SPL preview: Dundee United contenders for second spot as Celtic prepare for life without Rangers

WITH the identity of ‘Club 12’ still undecided, Thomas Blane assesses the other 11 and sees Dundee United as a strong bet for claiming second place

ABERDEEN

NINTH in the SPL for the past three seasons, a conveyor belt of players in and out has not helped. Seven have left this summer, but new recruits Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn will provide much-needed creativity and are shrewd signings by manager Craig Brown. Established men such as Peter Pawlett and Fraser Fyvie will be importantthis season. Scott Vernon will continue to be the main goal threat after scoring 11 goals last season. Once the great alternative force of Scottish football, it would be surprising if they mount a serious challenge at the top end this season, but there must be an improvement.

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INS

Jonny Hayes (Inverness Caley Thistle), Niall McGinn (free)

OUTS

Kari Arnason (Rotherham), Rory McArdle (Bradford), Yoann Folly (free), Youl Mawene (free), Darren Mackie (free), Daniel Uchechi (free), Mohammed Chalali (free)

PRE-SEASON

14 July – Arbroath (a), 17 July – Elgin (a), 21 July – Alstatte (a), 25 July – Werder Bremen (a), 28 July – St Pauli (a)

CELTIC

FOLLOWING events as the other end of Glasgow, when Celtic unfurl the league flag at Parkhead before their opening fixture against Aberdeen, they will know exactly what is expected of them. The champions are clear favourites to win the treble. Manager Neil Lennon has successfully kept the title-winning side of last season and, with only the signing of previous loanee, goalkeeper Fraser Forster, he has shown that he believes his current squad can hold their own in the Champions League. Expectation will fall at the feet of Gary Hooper, Beram Kayal, Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew

INS: Fraser Forster (Newcastle)

OUTS: Darren O’Dea (free), Niall McGinn (free), Cha Du-Ri (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Dominic Cervi (free), Efrain Juarez (Club America) Daniel Majstorovic (AIK), Glenn Loovens (free). Richie Towell (free), Mark Wilson (free)

PRE-SEASON

10 July – FC Augsburg (a), 15 July – Stuttgart Kickers (a), 17 July – Vfr Aalen (a), 21 July – Ajax (a), 24 July – Norwich City (h), 28 July – Inter Milan (h), 11 August – Real Madrid (n, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

DUNDEE UNITED

ONE of the most entertaining SPL sides for the past few seasons, manager Peter Houston has built a strong squad capable of beating any other side in the league on their day and must be optimistic about the forthcoming season. With a serious lack of funds, his youngsters have shone, none more so than the skilful Gary Mackay-Steven. But seasoned Jon Daly also proved his killer instinct by notching an impressive 19 goals. The loss of Paul Dixon to Huddersfield is a blow, but the inclusion of new singings Michael Gardyne and Mark Millar will encourage the supporters. Though the Europa League will provide a distraction, the league must be the main focus. Second place is being eyed by many clubs, but United may hold the strongest claim by the end of the season.

INS

Radoslaw Cierzniak (KS Cracovia), Michael Gardyne (Ross Co), Mark Millar (Falkirk), Brian McLean (Preston)

OUTS

Paul Dixon (Huddersfield), Scott Robertson (free), Dusan Pernis (free), Garry Kenneth (free), Danny Swanson (Peterborough)

PRE-SEASON

4 July – Rapid Vienna (a – 0-3), 14 July – Dundee (a), 18 July – Everton (h), 21 July – Raith (a)

HEARTS

IT HAS been a tumultuous summer at Tynecastle, with the departure of Scottish Cup winning manager Paulo Sergio and a number of key players including Ian Black and Rudi Skacel. But with the appointment of new manager, John McGlynn, who knows the Scottish game inside out, it seems they are going down the right route. With 11 players leaving, captain Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster and John Sutton must perform this season in a side which will be significantly younger than last term. They will do well to reach the Europa League group stage but, with a couple of additions, they should finish in the SPL’s top six.

INS

None

OUTS

Rudi Skacel (free), Craig Beattie (free), Gary Glen (Ross Co), Jordan Morton (Livingston), Jason Thomson (Raith), Chris Kane (Dunfermline), Ian Black (free), David Obua (free), Adrian Mrowiec (free), Stephen Elliott (free), Suso Santana (free)

PRE-SEASON

14th July – Raith (a), 18 July – Falkirk (a), 21 July – Dunfermline (a), 28 July – Rotherham (a)

HIBERNIAN

WITH the release of assistant manager Billy Brown, which chairman Rod Petrie described as cost cutting, the responsibility of success lies squarely on the shoulders of manager Pat Fenlon. Brought in mid-season to prevent the struggling team from dropping into the First Division, he narrowly achieved that goal. Now it is time to move forward, and, having leaked 67 goals last season, the signings of former loanee James McPake and Motherwell defender Tim Clancy is a positive step. Add to that, midfield starlet Paul Cairney from Partick Thistle and the side is looking stronger. But Hibs are extremely light up front after releasing Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths’ loan expired. Whether or not Fenlon can find two better replacements could influence whether they battle for a top-six spot or suffer another dismal campaign.

INS

Tim Clancy (Motherwell), James McPake (Coventry), Paul Cairney (Partick)

OUTS

Sean Welsh (Partick), Martin Scott (Ross Co – loan), Graham Stack (free), Scott Taggart (free), Ian Murray (free), Garry O’Connor (free)

PRE-SEASON

11 July – Rapid Bucharest (n, Grangemouth Stadium), 18 July – Lierse (a), 21 July – Leuven (a), 22 July – Zeeland Select (a), 24 July – Union Berlin (a), 28 July – Huddersfield (h)

INVERNESS CT

LAST summer, manager Terry Butcher took the risk of releasing stalwarts Grant Munro and Russell Duncan, a move which ultimately backfired as they both gained promotion with Ross County while Caley struggled. Butcher looked to the lower English divisions for younger players to fill the gaps but Caley Thistle dropped to 10th in the SPL. This time, Butcher has released Ross Tokely and David Proctor, who were at the club for a combined 24 years, and once again trawled the lower leagues to sign new recruits. Caley fans will be hoping that the comparisons to last season end there, but losing players such as Jonny Hayes, Greg Tansey and Gregory Tade could mean that their side face a difficult season.

INS

Gary Warren (Newport Co), Antonio Reguero (Gandia), Jason Oswell (Crewe), David Raven (Shrewsbury)

OUTS

Ross Tokely (Ross Co), Gregory Tade (St. Johnstone), Greg Tansey (Stevenage), Jonny Tuffey (St Johnstone), Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen), David Proctor (free), Thomas Piermayr (free)

PRE-SEASON

7 July – Buckie Thistle (a), 10 July – Clachnacuddin (a), 11 July – Forres (a), 14 July – Elgin (a), 18 July – Deveronvale (a), 21 July – Coventry (h), 24 July – Brechin (a), 25 July – Wick Academy (a)

KILMARNOCK

THOUGH last season’s league effort may have been forgettable, League Cup success will live long in the memory of many supporters. Kenny Shiels has continued to build a fluent team, though often too open in defence. No real change in the shape of the squad but the addition of attacking full-back Jeroen Tesselaar from St Mirren brings a welcome option.

INS

Jeroen Tesselaar (St Mirren)

OUTS

Danny Buijs (Sparta Rotterdam), David Silva (free), Zdenek Kroca (free)

PRE-SEASON

14 July – Livingston (n, Grangemouth Stadium), 16 July – Morton (a), 18 July – Wrexham (a), 21 July – Chester (a), 25 July – Huddersfield (h), 8 August – Sheffield Wednesday (h)

MOTHERWELL

FANS of last season’s surprise package may be dreaming of their first ever Champions League night, but manager Stuart McCall willfocus on preparing for the SPL kick-off. With no signings so far and having lost midfield lynchpin Steve Jennings, it leaves a void in the middle of the park. Motherwell were best of the rest last season but if they finish second this time, it may not only be their players leaving, but their manager who moves onto bigger things.

INS

None

OUTS

Jordan Halsman (Morton), Steven Lawless (Partick), Tim Clancy (Hibs), Stephen Craigan (retired), Ross Forbes (free), Gary Smith (free), Jamie Pollock (free), Ross McKinnon (free), Tom Bradley (free), Steve Jennings (free)

PRE-SEASON

9 July – Rapid Bucharest (n, Grangemouth Stadium), 14 July – Ayr (a), 17 July – Raith (a), 21 July – Everton (h), 24 July – Hamilton (a)

ROSS COUNTY

WHEN Derek Adams left the assistant manager’s job at Hibs to rejoin County as manager, many people questioned his decision. Now he has led them to their first season in the SPL. Other fantastic decisions included the signings of Grant Munro and Russell Duncan, who were instrumental in winning the First Division title. Victoria Park will provide a stern test to anyone who travels there and the home fans will no doubt turn out in their droves. The loss of Michael Gardyne to Dundee Utd will be a disappointment for Adams but the acquisitions of experienced campaigner Ross Tokely and former County youngster Martin Scott, on loan from Hibs, will provide more options for an already impressive side. Newly-promoted teams can turn into the surprise package of the league and don’t put it past Ross County to be this season’s.

INS

Ross Tokely (Inverness), Martin Scott (Hibs – loan), Gary Glen (Hearts)

OUTS

Gary Miller (St Johnstone), Michael Gardyne (Dundee Utd), Johnny Flynn (Falkirk), David McNamee (free), Scott Morrison (free)

PRE-SEASON

4 July – Brora Rangers (a - 3-1), 7 July – Turriff Utd (a), 10 July – Raith (a), 14 July – Clachnacuddin (a), 17 July – Nairn Co (a), 18 July – Coventry (n, Grant Street Park), 21 July – Elgin (a)

ST JOHNSTONE

AFTER former manager Derek McInnes left the club for Bristol City, many expected the team to falter, but the appointment of Steve Lomas turned out to be a fantastic choice by the Saints board. Finishing sixth in the league was good enough to earn a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds. Their focus, however, will be to build on that league standing and push further up the table, which may prove a difficult task without their SAS partnership of last season, Cillian Sheridan and Francisco Sandaza. They have signed two strikers in Gregory Tade and former St Mirren youngster Nigel Hasselbaink. Their scoring records show, however, that they may not be the prolific pairing that Sandaza and Sheridan were. If Saints were to finish in the top six again this season, it would confirm their performances as being among the most consistent in the SPL.

INS

Tam Scobbie (Falkirk), Gary Miller (Ross Co), Gregory Tade (Inverness), Jonny Tuffey (Inverness), Nigel Hasselbaink (St Mirren)

OUTS

Carl Finnigan (Dundee), Jody Morris (Bristol City), Francisco Sandaza (free), Mark Durnan (free), Derek Riordan (free), Peter Enckelman (free), Michael Hart (free)

PRE-SEASON

11 July – East Fife (a), 21 July – Cowdenbeath (a), 28th July – Bristol City (h)

ST MIRREN

WELL known for the dogged displays which have kept them in the SPL since 2005, manager Danny Lennon has attempted to change the footballing philosophy of the Paisley side with relative success. The Buddies finished in their highest league position since 1989 after clinching 8th in the table, but more was expected of them after their form at the beginning of the season. Lennon has insisted that he will continue to play free-flowing football and firmly believes this is the route that his club should follow. Experienced striker Steven Thompson finished with 13 goals last term and the expectation will be placed on him to do so again this season. St. Mirren drew more games in the SPL than any other team and if they are to improve on last season’s position, they must ensure that a couple of those one-pointers turn into victories.

INS

Sam Parkin (Queen of the South), Lewis Guy (MK Dons), Jon Robertson (Cowdenbeath) OUTS

Aaron Mooy (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jon McShane (Hamilton), Steven Thomson (Dover Athletic), Hugh Murray (Partick), Jeroen Tesselaar (Kilmarnock), Nigel Hasselbaink (St Johnstone), Graeme Smith (free)

PRE-SEASON

21 July – Morton (a), 24 July – Dumbarton (a), 27 July – Carlisle (a), 29 July – Accrington (a)