The prediction I'm most confident of? That the gap between second and third - which was 28 points last season - will not come down to below 20 points. With Celtic rolling in the Champions League money and Rangers with a chance to do the same, that chasm is not closing.
I suppose I'd better make a title prediction. Celtic have pretty much kept the band together, while Rangers lost Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo. Whilst Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has signed some intriguing players, I'm going to go with the tried and tested and fancy another Championship for Ange Postecoglu. But neither team will drop points often.
It is far more fun to discuss the clubs who are in crisis. The obvious place to start is at St. Johnstone, who were 45 minutes away from the drop before finding their mojo against Inverness, but they have now lost Zander Clark, Jamie McCart, Shaun Rooney and Callum Hendry and replaced them with guys who aren't that far away from Masters football. There is a fine line between 'experienced' and 'washed-up'. The biggest concern is that you wouldn't bet on any of their forwards getting near double figures for goals.
Motherwell might have qualified for Europe but they stank the place out in the second half of last season and have a squad (and tactics, perhaps?) that desperately lack flair. Paul McGinn has been added to a backline that looks okay on paper but has been allergic to a clean sheet in 2022, and aside from the able but erratic Kevin Van Veen it's hard to see much attacking threat. The defeat to Sligo Rovers has justifiably enduced panic in the support and Graham Alexander is feeling under pressure. He certainly needs some new bodies through the door to save his bacon.
I'm also not feeling great about St. Mirren where Stephen Robinson struggled to make a positive impact after arriving in February. League Cup defeats to both Arbroath and Airdrie don't bode well either. The Buddies will also miss Connor Ronan badly after he returned to Wolves, and he has far bigger suitors for the coming campaign. That said, they have signed seven new players, including Robinson's former Motherwell stalwarts Mark O'Hara and Declan Gallagher who previously played their best under his management. If Australians Ryan Strain and Keanu Baccus are hits then that would be an enormous boost, and Jonah Ayunga has hinted he might have the eye for goal that the club's other forwards lack. It could go either way though.
As a newly promoted side Kilmarnock are probably obliged to be in this conversation but I'd expect Derek McInnes to make them tough to beat and to grind out enough results to be comfortably safe. Keeping goalie Zach Hemming for another year will help, but sooner or later time will catch up with talisman Kyle Lafferty. If it is sooner, Killie really need Oli Shaw to step up.
The best of the diddy teams? It's easy enough to make an argument for Hearts again as Lawrence Shankland's signing cancels out the end of Ellis Simms' loan but they will miss John Souttar and I don't know that they have the depth to balance their domestic action with the guaranteed European games.
That might open the door for Aberdeen who have been refreshingly aggressive at spending the cash generated by the sales of Calvin Ramsey and Lewis Ferguson. Jim Goodwin certainly has a plan, but it seems pretty high risk, high reward as it depends on a lot of new faces settling quickly and gelling quickly.
Dundee United's manager's job appears to be afflicted by the same curse as the Defence Against The Dark Arts, but they've found another decent incumbent in Jack Ross and are another club showing some imagination in their recruitment, bringing in Australians Mark Birighitti and Aziz Behich. The former should adequately replace Benjamin Siegrist in goal. Steven Fletcher returns to Scotland 13 years after leaving Hibs and should still have plenty to give even at 35. Most remarkably they convinced Dylan Levitt to sign permanently from Manchester United after a superb loan spell. Whoever is in the dugout, United seem to have a plan.
That's rather more than can be said for Hibernian, who are surely too good for a relegation fight (though this is Hibs we're talking about, so anything can happen) but new boss Lee Johnson hasn't endeared himself to the fans or anyone else with a dreadful League Cup campaign and then his incredible claims that they were set up to fail by the authorities. Poor Rocky Bushiri, a player that the club supposedly didn't want to sign permanently but had to after playing him in too many meaningless games at the end of last season, and who then was played against Morton when he was suspended. On the plus side David Marshall is a definite upgrade in goal and they got a big fee for Josh Doig but it's hard to see what the club's strategy is right now. The man in charge of recruitment is the owner's son though so it's bound to be fine in the end.
And that leaves us with clubs that look too strong and too well organized to go down whilst also not quite having the resources to push for third. Livingston continue to punch above their weight thanks to the skills of David Martindale and their creative recruitment that this summer has rustled up ex-Hearts and St. Mirren forward Esmael Goncalves among others. Martindale finally ran out of patience with accident-prone keeper Max Stryjek and has forked out a decent fee - the most they have spent in about twenty years - on goalie Shamal George. Crucially they have in Bruce Anderson a striker who scores more frequently than most in this league. One or two good loan signings would turn them into bona fide top six contenders.
And lastly Ross County got better and better as 2021/22 progressed, suggesting that whatever your thoughts on him as a person there is no question that Malky Mackay is a top coach. Last year they were dependent on a lot of loan signings who have moved on, along with the superb Regan Charles-Cook. But their relationship with Southampton has allowed them to bring in the exciting young winger Kazeem Olaigbe, while striker Jordy Hiwula has settled in quickly. They've also gone to Canada to get midfielder Victor Loturi and William Akio and improved the defence with the experienced duo of Callum Johnson and Ben Purrington and goalkeeper Jake Eastwood. They should justifiably believe they can make the top half again.
So here's my predicted table. Should I allow for my suspicion that Hibs, St. Mirren, Motherwell and St. Johnstone will all change managers before Christmas? I suppose it might not change my predictions much...
2. RANGERS3. HEARTS4. ABERDEEN5. DUNDEE UNITED6. ROSS COUNTY
7. LIVINGSTON8. HIBERNIAN9. KILMARNOCK10. ST. MIRREN
12. ST. JOHNSTONE
Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.
View the full article