The pivotal issues:
Second place, relegation, will anyone stay afloat post-Rangers?
Who are favourites for the title?
Celtic. Easy one.
Who else will make the top 2 and who will get Europa League?
Dundee United should join Celtic in the Champions League, providing two of Gardyne, Daly and Russell are on form. Motherwell will struggle to hit the heights they hit last season, Stuart McCall’s squad looks thin and the protracted looks at James McFadden have come to naught.
Hard to look beyond the two promoted sides I’m afraid – Ross County look strong enough right now but any issues could see confidence drop and problems occur. Dundee however look like favourites for the drop, providing that Inverness’ signings gel. Terry Butcher has looked south to England to sign players and some may struggle.
Best and worst signings?
Fraser Forster on a permanent £2 million deal to Celtic after a long loan period will help stabilise the team in the long run – Lennon has also looked at strengthening the defence and midfield this season, and still may move in the market. Outside of Celtic, Dundee United picked up highly rated Michael Gardyne from Ross County, and looks a great prospect. Peter Enckelman showed in previous seasons he can do a job at St Johnstone, and Hearts have picked him up as an experienced keeper. The Saints have signed Craig Beattie from Hearts to attempt to replace Sandaza.
Looking at the worst, all teams have picked up players on the cheap due to the financial situation in Scotland this season, and many are unproven. Ross Draper bossed the midfield for a poor Macclesfield side last season, and how he performs at Cally Thistle remains to be seen – there are many others at ICT that could be blind shots in the dark.
What’s the biggest signing yet to happen?
Dundee definitely need to add to the team – they finished 24 points off Ross County last campaign – but it remains to be seen if they can succeed in that regard. Celtic are looking at Nicola Zigic, and the saga of McFadden to Motherwell is still possible.
Most influential player and team this season?
If Wanyama stays at Celtic, he will dominate this season. Similarly Ki will do the same job. However, both are transfer targets (Wanyama to Arsenal, Ki to Atletico Madrid).
First manager to be sacked?
Terry Butcher at Inverness.
Who will be the biggest winners and losers?
Winners? St Johnstone. Even the departures of Sandaza and Jody Morris won’t prevent the moving forward of the team to a possible Europa League spot. Another team who will have success is Dundee United – it is likely that they will fill that 2nd spot, even if Celtic look likely to have a long and prosperous few years ahead.
Losers? Hearts. The Edinburgh team have been in financial trouble for years, and look likely to go into meltdown. To be fair though, any team in this division could be in big trouble regarding money – it is too soon to tell though. Every team has attempted to curtail any financial issues with their behaviour in the transfer market.
Your hero and villain for 2012/2013?
Expect Johnny Russell to become one of the best strikers in the SPL in recent times this year, providing he takes the mantle offered to him. Samaras surely is coming towards the end of his time at Parkhead, and this may well be a disappointing season from him this year – expect him to possibly leave for some cash in January. Some consider him a villain too.
In reality, it’s difficult to name a villain now that The Rangers FC have started in the third
division. As with second place, that’s a vacancy that’ll need filling this year but Celtic will surely ruffle some feathers if they fail to bring grace and humility to their probable domination of the next few seasons.
A team to watch and a team to mock?
Keep an eye out for Ross County and Dundee. Dundee have a tremendously vocal support and Ross County have built for this moment for 15 years. Neither will do a Gretna. Also watch for Dundee United to perform well.
Hibernian definitely need to sign some quality. Pat Fenlon has lost Gary O’Connor and Derek Riordan and the team has started terribly. Inverness and Kilmarnock are likely to struggle financially, and ICT in particular are favourites by many (including myself) to be relegated. It’s always fun to mock Celtic too, but it’s near impossible to see them as anything other than champions.
Any final thoughts?
This is likely to be one of the most highly anticipated and close campaigns for 2-12. Expect massive drama last day for European places and relegation, aswell as many thoughts from Rangers supporters who may look at this as being 3 rebuilding years. Never before have the SFL lower leagues been more watched than this season already, and it will open a lot of eyes. This is going to be a great season.