AYR may be Scottish champions, but the decision to shrink the national leagues to ten teams has ensured there is plenty to play for as the championships near their conclusion this weekend.
In the top flight, the seven teams ranked third to ninth could still, technically, drop into the second bottom spot and a relegation play-off with the second team in the National League (old second division). Looking upwards, those seven could also still qualify for the British and Irish Cup next season by finishing in the top four.
Ayr and Gala split from the rest of the chasing pack with their form earlier in the season and so they are assured of British and Irish Cup spots, but with both intent on a cup crown coaches Kenny Murray and George Graham, respectively, are insistent that their sides will not be slacking off.
Gala will today host neighbours Melrose and with the sides meeting again at Netherdale next weekend in the Scottish Cup semi-final, this is a dress rehearsal that both are desperate to win.
Melrose need to win today as victory for the sixth-placed team would put them in with a shot at a British and Irish Cup place, depending on results elsewhere, and defeat leave them vulnerable to that dreaded relegation play-off.
Ayr are away to Aberdeen Grammar seeking an 18th defence of the Bill McLaren Shield, but with the hosts knowing that a bonus-point win would put them a point ahead of Heriot’s and Stirling County, the teams in third and fourth, before today’s kick-offs, and in with an outside chance of a top-four place. For that to happen both Heriot’s and County would have to lose, but that is far from impossible. Stirling were due to head to Dundee today, but despite looking at pitches across the city, Dundee had to postpone the game due to flooding. It has been rescheduled for 6 April, so that relegation battle may now be prolonged.
Raymond Mountford of Stirling said: “We had offered to play Sunday, but this had player availability issues for Dundee in what is a huge game for all. Whilst frustrating the weather is its own master and Stirling will prepare for the sixth with the same expectation of a big game.”
That only heightens the tension as Heriot’s are at Currie, who are on the same points as Dundee and currently occupy the relegation play-off spot, so either side there could ease themselves to safety or leave themselves waiting two weeks on the Dundonians’ result.
Boroughmuir’s fate is sealed and they will drop into the RBS National League for 2013/14. But should they defeat Edinburgh Accies and Currie, Aberdeen and Melrose – and Dundee, when they play – all win, Accies’ great improvements would be on the line with a relegation play-off.
The top of the National League is every bit as intense, with Glasgow Hawks and Hawick fighting for the title and to avoid finishing second. These sides would probably rather not have local derbies to settle it, but they do with Hawick at already-relegated Jed-Forest and Hawks hosting Hillhead-Jordanhill.
Hawick start a point behind and 57 points fewer in points difference so simply need Hawks to draw or lose, and them to win at Riverside to have a chance of pipping the Glasgow men and securing automatic promotion.
Gala (v Melrose at Netherdale, 3pm): A McLean; G Somerville, B Turner, C Borthwick, C Robertson; L Millar, G Graham; L Pettie, C Mackintosh, C Hogg, G Graham, O Palepoi (capt), C Keddie, B Murray, E Dods.
Subs: E McQuillin, R Anderson, T Weir, G Young, A Emond.
Melrose: F Thomson; L Mallin, B Dick, J Helps, A Dodds; A Skeen, S McCormick; N Little, R Ferguson, G Holborn, R Miller, G Dodds, J Dalziel, G Runciman, A Nagle. Subs: W Mitchell, S Lowe, R Ovens, B Colvine, R Mill.
Boroughmuir (v Edinburgh Accies at Meggetland, 3pm): R Cairns; D Hoyland, K Buchan, S Wilson, J Edmunds; A Warnock, S Johnson; N Fraser, M Brown, J Latta, G Scott, A Davidson, J Achilles, N Rodger, J Swanson. Subs: D Miller, K Coertze, A MacLeod, A Henderson, D Reekie.
Edinburgh Accies: A Blair; M Coupar, E Campbell, I Berthinussen, N Godsmark; R Bonner, A Black; D Morrison, M Liness, A Allan, G Campbell, T Drennan, D Teague (capt), R Snape, C Reid. Subs: F Rawlinson, C Murray, A Findlater, J Adams, R Young.
Currie (v Heriot’s at Malleny Park, 3pm): L Draycott; A Hinds, J Houston, J Broadley, M Peacock; G Hunter, R Snedden; A Hamilton, R Merrilees, F Watts, G Temple, S Marcel, M Cairns (capt), M Entwhistle, R Weston. Subs: B Elmslie, M Erskine, S Burton, M Johnstone, A Binikos.
Heriot’s: M Penn; C Goudie, M Learmonth, C Ferguson, M Nimmo; G Wilson (capt), OJ Brown; C Owenson, K Bryce, S Cessford, CJ Osazuwa, R Nimmo, F Brown, C Mulligan, J Hill. Subs: JP Ward/N Borrell, B Morrissey, J Parker, R Carmichael, H Boisseau.
Aberdeen Grammar (v Ayr at Rubislaw, 3pm): S Aitken; G Walker, P Nacamavuto, W Wardlaw, C Gordon; S Wight, M Ward; M Dixon, S O’Connor, N Fraser, S Smith, S Warnock, G Ryan (capt), T McGuiness, C Eyre. Subs: C McConnachie, S Bingham, A Crammond/M Douglas, M Ryan, R Lawson.
Ayr: G Anderson; C Taylor, R Fergusson, D Kelbrick, C Gossman; R Curle, M McConnell; D Mutamangira, H Wisnewski, G Hunter, S Sutherland, N Campbell, G Fisken, A Dunlop, C Forrester (captain). Subs: S Rae, S Fenwick, C White, P Jericevich, R Dalgleish.