There are still ten days left in the winter transfer window and it’s beginning to look like getting Paul Quinn back from Aberdeen is going to be “the” move of the window for Ross County. I don’t say that with any emotion, simply state it as a fact. Put another way, there’s not a lot going on other than County’s weekly match. So, as we approach the two-thirds pole in the Scottish Premiership season I thought it was the right time to look at what Ross County has to do in order to remain in the Premiership for a fifth straight season.
There are basically three ways for County to assure a fifth consecutive season in the Scottish top flight:
1. Per the quirky rules of the Premiership the league splits after 33 matches and any club that is in the top six when that happens stays there- even if they lose their five remaining matches and even if a club in the bottom half surpasses their point total. This has happened on numerous occasions since the top tier began using this system. This would be the easiest way for County to remain up as all they have to do is hold on to their current position…or not lose more than one spot in the table over the remaining third of the season.
2. Based on the analysis I did of the Scottish top flight a few years ago, the average number of points needed to avoid relegation (or even the relegation/promotion playoffs) since 1998 is 42. It’s actually slightly lower than that, but I rounded-up. This number has varied by as much as ten points in a season when there have been extenuating circumstances (points deductions, one club running away with the league, one club collapsing, etc.), but setting those aside, 42 has been the number. Chances are that this season, with Dundee United having an absolute mare of a season the number will be on the lower side, but just to be safe, 42 points will do it.
3. This is the scariest, but thankfully least likely, scenario. County do just enough to stay above eleventh place, regardless of their point total. I say this is unlikely to be a scenario facing County and its supporters because the club already has a 20 lead over last place Dundee United and a 5-6 point lead over the four other clubs (Motherwell, Partick, Hamilton, and Kilmarnock) who are most likely to finish in the relegation/promotion playoff position.
The Table of Today (club, matches played, points)
The Table of Maximum Points
This table doesn’t tell us too much (there’s still too much of the season left), but what it does show us is that County’s position is not as strong as their current fifth place standing might seem- and all the more reason to remain in the top six at the split! It also makes it look like Dundee United might be in with a chance- they’re not. They would have to “win out” from this point and Hamilton and Kilmarnock would have to drop at least eleven of their remaining points. The latter is possible, the former is not. Here’s a little more nuanced look at things- a final table based on the average number of points/match thus far in the season.
Projected Final Table
This looks just about right.
The table probably won’t finish in this exact order (it’s current order), but this does show where the slight shifts are likely to be. County, Dundee, and Caley will likely remain bunched together with one of the three not making the split. Motherwell and Partick will probably be able to stay above the relegation fight, and Hamilton and Dundee will likely be battling it out to see who faces a Championship club in the relegation/promotion playoffs. Dundee United are likely to have one of the lowest point totals (not involving a points penalty of some kind) that the Scottish top flight has ever seen. It’s also worth noting that this projected finish supports the idea that 42 points once again represents the “pass/fail” barrier in the top Scottish league.
Twelve points from their final fifteen matches is probably all it’s going to take. There are two cup matches in the mix, but County’s next four league matches are against Motherwell, Hamilton, Dundee United, and Kilmarnock. If they can win those four against clubs below them, they will be safe!