Title rivals set to battle for supremacy at Malleny Park

THE Scottish Hydro Premier One title will not be decided this afternoon, but whoever wins the long-awaited battle of the Scottish club giants at Malleny Park will certainly believe they have put one hand on the trophy.

Ayr are the reigning champions and now cup holders, too, and though they inflicted the only defeat suffered by Currie this season they have also lost once, to Dundee High School FPs. Currie have since set a storming pace, winning seven games with a score in the forties, two in the fifties, and one each in the sixties, seventies and eighties, the latter an 88-3 demolition of Selkirk.

It is a staggering consistency over the course of a season and has ensured they will not be beaten on points differential, as their tally of 881 points and just 284 against, the lowest in the league, puts them nearly 300 ahead of Ayr. Due to the winter-enforced stretching of the season, Currie still have a game to play, against Glasgow Hawks next weekend, while Ayr face Heriot's on Thursday night and then Selkirk on Saturday 15 May, so the title will not be grasped today.

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"Everyone is obviously excited about this game," said Currie coach Ally Donaldson. "The trophy won't be presented this weekend and we've both got tough games to come at Hawks and Heriot's and Selkirk for them, but whoever wins this one is in a strong position."

Unusually this season, Donaldson has a number of injury concerns and was conducting fitness tests last night before confirming his squad. Back rows James Taggart and Mark Cairns are both back from abroad after being stranded by the volcanic ash problems, and Andy Binikos is back from injury and honeymoon and pushing for a place in the squad, but Andrew Reekie and Michael Entwhistle are definitely out.

Much is being asked of Ayr after a season in which they represented the country in the first British and Irish Cup better than any Scottish side, but had to fit in an extra five intense games, which renders complaints of fatigue from other clubs in recent weeks laughable. Can they keep it going? Kenny Murray, the Ayr coach, believes so.

"It is probably remarkable that we're going into this game with a full squad after what we've come through, but the cup win has given us all a real lift," he said. "There have been times when we thought we weren't going to win games and struggled with injuries, but the players have dug deep and performed when it mattered.

"We desperately wanted to win the cup and I told the boys that it would come down to who wanted it the most and they didn't let me down.

"But this week Currie will be an even tougher challenge. They are the in-form team and have not lost at home this year; they're physical, have some great individual players, have always been ahead of us in the league and maybe not under the same pressure as we have been, and they've had rests when we played in the British and Irish Cup, so they're favourites, but favourites don't always win."

Currie (v Ayr at Malleny Park, 3pm): J Smith; W Moala, C Kinloch, A MacMahon, D Fife; G White, R Snedden; J Cox, A Walker, A Hamilton, A Adam (capt), R Wilson, S Burton, J Thomson, R Weston. Subs: N Scobie, tbc, M Cairns, J Johnston, tbc.

Ayr: G Anderson; A Wilson, R Curle, M Stewart, C Taylor; F Climo, AJ Macfarlane; G Reid, P McArthur, S Fenwick, D Kelly (capt), S Sutherland, J Crossan, P Burke, A Dunlop, G Tippet. Subs: S Nimmo, G Sykes, G Tippet, J Hunter, J McClung.