Summers with World Cups are by far the easiest for the football fan, with a month’s worth of delectable action in what seems to be a vast chasm between mid-May and August, but I’ve found myself itching more than ever to get back to the week-in week-out ritual of following Scottish football. The SPFL’s first season came and went last season with a decent showing, but this season is shaping up to me to be far more interesting.
The Premiership will once again be dominated by Celtic, but whether or not they win as convincingly as they managed last year remains to be seen. After their European humbling on Wednesday night their European prospects may be limited to the Europa League, which will surely give them more cause to focus on domestic success to pacify the baying crowds. Winning the league won’t be enough for Ronny Deila to claim a successful first season, so winning a cup must surely be a priority as well for the new manager.
The top half of the Premiership will again be exciting, but I think Aberdeen will be far stronger 2nd place shouts this year than last year. Derek McInnes has done a sterling job so far with the Dons, taking them to a memorable League Cup win in March and already leading them on a good European run this year – with defeat to Spanish side Real Sociedad no reason for shame at all. St. Johnstone have also had European success, but the inevitable departure of talisman Stevie May means that they aren’t as threatening as they have been in the last few years. Motherwell have almost become the de facto 2nd team in Scotland over the last few years, but I think Stuart McCall’s team might do a little worse this year. They haven’t added much to their squad and were fortunate to pip Aberdeen in the final seconds of the season to the runners-up spot last year.
I don’t think the table will really change that much in the Premiership at all. Dundee United will still be a good team, but a young one, with the starlets of GMS and Andy Robertson continuing to improve as a side – but the team under McNamara will have to be a little more consistent than last season if they want to succeed. Inverness Caley will be the team most at risk of taking a tumble this year, with Yogi Hughes not getting off to a good start in the Highland capital and little in the way of signings to suggest he will do any better this term.
At the foot of the table, there’s every reason to suggest it’ll be just as tightly fought as it was last year. With no side set adrift before the start of play like Hearts were last year, there’s a group of five or six teams who will have to play consistently well to avoid the drop or the play-off spot against what will surely be a good team. Dundee look strong, with Paul Hartley being one of Scotland’s finest young managers of the moment and some good summer signings, and will be the better of the two promoted sides in my opinion and could do very well. Kilmarnock will be without the goals of Kris Boyd, who has left for Rangers, and that will set them back hugely in their attempts to improve upon what’s been a pitiful few seasons for them. It’s St. Mirren who have to be worried for me, though. Danny Lennon may be gone, but new manager Tommy Craig has barely brought in any players to help them improve on their poor form last year.
For my team, Ross County, I’m cautiously optimistic. Last season might look good on paper, finishing 7th and top of the bottom six, but it was far from a great campaign. Despite what I feared might be an exodus from the club after a spate of short-term loan signings in January, it appears that many of them have re-signed for us for another year – with Filip Kiss, Graham Carey and Yoann Arquin all committing themselves ‘til next summer. With a relatively stable squad, with some good new additions such as Antonio Reguero between the sticks and Northern Irishmen Jake Jervis and Liam Boyle up front things are actually looking rather positive. As long as our new-look defence holds up in the first half of the season, compared to its frailties in the last two years, then County could be looking at a much more confident finish in the table – even if it means we don’t climb that many places above the bigger teams.
The Championship is always a strong division, but this season will without doubt be the most exciting second-tier of Scottish football in history with 3 of the 4 biggest clubs in Scotland taking part. Rangers, Hearts and Hibs will be the big players in the league as the latter two pick up the pieces from their falls from grace while Rangers try to continue their ascent after picking up theirs. It’s not going to be a walk in the park for any of them, as a strong Falkirk side will push them I feel – and the other sides will make the most of the bumper crowds and treat each game as a cup tie. For me Rangers will edge it with the return of Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller proving too much for the Championship defences, but they will not stroll to victory as in the last two years. Hearts’ post-relegation exodus was too much for me to think they’ll gel in time to mount a serious push, so I’m opting for Hibs to pip them to 2nd. I think Cowdenbeath will be the side to go down, as they struggle with the loss of leading goalscorer Kane Hemmings.
In League One I think Dunfermline will be the side that benefits from Rangers’ promotion most – as the strongest ‘other’ team in the league last year and new fan ownership which has seen the squad stay constant through the summer. Morton will be a force in the league too, bouncing back a little from last year’s dismal showing to some form of stability with the capable Jim Duffy in charge. I hope Peterhead put in a good showing this year, as their impressive win of the Third Division last year proved they are a good club and the side has been unlucky so far in its attempts to push much higher than the bottom half of the third tier. For me, Stirling Albion will be the team going down this year – with the side only just coming up through the play-offs.