Scottish Championship Match Day 23: Champagne for the Saints

Scottish Championship

I happened to be in the car listening to the Scottish Championship scores being rounded up on Saturday afternoon, and was struck by what ex-player turned pundit Tam McManus had to say. If you live in Paisley then it is time to crack open the champagne. Why did he say this? Because St Mirren travelled to Dunfermline to grind out a hard fought win, while title rivals Dundee United slumped to a dreadful 3-0 home defeat to Morton. This has lead to an eleven point difference between 1st and 2nd place, and the way the Arabs are playing, it is looking more likely that they’ll slip out of the playoffs more likely than they’ll win the title. Oh, and in other news, Falkirk are back…

Dunfermline 1-2 St Mirren

This was an absolute must win for St Mirren, not because they couldn’t afford to drop points, but because this is one of the tougher games in the schedule, and to win here would keep them going in the right direction. Cammy Smith opened up the scoring for the visitors early on, when he latched on to a sumptuous backheeled pass from Celtic newbie Lewis Morgan. He took this pass into his stride, driving into the box and firing the ball into the net to the uproar of the jubilant travelling support. The Saints carried this lead into the break, but Allan Johnston evidently had his men fired up during the interval, and to great effect. Jean-Yves M’voto headed the ball into the path of ex Rangers frontman Nicky Clark, who used his own head to steer the ball into the net to equalise. It took a deflection to settle this tie. Jack Baird hit his shot from the edge of the box, seeing it whip off a defender and go in. This turned out to be the decisive goal, and just the bit of luck that was needed to separate the sides. Dunfermline can count themselves a tad unlucky to take zero points from this match after a strong display, but St Mirren were struck by the type of luck that so often graces champions.

Dundee United 0-3 Morton

The new manager effect appears to have deserted Csaba Laszlo and Dundee United, with his side putting in an abysmal display at home to middle of the league Morton. Ten minutes before half time, Morton scored the games opening goal. Michael Tidser floated in a free kick which seemed to evade the entire United back line, allowing Thomas O’Ware to head it beyond Harry Lewis. The display was disappointing from United, but the goal deficit was enough to enrage the home fans into a deafening chorus of boos as the players and manager trudged into the changing room. Things went from bad to worse in the second half. Any passionate and empowered team talk by Mr Laszlo was undone just two minutes after the stoppage, Scott Tiffoney firing high into the back of the net to put the visitor two up. The game continued in the same way, Morton frustrating the United attackers, their defence holding strong, eventually restricting United to only one shot on target. It was left back Jack Iredale who scored the game, doing his best Lionel Messi impression to cut through the lacklustre United defence before slotting his shot into the bottom right corner. Laszlo was meant to be the man to take the Tannadice team by the scruff of the neck and push them towards the title, instead he is more reminiscent of relegation boss Mixu Paatelainen; win the fans over initially with a loud and brash approach, before it becomes abundantly clear that he is not cut out for the job.

Falkirk 3-1 Inverness

Falkirk were probably second favourites for the title prior to this season, behind Dundee United, yet six months in and they look more like relegation fodder. Paul Hartley replaced Peter Houston and for the first couple of months of his tenure, it looked like a dreadful appointment. During January, however, he has had a cull of his squad, boldly letting go of experienced pros like Lee Miller and ex Championship Manager 01/02 starlet Mark Kerr, as well as letting go of Tony Gallacher to Liverpool for a six-figure sum. He is remoulding his squad and it is paying off. It was sheer ill-discipline that lost this game for the highlanders. Firstly, Jack Mulraney was shown red for an accumulation of fouls leading to two first half yellow cards. On loan Hamilton forward Louis Longridge has been a neat addition since his move and was pivotal in the win this weekend. He was twice fouled in the box in the second half, leading to two penalties being awarded, both scored by Aaron Muirhead. With five minutes of play left, Daniel Mackay scored for Inverness, though this hope was quashed moments later when Andrew Nelson finished the job to make it 3-1. Seven points lie between these teams, and with the late form of Falkirk, John Robertson will be looking over his shoulder with a certain unease.

Livingston 2-0 Dumbarton

An assured Livi performance ensured that they stayed in the playoff spots for another weekend, while Dumbarton fell into their own playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Sons, their playoff spot was the relegation one at the bottom of the league. Alan Lithgow steered a Raffaele De Vita corner home with his head from a corner after 23 minutes at the Tony Macaroni Arena. New signings Lee Miller and Ryan Hardie linked up well together, with the latter scoring the games second only five minutes after Lithgow’s strike. Dumbarton struggled to get any hold of the match, with Livingston content to sit on their two goal advantage without pushing men forward and risk conceding. Stephen Aitken has seen his side pick up only two points from their last seven games, with Dumbarton now in the relegation playoff position, he could be the next manager in that league to be axed.

Queen of the South 3-1 Brechin

Stephen Dobbie is, quite frankly, too good for the Scottish Championship, and Brechin City are undoubtedly not good enough for that division. What happened on Saturday was a meeting of these forces, which resulted in a hat trick for the Queens talisman. His first goal came inside seven minutes, a rapturous shot beyond Graeme Smith in the Brechin nets. If his first goal was about power, his second, five minutes later, was about poise, as he twisted and turned all over, leaving the defence in his wake before  slotting the ball home. He had a goal ruled offside in the second half, but completed his hat trick with fifteen minutes to go, the 35 year old once more bamboozling the tiring and dejected defence before calmly tucking away his final goal. Callumn Morrison got a consolation goal late on to help ease the goal difference at least, although when it is -34 compared to -35 this argument is weak. Queens remain outside the playoffs on goal difference, but with Dobbie leading the line, the goals will come!

Downtown

Ross County are six points adrift this week, with Owen Coyle providing very little to be positive over. His side hosted Rangers 2012 this weekend past. Daniel Candeias got the first after 21 minutes, and despite playing the highlanders off the park, had to wait until the final ten minutes before new signing Jason Cummings got the second. Going two up to bottom of the league Ross County proved too much for some Rangers fans, who staged a pitch invasion, only a year and a half after writing a harshly  worded statement over Hibernain having a pitch invasion against the Rangers. County pulled a goal back through David N’Gog (yes, really) but it was too little too late.

Moving on up

Ayr regained top spot this week, taking advantage of some dropped points by Raith Rovers. Craig Moore got the ball rolling with his goal early on, followed up by an Alan Forrest goal minutes before half time. Craig McGuffie scored two in the last ten to seal the victory, which meant that Adam Cummins 89th minute goal was relatively worthless.

After match day 23, the league table looks like this:

Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against G.D Points
1 St Mirren 23 16 3 4 43 24 19 51
2 Dundee United 22 12 4 6 30 26 4 40
3 Livingston 21 10 6 5 33 24 9 36
4 Dunfermline 22 9 6 7 38 26 12 33
5 Queen of the South 22 9 6 7 37 31 6 33
6 Morton 21 8 7 6 30 21 9 31
7 Inverness 23 8 6 9 30 28 2 30
8 Falkirk 22 5 8 9 23 35 -12 23
9 Dumbarton 22 4 8 10 15 30 -15 20
10 Brechin 22 0 4 18 17 50 -34 4

Another week done in the Scottish Championship, and other week closer to the final standings. While there is still so much to play for in the race for promotion and the relegation playoffs, I fear that the league title has been decided with St Mirrens win over the Pars, coupled with Dundee United capitulating to Morton. League action resumes next week as we see who can go all the way to finish in the playoffs, and if Falkirk can continue their climb from the depths of relegation despair.