By Owain Lacey:
The new SPL season is just a few weeks away now, and we have at last found out who 'Club 12' are: Dundee. You have to be happy for them, but why has it taken so long?
At the time of writing we are not sure who 'Club 10' will be in Division 3. This, however, is not a debate about Rangers or their Newco, or even on if Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster or Charles Green even have a clue what is going on. Let's look at the new season without Rangers and see what it can offer. One thing we do know is it will not be a Glasgow 1-2.
The battle for second place is an interesting one, and in my opinion this season is more open than third place has been for the past few seasons.
The reason I say this is that this year Celtic will be by far the strongest team, but behind them at least 5 clubs are of the same standard as each other. There will also not be the problem of one of these teams going on a run then being beaten badly by Rangers then Celtic in the space of a few weeks, losing all momentum. To me the teams going for second, and maybe top if Celtic bottle it, are Hearts, Dundee Utd, Aberdeen, Hibs and Motherwell, with the other 6 fighting relegation.
The reason for including Hibs and Aberdeen despite their very poor seasons last year is they have brought in good talent, and you can see they feel they have a point to prove to get back up the league. With Craig Brown you have a manager with more experience than the rest of the SPL put together and a man who clearly knows how to build a team. Then for Hibs, Fenlon talks a good game and looks like he is bringing in some new talent after the shocking 11th place finish.
Second position will be won and lost according to which of the five have faith in themselves and truly believe they can do it. There will be the psychological problem to overcome of knowing you are second and one place off the top, a place not one of the players will really be used to. Who will be able to stand up to this? You would feel it would be the team who have been up there the last few years.
So, first you would say Hearts as they have been top 6 for the last few years and won the Scottish Cup last season, but they have lost players so will they be able to keep the momentum going? Motherwell got second spot in all but name last season after the Rangers shambles so can they do it again? They have lost some talent, so with the players they have kept the challenge could be just one step too far.
On to Dundee Utd. Well, they have been nearly-boys for so many seasons, and have achieved with the Scottish Cup win, so they would be high up on anyone’s list for second. Then to Aberdeen and Hibs: well, no one (except their fans) expect much this season, so they could be the two dark horses and take 2nd and 3rd. Maybe worth a penny or two for the brave punter.
So, in front of us may not be the most entertaining SPL season in terms of talent, but it could be very close and maybe - just maybe - Celtic will not win it by Christmas. There will still be talent on show and the crowds may come back. We still have the Dundee and Edinburgh derbys to look forward to, and maybe a season of the underdogs. While Rangers do whatever it is they need to do, let the rest of us enjoy what is ahead of us: a season of wind, rain, snow and perhaps a bit of sun along the way, along with some great entertainment.