PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Eleventh
LAST SEASON: 8th, 41pts
NOTABLE INS: Kirk Broadfoot (Rotherham United), Chris Burke (Ross County), Lee Erwin (Leeds United), Gordon Greer (Blackburn Rovers), Daniel Higgins (Dundee), Stephen O'Donnell (Luton Town), Alan Power (Lincoln City), Alex Samizadeh (Bolton Wanderers), Dominic Thomas (Motherwell), Calum Waters (Alloa Athletic)
NOTABLE OUTS: Lewis Clark (Bonnyton Thistle), Lewis Morrison (St. Mirren), Karleigh Osborne (Grimsby Town), Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic, end of loan), Luke Hendrie (Burnley, end of loan), Sean Longstaff (Newcastle United, end of loan), Cal Roberts (Newcastle United, end of loan), Conor Sammon (Heart of Midlothian, end of loan), Josh Umerah (Charlton Athletic, end of loan), Freddie Woodman (Kilmarnock, end of loan), Scott McLean, Martin Smith
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out):
Regular readers will know that I have something of a vendetta against Kilmarnock, simply because they are either hopeless or wilfully evasive at letting anybody know who is actually playing for them at any given time. It was bad enough when I was trying to work out if Michael Ngoo was still playing for the club - he pitched up at Oldham a couple of years ago so I assume he has left Rugby Park, though Killie are still to confirm this. But after Lee Clark signed about a thousand English youngsters last season it became even harder; I'm sure nearly all of them are gone, but the club couldn't have been more coy about this if it was the nuclear codes they were concealing.
Ironically, all those kids from down south have been punted because they were outplayed by the ones that Kilmarnock already have. No fewer than five were called up by Scotland's under 20's squad for the summer Toulon tournament, though the luckless Greg Kiltie pulled out with yet another injury. In particular left-back Greg Taylor, who scored the winner against Brazil, and central midfielder-cum-central defender Iain Wilson look like they are going places. Another youth, Daniel Higgins, was acquired after Dundee made a mess of some paperwork after he had impressed at the end of last season.
However a heavy dependence on youngsters is always hazardous, and so for the most part Lee McCulloch - finally given the gig permanently after serving as 'interim manager' for months after Clark's exit for Bury in February - has concentrated his summer recruitment on finding experience...or on recreating the 2007-08 Rangers team he played in. With Kris Boyd and Steven Smith already on board, he has procured Kirk Broadfoot and Chris Burke. Rumours of moves for Alan Hutton, Sasa Papac and Daniel Cousin are yet to be confirmed or denied. Gordon Greer has also returned to the club, ten years after he left. He's now 36.
Remarkably the club have only one player aged between 25 and 31 - midfielder Gary Dicker, arguably their standout performer last season; Dicker performed so well when pushed back into defence that it will be tempting to stick him back there, especially as another combative midfielder, Alan Power, has arrived from Lincoln City. Higgins and Wilson would make a very young centre-back pairing, and with Stephen O'Donnell - who excelled at Partick before heading to England for a few years - returning north to play right-back, one assumes Broadfoot is being earmarked for a centre-back role alongside Greer. Whilst playing the kids would be high risk, leaving them out would stifle their development, and one wonders how Greer and Broadfoot would manage with pacy opponents.
In the middle of the park, the challenge will be finding the most effective triumvirate of creative players, because there are plenty to choose from. Winger Jordan Jones, the only survivor of the huge group Clark brought north last July, flowered in the spring and tying him up to a new contract was the best piece of business the club could have done. He'll start on the left, while Rory McKenzie did well enough at the end of the last campaign to consolidate his place in the lineup too. As for the other spot, there is Kiltie (when he is fit again), Burke, Adam Frizzell (another of the Toulon kids) and ex-Motherwell trickster Dom Thomas. The latter has done particularly well in the League Cup games.
There are two big question marks hanging over Kilmarnock though. The first is what to do with Kris Boyd. McCulloch hailed him after he scored a brace against Annan - that's League Two Annan - but the striker turns 34 in August. His league goals total in the last three seasons reads 3, 8, 7. His attitude wasn't in question last year, and he looked in okay shape, but relying on him for goals would be foolish. Lee Erwin, brought back north from Leeds, is a far better option and should be started ahead of the veteran; McCulloch must resist the temptation to try and go with two up front. He has far too many good midfield options.
The other issue is the new boss himself. Jig is still pretty raw as a manager, and results under his leadership were okay rather than outstanding. His appointment felt a bit like the "there's no-one better available" option. And I'm always a bit nervous when managers sign a few players who they used to play with several years ago, as it suggests a lack of contacts and/or nous. With the club onto their fifth manager in less than five years, they could really do with some stability - not a word regularly associated with McCulloch during his playing days.
As such it's really difficult to know how this side will fare. There's every chance that they could blossom a la Kenny Shiels' League Cup winners of 2012. There's at least as much chance they'll be in a relegation battle again. With such uncertainty, pessimism seems like the sensible path to take.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Jamie MacDonald, Devlin Mackay
Defenders: Scott Boyd, Kirk Broadfoot, Gordon Greer, Daniel Higgins, Stephen O'Donnell, Steven Smith, Greg Taylor, Iain Wilson
Midfielders: Chris Burke, Innes Cameron, Gary Dicker, Adam Frizzell, Dean Hawkshaw, Jordan Jones, Greg Kiltie, Rory McKenzie, Alan Power, Dominic Thomas, Calum Waters
Forwards: Kris Boyd, Lee Erwin, William Graham, Alex Samizadeh
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.