A look at what will be an undoubtedly dramatic season in the Scottish top flight.
The Title Race
Neil Lennon stands on the brink of history, 10 league titles in a row. Celtic are, however, as they are every summer, a work in progress. The departure of Fraser Forster has seen the arrival of Vasilas Barkas, the Greek number one. Despite boasting two of the league’s best centre-halves in Ajer and Julien, Celtic have failed to truly replace the loss of Tierney and Lustig. What Celtic do have is creativity and goals. Edouard, Christie, McGregor, Forrest, Rogic, and Griffiths, backed up by the power of Brown and Ntcham will be enough to guarantee a historic title. However, Peter Lawell’s cheque book may prove just as important.
Nine years without a major trophy. Two years into Steven Gerrard’s tenure and excellent European runs cannot mask the lack of domestic success at a club so large. With Alfredo Morelos heading for the exit door, will Itten and Kemar Roofe be able to step up and deliver the goals to stop 10 in a row? Rangers are still vulnerable at the back, and with the ageing McGregor in goals, the club is on the cusp of going backwards. Rangers may have looked like champions under Gerrard, but the consistency is non-existent. They certainly will challenge but will the board back Gerrard this summer to stave off a January collapse and stop 10 in a row?
Shinnie, McLean, Rooney, Gary Mackay-Steven, all big characters that have left Aberdeen over the past few seasons leaving Derek McInnes with a constant rebuild. Aberdeen has recruited well and stayed competitive over the past few seasons, however, the fans have turned against McInnes. The big loss of Sam Cosgrove through injury, with the added insult of Leeds’ loanee Ryan Edmonson’s spell cut short leaves the Dons firing blanks. The Aberdeen 8’s Covid-19 Escapade couldn’t have come at a better time. This may be the beginning of the end for McInnes at Aberdeen.
After last season’s wobble, the arrival of Jack Ross has galvanised the Cabbage as well as Ron Gordon’s takeover. Hibs are a club on the up, and after some shrewd transfer dealings bringing in Nesbit and Gogic, they are now seen as strong contenders for a European spot. Four games into the season they’re undefeated and free-scoring, if they can keep the talented Jack Ross as manager, Hibs could go from strength to strength the next few seasons. The club’s revival in the past five years is nothing short of remarkable.
Last season Robbie Neilson’s men romped the championship, thanks to the goals from Lawrence Shankland. But at the time they were not always convincing, with losses to those such as Alloa standing out. Neilson however, has opted to return to his beloved Hearts to steer the club once again out of the Championship. The Arabs and Tony Ashgar have instead turned to Mickey Mellon of Tranmere Rovers. Mellon himself is a little bit of a promotion expert, firstly at Fleetwood Town where he unearthed Jamie Vardy, then at Shrewsbury. Most recently his successes lie at Tranmere Rovers, where he resurrected the club rising from the Conference to League One in just two years. His success in the football league has left him perhaps underrated in his home country. Mellon could be the inspired appointment who will re-establish United in the top flight.
Stephen Robinson’s Steelmen have done some fantastic business this summer bringing back Jake Hastie on a season-long loan from Rangers and snapping up Scotland fullback Stephen O’Donnell, albeit on a short term deal. These signings are bolstered by the return of David Turnbull, from long term injury adding to a talented, young, and hungry squad. The departure of Mark Gillespie to Newcastle has been bolstered with the return to fitness of Trevor Carson, a man who before injury had interests from Celtic and clubs down south.
The Battle to Stay Up
The Staggies were solid last season on their return to the top flight, having continued to strengthen with the arrivals of Ross Dohan and the talented Stephen Kelly, both on loan from either side of the Old Firm. There is a strong squad of old heads up in Dingwall, which arguably should’ve kept the side up in 2017. So far this season County have looked entertaining and a solid side arguably too good for the trap door. They may, however, be dragged into a play-off spot.
As Scotland’s most hated football team, Hamilton is probably one of the country’s most effective talent factories. If it is not producing their own such as McCarthy, McArthur, Devlin, Ferguson, Crawford, and Docherty, then it’s developing young talented imports such as Gogic, Offiong, and Miller. Even Hamilton’s current crop of youngsters reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Youth League. This might finally be the year Hamilton falls through the trap door, the loss of quality players over the past few seasons have weakened Hamilton and made them my favourites to go down. The curse of the commentator, and of course the SPFL playoffs, still leave the Accies hope.