirlingshire and Elgin City still within striking distance but both Elgin and East Stirlingshire have picked up form of late.

Berwick Rangers who face Hibernian at Easter Road in the Scottish Cup quarter-final on Sunday but they need to arrest an alarming slump in league form to avoid being dragged in to the pyramids first play off.

They’ve lost five out of their last six league games and with only a seven point gap there may be some worried faces down at Shielfield Park.

If Montrose are to survive then they will need to stop leaking goals – an obscene 2.30 goals per game – experienced Marvin Andrews may be the man to help them do just that.

Berwick head to Links Park in two weeks time and if the gap is smaller – due to Berwick’s inactivity this week then they could be facing a nerve-wracking tie against the winners of the Highland League or the Lowland League to protect their league status.

Predictions

Champions: Queen’s Park
Play-offs: Arbroath, Albion Rovers, East Fife
League Two play-off: Montrose

Pyramid system

Highland League

Brora Rangers sit top of the league and are unbeaten throughout the league season winning twenty-one of their twenty-five games. They look a certainty to fend off the challenge of Turriff United and take part in the inaugural play-off with the winners of the Lowland League.

Lowland League

Edinburgh City have been fantastic in their league season and also possess an unbeaten league record winning sixteen of their eighteen matches played this season.

They’ve only conceded ten goals and can proudly march towards a tie with their Highland counterparts.

Good luck to all involved over the next few weeks.

Prediction

Edinburgh City to get promoted beating Montrose over two legs.

If you can get yourself out to a game in the next few weeks, go and take one in you might be pleasantly surprised by what you see and the passion these guys give to the game they love.

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