ONE Hundred and Eighty minutes to go before the SPFL season checks out for the summer, two sides looking for the bullseye of Premiership football for 2018/19.
For the fans of Livingston and Partick Thistle, it promises to be two legs full of excitement, nerves and passion that comes with the Premiership Playoff Final. They’ll be hoping that their respective sides will do enough to earn the chance to face the likes of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen and avoid trips to Somerset Park, Palmerston and Cappielow next campaign.
So will the second best side in the Championship follow St Mirren into the top flight, or will the second worst side in the Premiership take advantage of this second opportunity to survive?
Livingston have been the surprise package by far in Scotland’s second tier. Having only been promoted from League One a year ago, Livi were expected to fight it out with Dumbarton to avoid the playoff to escape a return after just one season given their budget compared to the rest of the League, so to finish second was a remarkable achievement.
Manager David Hopkin has worked wonders with the West Lothian side since he took over from Mark Burchill following their relegation in 2016. He’s built a great team spirit that has carried them to this position, as emphasised in their Semi Final win over Dundee United, coming from behind to win 3-2 at Tannadice before a 1-1 draw at the Tony Macaroni Stadium secured their final shot at Promotion glory. They may not be the most attractive team to watch but Hopkin won’t be caring what the purists think if he secures top flight football at Livingston for the first time in 12 years.
On the other hand, Partick have endured a nightmare campaign that saw them within half an hour of relegation before a Kris Doolan winner at Dundee spared their blushes, consigning Ross County to the Championship. Having finished in the top six last season, it’s an alarming slump for Thistle who, although not expecting a top six repeat, were expecting much better than to finish in a playoff position. They finished with the worst goal difference and scored the least goals in the division, whilst only Hamilton conceded more goals than the Jags this season, and summarises their problems in a nutshell.
For Alan Archibald, his stock has fallen having been nominated for the Manager of the Year last campaign and was touted for a move down south. The fact he’s kept Partick comfortably in the Premiership in the previous four campaigns has resulted in the Thistle board keeping faith with Archibald, and he’ll be keen to repay their faith by extending their top flight run to six seasons, which would be a great achievement for the men from Maryhill.
Whilst the two sides have had contrasting seasons, form has gone out of the window in the history of the Premiership Playoff Final since its inception in 2013/14. Other than that first playoff four years ago, where Hibs famously collapsed against Hamilton having had a two goal lead from the away leg, the 11th placed Premiership side usually prevails over the two legs. It’s often led to the argument that the Playoffs are designed to favour the Premiership side, who only have to play in a two game Final whereas the the Championship sides from second to fourth have to endure either four or six matches overall.
However, it can be argued that Thistle’s 38 game League campaign is a leveller with Livi’s 36 plus the two Semi Final matches. There is also the fact that Thistle also played in midweek and had to go through the psychological barrier of fighting for survival on the final Premiership weekend, plus the fact they played less 24 hours after Livi’s second leg.
Time will tell whether physical and mental fitness will be a factor over the two legs. One thing for certain is that both Livingston and Partick Thistle will be giving their all to ensure that their side will be dining at the top table next season.
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