The relegation battle from the Ladbrokes Championship is a tense, nervy but exciting affair with six team involved. Andy Harrown looks at those involved as the league enters its penultimate weekend.
Six teams, six points, two rounds. That is what the Scottish Championship relegation tussle has come down to and anyone confidently predicting the final outcome is an enduring optimist/pessimist (delete as appropriate), or has their hands on Marty McFly’s copy of Grays Sports Almanac.
The relegation battle has, over the course of the season, ebbed this way and that. With two weeks to go, six clubs remain in danger of demotion to League One and, at some stage, all have had to face the bleak prospect of falling out of the division.
Dunfermline have danced most distantly from the precipice and their current buffer of fifth place might be enough, even if they can’t rouse themselves for the final fortnight. The number of teams below them leaves it unlikely that they’ll take either of the bottom two spots, but under Stevie Crawford they’ve veered wildly between woeful and impressive and back again. Currently six games without a win, and with Morton on Saturday, they remain a going concern.
The idea that Partick Thistle would be sitting clear of the basement with two weekends to go seemed fanciful as recently as mid-April. For so long they’ve slopped miserably around the bottom two and, perhaps unsurprisingly, being kidnapped by the SAS earlier in the season did nothing to improve performances. More conventionally, it’s been new signings - January additions Steven Anderson and Scott McDonald especially - that have instilled a new-found confidence in the Jags. Wins over relegation rivals Alloa last Saturday and away to Ayr a on Tuesday night have propelled Gary Caldwell’s men two points clear of ninth and into the giddy (if slightly illusionary) position of sixth. With Ayr at home and Queen of the South away still to come, they will fancy their chances of escape.
If alarm bells are clanging distantly, if frenetically, at Firhill, they will sound thunderous at both Cappielow and Palmerston.
Morton were in free fall until the weekend when they halted the rot with a win. One victory in 13 was the ominous statistic for Jonatan Johansson’s men prior to Saturday, but their 2-0 win over Falkirk eased the pressure somewhat.
Johansson’s side have gone from shipping goals by the barrowload to being incapable of scoring or even creating chances and fans have become disgruntled with the former Finnish internationalist. They sit in seventh ahead of fixtures with Dunfermline and Dundee United.
Queen of the South were in a similar freefall to their Greenock rivals until they too edged a win last Saturday. It’s hard to imagine that a side with a striker scoring 21 league goals could be in danger of relegation, but it emphasises just how reliant Queens are on Stephen Dobbie. Capable of making something out of nothing, Dobbie has consistently been a grade above any of his colleagues and, with the striker first out of form and now injured, the lack of alternatives has been exposed. A win against the Pars halted a run of one win in 11 and gives their supporters hope that they can survive without their main man. On Friday night, audiences will be able to see for themselves as they face champions-elect Ross County in Dingwall live on the BBC Scotland channel.
Alloa have, unlike Morton and Queens, become well accustomed to the bottom rungs of the table this season. The part-timers only achieved their first league win on the 20th October, but a run of four victories in a row over March and April have pulled them back into the crowd.
They are the underdogs in the battle and have played in recent weeks with all the determination and vigour of a side enjoying the chance to give the favourites a bloody nose. From Neil Parry in goals, who has made crucial saves of late, to Dario Zanatta and Jordan Kirkpatrick, they have the players capable of finishing the job against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ayr in the final fortnight.
Falkirk, meanwhile, have been staring into the abyss harder and longer than most over recent days. After defeat to Morton last weekend, they’re dead last, two points off the relative safety of the play-off spot and a further point of the actual safety of eighth.
It wasn’t long ago that the Bairns were regulars in the play-offs at the other end of the table, but those teams have been slowly, methodically stripped bare. The drift had begun before the summer and the dissolution of the youth set-up did nothing to quell fears that the club was going in the wrong direction. Without the young players who’d regularly emerged through the ranks, the club had to rely on a smart transfer strategy and the tranche of English-based journeyman who turned up in the summer was worryingly far-removed from that.
It was hoped replacing Paul Hartley - who’d overseen the summer recruitment - with Ray McKinnon would improve the situation and although he stripped away some of the dead wood, results have yet to justify the ultimately expensive decision to lure him from Greenock.
They face the trickiest of schedules if they hope to save themselves at the last. Dundee United at Tannadice is followed by Ross County at home. Given the recent results though, who would really bet against them?
Ross County v Queen of the South is live on BBC Scotland at 7pm (7.05pm KO).