Hamilton Academical: Can Lanarkshire side defy pre-season expectations again?

Hamilton boss Rice 'absolutely raging' at defeat
Scottish Premiership: Hamilton Academical v Hearts
Venue: New Douglas Park Date: Saturday, 16 March Time: 15:00 GMT

Who is going to be relegated from the Scottish Premiership this season?

Every August, many say Hamilton Academical. And every May, the Lanarkshire side seem to escape. This term, the New Douglas Park club sit 10th with nine games to play - three points clear of Dundee in the play-off place and four ahead of bottom side St Mirren.

So are they on course to defy those predictions again? BBC Scotland looks at the numbers...

Fewer points, but holding on in 10th

When we compare Hamilton's current position to where they were in their last four years in the top flight, it does not make for encouraging reading. Not only is the club's current points tally of 21 from 29 games their lowest since promotion in 2014, but it is also nine points short of their average at this stage over the past four years.

Hamilton hit an unprecedented high of 41 points during Alex Neil's first season in the top flight, but have seen a relative drop over the next three campaigns under Martin Canning. They now find themselves five points off their tally from this point last season.

It is worth noting that, while Hamilton's points return has fallen most years, they have stubbornly maintained their Premiership status. And although they did drop into the play-off spot in 2017, they have routinely managed to make sure there are always two teams in the division with fewer points - just like this term.

Can they do it again this season?

Are Hamilton doing enough this season to hold on to 10th spot between now and May? Such is their precarious advantage over Dundee and St Mirren, one or two poor results could change everything so each point over the next nine Premiership match days will likely be crucial.

The Lanarkshire side have a reputation for grinding out results as spring comes around. Indeed, over the last four seasons, Hamilton have picked up an average of 10.75 points over their last nine games of the term. That can often equate to anything between 32-47% of their total tally for the entire season.

Hamilton's record in the last nine games of a season
Hamilton's record in the last nine games of the season since 2014/15

However, should Hamilton continue their current points per game ratio of 0.72, they will only pick up another six or seven points between now and the end of the season. That does not take into account the fact that their post-split matches will be against those around them in the table, but a continuation of that trend would give them a final tally of 27 or 28 points, someway short of the average tally of 38 needed to finish 10th over the past four seasons.

What of the new boss bounce?

One saving grace for Hamilton may be their new-manager "bounce" under Brian Rice, who took over from Canning in late January with the specific task of avoiding relegation or, at least, the play-off spot.

Although the former Hibs and Falkirk player has only been in charge for six games, the club's points-per-game average has leapt up to 1.17 in that time. If that can be maintained, it could push Hamilton's return between now and the season up to 10 or 11 points.

That tally would still be well below the usual safety net of 38 points, but it may be enough to see off any late charges from Dundee or St Mirren. And once again, it might mean Hamilton have defied the tag of relegation favourites they find themselves tagged with every season.

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