Title races, goalscoring goalkeepers, unbeaten teams and flying Stenny: SPFL lower leagues take centre stage as Premiership sleeps

A look at the current state of play in the Championship, League One and League Two

Scottish football never rests. It barely pauses for breath. So while the cinch Premiership may be heading into a short winter break, the lower leagues, renowned for producing relentless storylines, excitement and drama, will simply carry on entertaining us throughout the next fortnight. Across all three divisions – Championship, League One and League Two – there are title races, play-off battles and relegation scraps involving each and every one of the 30 clubs that reside there.

Dundee United, relegated last season, may wish the situation at the top of Championship was a little less interesting. Claiming 41 points from their opening 18 games, suffering only one defeat, represents a solid first half of the campaign. Jim Goodwin’s side are going about their business efficiently, but a major complication to their hopes of an instant return to the Premiership has emerged in the shape of a Raith Rovers side on a 16-match unbeaten run and enjoying their best season since the halcyon days of the 1990s.

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A remarkable run of late goals and comeback victories, followed by 1-0 win at Tannadice on December 16, moved the Stark's Park side five points clear at the top of the standings heading into the festive period. A wobble followed – dropping four points from winning positions at home by drawing 4-4 with 10-man Ayr then throwing away at two-goal lead against an injury-ravaged Arbroath for whom sub goalie Ali Adams was subbed on outfield and scored a 30-yard wonder volley to leave the Kirkcaldy side somewhat redfaced as the clip of the "thunderbastard" was watched over 7 million times on social media. Such setbacks can be hard to recover from, but Ian Murray's men got back on track big-style with a 2-1 win over Dunfermline at East End Park in the Fife derby on January 2 to reinforce their title credentials.

Falkirk are the undefeated league team in the SPFL.Falkirk are the undefeated league team in the SPFL.
Falkirk are the undefeated league team in the SPFL.

Another test will follow on Saturday as they travel to the venue where they suffered their only defeat of the season so far in a 1-0 loss to Airdrieonians back in September. Victory at the Excelsior Stadium would be another huge statement. But while United now trail Raith by three points, they have a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference, which could be handy down the line. United had a sticky spell themselves – suffering back-to-back cup exits to lower league opposition with Falkirk and Queen of the South knocking them out of the Challenge and Scottish Cups respectively – before the defeat to Raith was followed by a forgettable goalless draw against bottom of the table Queen's Park. But they too have shown their powers of recovery with consecutive 3-0 wins over Partick and Arbroath setting them up nicely for Saturday's visit of a resurgent Greenock Morton side who are now making a strong push for the play-offs having enjoyed the best run of form in the division over the past six matches.

Elsewhere in the second tier, Partick are somewhat marooned in third place, eight points ahead of Airdrieonians but nine behind United. The Jags are good entertainment value – their 19 games have produced 69 goals which is the highest tally in Scotland at an average of 3.6 per match – but they just haven't managed to find the consistency of the top two. A home match against second bottom Arbroath is next up with a goalless draw the least likely outcome.

The new manager bounce has tailed off somewhat for Duncan Ferguson at Inverness with the former Everton and Rangers striker now without a win in his last five matches having started his tenure with seven games unbeaten. He takes his side to Ayr United on Saturday as two struggling teams bid to regain some momentum and put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone. Queen's Park, three points adrift at the bottom and without a win since August, may view a home match against an injury-hit Dunfermline side as a chance to get the monkey off their back.

There is another intriguing battle taking place for the League One title, but Falkirk seized the initiative with a 3-1 victory away to Hamilton Accies in last month's top of the table clash at New Douglas Park. John McGlynn's men are the only team in the SPFL who can still boast an unbeaten league record, and have opened up a five-point gap at the top, which could become eight if they win their game in hand. This is the Bairns' fifth straight season languishing in the third tier of Scottish football – too long for a club of that stature – but in McGlynn they have a manager going for his third League One winners medal having twice taken Raith up, so the omens are looking good. They welcome fifth-placed Queen of the South to Falkirk Stadium on Saturday while Accies travel to eighth-placed Stirling Albion in the later 5.30pm kick-off which will be shown live on BBC Alba.

Dundee United and Raith Rovers are locked in a battle for the Championship title.Dundee United and Raith Rovers are locked in a battle for the Championship title.
Dundee United and Raith Rovers are locked in a battle for the Championship title.

Cove Rangers are looking a good bet to finish third but only six points separate Montrose in fourth from Stirling in eighth, with Annan Athletic and Edinburgh City looking set to battle it out between themselves for the automatic relegation or play-off place.

Stenhousemuir have taken a firm control of the League Two title race thanks to a remarkable run of nine-straight league victories that have taken Gary Naysmith's side 11 points clear at the top of the standings. Stenny also remain unbeaten away from home all season and have conceded just three goals on their travels. Second-placed Peterhead have a game in hand, and Dumbarton, two points further back, have two games in hand, but the men from Ochilview have put themselves in a seriously strong position at the halfway stage. Down the bottom, Clyde are six points adrift and in serious danger of facing a Pyramid Play-off for their SPFL survival unless Ian McCall can turn their fortunes around. The former Partick boss replaced the sacked Brian McLean in November but is yet to oversee a league victory.



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