Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reading the tea leaves

OK, I'll admit I got just about every call wrong last year – although I did redeem myself slightly by identifying Tony Mowbray the moment wee Gordon stepped away from Celtic.

But like Yves Makalambay I'm prepared to pull my gloves back on, hurl myself back into the fray and flirt with yet another calamity. These, then, are the Scottish Football Blog's SPL predictions for 2009/10.

Champions: Celtic, Celtic, Celtic. I said that last year but I'm even more convinced this time out that Rangers won't be able to match the pace Celtic set. Last year Rangers relied on a late push as Celtic stumbled. This year I'd guess their chance comes if they hit the ground running as Mowbray's philosophies and endless talk of looking players in the eye takes time to bed in. Even then I'd fancy Celtic to reel them in.

Third place: Will Lazlo keep Hearts in the hunt? I'd expect Dundee United to challenge (I got that wrong last year as well) and Craig Levein will be smarting at their failure to make Europe last season. So despite the Jam Tarts' iffy pre season I'll say third place is a fight between the tangerine half of Dundee and the maroon part of Edinburgh.

Mid table mediocrity: Jim Gannon seems to have a track record of performing in difficult circumstances. That might be enough to keep Motherwell free of relegation worries. There is a Yogi fuelled buzz at Easter Road but John Hughes will know himself that there are deficiencies throughout the team. Hibs will throw off last season's torpor but the top six that the board demand will be the height of their ambitions. St Johnstone should be able to make a decent show of themselves but will be hoping that Derek McInnes remains in charge throughout the season while St Mirren will be hoping to prove that they are definitely well established in the top flight.

Looking over their shoulders: Falkirk and Aberdeen are condemned to start the season after European humiliations that got the reigns of Eddie May and Mark McGhee off to the worst possible starts. How the managers and players react will define their seasons but I don't think either will do much other than flirt with the bottom before surviving with something to spare.

Condemned men: Hamilton face the difficult second season syndrome and they face it without their star player. That will lead to some squeaky bum moments but they will be spared as Kilmarnock go into freefall. Rugby Park is offering all the home comforts that so beguiled the young Oliver Twist when he first arrived at the orphanage. Jim Jeffries is a good manager and a good man but this year the constraints placed on him will be simply too much.

First for the chop: Casba Lazlo must be setting some sort of Romanov managerial longevity record but you still feel the axe constantly hovers. Jim Jefferies might well walk sooner rather than later with his season promising to turn into a tragicomic epic. Eddie May has much to prove but Falkirk are noted for their loyalty. A bad run for Rangers might see Wattie shuffled upstairs before the season's out. But my best guess is that with so many changes over the summer this will be a season of relative stability in the SPL dugouts.

Star man: It's not been a summer of marquee signings. Celtic will hope Marc Antoine Fortune gets over his Dinamo disasters to make an impact. Elsewhere the new signings seem to offer more hope than expectation. If Hibs can find a cutting edge then the role of Merouane Zemmama will be crucial. If they can't then all his trickery will be more window dressing than anything else.

One to watch: The Old Firm is an inhospitable place for young players. John Fleck seemed set to break that trend. He still might but it will be interesting to see if can stop acting like an idiot long enough to establish himself. At the moment he risks being the poor man's Barry Ferguson. The campaign to install Stephen McManus as a tartan John Terry overlooked some of the Celtic captain's limitations and ignored the fact that England's John Terry is somewhat limited himself. This is a season for him to prove himself.

An impact from leftfield: The signing of Danny Cadamarteri seemed to shock the Arabs. A career of unfulfilled potential has been given an SPL lifeline. Craig Levein will be hoping for an Indian Summer from the one time next big thing.

I will, of course, revisit this in May 2010 to provide further credence to the theory that I should never be allowed to cross the threshold of PaddyPower's fine website.