Excitement, dismay and potential skulduggery - why the Scottish Championship trumps any Super League

Almost 35 years to the day from Albert Kidd-administered heartbreak, Hearts could find themselves helping Dundee along the way to joining them in the Premiership.

Third-placed Dundee host second-placed Raith Rovers this weekend in one of a number of vital Championship clashes between now and next Friday   (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
Third-placed Dundee host second-placed Raith Rovers this weekend in one of a number of vital Championship clashes between now and next Friday (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

This is just one strand of intrigue that might be set to unfold in the last week of the Championship. There promises to be excitement, dismay and some potential skulduggery thrown into the mix for good measure. Welcome to the Championship, where, with two games to go, eight teams are still entertaining ambitions of going up or avoiding going down.

The two that are not – already relegated Alloa Athletic and champions Hearts – are very much still involved in the issues. Although unlikely, it’s still possible that one team – Queen of the South – could finish in a top four place or ninth, meaning they would face a play-off battle to remain in the second tier. Allan Johnston's sixth-placed side are not out of promotion contention either. Talk about a Super League.

The truncated 27-game season wraps up next Friday night. One thing is guaranteed: BBC Scotland will be televising what at kick off will be a meeting of first (Hearts) and second (Raith). Whatever happens this weekend, that situation won’t alter. All that might change is that Raith will be cemented in second place with no need to look over their shoulder.

Hearts under Robbie Neilson have won the title but could still have a say in the play-off race. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)


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BBC Scotland won’t want that because it would mean they are broadcasting a dead rubber. There will be more interest in the score updates flashing up along the bottom of the screen. They would need a screen split into five to relay the full glory of the last day drama. It’s almost certain every game other than the one at Stark’s Park, and it’s very possible that will too, will mean something to someone.

Raith only need to avoid losing at Dundee this weekend to be assured second place in the league – a remarkable achievement considering they only came up last season. If Dundee win, they will have sealed their place in the top four at least. It would also give James McPake’s men a chance of overhauling Raith in second. This would require Hearts to take something from Raith on the final day of the season.

Hearts fans might find this thought completely unpalatable. Help Dundee? The club whose 2-0 win on the last day of the 1985/86 Premier Division campaign destroyed their hopes of becoming Scottish champions, after an unbeaten 27-game run? Hearts only needed a point that afternoon. Cue Kidd, who had come on as substitute just after the hour mark, scoring twice in the last seven minutes of the season.

There’s more recent history between the clubs of course. Dundee were the ones who effectively sealed Hearts’ relegation when they switched their vote after a resolution to curtail the season and calculate league standings on average points per game played.


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Hearts and Partick Thistle, the team relegated from the second tier, took the issue to the courts, with Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, who were all set to be promoted, served papers. So while giving Dundee a hand is not top of Hearts’ priorities, neither is helping Raith secure second place – they featured nearly as high on the Tynecastle club’s list of enemies last summer.

But then, although they were champions-elect for weeks and had this status confirmed nearly a fortnight ago, Hearts cannot afford to take things too easily against anyone – or at least Robbie Neilson can’t.

The manager is fighting to keep his job midst significant fan unhappiness at the manner in which Hearts have engaged with the task of securing the title. In a documentary aired at the start of the season, owner Ann Budge declared she wanted to win every game. Hearts have won 15 of 25 matches to date and have rarely looked as comfortable as expected given the difference in budgets with the opposition.

Hearts have formed a close bond with Inverness, one of the clubs who stood by them during last summer’s voting farrago. Nevertheless, Neilson will demand 100 per cent commitment this weekend. Inverness have been in superb form under temporary manager Neil McCann. Even if Hearts belatedly turn on the style, the visitors will be no pushovers. Or, as some wags are insisting on forums, if Hearts do take it slightly easier, will we even notice? Ouch.


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McCann is infuriated that the hearing after they appealed the red cards shown to Scott Allardice and Brad McKay against Dundee on Tuesday night will be heard on the eve of the clash with Hearts, meaning McCann has to prepare three different line-ups. If the worst comes to the worst and they fail to overturn both decisions, they will be without two valuable players. Inverness understandably feel that if it was Rangers or Celtic appealing before a critical game, there would not be the same rush to deal with the matter.

As it stands, Inverness are just outside the play-off places. They will cling to the hope of overhauling Dunfermline, who seem to have found some form again after a terrible run of results. The Pars face Arbroath at East End Park before travelling to take on Alloa on the last day. The intrigue here is that Alloa and Dunfermline are ‘pandemic partners’ after an agreement struck last summer which involved sharing each other’s facilities if and when required.

That they should meet on the last day seems unwelcome when issues are being decided – especially if Dunfermline do still need something to secure a top four position. But then it won’t be the only game on which fierce scrutiny will fall as paranoia and anxiety sets in around the country in a division deserving of its own multi-million pound television deal on the basis of the drama generated.

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