A big thank you to everyone who read the first part of this preview (published yesterday, it can be found here). Thank you also to anyone who has given me feedback or sent me messages to comment on my thoughts, even if it was to disagree with me!
The Scottish Championship is wildly unpredictable and this season will provide fans with a huge amount of entertainment (and stress). It is disappointing that in Scotland our broadcasters do not invest more in the game and it is frustrating that the Championship will, for the most part, be left alone again this year apart from the odd game on BBC Alba and potentially BT Sport towards the end of the year. When Rangers, Hearts and Hibs were in the league you were treated to several live games over the season but now that has largely disappeared and it is a genuine shame that more people can’t watch even just the weekly goals from the matches in the Championship. I’m a firm believer that BT Sport have revolutionised coverage of Scottish football and it would be great to see them in the future take that further and look towards the Championship, League One and League Two.
Hopefully yesterday’s post highlighted the difficulties facing the teams in the league and it is definitely the case that today’s summary will do the same given that most of the teams in the division face very similar challenges with a high turnover of playing staff being something that is very much a theme this season.
Last Season – A bit ‘meh’. It was a case of Jim Duffy running out of steam and ideas last year and Morton spent much of the season not really doing very much other than treading water. Given their involvement in the playoffs the year before it was probably a case of a backwards step last year and Duffy rightly left the club.
Transfer Window Success? – New boss Ray McKinnon has had most of the summer to build a new squad and he has brought in enough new faces to give the team a fresh look. One or two signings stand out with the capture of experienced midfielders Jim McAlister and Chris Millar looking particularly promising in terms of giving them real strength in the middle of the park.
The Manager – Ray McKinnon has the luxury of being the only manager in the league with a genuine clean slate. After a decent start at Dundee United the trouble at Tannadice resulted in his sacking early last season. After a short spell away from football he will be absolutely desperate to show people that he is a good manager.
Key Player(s) – In a recurring theme of me picking strikers it is very much the same for Morton. The return of Denny Johnstone is one of the best pieces of business in this window across the division and he will be looking forward to returning to a league we know he can score goals in.
The Hope – Given that McKinnon is just in the job and that the league is looking very strong, it will probably be a case of looking at Morton as a side who might use this as a season to rebuild and consolidate rather than putting pressure on the manager and the team to push for a playoff spot. Anything above 5th would be a huge bonus.
The Reality – Morton will be absolutely fine this season and although they will probably miss out on the playoffs they are more than capable of pushing all the way if McKinnon can get his team playing the way he likes. A season of no pressure in many ways given that many will discount them from the title race, but that might suit them.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Last Season – Very similar to Falkirk in many ways. After a complete disaster in the early part of the season they managed to pick themselves up in the last couple of months, mounting a serious playoff challenge in the process. They went on an eleven game unbeaten run in the league between March and April before winning the Challenge Cup against Dumbarton.
Transfer Window Success? – On paper it has been a pretty uninspiring transfer window. The club have had success in the past by turning previously ‘unloved’ players into success stories and that will have to be the case again this year given the nature of some of the signings made by John Robertson. At the moment they maybe look slightly weaker than last season.
The Manager – Last year saw the strange and out of the blue appointment of John Robertson who started with a disastrous set of results but then managed to turn it all around. My own personal belief is that Robertson doesn’t have what it takes to elevate Caley to the next level and I wonder if he will see out the season if they get off to a bad start.
Key Player(s) – There isn’t much firepower in this squad so it might be that the pressure is on the defence to ensure the team can handle the fact that there are not many goals in the team. A surprise standout last year was Coll Donaldson and it might be that he and Brad McKay are the ones who need to step up for the team.
The Hope – Optimistic fans will hope that the team can challenge for a spot in the top four given the form at the end of last season. I’m unsure as to what the ambitions for Caley are but they will certainly be hoping to be involved in the playoffs at the very least. Having their rivals Ross County in the league will bring added pressure.
The Reality – This year might be a struggle. If John Robertson can replicate the good Caley from late last year then they will be fine but with the strength of the competition the worry is that it ends up more like the bad side of Caley we saw in the early stages of last season.
Queen of the South
Last Season – Finishing sixth last year points to the fact that Queen of the South have become very much a reliable and competitive team in the Championship but they have maybe been guilty of not pushing themselves as much as they could. That is maybe a little harsh but after finishing fourth in 2014/15 they have only managed seventh and sixth twice since then.
Transfer Window Success? – It hasn’t been a particularly busy transfer window but the general consensus is that more business is to come with the addition of some loan players likely. There is still a need for more cover in attack and if they can get even a half decent finisher then with the chances they create through Harkins and Dobbie it will make a big difference.
The Manager – I’m a little surprised that Gary Naysmith is still in charge. If I remember correctly I think I wrote last January that I thought he was running out of ideas and that maybe the club needed a fresh start. A bit like Allan Johnstone at Dunfermline this might be a make or break year for Naysmith.
Key Player(s) – The easiest thing about anything to do with Queen of the South is being able to wax lyrical about Stephen Dobbie. I mentioned in the Dundee United section that Fraser Fyvie might be the best player in the league on his day but truth be told it is probably still Dobbie. The fact they have added Gary Harkins into the mix means that on their day those two can tear anyone apart.
The Hope – Probably to upset the ‘clique’ and by that I mean the teams everyone else is talking about. Nobody really mentions Queen of the South when it comes to playoffs or promotion pushes but if they can keep Harkins on-form and Dobbie fit (plus add more depth) then they will undoubtedly fancy their chances.
The Reality – If Harkins and Dobbie are as good as they can be then it will be a season where Queen of the South can get some big, big results. The danger is that they may only do this in small bursts or in one-off games. I think a another mid-table finish is likely.
Last Season – The last two teams in this preview are the two that were relegated from the Premiership last season. For Partick two wins in their last twelve games consigned them to the relegation playoff and Alan Archibald’s team were incredibly poor against Livingston over the two legs. After five years in the top flight Partick have returned to the Scottish Championship.
Transfer Window Success? – As with any relegated team the turnover of players at Firhill has been pretty huge. The number of players arriving at Partick hasn’t totalled as many as you would expect but they have made some very solid signings with players like Thomas O’Ware knowing the league well. Others like Craig Slater and Cammy Bell need to use this opportunity to get their careers back on track.
The Manager – The big decision in May was to stick or twist with Alan Archibald. Whilst the easy thing to do would have been to sack him the club have decided to show faith and for me that, at the moment, is the right call. He will know that he has to deliver and if he doesn’t then at least he would depart knowing that he had a chance to put things right. Continuity can be key and the knowledge he has of this club means he is the right man to give it a go.
Key Player(s) – One thing that Partick do have over others in the league is a few experienced players who have been at the club for a long enough time that they know how to get back to the top flight. They maybe still lack true leadership but with players like Chris Erskine and Kris Doolan they have experienced quality in the side.
The Hope – In an ideal world they will look for an immediate return to the Premiership. They have established themselves as a top-flight team and in a way they are similar to Dundee United in that they will be heavily penalised in terms of revenue by not being in the Premiership and getting the gate receipts they are used to. The fans might not be totally optimistic for an immediate return but the board will be desperate for this to be a one year stay in the league.
The Reality – Partick are one of the unknown quantities for me. They have a decent squad, they have an experienced manager but something tells me that this season will be a tough one and it might be a real fight for them. I would say that one thing they do have in their favour is the ability to invest in January if they feel they need to strengthen. They should still at the very least secure a playoff spot but it might be a bumpy road for them this season.
Last Season – Chaos. County finished bottom of the Premiership and it was a complete shambles of a season. With a huge number of players arriving and leaving it felt like Ross County were always playing catch-up. The sacking of Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds in September was a difficult decision for Roy MacGregor to make and their replacement, Owen Coyle, had a disastrous few months in charge. Despite a decent run of form under co-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson it was inevitable that County were going down.
Transfer Window Success? – After last year Roy MacGregor announced that County were going to plan for an immediate return to the Premiership and the recruitment has reflected that. They have made some very impressive signings to add to an already strong squad. On paper this has been a very good transfer window.
The Manager –Ross County have shown faith in former players Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell, two men who know the club inside-out. They took over in challenging circumstances so they will be relishing this, their first full season in charge.
Key Player(s) – In such a strong squad you can really pick players in each position as potential match winners or leaders. A few teams were chasing Callum Morris who has revitalised his career at Dunfermline, whilst at the other end of the pitch you still need to look at someone like Billy McKay as a 15-20 goal a season striker if he is on form. For me the capture of Iain Vigurs could be one of the best pieces of business in the league.
The Hope – A title win and an immediate return to the top-flight. The board, players, management team and fans will all know that it is possible. The added incentive this season is to continue to show their dominance over Caley.
The Reality –They have to be the favourites for the league. With a strong squad that, most importantly, has good depth they will be the team to beat and should do enough to secure, at the very least, a second place finish. This is going to be a turbulent year for everyone but County should have the staying power.
Well that is it! The Championship is the place to be this year if you are looking for an exciting league with strong (but unpredictable) teams and a title race that should go down to the wire. Who needs a one-team league when you have a lineup like this?
I will let things settle and begin planning for a mid-season ‘report card’ for each team but for now all we can do is sit back and watch it all unfold….