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Final Standings With the regular season done and dusted, Cove Rangers and Berwick Rangers finished top and bottom of their respective divisions; Cove Rangers won the Highland League for the second year running, this time around clinching a 8 point gap over second placed Brora - in 17/18, the Aberdeen-based side finished 11 points ahead of Formartine, showing that these particular Rangers seem to be a bigger fish than the size of their pond lets on. Incredibly, 100 goals were scored across 34 matches, with the Cove goalie conceding just 12(!). This strong form continued into the first round of the promotion play-offs, with a scrappy 1-2 win at East Kilbride's K-Park being followed up with a comprehensive 3-0 rout of the Lowland champions at Balmoral Stadium - a 5-1 aggregate is nothing to scoff at. On the other side of the trapdoor, Berwick Rangers' bottom completely fell out - 19 lonesome points being three worse than Cowdenbeath's tally in 17/18 and 13(!) less than East Stirlingshire's record during the season in which they were relegated. Since the introduction of the then-Third Division back in 1994/1995, only three sides scored fewer points than this season's Dream Team; Albion Rovers in 94/95 and East Stirlingshire in 02/03 and 04/05. Things could have been different, for this season's Albion Rovers are the second worst 9th placed team - behind the 03/04 Elgin City side (25 points) - but Berwick failed to capitalize on Rovers' insanely week start to the season under John 'Let's sign Alloa's development squad and call it a day' Brogan. Cove Rangers Back in 2017/2018, the Cove Rangers thread down in the Highland League section of Pie & Bovril was titled 'Cove on the Move' - a play on words that may well have proven to be prophetic were it not for scrappy Cowdenbeath barring the Highland League champions entry to League 2 in the play-offs. Another season of battering the other Highland sides later and the 7-times champions are eager to succesfully operate the Trapdoor this time around - this time with a scintillating form to their name seeing as the last time Cove dropped points was way back on the 23rd of March, when Brora held the blue-clad Aberdeen squad to a 1-1 draw. For comparison, the last time Berwick picked up any points was the 19th of March..... Since the Brora bump in the road, Cove played and won 5 league games - Fort William, Wick Academy, Keith, Forres Mechanics, and Clachnacuddin were all beaten - scoring 15 times and conceding just once. The last time a team put more than a single goal past Cove was on the 6th of March (Rothes scored twice but shipped 6 goals themselves) and the last time a team actually beat them was on December 1st 2018 when Fraserburgh secured a 1-0 win at home. Cove's team features a smattering of SFL experience, including the likes of Martin Scott (ex-Livi, Hibs, Ross County, Arbroath, Stenny, Raith, and Salgaocar - wait, who?), Jamie Masson (Aberdeen, Elgin, Brechin), Jordon Brown (Aberdeen, Forfar, and about 180 matches for Peterhead), and Mitchel Megginson (Aberdeen, Arbroath, Brechin, Alloa, Dumbarton, and Brechin). Blair Yule of Arbroath fame is another prominent member of the squad, as is Ryan Strachan - another former Peterhead stalwart. Berwick Rangers Click the spoiler for a season recap Berwick Rangers haven't won a game - or indeed picked up points - since the 19th of March when league leaders Peterhead were beaten 2 to 0. Since, 6 matches under Johnny Harvey resulted in 0 goals forward and 20 against, while the single match under John Browlie and Ian Little was a merciful 2-0 loss at the hands of Elgin. A team that has been built, refurbished, and demolished by Robbie Horn and Johnny Harvey this season, Berwick's hopes are pinned on key players Dougie Brydon and Jordan Orru, both returning from a couple of weeks of injury, and Ousman 'Ouzy' See, who has been out of the game for about 8 months following a broken leg incurred at Montrose (back when they were still in League 2). Promotion/Relegation Play-Off; Leg 1 of the Trapdoor Having mentioned Montrose we can safely say that there is a life after the Trapdoor - with the Angus side having impressively secured a second season in League 1. Of course, the Gable Endies never actually fell down to the Highland/Lowland League. Conversely, League 2 strugglers of old East Stirlingshire are into their theird season in the Lowland League, with crowds averaging 180 odd fans having witnessed a sixth place finish this season. The other SFL team to have experienced the perils of the Trapdoor - Cowdenbeath - have steered clear of immediate danger by ending 6th in League 2 this season. Whichever example Berwick Rangers will follow - survival and great/limited success or relegation and a new reality - the Dream Team have one final shot to save their skin and membership of the SFL due to the relatively closed-off nature of the pyramid, which is more than most teams in their position in other European countries can say. Even then, should relegation occur, Berwick will receive parachute payments (possibly in the form of Ladbrokes sponsorship like East Stirlingshire received) and continued access to the Challenge and League Cups for 2019/2020. Still, with East Kilbride continuing their stint in the Lowland League, the Wee 'Gers will be in serious trouble if they want to bounce back at the first time of asking. As for Cove, promotion to League 2 will have never been easier to achieve than this season given the league performance of Club 42, and the Aberdeen-side will be hungrier than ever following their controversial (their words, not mine) defeat at the hands of Cowdenbeath last season. They seem to have outgrown the Highland League and have shown willingness to be promoted - and should they reach their goal they will undoubtedly make a fist of their first season in the SFL, which should worry the current members. May 11th will be the first leg of this play-off between two very different teams, both with their own ambitions; Cove will look to turn their home advantage into a convincing win to make the return a dead rubber, whilst Berwick will be pleased to keep the tie alive ahead of their home match on the 18th of May. If you are in the area, consider making the trip to Balmoral Stadium and see for yourself how exciting football at this level and stage of the season can be. Cove play in all-blue adidas teamwear at home; considering the fact that Berwick's away shirt is light blue with navy shorts and hooped socks, expect the Black and Gold to turn out in, well, black and gold. I don't have a graphic for Cove's kit so please accept my substituting it with the 2010/2011 Peterborough United home shirt.
Gold and black play host to white and black on Saturday as Edinburgh City play Berwick Rangers at Shielfield - this matchup being notable for the biggest benefactors of the League 2 Trapdoor coming to visit the side most likely to be the drop's next victim. Berwick are fresh-faced in tenth, having not previously occupied the last place in the standings this season (in no small part due to a convincing victory over Stirling Albion on the first day of the season). Albion Rovers' win over Cowdenbeath on Tuesday has, unfortunately for the wee 'Gers, catapulted them into 9th, 1 point and 7 goals ahead of Johnny Harvey's men. Having taken 4 points from the last five matches, the gaffer and his lads are looking to exact revenge for the 1-0 loss at Ainsley Park earlier this month, which is just one in a series of 1 goal losses suffered by Berwick - the last time the team lost by more than one goal was on the 23rd of February v. Elgin. Dougie Brydon is close to full fitness again and Ouzy See remains out, whilst goalie Allison is still a question mark. Brennan will probably remain on goal, while Ryan Goodfellow will remain on the bench, unsure of why he was loaned in the first place. Notably, at 11;30 AM, there will be an open fan forum at Shielfield where one and all can put their questions to the chairmen; expect 73 variations of the question 'Tae fook we do now?'. Edinburgh City, meanwhile, are sitting comfortably in second; Clyde's administrative hiccup ensures that the Bully Wee are now one point behind City, while Berwick's shock win over Peterhead leaves the Blue Toon just five points ahead in first. As a result, McDonaugh's men have it all to play for still with 6 matches remaining although they are assured of the play-offs at the very least. City have taken 7 from their last five, including the win over Berwick and last weekend's one all versus the league leaders. Talking about Peterhead, they will be facing Cowdenbeath, so a win at Shielfield is the only result City can be satisfied with; this will put their season's total versus Berwick at three wins and one draw. Betting odds are probably in favour of City, regular ticket prices apply, hopefully there will be a decent bit of live-tweeting going on, and visitors are advised to bring earplugs due to how squeaky the local bums are at the moment. Considering both City's away and third shirts clash with Berwick's black and gold, expect the visitors to wear their white home strip.