Scottish Championship: 9 teams battle it out for it all in world football's best final day - the odd one out
Of the ten second-tier sides, Raith are the only without anything to play for in what may be the greatest climax to a league season anywhere in the world. Nine teams will, across 90 tantalising and tense minutes, slug it out to decide the destiny of the title, the make-up of the play-off spots, top and bottom, and tenth place which results in relegation to League One. This is the Scottish Championship. So often an enthralling and fascinating division. A capricious beast made all the more unpredictable with the introduction of the play-offs and the presence of one of the most untrustworthy teams in Scottish football, Dundee.
Complicated, challenging but compelling
The Dens Park men fall into a category of Scottish clubs who have a proclivity to produce the unexpected just when you expect them to do one particular thing. Dundee Football Club possess this special quality, more than any other, to opt for the route more complicated, challenging but compelling. The father who has no interest in Google Maps, traditional maps or road signs, instead leading his family across the continent in a whimsical fashion and unreliable motor on nothing more than instinct and vibes.
Take last Friday night as the perfect example. A home game on the television against a Cove Rangers side who, coming into the fixture, had conceded six goals in a game more times in 2023 than had kept clean sheets. Three points and up the road, putting pressure on title challengers Queen’s Park who had a tricky assignment the following day at Greenock Morton. The most obvious and straightforward of routes. Dundee, of course, opted for one which was far more in keeping with Wacky Races. They could only draw 0-0, Lee Ashcroft hitting the woodwork in stoppage time to win it for the home side. Naturally, Queen's Park lost the following day meaning Dundee would have been Championship winners if they had won. Now, they go to Ochilview needing just a point to return to the Premiership. It perfectly sums up Gary Bowyer’s first year in charge. Just when they look like they are kicking on under the popular Englishman, they don’t.
This is why you can only stand back and admire Dundee and their one win from five games since trouncing Hamilton Accies 7-0. An incredible penchant for putting their long-suffering supporters through the wringer as the rest of Scottish football watches on in amazement. Those same fans camped out for 12 hours to snap up their allocation for Friday night. An incredible commitment.
The play-off farrago
This has been a Championship no one has wanted to win. Queen's Park led the league by seven points on March 18. Despite the redevelopment of Lesser Hampden making those behind the Edinburgh trams blush, on the field they have been an impressive outfit with the likes of Malachi Boateng and Grant Savoury catching the eye. Yet, they have picked up just four points from their last 18. Whoever wins the Championship will do so with the lowest tally since the division became a ten-team, 36-game campaign in 1994/95.
Remarkably, Owen Coyle’s men could still finish fourth, such is the nature of what is happening below the top two. Four teams are separated by two points and two of them face each other on Friday evening. Ayr United, title challengers for a long spell with perhaps the most talismanic presence in striker Dipo Akinyemi, travel to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. A draw might do for the Honest Men but a win would definitely secure a play-off spot. ICT, fresh from reaching the Scottish Cup final, know they need three points due to their goal difference. It has been a bizarre campaign for the Highlanders summed up by a 3-0 win over Livingston in the cup followed by back-to-back defeats by Hamilton Accies. They are the form team, however, winning nine of their last 11 in all competitions.
Partick Thistle, who can flip between rampant and stuffy under Kris Doolan, will be safe in the top four with a draw at Raith Rovers. Meanwhile, Morton will be focusing on winning at Cove Rangers but having an eye elsewhere. They will take a play-off spot if either Partick Thistle lose or ICT and Ayr draw. Dougie Imrie has done a wonderful job at Cappielow and if they snuck in, it would be hard to look past them navigating their way through six games and into the Premiership.
Battle for survival
Then the bottom. Three teams separated by three points with tenth taking on eighth. Cove, in ninth, have given themselves a lifeline with five points from their last four matches, including a win at Arbroath who sit eighth. Only Peterhead have conceded more in the entire SPFL than Paul Hartley's men, who have shipped three or more goals in ten of their 35 league games. The former Hearts and Celtic midfielder has not had the impact many would have expected and hoped when he returned to replace Jim McIntryre following an ill-fated spell with Hartlepool United. Accies, perhaps the team with the most disgruntled fan base with what’s happening on and off the field, will concede that the play-off spot is the best they can hope for, even with a win at Gayfield, due to the goal difference. They are three points behind Arbroath and one behind Cove. As for the Smokies … this time last year, they were looking ahead to a promotion play-off after just losing out to Kilmarnock in the title race. Remaining in the second tier this campaign will still be considered success after a trying season which has brought just six league wins.
Now it’s time to sit back and watch the greatest end to a league season unfold.
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