The SSE Airtricity Premier Division promotion relegation play-off brings plenty of tension and angst, yet those feelings have been multiplied for one side in particular this week.

Ninth place Waterford face the First Division challengers UCD in Richmond Park in a game that was difficult to call before the events of this week.

Blues boss Marc Bircham departed the club after a conflict with owner Richard Forrest , plunging the club into crisis.

Ian Hendon was then added to the club’s coaching staff with 60 hours left in a nine-month season.

Hendon is a former assistant to Sam Allardyce and will work with the locally based staff in order to make up a management team.

Had the upheaval not happened, Waterford would still have been in for a huge battle on Friday night.

The teams met in an FAI Cup game earlier in the year which ended in a 3-2 win for the Premier Division outfit.

After that game, Waterford were dreaming of a Cup final appearance.

That didn’t materialise but a 2-1 win over Bohemians made it 26 points from a possible 36 for the Blues so safety was within their grasp.

The run had put Bircham in contention for manager of the year award but dropped points in the closing matches – plus Bircham labelling his players 'a disgrace’ because of the manner of a defeat to Shamrock Rovers – ended thoughts of that.

By the time the final day came around last week, Waterford were up against it and the absence of several key players because of suspension and injury made it a near impossible task to avoid ninth place.

That is how it materialised.

Marc Bircham brought lots of smiles to the RSC but his tenure is over

UCD, meanwhile, have largely breezed through the play-offs. They are at the peak of a cycle of new players.

Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan have bagged over 35 goals in all competitions and are current Irish Under-21 internationals.

Paul Doyle, Sam Todd and Jack Keaney have matured into players who would fit into any side in the top flight.

College will struggle to keep hold off their star men but a place in the Premier Division would certainly make it easier in the coming weeks.

Whelan is a goal-scoring talent of real quality – and his 40 goals in the College shirt now places him fifth in the overall history books of the club, ahead of the likes of David McMillan and Georgie Kelly.

Ironically – the striker is a former Under-19 player at the RSC.

Played on paper, this game would be extremely even and the neutral setting of Richmond Park is not an advantage to either.

But with all of the momentum – and with Waterford in crisis – UCD now carry the tag of favourites for many.

UCD boss Andy Myler told RTÉ Sport: "In the last six weeks we have concentrated on rolling up the sleeves and being hard to beat. Once we get a clean sheet to build off, we generally score a goal.

"Waterford are a really good side, with lots of goals in them. The FAI Cup game showed that because it could have been 7-6 rather than 3-2. It could be tighter with more at stake in this game but we'll still go and play. We'll try to play our football."

Greg Halford, Jack Stafford, John Martin and Darragh Power all return from suspension for Waterford, while there is concern after a report of a Covid-19 outbreak in the camp.

Bircham has promised to watch on from the stands tonight as Hendon tries to lead the group of Blues players out of what was an inconceivable position a few weeks ago.

The play-off was always a possibility and time will tell if the upheaval during the week was the death knell for Waterford in the top flight.