BY CHRIS MARSHALL OF MEAT FILLED PASTRIES
Obviously I kid, but whilst the majority of people are wet with excitement at the prospect of Hearts, Hibs and Rangers vying for Championship glory, when all is said and done there will only be one champion of Scotland and although the SPFL Premiership is the equivalent of Usain Bolt racing your Gran at the moment, sometimes it would be irresponsible to forget that Granny knows best. Sometimes, however, your Gran is calling you Genghis Khan and asking where the toaster is so she can make you a tuna and marzipan omelette. Just saying, so realistically is anybody other than Celtic going to win yet another title?
What about Aberdeen, the much-lauded second best team in Scotland who despite finishing third last season have started the season well. They have firepower in the form of Adam Rooney, Niall McGinn and Peter Pawlett whilst Ryan Jack behind them continues to improve. The signing of David Goodwillie has the potential to boost their attacking options even further but a less than productive loan spell at Dundee United last season means he is a player with a lot to prove. Defensively they have retained the services of Shaleum Logan and added the highly rated Ash Taylor from Tranmere but any team that relies on Jamie Langfield as their last line of defence should have a big asterisk beside any title claims however remote they may be.
Whilst Aberdeen were being praised to high heaven Motherwell somehow managed to once again finish best of the rest despite the continual loss of their best players and a budget that should really see them feature in the league as nothing more than bottom six also-rans, but is this the season where finally The Steelmen come unstuck? The loss of Shaun Hutchinson to Fulham will leave a sizeable hole in the heart of the defence and it will be up to the likes of Fraser Kerr to fill that gap. Henri Anier’s departure may not be as big a loss as some would proclaim, especially given the permanent signing of Lionel Ainsworth from Rotherham whose speed and touch-line skills were key to Motherwell’s style of play. Josh Law comes in as somewhat of an unknown quantity but if his performances match that of his older brother in midfield then Stuart McCall will have made yet another shrew move from nowhere. Realistically though, maintaining their top six status should be viewed as a successful season.
Perhaps Dundee United and its seemingly endless conveyor belt of young players – both home-grown and pilfered – will be able to consistently put together a run of form that has them challenging at the top. At times last season United played football that nobody else, including Celtic, could compete with and although the loss of ‘Baby Messi’ Ryan Gauld has been heralded as a fantastic move for the youngster its hard to ignore the fact that towards the end of last season he was becoming a peripheral figure. The emergence of Ryan Dow, who himself will be hoping for a big season, will help to fill that void and it is impossible to ignore the talents of Nadir Ciftci who is surely only another good season away from being the next million pound departure. Andrew Robertson continued his rise to the top with it looking ever more likely that he will be the first left back on the moon by 2017, but the money earned and the loan deal for Connor Townsend showed that sometimes it’s best to strike when the iron is hot. The youngsters keep on coming and it would be of no surprise to anyone if Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal or Callum Morris were first team regulars come the season end. Consistency is the buzz word and a consistent Dundee United are a dangerous proposition for the entire division.
Maybe the Tangerines need to take a leaf out of St. Johnstone’s book who despite being equally inconsistent throughout the season managed to beat their Tayside rivals in the Scottish Cup Final whilst continuing to be held up as the blueprint for a successfully run Scottish football club. Stevie May is the jewel in the Perth side’s crown and whether or not the former Darkness front man is at the club come the end of the transfer window may very well determine where they end up, although Christopher Kane is waiting in the wings to become the Saints new darling. His career has followed a similar path scoring goals in a series of loan moves across all the levels. Kane is not alone as a burgeoning youth movement at McDiarmid Park which is supplemented by the experience of players such as Frazer Wright and Steven MacLean. Murray Davidson will be viewed as a new signing after an injury troubled 18 months but much will depend on what additions, if any, can be made by Tommy Wright. Top 6 should be safe though in a relatively weak looking league.
With no Hearts or Hibs and the continual absence of Rangers the rest of the teams in the division will fancy their chances of making it a Top Six season and perhaps the best placed of those is newly promoted Dundee, managed by a man some have dubbed as some sort of ‘Tartan Mourinho’ in Paul Hartley. The former Scotland international has led a team to the title in all three of Scotland’s lower divisions and the signings he has made have the potential to form a solid Premiership side. The signing of Kevin Thomson could prove a masterstroke if he can stay fit, while perhaps a move to pastures new is what was required for former St. Mirren midfielder Paul McGowan to find his spark again. This, however, is a manager who appears to keep one eye on the future as can be seen by the signing of highly rated youngsters Scott Bain and John McGinn; both players with a Premiership past and a point to prove. Dundee’s main problem may be scoring goals and much will be laid at the door of the unknown quantity that is Luka Tankulic who will be pleased to get a debut goal in his sides League Cup opener.
Kilmarnock are another side that will be hoping that a lack of goals don’t hinder any progress that Allan Johnston will be hoping to make, especially given the loss of Kris Boyd who almost singlehandedly kept them in the division last season. Much will be expected of Lee Miller after a moderately successful spell down south whilst the likes of Rory MacKenzie and Chris Johnston will have had another summer of growth and development. The signings of Jamie Hamill and Paul Cairney will add bite to a team often accused of having a soft centre last season and should the many youngsters in the squad continue to develop then they could challenge for a top 6 spot. However, concerns must remain about the wafer thin nature of their squad. With continued boardroom rumblings it could be another season of flux for the owners of Scotland’s most famous pie.
Partick Thistle will also be looking to push on from last season after a season of consolidation on their return to the top flight. Like many of the bottom six towards the end of last season they flirted with relegation, however it never really felt like they would be the ones who would go down. Second season syndrome is a terrible thing in the Premiership but with only Aaron Taylor-Sinclair leaving on a permanent basis they are in a position to consolidate their status further. The signing of Ryan Stevenson adds numbers but much like Kilmarnock they are still short and their movements in the loan market could make or break their season especially when it comes to finding somebody to help Kris Doolan in front of goal.
Speaking of second season syndrome. Ross County were hit with a massive dose of it last season. After the highs of 4th the year before they started last season terribly before a couple of astute loan signings in January were enough to pull them clear. They once again seem to have gone for the Football Manager inspired move of signing as many free transfer foreigners as they can. In amongst it all though there are a couple of interesting purchases, particularly in the form of Liam Boyce – the former Werder Bremen man who returned to Northern Ireland to get games and rediscover the form that earned him his move to the Bundesliga. Joe Cardle is a player I have seen a number of times who looked to have the potential to do well at Premiership level so it will be interesting to see if his performances in the lower leagues translate to the bigger stage and the re-signing of Fillip Kiss on loan from Cardiff can only benefit the Staggies. A bit of an unknown quantity that could finish anywhere from 4th to 12th this season.
12th is the place where no one wants to be and although the favourites will be Hamilton, I suspect that Inverness could find themselves propping up the table come season’s end. Whilst Hamilton have a clear ethos based on playing attractive football with a group of locally based youngsters, Inverness have been struggling for a true identity ever since John Hughes has taken over and with much of the squad remaining the same as last season the Highlanders will have to show a marked improvement on their end of season performances. Much like players such as David Goodwillie go through watershed moments in their careers, this is a watershed for John Hughes as failure here could see him disappear into the managerial wilderness.
We can’t leave St. Mirren out of the relegation conversation either after sacking Danny Lennon for failing to provide a brave new dawn of football in Paisley, despite bringing them their first piece of national silverware in over 20 years. They replaced him with his assistant Tommy Craig; an appointment that surprised none close to the club but many outside it. With a number of players leaving St. Mirren Park youngsters will continue to come to the fore with the products of the clubs youth system forming the spine of the team. The retention of Kenny MacLean can be seen as somewhat of a coup when a move away seemed the most likely scenario, but it is the talismanic Stephen Thompson that will play a key role in driving the Paisley Pandas forward.
As for Hamilton they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had the pleasure to be present as they beat Morton 10-1 at the end of last season, and whilst the Greenock team were awful there was enough on show to suggest that they may have enough to avoid relegation, a point further enhanced by the turn around performed in the relegation/promotion play-off against Hibs. Ziggy Gordon has been touted as their next big prospect but it is the Frenchman Tony Andreu who could keep the Accies ticking over. Like many of the teams anticipated to be at the bottom of the table, how a small squad holds out over the course of the season will very much determine any success Hamilton may have.
And what of Celtic, out of the Champions League (but now reinstated due to an ineligible Legia Warsaw player issue) and with a squad of players seemingly going backwards surely it is a step too far to think that they won’t win the league by a country mile once again? While European struggles should have come as no surprise to anyone who watched them scrape by the champions of Kazakhstan last season, the continual malaise that surrounds Celtic Park is something that must be causing concern for all involved. Neil Lennon’s departure on the basis that the club was lacking ambition seems to ring ever true with players more likely to leave than arrive and the appointment of a manager that can be at best described as a Jurgen Klopp Super Lite and at worst a nobody. Maybe time and a fresh approach is what is needed at a club where domestic success has become the mundane.
So to wrap this up here is my predictions for the 2014/15 Premiership Season
3. Dundee United
4. St. Johnstone
7. Ross County
9. Partick Thistle
10. Hamilton Accies
11. St. Mirren
12. Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know by following @MFPTasty where you will also get first knowledge of my football travels and reviews of the snacks these games provide the humble pie. Sometimes, I’ll write about the actual football too.