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A Stronger Scotland Part 6 – New Kids on the Block

Our first season back in the top flight was always going to be difficult to gauge in terms of our league standing and how we compare to Premiership opposition, but we’ve managed to keep the board’s expectation of European football a reality with a solid start to the league campaign.

Competition at the Top

After twenty one games we’re top of the deck, but I’m not thinking about a title challenge just yet, there’s a lot of football to be played and I still consider Celtic and Aberdeen as favorites. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s great to be in the mix at the halfway point with ample distance between us and fourth placed Hamilton (19 points).

Our ten point lead over Celtic is remarkable at this stage but we’ve got to face them a few more times yet, it’s a small league in Scotland and after 33 games the top half teams will only play each other, when the league splits in two. I’d say it’s a little bit easier for big teams like Celtic and Aberdeen to make up the difference – a couple of ‘six pointers’ against us and it’s all change at the top. This is what I wanted from the series though, more competition and more teams competing for titles. To have three teams gunning for the title is an improvement already, and if Rangers can gain promotion we’ll have four strong clubs battling it out in 17/18.

It looks like Dundee United are destined for the drop, with only one win all season they’ve got a hell of a job on their hands. Swopping Dundee United for Rangers would definitely improve the quality of the league.

Scottish Premiership season 2 league table after 21 games (16/17)

So what about Rangers?

One of our hopes for this season is completely out of our hands, for a stronger Scotland we need Rangers to gain promotion, and soon. They were left behind last season having narrowly missed out in the playoffs. Things are looking good in that respect though, they’re in pole position for the the single automatic promotion spot with a healthy sixteen point lead over St. Mirren. The competition and revenue brought to the Premiership by Rangers’ return would be a significant step in the series.

Scottish Championship season 2 league table after 24 games (16/17)

Balancing the Books

The biggest challenge so far has been a financial one. There is so little revenue generated (around £500,000 a month) that investment in players and facilities is near impossible. I’ve been extremely tight on the wage budget (only £80,000 a month) relying heavily on cheap or free loan deals to recruit players of a high calibre to mix in with our prized assests (Jason Cummings and company). I’ve only parted with money for the transfer of one player since taking the job, with all other player recruitment coming in the shape of free transfers and the promotion of one or two youth players.

It’s imperative that we maintain our run of form into the business end of the season and finish in a European spot (top 3). The financial benefits of European football from both gate receipts and prize money are going to be essential to the clubs progression. We need to balance the books and invest in our youth development and facilities, a little bit of spending money would be nice too.

Minimal Investment

That one signing I mentioned earlier was Vlad Mihalcea, a young Romanian winger purchased from FC Steaua for £140K. With interest from some of Europe’s finest clubs, including AC Milan, we had to act quickly to push a deal through. He’s been dubbed the next Dan Petrescu!

Vlad Mihalcea (dubbed the next Dan Patrescu)

Player Contributions

Our standout performer is predictably Jason Cummings, 22 goals in 22 starts sees him continue his incredible goal scoring ratio of a goal a game. His striking partner, on loan Luka Jovic, has delivered too from a deeper trequartista role with 18 goals. The strikers often take the plaudits but without the creative influence of Gray, our right-sided wing back, we wouldn’t be the league’s top scorers. His 14 assists have made a massive contribution to the team.