Following Celtics’ miserable exit at the hands of Sporting Braga in this years’ Champions League second round qualifiers, those remaining fans who have not abandoned their seats in disillusionment will expect Neil Lennon to deliver the 2010/11 Scottish Premier League title – and to deliver it in style. Many fans will feel unease at the already apparent similarities to the previous reign of Tony Mowbray. Like Mowbray, Lennon has attempted to cobble together a squad strong enough to see Celtic into the Champions League group stages, and like Mowbray, Lennon has failed to find a settled first XI in time. The Northern Irishman’s wheeling and dealing has provided hoops fans with some reasons to be optimistic, with most concurring Mexican World Cup star Efrain Juarez to be the pick of the signings. Nonetheless, Parkhead has been nothing but a revolving door of players over the last two seasons, yet all this business has yet to bear fruit. No one wanted the job more than Lennon, and if he is to have any longevity as Celtic manager, trophies will have to be won immediately.
An opposite scenario beholds the blue side of Glasgow, as Rangers battle on through crippling financial problems. While Celtic fans have been struggling to keep up with transfer stories, Teddy Bears devotees have been bemoaning the mass exodus from Ibrox Park, with little sign of many players coming in to fill the voids. Keystone players such as Kris Boyd and Kevin Thomson, along with up-and-coming stars like Danny Wilson have all kissed goodbye to the royal blue shirt to head for more financially secure destinations. Wiley old manager Walter Smith delivered last season’s SPL title on what was considered then a fairly thin squad. Now, with that squad having only been further stripped of players, the veteran coach will face his toughest task to date in what is likely to be his final season in football.
Outside the old firm, the rest of the SPL will be looking to capitalise on the weakening of Rangers and the inconsistency of Celtic and at last mount a serious challenge to Glasgow’s’ big two. Not since Vladimir Romanov injected millions of cash into Heart of Midlothian has there been a better chance for the Old Firm to be split. The Gorgie outfit look like one of the most promising challengers having re-recruited managerial favourite Jim Jeffries, who steered them to Scottish Cup success in 1998. The arrival of Scotland international Kevin Kyle has added some much needed firepower to what was a rather toothless frontline last year. Fierce rivals Hibernian will be targeting third place at least, and will be buoyed by an increased support having had a new stand installed for the start of this season. Hibernian’s Communications and Press manager Elaine Morrison told A Different League that the Leith club are in a “rock solid financial state,” and were the only club in Britain at the time undertaking a stadium expansion programme. Along with and Hibs, Dundee Utd and Motherwell should theoretically all be in the hunt for top four places. All three clubs are yet to conclude their European qualification, with the Well looking the most impressive so far in the Europa League preliminaries. With each club having lost few players and gaining some, their fans will expect improvements still from last season’s positions.
Many of the less-fancied clubs have seen changes over the summer. Kilmarnock made the surprise appointment of former Hibs manager Mixu Paatelainen, and the Ayrshire clubs’ pre-season form has given Killie fans plenty to look forward too. St Mirren drafted in Cowdenbeath boss Danny Lennon after the surprise sacking of Gus MacPherson, who had steered the Paisley club to the League Cup final only last year. Lennon’s route of recruiting a number of players from his Second Division ex-employees could prove a gamble for a team who have been solid but not spectacular for years. Aberdeen boss Mark McGhee has endured a torrid pre-season campaign, having seen his troops go down to Highland League opposition. The ever expectant Dons fans will be demanding instant result from his relentless transfer activity, and if it does not pay off the ex-Motherwell gaffer could find himself being one of the early managerial casualties. Newly-promoted Inverness, along with Hamilton and St Johnstone are likely to be among the favourites for relegation. However with all three clubs having strengthened over the summer, each team will fancy their chances of making an impact in what could be the most competitive SPL for years.