In July this blog featured a pre-season preview of the Scottish Premiership season for 2014/15. In that preview were a set of predictions at how the league table would end up in May. As you can see below there are parts of that predicted table that are wildly inaccurate!
3. Dundee United
10. Partick Thistle
11. Ross County
12. Hamilton Accies
Firstly, apologies to all Hamilton fans. However it must be said that arguably every single Scottish football fan would have predicted for Accies to be lingering around the bottom end of the table for the majority of the season. How things change!
With the original predictions in mind and the season almost at the halfway mark it might be time to do a little report card on each team and how they have fared so far in this campaign…
Aberdeen started their year with a few memorable evenings in the Europa League qualifying stages. They disposed of Latvians FK Daugava with relative ease before setting up a very difficult tie against FC Groningen of Holland. After a 0-0 draw at home it took one of the best performances by a Scottish team in recent years to secure Aberdeen progress to the third qualifying round for the group stages. Unfortunately the European dream ended there with Spanish giants Real Sociedad proving too strong for the Dons despite a spirited performance at Pittodrie.
Their domestic campaign got off to a stuttering start with a heavy home defeat to Dundee United and the Dons did seem to struggle to find any momentum during the first few weeks of the season. Wins were followed by losses and the Aberdeen defence were looking a little shaky in the early stages of the year. At the start of October Aberdeen travelled to Dens to take on a confident Dundee team. They came away with a dramatic 3-2 victory courtesy of a David Goodwillie winner and that seemed to kick-start a fantastic run of form that has seen them win 9 out of their last 10 leagues games.
Aberdeen are beginning to look more like themselves at the moment and they have managed to shore up their defence whilst still scoring goals. They have a strong and settled squad that will probably remain largely unchanged going into the second half of the season.
In the cups they have had mixed fortunes. A 1-0 win against high-flying Hamilton means a League Cup semi-final against Dundee United awaits at the end of January and they will be hoping to retain the trophy they won last year. Unfortunately in the Scottish Cup they were knocked out in the last-minute by Dundee at Dens.
Off the field the biggest news for Aberdeen so far this season has been the announcement of a deal that will effectively make Aberdeen debt free. Various movements in the hierarchy of the club and a number of different investments plans will allow the Dons to shed their £14.5million debt and put plans in place for the future (including new facilities, a training complex and eventually a new stadium). Despite the doom and gloom perpetuated by the media over the past couple of years this is another fantastic piece of news for the future of the game in Scotland.
Recently Derek McInnes has reiterated his desire to stay at Aberdeen and he sees the job at Pittodrie as being “unfinished”. This will be music to Aberdeen fans ears as they are undoubtedly in one of their most prosperous periods of the club’s recent history.
Top Performer – It is difficult to choose just one Aberdeen player given how well they have been performing in the last couple of months. Ryan Jack (more on him below) has certainly been at the heart of everything that has been good about Aberdeen but there is one player who seems to perform week after week and that man is Jonny Hayes. The Irishman is a player who has been a standout in the SPFL since arriving at Inverness in 2009 and he just seems to keep on delivering the goods. One thing that makes him such a valuable asset is the fact that he is incredibly versatile and can play in a number of positions both defensively and going forward. He works tirelessly for his team and he is capable of producing match winning moments out of nowhere.
Must do Better – Aberdeen have started to show their true form in the last couple of months and with such a strong squad it means that manager Derek McInnes is very lucky that he can change things around when players begin to dip in form. So far this season he has made the choice to replace Jamie Langfield as his number one and that is something that keeps players on their toes. The ability to replace one good player with another is the reason they are doing so well. The one possible player that needs to keep improving is central defender Ash Taylor. It is fair to say that he started the season very poorly and he struggled in his first few matches in Scotland. It must be said though that Taylor has significantly improved since the start of the season and the Aberdeen fans have been delighted with him recently.
Promising Youngster – Okay so this is a bit of a cheat nomination. With Aberdeen’s first choice squad now very settled it has meant that opportunities for teenagers like Lawrence Shankland have been limited. Therefore the real standout youngster for Aberdeen is actually someone who is now a veteran at 22. Ryan Jack is one of the best young midfielders in Scottish football and he continues to improve every season. To be a key part of a successful team like Aberdeen at such a young age shows just how good he is. It might be time for Gordon Strachan to start thinking about getting Jack involved in the Scotland setup as he is sure to become a full internationalist within the next couple of seasons.
Christmas Verdict – Aberdeen began the season a little sluggish possibly as a result of their European exploits but they have now started to show their true colours and are building week after week. They must surely still be favourites to get second place and possibly another League Cup win.
July Prediction – 2nd
New Prediction – 2nd
What to say about Celtic? They are top of the league as expected but that is never the full story with regards to the current Scottish Champions. Celtic fans look for performances, developments in their squad and for a side that can compete with Europe’s elite.
Ronny Deila took over in June with the difficult task of following on from Neil Lennon. He inherited a strong squad but one that he was keen to change to make his own mark upon. He has ideas about the style of play and formation his teams should be using which are different to those used by Lennon. Seven signings have been made since Deila took over, with the majority of those being loan deals. Only Craig Gordon and Stefan Scepovic have made the move to Celtic permanent.
With a number of players leaving the club in the summer it did take some time for Deila’s new shape and new tactics to really settle. In the early stages of their European Champions League campaign they comfortably beat KR Reykjavík both home and away but the challenges that faced them in the next qualifying round meant that a 4-1 hammering away to Polish side Legia Warsaw would surely result in elimination from the Champions League. As we all now know this was not the case and a bizarre set of circumstances meant that Celtic were allowed to progress in the qualification process through a default 3-0 home win (they qualified on away goals). With Legia Warsaw comfortably beating Celtic 2-0 at Murrayfield they brough on Bartosz Bereszyński for the last four minutes. The problem was that Bartosz was technically suspended for the match having been sent off in the Europa League the previous season.
A short but controversial case ensued and a decision was made by UEFA to reinstate Celtic. It didn’t actually matter too much as Celtic were then knocked out of the Champions League by NK Maribor. They dropped into the Europa League Group stage and have managed to negotiate their way out of their group and will play Inter Milan in the round of 32 in February.
Back in Scotland the performances from Celtic have been solid but unspectacular. They have managed to secure their place at the top of the table despite never really kicking into gear. They have had a couple of impressive runs of form but there has always been a feeling that this Celtic side are still a work in progress and have been a little soft defensively (they have only kept six clean sheets in the Premiership so far). The teams in and around Celtic at the moment have managed to cause them problems but it remains to be seen if they can maintain that. One thing we know is that even a poor Celtic team still have just about enough to see off most other Scottish sides.
Celtic fans do have one huge fixture to look forward to in 2015 and that is their League Cup semi-final against Rangers in February. The two sides have not met since April 2012 so the excitement (and probably nervousness) is already building.
Top Performer – It has to be Craig Gordon. Not just for his performances but also because the big goalie has seemingly now managed to get his career back on track after some horrible injuries and not being able to play any proper football in over three years. He has been a standout for Celtic both in the league and in Europe with his international return against England the icing on the cake. Scottish football fans have always recognised the ability that Gordon has and he must be considered as one of Scotland’s best ever goalkeepers. A mention must also go to on loan Man City striker John Guidetti who has been on fire since joining in September.
Must do Better – Celtic players are always under the microscope and they will always be under more pressure than most to perform so it is common to see Celtic fans quickly lose patience with certain players. Most of Deila’s signings are still settling in and it is maybe too harsh to judge any of them just yet, so it is a man who has been at Celtic for four years now who is in the ‘must do better’ category. Anthony Stokes has been a talisman for Celtic since signing in 2010 from Hibs and there is no doubting the role he has played for Celtic in the last few years but this season he has stalled. His goal tally isn’t great and his performances in general have lacked that spark fans are so used to seeing.
Promising Youngster – Ronny Deila promised that he would give young players at Celtic their chance. He hasn’t quite flooded the first team with teenagers but he has given a few of the younger players a chance to impress. Liam Henderson and Eoghan O’Connell are two players who have been given some opportunities to prove their talent but the standout has to be Callum McGregor. It is often said that young players might benefit from some time out on loan and he certainly is someone who has really used a loan spell to improve as a player. Spending last year on loan at Notts County has given McGregor a full season of football and he looks all the better for it. The young midfielder is seen as a huge part of Celtic’s future and he has also started to edge towards contention for the full Scotland squad.
Christmas Verdict – It is a case of ‘as expected’ for Celtic domestically. They have stalled a few times so far but they will undoubtedly win the title. As for Europe it looks like Inter Milan might be too tough a task but you never know with Celtic and Europe. The Rangers game in February adds extra spice to their domestic season.
July Prediction – 1st
New Prediction – 1st
In July Dundee beat Manchester City 2-0 at Dens which meant the fans of the Dens Park club were approaching this first season back in the Premiership with a great deal of optimism, and rightly so.
Paul Hartley has shown in his short managerial career that he has good ideas, a strong vision for what he wants and that he can spot a player when it comes to transfer business. Dundee were very busy over the summer and they recruited the basis of practically an entirely new team. This meant that some fans might have been worried that a huge turnover in players could lead to some issues in getting the team to gel but the majority of signings were completed quickly to allow for that.
The league season started with an impressive six match unbeaten run (although that did include four draws). The football on show by the Dundee team was fluid and attractive to watch and the new signings had all bedded in very quickly. Importantly Dundee were getting results against teams that they would have been expecting to be competing with in the same part of the table as them. That early season from has shown what this Dundee side are capable of on their day and they do have the potential of causing more upsets as the season continues.
Despite the positive feelings around Dens things came crashing back down to earth when they were beaten 4-1 at home against Dundee United in September. The first derby of the season was highly anticipated but in front of a sell-out crowd the Dundee players let the fans down by turning in a performance that fell completely flat. This loss sparked a short spell of poor results during September and early October.
Things did pick up again during late October and early November as Dundee started to show again just what they were capable of. Impressive wins over Motherwell, Hamilton and Kilmarnock allowed the Dens Park side the chance to solidify their top flight credentials and it also put them back into a very respectable league position. However (and just like in September) things fell flat once again and Dundee are currently on another poor run of form that has seen them pick up just two points from their last five games.
That inconsistency of seemingly four good games, four bad games seems to be an issue and it is something that might prevent Dundee from really fulfilling their potential this season. There is no doubting the quality in the side and on their day they can produce excellent football but it has only been in fits and starts so far.
Dundee’s league cup campaign ended in the third round as they were beaten in dramatic fashion against Dundee United at Tannadice. A last-minute header sent Dundee crashing out of the cup despite putting in a very good performance and one that was in complete contrast to their earlier Dundee derby showing. Celtic await Dundee in the next round of the Scottish Cup.
It must also be said that Dundee are continuing to do some great work off the field. The club is improving, the facilities are improving and the links with the local community are getting stronger. After many years of uncertainty behind the scenes it now looks like Dundee are in a good place, which can only be a benefit to the city.
Top Performer – A number of Dundee’s new signings have played very well so far this season with the majority of Hartley’s recruits showing that they are more than good enough to play in the top flight. Signings from the lower leagues like Greg Stewart, Paul McGinn and more recently Scott Bain have all impressed. A notable mention must go to David Clarkson who has had a phenomenal goal scoring record but in terms of consistency and leadership then James McPake is the pick here. He is one of a few Dundee signings that had a point to prove after a stuttering last few seasons and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to lead from the back. A model of consistency he has avoided many of the injuries that have plagued them in the past.
Must do Better – A couple of the new players in Dundee’s squad have been more than a little frustrating. Simon Ferry should be one of the top performers but he hasn’t quite got going yet and in Philip Roberts Dundee took a chance on a player with personal baggage and attitude issues and he hasn’t grabbed his chance at a fresh start. The most frustrating player for many Dundee fans must be German striker Luka Tankulic. He should have been the goal scoring threat for Dundee this year and in pre-season he was scoring with what seemed like every touch. This summer form hasn’t transferred over into competitive action though and his scoring record has been nothing short of abysmal so far.
Promising Youngster – With Dundee trying to get a new team together and with the squad aiming to fight for every point it has been difficult for Paul Hartley to experiment too much with many of his younger players. Indeed Cammy Kerr, Dylan Carreiro and the immensely talented Craig Wighton have all been sent out on loan to get some experience. It will be next year before we see these young talents stake a real claim for the first team. Although he is 22 and some would consider that too old to be a ‘youngster’ it has to be said that Scott Bain has been very impressive in his run in the side. He is still very young for a keeper and he is playing as a top flight goalie for the first time but his form and performances have been very promising.
Christmas Verdict – Dundee desperately need some consistency. If they can keep their squad fit and add a couple of new faces in January (which they have the budget to do) then they should be causing problems for almost every team in the league in the New Year. Dundee have the potential to be pushing for a top six finish if they can get a run of results going.
July Prediction – 9th
New Prediction – 7th
Dundee United fans probably went into this season with a mixture of emotions given how the previous campaign had ended. There is no doubt that Jackie McNamara and his team are still moving Dundee United in the right direction but the 2013/14 season ended with the team not only missing out on Europe in the league but even more disappointingly with a defeat in the Scottish Cup final. That will have spurred McNamara on to improve the side and he did some good transfer business over the summer bringing in a mixture of players in key positions.
Off the field the club raked in huge sums of money by selling both Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson. The multi million pound deals for the two young Scots has allowed the United chairman to make United debt free (yet another Scottish Premiership team) and it allows the board to make more changes in the development of Dundee United.
The season started with an emphatic win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie and that must have had fans forgetting all about the disappointing end to last year. That result set the tone for the first part of the season as United went on a very impressive run of 6 wins out of their first 8 matches. The football on show from United was once again fast and free-flowing but there was a change in the structure of the team and United seemed a bit more resolute at the back (with three new faces in the back four) and more direct in going forward.
Form since the end of September has dipped though and the team find themselves on a streak of losing almost as many as they win. Out of the last 9 matches they have lost four and won 5 so there is a need for a bit more consistency in the results. That hasn’t been helped by the ever-changing United team. McNamara has a strong squad but he has rotated quite heavily in the last couple of months which has possible led to some inconsistency.
Away from the football there have been a couple of stories that have dominated headlines and for all the wrong reasons. Firstly United have been doing battle with Rangers over the transfer fee for Charlie Telffer.
The player left Rangers at the end of last season under freedom of contract but Rangers were due compensation due to Telfer’s age. The club offered Rangers a fee that they felt was a sufficient amount. Rangers then rejected that offer and the case has only just been resolved by the SPFL and United are having to pay Rangers £204,000 for the promising youngster.
Elsewhere stories emerged in late October of Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska having been assaulted in Glasgow. It emerged that Paul Paton of United was involved in the incident and this has led to various accusations and now court dates for the case to be discussed.
These stories have detracted slightly to what has been a successful campaign for the Terrors and one that has shown that once again despite the Tannadice club losing a few key players they are still producing the goods.
Top Performer – If this was for ‘most improved’ then there would be no doubt that Chris Erskine would be walking away with this. The former Partick Thistle midfielder has been nothing short of a revelation since returning from Thistle on loan. He was a player who last year put in a few abject performances for United and had been all but cast aside by the supporters. A new season has brought an entirely new Erksine though. He has been the creative force in much of United’s play this year and he is now being appreciated by the fans more and more each week. The most important player though, and the top performer is the giant Polish central defender Jaroslaw Fojut. The 27-year-old has struggled with injury during his career but he arrived at United injury free in the summer and has immediately made a huge difference to the side. Commanding, committed and strong in the air he is the type of defender every club needs at the heart of their backline.
Must do Better – Much like Aberdeen, United have a strong enough squad that once players begin to dip in form then they can change things around. One area where this isn’t possible is upfront. In Nadir Ciftci the Tannadice side have one of the most gifted but most infuriating players in Scottish football. The lack of options upfront has meant that Ciftci has continued to play despite his form being quite unpredictable so far this season. However he is capable of match winning moments so he can’t be the choice for this one. It is unfortunate to pick on someone so talented but the player that does need to really improve is Gary Mackay-Steven. The winger has been an exceptional player for United but he is now in his last season with the club and it shows. His performance level this season has been erratic and he has not had the same impact on games he really should be having. The fact that many United fans would choose Erskine over ‘GMS’ right now shows just how much things have changed for both players.
Promising Youngster – There seems to be pressure on every young player that comes through the ranks at United. With Ryan Gauld the poster boy for every young Scottish talent it means that anytime a teenager makes an appearance at Tannadice it sets of tongues wagging about how good they might be. There are really only three names in the frame this season, Charlie Telfer, Blair Spittal and Aidan Connolly. Spittal has made the least impact but has been used sparingly with the other two players having featured much more. Telfer looks like a real find (and might be worth the tribunal fee…) but it is Aidan Connolly who has made the biggest impact in terms of his technical ability. Similar to Gauld in that he is a very small and slight player with a big heart he is a direct winger who loves taking people on. A ready-made replacement for Mackay-Steven? Probably.
Christmas Verdict – United have shown this season that have a bit more steel about them. Defensively they have looked stronger and more assured which is good because going forward they haven’t quite been at their best yet. As long as they can avoid their yearly run of bad form around Christmas then they should finish third.
July Prediction – 3rd
New Prediction – 3rd
Report cards for Hamilton, Inverness, Kilmarnock and Motherwell tomorrow…