So who is going to finish second? With Celtic quoted at odds as long as 50/1 ON following the demise of Old Firm rivals Rangers to take the SPL title, the only remaining question would appear to be the identity of the runners-up.
There have ben plenty stepping forward in recent days to declare exactly why it will be their particular side which will fill that place come next spring but, as far as Hibs new goalkeeper Ben Williams is concerned, there will be no such boasts emanating from the Easter Road dressing-room.
Given Pat Fenlon’s side finished last season second bottom of the pile, to even suggest they might end the coming campaign tucked in behind Celtic – provided the bookies are proved to be wildly wrong for once – would be regarded as a ridiculous flight of fancy and, Williams insisted, while he and his team-mates face a somewhat testing target, it will be rather more modest.
Counting down to his first taste of Scottish football, Sunday’s visit to Tannadice to take on a Dundee United side which, along with Motherwell and Hearts, will undoubtedly think themselves as having the potential to claim second spot, the 29-year-old said: “After what’s happened to Rangers Celtic, with the size, depth and quality of their squad have got to be strong favourites.
“But there will be three or four clubs who will be saying there’s no reason why they cannot be second. I am sure plenty of teams and players will say ‘we will be there’ but come the end of the season if you are nowhere then questions will be asked.
“You have to set yourself a realistic target and then if you beat it you feel you have done well. The point we are making is that the club has finished way below the standard that’s expected here. It’s been a tough 18 months. I don’t know the ins and outs but from what I know from being here, speaking to the manager and the way the lads are, we are looking to improve dramatically on last year.
“If we set ourselves a target of being in the top six, which is a vast improvement on last year, then anything better than that is a success then we build on it year on year.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, we are not suddenly going to jump to second but we are looking to improve and to definitely be in that top six and we feel we have a good chance to do that.”
In saying as much, Williams accepts Hibs face a tough start to the season, the trip to Tayside followed by the first Edinburgh derby of the season with that Scottish Cup final mauling at the hands of Capital foes Hearts still very raw in the memory of Hibs fans. But, he insisted, whichever way the fixtures had fallen the opening games would probably have been regarded as testing for Fenlon’s young squad.
He said: “The way this league is you are never going to be far off a tough away game or a derby. We’ve got hard games but as a player you want to play in them, whether it’s the first match or the last one. We have a good, young squad and it will be a good test to see where they are all at, to see what standard they have to be to play against good sides.
“If you come through such a start reasonably well it brings confidence to the squad, if it doesn’t go your way it gives you an idea of where you need to be so, as I look at things, it’s a no lose situation really.”
Having played throughout Hibs pre-season matches, ranging from East Fife to games in Belgium, Holland and Germany before completing preparations with a 2-2 draw against English Championship new boys Huddersfield Town, Williams believes Fenlon’s players are ready for the season ahead, with no-one looking forward to the serious action more than himself. The former Manchester United player said: “I’m a newcomer, a relative foreigner if you like, to Scottish football so I am looking to get started, to make a good impression at the club, to the manager, the other players and, of course, the supporters. The fact the season is starting that couple of weeks earlier than in England is, as far as I am concerned, a good thing.”
Throughout pre-season, Williams has been working hard both in game and on the training ground with what appears to be Fenlon’s favoured back four of Tim Clancy, James McPake, David Stephens and Paul Hanlon, the goalkeeper firmly of the belief that a strong defence can provide the team with the solid foundation for success.
In recent seasons the loss of “soft” goals has been something of a sore point, with not only Fenlon but his immediate predecessors but, Williams revealed, he’ll not be slow in making himself heard.
He said: “I’ve always been vocal as a goalkeeper, trying to keep people on their toes, telling them what they need to do.
“The nature of the beast is that players at some point will switch off so I try to keep everyone organised, if we have that in the back four and myself then we get a good understanding and a good base for the team to build on. It’s about knowing what each other is doing at all times, telling players what position they need to be in, where opposition players are and so on.
“Such an understanding is a massive thing. If you get ti right then you build a successful defence and from there you build a successful team and that’s what we are trying to do. It’s coming but as I have said before, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something we are building on every day in training and obviously in games. From my viewpoint, no matter what kind of a goal it is there’s always something you can look to at some point as avoidable.
“We are looking to be hard to beat. I am not saying we are not going to concede goals,there’s not a team in the world that doesn’t. But it’s about being hard to beat, conceding as few goals as possible, to eradicate soft goals that come from individual mistakes that are avoidable.”
Williams admits to being genuinely excited at his move north of the border having played in England for the likes of Coventry, Chesterfield, Crewe, Carlisle and Colchester. He said: “The lads are champing at the bit, we want to get playing, to show we can turn things round and push ourselves up the League.”