So, as promised here is my Premiership preview for 2015/16. It will be significantly shorter than last year’s and won’t go into as much detail, but hopefully this will provide a concise and to the point preview of the season ahead in Scotland. I would have loved to have dedicated more time to this but it simply has not been possible this year. To begin with here is a short recap on how things finished in 2014/15 –
Scottish Premiership 2014/15
WINNERS – Celtic (qualified for Champions League Second Qualifying Round)
RUNNERS-UP – Aberdeen (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)
EUROPA LEAGUE QUALIFICATION – 3rd – Inverness Caley Thistle (qualified for Europa League Second Qualifying Round), 4th – St.Johnstone (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)
RELEGATED – St.Mirren
PROMOTED FROM CHAMPIONSHIP – Hearts (winners)
LEAGUE CUP WINNERS – Celtic
SCOTTISH CUP WINNERS – Inverness Caley Thistle
Scottish Premiership Preview 2015/16
Last season was actually pretty exciting for a number of different reasons. The league was very competitive at both ends and there were a few surprise packages along the way. Will this season be another roller coaster? Most teams have recruited well over the summer and there will be some new challenges this year. For fans of most clubs it will be the usual mixture of highs, lows and surprises.
Aberdeen fans can rest easy. They have by far and away the strongest team out-with the champions Celtic. Derek McInnes has only made a couple of changes to his squad and has finally added a natural left back in the shape of Graeme Shinnie who arrives from Inverness (and may well be the signing of the season). The Aberdeen players and fans will undoubtedly be looking forward to challenging on a number of fronts this year and they might give Celtic an even bigger push than they did last year (even if they did fall away at the end of the season). It is a great time to be a Don and although they didn’t win any silverwear last season it was still a very good year for Aberdeen.
The Manager – Derek McInnes has shown his quality since taking over at Pittodrie. He has the determination and skill to continue to be a success at Aberdeen. McInnes is honest when he makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to change things, he is a real asset to the Dons and the only worry might be that he may sometime in the future want another chance to prove himself down in England. For now though he is happy and well-loved in Aberdeen.
Signings – Joe Nuttall (Striker, Manchester City), Paul Quinn (Defender, Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Defender, Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Danny Ward (Goalkeeper, Liverpool, loan)
Expectations vs Reality – Safe to say that fans of most clubs are pretty jealous of Aberdeen and for good reason. They are one of a few sides who can safely assume that the expectations they have will be matched on the pitch. The fans will want a piece of silverwear this season and another second place finish, they will probably get both. Aberdeen fans need not lose any sleep over what might happen this year.
Prediction – 2nd (comfortably)
What to say about Celtic that hasn’t already been said? Writing a preview for them is both very easy, and pretty boring. That is simply down to the fact that they are going to win the league again, and probably win a trophy or two…again. Ronny Deila’s side will need to try to improve in Europe but domestically they still have the best team and by far and away the largest resources.
The Manager – Ronny Deila starts his second season in charge in a positive light. He has endeared himself to the Celtic supporters with his positive attitude and his high level of passion for the job. His first year was a success despite an early season struggle. The next step is to make an impact on Europe. Much like McInnes he is a young, driven manager who might want to progress further in his job but for now he has a chance to build a strong legacy at Celtic.
Signings – Dedryck Boyata (Defender, Manchester City, £1.5m), Nadir Ciftci (Striker, Dundee United, £1.2m), Logan Bailly (Goalkeeper, OH Leuven, £250k), Saidy Janko (Defender, Manchester United)
Expectation vs Reality – Celtic fans expect a clean sweep domestically. Deila nearly managed it last year so that will be his aim this season. They also want a degree of success in Europe, which means qualification for the Champions League Group Stage. The reality will probably be that domestically things will go to plan but in Europe they might struggle again.
Prediction – 1st (is there any doubt?)
Last year was a success for Dundee with their first campaign back in top flight ending with a top six spot. Credit must go to Paul Hartley who assembled a solid and effective squad that played some excellent football. Even the most positive of supporters would have been delighted with a 6th place finish and they will be looking ahead to this year with a real sense of optimism.
The Manager – Paul Hartley is quickly establishing himself as a top class manager with a great future. He joins a number of young managers in Scotland whose career could go on to really big things. His knowledge of the Scottish game has allowed him to sign some quality players from the lower leagues, something that he is once again doing this summer. Hartley has rejected moves away from Dundee for the time being, fans will be keen to hang on to him for some time.
Signings – Kane Hemmings (Striker, Barnsley), Kevin Holt (Defender, Queen of the South), Julen Leanizbarrutia (Defender, East Fife), Nicky Low (Midfielder, Aberdeen), Rory Loy (Striker, Falkirk), Daryll Meggatt (Defender, Alloa Athletic), David Mitchell (Goalkeeper, Stranraer), Nick Ross (Midfielder, Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
Expectation vs Reality – The problem with having a good season is that expectations then build for the next one. Dundee fans are quietly confident of another good year and they will tell you that their squad is stronger than it was last season. Don’t say it too loudly but I think this could be the year that they finish above Dundee United, which in itself would be a huge bonus for the supporters. It is a gamble signing so many players from the lower leagues so it will be really important Dundee get off to a good start.
Prediction – 5th
Dundee United find themselves in a familiar position this summer. More talent has departed Tannadice and the manager is left with another year of rebuilding. Jackie McNamara has been receiving a bit of criticism over the way the team has been performing in recent times so this year will be a huge test for McNamara and one that might define his management of United. Behind the scenes the board has also been criticised for selling off players to Celtic. The recruitment and selling policy that the club operates certainly divides supporters and if things are not going well on the park the negative views expressed by many will continue.
The Manager – Many people (this blogger included) have serious doubts about Jackie McNamara. The squad he now has is pretty much all his, so he has no excuses this year. He has made some glaring errors in the past so this year will probably seal his fate one way or another. Sorting out the defence and ensuring that United do not get bullied by other teams is something he needs to get right.
Signings – Darko Bodul (Striker, Rehindorf Altach), Coll Donaldson (Defender, Queens Park Rangers), Mark Durnan (Defender, Queen of the South), Rodney Sneijder (Midfielder, Free)
Expectation vs Reality – United supporters have reached a stage where they have strong expectations that are maybe not being matched. This season will provide a huge challenge for United and the squad is looking weaker than it has in a couple of seasons. The expectation will be top six and potentially a cup final but this is maybe one season too many for the current regime at Tannadice.
Prediction – 6th (just)
It is safe to say that Hamilton had a fairly eventful first year back in the Premiership. With a stunning start and a stuttering finish it was a bit of a roller coaster. After Alex Neil guided the team to the top of the table in the early stages of last season the side fell apart when he left for Norwich. Martin Canning has struggled since taking over and the fans might be a little anxious ahead of this second season in the top flight.
The Manager – Martin Canning’s appointment by the board was a case of asking someone who knew the club inside out to carry on the development that Alex Neil had achieved. It hasn’t worked. Canning lacks managerial experience and he is learning things the hard way. He has been busy in the summer transfer market but this is maybe not the job for him. Expect him to be one of the favourites for the sack during this campaign.
Signings – Alan Martin (Goalkeeper, Clyde), Chris Turner (Midfielder, Dumbarton), Antons Kurakins (Defender, Ventspils), Gramoz Kurtaj (Midfielder, Banik Most), Christian Nade (Striker, Raith Rovers), Carlton Morris (Striker, Norwich City, loan), Salva Chamorro (Striker, Lleida Esportiu).
Expectation vs Reality – After last year it isn’t really known what the average Hamilton fan might want out of this season. Yes they challenged in the upper reaches of the league for long spells in 2014/15 but they also fell away badly. Survival will be the aim for the fans in this difficult second season, and it is something they will be fighting for right from the off. If they start with a poor run of form it could spell disaster for the Accies.
Prediction – 12th (sorry, for the second season in a row from me!)
Hearts had the perfect season last year. They won the Championship with plenty of time to spare and more importantly they got everything in order at the club. There is no doubting the size of Hearts as a club (their season ticket sales only further show this) so it is great to have them back in the top-flight. It seems strange to say this but sometimes relegation can be a great thing for a club, for Hearts it looks like it was the perfect ‘time-out’ from the Premiership and now they are back in a much stronger position.
The Manager – Robbie Neilson (with Craig Levein as his trusty advisor) is beginning to forge a very promising managerial career. He has worked under some tough circumstances but he has also had the luxury of being able to build a club from its foundations (no easy task). It remains to be seen just how far Neilson can go in his career but if he has a good season with Hearts this year his stock will rise.
Signings – Blazej Augustyn (Defender, Gornik Zabrze), Juanma (Striker, Kalloni), Gavin Reilly (Striker, Queen of the South), Igor Rossi (Defender, Maritimo)
Expectation vs Reality – Despite being a newly promoted side the Hearts fans are quietly confident of a successful return to the Premiership. The club is finally back on a sound footing both on and off the field so the fans will be looking for the club to return to the upper end of the league and become a force again. The reality is that they may well have the season they hope for. The club have recruited well and the management team know what they want. The squad will still be on a high after last year and Hearts could find themselves competing for Europe this season.
Prediction – 3rd
What a year it has been for Inverness. The fans have experienced some historic events and the recent Scottish Cup win will live long in the memory. Caley can be described as a ‘steady Eddie’ with recent league seasons following a very similar pattern. The supporters are used to seeing a small squad stretched to its limits but one that always seems to perform above expectations. The trophy they now have in their cabinet is the richly deserved reward for the work that has gone on in the last few years.
The Manager – I have said it before and I will say it again. I was wrong. When John Hughes was appointed as Inverness manager and started with a run of defeats I assumed he was not up to it and would be sacked. Fair play to Yogi, he has settled in to this role incredibly well and it looks like he is loving his time up in the highlands. Hughes knows himself that he will never have a huge budget but what he lacks in money he more than makes up for in squad spirit and determination. It is difficult not to get caught up in the enthusiasm he shows for the game.
Signings – Dani Lopez (Striker, La Roda), Jordan Roberts (Midfielder, Aldershot Town), Nat Wedderburn (Midfielder, Cowdenbeath), Owain Fon Williams (Goalkeeper, Tranmere Rovers)
Expectation vs Reality – Last season will be impossible to top so the Inverness fans will actually be fairly relaxed about the season ahead. They have the memories from last year and the squad can play with little pressure this year knowing what they achieved a few months ago. John Hughes will be reminding his side of their achievements and he will be using those memories to spur his squad on in this campaign. Inverness have been very steady and consistent for a number of years, that should continue.
Prediction – 4th
Kilmarnock are a club that have had a few seasons to forget. The previous regime under Allan Johnston was a complete disaster and they were very lucky not to have been caught up more in the relegation fight last season. It never helps when things are not well off the field but it seems as though things have settled down on that front. Fans will feel that their money and time has been wasted in a period that has never amounted to anything.
The Manager – Gary Locke was an obvious choice to take the manager’s role when Johnston left. He steadied the Kilmarnock team and managed to achieve some good results. It was a very bold (and strange) decision to reward Locke with a three year contract given Kilmarnock’s recent luck with head coaches but it did show that they were willing to get behind the former Hearts manager. Will he be here come next May? My gut feeling is no. He is in for a long hard season.
Signings – Kris Boyd (Striker, Rangers), Dale Carrick (Striker, Heart of Midlothian), Kallum Higginbotham (Midfielder, Partick Thistle), Jamie MacDonald (Goalkeeper, Falkirk), Lee McCulloch (Defender/Coach, Rangers), Scott Robinson (Midfielder, Heart of Midlothian), Steven Smith (Defender, Rangers), Stuart Findlay (Defender, Celtic, loan)
Expectation vs Reality – Despite managing to settle things down off the field it still feels as though Kilmarnock are struggling to find a rhythm and a long-term plan. The team has been under performing for a while so if you were to ask a supporter what they wanted they would probably just say “better than last year”. Locke has made some solid enough signings but he has also relied on a few older heads who have joined the squad. A few former Hearts signings have meant that Locke is going for some tried and trusted players but it will be a tough season at Rugby Park and if you are going to rely on a recently hapless Kris Boyd for goals then it could turn out to be a bit of a nightmare for Killie fans this season.
Prediction – 11th
Well I suppose Motherwell can lay claim to the most exciting end to the season last year. They managed a superb win over Rangers in the playoffs that had the whole of Scotland watching on with interest. I suppose in some ways there will be Motherwell fans who would have enjoyed that sense of drama but they will probably settle for something a bit more solid this campaign. Ian Baraclough arrived at Fir Park last year and his tenure has been eventful (partly down to his ‘charismatic’ persona). The fans have been brilliant in backing the team both home and away but it has been a disappointing couple of seasons for the club.
The Manager – Ian Baraclough is definitely one of those love/hate managers. He says what he feels and is always willing to add a bit of emotion to his interviews and analysis. The league needs that and the fans welcome it (as long as things are going well). It is difficult to judge Baraclough given he has not had too long in the job and the squad he has is only now becoming his. He enjoys making a number of signings and has done so again this summer so it is a case of wait and see with him.
Signings – Joe Chalmers (Defender, Celtic), David Clarkson (Striker, Dundee), Wes Fletcher (Striker, York City), Kieran Kennedy (Defender, Leicester City), Louis Laing (Defender, Nottingham Forest, loan made permanent), Louis Moult (Striker, Wrexham)
Expectation vs Reality – I feel a bit sorry for Motherwell fans. Being a force in Scotland must now seem like a distant memory. They enjoyed a number of season challenging for league honours but now they have to accept that they are still going though a turbulent time. Fans would probably accept a solid season and a league position that was a step further away from where they ended up last year. They will probably get that. I think Motherwell will have a solid, if fairly average, season. Maybe after last year that is actually perfectly fine.
Prediction – 8th
Partick Thistle have settled into an established Premiership side. They have enjoyed a few pretty consistent seasons and although they have never quite threatened to break into the top six they have, for the most part, avoided any real danger. That was the case again last year as they finished 8th in the league. Alan Archibald has a settled squad and the club are continuing to do well financially in terms of playing within their budget.
The Manager – I have a real soft spot for Alan Archibald as he is still one of my favourite United players in the last decade. The solidity and consistency he brought to the United defence has now been transferred into his managerial career. After Jackie McNamara left Thistle a few seasons ago there was a worry that the side would struggle. Nothing could be further from that as Archibald has been a very good manager for the Jags (ask many supporters and they will choose Archibald over McNamara). He strikes me as the kind of manager who is settled and happy in his job so he will be at Firhill for a long time to come.
Signings – David Amoo (Midfielder, Carlisle United), Callum Booth (Defender, Hibernian, loan made permanent), Tomas Cerny (Goalkeeper, Hibernian), Gary Miller (Defender, St. Johnstone)
Expectation vs Reality – Some Thistle fans might be getting itchy feet. After a couple of solid seasons they might look at what teams like St.Johnstone and Inverness have achieved and ask “why can’t that be us?”. They have similar budgets and (probably) more supporters so this might be the last season that they will accept a 8th or 9th place finish. I wonder if this might be a tough season for the team. Archibald has made some signings but other than Cerny the goalkeeper none of the new players stand out too much. Partick won’t get relegated but they might get dragged into a fight at the bottom of the table.
Prediction – 10th
Ross County are definitely a side that has yet to find their feet. Year on year they make a raft of signings that take time to gel and it is always a case of making a late surge to find safety. That familiar pattern was repeated again last year as it took a remarkable run of form late into the season to salvage their Premiership status. Jim McIntyre’s side showed in the final few weeks that they were a very decent side but the fans will have been tearing their hair out as to why it took so long to show it.
The Manager – Young, determined and now pretty experienced Jim McIntyre says the right things and seems to be someone who knows their way around this job. The jury is still out on whether or not McIntyre is a top flight manager but this year we will find out. He has assembled a squad that is almost entirely his so if the side struggle this season there is only one person to blame. It could be a career defining season for Jim McIntyre.
Signings – Andrew Davies (Defender, Bradford City), Richard Foster (Defender, Rangers), Scott Fox (Goalkeeper, Partick Thistle), Jonathan Franks (Midfielder, Hartlepool United), Michael Gardyne (Midfielder, Dundee United, loan made permanent), Brian Graham (Striker, Dundee United), Darren Holden (Defender, Hartlepool United), Jackson Irvine (Midfielder, Celtic, loan made permanent), Ian McShane (Midfielder, Queen of the South), Stewart Murdoch (Midfielder, Fleetwood Town), Chris Robertson (Defender, Port Vale), Dan Bachmann (Goalkeeper, Stoke City, loan)
Expectation vs Reality – Ross County fans are a patient and understanding bunch. They have enjoyed their top flight status but they also know that it is something that is almost always under threat. They give their managers time and back their team (especially when some of the local talent are involved) so they will be there again this time around. In reality this will be a challenging season and another that will be very testing for the patience of the fans. They will look forward to seeing a brand new team but the danger is that yet another transfer merry-go-round will do serious damage to the fortunes of the side.
Prediction – 9th
When I think of St.Johnstone I always think of Inverness. The two sides are very similar in size and they are both very similar in terms of achievements in the last few years. The Perth side enjoyed a Scottish Cup win a couple of years ago and in the league they continue to make their small budget and small squad work effectively. Fans of the Saints are now used to successful seasons and successive European spots. They have already been eliminated from the Europa League but even being there in the first place is a success.
The Manager – Tommy Wright seems to thrive under the pressure of being a consistent underdog. Even when his side are playing teams below them there is always a sense that St.Johnstone approach every game with the determination of a side that has something to prove. He has shown his quality in terms of organisation and motivation with his achievements speaking volumes for his managerial talent.
Signings – Liam Craig (Midfielder, Hibernian), Graham Cummins (Striker, Exeter City), Liam Gordon (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Brad McKay (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Joe Shaughnessy (Defender, Aberdeen), John Sutton (Striker, Motherwell)
Expectation vs Reality – Despite enjoying success in the last few years the supporters of St.Johnstone approach every season with a sense of anxiety. They know they have performed above expectations in recent times and there is always a slight worry that maybe they have overachieved with the squad that they have. My feeling about St,Johnstone this season is that they have not improved enough over the summer and with Hearts and Dundee on the up they might be the team pushed out of the top six as a result.
Prediction – 7th
So, in terms of a preview that is about it! Hopefully if I have more time I might try to look in more detail at some of the players involved in the league this year and I am sorry that I have not been able to look at the lower leagues (again maybe I will write something soon if I can). Many will disagree with my predictions and I was wildly inaccurate with some last year (Hamilton being the worst) but they are my predictions and whatever happens this season will undoubtedly spring few surprises.
Enjoy the season ahead everyone!