The Premiership increasingly feels like three separate leagues due to the vast financial disparities...so that's how I'm going to treat it for this season's preview...
THE OLD FIRM/GLASGOW DERBY (delete as applicable) TIER
(Finishing outwith the top two, or even less than ten points ahead of third should result in manager and entire squad being hanged, drawn and quartered)
CELTIC: they say you should never go back, but for Brendan Rodgers I think an exception can be made. Celtic can be pretty pleased with how they've replaced Ange. The loss of Jota was a surprise and you'd think they will bring in a replacement at some point. Rodgers says they aren't going to spend £15m-plus on any players, but if that's the case - even when you have the Jota cash and the Champions League moolah - then how do you ever realistically expect it to get any better than just sweeping the domestic scene and getting pumped in the Champions League groups? Should still be stronger than Rangers, I think.
RANGERS: a lot depends on just how good this new forward line of Danilo, Sam Lammers and Cyriel Dessers is. And a lot depends on whether they can find a consistent partner for Connor Goldson in terms of either form or availability (*cough* John Souttar *cough*). Left-back is also a potential issue with Borna Barisic beginning to regress and Ridvan Yilmaz yet to look like a viable long-term replacement. Jack Butland looks like an upgrade in goal at least. There's too many unknowns here to tip them to win the title but if those front three turn out to be gems then it could be pretty close.
THE CONSIDERABLY POORER THAN THE GRUESOME TWOSOME AND CONSIDERABLY RICHER THAN THE REST TIER
(finishing second should result in a statue for the manager; finishing sixth or lower, or looking at risk of doing so, will result in the sack)
ABERDEEN: Barry Robson looks like a good coach. The recruitment team give the impression they know what they are doing. Now can Aberdeen crack the final part of the code - managing the fixture congestion that will come with a European run? Hearts couldn't pull that off last season and it's not clear the Dons have the numbers yet...especially if Ylber Ramadani leaves. If he stays or is adequately replaced the Ramadani-Clarkson-Shinnie midfield looks like dynamite. Rhys Williams and Slobodan Rubezic (think that first name tells you where his family's political views lay) should adequately replace Ross McCrorie and Liam Scales at the back. and either Or Dadia or Nicky Devlin will at last give them a competent right-wingback. I'm still not sure what the plan on the left is (Jonny Hayes?) but this a starting XI that should fire them to third spot...if they aren't all knackered or injured by Christmas.
HEARTS: The dugout situation - seemingly pretending Frankie McAvoy is in charge until they're knocked out of Europe and they can reveal that Steven Naismith was pulling the strings all along - is a bit farcical. If that doesn't extend to the pitch though Hearts should be stronger than last year, especially if the impending signings of Kenneth Vargas and Kayosuke Tagawa give them enough attacking pace to make up for Josh Ginnelly buggering off. A double pivot of Beni Baningime (back at last from long-term injury) and new signing Calum Nieuwenhof should make their midfield stronger, and you've got Cammy Devlin to snap at heels there too. If McAvaismith can get Kye Rowles and Stephen Kingsley back to their best form and Frankie Kent fills in for long term crock Craig Halkett the defence should be formidable too. And Lawrence Shankland is always going to give you a chance.
HIBERNIAN: Every time you think Hibs might have got it sussed, they do something so utterly Hibsy to embarrass themselves and the nation, such as getting beaten in Andorra. The big story here though should be them paying £700,000 for Dutch striker Dylan Vente, which is the most money they've spent since they signed a dude who is now a member of the Ecuadorian parliament back in 2001. He had better be good. Elie Youan and Martin Boyle should give them crazy pace up top and Dylan Levitt is a good addition in midfield. Heck, they've even got (very necessary) insurance against David Marshall's form falling off a cliff in new keeper JoJo Wallacott. Like the above duo, Hibs have a very good looking first XI, but their bench isn't too shabby either. The question is whether the players - and the manager - can put it together week in, week out, or whether they will just, well, Hibs it up again.
THE DIDDY TIER
(Realistic target is sixth, anything higher is a massive success, but first priority has to always be avoiding relegation)
DUNDEE: No idea what we're going to get here. Newly promoted, with a new manager in Tony Docherty who is a rookie as a boss but who has huge experience as a coach. He's correctly recognised that the squad was nowhere near good enough for the top flight so he's been busy at both ends, bringing in Trevor Carson in goal and Joe Shaughnessy in defence to provide experience, and using loans from down south to bolster numbers (including getting top scorer Zach Robinson back for another year). There are a couple of Mexicans too to add intrigue. The midfield is very young and inexperienced though. If Docherty can mould a solid lineup quickly and get goals from one of his forwards, they should be okay. But if they start slowly I suspect they'll be near the bottom all season.
KILMARNOCK: Were effective but not exactly pretty last season...except for the many occasions where they weren't effective or pretty. Derek McInnes has sensibly looked to revamp the defence - what's his deal with signing loanee defenders? He used loads last season and he's doing it again - with Robbie Deas ready to make the step up and Stuart Findlay's return to Rugby Park a huge boost. It feels like it'll be another season of grinding out results though; of the forwards only Kyle Vassell looks likely to score semi-regularly and McInnes' effusive praise recently for the likes of Marley Watkins and the "really talented" Liam Donnelly says a lot. We can still dream that David Watson continues to develop as the Prestwick Pirlo and helps add a touch of flair but we'll see.
LIVINGSTON: Finished last season really poorly and I just wonder if they are beginning a bit of a downward spiral. As ever David Martindale operates in a different way from everyone else and he's entitled to plenty benefit of the doubt but of their new signings only Mikey Devlin and maybe Mo Sangare improve the team. It feels like they will be in a fair bit of bother if/when Joel Nouble leaves as he will be so difficult to replace. Martindale is also stuck with several players (waves at Esmael Goncalves) that he needs rid of to bring in reinforcements. Could this be the year they stop punching above their weight?
MOTHERWELL: I didn't expect such a resurgence under Stuart Kettlewell, but the Steelmen were terrific in the second half of the season...fuelled by the extraordinary exploits of Kevin Van Veen who is of course now gone. Away too are Max Johnston, Sean Goss and Mikael Mandron, all starters. And now Calum Butcher is out long term. Frankly that defence looks dicey now, though Macedonian Davor Zdravkovski is an intriguing addition to the midfield. Up top, bringing in Theo Bair looks like the weirdest signing of the summer so far but I imagine he's going to be a backup for Jon Obika (good when fit, which isn't often) and fellow new signings Conor Wilkinson and Mika Biereth. I thought the Van Veen money would have allowed Kettlewell to strengthen, but it seems that it's simply paid off the mistakes his predecessors have made. And so there's a risk they may fall behind simply because they seem to be standing still.
ROSS COUNTY: Having been within seconds of being relegated last season it seems reaasonable to assume they will be closer to the bottom than the top. To be honest I expected Uncle Roy to dip into his childrens' inheritance a bit more this summer to bring the squad up to scratch but whilst Alex Iacovitti is the only stalwart to depart they are dependent on Championship stalwarts Scott Allardice and Kyle Turner (and Jay Henderson, so good on loan at ICT last season) stepping up to the top flight. Their midfield, also encompassing Yan Dhanda and Ross Callachan, should be decent. Up front they have lots of options but just how confident are you in a combination of two of Eamonn Brophy, Simon Murray, Alex Samuel and Jordan White?
ST JOHNSTONE: Already in panic mode after a hideous League Cup campaign. Steven MacLean - whose media comments are too reminiscent of Richie Foran for my liking - gutted the squad, which ws the right thing to do, but has struggled badly to bring in new players so far. He'd have probably liked to get rid of more players but inherited a load of jobbers and has-beens inexplicably given long-term deals by Callum Davidson. That is likely to be restricting what he can do just now, but whatever he puts out on the pitch has to be better than the lot that got shellacked 4-0 by Stirling Albion. Dimitar Mitov might be a good goalkeeper. Luke Jephcott might be an okay forward. But even if they live up to those expectations it would be a huge surprise if St Johnstone aren't in another relegation battle. They're certainly my favourites to go down at the time of writing.
ST MIRREN: Were best of this bunch last season and are a reasonable bet to do the same even though the surprisingly decent forward Curtis Main has left and outstanding keeper Trevor Carson has moved on to after some sort of weird fallout with the club. Whether they've replaced Carson adequately with Zach Hemming is another matter, but there are high hopes for attackers Conor McMenamin - the club's most expensive signing for more than 30 years - Mikael Mandron and Stav Nahmani. New centre-back James Bolton seems pretty highly thought of too. And so far they've retained the outstanding Aussie duo of Ryan Strain and Keanu Baccus, as well as all-action midfielder Mark O'Hara.
So my predicted table:
6 ST MIRREN
9 ROSS COUNTY
12 ST JOHNSTONE
And Twitter's take:
1 who cares— Murray Watson (@mdwats) August 3, 2023
2 who cares
7 St Mirren
10 St Johnstone
11 Ross County
though any of bottom 3 in any order
St Johnstone relegated.— Joe90 (@specs_joe90) August 3, 2023
Old Firm, Aberdeen, Hibs, Hearts. Then St Mirren or Killie for 6th and the rest to be absolute dugmeat. Could see any of the others going down.— niall todd (@nialltodd82) August 3, 2023
County to finish between 5th & 8th— Martin MacLeod (@102mart) August 3, 2023
St. Johnstone bottom, Motherwell 11th unless they sign a half decent striker— Jack Wilson (@jackwilson14499) August 3, 2023
Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.