D-day for Dunfermline Athletic as John Hughes and Co bid to avoid nightmare scenario - it's in Ayr's hands
While last Friday’s action in the cinch Championship caught the imagination of the country as Kilmarnock edged out Arbroath in a title decider, there are still two matters that need settled going into tonight’s final round of fixtures.
Granted, one of them is done and dusted barring an improbable set of results: Partick Thistle, in fourth place, lead Raith Rovers by three points and eight goals. For them to miss out on the play-offs, the Maryhill outfit would need to lose to Ayr United at Somerset Park and Rovers to overcome Killie at Stark’s Park with a large swing in goal difference.
However, Ayr still have plenty to play for, while Kilmarnock don’t. The Honest Men are vying with Dunfermline Athletic to avoid finishing ninth and being involved in the relegation play-offs. Ayr are one point ahead of the Pars – with a goal difference of -15 compared to -16 – and know a win would make them safe. Anything else and the Fife outfit could pounce.
This is not where either team planned to be at the outset, with Ayr hoping to kick on under new manager Lee Bullen and managing director Graeme Mathie. For Dunfermline, though, the position they find themselves in is galling given they finished fourth last season and had designs on promotion again. The erroneous appointment of Peter Grant as manager in the summer cost them dearly and while his successor, John Hughes, has them playing better football, the reality is that results have only slightly improved. Dunfermline have only won seven times all season.
On paper, they have the easier match against already demoted Queen of the South, but this will be a nervy night for German consortium DAFC Fussball GmbH, who invested heavily in the summer and are due to become majority shareholders.
Thomas Meggle, one of the leading members of DAFC Fussball GmbH, spoke to respected German newspaper Bild earlier this week and said the timescale for all their plans, which include a new training base in Rosyth, are between “seven and nine years”. Relegation to Scotland’s third tier isn’t likely to have featured on the consortium’s radar at the start of the year, but Meggle says that going down would not have an impact on their vision. Patience is the game for him. “We have all been well received here,” added Meggle, who will need to find a new chairman when Ross McArthur stands down next month.
Hughes, of course, has wretched play-off history with this division. He took Raith Rovers, just a short ride along the A92, down via them in the 2016/17 campaign. Finishing ninth would bring a semi-final match against Queen’s Park. Hughes has another two years on his contract at East End Park and won’t want another dalliance with demotion.
Neither do Ayr, though, who at least have matters in their own hands. “We are where we are and now have to deal with it,” said captain Sean McGinty. “On Friday, everyone needs to be calm, cool and collected and make sure when the chances come we take them.”
Elsewhere on closing night in the Championship, second-placed Arbroath welcome Morton to Gayfield and Inverness Caledonian Thistle host Hamilton Accies, but all eyes will be on the fortunes of Ayr and Dunfermline in a division that never fails to excite.
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