Friday, 13 August 2010

SPL 2010/11: The Season Starts Here!

Rangers get ready to recieve the championship trophy for season 2009/10
Barring Celtic’s abortive European Cup campaign, Hibernian’s abortive UEFA Cup campaign, Motherwell’s run in the same competition and Wednesday’s defeat in Sweden, the 2010/11 football season begins in earnest on Saturday with the start of the Scottish Premier League (with apologies to the Scottish Football League who started last week).  With all of the action which has occurred already, this must be the smallest close season in living memory.

Aiming for a hat trick of championships are Rangers, who like last year have not added to their squad.  However they have lost seven of their squad, with Thompson and Boyd making the move to Middlesbrough, and Danny Wilson making the switch to Liverpool. However the transfer of Kevin Thompson is arguably the only transfer involving a key player.  Weir will be around for another year, and will be supplemented by the returning Andy Webster, and Boyd was firmly second pick for the key games Rangers played.  In Walter Smith’s last season, Rangers have the necessary experience to win the Championship.

At the other side of Glasgow, Celtic have been busy in the transfer market.  After finally confirming the appointment of Neil Lennon as Manager after his caretaker stint.  Celtic have brought in Joe Ledley from Cardiff, and Charlie Mulgrew from Aberdeen.  However they have lost the “Holy Goalie” Artur Boric.  The questions posed for Celtic are the same ones from 12 months ago; can they pull a new side together under a new coach and overhaul Rangers.  The Omens are not good for Celtic, who have sacked their previous “inexperienced” coaches (Liam Brady after 2 years, John Barnes within 6 months).  I take Rangers to win by between 4-7 points.
Elsewhere, Dundee United have pretty much kept their Scottish Cup winning team intact (save for the aforementioned Andy Webster), Hearts have rather shockingly bought in Scottish players in the shape of the former Falkirk captain Darren Barr and Kilmarnock’s Kevin Kyle, while Aberdeen have brought Paul Hartley back from exile in Bristol.  Those three teams, as well as Hibernian, should be in the running for third.

The tightest battle over recent years has been the battle to avoid the drop, with Inverness Caley dropping down on goal difference in 2009 and Falkirk loosing out by a point in May.  Inverness are back in the top flight, the first team to bounce straight back up since Hib’s flew through the First Division in 1998/99.  They might find themselves at the bottom end once again, but should see themselves safe come the end of the season.

Calderwood celebrate's Kilmarnock's survival against Falkirk
The weakest squad on paper is St Mirren’s.  Their dismissal of Gus MacPherson, is one that gathered criticism among the media, but among the supporters, the opinion was that Gus’s teams looked more and more stale as the weeks went on. In his place, St Mirren have brought in the highly rated Danny Lennon from Cowdenbeath.  The problem for many journalists is that Danny has also brought 4 players from Cowdenbeath, as well as bringing back Marc McAusland from Queen Of The South and David Van Zanten from Hamilton.  St Mirren’s survival depends on the ability of the lower league players to step up to Premier League level, which to be honest is not as big a step up as most sports writers seem to think.

Hamilton have lost the talented James McArthur, their survival depends on their much vaunted conveyor belt of talent continuing.  I suspect that this will be a difficult season for Hamilton, and for Kilmarnock, who brought in Mixu Paatelainen to replace Jimmy Calderwood as Manager.  I think that the team to go down will come from those four, and I think that once again it will be too close to call.

More than most, Scottish football needs to come out and provide a season to remember, it needs to show that it was watching the events in South Africa, and that notes were being taken about technique and attacking football.  Above all Scottish football needs to realise that for the third season on the spin, the Old Firm are vulnerable.  The Old Firm will finish in the top two positions, but a winning mentality and a bit of ruthlesness needs to be shown from the other sides before they can be taken seriously.

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