THIRTY Five games down, just one to go!
There is much to play for at both ends of the League One table this weekend, whilst League Two also has much to play for in the race to get out of the bottom tier of the SPFL setup.
League One has, arguably, had the most intriguing battle for promotion all season with Raith Rovers and Ayr United, both relegated from the Championship last campaign, vying for the one spot that will see either side go straight back up.
Ayr have been the Divisions most entertaining side, netting 90 goals in the previous 35 matches, an average of just over two and a half goals per game. The strike partnership of Lawrence Shankland and Craig Moore, who’ve scored a combined 44 goals this campaign, has been a major factor in Iain McCall’s side’s promotion push.
Despite their free flowing football, Ayr have already seen one opportunity to seal an immediate return to the Championship pass them by thanks to consecutive defeats in their last two games. A shock 2-1 home loss to Stranraer was followed with a defeat by the same score at Alloa, and with it a five point advantage swung into a one point deficit going into the final weekend of the season.
Meanwhile, Raith have been going along quite nicely under Barry Smith as they look to avenge their shock relegation in last seasons Championship playoff, which came a year after they took part in the Premiership playoff Quarter Final. Whilst they haven’t been as free-scoring as Ayr, the Fifers consistency has been solid all campaign and now have destiny in their own hands with that one point lead.
If they do what their rivals failed to do and beat Alloa on Saturday at Starks Park, Raith Rovers will be the ones who bounce straight back up at the first attempt. However, a draw or defeat will hand the initiative back to The Honest Men in their home match against relegation threatened Albion Rovers. If they better Raith’s result, a situation where even a draw might be enough should Alloa claim three points, then they will win the League One title and confirm their rivals to the playoffs, with either the Wasps or Arbroath lying in waiting in the Semi Finals. It’s set to be a nervous and thrilling climax to the tightest title race across all four divisions.
Raith Rovers are currently favourites to win League One with odds of 2/7, and Ayr United being 5/2.
Whilst Raith Rovers and Ayr United are battling to get out of League One, two sides are desperate to stay in it. Albion Rovers and Queens Park are separated by just two points going into the final game of the season, with both sides fighting it out to earn a second opportunity to survive the drop via the League One playoffs.
Albion have been overhauled by Forfar recently to sit in ninth place and cannot finish higher due to being five points behind them, meaning that the best case scenario of staying up is through the playoff route. They did gain a much needed victory over East Fife last time out to give them that two point cushion over The Spiders. An unlikely victory at promotion chasing Ayr will guarantee survival, with a point also likely to be enough due to their superior goal difference.
For Queens Park, the mathematics are simple – defeat Arbroath at Hampden and hope Albion Rovers lose to jump above them into that playoff spot. The odds aren’t great for them mind you given their wretched home form, where they’ve masterminded only one victory at the National Stadium all season, and face an opposition with ten away wins this campaign, bettered only by Ayr. With the Red Lichties guaranteed a playoff berth, The Spiders will be hoping that they can take advantage against a team with not much to play for and give themselves a second chance of staying in the Third tier.
Two teams also seeking League One football for next season are North East rivals Montrose and Peterhead, battling it out for the League Two title. Both sides had been neck and neck all season though The Gable Endies recent home win against their main rivals for promotion has given them a crucial three point lead going into the final game.
Montrose host Elgin City knowing that a point will secure promotion to League One, a remarkable achievement given they only survived relegation from the SPFL by the playoffs two years ago. However, should they suffer an unlikely defeat, then Peterhead, relegated last season, can overhaul them with a home win of their own against Edinburgh City thanks to their vastly superior goal difference. Whilst the League Two title race doesn’t sound like it will come to a dramatic conclusion, stranger things have happened in football and The Blue Toon will be hoping their opponents crumble under pressure when it really matters.
Montrose are strong odds on favourites to finish top of League Two with odds of 1/12, with Peterhead at 6/1.
The race to see who will join the League Two runners up and second bottom of League One in the playoffs is also guaranteed to go to the final game, with Stirling Albion, Stenhousemuir and Clyde vying it out for the two remaining spots. Stenhousemuir can nail their place in the end of season finale by either defeating Berwick Rangers tomorrow in their game in hand or claiming three points at Albion on Saturday. Stirling, on the other hand, know that a point will be enough to see them gain another crack at promotion.
Should either side slip up, Clyde can sneak into fourth place by defeating Berwick at Broadwood. They’ll be hoping that both Wee Rangers and Stirling Albion can take points off Stenny as that’s their best way to get into the Playoffs. Although technically they can overhaul Albion should they lose at Forthbank, it would need a six goal swing in the Bully Wee’s favour to do so. However, given their struggles earlier in the season, Clyde have done well to get to this position and, with Danny Lennon at the helm, they will be looking for a proper crack at League Two promotion next season.
Nine months of hard work all comes down to one final game to determine what sides will take the pleasure in promotion and the regret of relegation, and who will get a second bite at the cherry for survival and stepping up a league. Whilst the quality and publicity of Leagues One and Two in Scotland don’t have the same appeal as the top two divisions, the tensions and drama are no different and the script is there for more twists and turns from three o’clock to 4:45 on Saturday – plus injury time for a dramatic winner!