PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: TENTH
LAST SEASON: 8th, 48pts
NOTABLE INS: Faissal El Bakhtaoui (Dunfermline Athletic), Mark O'Hara (Kilmarnock), Jordi Teijsse (Quick Boys), James Vincent (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Danny Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Michael Duffy (Celtic, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Kane Hemmings (Oxford United, £250k), Paul McGinn (Chesterfield), Daryll Meggatt (Ayr United), Arturo (Cordoba, end of loan), Thomas Konrad
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Bain,
The rather more interesting goings on down the other end of Tannadice Street last season masked a slightly uncomfortable truth for Paul Hartley; Dundee underachieved last season.
No, they aren't doing crazy things like signing Fabrizio Ravanelli, but the club's American backers have provided enough cash to build a very competent team. There is clearly talent - two Dark Blues made the Player of the Year shortlist - but somehow they contrived to miss out on a top six finish. Those two stars were both attackers; there was only so much they could do to compensate for woeful defending and an unbalanced midfield.
Of course, Dundee fans who remember not one but two administrations are generally happy that the club has established itself back in the top flight, and that they are financially secure. Oh, and that they relegated their neighbours at the back end of last season.
But rather than pushing on, there's a genuine fear that they might go backwards - after all, how do you replace a centre-forward like Kane Hemmings?
There was already a bit of nervousness after a dismal League Cup campaign, where a draw with East Fife was followed by a 6-2 win over Dumbarton where their defensive frailty was almost as obvious as their attacking prowess. That prowess was absent in a loss at Peterhead, where Hemmings didn't play because he was about to sign for Oxford United.
In the second half of last season, the Dark Blues often looked all at sea at the back after James McPake wrecked his knee. The midfield rarely had enough bite after Kevin Thomson left for Hibs. Too often Hartley relied on his talented attackers to bail him out. Well, Hemmings, an outstanding all-round striker who scored twenty-five times last season, is offski. The other star, Greg Stewart, is being courted by Birmingham City. And fan favourite Gary Harkins, coming off arguably the best season of his career, has been frozen out.
The club moved quickly to replace Hemmings by signing Faissal El Bakhtaoui, the highly-rated Dunfermline striker. The French-Moroccan has lots of pace and is highly enough regarded that he spent the summer at Blackburn Rovers. Nevertheless, his goal spree last season came in League One. I remember the time Caley Thistle signed a third tier goal machine to lead the line; Andrew Barrowman was a disaster.
If El Bakhtaoui misfires, Hartley is left with a forward line led by the clever but injury-prone Rory Loy and Yordi Teijsse, built like a wrestler and plucked from Dutch amateur football. Attacking midfield options include Craig Wighton (who has now been tagged with the phrase 'great potential' for two years), James Vincent (great for Inverness when fit, but not nicknamed Mr. Glass by yours truly for nothing) and Michael Duffy (a Celtic loanee winger who didn't set the heather alight at Alloa last season). If (when?) Stewart exits, the attack looks very frail.
And there's no sign of the midfield or defensive problems being sorted either. Maybe they're holding out for McPake's return around Christmas-time, in the hope that he and Darren O'Dea will prove a strong partnership. Until then, O'Dea will play alongside Julen Etxabeguren or Kostadin Gadzhalov, both of whom look Championship level at best. There's no sign of a replacement at right-back for the excellent Paul McGinn, who declined a new deal, and the only competition at left-back for the erratic Kevin Holt is utility man Danny Williams, a proper jack of all trades but master of none. With this backline, keeper Scott Bain will get plenty of opportunities to prove why he's on the fringes of the Scotland setup.
And there's still a lack of proper defensive midfield player. Nick Ross, Paul McGowan and Nicky Low all dropped deeper at times last season; all are great ball-players but are built like skittles. Hartley may see Mark O'Hara as a solution; when at Kilmarnock, the under-21 international was often touted as a future midfielder but spent most of his time at right-back. Now's his chance to shine.
The going may well get tough...and then what will happen? Hartley walked out on Alloa as soon as the going got rough there. A talented coach he may be, but what will his mentality be like if Hemmings isn't replaced, and the start of the season is difficult? There are many, many more questions about Dundee now than there were in May. And surely there is plenty more recruitment to be done.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Scott Bain, David Mitchell
Defenders: Andy Black, Julen Etxabeguren, Kostadin Gadzhalov, Kevin Holt, Cammy Kerr, James McPake, Darren O'Dea, Mark O'Hara
Midfielders: Calvin Colquhoun, Jesse Curran, Michael Duffy, Gary Harkins, Nicky Low, Paul McGowan, Nick Ross, James Vincent, Craig Wighton, Danny Williams
Forwards: Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Rory Loy, Greg Stewart, Yordi Teijsse
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.