Comment: Capital clubs face a big test in Premiership

Kyle Lafferty is a big signing for Hearts
Kyle Lafferty is a big signing for Hearts
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Both Edinburgh clubs will kick-off the new Premiership campaign with genuine aspirations of challenging for a Europa League.

This will be no easy feat, however, as, to do so, they will have to finish in the top three – a section of the table which is widely excepted to be occupied by Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen.

Hibs boss Neil Lennon

Hibs boss Neil Lennon

There can be little doubt that Celtic will win the title for a seventh year in succession. Apart from Patrick Roberts, who could yet return to Parkhead before the transfer window closes, the champions have lost no notable members of the squad which cruised to an undefeated domestic treble under Brendan Rodgers last season. They have shed plenty fringe men this summer, but the manager will hope that the arrivals of Olivier Ntcham and Jonny Hayes from Manchester City and Aberdeen will crank up the overall quality of his attacking options once they adapt to their new surroundings. There is no logical reason, at this point, to suspect that Celtic’s dominance of the Scottish scene is about to be diminished over the next ten months.

The other 11 Premiership sides are playing for second place, and Aberdeen, buoyed by the decision of their manager Derek McInnes to decline the chance to take the Sunderland job earlier this summer, look marginally the best equipped to claim this slot. Although they have lost key men like Hayes, Niall McGinn and Ryan Jack, they have managed to source a batch of quality replacements who are largely accustomed to the demands of Scotland’s top flight. Gary Mackay-Steven, Ryan Christie and Greg Stewart, who have all shown up well in their early weeks at Pittodrie, should bring pace, trickery and zest to the Dons’ attack, while Greg Tansey looks an accomplished replacement for Jack in the engine room. Likewise, Kari Arnason can be expected to comfortably fill the void left by Ash Taylor at centre-back. Given the calibre of players who have left since the end of last season, it is remarkable that some feel Aberdeen are actually now a stronger proposition than they were at the end of last term. Another strong campaign beckons.

Rangers finished nine points behind Aberdeen last season, in what was viewed as a wretched return to the Premiership following a four-year absence. Having invested in an extensive and intriguing summer recruitment drive over the past couple of months, the Ibrox club will be hoping to at least ensure they reassert themselves in the top two while also closing the gap on Celtic. Much will depend on whether the largely unheralded Pedro Caixinha proves to be up to scratch in his first full season at Rangers and how quickly he can blend his army of new recruits – the majority of whom are from overseas – into a cohesive unit. Graham Dorrans, the aforementioned Jack, and Bruno Alves are the most recognisable names among their new recruits and look equipped to do well, but it remains to be seen whether the others are able to adapt to the unique demands of Scottish football and of playing for a club which, despite its struggles since being liquidated five years ago, remains the subject of sky-high expectations.

A mouthwatering early test of the new-look Rangers side arrives on the second date of the season when Neil Lennon takes his Hibs team to Ibrox. Outwith the division’s big five – Aberdeen, the two Glasgow teams and the two Edinburgh teams – St Johnstone look the likeliest to be in the top six, a notion based mainly on Tommy Wright’s remarkable ability to keep them competitive in recent years regardless of a relative paucity of resources. The departure of talisman Danny Swanson represents an obvious challenge, but the manager has coped with such a scenario previously when losing Stevie May. Stefan Scougall looks a particularly eye-catching signing, while Michael O’Halloran is back at the club.

Elsewhere, Hamilton, who stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season, will start the season as favourites for relegation, although the retention of key man Ali Crawford will ensure they have a fighting chance of picking off any stragglers. Ross County and Motherwell could be among this number. County will need new recruit Billy Mckay to fill the scoring void of Burton Albion-bound Liam Boyce if they are to have anything resembling a comfortable season, while Motherwell have recruited a batch of unheralded names from English clubs to replace prominent contributors like Lionel Ainsworth, Scott McDonald and Keith Lasley.

Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle are entitled to be optimistic about the season ahead. In Gordon Greer, Stephen O’Donnell, Dom Thomas and Kirk Broadfoot, among others, Killie look to have recruited well, while Thistle, despite losing key defender Liam Lindsay, have kept the guts of last season’s top-six squad intact and can continue to flourish under the impressive Alan Archibald. Dundee’s season will hinge heavily on the nous of rookie manager Neil McCanns and whether or not Scott Allan can rediscover his match-dictating Hibs form of three seasons ago.

Anthony Brown’s Predictions: 1st - Celtic; 2nd - Aberdeen; 3rd - Hibs; 4th - Rangers; 5th - Hearts; 6th - St Johnstone; 7th- Kilmarnock; 8th - Partick Thistle; 9th - Dundee; 10th - Ross County; 11th - Motherwell; 12th - Hamilton.