The Highland League basement battle could still prove to be even more tense than the race for the Championship title.
Is it a foregone conclusion Fort William are going to be fighting for their survival at the end of the season?
One glance at the table on the back of their 2-0 defeat against Lossiemouth might suggest so, but if they can close the door at the back to complement their attacking threats, who knows?
New chance for ambitious risers
It’s an historic season, of course, as the team finishing last in April could well face a Bank o’ Dee or Golspie Sutherland for the right to retain their status as a HFL club.
Should these ambitious North Junior Superleague or North Caledonian League champions repeat their feat, they along with potential Midlands League winners (mainly from Tayside) can contest a ‘pyramid six’ play-off against the Highland League lowest performers.
While Fraserburgh have opened up a whopping 12-point advantage at the top, the gap at the bottom is less so despite Fort’s troubles as they seek a permanent replacement for experienced stand-in gaffer Calum Maclean.
In fact, six sides, at a push from Nairn downwards, will be sweating in case Fort William get their house in order.
Fort could reel rivals into danger
I’ve caught four of these teams in action this season and their lack of consistency is frustrating, because the undoubted effort and talent is there.
Lossiemouth’s 2-0 win over Fort on Saturday puts them more or less out of the equation, so they can breathe much easier in what was a big outcome.
Nairn will also be feeling better this morning after their last-gasp comeback 2-1 victory at Strathspey put them a dozen points clear of bottom place in 13th position.
Keith and Wick Academy are 14th and 15th respectively after the Maroons were hit for seven by Fraserburgh and the far north men lost 3-1 to Brechin City.
They are both on double figures, so will hope to add to that, while not expecting a West Highland recovery enough to trouble them – but they’re not clear of trouble should that happen.
Strathspey are now 16th, eight points ahead of Fort, but have played one match more.
The Jags smashed Fort 7-3 at Seafield Park recently in an epic game I covered, in which they recovering from 2-0 down to show a ruthless side.
Unfortunately for Charlie Brown’s Thistle, they followed up with an 8-1 defeat at Brora Rangers and a 3-0 home loss to Formartine United. They play an attractive style, but don’t put away enough of their chances.
Turriff have lost 10 times and their only victory was a rousing, if unexpected, 4-0 rout over Deveronvale at the start of this month.
The men from the Haughs will need more big days to stave off any potential revival in the West Highlands.
Clubs planning for promotion shot
Speaking to North Caledonian League clubs when the pyramid play-off became a reality this summer, the overwhelming feeling was, although only Golspie have the criteria to contest it currently, it’s a welcome open door.
Clubs have high hopes and ambitions and are plotting for their futures as far in advance as 20-25 years from now.
Knowing that they could target a place in the Highland League is the one side of the coin.
For the Highland League side which finishes on the floor, it will be a cruel welcome to reality.
Like Brechin City found to their cost when they dropped out of League Two, the appetite exists to rewards those on the up and the safety net has been removed.