Expect Thistle to wither

  • By: Gareth Friel
  • Last Updated: July 31 2013, 10:54 BST

Our Gareth Friel expects Partick to struggle in the Scottish Premeirship this season, while he's also got a 50/1 top scorer tip.

James McFadden: Worth a poke in the top scorer market at 50/1
James McFadden: Worth a poke in the top scorer market at 50/1

The first season of the new Scottish Premiership kicks off on Friday night when newly-promoted Partick Thistle take on Dundee United at Firhill. The coming season will not only see a new rebranded league which includes play-offs but also three managers making their top-flight debuts.

One of them is Alan Archibald, who took over as Partick boss in January when Jackie McNamara departed for Dundee United. On Friday they meet again with differing expectations.

For Archibald, survival is the main aim. Thistle won the First Division (now the Championship) fairly comfortably in the end despite many fearing McNamara's exit would derail their challenge.

Archibald actually improved Thistle's form but faces an altogether different task this term. Chris Erskine and Paul Paton were key men at Firhill last season but have left to join McNamara at Tannadice.

On paper, the Partick squad looks pretty weak. But their survival hopes have been greatly helped by Hearts' 15-point deduction. They will also be encouraged by the fact that only four side in the SPL era (from 1998 to last season) went straight back down following promotion, albeit two of them were Dundee last season and Dunfermline in 2011/12.

How they start the season will be crucial. If they can keep their momentum going from last year and pull further clear of Hearts early on it will give them a great chance of staying up. But if they take time to adapt and let Hearts close that 15-point gap they will be under big pressure.

Hearts will struggle to make up the deficit but they will be even more determined than they normally would. Add to that the possibility they will go into liquidation and not last the season and it makes the 6/1 about Thistle finishing bottom very appealing.

St Mirren could also struggle at the wrong end of the table. The Saints won the League Cup in March, a fine achievement, but their Hampden success masked their poor league form.

Only relegated Dundee finished below Danny Lennon's side and although Gary Harkins should be a good addition to the squad, they have lost loan duo Conor Newton and Paul Dummett.

They should just have enough about them to stay up and the same can be said of Kilmarnock.

The largely successful Kenny Shiels was sacked in June and his replacement Allan Johnston comes with a growing reputation having led Queen of the South to the Second Division title and the Challenge Cup in his first year in management.

The step up to Premiership level will be a big challenge but Killie should be good enough to survive. If they can get Kris Boyd on another short-term deal their chances will be improved. New signing Darren Barr remaining fit and regaining form would be a big boost too.

Of the sides I expect to struggle, that leaves Hibernian.

They go into the season on the back of a humiliating European thumping by Swedish side Malmo and confidence could barely be lower around the club.

The majority of fans seem to have lost faith in Pat Fenlon and he could be out of a job very soon if Hibs don't start the season well.

They relied so heavily on Leigh Griffiths last year but Fenlon has spent £200,000 on James Collins from Swindon and has also snapped up St Johnstone striker Rowan Vine.

If those two don't deliver then Hibs will really struggle. They are yet to strengthen defensively which was, and continues to be on the basis of last week, a problem area last year.

I can't see Fenlon lasting the season so even if Hibs are under threat of being dragged into a relegation scrap, a new manager may drag them out of trouble.

Celtic will win the title again, of course, which leaves six teams, all of whom will believe they have a realistic chance of making it into Europe and perhaps even finishing as 'best of the rest'.

Inverness are a bit of a wild card. I certainly did not expect them to finish as high as fourth last season and they will be doing fantastically well to repeat that feat.

Again, Terry Butcher has brought in a load of players from England's bargain basement and you wonder how long he can continue to get the best out of a squad that, on paper at least, looks fairly weak.

Last year's top scorer Billy McKay remains at the club and if he can prove he is no one-season wonder, Caley Thistle should have another crack at the top six. I can't see them challenging as high again this season though.

I'm not convinced Dundee United should be rated so highly by the bookies. They're behind only Aberdeen and Motherwell in the 'without Celtic' market.

Jackie McNamara takes charge of his first full season at Tannadice having been appointed in January. He started off brightly but their season ended poorly and some key players have departed this summer.

Johnny Russell joined Derby while Jon Daly left for Rangers and Willo Flood for Aberdeen.

Paul Paton and Chris Erskine followed McNamara from Thistle to United but it's the loan capture of former Arabs hero David Goodwillie that will have fans most excited.

If he can rediscover his best form after a failed spell at Blackburn he could turn out to be an excellent signing. But even then, he will still only be replacing Russell's goals. It also has to be noted that the loan deal is only initially until January.

Overall, I don't see that United have improved much in the summer so to better last season's mid-table finish will be difficult.

Inverness' Highland rivals Ross County could go well again after finishing fifth last season. They may have lost Paul Lawson and Ian Vigurs to Motherwell but they look to have made some decent purchases this summer.

Brian McLean, Steven Saunders and Ben Gordon have been added defensively and if the new quartet of Dutchmen are as exciting as Derek Adams believes they are then County could be looking pretty solid at both ends of the pitch.

But I agree with the bookies that the battle for second place is likely to be between Aberdeen and Motherwell.

The Dons are the bookies favourites to be closest to Celtic and you can see why.

Derek McInnes has taken over from Craig Brown as manager and has discarded some of the big underachievers of recent years. Barry Robson and Willo Flood will add experience to the Aberdeen midfield while Gregg Wylde, formerly of Rangers, joins from Bolton. Wylde will add some much-needed pace to the side.

The goalkeeper position still remains a problem though and they may be over-realiant on Niall McGinn to get goals.

I see the Dons making big strides forward under McInnes but I think they will come up just short to Stuart McCall's Motherwell.

'Well have finished as 'best of the rest' in the last two seasons and they look good to make it three in a row.

I didn't think I'd be saying that when it became clear Michael Higdon, Darren Randolph, Nicky Law and Chris Humphrey would be leaving Fir Park, but McCall has shopped impressively this summer.

After rejecting the chance to manage Sheffield United, McCall tied down James McFadden for another year which should prove to be an excellent bit of business.

The signing of Stephen McManus will help shore up the Motherwell defence while in the aforementioned Ian Vigurs, they have captured arguably one of the best midfielders in the SPL last season.

John Sutton, Fraser Kerr, Gunnar Nielsen and Henri Anier have also joined McCall's men and I like the look of the balance of the squad he has assembled.

I think they are the team to beat without Celtic and at 3/1 they look worthy of backing.

Last season Celtic's winning margin actually decreased without Rangers as they posted their lowest points total since the SPL went to 38 games in 2000/01.

They have lost Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama, both of whom will be difficult to replace.

When looking at how many points Celtic will win the title by, much could depend on their Champions League progress. If they are to make it to the group stage again, Neil Lennon may decide to rest key players domestically in the run up to the big European ties which could lead to plenty of dropped points again.

Only three teams failed to take points from Celtic last season and if they build up a big lead, motivation and focus could be an issue. A similar 16-point win may be in order again but a best of 2/1 on them taking the title by 11-20 points doesn't appeal much.

What I do like the look of is Ross County in the handicap betting. I reckon Derek Adams' side will do well again and their 40-point start in the handicap looks generous.

I believe the bookies have overrated a few sides (Dundee United and Hibs particularly) but to me County have been underrated.

They are 9/1 to win the SPL with a 42-point start which I'm happy to take on.

Finally to the top goalscorer market.

Last season I opted not to back Leigh Griffiths at 50/1 on the basis that his deal at Hibs was only initially until January. This time I won't be making the same mistake and both of my tips in this market, David Goodwillie and James McFadden, may not be in the SPL for the whole season.

Goodwillie's deal at Dundee United is only for six months, as mentioned before, but given the right circumstances he may stay on as Griffiths did.

The Scotland cap has endured a miserable time down south and has had plenty of off-field issues to contend with but he has the ability to score plenty of goals.

I've already said I'm not convinced how good United are but Griffiths proved last season that, even in a struggling team, it is still possible to challenge at the top of the scoring charts.

Goodwillie scored 17 in his last season at Tannadice before moving to Blackburn and a similar tally again would see him in the running.

Six of the top 12 goalscorers last season have moved on which opens the market up.

I'm happy to take a chance on Goodwillie at 16/1.

McFadden returned to Motherwell last season on a short-term deal and was persuaded to extend his spell until next summer. However, it is clear he is looking to return to the English Premier League where he would surely still be had he not suffered with injury.

McFadden managed to stay fit for the second half of the season and although it took him until his sixth game to grab his first goal, he finished the season with five in eight.

On talent alone, he is one of the best players in the league. He has the ability to produce moments of magic and is always likely to score or create a goal even when not involved for long spells of a game.

The onus may be on him to assist more than score but if he takes his end of season form into the new campaign he could challenge in the scoring charts.

If he does he may gain attention in January from other clubs but that is a risk worth taking after last season.

McFadden is a 25/1 shot in places but is a huge 50/1 elsewhere which is way too tempting to ignore each-way.

  • Posted at 1020 BST on 31/07/2013.