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A Premiership season preview (of sorts)

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hislopsoffsideagain

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In years gone by, I've knocked off individual previews for each top flight club and published them in the days leading up to the new campaign.

Obviously, this hasn't happened this time around.

There are reasons for that. These include personal circumstances, a lack of a League Cup group stage to give pointers on how clubs are doing, the fact that the extended transfer window is likely to mean big changes between now and October, and definitely an element of 'I just can't be a***d'.

However I am honour-bound to make some sort of prediction for how the Premiership is going to go, because I know from past experience that people take great joy from pointing out several months later how completely and gloriously wrong I was.

So let's take a rather briefer look at the twelve sides, and how I think they'll finish in May,


FIRST - CELTIC
This time last year I said Celtic were 100% certain to win the title. By January I was wavering considerably, but I shouldn't have. Providing their new Greek keeper isn't a total haddy they still have the strongest starting lineup and squad in the league by some distance (as they should; their wage budget is still about twice that of Rangers). I'm not the only one who expects Mohamed Elyounoussi to set the heather alight, and holding onto Odsonne Edouard - at least so far - is a massive boost. Their biggest weak spot will be in defence if Kristoffer Ajer goes, but that shouldn't hold them back enough. The bottom line is that missing ten-in-a-row would be a shock and a catastrophe.


SECOND - RANGERS
Bear in mind that at lockdown Rangers were still acquitting themselves well in Europe but had won just two of their last six games against domestic opposition. Have they improved much this summer? The back line should be capable but what they really need is the attackers to turn it on. Ianis Hagi showed flashes but will need to perform far more consistently to be worth the faith shown in him. Ditto Ryan Kent who wasn't nearly as good last season as the year before. And if/when Alfredo Morelos leaves, it will leave an enormous hole up front that 37 year old Jermain Defoe can't fill on his own. I just can't see how they can make up the gap to Celtic. Even if they are closer to their rivals, it will be very hard for Steven Gerrard to carry on if he can't win a trophy this season.


THIRD - MOTHERWELL
I'm sure Stephen Robinson is a very good coach, but it's recruitment where I think he really excels. Motherwell seem to come into every transfer window with a plan; whilst they lost outstanding keeper Mark Gillespie, they have improved the central defence and lured Jake Hastie back on loan. David Turnbull will be practically a new signing too, given he has barely played in a year. Up front, Tony Watt and Chris Long were forming a fine partnership before Covid and it would be great if this was the year that the former finally lived up to his potential. This is a super squad given the budget they operate on and a repeat of last season's third is perfectly possible.


FOURTH - HIBERNIAN
Hibernian have plenty of attacking options now they've added Kevin Nisbet up front and Drey Wright out wide, but they haven't done much about a defence that looked flimsy last season. Keeping Ryan Porteous fit for more than five minutes will help, as will new sitting midfielder Alex Gogic. With Scott Allan and Martin Boyle also providing ammunition and Christian Doidge to take advantage of it, the Hibees should at least be fun to watch, though one suspects consistency will be an issue.


FIFTH - ABERDEEN
The lack of transfer activity may be down to financial prudence, or may be because the Dons think there will be bargains to be had in the coming weeks. But at this time an Aberdeen side that seemed to be stagnating last season haven't been freshened up. The loss of Sam Cosgrove to injury is a big blow for a forward line which is otherwise pretty goalshy. Derek McInnes also needs the rest of his midfielders to step up like Lewis Ferguson has, and for other creative players to share Niall McGinn's workload. I'd expect a few new faces in the coming weeks, especially if there is a slow start to the season.


SIXTH - DUNDEE UNITED
Micky Mellon has been around the block and should prove a shrewd appointment as manager; even as they strolled to last season's Championship United often looked like they were less than the sum of their parts and there was plenty room for improvement. I'm anxious about their defence, with Mark Reynolds' lack of pace likely to be exposed, and aside from Calum Butcher I'm not hugely convinced by the midfield. But up front Louis Appere is a real prospect, Paul McMullan's pace will worry any full-back and I can't wait to see how Lawrence Shankland does at this level. The momentum from their promotion should take them a long way.


SEVENTH - ST JOHNSTONE
I think it's okay to be a bit sceptical about any rookie manager, but to be fair Callum Davidson ticks a lot of boxes and was a logical successor to Tommy Wright. St. Johnstone were a lot better in 2020 than 2019 with their defence decidedly sturdier following the acquisition of Jamie McCart and the emergence of midfielder Ali McCann and striker Callum Hendry. Hendry has the tools to be one of the Premiership's top scorers this season. Other than McCann the midfield is a bit too 'experienced' for my liking and it could all fall apart very quickly if Davidson isn't up to the job but I think they are more likely to be top six than relegated.


EIGHTH - KILMARNOCK
Alex Dyer is very much following the Steve Clarke playbook, which is probably a smart move. Killie were still inconsistent even after he replaced Angelo Alessio though and it's no surprise that they have been busy in the transfer market given how thin the squad was. The spine of this side - Stuart Findlay at the back, Gary Dicker and Alan Power in midfield, Eamonn Brophy up top - remains good and the partnership between Brophy and Nicke Kamamba looks promising. It would be great if Greg Kiltie - so good on loan at various Championship clubs - finally got the chance to show what he can do this season.


NINTH - LIVINGSTON
It seems inevitable that Lyndon Dykes will go and for that reason alone Livi will find it hard to repeat last year's top six finish. Losing Ricki Lamie and Steven Lawless is also far from ideal but they have still have a decent defence marshalled by Jon Guthrie and Efe Ambrose, and Robby McCrorie will excel in goal. They'll need new boy Matej Poplatnik to fill Dykes' shoes though. Like pretty much everyone else over the last three years, I'm probably underestimating them.


TENTH - ST. MIRREN
I actually feel like Jim Goodwin is doing a good job and the Buddies are on an upward trajectory. Goodwin was very successful in the loan market last season and I expect more moves like that in the coming weeks. But they badly need to reduce their dependence on Jonathan Obika up front and they're essentially putting together a brand new defence containing one proven newcomer (Joe Shaughnessy), one on the decline (Richard Tait) and one who has rarely looked up to this level (Marcus Fraser). Hopefully Ryan Flynn and Kyle Magennis will return from injury soon and this should be a breakout year for Cammy MacPherson.


ELEVENTH - ROSS COUNTY
County have surely improved their dreadful defence with the signings of Alex Iacovitti and Connor Randall and the arrivals on loan of Stephen Kelly and (in the next few days) Ross Doohan are coups. If one of their strikers can score consistently then this should be a decent squad. The trouble is that left-back still looks like a dodgy position - Carl Tremarco, 35 in a few months, is not the answer - and they have a million midfielders but none who look like sure things at this level. I also remain unconvinced by Stuart Kettlewell as a manager and that alone makes the Staggies look vulnerable.


TWELFTH - HAMILTON ACADEMICAL
It's been a few years since I last tipped Accies for the drop, but at the time of writing this does not look like a squad with much quality. They've essentially lost their best keeper (Luke Southwood), best defender (Aaron McGowan), best midfielder (Alex Gogic) and best forward (George Oakley) and are putting their hopes on a player who scored goals in England's seventh tier, a player who wasn't always first choice at Inverness and cast-offs from Livingston, St. Johnstone and Dunfermline. Brian Rice will get the best out of them but I don't believe their best will be sufficient.

As ever, feel free to point out my spectacular errors come May...


Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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