club-by-club guide

Scottish Premier League preview

August 12, 2009
By James Diaz

Season Preview | Hibernian - St Mirren

Mark McGhee: Boss at Pittodrie
SNS / PictureMark McGhee: An uncertain beginning to his time at the club he made his name

ABERDEEN
Mark McGhee's peripatetic managerial career has taken him the length of the British Isles and his return this summer to the warm embrace of the granite city comes after two years in charge at Motherwell which saw the ex-Dons striker lead the Steelmen to a top three finish.

McGhee was central to the Alex Ferguson side that brought domestic and European glory to the north east of Scotland in the eighties, but the Dons side he has inherited from Jimmy Calderwood are a far cry from the heroes of Gothenburg.

The boos ringing loudly around Pittodrie at the end of McGhee's first competitive game in charge brought to an end the shortest honeymoon period in football. A humiliating 1-5 defeat to Sigma Olomouc, Aberdeen's worst home defeat in European competition, highlighted glaring deficiencies in his team. The Dons' 3-0 reversal in the return leg merely confirmed the crushingly inevitable.

McGhee has found it hard to strengthen with French defender Reda Johnson opting to join Plymouth. And Pilgrims players Steven Maclean and Jim Paterson opted to stay at Home Park rather than join the Dons.

So far just Stuart Nelson has been bought to provide cover for Dons number one Jamie Langfield. Ex-captain Scott Severin has left for Watford with Lee Mair and Jamie Smith also departing and McGhee will quickly need to mould his players around his favoured 4-3-3 formation.

The goals of Lee Miller and the skills of Sone Aluko will be vital to the Dons hopes and the wicked left foot of Charlie Mugrew is sure to deliver a few free-kick specials, but McGhee has reckoned on needing four more signings.

However, with Miller, Mulgrew and skipper Mark Kerr all out of contract at the end of the season, McGhee may be forced to cash in on one of his stars in order to fund his bid for new recruits with a new central defender a particularly pressing need - with Jerel Ifil signed from Swindon.

CELTIC
If cash spent guaranteed success then Celtic might as well be handed all three domestic trophies straight away this season, with the summer outlay of new manager Tony Mowbray towering over the expenditures of all 11 other SPL clubs combined.

The compensation due to West Brom for Mowbray's services means the new Parkhead boss counts as the second most expensive Celtic signature of the summer, the £2m heading to the Hawthorns not far off the £3.75m paid for striker Marc-Antoine Fortune.

The signings of Fortune, Laundry N'Guemo, Danny Fox and, most recently, Josh Thompson are the first steps in his rebuilding process after inheriting the squad that Gordon Strachan left behind following last season's anti-climactic title loss. Left-back Fox could be the answer to many Celtic fans prayers as the curious descent of Lee Naylor showed no sign of slowing last season.

Mowbray and Fortune have worked together since he brought the Nancy striker on loan to the Hawthorns in January. Averaging less than a goal every three games for the Baggies, Fortune earned a reputation for spurning simple chances whilst in England, something that has not been greatly improved by the trio of missed opportunities that Parkhead witnessed against Dynamo Moscow in the Champions League qualifier.

Scott McDonald has manfully assumed the main goalscoring duties at Parkhead since his arrival from Motherwell with the stocky striker continuing to punch above his weight, with important goals such as the opener in the return leg in Moscow.

Giorgios Samaras atoned for some frustrating displays last season with the vital last-minute winner in Moscow and that well-taken goal should give him confidence to progress after a decidedly mixed first full season at Celtic. If Mowbray can extract the best from his front men, Celtic have an array of options up front.

Mowbray's belief in the merits of attacking football have seen him encourage Aiden McGeady and Shaun Maloney to adopt more loose roles.

Mowbray has been careful to lavish praise on the fragile ego of McGeady, whose issues with Gordon Strachan were well documented, and clearly sees the Irish international as key to his vision of how he wants this Celtic side to perform.

If a Mowbray-enhanced Celtic can translate their manager's cavalier philosophy into a league title win it will represent the next stage in the progression of a manager who likes to do it his way.

Andy Webster will look for fitness and form
SNS / PictureAndy Webster will look for fitness and form

DUNDEE UNITED
Craig Levein's decision to throw Rangers defender Andy Webster a lifeline with a year-long loan deal will hopefully benefit both club and player as Webster looks to get his career back on path after an injury-ravaged few years.

It's up front though where Levein may feel he has been jinxed. With last season's top scorer Franciso Sandaza, Jon Daly and Kevin Smith all injured, the loss of new Argentinean striker Damien Casalinuovo with a dislocated shoulder a week after his July signing is a blow. Prince Bauben's recovery from a bout of malaria sees him available for the season's opener against Hearts.

With Lukasz Zaluska trampolining over to the east end of Glasgow to rest in the ample shadow of compatriot Artur Boruc, the veteran Steve Banks and Nicky Weaver will vie for the keeper's jersey ahead of the January arrival of Dusan Pernis. Jeno Myrie-Williams is another of Levein's summer purchases with the ex-Bristol City man arriving on a free transfer.

Scott Robertson and Morgaro Gomis will both be looking to continue the good form of last year that led to international call-ups for the pair, with Ipswich boss Roy Keane rumoured to be considering a bid for the Senegalese midfielder.

The United manager has seen encouraging progress during his time at the club after a League Cup final in 2008 and two consecutive fifth placed finishes in the league and he will be hoping to kick on this time around.

Levein - who has dual responsibilities as both manager and director of football at Tannadice - has recently overhauled United's youth development system and clearly sees this as the way forward for the club.

Should the United first team continue to impress under his tutelage this season, it is a development whose full fruition he may not be around to witness.

FALKIRK
Falkirk fans have run the full gamut of emotions over the past year during a season that saw the Bairns flirt almost fatally with relegation and which ended with John Hughes' side striding out into the Hampden sun for the Scottish Cup final before this season's first ever crack at European competition.

A last day victory at Inverness courtesy of a priceless parting gift from Michael Higdon (and some heroics from Dani Mallo) secured the Bairns SPL status in dramatic style, although their dominance of Rangers in the Scottish Cup final six days later was not to be rewarded with what would have been a wholly unexpected trophy.

The manner of that Hampden defeat epitomised a lot of what was wrong with Hughes' Falkirk last season with some neat build-up play not being translated into goals.

An exodus of players over the summer has required extensive restructuring of the squad by new boss Eddie May.

Mallo and Gerard Aafjes are gone from the back, midfielders Patrick Cregg and Kevin McBride have followed Hughes to Hibernian and both Steve Lovell and Michael Higdon, with 15 goals between them up front last season, have been allowed to leave.

With Steven Pressley and Lee Bullen retiring after promotions to new coaching roles within the club and Neil McCann on the way after seemingly irreconcilable differences with Pressley, the Bairns are going into the season heavily reliant on youth.

May's re-signing of Marc Twaddle from Partick has seen the Falkirk manager opt for height with a new central defensive partnership being forged between Twaddle and fellow new recruit Brian McLean.

The loan-signings of Scotland U-19 captain Alex MacDonald and 20 year-old winger Ryan Flynn (who netted on his debut with the Westfield winner against Vaduz) from Liverpool have been augmented with the return of another ex-Bairn, Vitor Lima, to add some grit to the Falkirk midfield. Slovenian trialist Danijel Marceta has arrived from Parizan Belgrade on a one-year loan and front men Carl Finnigan and Mark Stewart have won new deals.

Hamilton's James McArthur and Alex Neil
SNS / PictureHamilton's James McArthur and Alex Neil

HAMILTON
It had always been a case of when not if but James McCarthy's departure from Hamilton is a sad loss to the SPL. A move to Wigan was too tempting for the precociously-gifted 18 year-old midfielder to resist.

Brian Easton's move to Burnley in a £350,000 deal should mean the homesickness that hampered both Shaun Maloney and Barry Ferguson's moves to the Premier League will be less acutely felt by the two ex-Accies youngsters as they bed-in in Lancashire.

Reid will know that the stripping of such assets is the sort of back-handed compliment that is sure return to strike him on the field. He has, for now anyway, retained the services of the third of his talented youthful crop with James McArthur remaining at the club but both McCarthy and Easton were integral parts of the Accies team that narrowly avoided relegation last season - the first time a Hamilton side has avoided the drop from the SPL.

Reid has been open about his desire to land one or more from a wish list of Craig Bryson, Jamie Murphy and Dougie Imrie, having already failed to land Falkirk's Scott Arfield with a £100,000 bid.

Richard Offiong was Accies joint top scorer but a move to Colchester (a proposed deal which saw Joel Thomas moved on for £125,000 - not bad business for a striker with one goal last year) did not go through as expected, although a fee of £85,000 was subsequently agreed with Skoda Xanthi for the striker.

Portuguese strike twins Marco and Flavio Paixao have been brought in as replacements up front. Ex-Terror James Wesolowski and David Louhoungou from Rennes were Reid's other two summer signings to date. Midfielder Mark Corcoran has also moved on and, with the money raked in from his summer sales, Reid has been able to agree a £180,000 fee with Sigma Olomouc for keeper Tomas Cerny following his impressive spell on loan.

With veteran defender Chris Swailes also leaving over the summer, Reid has bulked up at the back and has finally snared Izzy Iriepken with ex-Rangers centre-half Marvin Andrews also brought in from Raith Rovers.

Reid urgently needs his new strikers to add firepower if his side are to survive in the SPL for a third consecutive season. Perhaps big Marv may be able to put a word in with the man upstairs.

HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN
The Csaba effect has been the main driving force behind Hearts' recent renaissance with the Hungarian manager earning himself last year's Scottish Writers' Manager of the Year award as he steered the club in to third place and the Europa League.

Hearts fans will be hoping that in Laszlo they have finally found someone who can put an end to the revolving door policy that has seen managers come and go with alarming regularity under Vladimir Romanov.

The removal of Anatoly Korobochka as director of sport seems to affirm Romanov's confidence in Laszlo's abilities, although the role has since been linked with Avram Grant with the ex-Chelsea man seen in attendance at games with Romanov. On the pitch, Laszlo's bid to solve Hearts' problems up front, after a season in which main striker Christian Nade managed only three goals, has seen him bring in target man David Witteveen. However, with Calum Elliot and Andrew Driver both injured and Gary Glen regarded as a future prospect, Laszlo may look to bring in another forward after he was priced out of a move for Genk's Adem Nemec.

The departures of Bruno Aguiar, Christophe Berra, Robbie Neilson, Christos Karipidis and Adrian Mrowiec have meant Laszlo has been busy recruiting in the close season.

Ismael Bouzid and Dawid Kucharski have been brought in at the back, and Bouzid already looks an astute purchase although Marius Zaliukas will have to show a more level-headed approach alongside him after four red cards last year that have earned him a five match ban for the start of this season.

Whether Laszlo will opt for a front pair or revert to the solitary striker option he has previously favoured is unclear, although he has played with both Nade and Witteveen up front in the recent friendlies which suggests he is ready to overhaul his previous system. Much may depend on his success in bringing in a new striker.

With so many first choices departed from last year it remains to be seen if Hearts can maintain the solidity that made them so tough to break down last season. If they can do so, and find a cutting edge up front that they lacked last year, then they will be well placed to take third spot.

Season Preview | Hibernian - St Mirren