Scottish Premiership: Will Inverness or Hamilton avoid automatic relegation?
With one round of Scottish Premiership fixtures remaining, Inverness Caledonian Thistle or Hamilton Academical will face automatic relegation.
Richie Foran’s men are one point behind Accies at the foot of the table and host Motherwell knowing nothing short of victory can save them from the drop.
Hamilton will guarantee second-bottom, and face a relegation play-off against Dundee United, by beating Dundee.
Ahead of the final round of league matches, BBC Scotland seeks the counsel of a former Inverness and Accies player, and a veteran manager of the Scottish game, to assess the prospects of the struggling two.
Former Inverness CT midfielder Barry Wilson
Is the pressure off Inverness?
“Inverness go into it with not much to lose. They’ve been written-off all season, looking as if they were going to be automatically relegated, and all of a sudden they’ve been given an olive branch.
“And, if they can do their job and win the game, they’ve at least showed some fight and character, but I actually believe, if they do win, they’ll make the play-offs.
“Then it’s important they don’t think it’s job done. You’ve then got a really hard game against Dundee United or Falkirk, albeit I think the Premiership team will survive.”
Is this the most important weekend in the club’s history?
“The Scottish Cup final was obviously a huge game for them, being in the League Cup final as well, but the bread-and-butter league games, this is probably the biggest since 2009, when they got relegated the last time.
“That’s the be-all and end-all. Finishing in the top six was great a couple of years ago, finishing third was fantastic, but this is the one the club need – I’m not saying they need to win to survive – but it would be a footballing disaster if they got relegated, because you’ve seen how tough the Championship can be.
“The big issue is whether they’ve got their house in order for players’ wages, because there would need to be pay cuts and you would hope there was something in contracts to say, by the way, if we are in the Championship, you will be getting x amount, not y or z that you’re on just now.”
You labelled this Inverness team the worst you’ve ever seen – after that appraisal, do you feel they are good enough, and tough enough, to stay up?
“I think they’ve always had the talent. You look at their team and had I seen more of the fight they showed [in the wins] against Hamilton and Dundee, I wouldn’t have made that comment.
“Because I genuinely believe they have got some good players there – Greg Tansey, Ross Draper, Gary Warren, Iain Vigurs, Billy Mckay – who shouldn’t be playing in a team that’s bottom of the league.
“But they haven’t performed well enough this season for whatever reason. That’s why I made the comment. I felt at the time a lot of the players had downed tools and pretty much accepted their fate.
“But, lately, they’ve shown signs of a revival and you can see there’s a little bit of confidence getting back into their game.
“But the league table doesn’t lie – if you finish bottom then you’ve been the worst team.”
Former Hamilton midfielder Derek Ferguson
Where have Accies suffered most this season?
“When you go on to that park, one thing you can’t do is hide. I think the players have given it everything in terms of their effort, but I’ve been there, I’ve been in situations where players maybe don’t show for the ball.
“You can’t have that at any level. It only takes one or two to not be showing, even for a simple pass, and the whole thing can go to pot.
“I think there have been questions asked, certainly over the last six or seven games, that certain personnel haven’t produced.
“What can happen is players feel a little bit sorry for themselves. And, when you’re down the wrong end of the table, you can’t do that.
“They give it everything in terms of their effort, just little bits of quality in terms of showing for the ball have been missing from their game.
“I think Accies are a good team when they’ve got that determination and doggedness, when they hunt in packs.
“They’ve got that work ethic and they go and work their socks off, but for some reason, they’ve not been doing it.
“I don’t know if there’s something happening off the park, or whether they’re just not gelling – that’s [manager] Martin Canning’s department.”
How damaging could relegation be for the club?
“The players have been prepared to be at the wrong end of the table. I don’t think Accies will ever get carried away.
“They know they’re not going to be a top-six side, so they’re always going to be in and around the sort of position they’re in.
“But I don’t think five, six games ago, they thought for a minute they’d be in this position. They’re going to have to show that character that they have got.
“They’ve got to produce it, if not for themselves then certainly for the manger, because he’s taken a bit of stick throughout the season.
“I think he’s a good manager, but the players have got to stand up and be counted and show a little bit more for him.”
How much pressure are the players under?
“I’ve been relegated with Falkirk and there was a lot going on at the club at the time. It was a horrible feeling, I knew there were jobs on the line.
“Accies players, I don’t think, earn a lot of money in comparison to other Premiership sides. So, if they drop down a division, it could affect their lifestyles and families.
“You’ve got to be so focused, don’t have any distractions and make sure, at the end of the 90 minutes on Saturday, you’ve given everything.
“If that is the case, sometimes you’re not quite good enough and you’ve got to accept it, but I think Accies are good enough to stay in that division.”
Former Dundee United manager Alex Smith
“I had the experience of that when I was at Dundee United [in 2001]. We had come from a bad place at the bottom of the league around new year and we got to within the second-last game and had to get some kind of result out of it.
“At half-time at Perth, we were 2-0 down to St Johnstone, and St Mirren were beating Aberdeen on the day, so we were down.
“I spent 15 minutes charging around the dressing room shouting out things, changing the personnel, changing things tactically and we had to turn things round or we were going to get relegated.
“It was one of my best 15 minutes. All my changes worked and I can remember saying, if we can get one, we’ll get two and, if we get two, we’ll get three.
“I kept repeating this and Paul Hegarty and Maurice Malpas kept looking at me and saying ‘are you daft?’
“But we did, we got away and it was that situation where you were practically over the cliff and you had to do something to get back up again.”