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Gretna’s Time Is Up, But Can Hearts Rough Up Rangers And Celtic?

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Craig kicks off his weekly Scottish Premier League coverage with the second in a three part series previewing the new season with Gretna, Hearts, Inverness and Hibernian forecasted

Gretna

Reached the SPL after 3 consecutive promotions, but look to be out of their depth at this level. Their cause will not be helped by the fact they have to play their home games at Motherwell’s Fir Park because Raydale Park does not meet SPL stadium criteria. There is also crisis at the top level, with the club’s manager Rowan Alexander being refused entry in to Fir Park for the opening game of the season. Alexander had been on personal leave since March, leaving assistant Davie Irons to guide them to promotion. Irons has continued to take charge of the club but no official announcement has been made. The club’s first few signings were uninspiring – Paul Murray (Carlisle), Abdul Osman (Maidenhead) and Nathan Wright (Darlington) all joining from clubs in the lower reaches of the English leagues. However they signed Uruguayan attacker Fabian Yantorno who has been very impressive in pre-season, and defender Aurelien Collin has joined from Real Mallorca. Striker Kenny Deuchar was top scorer in divisions 2 and 3, but looked to be on the way out last season when he was loaned to Northampton. However he has decided to stay and fight for his place in the SPL and will provide a goal threat. They will need to strengthen more in order to stay up – but the unknown element might help them to do just enough.

Key Player – Fabian Yantorno

One to watch – Erik Paartalu

Prediction – 11th


Hearts Have had a quiet summer by their standards – but will struggle to replace Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon who joined Sunderland for £9m. Completed the permanent signing of Laryea Kingston from Terek Grozny for £500k following a successful loan deal. Midfielder Michael Stewart also joined from rivals Hibs on a free transfer, but ex-Rangers midfielder turned down a move from Leicester. Spanish midfielder Ruben Palazuelos joined for free after buying out his contract at Gimnastic de Tarragona. Owner Vladimir Romanov also has a stake in FBK Kaunas, and Hearts have 8 players on loan from Kaunas, most of them first team players. They have a good youth system and give many young players a chance in the first team – look out for Gary Glen and Dumitru Copil in particular this season. Their squad is the 3rd strongest in the league, and could challenge the Old Firm in Romanov kept his nose out of team selection and appointed a manager who wasn’t merely a figurehead. While that is unlikely, they should still be the strongest challengers for 3rd place this year, especially if they spend some of the money from the transfer of Gordon.

Key Player – Laryea Kingston

One to watch – Andrew Driver

Prediction – 3rd


HibernianHad a successful season last year, finishing 6th and winning the CIS Cup, but there were rumours of manager John Collins losing the dressing room. Collins has had a huge clearout this summer, moving on many of the players who challenged his authority. The biggest sale was that of Scott Brown to Celtic for £4.4m, and last season’s top scorer Chris Killen joined him at Parkhead after moving for free. Midfielder Michael Stewart had a high profile fall out with Collins near the end of last season and moved to rivals Hearts for free. Ivan Sproule moved to Bristol City for £500k, a decent return on the £5k Hibs paid for him in January 2005 – but his incisive pace will be a major loss this season. Performed a miracle by managing to receive a fee for error-prone defender Shelton Martis, who scored 3 own goals last season – West Brom decided this form warranted a £50k transfer. The last key player out the door was promising right-back Steven Whittaker who joined Rangers for around £2m, taking the club’s transfer income for the summer to around £7m.

Despite this, Collins has mainly been dealing in free transfers in his search for replacements. Brian Kerr joined for free from Motherwell and scored the winner in the Edinburgh derby on his debut. Winger Alan O’Brien joined for Newcastle for a nominal fee, and striker Clayton Donaldson has joined for free from York City. Hibs have been long haunted by goalkeeping problems – Yves Makabu-Makalambay has joined from Chelsea in an attempt to solve this. Collins has used his connections from his playing time in France to sign a couple of players – defender Thierry Gateussi joined from the French 3rd division and Torben Joneleit has been loaned from Monaco. Filipe Morais was signed for free from Milwall – the Portugese winger couldn’t even hold a place down on loan at 1st division St Johnstone last season. In spite of the underwhelming signings, Hibs should still make the top-6 if their promising youngsters such as Lewis Stevenson and Steven Fletcher continue to develop. Moroccans Abdessalam Benjelloun and Merouane Zemmama will add flair to the side, while Guillaume Beuzelin will continue to control the midfield.

Key Player – Guillaume Beuzelin

One to watch – Lewis Stevenson

Prediction – 6th


Inverness CT The model of consistency since their promotion to the SPL 3 years ago, having finished 8th, 7th and 8th, but this year may prove to be their hardest season yet. Lost key striker Craig Dargo to St Mirren on a free transfer, despite making him an offer which would have made him their highest paid player ever. Handed a similarly large contract to Romanian international striker Marius Niculae who was on a free transfer after leaving German side Mainz, and a lot will depend on how he adapts to the SPL. Didn’t receive a work permit in time for the opener against Rangers, but surprise, surprise, he got one just after his side had lost that match. Their other major signing was that of striker Dean McDonald from Gillingham on a free. Continued the trend of signing Ross County’s best player each summer, by snapping up their captain Don Cowie. Defender Darren Dods left for Dundee Utd and his presence will be hard to replace at the back. Don’t have the most attractive playing style in the league, but are difficult to beat and grind out results. Should have enough quality to stay up and could even be an outside bet for the top-6 if Niculae hits top form.

Key Player – Marius Niculae

One to watch – Rory McAllister

Prediction – 9th