THE battle to avoid the relegation play-off place has come down to the final weekend. Dunfermline Athletic are in the driving seat and sit a point ahead of Cowdenbeath with a far better goal difference (12). The Pars know that all they have to do is win at home against an already-relegated Airdrie United and they will be safe. Dunfermline are unbeaten in three matches since their 15 point deduction for entering administration, picking up two wins and a draw. Their opponents Airdrie have gone 15 matches without a win, but their last win came on their last trip to East End Park back in January. That particular victory was Dunfermline’s only league defeat to the current incarnation of the Diamonds in 11 meetings – the Pars have five wins to their name and there have been five draws.
If Dunfermline fail to win, then Cowdenbeath could stay up by winning away to Hamilton Academical. Cowden have lost six of their last eight matches and have just two wins in their last 13. Hamilton, meanwhile, were unbeaten in all seven of their league matches in April, winning six of them. Accies have also kept clean sheets in each of their last five league matches, equalling a club record. If they make it six on Saturday, then Cowden will finish the season in the play-offs. The Blue Brazil have won just once in their last 16 trips to Hamilton – that came in February 2002 when Enrique Iglesias was at number one with “Hero” – something that Cowden need on Saturday.
The play-off places are still up for grabs at the top and bottom of the Second Division, with Arbroath, Forfar Athletic and Stenhousemuir battling it out for fourth place, while Stranraer and East Fife are both trying to avoid the relegation play-offs. That means four out of the five games on the final weekend still have something riding on them.
At the top, Arbroath just need a win to claim the final play-off spot, but they face a tough home match against second-placed Alloa Athletic. The Red Lichties are unbeaten in four home matches but Alloa have the second best away record in the league, suffering just one defeat in their last eight matches. Arbroath lost 0-1 in the earlier meeting at Gayfield this season and indeed, have not won any of their last three home matches against Alloa. If they draw, they will still make the play-offs as long as Forfar fail to win; if they lose, they’d require Forfar to lose and Stenhousemuir to lose or draw.
If Arbroath do fail to win, then Forfar could leapfrog them into that final play-off place with a victory at home to Ayr United. Ayr have already visited Station Park three times this season and they lost all three fixtures, although one of those defeats was against Brechin City, who had the match moved because of the mess of their pitch. There have been 34 goals in the last eight matches between these two sides, so goals should be expected on Saturday. Forfar could also sneak into the play-off place with a draw – but that would only happen if Arbroath lose and Stenhousemuir fail to win.
Stenhousemuir could still climb into the play-offs if results go their way in both Arbroath’s and Forfar’s matches. Stenny must beat Stranraer at home and hope that Arbroath lose and Forfar fail to win. Stranraer, however, have survival on their mind and know that a win can guarantee their safety. Martyn Corrigan’s side have dragged themselves back into the play-off picture courtesy of four consecutive wins – they have not won five matches on the spin since Aug-Sep 2008, a season in which they were promoted from Division Three via the play-offs. The Blues have gone five matches without a win and have not won any of their last eight away from home. All three league meetings between these sides this season ended as draws.
If Stranraer fail to win then East Fife could stay in the division by beating Brechin City at home. The Fifers have picked up four points from their last two matches to give themselves a chance of staying up, and face a Brechin side who have lost their last three matches away from home. The last four games between the sides at Bayview have been drawn – a repeat would not be enough for East Fife on Saturday.
Going into the final game, Berwick Rangers are in the final play-off place, three points clear of both Elgin City and Montrose and with a large goal difference advantage (eight over Elgin and 13 over Montrose). In a normal Third Division season, this would generally see them all but confirmed in the play-offs… But this isn’t a normal Third Division season, and with Berwick facing a trip to Ibrox to face a Rangers side who will be looking to enjoy their title party, there may be a genuine chance of their goal difference advantage being wiped out.
Rangers have won just four of their last eight league matches (including just one of their last four at Ibrox) and have not won a league match by more than four goals so far this season, but they still have the capacity to dish out a thrashing. Indeed, Second Division high-flyers Alloa were beaten 7-0 at Ibrox in a Scottish Cup tie earlier this season and any hint of a repeat of that scoreline would see Berwick’s black and gold joined by a rather unpleasant shade of brown. The Wee Gers have got themselves into this position by winning seven of their last 12 league matches, but missed the chance to guarantee their play-off place last week when they lost 2-0 at home to Annan Athletic.
Berwick’s unease will not be helped by the fact that Elgin’s final fixture is at home bottom side East Stirlingshire, who have conceded five or more goals on six different occasions this season, including a 9-1 loss away to Stirling Albion in March. The Shire are on a run of nine consecutive defeats, but their last win did come against Elgin back in February – they also recorded a win on their previous visit to Borough Briggs in January. Elgin are well ahead of Berwick on goals scored, so an eight goal swing would be enough to see them pinch that fourth spot.
Even if Berwick did face a trouncing at Ibrox, it seems unlikely that Montrose would be able to claw back their 13 goal disadvantage and sneak into fourth, given they’d also need to outscore Elgin by five goals (unless East Stirlingshire did them a favour at Borough Briggs). Montrose have lost their last three matches and face a trip to an Annan Athletic side who have won three of their last four. Stuart Garden’s side did manage a 5-1 at home win over Annan earlier this season, but they’d probably have to double that margin of victory to be anywhere near fourth place by the end of Saturday afternoon.
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