The Scottish Premier League Season Preview Part 2: The Top Six

Eilidh Barbour is a sports broadcaster working all over Scotland. She knows more about Scottish Football than the rest of us put together, and you can follow her on Twitter @EilidhBarbour

DUNDEE UTD – Prediction 6th

It’s going to be a telling year for Peter Houston. The summer has seen his squad ripped apart with players from all positions leaving. The midfield is a shadow of its former self and, should Goodwillie follow suit, the finest young player in Scottish football will also be lost to them. Striker Jon Daly has been forced to play in defence and there is a distinct uncertainty as to where goals will come from. It’s imperative they take advantage of their early competitive football in the Europa League (Oh well – Ed.) and have a good start to the campaign or there could be trouble ahead. However, there is some good young talent at United and the key is going to be keeping those guys fit and on the straight and narrow. United are strong defensively and those that have tasted success are keen to taste it again so I think a top 6 will be achieved. Just.

ABERDEEN – Prediction 5th

It was a difficult season for Aberdeen with the saga surrounding the departure of Mark McGhee. It finally happened and in his place the wily old fox that is Craig Brown took the helm. The ability him and sidekick Archie Knox have in getting the best from their players is uncanny and pre-season will have given them the time to bring a togetherness back to a team that was undoubtedly despondent last season. Some big names have departed in Maguire and Diamond but there is talent in the squad. The much spoken about Fraser Fyvie returns following a season long injury and young boys Mitch Megginson and Ryan Jack have matured into young men. A European spot might be beyond them this time around but a safe spot in the top 6 and a smiling Craig Brown looks a certainty.

MOTHERWELL – Prediction 4th

It took Stuart McCall a wee while to find his feet back in Scotland but he appears to have taken to it now. A Scottish Cup Final testament to that. There is some serious talent emerging at Fir Park in the form of Jamie Murphy and McCall has managed to retain the backbone of his team from last year. Speedster John Humphrey causes all sorts of problems and a fit Michael Higdon is a decent replacement for the departed John Sutton. McCall finished the season with a team playing well and it appears in pre-season that this has continued. My worry with Motherwell is their size of squad and a few injuries to key players will prove to be a big problem. In saying that, strength in depth is a problem throughout Scottish football and all will suffer. It will need to be a consistent season from the Steelmen but a fourth place finish and European football is by no means beyond this Motherwell side.

HEARTS – Prediction 3rd

Hearts mounted a serious challenge on the Old Firm last season before a disastrous last few months killed any hope of splitting the top two. The summer scandal involving Craig Thompson and an outrageous statement from owner Vladimir Romanov didn’t do much for internal harmony at the club and may well have attributed to the sale of Scotland international Lee Wallace, but stability at the helm remains (for the moment at least). Summer signings were plentiful early on but a question over ambition could be asked as a host of faces from lower SPL opposition were the men to come in. In saying that, the signing of John Sutton looks a good one and a natural replacement for the struggling Kevin Kyle up front. Should the services of the influential Rudi Skacel be retained, Hearts will be as strong as they were last season and a solid bet for 3rd place. As for splitting the Old Firm, it would take some run of form from the Gorgie bunch.

RANGERS – Prediction 2nd

Champions for two years running and you can never count out the masters of grinding out results but they go into this season missing a vital ingredient: Walter Smith. The extent of the role Smith had played in the success Rangers achieved during his time in charge cannot be underestimated. Ally McCoist may have learnt all he knows from the great man but some characteristics simply can’t be taught and the task facing McCoist is one I’m sure very few would relish. Combine that with a new owner who has already proved he isn’t one for sitting quietly in the background and you have a team very much in transition. Rangers have one of the most gifted and deadly strikers in the league in Nikica Jelavic but injuries have never been far away from the Croatian International and, with a small squad, fitness to key players is vital. Rangers won’t go down without a fight but I don’t forsee a party in the sunshine at Ibrox come May.

CELTIC – Prediction 1st

Neil Lennon starts his second season in charge having retained the majority of the team he put together last year, crucially including Premiership targets Beram Kayal and Emilio Izzaguirre. Much has been said about a lack of bottle in the Celtic dressing room when it comes to pressure games but Lennon has a year of managerial experience behind him as do those that were new to the game last time around. Mistakes were undoubtedly made by the Northern Irishman, as he would be first to admit, but his determination and passion coupled with unbelievable boardroom support. He’s the marmite of the SPL managers and I am definitely not a hater. I think he’ll do it but it won’t be plain sailing and, as always with the hoops, there will be dramas.

Check back next week for more; and don’t forget to follow @gdfeet4abigman on Twitter.

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