BY MARK GODFREY
When Dumbarton met Alloa Athletic in the Scottish Championship at The Bet Butler Stadium on Saturday, the game was a match-up of Scotlandâ€™s two highest placed part-time teams. The 4-1 win for the Sons could have a bearing on both the promotion and relegation issues come the end of the current campaign.
While Dundee, Hamilton Academical and Falkirk have pulled clear in their battle for the solitary automatic promotion spot, Saturdayâ€™s victory for Ian Murrayâ€™s side puts them in a straight fight with Queen of the South and possibly Livingston for the third and final end-of-season play-off place. Promotion would see Dumbarton reach the top tier of Scottish football for the first time since 1984-85.
For Alloa, the loss keeps them just above the relegation play-off place. The Wasps lost manager Paul Hartley, who has subsequently taken charge at Dundee, in mid-January â€“ coincidentally after another heavy defeat to Dumbarton. The 37-year-old former Scotland international guided Alloa to two successive promotions, garnering much admiration for his ability to achieve success with paltry resources.
Dumbartonâ€™s player/manager Murray has attracted plenty of plaudits himself since his appointment in November 2012. The club were cut adrift at the bottom of the First Division table when he took over with just five points and looked certainties for relegation. However, they staged a remarkable recovery that saw them finish in a comfortable seventh place and well clear of the danger zone.
Fortunes have improved dramatically since the 2007-8 season when Dumbarton finished third bottom of the lowest level of the Scottish League structure. Incredibly, they secured the Third Division title the following season and after a couple of years of consolidation – and like Alloa after them – they won successive promotions to their current level.
Success on the field has helped bring supporters back through the turnstiles at â€œThe Rockâ€. Average attendances have increased from 560 in 2008 to 888 this season. Commercial activities are now the responsibility of the supporters trust. The club from the banks of the River Leven were the first in Scotland to have a supporterâ€™s trust and they have a representative member on the board of directors following a direct investment of Â£25,000.
For the fourth oldest club in Scotland and winners of the first two Scottish championships in the 1890â€™s, the run in looks difficult; a trip to mid-table Raith Rovers is followed by the all-important home game with chief play-off rivals Queen of the South. They finish the season mixing it with title challengers Hamilton and Dundee. Promotion to the Premiership may be a long shot, but would be one of the greatest feats in modern-day Scottish football given where Dumbarton found themselves just six years ago.
Alloaâ€™s task to keep themselves clear of Cowdenbeath and the relegation play-off place looks equally as tricky as Dumbartonâ€™s chase for promotion. They face a must-win game at home against virtually-relegated Morton before having to try and pinch some points from all three title contenders. Having followed directly in the footsteps of Dumbarton over the last few seasons, should Alloa preserve their Championship status, they will once again try to emulate last Saturdayâ€™s opponents and make their presence felt higher up the table next year.