GREENOCK Wanderers host their most important match of the season tomorrow when they face fellow relegation candidates Haddington at Fort Matilda in the BT National League Second Division — with a 3pm kick-off.

The fixture is a massive game for both sides in the context of the relegation battle but for once this season Wanderers are in pole position and in reality may actually already be safe, being seven points ahead of the men from the ‘Hidden Toon’ and also enjoying the luxury of having a game in hand over their East Lothian rivals.

Livingston look down and out already and the other relegation position will be filled by either Wanderers or Haddington.

The visitors must beat Wanderers tomorrow to keep their slender hopes of survival alive but in addition they must also pick up at least four additional points from their remaining four games, which is highly unlikely.

Although a victory for Greenock will not make survival mathematically certain, it will practically nail down the coffin lid on Haddington’s hopes of extending their stay in the BT National League Second Division next season.

The Reds have endured a torrid campaign and have leaked almost one thousand points in their 17 games so far. They have won only twice but worryingly their first triumph was against Wanderers at Neilson Park back in October when they secured a late 23-21 victory.

It is an unedifying spectacle to witness a proud and popular club like Haddington suffering the humiliation and embarrassment of heavy defeats.

They have been thrashed at regular intervals this season and their worst losses include an 89-5 drubbing by Musselburgh, a 92-10 hammering by Aberdeenshire and, worst of all, a 103-5 trouncing by Hamilton.

The players deserve credit for sticking to their task in what has clearly been a season of joyless sport but having beaten Greenock earlier in the campaign they will travel with confidence and with the knowledge that this really is last chance saloon as far as survival is concerned.

The visitors will throw caution to the wind and knowing the battling spirit of the club the collective attitude will undoubtedly be that if they must go down they will go down fighting.

Wanderers of course are in no position to be smug and have recorded some of the biggest defeats in their history this season but posted a fine display last weekend against much fancied Kirkcaldy and, although they eventually lost, the performance gave plenty of cause for optimism for the future and for tomorrow’s tie in particular.

The inclusion of dual-registered former skipper Brendan McGroarty and the redoubtable Donald Stone had a galvanising effect on the attitude of the regular players and by extension on the quality of the display. It is hoped, by the inner sanctum at the club, that this new-found character will carry them through tomorrow.

Unfortunately for Wanderers, McGroarty is scheduled to return to Glasgow Hawks for their Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against Ayr but Stone is available and the impact replacement will be introduced when most needed. In terms of selection, in-form hooker Stu’ Alexander is recalled and he will pack down alongside Liam Campbell and Murray McDonald in the front row.

Scottish history reminds us that it is not often the Campbells and McDonalds are on the same side but they will unite tomorrow to ensure Wanderers’ scrummage remains rock solid. Matt Gray and Ally Abernethy will lock the scrum and if the front five can dominate the contest at the set piece then it should allow the loose forward trio of Anton Ward, Andy Love and Martin Lavelle the freedom to focus on getting about the park and gaining the upper hand over the opposition at the contact zone.

Lavelle had a superb game last week and his powerful drives off the back of the scrum proved to be a major feature in Wanderers’ attacking armoury.

He is capable of breaking the advantage line and giving his team-mates a target to aim for when they are on the front foot.

The backline reverts to a more familiar format with McGroarty’s departure.

Callum Harrison will link up with Michael Frizzel at centre and Chris McCarron will join Gregor Fletcher and Leigh Tyley in the back three.

Playmakers Andy McDougall and Kenny Diffenthal will be hoping for a surfeit of possession with which to work and as always their decision-making in attacking positions will be vital if the Greenock effort is to succeed.

Head coach Graham Knox said: “We will treat Haddington with respect and having beaten us earlier in the campaign we know what to expect.

“I believe we are much stronger now and we are quietly confident that we have the game plan to win and ease any relegation worries that we have.” The largest crowd of the season is expected at Fort Matilda and, although there is unlikely to be any high-scoring rugby version of the Valentine’s Day massacre played out, the wise money goes on Wanderers being too strong for the visitors and securing the victory that will almost certainly confirm their second division status for next season.

Wanderers’ reserves are also at home tomorrow against Kilmarnock and this game also kicks off at 3pm.

Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments.