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Battle for survival goes down to the wire

The Scottish Premier League title race might have been settled long ago, but the relegation dogfight is going right down to the wire.

Kilmarnock and Falkirk will do battle in the final game of an eventful campaign on Saturday at Rugby Park. The spectacle will certainly provide the SPL chiefs with the exciting finale they always so desperately crave, albeit at the wrong end of the table.

Some cynics even reckon the pulsating climax to the season somehow justifies the much maligned top-six split, but that certainly remains open to serious debate.

Forget the side stories - the stark reality is that Jimmy Calderwood's men are now two points better off than their relegation rivals the Bairns. Calderwood knows exactly what he must do to ensure safety, while it's win or bust for Steven Pressley's troops at the weekend.

Perhaps it's fitting that Calderwood's team came from behind against his former club Aberdeen at Pittodrie to win their penultimate game 2-1, a result that makes them favourites to retain their SPL status.

The Dons dumped Calderwood last summer despite leading them into Europe as they opted to move in a different direction and eventually appointed Mark McGhee as their new boss.

The ex-Dunfermline gaffer faced a long spell in the wilderness before Killie offered him the unenviable task of trying to keep the Ayrshire club in the top flight, but remarkably he looks like he's winning that battle and would certainly have been fired up for his latest return to the Granite City.

Kilmarnock showed real fighting spirit as they fought back from going behind to a Mark Kerr opener before goals from Liam Kelly and Kevin Kyle sealed three precious points.

Kyle's vital strike could prove to be the most important goal in Kilmarnock's history and will surely create further interest in him, with Aberdeen among the clubs coveting his signature.

The defeat also places further question marks over McGhee's future in what has been a dreadful debut campaign for the man who won the European Cup Winners' Cup with the Dons.

However, with Aberdeen clear from the dreaded drop, the spotlight shines firmly on those teams at the bottom of the pile.

Falkirk were unable to breakdown St Johnstone in their second last match and were eventually forced to settle for a 0-0 draw, a result which could cost them dearly. Who knows what Pressley would have given for one of the 12 goals that were shared in the thrilling 6-6 draw between Motherwell and Hibs at Fir Park in their midweek clash?

The Bairns now travel to Rugby Park knowing they can afford nothing less than a win or face the drop down into the First Division. Former Scotland coach Pressley has insisted since he succeeded Eddie May that Falkirk wouldn't go down, but now he's flirting with danger.

But there's a little ray of hope for the man they call Elvis as there's no chance of Calderwood sacrificing his attacking philosophies to play for a draw that would ensure Killie's survival.

He'll still take the game to the visitors, which could create opportunities for Falkirk to exploit, so the relegation issue is far from over just yet.

Calderwood's contract with Kilmarnock is up in the summer but if he can keep them up it will perhaps only further enhance his managerial reputation. Some might say narrowly avoiding the drop is little to be proud of, but when he succeeded Jim Jefferies the club was in freefall and were only just ahead of Falkirk.

Little has changed since then, with neither team able to build any sort of real momentum in their bid to move up the table.

Pressley could well live to regret making his bold statement when he first swept into the post, although you have to admire his sheer confidence and belief. Maybe his words could yet prove to be true if he can mastermind a result that will see his side jump off bottom spot and ahead of their relegation rivals.

Both bosses are extremely proud characters who love nothing more than winning. To them, suffering relegation to the First Division would be a real slur on their reputations.

But there's a lot more at stake than just reputations - the result on Saturday could have wide reaching implications for whoever experiences the dreaded drop. Whichever team ends up slipping out of the top flight will be hit hard financially, forcing them to cut their squads and slash their wage bills. There's a lot on the line at Rugby Park.

That's why both Calderwood and Pressley will demand big performances from their big players. It's certainly now the time to stand up and be counted in the trenches in what is sure to be an epic battle.

And while the nerves will be jangling on the pitch, the long-suffering fans of both clubs will be forced to experience every emotion possible as the rollercoaster ride the beautiful game creates throws up yet more twists and turns.


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