The Scottish Football League play-offs offer a slightly alternative format to their English counterparts, and with just two games of the Championship season left, the four sides involved are more-or-less confirmed. Motherwell look most likely to be the Premiership representative to take part, while Rangers and Hibs have secured their places in the Championship, and Queen of the South are just a point or two away from joining them.
In the Scottish play-offs, the third and fourth placed teams in the Championship play each other in a two-legged affair, with the winner of that tie playing the 2nd placed side over two matches. The winner of that match-up will then face the second-bottom placed team from the Premiership over two legs to decide who competes in the top tier next season. It’s an interesting twist on the end-of-season competition, and gives the 11th placed Premiership side a chance to save themselves in an all-or-nothing final tie.
Who’s finishing where?
St Mirren are ten points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership, and only miracles will prevent them from finishing there, with just five games of the season left. Motherwell are 11th (the play-off position), and six points behind Ross County. They also have a worse goal difference, so it’s a big gap to make up. Ross County are also on a run of 8 wins in 9 games, so if they continue that form they ought to pull clear. Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle are seven points ahead of Motherwell (with better goal difference). The Premiership splits into two groups of six after April 24th, and the fixtures for the final five rounds of games were announced earlier this month. Motherwell face each of the teams they are trying to catch, so it is all to play for, but realistically they would need at least three wins from five games to avoid the play-offs.
In the Championship it’s much more cut-and-dried. Hearts have the title wrapped up and can already celebrate their return to the top flight. Queen of the South only need a point from their last two games to secure 4th spot, and 2nd and 3rd are between Rangers and Hibs. The Ibrox club have 65 points at present, with Hibs one point back with 64. Both will be keen to finish 2nd and avoid the two-legged play-off against 4th place, but equally, both would fancy their chances of beating Queen of the South regardless.
Let’s have a look at the prices for the play-off winner:
Any SPL Club – +125 with Paddy Power
Motherwell – +163 Betvictor
Hibernian – +275 with Paddy Power
Queen of the South – +2000 with Coral
Ross County – +2800 with Coral
Motherwell haven’t had a particularly good season winning just nine of their 33 games so far, and although they’ve racked up three wins in the last four, it looks to be a bit too little too late. Defending has been the problem for them this term, with the goals against column showing 57 – Only bottom club St Mirren have a worse record. With Hibs and Rangers both ‘Premiership’ sides by reputation, Motherwell won’t have things easy if they end up facing either.
Hibs were on the wrong end of the play-off result last season as they faced Hamilton in the final in an attempt to save their Premiership status. They won the first leg 2-0 away at Hamilton’s ground to put themselves in the box seat, but fell to a 2-0 home defeat to level the scores on aggregate. Hamilton went on to win on penalties, consigning the Edinburgh club to relegation. They’ve had a successful season so far in their attempt to bounce straight back, although they haven’t been able to match city-rivals Hearts. However, they’ve won 19 of their 34 games and have only been beaten 8 times all season.
Rangers are the side that we’re siding with though, and the famous club can reap the rewards of season’s of hard work as they’ve climbed back up the league ladder. The club is still shrouded in controversy, with new dramas and stories emerging all the time. It will be a long time before they’re back on a sound footing, but a return to the ‘promised land’ would go a long way towards helping them rebuild their standing and reputation in the Scottish game. They’ve worked their way back up from the fourth tier of Scottish football with successive league titles, but have found life more difficult in the Championship. They haven’t been able to keep pace with Hearts, but they are within touching distance of 2nd place, and potentially two ties away from a return to the top flight. Playing legend Stuart McCall has taken the reins, and he would dearly love to lead his side back to the big time. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is heavily involved in the club, and Rangers currently have six Newcastle loan-players in the ranks. They may not have had the depth to sustain a challenge all season, but in one-off ties like the play-offs they can be much more dangerous – as they proved when they dominated Hearts away from home recently in a 2-0 win.
Hibernian are the biggest danger to Rangers in this mini-competition, perhaps more so than current Premiership incumbents Motherwell. They’ve almost matched Rangers exactly for results this season, and they have won three of the four meetings between the two this season. Rangers won the most recent of those when they prevailed 2-0 at Easter Road, but if these two meet in the play-offs – which they surely will – it promises to be a very tight two legged tie.
However, Rangers have made their way back to the brink of the Premiership, from the brink of disaster, and the playing staff have done this in spite of the shenanigans off the pitch. They’re worth following to complete their journey back to the Scottish elite.
To win the Scottish Premiership/Championship Play-offs
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