SPFL Premiership relegation dogfight is where real drama is

With Celtic having all but wrapped up the title, and Aberdeen pulling away from Rangers, the bottom six may be the last bastion of competition in this season's Scottish top flight, as Rory West writes
Hamilton and Partick Thistle are among the seven clubs in danger of relegation. Picture: SNSHamilton and Partick Thistle are among the seven clubs in danger of relegation. Picture: SNS
Hamilton and Partick Thistle are among the seven clubs in danger of relegation. Picture: SNS

The Scottish Premiership’s bottom six. Often there are a few couple of clubs left with playing for nothing. This season, however, looks as though it could go down to the wire with as many as seven teams battling it out, seeing as, with eight games until the split, only seven points separate bottom from sixth.

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Inverness are currently taking up the bottom position. However, with a positive result at Hearts last weekend, they are now only two points off Hamilton in 11th . They are lucky enough to have a slightly easier run in to the split than Hamilton, who in their next five games have to face the top five, so it is vital for Inverness to use the confidence from the 1-1 at Tynecastle to consistently start picking up points.

Hamilton’s issue this season has been letting leads slip. If football games ended at half time, Accies would be clear into the top six. Their failure to see games out is the reason why they struggling as they are. Accies are also the second lowest scorers in the league, only behind Kilmarnock, and don’t have their troubles to seek in front of goal.

It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the battle between those two sides came down to the final meeting, post-split.

If Accies do manage to defy the odds and pick up some points against the top five, it’ll mean nervous times for the teams ahead of them: Motherwell, Ross County and Kilmarnock; who sit tenth to eighth, respectively. Their Lanarkshire rivals Motherwell are only three points ahead of Accies and going by the current form, one result would be enough to catch them.

Even though a dip in form could be catastrophic at this stage, Motherwell and Ross County should be good enough to steer themselves away from any possible relegation/playoff spot dogfight. In Liam Boyce and Louis Moult, they each have a proven goalscorer, and this advantage should see the two clubs clear of any sort of trouble. Both players are high up in the top scoring charts this season and their predatory instinct could possibly be the difference between those two and Hamilton.

Kilmarnock aren’t short of problems with Lee Clark leaving his position as manager last week for Bury, and Lee McCulloch taking over as caretaker. Killie put in a very solid performance against Aberdeen at the weekend, even if they did lose the game 2-1 after leading going into the final 10 minutes. McCulloch doesn’t have a bad record when he has been placed in interim charge of Kilmarnock but surely the club’s board will be looking making a permanent appointment – whether that is McCulloch – sooner rather than later.

Killie losing Souleymane Coulibaly in the January transfer window was a massive blow as he was the main source of their goals. With him there would have still been a credible chance of Kilmarnock making the top six, and while there still is a possibility of them doing that, Killie’s main concern will be to ensure that, if they do end up in the bottom six, they are easily safe from relegation.

Dundee and Partick Thistle sit in sixth and seventh, respectively, having both one last weekend. Goals have been an issue for both sides at varying points this campaign, but they have the slightest of cushions thanks to their ability to keep other teams out, as they hold the lowest (Thistle) and second lowest (Dundee) goals against totals of all the clubs in the relegation scrap.

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With the points difference between sixth and bottom this season reaching as low as three points at stages this season, it has been the tightest relegation fight the league has seen in years, and definitely the tightest in the SPFL era. With 13 games to go in total, including the split, there are still plenty of points to play for and it will be massively intriguing to watch how it pans out.

• Rory West is a panelist on the Pints and Penalties podcast. He can be found on Twitter here.