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SPL season 2010-11 preview
Ewan Murray - 3 years ago

Twelve months ago Celtic had a new manager who had gone on a summer spending spree. Across the city, Walter Smith hadn't been able to supplement his Rangers squad at all due to financial restrictions. Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Celtic's hope of wrestling the Scottish Premier League title back from Rangers' grasp this season centres on one key point: Neil Lennon surely cannot make as many fundamental errors during this, his first full season as the club's manager, as Tony Mowbray did last time around.

Smith's predicament is not quite on the same scale as a year ago, thanks to winning a second successive title and the monetary leeway that comes with it. Rangers have the finance, their manager says, to sign half a dozen players yet Smith would rather sign half of that number if that means they are of a higher quality. Replacing the prolific Kris Boyd, Smith will readily acknowledge, is of paramount importance.

Both halves of the Old Firm may benefit from English Premier League teams having to reduce squad sizes between this weekend's kick-off and the end of the transfer window, with a host of previously unobtainable players suddenly available at that juncture.

If there is little doubt Rangers are the club more in need of fresh faces ? especially with a Champions League campaign to come ? only the brave would bet strongly against Smith calling time on his Ibrox tenure with another championship. Nonetheless, until those new signings are forthcoming, Celtic have the edge.

For all the Rangers squad lacks depth and, in many cases, quality, they have a manager better versed in what it takes to succeed in Scotland than any of his opponents. Where the reigning champions are glaringly susceptible is in the event that meaningful bids arrive for key players in their squad ? many, such as Kenny Miller, have only a year left on their contracts ? before the end of this month.

If Lennon's ill-advised decision to blast back at criticism of his team from an ex-Celtic player is anything to go by, he may be feeling the pressure already. His decision to overhaul Mowbray's underachieving squad is bold and therefore worthy of praise; a Saturday lunchtime kick-off in Inverness should reveal whether those new faces have gelled any better than the recent Champions League qualifier against Sporting Braga suggested. Defensive woes have prompted one widespread prediction ? Inverness will score at least one.

The Old Firm can take collective solace from the fact they still won't have much to beat domestically. Diminishing standards lead some to believe sides outside of the big two can join the race for the SPL title. Such a theory has not been borne out in recent seasons, a lack of finance elsewhere meaning no club has brought in the players required to trigger a meaningful championship push.

Dundee United have managed to retain the squad that claimed third place and the Scottish Cup last time around, Andy Webster's return to Rangers aside. Yet finishing best of the rest in consecutive seasons has proved troublesome for any team since the inception of the SPL.

Hearts have finally added the strikeforce they have craved for the best part of four years thanks to the addition of Stephen Elliott and Kevin Kyle. If Jim Jefferies can convince his Lithuanian masters to sign an attacking midfielder, and count on the fitness of the injury-prone Andrew Driver, the Edinburgh side have a genuine chance of pipping United.

Hibernian have opened the season with what has become a typical disaster in European competition ? if it was left to them, Scotland could be the first country to hold a negative coefficient with Uefa ? but, like Celtic, suffered in part from playing before a domestic ball had been kicked in anger. Hibs, in all seriousness, still have attacking prowess which their competitors clearly lack.

Aberdeen's dismal pre-season campaign hints at more trouble for Mark McGhee who, like the Hibs manager John Hughes, has not been short of critics among his own club's support. The arrival of Paul Hartley at Pittodrie, though, may just add the experience and on-field leadership McGhee badly needs.

The none-too-subtle pleas for extra money by the Motherwell manager Craig Brown suggest they will be hard-pushed to scale the heights of last season. Brown has been forced to cut his budget but retains an impressive first XI. Only injuries and suspension should disrupt Motherwell.

Relegation looks more of a two-horse race than ever before. Kilmarnock's drastic cost-cutting has left them with a squad which appears ill-equipped to handle the rigours of a full season and, whilst St Mirren are better off in terms of numbers, the Paisley side's policy of signing players from Cowdenbeath looks dangerous.

Supporters can rest slightly easier given the likely demise of the SPL in its current format. This could be the last season of the infamous split and, even more dubiously, the closed-shop one up, one down scenario. The latter situation does nothing for competition, which should be at the root of all sport.

Ewan Murray's predictionsChampions Celtic

Relegated St Mirren

Scottish Cup Rangers

League Cup Motherwell

SPL top scorer Gary Hooper

This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.

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