Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017-18 Scottish Championship Preview

Of course, I have a personal interest in the Scottish Championship this season, as my own team are in it.  As Rangers, Hibernian and Dundee United have all discovered in recent times, it's a bugger of a league to win.  Whilst there are usually a handful of part-time sides, and often a big budget discrepancy between the full-timers, the bigger fish are treated as a scalp by the minnows.  Underestimate anybody at your peril.

This is the only one of the three lower divisions where a side relegated into it are not favourites to win it.  Relegation was a catastrophe for Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and one they were completely unprepared for.  They've ended up with a new chairman, a new manager (who didn't even apply for the job) and eleven new players.  At the very least the new bunch will take time to gel; the worst case scenario is that they aren't up to the job.  At least Clarence Seedorf's nephew Collin looks good at right back.

So I reckon Dundee United are best placed to win the Championship, though that's not to say they don't have their weaknesses.  But the signing of Scott McDonald is hugely impressive, and he and James Keatings should do well up front.  Billy King and Sam Stanton are other interesting acquisitions who have yet to fulfil their potential.  That said, they've lost Tony Andreu, Simon Murray and Blair Spittal, and Cammy Bell seems set to leave too.  United also badly need to improve on last year's away form if they are to return to the top flight.

Falkirk have been in the playoffs two tears running and a cup final the season before that.  Can they take the next step?  They'll almost certainly be without Craig Sibbald, but the return of Rory Loy up front is a big boost.  With Nathan Austin and Joe McKee starting the season the way they finished the last one, they should be well set, though the defence is a bit weaker after keeper Danny Rogers and left-back Luke Leahy moved on.

In case you haven't got the hint, there are plenty of teams who have designs on the top end of the table.  The first half of last season was a nightmare for St. Mirren, but a dramatic turnaround under Jack Ross kept them up and they could do well if they keep their momentum.  Ross was very busy in the early summer, bringing in a glut of players who either know this league well or who have done well in League One.  They also got Ian McShane from Ross County and crucially tied up Cammy Smith on a permanent deal.  They certainly have the most squad depth; time will tell if there's quality to go with the quantity.

Dunfermline Athletic also finished 2016-17 well, and their offseason recruitment looks to have strengthened them further.  Ex-Raith defender Jean-Yves Mvoto will win any headers that come his way, and Declan McManus is a far better striker than his record last season in Kirkcaldy suggests.  If Dean Shiels still has some legs left he could prove a fine addition too.  With Nicky Clark to score the goals and Kallum Higginbotham to create them, the Pars could have a fine campaign.

Greenock Morton surprised many by making the playoffs last season and briefly looking like thy could mount a title challenge, but they faded away dreadfully and their League Cup form is a wee bit worrying.  They don't lack attacking quality - fitting Gary Oliver, Jai Quitongo and new boys Bob McHugh and Robbie Thomson into the team will be a challenge - but Jamie Lindsay and Aidan Nesbitt will be madly missed.  The defence is stretched after Thomas O'Ware picked up a bad injury, and in truth repeating last year's success will be a tall order.

Queen of the South were hugely dependent on veteran striker Stephen Dobbie last time out, and it's likely to be more of the same.  They do look like the weakest of the full-time teams.  John Rankin and Derek Lyle also add plenty of experience, and defender Shaun Rooney is a good signing; however the defence looks fragile and if anything happens to Dobbie then goals will be at a premium.

League One winners Livingston will fancy their chances of at least consolidating Championship status, though a top half finish may be too big an ask.  The loss of striker Liam Buchanan to Raith was a shame but they still have plenty of firepower with Danny Mullen, newbie Dylan Mackin and loanee Nikolay Todorov.  The return of Neil Alexander in goal, sixteen years after he left the club, is a fine story.  And hopefully this will be the year that highly feted youngster Matthew Knox kicks on.

There are two part-time sides this season, and they are certainly the favourites to finish in the bottom two places.  Brechin City were a distant third in League One last season but surprised everyone by going up via the playoffs.  However they look dreadfully weak - 42 year old manager Darren Dods had to name himself as a sub for their League Cup games - and it will be a shock if they don't go straight back down.  But a few of their younger players such as full-back Ryan McGeever and midfielder Liam Watt may take the opportunity to impress.

In contrast, Dumbarton have made a habit of surviving in this division against the odds for many years now.  Every summer sees a clearout of players, but they do a wonderful job of replacing them with veterans who are happy to take good part-time wages.  This year's crop are no different - Andy Dowie, Mark Stewart, Scott Gallacher, Dougie Hill and others will be very familiar to spectators.  But they've also lost major cogs from last year - Sam Stanton and Lewis Vaughan returned to their parent clubs, while top scorer Robbie Thomson signed for Morton.  This year may be one too far for them.

So this is how I reckon it'll finish:






Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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