SPFL: The Best of the Rest so far

TOP flight clubs may be on their mid-season winter break but there’s still a lot going on in Scottish Football to keep punters talking over the next two weeks.

As the country’s top players jet off to recover ahead of a frantic finale to the season, it’s business as usual in the other three divisions with intriguing battles ongoing for promotion and survival.

Given the ten team format in each League, there is no such thing as mid-table mediocrity at this stage and every side is fighting to either get out of their League by automatic promotion or the playoffs or avoiding dropping down a division.

In the case of League Two, the battle is not just to avoid dropping out a division but dropping out of the senior leagues altogether. Cowdenbeath are in the unwanted position of bottom spot, that would see them, for the second year running, facing a two-leg playoff against the Lowland League Winners. Having been relegated from the Championship and League One in the previous two campaigns, they’ll be looking to Gary Bollan, who won promotion with Forfar via the playoffs last season, to halt the slide.

Directly above them are Edinburgh City, who are in their second season in Scotland’s senior leagues. They’ve found the step up difficult as they battled against going straight back into the Lowland Leagues before finding their feet to survive comfortably, and they haven’t kicked on as they find themselves three points ahead of the Fifers having played a game more. They seem the most likely team for Cowdenbeath to overtake with Clyde a further two points ahead with two games in hand and Berwick a total of 12 ahead of that dreaded tenth spot.

At the top end, the battle for promotion took an interesting twist when leaders Montrose were thumped 6-2 at home by North East rivals Peterhead, leaving them just three points ahead having played two more games. The fact that Montrose are at the right end is a credit them given that they avoided dropping into the Lowland Leagues in 2015, and they’ve kicked on well under Stewart Petrie. Peterhead, on the other hand, are still smarting from last seasons shock relegation and will be hoping that the goals of Rory McAllister continue to flow in order for them to bounce straight back up.

Stenhousemuir, also relegated from League One, are just six points behind the leaders with a game in hand and look a shoe-in to be in the playoffs at least, leaving just one position available. The gap between Annan in fourth and Berwick in seventh is just seven points so it’s expected to be a tight race to finish in that fourth position to earn a second crack at promotion.

In League One, it’s looking increasingly like Queens Park and Forfar will occupy the bottom two positions. The two are separated by two points with Albion Rovers five points clear of ninth place with two games in hand. In fact, Rovers are the same number of points behind fourth placed Arbroath whilst Alloa are just a point ahead of them in third, meaning there are six sides battling it out for two playoff spots.

At the top, it’s a two horse race as predicted between Ayr United and Raith Rovers, both relegated last season. Ayr have been free scoring, netting 57 league goals in 20 matches, helping the SFF Podcast team win numerous charity bets in the process. However, consecutive defeats in their last two games have given Rovers an opportunity to overhaul them should they win one of their two games in hand, something that could become crucial as both sides strive to get themselves back into the Championship at the first time of asking.

It looks like Brechin will be dropping back into League One. The part timers were always up against it and it’s proven to be the case with no wins and just three draws from their 19 Championship games this season. As things stand, Falkirk, runners up the past two seasons, could join them as they occupy the dreaded playoff spot, sitting six points behind Dumbarton and replacing Peter Houston with Paul Hartley has, so far, not worked out. Hartley will be hoping that this transfer window will see him bring in the reinforcements required to begin their conquest to survive in a similar fashion to what Jack Ross did at St Mirren last season.

Meanwhile, the Saints march on to, potentially, better things as they lead the Championship going into the new year, three points ahead of Dundee United. The Terrors have reacted well to the recent appointment of Csaba Laszlo with the former Hearts Gaffer entrusted in ending a two year stint in the Championship. It looks as though one of these two will be returning to the Premiership this season and it’s set up to be an intriguing battle to see who will be dining at Scotland’s top table next season.

St Mirren will be delighted that outgoing star man Lewis Morgan has remained at the club to aid their promotion campaign. His performance in the recent victory over United, where he netted twice, indicated what a key player he has been for them and why Celtic were keen to sign him, with Saints negotiating well to convince them to keep Morgan on loan to help them in their bid to end a three year Premiership absence. United, on the other hand, have a solid squad that is designed to get them promoted this year, otherwise further cutbacks are on the way for a club who have suffered financially since they were relegated 18 months ago.

The battle for the remaining two playoff positions is also a tight one with just six points separating third place Livingston and seventh place Inverness Caley Thistle. Livi have been the surprise package this season having only been promoted last season and David Hopkin has got his side churning out some impressive results to put them in contention for back-to-back promotions, thus ending a 12 year absence from the top flight. The fact all five sides are so close to each other makes it difficult to predict which two will join United or St Mirren, and the eleventh placed Premiership side, in the nail biting end of season playoffs.

So there is plenty for the 30 non top flight clubs to play for, from Elgin to Stranraer, between now and May. Whether it’d be promotion or fighting survival, every club will be striving to achieve their goals and give plenty of talking points across the three divisions.

With top flight clubs on their break, some local fans may well be tempted to head along to see their local side over the next week or two and see for themselves that there is entertainment outside the Premiership!

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.