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2022-23 Championship preview


hislopsoffsideagain

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Here we go then. The Scottish Championship is my bread and butter, by which I mean that I make the same blunders as in all the other previews but with much more confidence. Allegations that I predicted Arbroath to finish bottom last season and Dunfermline to make the playoffs (no,not those playoffs) are absolutely outrageous and completely true.


In recent times this division has tended to be dominated by a single club who clearly have more cash to throw at the squad. Out of the last eight champions, only St. Mirren didn't have cash to burn (or to throw at Charlie Adam and Jason Cummings, which is essentially the same thing).


Whilst Dundee are the wealthiest team in the division this time around, thanks to their generous yet hapless American owners, the lack of reinforcement so far this summer suggests that there will be no poundshop galacticos coming to Dens Park - sorry, Leigh - which may not be a bad thing. The squad that was relegated is probably strong enough to win the title anyway, especially if striker Alex Jakubiak can finally stay fit for more than five minutes. A little more depth would be helpful and there are question marks over all three goalkeepers but most crucially they have brought in a manager, Gary Bowyer, whose CV screams 'competent'. And that in itself is enough to make them clear favourites.


I am always wary of cursing Inverness Caledonian Thistle with any positivity that might encourage the universe to crush me or them in revenge. But ICT were 45 Perth minutes away from promotion in May - now let's never speak of that second half again, please - and whilst they lost Kirk Broadfoot (who was heading for the knacker's yard anyway) and quality loan players Reece McAlear and Logan Chalmers they have kept the rest of the squad together. George Oakley should be a competent striker at this level and I'm excited by Daniel Mackay's return on loan. They should be there or thereabouts, particularly if Oakley, Billy Mckay or Austin Samuels proves a consistent source of goals.


Should Arbroath be in the conversation too? After all, only two of their best XI at the end of last season - Chris Hamilton and Jack Hamilton - are away. And their League Cup performances suggest there's no hangover from last season. That said it is always asking a lot of a part-time side to sustain such a high level for so long, and some sort of drop-off seems inevitable. But should Dick Campbell procure some super-talented loan signings, as he often has done in the past, they could cause havoc once again. Last season proved we should never be fooled into underestimating them; they have several players - Tam O'Brien, Ricky Little and Nicky Low are the ones that stand out to me - who could play for a full-time team if they wished but instead choose to supplant their day jobs with a generous part-time football income.


The last of the promotion playoff sides from last year, Partick Thistle have fairly overhauled their squad with ten new signings and many departures. Ian McCall is determined to relieve the goalscoring burden on veteran Brian Graham, bringing in forwards Danny Mullen, Anton Dowds and Tony Weston. They'll need Weston and midfielder Cole McKinnon to contribute far more than last season's Rangers loanee Juan Alegria did. Bringing back Steven Lawless looks smart too. If there's a question mark it's over the defence; Jack McMillan is a good signing but if Harry Milne can't make the step up from Cove then there's not a lot of alternatives, especially as Kevin Holt's future seems to be at centre-back. I suspect McCall isn't finished wheeling and dealing yet.


Aside from winning the Challenge Cup, Raith Rovers had a pretty dreadful first half of 2022 and the time was probably right to part ways with John McGlynn. Ian Murray is the new boss but his few signings so far have been from League One (Scott Brown, Dylan Easton) or Scunthorpe (Ross Millen). Options are a bit limited just now; Tom Lang, Ross Matthews, Brad Spencer and Lewis Vaughan all miss the start of the season with injury, whilst He Who Must Not Be Named is still technically on the books but will never play for the club. Starting the season with Christophe Berra as the only fit senior centre-back no senior centre-backs after Christophe Berra suddenly retired this week, and with Jamie Gullan as the only fit senior striker, is not a good situation. Can Murray hold out until the treatment room clears or does he have to hit the market? It feels like a transitional year for them.


Rovers aren't the only club short of numbers; Dougie Imrie's first team lines for the League Cup had all of one sub due to injuries and suspensions and he made it clear that he wasn't expecting to get any more funds for his Greenock Morton squad. Morton improved dramatically under Imrie in the second half of last season but were unable to convince keeper Jack Hamilton or forwards Gary Oliver and Gozie Ugwu to sign new deals. Lewis Strapp did decide to stay on and Darragh O'Connor and Jack Baird will replace departed loanees Oisin McEntee and Jason Brandon but there is going to be a huge emphasis on youth and on temporary transfers - if goalie Brian Schwake (who was excellent for FC Edinburgh last season in League Two) and striker Jaze Kabia struggle then so will they.


There's also plenty of room for additions to the Cove Rangers dressing room. The squad hasn't been strengthened much following promotion with only teenage Aberdeen defender Evan Towler coming in on loan and English non-league attacker Gerry McDonagh joining permanently. Manager Paul Hartley left for Hartlepool and replacement Jim McIntyre looks like he has work to do to get the team ready for the step up. We'll soon find out if veterans Mark Reynolds, Shay Logan and Iain Vigurs still have the legs for this level and whether Mitch Megginson and Fraser Fyvie can light up the Championship like they did the lower divisions. Expect lots of newcomers in the next few weeks and only then can we properly gauge Cove's prospects.


Queen's Park actually finished three places below Cove in League One last season before coming up through the playoffs, yet it could be argued that the Spiders' trajectory is the one pointing upwards. Bringing in Owen Coyle was a sign of their ambition and they have been ruthless in moving on all but the best players from the promotion-winning squad. The arrivals of Josh McPake (on loan) and Dom Thomas should make them dangerous going forward, though they may need Simon Murray to rewind the clock a few years if they are to score enough goals. If this young squad clicks, their first campaign at this level in 39 years could be an exciting one.


Trying to assess the prospects of Hamilton Academical is even harder. Accies had a tumultuous offseason to say the least, taking several weeks to sort out the binning of boss Stuart Taylor and losing a fair bit of preparation time in the process. The good news: replacement John Rankin gives the impression of being an intelligent coach. The not so good news: the club's own former (as of this week) CEO predicted "the hardest season we've had in the 20 years we've been here". The only new faces are Michael Doyle (let go by Queen's Park) and young midfielder Jonny Ngandu. If Andy Winter continues his development then they might be okay up front but a lack of depth here and a lack of quality elsewhere - aside from the impressive Steve Lawson - is hugely concerning. It's not unusual for Accies to depend on youngsters, but aside from Winter it's not clear there are any other academy products ready for this level.


It's not been a great summer for Ayr United either. Having avoided a relegation playoff by the skin of their teeth, they also lost star striker Tomi Adeloye, with outstanding loan players Kerr McInroy and James Maxwell also away. However there was an expectation that a full preseason under Lee Bullen, coupled with the manager's impressive contacts down south, would result in new signings and an improvement of the current squad. Defensively they should be better after bringing in Frankie Musonda, Alex Kirk and David Bangala.  However their League Cup campaign was a disaster. Forwards Sam Ashford and Dipo Akinyemi haven't clicked yet and aside from Andy Murdoch there are concerns about the midfield. Bullen still has a lot of work to do if he is to keep United away from another relegation battle.

So here's the inevitably wrong predicted table:


1. DUNDEE


2. INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE

3. PARTICK THISTLE

4. ARBROATH


5. QUEEN'S PARK

6. RAITH ROVERS

7. COVE RANGERS

8. GREENOCK MORTON


9. AYR UNITED


10. HAMILTON ACADEMICAL


I'm pretty comfortable with my top four. I have absolutely no idea how to rank the other six. I worry that Accies are dysfunctional, Ayr are just not very good and Morton are broke, so they are my bottom three. But Cove seem unsure whether to spend what is required to take them to the next level, Queen's Park have a 'boom/bust' feel to them and it'll be tough to evaluate where Raith Rovers are at until the window is closed.


And here's what the universe thought when I asked their opinion:




Let's see how it pans out...


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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