STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Parry, Taggart, Graham,
Peter Grant looks set to follow the template that has previously worked well for both him and predecessor Jim Goodwin: keep the core of the squad together and supplement it with clever loan moves and one or two permanent signings. The snag is that his two best players have left - Kevin O'Hara returns to full-time football with Dunfermline, while the delightful playmaker Iain Flannigan surprisingly chose to retire at age 32. Of the players retained, that ever-reliable backbone is another year older; Andy Graham (36), Liam Buchanan (35) and Alan Trouten (34) cannot go on forever. So far Grant has brought in Hibs winger Innes Murray on loan, along with Nicky Jamieson (who played in League Two last season) and his own son Ray. Expect more new faces, with a further centre-back and striker a must.
STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out): Gaston, Thomson, O'Brien, Little, Hamilton, Stewart, Virtanen, Whatley, Linn,
See Alloa's plan for success...except Dick Campbell has held onto everyone he wanted to keep, convinced the outstanding Tam O'Brien to sign a new contract, and got the impressive Finn Miko Virtanen back for a second season on loan from Aberdeen with another Don, forward Michael Ruth, in tow. Clearly Premiership managers trust Dick Campbell to develop their players. With a very solid back four, Campbell can concentrate what remaining resources he has on bolstering his midfield and attack. Though Luke Donnelly and Dale Hilson are busy and Kris Doolan and Bobby Linn offer veteran nous, a prolific goalscorer would be a gamechanger.
STRONGEST XI AT END OF LAST SEASON (departed players crossed out):
It's been an eventful few months at Dens Park. First there was the bizarre no-then-yes vote to ending the season (for motives that remain unclear). That was followed by staff redundancies and player wage-cuts, with striker Kane Hemmings refusing the pay cut...then agreeing to it...then cancelling his contract after all. And now we have Charlie Adam rocking up at the club he left seventeen years ago for a last hurrah. With Graham Dorrans and Paul McGowan already at the club they will not be short of midfield creativity, but it'll be interesting to see how McPake fits them all into the team, and who will do the leg work for the trio of veterans. We'll also find out if the manager has learned from his difficult rookie year in the dugout and can at least make his lineup equal to the sum of its parts on a consistent basis. Even though Hemmings and Andrew Nelson have left, replacements Alex Jakubiak and Danny Mullen should offer more than enough quality up top (then again, we said the same about Hemmings, Nelson and Danny Johnson last year). And the defence and midfield should be good enough on paper - though the thought of Jack Hamilton being first choice goalkeeper will give Dundee fans the boak.
The summer began with a lot of pessimistic noises coming out of East End Park about budget cuts and player releases, segued into a nice windfall from selling Kevin Nisbet to Hibs, and finished up with significant investment in the club from Germany. The club has stressed that there won't be significant cash-splashing but one would assume the new investors have plans for bringing in players (and at least stretching the club's scouting network beyond Kirkcaldy). Meanwhile Stevie Crawford has already tied up goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams and winger Dom Thomas after brief but impressive loan spells pre-Covid, and with Nisbet gone he'll be looking to Declan McManus (returning for his second spell at the club) and Kevin O'Hara (a rather controversial signing given his ban a few years ago for taunting Dean Shiels about his eyesight) for goals. I also have high hopes for ex-Killie midfielder Iain Wilson. However the Pars' squad may look quite different come the end of the window...
HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN
Hearts' hopes of a relegation reprieve came to nothing in the end but it would be a shock if their absence from the Premiership lasted beyond this campaign. New boss Robbie Neilson certainly has an affinity for this division, having won it twice before (including last season with Dundee United). And even though they have moved on about a gazillion players - some of whom they probably wished they could keep - this squad was already probably strong enough to walk this league before Neilson started adding to it. Craig Gordon will surely be an upgrade in goal, while he's brought in three wide players - Jordan Roberts, Josh Ginnelly and Elliott Frear - to improve a real area of weakness. Aaron Hickey's imminent exit and John Souttar's injury hurt the defence but - if Christophe Berra is still up to it - the Jambos should have plenty of cover there. And that strike force of Liam Boyce and Steven Naismith should score for fun.
INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
John Robertson recently lamented that every year seemed to be a rebuilding year. With four first choice players and midfielder Charlie Trafford away, along with the two centre-backs he lost in January, it'll be hard to keep Caley Thistle 'best of the rest'. Whether they have the cash to find replacements is unclear - last year there were concerns re their finances and they kept their players on furlough longer than most but the club have spoken positively about where they are going forward. That said, Robbo's claim that ex-Elgin forward Shane Sutherland could score 15 goals seems very optimistic indeed. The club have high hopes than youngster Cameron Harper can fill the Carl Tremarco-shaped hole at left-back and Robbie Deas could be the next Jamie McCart, but the other defensive options (Lewis Toshney, Brad McKay, Danny Devine) look dicey and they still don't have a natural right-back. Robertson has previously plucked players from the English lower leagues and I'd expect a few signings from that market in the coming weeks.
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
As of May, the Doonhamers had just three players under contract - Stephen Dobbie (who will be 38 in December), Kevin Holt and backup goalie Jack Leighfield. Dan Pybus has subsequently signed on again but Holt has left for Cyprus so Allan Johnston has a huge task on his hands. It's got to the point that 36 year old reserve coach Wullie Gibson - who hasn't played at this level in five years or at all since November 2019 - has signed a playing contract. Loan signing Aidan Fitzpatrick looks like a good addition and Joe McKee deserves another shot at the Championship, but one feels it'll take a lot of work to get QOS up to standard. And bear in mind that last season was halted with them only two points above bottom spot, having played a game more than Partick Thistle and having picked up three points out of thirty.