Season Preview 2006/7

Last updated : 25 July 2006 By Firparkcorner

Celtic: The champions have made a clutch of signings as they attempt to consolidate their position but most of the players brought in highlight the change in attitude of the old firm. Having failed in Europe so dramatically last season a big change was needed and while Miller, Caldwell and Riordan will be good SPL players they are hardly top European level. Celtic were poor at times last season and we should be confident of sneaking something from them at Fir Park.

Hearts: Still interesting times down Gorgie way. Hearts did well to finish second last year and pick up the cup but there remains a significant ‘what if' question over the sacking of George Burley. With neither of the old firm being able to attract the players they once could this close season was an opportunity for Hearts to make a clear statement of their intentions by signing some quality players. Instead they have done little and the main speculation about Tynecastle has been of departures not arrivals. Hearts should be a comfortable third but with no big additions it is hard to see them being consistent enough to challenge for the title.

Rangers: Missing out on the top two was nothing short of a disaster for Rangers but picking up Paul Le Guen as manager should be a good remedy. He has had his work cut out dealing with the car crash remains of Alex McLeish's squad and has signed several players including four from France. It is hard to know if they'll all settle well but with Celtic not overly impressing a debut league title for the new manager is not impossible. Playing them as the opening fixture is an excellent opportunity for us to rattle them early.

Hibs: The Hibees could be in for a struggle this season. They were unimpressive in the Inter Toto Cup and still have big question marks over their goalkeeping situation. They seemed to have a never ending supply of youth coming through the ranks but that must be due for a slightly drier spell and it is unlikely they will be able to replace the goal scoring of Riordan and O'Connor immediately. If things go perfectly for us Hibs will be one of the teams we should be trying to skip.

: Killie have had a close season similar to ours. Gary McDonald left, Grant Murray arrived and that's pretty much it. They were superbly solid at Rugby Park last year and were undefeated against the seven teams that finished below them – an incredible feat. It is hard to see them doing quite as well this time but they are a physically strong side that can also play football so anything less than a top six finish will be disappointing. We should just be relieved we only have one trip to new graveyard Rugby Park pre-split.

: Possibly the worst side ever to make the top six last time and but they'll point out injuries took their toll. They will be hopeful of sneaking up a place or two if Hibs and Killie go backwards but that apart it'll be another season of mid-table nothingness in the North. Jimmy Calderwood is not in danger of the boot quite yet but a start bad enough to rule them out of Europe early on will put the pressure on.

Inverness CT
: Another team we must definitely be looking to leapfrog. Inverness have been the model of a solid dependable side recently and have made good signings in Rankin and securing Wyness on a permanent basis. They did supremely well to resist Dundee United targeting half their squad but it is hard to see them making a leap forward, great or otherwise. Should be safe but no more than mid-table.

Motherwell: Oh dear oh dear. No left back signed to replace Stevie Hammell, no improvement in the midfield and the only signing is a promising kid to add to our multitude of strikers. There is still time before the end of August to improve things considerably but if this is the squad we have then we could be in for a long hard season and a handful of injuries could kill us. A lot will depend on whether Malpas can get Kerr, McBride and McDonald to play to their potential – the outcome of that could decide our season.

Dundee United: For the first time in recent memory United haven't splashed the cash looking for a quick fix. There is an acceptance on Tayside that the Terrors will be in for another struggle but both Brewster and the players need it to develop. They are also lacking in the new signings department and their current squad is not that much better than relegation fodder. They'll be okay, especially if Eddie Thompson dips into his pockets, but another season of disappointment awaits.

: A solid if unspectacular year for their first season back but this could be a real test for them. John Hughes seemed a bit out of his depth managerially and their only signing is a goalie from Australia. That won't address their goal scoring problems and probably isn't enough by itself to plug a leaky defence. Hughes' jacket is on a shaky peg already and if they are adrift by a few points come November the knives will be well and truly out. If we are not taking points from this lot than we are in very deep trouble indeed.

Dunfermline: They've been terrible for years but they have some good if unglamorous signings. Jim McIntyre will still get goals, McKenzie is a good goalie and Phil McGuire was under-rated at Aberdeen. Adding that to the fact Mark Burchill seems to have settled and is finding the net could mean the Pars have a worry free season for once even if they never get out of the bottom four. They have had poor pre-season form though and the start will be crucial – should they take a handful of points that should see them on their way to achieving mid-table anonymity.

St Mirren: The new boys will find it tough but will be confident of being better than at least one other side. Replacing Charlie Adam is a hard ask for them and you don't really see Alex Burke cutting it at this level. However, Sutton, Corcorran and Keen are all good players and should be able to step up. They take great delight in mentioning their cup success over us as proof they're good enough but less prominent is the fact they drew with a non-league team in the next round. Our early game against them will be a battle – should we lose it is another sign that we're in for a struggle.

So there it is. What is interesting about this season is that of the normal teams we realistically compete with only Dunfermline have made significant improvements and they were starting from such a bad position we should still be better than them. Inverness and Kilmarnock will be hoping to stand still while Hibs could well struggle