The SPL season starts on 4th August and these are my predictions for the upcoming season.
Champions 1st Celtic
For Neil Lennon’s squad it is a simple fact that if the team do not finish top of the league, it will be seen as a poor season, now with their main competitor out of the league, Celtic are clear favourites. Signing influential keeper Frazer Forster to a permanent and long-term deal is a major boost for Celtic, along with keeping strikers Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes. Celtic has a great skeleton with Kayal and Brown and Ledley being a compact midfield.
If Victor Wanyama is kept then it will be a positive, but if any team offers an over inflated price (anything over £12 million) then Celtic should sell.
The reality is the main challenge for Neil Lennon, is to guarantee qualification to the Champions’ League group stage.
2nd Dundee United
With Rangers now playing in division three, the second spot is up for grabs, and Dundee United should be aiming for second spot, with the creativity of Willo Flood, the presence of captain Jon Daly, and the goal scoring Johnny Russell, Dundee United have the required players to get into the top two.
For manager Peter Houston it should be another season where he gains even more credit, and the addition of Brain McLean could be a telling singing, although losing Danny Swanson and Scott Robertson to Peterborough and Blackpool respectively are key losses.
Dundee United has enough ability and depth to aim for a chance at Champions League football next season.
For Stuart McCall, last season’s third place finish was a great achievement, unfortunately the prospect of Champions League football looks to be over before it even really began, and face an uphill battle against Panathinaikos (2-0 down from the 1st leg with the away leg to come). It is a case of 13 out and only one in with influential defender Stephen Craigan retired, and replaced by the only signing Simon Ramsden who Stuart McCall managed at Bradford City.
While Motherwell have lost a lot of players and depth, they have been able to keep their main players in Darren Randolph, Nicky Law and Jamie Murphy and these players will be relied upon heavily once again.
But Motherwell should have enough to gain a Europa League qualification chance.
Former Bohemians manager Pat Fenlon looks like he is finally getting a squad together that he can call his own. With Garry O’Connor and Isaiah Osbourne both leaving the club for fees, it has means Pat Fenlon has brought in useful goalkeeper Ben Williams from Colchester United on a free transfer, and has also been able to extend the loan deal of striker Leigh Griffiths from Wolves.
While a cup final was a good achievement for the side, a comprehensive defeat to arch-rival Hearts in the final and an 11th place finish in the SPL means this season will have to see an improvement, or Pat Fenlon will surely not be at Easter Road come next season.
The main aim for Hibernian is that performances go up, results are gained, and in the process attendance increase.
New manager John McGlynn has a lot of history with Hearts, having had a number of roles with the team from 1996-2005, but now he is back as manager on a permanent basis, and many of the big earners have now left the club with Rudi Skacel, Craig Beattie and Marian Kello all leaving. It means McGlynn has a blank canvas, although he won’t have much funding, due to Vladimir Romanov unwillingness to invest any further.
While no players have been brought in so far, expect a few new players to join the Edinburgh club before August 31st.
Though getting into the top three would be realistic, more players must be brought in for this to be achieved.
Craig Brown may have only signed three players so far, but it could be argued he has signed three players who could all make an impact at Pittodrie. Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn are two attacking minded midfielders, who have the skill and pace required to be main players during this season, and Gary Naysmith will add experience to a young defence.
While it was a 9th place finish for Aberdeen last season, it is not known how long Craig Brown will be at Aberdeen before finally retiring from management, and he will be aiming for a top six finish and a cup run to boot.
7th St Johnstone
Although it may have been a bit of a surprise when Steve Lomas was given the job last season after he replaced Derek McInnes, St Johnstone played good football during the season. At one point St Johnstone looked like they might even get into the top three, but that was due to the goals from Francisco Sandaza who has since left the club.
One of the main problems for St Johnstone last season was an inability to convert all the chances they created, but the new attacking line up of Rowan Vine and Nigel Hasselbaink could prevent that. Although St Johnstone lost to Eskisehirspor in a Europa League qualifier it was another story of chances not being taken.
The surprising League Cup victory over Celtic for Kilmarnock may have led to enhanced expectations, but with a number of key players leaving the squad during the summer, and the players not being replaced properly, it means Kilmarnock will be happy with a lower table finish.
With his talented son Dean Shiels leaving the club for Newco Rangers, Kilmarnock have lost one of their main attacking players, though Paul Heffernan should be able to get the goals required, if he can remain fit throughout the whole season.
In the end Kenny Shiels does have a few youth players coming through, and he could use them at the end of the season to give them experience once safety is ensured.
9th St Mirren
While manager Danny Lennon knows if he wants to he could leave the side, after managing a number of impressive displays and gaining interest from other clubs along the way.
In terms of incoming transfers former Doncaster Rovers striker Lewis Guy, should be a decent squad player. While Sam Parkin adds a real presence up front, and former Rangers keeper Grant Adam adds more depth to the keeping line.
Danny Lennon has lost a few of his better players from last season, but he has been able to replace them, and has in the process improved the depth of his squad.
So although I don’t expect St Mirren to finish high up in the table, I expect them to not endure any late potential relegation drama.
10th Inverness CT
Terry Butcher has yet again stuck to his guns during this summer’s transfer window by signing players who he knows may lack ability but have a strong work rate, midfielders Ross Draper and Conor Pepper and defender Simon King all fit that bill.
Inverness normally sign one or two players on loan, who make an impact, and before the end of the summer window, I expect that to happen once again.
Although safety should be ensured for Inverness, the reality is they face a difficult task, which should be even more difficult than this time last season.
11th Ross County
For Ross County this is a chance to settle into the SPL and get used to the pace and the difference in skill between the SPL and division one. Manager Derek Adams knows that his team will not have as easy a ride as they did last season, but on their day Ross County will be competitive and over the season should survive the drop.
The signing of Gary Glen could prove to be a great one, although at first he will be another squad player, he impressed at times at Hearts and he could develop into being one of Ross County’s main strikers, perhaps he could become the strike partner with Colin McMenamin.
For Ross County safety and a decent cup run would be seen as a good season.
Relegated 12th Dundee
The reality is Dundee were 24 points behind the division one champions Ross County, and with so little time to improve their squad, it would be hard to imagine manager Barry Smith will have a team he is entirely happy with.
So it will be a difficult season back for them. Although Dundee have been able to get a few deals done before the season starts in Davide Grassi and striker Mark Stewart, surprisingly Mark Fotheringham was not offered a new deal after joining this April, and the depth of the squad will be a worry for the dark blues supporters.
Whilst it may be a brief return to the SPL for Dundee, they should enjoy it and gain some experience during the season, which will help them be promoted from division one next season.