Dens Park plays host to what is perhaps the most important game of the season so far, as leaders Dundee host second place Hamilton Academical. Goals could be at a premium: Dundee have conceded just six goals in ten home matches this season, while the Accies have conceded just seven times in ten away from home. Having said that, both teams have been stuttering of late, with Dundee taking just four points from their last four home games, and Accies have failed to win any of their last three away from New Douglas Park. The Accies have an impressive recent record at Dens, losing just twice on their last 11 league visits, although it should be noted that six of those matches finished as draws.
The other title contenders, Falkirk, face a trip to Central Park to face a Cowdenbeath side who are beginning to find themselves detached in the relegation play-off place. Gary Holt’s team are unbeaten in eight league games, and have not conceded in any of the last four. This is their best run of clean sheets since March 2008 when they narrowly missed out on a top six finish in the SPL. In contrast, the Blue Brazil have kept just four clean sheets in their last 52 league matches, although one of those came against Falkirk earlier this season. Cowden have suffered five consecutive home defeats, their worst run of league losses since the 2007-08 season, when they were relegated from the Second Division. There is still some hope for the home side though – Falkirk have won just once in their last eight league visits to Central Park.
With large gaps opening up in both the title race and the contest for the play-offs, the main focus in League 1 is the relegation battle. Bottom side Airdrieonians find themselves just two points behind Arbroath, but face a tough away match against second placed Dunfermline Athletic. Airdrie have won just two of their last 24 away matches, but amazingly both of those came at East End Park. The Pars have been in superb form of late: they have taken 25 points from their last nine league matches against sides other than Rangers. However, with a 17 point gap to the leaders and a 16 point gap to fifth placed Forfar Athletic, Jim Jefferies could find it difficult to keep his side motivated for the remaining matches, and the Diamonds will be looking to capitalise.
Arbroath will be hoping to finally halt their calamitous slump when they welcome Stenhousemuir to Gayfield. Paul Sheerin’s side have taken just two points from their last 11 matches and have suffered four consecutive league defeats for the first time since October 2009 – a season which would eventually finish with them being relegated via the play-offs. Their decline is startling – in the 2011-12 season they finished second with a tally of 63 points. Even if they won all of their remaining 16 games this season, they would still fall short of that total. The form of their opponents is scarcely any better – Stenhousemuir have just two wins in their last 11 league matches and have suffered three defeats in a row. They have, however, lost just once in their last seven visits to Gayfield, picking up three wins in that time. These sides have met three times already this season, and the matches have featured a whopping 20 goals.
The title race could take yet another twist when Annan Athletic welcome Clyde to Galabank. Annan have won four games in a row to propel themselves to within a couple of points of Peterhead at the top, while Clyde have gone four without a win to fall from first to fourth. If Annan can record a fifth consecutive win, they would equal their best run of victories since joining the SFL in 2008. This will be the 15th league meeting of these two sides, and they have six wins apiece so far. However, Clyde have had the upper hand in recent times, winning five of the last six matches between the sides, including each of the last three at Galabank.
Neither East Stirlingshire nor Albion Rovers can be counted out of title contention yet and they both clash at Ochilview on Saturday. The Shire have lost just one of their last seven home league matches, but four of those games have finished as draws. Rovers’ season has been reinvigorated by their win over Motherwell – they had one win in seven beforehand, and have suffered just one defeat in seven matches since. Rovers have the upper hand in recent matches between the sides, with five wins and a draw in the last six.
Freshly picked from the mail bag, this week’s question comes from Mike Rourke, a Dundee supporter who has become disillusioned with life at Dens Park under John Brown. He writes:
“Since my wife left me and took the kids with her to live with her mother in Kirriemuir, all I have is my beloved Dees. But losing at home to Cowdenbeath and Livingston is a disgrace, the side are playing the worst football in years and it’s embarrassing that we’re still top of the league. Just how does this season compare with the title-winning sides of the First Division? How did other teams perform after 20 games?”
It turns out, Mike, that Dundee’s seemingly stuttering form so far compares well to previous seasons in Scotland’s second tier. Points alone do not determine how strong the league is or how capable Dundee are of winning the league, but on numbers alone they are a good bet for promotion.
Looking at the points tallies of the First Division leaders after 20 games in the previous ten season, Dundee are there or thereabouts with the league leaders at the time:-
2013-14 – Dundee (39)
2012-13 – Greenock Morton (39) (Eventual champions Partick Thistle had games in hand and took 40 points at 20 matches)
2011-12 – Ross County (41)
2010-11 – Raith Rovers (39) (Eventual champions were Dunfermline 37 points)
2009-10 – Dundee (40) (Eventual champions were Inverness Caledonian Thistle 31 points)
2008-09 – St Johnstone (37)
2007-08 – Hamilton Academical (44)
2006-07 – Gretna (42)
2005-06 – St Mirren (41)
2004-05 – Falkirk (49)
2003-04 – Clyde (40) (Eventual champions were Inverness Caledonian Thistle with 39 points)
I hope this answers your question, Mike. And I do hope you find happiness soon.
If you are curious about any team-specific stats or records, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet Craig at @SPLStats and he will pick out the most interesting questions.