Celtic 1.20, the draw 6.00, Aberdeen 13.00
If you believe the masses, the SPL title race has already been won. With Rangers’ new Third Division status, one caller to a radio phone-in show this week even claimed, “nobody will take a point off Celtic this year.” That’s ridiculous, of course, but there’s no doubt the champions are expected to retain their SPL title this season, and comfortably so.
However, Celtic’s pre-season preparations haven’t gone as smoothly as Neil Lennon might have hoped. In Amsterdam, an experimental 3-4-1-2 formation against Ajax failed badly, conceding three times in the opening 30 minutes. In Germany the Hoops slumped to defeat against lower league Stuttgart Kickers, although Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan did suggest the Parkhead side were starting to reach a competitive level, with Kris Commons continuing his personal resurgence with an incredible first half strike.
Aberdeen have ambitions of their own. After last season’s disappointing ninth-place finish, which saw them flirt with relegation for much of the campaign, Craig Brown has added flair to his solid squad through the signing of former Celtic midfielder Niall McGinn, and Johnny Hayes from Highland rivals Inverness. There is an opportunity for the Dons to catch Celtic cold here, with Lennon presumably focused on next week’s Champions League third qualifying round second leg against HJK Helsinki. But Celtic’s quality should tell, and that caller’s bold claim should remain credible for at least one game.
Ross County 2.65, the draw 3.30, Motherwell 2.50
If the SPL followed the American sporting model, awarding places to towns and cities with the most lucrative fan-bases, Ross County would be nowhere near Scottish football’s top flight. Dingwall, home to the Highland side, has a population of just over 5,000, but that hasn’t held back County who will compete in the SPL for the first time this season.
When the Staggies reached the Scottish Cup final in 2010 they took over 17,000 fans with them to Hampden and Derek Adams’ side have continued to betray their home town’s size, winning promotion from the First Division, finishing a staggering 24 points ahead of second placed Dundee.
Such is the quality of the team Adams has assembled, many predict County will comfortably avoid an immediate return to Division One. New signings Gary Glen, Ross Tokely and Martin Scott all have SPL experience, but an injury suffered by Rocco Quinn just days before their SPL opener has hit County hard.
Motherwell’s season has been geared towards their first ever appearance in the Champions League, but after Tuesday’s 2-0 first leg loss to Panathinaikos that dream might be over. Stuart McCall’s side are formidable in attack, with Henrik Ojamaa, Jamie Murphy, Chris Murphy and Nicky Law an enviable array of options, but against the Greeks they looked vulnerable at the back following the loss of Tim Clancy to Hibernian in the summer.
Despite the mid-week defeat McCall seems adamant his side can overturn the deficit in Athens, and Motherwell could well be focused on that task as they travel to Dingwall to face a County side eager to make a good first impression.
Dumbarton 1.55, the draw 3.85, Albion Rovers 4.90
Dumbarton are quite simply the best value ticket in the Scottish Football League. Last season they conceded as many goals as they scored, 92 from 36, averaging five goals a game, and still won promotion through the play-offs. The quality of Scott Agnew and Bryan Prunty in attack mean the Sons are always likely to score goals, but that strength is matched by the weakness of their defence, underlined by a sensational 6-0 pre-season loss to amateur side, Arthurlie last week.
Albion Rovers’ direct and physical style, embodied by striker John Gemmell, will test Dumbarton’s fragile backline, meaning we’re likely to see a case of who can score more when the two sides clash at The Rock.
Back Draw/Celtic at 4.20
Back Ross County to win vs. Motherwell at 2.60
Back over 2.5 goals between Dumbarton and Albion Rovers at 1.57