Date: 30th July 2015
WITH Hibs and Rangers set to lock horns again and St Mirren also battling for the automatic promotion spot back to the Premiership, Ben Ramage has looked at the key signings and departures in the Championship so far and had a go at predicting the final league standings.
The Wasps narrowly avoided relegation last season, and Danny Lennon will be looking for a more comfortable season at the Indodrill Stadium this season around. The loan signings of Celtic duo Conor McManus and Michael Duffy should help to bring some quality in midfield and up front respectively, while the central-belt side have also brought in Burton O’Brien from Livingston, Dougie Hill from Raith Rovers and Kyle McAusland from Dunfermline. This should help ease the loss of defenders Daryll Meggatt and Ben Gordon, as well as strikers Liam Buchanan and Kevin Cawley. Lennon will have to work quickly to bed in his new acquisitions in order to avoid another relegation scare.
The Sons moved quickly to bring in manager Stephen Aitkin from Stranraer, after they lost in the League One play-off’s to Forfar. He immediately set to work on improving the squad which failed to make it half way up the Championship last year, ultimately finishing 7th. Ex-Jambo Darren Barr has been brought in to sturdy the defence, while Bino Gordon Smith has been acquired to add extra firepower as well as Alloa forward Kevin Cawley. They have lost two influential midfielders to the Premiership with Chris Turner joining Hamilton Accies and Darren Petrie returning to Dundee United after his loan spell. Also lost midfielder Scott Agnew to St Mirren but former midfielder Aitkin has sought to address this by bringing in Jamie Lindsay on loan from Celtic as well as signing Jon Routledge from Hamilton.
There has not been a lot of movement for Bairns fans to get excited over so far, with gaffer Peter Houston largely trying to keep together his squad after a successful season last year which saw them finish 5th. He has lost exciting forward Rory Loy, though, to Premiership side Dundee, whose goals will be sorely missed, as well as experienced Jamie McDonald to Kilmarnock. He will hope that replacement Bob McHugh from Motherwell will keep up the goalscoring of Loy, while keeper Danny Rogers has been brought in on loan from the Dons.
Last year’s League One champions Morton have struggled to add to their league winning side so far, with gaffer Jim Duffy only managing to bring in winger Bobby Barr from Brechin City and Stranraer defender Frank McKeown. He has managed to keep the majority of his title winning side together, though, with Stefan Milojevic and Jamie McCluskey the main casualties of going up, both of whom have moved abroad. The Ton may need to strengthen further to stay up in the more competitive Championship.
Having come up short against Rangers in the play-offs last season, Alan Stubbs has tried to strengthen significantly in order to go one further this time around. Not only won’t they have to compete with Edinburgh rivals Hearts this season, they have also signed James Keatings from the Jambos, a Championship promotion expert who went up with Hearts last season as well as before with Hamilton Accies. Martin Boyle has also been added up front joining from Dundee, while keeper Mark Oxley has joined permanently from Hull City having been on loan last season. Stubbs will have been annoyed at losing Liam Craig and Callum Booth to Premiership opposition, joining St Johnstone and Partick Thistle respectively, but happy to have so far kept hold of young stars Jason Cummings and Scott Allan. Their pursuit of the title may well rest on continuing to keep hold of these young stars.
Having escaped relegation and administration last year, Livingston will be hoping to stabalise in the Championship this year. Mark Burchill has lost three key midfielders so far, with Shaun Rutherford and Kyle Jacobs both joining Queen of the South and Burton O’Brien leaving for Alloa. Has made some sound looking acquisitions so far, though, with midfielder Kieran Gibbons joining from Aberdeen and defender Morgyn Neill coming from Motherwell. Striker Liam Buchanan has also arrived from the Wasps to add some much needed firepower at the Almondvale Stadium.
Queen of the South
The Dumfries side won many plaudits for their expansive style of play last season, and the Doonhamers will look to push on now that Hearts have left the league and left arguably a two horse race for the title. Motherwell striker Steven Higgins has been brought in to further fire on the Queens, while Callum Tapping and Shaun Rutherford have been brought in to bolster their all-important midfield. They have paid the price for their success last season, though, with Ian McShane leaving for an undisclosed fee to Ross County, Kevin Holt joining Dundee, Mark Durnan leaving for Dundee United and Gavin Reilly leaving for Championship winners Hearts. While they have received compensation for all these young talents, they may struggle to replicate their terrific form last season this time around.
Ray McKinnon’s excellent work at Brechin City saw him appointed Raith Rovers manager, and he has looked to strengthen the side which finished mid-table last year. So far he has strengthened the defence with Kyle Benedictus of Dundee, James Craigen and Darren Petrie from Dundee United and Partick Thistle repsectively and Mitch Megginson up front from Dumbarton. He was powerless to stop key forward Christian Nade joining Hamilton Academical, though, or Ryan Conroy from leaving for Queen of the South, so it remains to be seen where McKinnon can take the The Rovers this season.
Ex-Brentford boss Mark Warburton has set about rebuilding the Rangers side which just fell short in the play-offs last season to Motherwell. This begun with a major clear-out of established players, including Kris Boyd, Lee McCulloch, Steven Smith, Ian Black, Jon Daly and Bilel Mohsni, as well as all the Newcastle loanees from last season. He has brought in two Hearts players in Jason Holt and Danny Wilson, the key signing being skipper Wilson who returns to the centre of defence having left the Gers for Liverpool. He has also recruited heavily from Wigan, bringing in former Newcastle youngster James Tavernier as well as Martyn Waghorn and Rob Kiernan from the Latics. Andy Halliday has also been brought in from Bradford City, and with few key losses from Ibrox Rangers certainly look in a strong position to take the Championship title at the second time of asking.
Looking to bounce back after a dismal season last year which ended in relegation, the Buddies new manager Ian Murray has moved quickly to try and rebuild a demoralised side by adding midfielders Stuart Carswell from Motherwell and Cameron Howieson from Burnley. Defender Luke Conlan has also joined from the Clarets, while striker Paul McMullan has been brought in on loan from Celtic. They have lost the influential duo of Gary Teale and Gregg Wylde, though, to management and Plymouth Argyle respectively, and will be hard pressed to bounce straight back to the Premiership with Hibs and Rangers a tough obstacle to overpass.
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