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2019/20 Scottish Championship preview

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It's fashionable to slag off the Scottish Championship because of its lack of quality, but in recent times the gap between the bottom of the Premiership and the best sides in the second tier hasn't been big. The problem is that during the season the clubs that are - or should be - at the top of the division have, either due to overconfidence or lack of confidence, developed a habit of playing down to the opposition.

And that's what makes it so intriguing. This is the sixth consecutive season that at least one of Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United - generally considered amongst the largest half-dozen clubs in the country - have been stuck in this league, and only the Jambos got out at the first attempt.

So quality? Not much, though more than its detractors would believe. Competitive as hell? Damn right. And now we have Dundee derbies added to the mix.

Let's get the lowdown on the ten clubs fighting for promotion to the promised land or to avoid demotion to the seaside leagues...

Jim Goodwin pulled off a miracle by keeping the part-timers up last season; to lose him was a terrible shame, but to lose him mid-summer was a disaster. Peter Grant now has the task of doing it all again but with, as it stands, a weaker squad. Goodwin played the loan market magnificently and Grant needs to do the same if the Wasps are to avoid the drop again. It's probably an even tougher task than last time around

Dick Campbell is the face of lower league Scottish football - both metaphorically and literally - but this is the first time since 2007 he's managed at this level. And it's the first time the Red Lichties have flown this high in sixteen years. Budget constraints mean Campbell is largely stuck with the squad that won League One. There's lots of experience here and they'll be a tough nut to crack but as with any part-time side they'll find it hard to keep up with full-time opponents over a whole season.

Ayr's fourth place finish was down to their lightning start; they won just 5 of their last 24 games last season. And now Lawrence Shankland has gone. So have stalwart defenders Liam Smith and Michael Rose. Thankfully Ross Doohan has returned in goal for another season but the other holes will be hard to fill. Ian McCall has been active in the loan market, bringing in Rangers' Stephen Kelly and Aberdeen's Frank Ross to boost the midfield, but he'll need veteran forwards Kris Doolan and Michael Moffat to roll back the years if United are to get anywhere near the playoffs again.

Rookie manager plus high expectations plus a huge squad revamp often equals disaster, but James McPake talks the talk and the signings of Jordon Forster in defence, Shaun Byrne and Jamie Ness in midfield and Danny Johnson up front are impressive. If the team gels together quickly and avoids a slow start then they should challenge at the top but the pressure is likely to grow quickly if early results aren't good (and if they are better at the other end of Tannadice Street).

For Arabs, the new season is the equivalent of Father Jack sobering up and shouting "don't tell me I'm still on this fecking island?!". Surely their fourth campaign at this level will be their last, now they've added the firepower of Lawrence Shankland to an attack that already includes Osman Sow and Nicky Clark? And they have Cammy Smith, Peter Pawlett, Adam King and Paul McMullan for creativity. Yet, if any team can possibly screw this up, its United...

The Pars have changed tack considerably, cutting their budget and putting the emphasis on signing "young, hungry players" and, er, Paul Paton. Their hope is that they can find some gems in Scotland's lower divisions and in English under-23 sides that can push them towards promotion and earn the club lucrative transfer fees. It's a bit risky though. Reassuringly there's still plenty of experience at the back, and former Raith striker Kevin Nisbet has looked sharp up front in the League Cup games.

It's been all change at Cappielow on and off the pitch with David Hopkin replacing Jonatan Johansson as manager and only a handful of first teamers retained. John Sutton coming out of retirement was a curious one and makes one wonder what the budget is like; a decent chunk of it is likely to have gone on Aidan Nesbitt and Robbie Muirhead, two youngsters who so far have failed to realize their potential. It will be a tough ask for Hopkin to repeat the success he had at Livingston.

Caley Thistle will struggle to replace assist machine Liam Polworth; the addition of James Keatings suggests a move to a more orthodox 4-4-2 this season. In Aaron Doran and Tom Walsh they have a tremendous duo of wide players and the onus is on them to provide the chances. Coll Donaldson and Jamie McCart might be the best centre-back duo in the Championship but they need a reliable goalscorer if they are to get promoted.

The signs at the end of last season were reassuring that Gary Caldwell is on the right track, and there's been talk of new investment at the club which may lead to the squad being augmented further. Tam O'Ware's return from injury boosts the backline and getting midfielder Shea Gordon back permanently might be one of the best moves anyone's made this summer. Another side whose challenge depends on finding a consistent source of goals - we'll see if 39 year old Kenny Miller still has enough in the tank.

Allan Johnston was parachuted in to save them from relegation and did so. Now he has to put a team together on possibly the smallest full-time budget in Scotland. He's done well to get defender Callum Semple back and to win the race to sign highly-rated keeper Robby McCrorie on loan. At the time of writing they are hideously short in midfield though and they will lean more heavily than ever on 36 year old talisman Stephen Dobbie to carry them.

And here's how I think the table will end up:






But I still expect United fans will claim I hate them anyway...;-)

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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