FOUR years ago, the newly formed SPFL, a merger between the SFL and SPL the previous year, introduced a pathway for non-League clubs into the senior league setup. The introduction of a playoff between the best side outwith the SPFL and the bottom club in League Two was seen as a step in the right direction, where at last there was an opportunity for teams in the Highland and Lowland Leagues to earn their way into the main Leagues in the country.
So far, only Edinburgh City, who defeated East Stirlingshire in 2016, have managed to fight their way through the Scottish Pyramid system into the League setup with Brora Rangers and East Kilbride both succumbing to Scottish Football’s basement clubs in the two legged Final.
This weekend sees the turn of runaway Highland League Champions Cove Rangers to have a crack at League Two football for next season as they face Cowdenbeath, fighting to preserve their League status for the second year running.
Cove’s season has been sensational so far, romping to an 11 point title win over Formartine United with a whopping +105 having hit the back of the net 127 times, and earning their way to the League Two Playoff Final with a 5-2 aggregate win over Lowland League Champions Spartans. Their Scottish Cup exploits also caught the eye, defeating League One Airdrieonians away en route to the Fifth Round before going out to Falkirk.
Their best known player is top scorer Mitch Megginson, who had spells at Aberdeen and Dumbarton in his earlier years. Megginson has notched an incredible 50 goals this season and Cove will be looking to his experiences from playing at a higher level to fire them Playoff glory over these two crucial matches.
By contrast, Cowdenbeath have had yet another poor season, finishing eight points adrift at the bottom of League Two having mustered just four League victories and scoring only 23 goals, 104 less than their opponents. It’s a far cry from their heyday in the Championship, where four years ago they were battering Dunfermline to retain their second tier status, and are now facing their third relegation in that time.
Gary Bollan will be praying that their experience of playing League Two football, along with inspiration from last seasons two legged victory over East Kilbride, will be enough to outsmart their non-League opponents to preserve their League status for another year. It’s hard to imagine what defeat would do to a club like Cowdenbeath financially, and getting back into the SPFL would be difficult with the emergence of clubs like Spartans and East Kilbride in the Lowland League they’d drop into.
One player who could be pivotal to The Blue Brazil staying up is Player/Assistant Manager Mark Fotheringham. The 35 year old has carved out a decent career for himself, with notable spells at Dundee and Norwich, and the Fifers will be looking to the veteran to help guide them towards another League Two survival.
The scene is set for 180 minutes of drama to determine the last place in the SPFL set up. For Cove Rangers and Cowdenbeath, this is their Champions League Final and, in their world, the rewards are great whilst the implications of defeat are huge, whether it’s a buffer in Cove Rangers progress or severe implications for Cowdenbeath.
Of course, McBookie have the best odds available on what side will be playing League Two football and can be found at www.mcbookie.com
It will be a blue team who takes that final spot in the fourth tier, but will it be Aberdeenshire or Fife that the other nine clubs will be going to at least twice next season?