Pundits’ SPFL predictions

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 12:10

Pundits' SPFL predictions

Celtic are obviously favourites to retain their Premiership title, but can Aberdeen and the rest mount a credible challenge?
Andy Walker: I still think Celtic will win the title by some distance. When you look at what happened last season with Aberdeen getting 75 points – it’s a tall order to replicate that. 
You’re asking Adam Rooney again to score 35 goals and you’re asking for that level of consistency throughout the team. So in that regard I think it will be difficult for Aberdeen to push Celtic the way they did last season, despite being the team able to get closest.
Neil McCann: Celtic will be strong favourites to retain the title and I expect them to do so. But it all remains to be seen if guys like Virgil van Dijk hang around. He is very, very important to Celtic and what they do.
At times when he was missing from the side there was a definite hole within the Celtic defence. If they keep him I would expect Celtic to be strong again. I think if they lost a player like him it could impact and allow the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts or Dundee United to get closer to Celtic.
Which club do you think will struggle having seen all the ins and outs so far?
AW: Clearly Hamilton have to improve because the start they had last year under Alex Neil was absolutely terrific. He practically saved them before he left with the amount of points they accrued. Martin Canning found it difficult when he took over. They will have to accept and relish the tag of being favourites for relegation because there’s clearly a small budget there.
I think Partick Thistle might struggle but it looks like Kilmarnock and Ross County have improved.
NM: I’m not sure Inverness will be able to emulate last season, I think they will be weaker. The guys they have lost have impacted their side. The likes of Marley Watkins and Graeme Shinnie were two big players for them. I’m not sure they can have another terrific season like they had. John Hughes is a terrific manager but he will have his work cut out to do it.
Celtic are the favourites for the title of course but I am not sure they have strengthened enough to grab the headlines as such. Have they strengthened enough for Champions League football? I’m not sure.
Who do you think has done the best business in this transfer window?
AW: I think Ross County have done some good business with the players they have got in. Motherwell have signed a lot of players but I have no idea how strong they will be. Kilmarnock have done good business too. I just hope there is a good level of competitiveness for the Scottish Premiership this season.
NM: Dundee have brought in a number of players. Guys like Kane Hemmings, I really like him and I think he can get a fruitful partnership with Greg Stewart, who he played with at Cowdenbeath. I would look out for them as a striking partnership.
Jackie McNamara at Dundee United has brought some decent players in. I’m excited about Rodney Sneijder, to see if he can step out of his brother’s shadow and make an impact on Scottish football.
Hamilton Accies surprised a few people with their start to the 2014/15 season, as did Inverness by finishing third. Who’s your pick to perform above expectations this year?
AW: We saw the way Dundee came up from the Championship and settled well last season, I have no doubt Hearts can do the same. I can see Hearts making a really good impact and making it comfortably into the top six. And if they have a good start to the season I would not be surprised with Hearts finishing third.
NM: It will be a competitive league as ever, but the one to come out of the pack I think will be Hearts. I said that Hearts should be looking to get into the top six. I know that’s a big ask with them just coming up from the Championship but I think with an enormous crowd, certainly at home, you cannot underestimate the effect that can have on a side and the push it can have on a game when backed like that.
What is the fixture you are most looking forward to working at this season?
AW: I always like going to Tynecastle. When Celtic go there it’s a fantastic atmosphere. It’s the same with Aberdeen and Dundee United, who tend to take a good support.
NM: Having not got the Old Firm or Edinburgh derbies I think the Hearts vs Celtic games are going to be enormous and I can’t wait for those. As I player I always loved the games at Tynecastle with Celtic.
There’s a huge one on Boxing Day with Hearts against Celtic. Generally those fixtures around the Christmas and New Year period are brilliant games to be involved in.
And finally, what are your top three and bottom three predictions?
AW: 1. Celtic, 2. Aberdeen, 3. Hearts 10. Motherwell, 11. Partick Thistle, 12. Hamilton Accies
NM: 1. Celtic, 2. Aberdeen, 3. Dundee United 10. Motherwell, 11. Partick Thistle, 12. Hamilton Accies
Watch the opening day of the SPFL Premiership live on Sky Sports, starting with Celtic v Ross County on Sky Sports 1 from midday on Saturday and Dundee United v Aberdeen on Sky Sports 1 from 3pm on Sunday.

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