SPL 2011/2012 Preview
The SPL season gets underway this weekend as Rangers are looking to defend the title they dramatically won.
Can the Hoops put it up their Glaswegian rivals or, for the first time in a long time can another side challenge the top two?
Hearts seem to be the only side capable of breaking into the top two, the Edinburgh side finished in third last year a mere 29 points off Celtic in second. They also managed to beat both Celtic and Rangers throughout the season, but it was results elsewhere which cost them.
Jim Jefferies has added to his already proven squad bringing in the likes of Jami Hamill, Danny Grangier and John Sutton. They will be a big threat if key man Kevin Kyle can stay fit. There was no coincidence that when the striker went through a period of injury last season Hearts' results dropped dramatically. In 19 appearances he scored seven goals, but was a key target man for the team. Hearts are a great bet at 5/4 to top the league without the big two.
Dundee United finished fourth last season, they are strongly tipped to do the same this year. They were only a point behind Hearts and arguably lucky to achieve such closeness to the third placed side. They have added highly rated Irish winger Willo Flood from Middlesbrough. However, they have lost a lot of what was a strong midfield unit, Craig Conway and Morgaro Gomis have moved to the Championship to Cardiff and Birmingham respectively. David Goodwillie has the potential to really push his side if he can hit top form this season. Peter Houston's side are 10/3 to finish top W/O Celtic and Rangers.
Rangers were gifted the title last season when Celtic blew their run in. It was the perfect send off for Walter Smith, the faithful manager had guided his beloved Gers through thick and thin and now another faithful servant in Ally McCoist takes the helm. McCoist's first job is to try and bolster the squad somehow, they have only managed one signing so far, that being Juan Manuel Ortiz and have lost quite a few players due to their loan's ending. Craig Whyte is still expected to open the chequebook and with Rangers European credentials they are still a good move for a lot of players.
The Gers are 5/6 along with their rivals Celtic to lift the SPL title come the end of the season. Celtic have been much more industrious in the transfer market and will be looking to put the heartbreaking loss behind them. They achieved their highest points total since the Martin O'Neill era and still failed to win the league, something which won't sit well with Neil Lennon. They have managed to release some of the dead weight and will be able to bring in some more big names.
Only one team in the last decade has gone straight back down after promotion from Division One and that was Gretna. But Dunfermline are coming into a league void of any real relegation favourite so they have been installed as 5/2 favs to finish bottom. St Mirren and Kilmarnock could all potentially take the bottom spot. After finishing fifth last season there has been a mass exodus from Rugby Park as Killie have become somewhat of a selling club. Kenny Shiels will have a lot of work to do this season and avoiding relegation must be his only priority. You can back Killie at 10/3 to finish bottom might be a wise investment.
Arguably the tie of the opening round sees defending champions Rangers start their campaign at Ibrox against Hearts. At 1/3 Rangers are solid favs for this, but having failed to bring in any real big names the value might be with an away win at 13/2.
Celtic start away to Hibs and are once again short price favs at 2/5. Hibs form last season was erratic at the very least and at 11/2 it's hard to see them upsetting Neil Lennon's men. We have a match winner offer for this game. At 11/8 you can back Gary Hooper to score anytime and Celtic to win.
Dunfermline are given a home tie and in their first game they could already be facing a relegation six-pointer as St Mirren are the visitors to East End Park. You can back the home side at slight odds against at 11/10 and with all the fan fare of being in the top flight and the buzz of opening day they well may be worth a punt.
For the whole SPL season remember to visit William Hill as we will be offering numerous betting opportunities on all this season's games as well as our ever popular Match Winner offers on each big game of the round.