Scottish play-offs will begin on May 9
4 May ~ At the beginning of the season it was expected Rangers, Hearts and Hibs would take the top three places in the SPFL Championship. What wasn’t anticipated was the order in which they eventually finished. Yet, with Scotland’s Premiership play-offs beginning this Saturday, the real surprise could yet come from the division’s fourth-placed side.
It’s home and away legs throughout. Fourth faces third in the quarter-final, the winner plays second in the semi and the side fighting relegation from the top tier waits in the final. Having occupied the bottom, automatic relegation spot in the Premiership for the entirety of 2013-14, Hearts spent 2014-15 increasing their lead in the Championship’s only automatic promotion spot. Between winning at Rangers on the first day of the season and securing the title in March the Jambos lost just once.
City rivals Hibernian only dropped into the Premiership’s relegation play-off berth on the final day of last season. Despite beating Rangers three times this campaign, they only secured second spot in the Championship after Saturday’s final round of regular league games. It’s from precisely that position tiny Hamilton Accies defeated them in last season’s final, on penalties. Alan Stubbs was subsequently brought in to replace Terry Butcher at the helm but is still the longest-serving of the four managers involved this month.
Hibs await the victors of a quarter-final featuring Rangers in league play-offs for only the third time in their history and first since 1905. The previous two decided the Scottish champions. This time Rangers appear in no fit state to leave the second tier.
A boardroom regime change in March is yet to be fully ratified by the SFA. Stuart McCall is the third manager this season and, while he’s clearly improved performances, results remain inconsistent. The squad requires major surgery, the club need a year to stabilise and Rangers fans may prefer a second chance at winning the Championship to possible Premiership hidings from old enemies Aberdeen and Celtic.
The myth that Saturday’s opponents are the only football club mentioned in the bible was exploded by the Guardian a decade ago. But Queen of the South’s reputation as lower-league mainstays could be gone by the end of the month. Despite reaching the 2008 Scottish Cup final, it’s 50 years since the Doonhamers last played top-flight football.
Losing to Falkirk in the play-off quarter-finals last year, they edged the same team into fifth on the penultimate weekend of this regular season, during which they’ve taken seven points off both Rangers and Hibs.
April’s Championship manager of the month, James Fowler could yet lead Queens into the final against the management duo who signed him as a player-coach last summer. But Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds, who departed Dumfries in September, look set to secure Ross County’s top-flight status.
While the Premiership’s regular season continues, St Mirren are all but officially relegated and Motherwell remain doubly ironic favourites for second-bottom. Taking over last December, former Scunthorpe manager Ian Baraclough declared his ambition was winning the Premiership title. The man he replaced at Fir Park was Stuart McCall, who could yet face Well in the final.
Nominally, the collapse of the SPL persuaded the authorities to revive the play-off between the top and second tiers, which briefly existed in the 1990s. Most believe the real motivation was giving Rangers, who’ve only once finished lower than fifth in any division, two chances at promotion. BT Sport, screening all six play-off games, would be similarly underwhelmed by a Queen of the South v Motherwell final. Yet that may just be what all concerned deserve. Alex Anderson