Scottish Premiership guide

  • By: Gareth Friel
  • Last Updated: July 31 2013, 10:39 BST

Our Scottish football expert Gareth Friel provides his team-by-team guide to the new Scottish Premiership season.

  • Celtic are of course once again favourites to win Scottish football's top prize.
  • Billy McKay will look to score more goals for Inverness. 
  • Partick Thistle are the new side in the Scottish Premiership. 

Aberdeen

Expectations: Dons fans will be expecting a challenge for the European places and decent runs in the cup under new boss Derek McInnes.

A number of new faces have arrived at Pittodrie, the likes of Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Gregg Wylde all possessing SPL experience while underperformers like Rory Fallon, Gary Naysmith and Stephen Hughes have been moved on.

Aberdeen supporters generally consider themselves to be the third biggest team in the country but not since the days of Jimmy Calderwood have they challenged at the top end of the table.

That may change this season with the Dons hierarchy hoping that with some decent football and good results, the fans will come flocking back after dwindling in numbers during the Mark McGhee and Craig Brown years.

Manager: Derek McInnes was sacked as Bristol City manager in January after just over a year in charge. Having impressed on a small budget at St Johnstone, he made a bright start and saved City from relegation to League One.

But a club record seven defeats in a row led to him being axed halfway through last season. He has something to prove to the Aberdeen fans who have suffered their fair share of disappointments in recent times.

Player to watch: It will be interesting to see if Lawrence Shankland can develop into the player many believe he can.

The 17-year-old striker has moved north from Queen's Park after grabbing 10 goals last season and McInnes has already talked about the youngster making an impact on the first team.

Meanwhile, Gregg Wylde returns to Scotland after a spell at Bolton where he failed to make an impact. He only made 22 league appearances for Rangers before departing so has plenty to prove.

Lessons from last season: Aberdeen failed to score at home on nine occasions in the SPL last season so it wasn't much of a surprise to see crowds dwindle into the low 6000s towards the end of the season - less than half of the attendance of the season opener against Ross County.

Dons fans will back their team if they are playing decent football and challenging in the top half of the table. The first big challenge for McInnes is to make Pittodrie a tough place to visit once again.


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Celtic

Expectations: Just a treble and qualification to the group stages of the Champions League for Celtic fans!

With Rangers missing, the Celts won the league last season by 16 points from Motherwell and were never in any danger of being caught. The same should happen again this term, although it will be interesting to see if fans accept so many dropped points against the 'lesser sides' than they did last season if the Champions League performance is not as strong.

Only Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee failed to take points from Celtic while Ross County, Hibs, St Johnstone and Motherwell all done it on more than one occasion.

Those results were offset by an away win in the Champions League group stages for the first time and, of course, that famous victory over Barcelona at Parkhead.

Fans might not be so forgiving of poor domestic results if things go wrong in Europe this time round.

Manager: Neil Lennon's stock grew last season with a series of impressive performances in the Champions League and he was linked with the Everton job this summer.

The challenge for him is to repeat that feat - no mean task with Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper away.

Fans will be hoping Lennon has unearthed another couple of gems in Amido Balde and Virgil van Dijk. The Northern Irishman has a good team of scouts around him and is able to spot a bargain with a view to selling him on for a large profit.

Player to watch:Beram Kayal was a standout in his first season at Celtic but since then his form has lacked consistency and he has suffered with injuries.

But with Victor Wanyama away to Southampton, Kayal could be his ready-made replacement and boss Neil Lennon has already admitted as much.

By all accounts the Israeli has looked sharp in pre-season and he will have to keep that up with Lennon sure to use some of the funds from the Wanyama sale to strengthen his squad.

It looks like a make-or-break season for Kayal.

Lessons from last season: Celtic will know that if their performance levels dip they are vulnerable.

They dropped way more points last season than most expected them to and although there's virtually no chance of any other side outperforming them over the course of the season, the other top-flight teams are more than capable of embarrassing Celtic on their day.


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Dundee United

Expectations: Once again, United go into a season having lost their star man from the previous campaign. Johnny Russell joined Derby but striker David Goodwillie has returned to Tannadice on loan following a failed spell at Blackburn.

For his first full season in charge, boss Jackie McNamara has brought in Paul Paton and Chris Erskine from his former club Partick Thistle.

The rest of McNamara's dealings so far this summer have been pretty low-key so expectation levels won't be too high in Dundee, but fans will still expect another top six finish - maybe even higher if Goodwillie can get back to his best.

Manager: It's Jackie McNamara's first full season in charge of United having left Partick Thistle for Tannadice in January.

His main objective was to finish in the top six and he achieved just that.

McNamara lost just one of his first 11 games in charge but ended the season with four defeats in five and a Scottish Cup semi-final exit against Celtic.

Player to watch: David Goodwillie is back and has much to prove. The forward has made as many headlines off the field as he has on it and you wonder if he can return to the form that led him to a big-money move south in the first place.

The pressure will be on with Russell and Jon Daly away, can Goodwillie cope and force his way back into the national team reckoning?

Lessons from last season: Hopefully United chairman Stephen Thompson has learned that sometimes it's better to do your business in private rather than in the full glare of the public.

Thompson publicly declared that then-boss Peter Houston would have to take a pay cut if he was to stay on for 2013-14. The club then announced that they had given Houston permission to speak to Blackpool over their managerial vacancy, something the English Championship side denied.

It was then announced in January that Houston would depart the club at the end of the season after rejecting a contract offer only to leave by 'mutual consent' 11 days later.


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Hearts

Expectations: Survival is the aim of the game this season for Hearts, on and off the pitch. Just making it through the summer to take their place in the SPFL has to go down an achievement while a 15-point deduction for entering administration means they are up against it from the start.

They still have some talent in their squad and a decent batch of youngsters but will need to get off to a good start so as not to be too isolated early on.

Manager: Gary Locke replaced John McGlynn as manager last season and, in his first role, has had a hell of an experience so far.

Instead of concentrating on footballing matters, Locke has had to deal with the pain of administration.

Locke is inexperienced and with Hearts needing a points tally that would see them challenging for Europe in a normal season just to ensure survival, many will be wondering if he is the man for the job.

But he is a passionate Hearts fan and will have the backing of the squad, many of whom are also Jambos.

Player to watch: Jason Holt has been attracting interest from down south but even with Hearts' dire financial situation the club have rejected offers for him.

The youngster came to prominence last season and, if he fulfils his potential, could be another big-money mover from Tynecastle following the likes of Craig Gordon and Christophe Berra.

Lessons from last season: Adversity off the pitch doesn't always mean bad results on it. Financial problems affected the club last season and they lost plenty of talent. Wages were not always paid on time and club officials voiced concerns that they wouldn't last the season.

But they still made it to the League Cup final and on most of the weekends when a failure to pay wages on time or some other bad news was revealed, they went on to win. They need that type of attitude and more this season.


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Hibernian

Expectations: It's fair to say most Hibs fans don't expect much from this campaign.

Last season they finished seventh thanks to a late good run, but they have lost star striker Leigh Griffiths.

The majority of fans seem to have turned on boss Pat Fenlon following that Europa League humiliation against Malmo. But for a second half comeback in the Scottish Cup semi-finals against Falkirk last season, he may not even have had the chance to take Hibs into this season.

Ryan McGivern and Kevin Thomson have signed new deals which is positive news while Owan Tudor Jones, Fraser Mullen and Rowan Vine have also joined the club.

A top six finish would be an excellent achievement for Hibs - the fact that would be viewed as a success though shows just where the club are at the moment.

Manager: Pat Fenlon needs a good start to the season as his side have underachieved since he took charge and the Malmo thumping will be used as a stick to beat him with.

Last season looked promising though and for a while it seemed that Hibs would be challenging for a European place. But they couldn't sustain their early season form and didn't even make the top six.

Another abject performance in a Scottish Cup final didn't help either. Hibs' Scottish Cup run slightly masked their poor league form. Fenlon won't have any hiding place should the season start badly.

Player to watch: Ryan Harris. The young winger only made his debut last season but is already viewed as a player with big potential.

In only his eighth appearance, Harris took the aforementioned Scottish Cup semi by the scruff of the neck, scoring one and setting up another for Griffiths as Hibs staged an unlikely comeback to beat Falkirk.

He showed he had character and courage that some of his senior team-mates looked to be lacking. He has blistering pace which, if harnessed correctly, could turn him into an Easter Road hero.

Lessons from last season: Youngsters such as Harris, Jordan Foster, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell showed signs towards the end of last season that they could have bright futures.

Cash is tight and Fenlon won't have much room to manoeuvre in the transfer market so these kids could well make their mark this term.


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Inverness

Expectations: Anything close to last season's fourth-placed finish would be another fine season for Terry Butcher's Highlanders.

Caley Thistle came so close to qualifying for Europe when many expected them to be battling to avoid the drop. It will be really tough to repeat that feat but they've managed to keep the bulk of their squad and another top six finish is more than achievable.

Manager: Terry Butcher has been in charge of Inverness since 2009 and resisted the advances of Barnsley last season to stay in charge and lead his side to a fantastic fourth.

The big challenge is now to meet increased expectations. How long can Butcher continue to get so much from a group of player mainly plundered from the English bargain basement?

Player to watch: Billy McKay will be out to prove he is not a one-season wonder. The striker netted 27 times last season but just three in the campaign before.

He has been linked with a move away from the Caledonian Stadium but it looks like he will remain with Terry Butcher and co for 2013-14.

McKay also won his first Northern Ireland cap this year and will be looking to cement his place in the squad.

Lessons from last season: Not to fear sides just because they have bigger budgets. The likes of Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen all finished behind Caley Thistle last season despite having far greater resources.


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Kilmarnock

Expectations: Life was never dull for Kilmarnock under Kenny Shiels but with the Northern Irishman gone, it could be a tough time for the Rugby Park side.

The expectation will be to challenge for the top six, after all they weren't far away from it last year, although they have lost Cillian Sheridan, Cammy Bell and James Dayton while Kris Boyd's future remains uncertain.

New boss Allan Johnston has a growing reputation and fans will want to see a continuation of the passing, attractive style of football Killie were renowned for under Shiels but with less drama off the pitch this time.

Manager: Allan Johnston won rave reviews after leading Queen of the South to the Division Two title last season, losing only two games in the process.

Johnston also masterminded the club to success in the Challenge Cup and wins in the League Cup over Hibs and Rangers.

However, that was his first season in management and it remains to be seen if he can cope at the top level.

Player to watch: Darren Barr will be looking to get his career back on track following a mixed spell at Hearts.

Having started out as a central defender at Falkirk, Barr has played at right-back and in midfield since and has struggled with form and injuries.

Having penned a one-year deal, this is a big season for Barr.

Lessons from last season: The danger of performing too well. Killie were victims of their own success last season after winning the League Cup in 2012 which led to increased expectations.

Liam Kelly and Michael Nelson were sold in January as they continued to impress and, although they were a minute away from reaching the top six, they missed out and suffered a late slump which eventually cost Shiels his job.


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Motherwell

Expectations: Motherwell have managed to keep hold of manager Stuart McCall and have signed James McFadden on a one-year deal. As far as the summer goes, that must have exceeded most Well fans' expectations.

A number of key players have left though, including Darren Randolph, Michael Higdon, Nicky Law and Chris Humphrey.

Motherwell fans will be expecting another challenge for second place. Ian Vigurs and Paul Lawson are good additions from Ross County while John Sutton, despite not scoring many for Hearts, may get some joy teaming up with McFadden.

Manager: Keeping hold of Stuart McCall may prove to be Well's best business of the summer. McCall turned down the chance to manage Sheffield United, the Blades having been attracted by successive 'best of the rest' finishes.

The former Scotland international has a good eye for a player, an attribute he has certainly needed given how many key players he has lost, and has excellent man-management skills. Another season similar to the last two may make it impossible for Motherwell to keep him for another year.

Player to watch: An obvious one - James McFadden. If, and it's a big if, McFadden can get back to his skilful best, national team boss Gordon Strachan may come calling.

Injuries have hampered the forward in recent years and you feel the former Everton man should still be playing at a much higher level. He could work his way back to the Championship or the English Premier League if he turns it on at Fir Park on a consistent basis.

The signs towards the end of last season were encouraging.

Lessons from last season: That they can beat the best. Their record against Rangers and Celtic has often been criticised but they beat champions Celtic twice last season - prior to that they had lost eight in a row, scoring only once.

Can they take that into this season and gain their first win at Celtic Park since 2008?


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Partick Thistle

Expectations: Survival is the aim of the game for Alan Archibald and Partick Thistle.

They were comfortable winners of the First Division last season in the end, having battled with Morton for much of the season. However, Paul Paton and Chris Erskine, arguably the best player in Division One last season, have left for Dundee United leaving the Jags up against it.

With Hearts starting the season on -15 points, Thistle fans will be relatively confident of staying up. However, as it stands, their squad does look fairly weak.

Manager: Alan Archibald succeeded Jackie McNamara as boss in January and, despite fears the club's title bid would be derailed, he led Thistle to the title and promotion.

Like a number of managers in the SPFL Premiership, Archibald lacks experience but he managed to continue, and perhaps even improve, on the progress McNamara made at Firhill.

Archibald is a popular figure at the club and has the attributes to be a success. His first match in the top flight comes against his mentor.

Player to watch: Gary Fraser will spend the first six months of the season on loan at Firhill having just joined English Championship side Bolton after leaving Hamilton.

Fraser is highly-rated and can play in defence or in midfield. Archibald is a big fan and reckons he can go as far as he wants in the game.

James McCarthy and James McArthur both came through the ranks at Accies and if Fraser can get a run in the Jags team and gain experience, he could be playing in the top flight of English football sometime soon.

Lessons from last season: A solid defence can go a long way to achieving success. Thistle conceded only 28 goals on their way to title success while nearest challengers Morton shipped 47.

They will need to be as solid again having lost the creative Erskine who created so many goals for them last season.


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Ross County

Expectations: Like their Highland rivals, County exceeded all expectations by finishing in fifth place and maintaining a European challenge almost until the very end.

Ian Vigurs and Paul Lawson have left for Motherwell but solid SPL experience has been brought in (Steve Saunders and Ben Gordon) while four players have made the move to Dingwall from Holland.

Another top six finish would be viewed as a big success. Fans would also like to see better cup performances having been knocked out at the first hurdle in the Scottish and League cups.

Manager: Derek Adams was in charge of County from 2007 until 2010 when he left to take up the position of assistant to Colin Calderwood at Hibs. However, he returned in the summer of 2011 and led the club into the SPL for the first time.

Last season was hugely successful again for Adams and many felt he was certain to leave for Aberdeen following Craig Brown's departure but Derek McInnes was eventually appointed.

Adams was in charge when County made the 2010 Scottish Cup final and will be aiming to add another good cup run to his CV. If he can do that, he may not be in Dingwall for much longer.

Player to watch: Steven Saunders was freed by Motherwell at the end of last season after being plagued by injury, But prior to that, he looked to be going places, winning a Scotland cap in 2010 as a 20-year-old.

Saunders has barely played in the last two seasons which is probably the reason County opted to give him a one-year deal in order to prove himself. He certainly has the ability to be a top signing if he can stay fit.

Lessons from last season: A few more goals are needed. County finished just three points outside a Europa League place but scored 17 fewer goals than Inverness, who sat just one spot above them.

Three of the four sides immediately below them also bagged more goals.


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St Johnstone

Expectations: The Perth Saints finished third last season and knocked Norwegian giants Rosenborg out of the Europa League last week so new boss Tommy Wright has some job to keep that standard going.

Like Inverness, St Johnstone were not widely tipped to be challenging for a place in the Europa League but a strong home record - they lost only three times at McDiarmid Park - led to an excellent season under Steve Lomas.

A top six place would be seen as success again, especially with Lomas having left to take over at Millwall.

Manager: Tommy Wright has been in the job for less than two months but masterminded St Johnstone to that famous success against Rosenborg.

Wright is highly-rated at the club so it was no surprise to see him succeed the successful Steve Lomas.

The former Northern Ireland international has experience of management in his home country but this is his first spell in charge of a team in Scotland. He won't want to change too much after Lomas' success but will know that if he makes his mark he could follow the route of Lomas, Owen Coyle and Derek McInnes, all of who moved south after impressing at McDiarmid Park.

Player to watch: Steve May scored 25 times on loan at First Division side Hamilton last season and scored the decisive goal as St Johnstone knocked out Rosenborg in the Europe League.

He is a big, powerful striker who has developed his skills during loan spells with Alloa and then at Accies last year. At 20, he now appears ready for a place in Tommy Wright's starting XI.

His attributes should be ideal for playing in the top-flight and, with Gregory Tade away, Saints could do with him showing exactly what he can do in front of goal against the best this season.

Lessons from last season: The importance of good home form. Only Celtic lost less games and took more points at home than St Johnstone last season and this gave Lomas an excellent platform to build from.

They did have the lowest average attendance though, so if the 8000+ who turned out to see them against Rosenborg (when they protected their unbeaten home run in Europe) return for league games, they could be even tougher to beat in Perth.


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St Mirren

Expectations: Saints fans would love a crack at the top six but realistically, survival would be viewed as being another decent season.

Although they won the League Cup in March, their performances in the league were disappointing overall and an improvement will be required this time around.

Danny Grainger and Gary Harkins are good additions to the squad although they have lost loan stars Conor Newton, Paul Dummett and Esmael Goncalves.

Manager: Danny Lennon has won plenty of plaudits since taking charge of St Mirren in 2010. In his first season in charge Saints just avoided the drop and that summer Lennon made wholesale changes and imposed a passing, attractive style of play on his new side.

His philosophy paid dividends in March when St Mirren beat Hearts 3-2 to lift the League Cup - the club's first silverware since 1987.

Performances were poor in the league though and will have to be improved if Lennon's stock is to grow and arouse interest from down south like other SPFL Premiership managers.

Player to watch: Gary Harkins should be a fine signing for Danny Lennon. He has a creative spark and has a habit of getting into good goalscoring positions.

He should suit St Mirren's style to the ground and will link up well with the likes of Paul McGowan and Steven Thompson.

Lessons from last season: A dodgy defence almost proved fatal with only Dundee finishing below them.

If they concede 60 goals again this term they may not be so lucky. Danny Grainger will shore things up at left-back but the centre of defence still needs some work.


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