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Aberdeen To Be Best of the Rest
- Updated: August 2, 2012
Betting expert Gareth Friel expects Aberdeen to chase home Celtic in this season’s SPL title race.
It seems like only yesterday that around 100,000 Hearts fans lined the streets of Edinburgh to watch their heroes parade the Scottish Cup they won with a 5-1 victory over city rivals Hibs in the 2011-12 season finale at Hampden.
But in many other ways it has felt like the longest ever summer in Scottish football. The focus for most of that time has been on off-field matters, specifically whether Rangers would be playing at all, and if so where.
The answer turned out to be the Third Division, with First Division Dundee taking their place to make up the 12 teams in the top flight, to the chagrin of last season’s bottom club Dunfermline.
All of which means that for the first time ever, Rangers will not be competing in the top flight in Scottish football. This will have a knock-on effect in a number of ways.
Celtic are massive, massive favourites for the title for one. Secondly, the revenue lost from Rangers means that clubs have to tighten their belts. Dundee Utd and St Mirren are just two who have stated that losing Rangers has prevented them landing targets due to a reduced budget.
And the late addition of Dundee means they are almost certain, as it stands, to be relegated. They’ve had almost no time to prepare and finished way behind Ross County in the First Division last season.
Celtic are a best of 1/25 to win the title and are as short as 1/100 in places which is quite incredible. But no other side can come close to matching them in any way, whether it be on or off the field. It’s a matter of when and by how many points Celtic do it.
It’s hard even to gauge what the gap will be at the top. Dundee Utd are given a 28-point start on the handicap and at first glance you’d expect Celtic to overhaul that. Last season they finished 31 points ahead of Motherwell, while the season before they were 30 points ahead of Hearts.
But the title could be sewn up by February/March time. What happens in the remaining games once the title is secured and focus levels drop? And with Celtic likely to storm ahead of the pack fairly early on, they can afford the odd slip here and there which wouldn’t have been acceptable in the past with Rangers in the mix.
I wonder how consistent Celtic will be throughout the season. Without disrespecting the other sides, it is going to be really, really easy for Celtic. How do you stay motivated when you’re 15 points clear at the top in December?
The most interesting battle this season will be for second place. Motherwell were the ‘best of the rest’ last season but face a tough task to repeat the feat, while Hearts are the only side to have finished third in successive seasons since the SPL began in 1998.
‘Well have lost Steve Jennings and Steven Craigan from last season’s squad and have so far only been able to bring in defender Simon Ramsden. Jamie Murphy is still at Fir Park which is encouraging and their performance in defeat to Panathinaikos in their Champions League qualifier will give them hope.
But over the course of the season, they’ll find it really tough to match last season’s excellent achievements.
Dundee Utd are the bookies favourites without Celtic. They’re a best 2/1 and they do look strong once again.
Since 2007-08 they’ve finished 5th, 5th, 3rd, 4th and 4th. Impressive considering how many key players they’ve lost during this time, the likes of David Goodwillie, Willo Flood, Morgaro Gomis and Lukasz Zaluska.
This summer Peter Houston has lost Paul Dixon, Scott Robertson and Danny Swanson from his squad but Michael Gardyne from Ross County and Falkirk’s Mark Millar look solid additions. And in Jon Daly and Johnny Russell they have a strikeforce that should guarantee between 20 and 30 goals.
But that best of 2/1 does seem pretty short.
Hearts are also fancied by the bookies and can be backed at 5/2. But unless new boss John McGlynn has a raft of young gems we’re not aware of at his disposal I don’t share that optimism.
Despite the euphoria of winning the Scottish Cup, it wasn’t a particularly impressive league season for the Jambos. They finished only fifth and ten points behind Motherwell.
Since their Hampden success against Hibs, captain Ian Black, top scorer Rudi Skacel and Scottish Cup semi-final hero Craig Beattie have all left the club. Stephen Elliott, Suso Santana and Gary Glen have also departed, leaving McGlynn looking particularly short in forward areas.
John Sutton is back from a loan spell in Australia but I worry about where the goals are going to come from. McGlynn has, as yet, been unable to bring anyone in and the current squad is surely not good enough to take second spot.
I like the look of Aberdeen. Dons fans have had a torrid time of it recently – since finishing fourth in 2009 they’ve posted three successive 9th-placed finshes – but much better beckons this time.
Craig Brown is a hugely experienced manager and has made some good additions to his squad. Jonny Hayes has been a long-term target and will bring some much-needed creativity to the side as could Nial McGinn who has joined from Celtic.
Meanwhile former Scotland international Gary Naysmith will bring a wealth of experience to the squad.
If Aberdeen start the season well, the fans will back them in numbers. They must appreciate the fact that the Dons haven’t used the Rangers situation as an excuse to save cash. They look as if they have pushed the boat out and are aiming to take that second spot.
I’d expect one or two more key signings and with Brown’s organisational skills they are in with a real chance of finishing as ‘best of the rest’, so they are well worth a punt at a big-looking 9/1.
St Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Hibs all look like being too good for the drop but not quite strong enough to challenge for second.
The same can’t be said for the rest. St Mirren should have enough to avoid a relegation scrap but Nigel Hasselbaink and Jeroen Tesselaar have left for SPL rivals. Goals could be a problem again – they were second lowest scorers last season and will be relying heavily on the likes of Steven Thompson and Paul McGowan once more.
But I would expect Dundee, Ross County and Inverness to be among the sides at the bottom end of the table.
We’ll come to the two promoted sides in a moment, but first let’s look at Caley.
They finished third from bottom last season and were very nearly dragged into a relegation battle having looked safe previously. They won their final two games to guarantee survival but prior to that had won one in 14 which must worry Terry Butcher ahead of the new campaign.
As mentioned previously, Jonny Hayes has joined Aberdeen while Gregory Tade, Greg Tansey and Ross Tokely among others have left the Caledonian Stadium.
Butcher has brought in reinforcements from the English bargain basement and you have to worry that Caley will struggle once again at the wrong end of the table.
Their Highland rivals Ross County have been preparing for life in the SPL for some time. They won the First Division at a canter in the end and look to have made some solid signings.
Ross Tokely is an experience SPL campaigner while Martin Scott has returned from a spell at Hibs. Ex-Dundee Utd defender Michael Kovacevic is an excellent addition while they will look to Gary Glen for goals following his move from Hearts.
My concern for Derek Adams would be in the forward areas having lost Michael Gardyne but there’s still plenty of time to do business before the transfer deadline.
Adams is an astute manager and I fancy County to survive – with one or two more bodies they could well make a big impact and avoid a relegation battle just as Inverness and St Johnstone managed in recent years following promotion.
So that brings us to Dundee. You really have to feel for Barry Smith. What a job he has on his hands.
He took over the club in 2010 when they went into administration and having been given a 25-point deduction as a result (it was their second time in administration in seven years) they looked certain to be relegated. But Smith led them to a record 23-match unbeaten run.
Last season was more straightforward for Smith and Dundee and they finished second in the First Division, a massive 24 points behind Ross County. But as we now know they will play in the SPL this term.
Once again Smith, who would have hoped to slowly build on a decent season in the second tier, is massively up against it.
He is in charge of a squad that probably wouldn’t have been favourites to go up from the First Division had they still been there. And having found out they were to be given Rangers’ place in the SPL just over two weeks ago, they don’t have much time to get an SPL quality side together.
As things stand, and they could change before the end of the month, Dundee have the weakest squad by a distance in the SPL.
Dunfermline really struggled last season and at times looked out of their depth. Dundee, through little fault of their own, are, on paper at least, considerably weaker.
They surely have to be backed at 9/4 to finish bottom.
Looking to some of the other markets and I reckon Hearts are overpriced at a big 6/1 to finish in the bottom six.
As mentioned above they have lost key players and are yet to replace them. Boss McGlynn has a good record at bringing through young players with his previous clubs but it could take a bit of time for them to adjust to life in the SPL.
And as we all know too well, even when things are going well majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov isn’t shy of throwing a spanner or two into the works. McGlynn will be looking over his shoulder at all times – his old pal Jim Jefferies was sacked just two games into last season
They finished fifth last term meaning they would have to slip two places to cover the bet. With Rangers missing it is effectively three places.
I would expect Celtic, Aberdeen, Dundee Utd and Motherwell to finish above Hearts. It could be another close battle with St Johnstone while Kilmarnock may pose a threat too. And who knows what Hibs will do?
A lot has to go right, or wrong from a Hearts point of view, for this bet to come in but it has to be worth a small punt at the price.
If Leigh Griffiths was sure to be staying at Hibs beyond January, I would fancy backing him each-way at 50/1 to be the SPL’s top scorer. Although if he was staying until the end of the season he perhaps wouldn’t be available at such a price.
There’s little margin for error though, with bookies offering each-way odds on finishing in the top three with Celtic duo Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes sure to take the top two spots.
Griffiths scored 11 times last season and should grab a few more in a side that must surely improve on last season’s 11th place. If you fancy him to stay on loan from Wolves beyond January he might well be worth a punt at that price.
Finally, there could be some value in backing Kilmarnock to concede the most goals in a single match at 8/1.
Dundee are the obvious favourites in this market given they are the weakest side, but not since 2005-06 has the side finishing bottom conceded the most in a single match. And that even includes 2007-08 when Gretna were in the top flight.
Killie conceded six goals on two separate occasions last season (the only side to ship six in a match), both at home against Celtic and Inverness.
Despite finishing seventh only the two bottom sides had a worse defensive record than Kenny Shiels’ side. You just don’t know what to expect of them on any given day.
Shiels loves his team to get forward and attack and they are incredibly open at times. They have the potential to produce a freak result (such as the 3-6 loss to Caley) and as such that aforementioned 8/1 is worth taking.
2pts Aberdeen to win the SPL without Celtic at 9/1 (BetVictor).
4pts Dundee to finish bottom of the SPL at 9/4 (bodog).
1pt Hearts to finish in the bottom six at 6/1 (BetVictor).
1pt Kilmarnock to concede the most goals in a single match at 8/1 (Paddy Power).
©2012 Sporting Life