God, I hate the Scottish Championship. My club have been stuck in this particular circle of hell since 2017 and I'm desperate for us to get out of it. And the more time that passes the more likely it is that my wish will be granted...but with a move downward rather than up. After all there's always someone worse off than you...and it's Falkirk.
The usual script for this league is as follows; one club has a decent financial advantage over all the others, and that club gets promoted. The last couple of seasons, said club has completely failed to run away with the league, eventually grinding out just about enough results to take the title on the last day or the week before that. But still, they've managed promotion and that's all that matters.
So...Dundee United, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Dundee...DUNDEE UNITED? Let's put it bluntly; anything other than a canter back to the Premiership will be an underachievement. Louis Moult and Tony Watt up front. Craig Sibbald and Glenn Middleton (though Goodwin seems unable to get a tune from him) in midfield. Three signings who were amongst the best players in this division last season in Kevin Holt, Liam Grimshaw and Ross Docherty. Declan Gallagher leading the defence. And crucially, anyone but Mark Birighitti in goal. In truth I expect United to grind it out rather than destroy everyone (possibly with a midseason managerial change like when Killie binned Tommy Wright), but they'll definitely go up. Definitely. Won't they?
As for who else could challenge, I think you could make an argument for many - if not all - the other clubs in the division. I'm going to stick my neck out though and tip DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC to follow the example of Queen's Park last year and be a newly promoted side challenging at the top. James McPake - to my surprise after his lousy spell as Dundee manager - has put together a really good side that walked League One last year. So far he has focused on keeping them together, and so they should be very well drilled from the off. The defence should be plenty good enough now that Sam Fisher has been brought back, and I love Chris Hamilton at the base of midfield. A year in the third tier has rejuvenated Craig Wighton - who seemed doomed to be yet another case of unfulfilled potential in Scottish football - and it'll be interesting to see how dangerous he is. I also expect the Pars to be active in the loan market in the next few weeks for further reinforcements that will cement them as a top half side.
There could also be a challenge from the other side of Fife. RAITH ROVERS did a heck of a lot of business early, which has the advantage of getting your new signings lots of time to get up to speed but does mean not having any space left for players that become available late in the window. I do particularly like new keeper Kevin Dabrowski, who certainly won't be a downgrade on the departed Jamie MacDonald. Striker Jack Hamilton has done it at this level before. Josh Mullin still has plenty in the tank (though a 3 year deal for a 31 year old winger seems optimistic) and Euan Murray and Keith Watson will strengthen the defence. As it stands, they certainly have a stronger squad than most.
The million dollar (or the £200,000) question for AYR UNITED is how they will fare without talismanic striker Dipo Akinyemi after he signed for York City. United will hope veteran wide players Aiden McGeady and Jamie Murphy will provide whoever plays up front with lots of ammunition but Lee Bullen needs either new signing Akeem Rose or youngster Fraser Bryden to step up and score regularly...or to use the Akinyemi cash on another striker. Otherwise Bullen has again made some intriguing signings from the English non-leagues - Olly Pendlebury captained England at under 16 level and is still only 21 - and they will hope they can kick on from last season's third place.
As for the rest - well, your guess is as good as mine. QUEEN'S PARK seem a good place to start as they came second last year, but it's all change at Lesser Hampden with Owen Coyle having left and being replaced by Dutchman Robin Veldman. I do like the Spiders' focus on bringing in young players let go from the likes of Southampton (defender Will Tizzard, midfielder Jack Turner) and Brighton (midfielder Jack Spong). At the time of writing though they are still short at right-back and are up front are heavily dependent on Ruari Paton making the step up from lighting up League One with Queen of the South. Again, I'd expect plenty more new faces to come here.
A sensational cup run shouldn't distract from the fact that INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE had their lowest league finish in more than twenty years and they come into this season having lost their best defender, Robbie Deas, and their best midfielder, Scott Allardice, along with their two loanee wingers Jay Henderson and Daniel Mackay. That cup cash is either being saved for a splurge at the end of the window or is being saved to pay bills - either way, signings like Luis Longstaff and Jake Davidson feel like little more than cheap depth. Charlie Gilmour might be a good addition to midfield, mind. The biggest worry is the hole left by Deas that does not look in any way to be adequately filled yet.
GREENOCK MORTON somehow got by last season with the smallest squad in the history of the world (in terms of numbers, not height!) and seem determined to do the same again; I presume it's a budget thing? They will be busy in the next few weeks if only because they need another four bodies just to have a full bench (and only have one keeper). Dougie Imrie is as good a coach as anyone in this league and that is crucial given their financial constraints. Continuing to get performances and goals out of forwards Robbie Muirhead and George Oakley is crucial, while Jack Baird and Robbie Crawford are two of the best players in their positions in the Championship. The big concern at the moment is at right-back, in that they don't actually have one.
AIRDRIE are as intriguing as anyone in this league, given their unusual model where the manager, the assistant manager and one of the coaches are also players. It didn't exactly do them any harm last season, where they were League One's great entertainers, either doing the scudding or being scudded most weeks. Adding Nikolay Todorov and Josh O'Connor to a forward line of Calum Gallagher and Gabby McGill means they should still score plenty of goals, and sticking with the same defence as last season means they should still concede plenty too. So whatever happens, it should be fun.
There may be less of that at PARTICK THISTLE, who came within seconds of an extraordinary promotion via the playoffs and then shortly after admitted huge costcutting was required at a club where wages might not have been paid but for a cup tie against Rangers. They've lost four of their best players - Kevin Holt, Ross Docherty, Kyle Turner and Scott Tiffoney - and even if the immortal Brian Graham continues to s**thouse his way to 15 goals every season it's tough to see them repeating last season's success. It'll be interesting to see how Kris Doolan fills those gaping holes in his lineup; if he can recruit in the summer as well as he coached and motivated in the spring they'll be okay.
And the fact I have left ARBROATH to last is surely a clue as to how I think their season is going to pan out. The group that nearly got them promoted in 2021/22 is ageing and dissipating, and finding good part-time replacements is hard going. Last season's recruitment wasn't great and it's not clear that Dick Campbell has done any better this summer. He really needs to do well in the loan market again if this isn't to be the end of the Red Lichties' glorious run at this level. Of course, it would be typical Campbell and typical Arbroath if they didn't make the naysayers eat their words.
So the inevitably wrong predicted table looks like this:
1 DUNDEE UNITED
2 DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC
3 RAITH ROVERS
4 AYR UNITED
5 QUEEN'S PARK
6 GREENOCK MORTON
7 INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
8 PARTICK THISTLE
And the Twitter view:
Dundee United to go up, but not before a managerial change.— john moir (@johnmoir87) August 2, 2023
I think Raith rovers have made some signings and will sneak the title, Partick to go up via playoffs— Auri831 (@peedie831) August 2, 2023
As a Raith fan, I've never felt more optimistic going into a season. There's a real unity on and off the pitch. United should be able to get back up immediately, but if we avoid our usual plague of injuries I think we can do very well.— Robbie Weir (@rw2711) August 2, 2023
Everyone capable of beating everyone else as usual in the championship. Dundee Utd on paper have a superb squad and should be favourites to win the league.— John Vincent Kane (@johnvincentkane) August 2, 2023
Raith— Gary (@gary668484) August 2, 2023
Best of luck predicting this one. Just look at the League cup group stages. Not one of these teams had a st Johnstone-esque calamity of a campaign.— Dougie Macpherson (@dougir) August 2, 2023
I think utd will eventually gel and win the league.
Also it will be harder than ever for Arbroath to survive.
This is possibly going to the be the first time in a while where I can see the title race going down to the final gameweek with 3 or 4 teams in the running for it. Unless Dundee Utd go and splash a load of cash on players in January to make sure they can push late on— Scott Fleming (@scottf1996) August 2, 2023
Plays off for Pars, Arbroath bottom, superbly unpredictable other than that!— David Hamilton (@dwham22) August 2, 2023
Morton are unpredictable rn. We have shockin squad depth but decent players and we're playing good. Would say mid table but I'm biast. We apparently have a couple of players with experience on the way into the squad so we might be fine for squad depth soon— Aiden McEwan (@freedo9862) August 2, 2023
Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.