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In Depth: Hibs Championship Challengers

In Depth: Hibs Championship Challengers

Hibs embark on a second successive league campaign out with the top flight and will be hoping this season provides a more successful campaign than 2014/15 which saw them edged out in the playoffs following an unlucky 2-1 aggregate defeat to a Rangers side who were on the back foot throughout the 180 minutes.

Alan Stubbs took a while to get his squad together and settle into his preferred style of ball retention whilst moving off the ball but despite some early disappointing results, the team played some excellent football from around November onwards and would surely a have posed a greater title challenge to eventual winners Hearts had they produced their best in the first quarter of the league campaign.

This season sees Morton, winners of League 1, and their local rivals St Mirren, relegated from the Premiership, join the remaining seven teams, alongside Hibs, who competed in the competition last season.

Certainly the bookies favourites are Rangers who have, much like Hibs last summer, undergone a close season of change.

The old guard have gone, including manager Stuart McCall who will probably feel a little aggrieved at not receiving a renewed contract having restored a little pride at Ibrox following Ally McCoist's disastrous reign but a clean sweep was required and it certainly happened.

A raft of the Ibrox side's expensive failures left the club with the likes of Kris Boyd, Lee McCulloch, Richard Foster, Ian Black, Steven Smith, Jon Daly and the irresponsible Bilel Mohsni amongst over 20 players released or whose loan deals had expired.

New Manager Mark Warburton was duly appointed and appointed a Gers stalwart, Davie Weir as his no.2 and the Englishman who led unfashionable Brentford to the brink of the English Premiership last season could prove to be a shrewd choice by a new Ibrox board.

He's acted quickly in the transfer market and added two former Hearts players in Jason Holt and Danny Wilson whilst also recruiting three players from Wigan Athletic alongside Wes Foderingham from Swindon Town.

If Hibs are to challenge for the title, as well as overcoming last season's inability to beat some of the lesser lights in the Division, they must at least equal Rangers points tally in their head to head meetings.

St Mirren, following relegation, dispensed with the services of manager Gary Teale who was replaced by an Easter Road icon in Ian Murray who left his post at Dumbarton to take charge of the Saints.

He brought along his no.2 from The Sons, Mark Spalding, and has had to spend the summer reorganising the Paisley outfits playing staff.

A raft of departures has seen Murray lose arguably his best player, John McGinn, to a close rival after Hibs confirmed the signing of the Scotland under 21 international last week.

Following McGinn out the door were Gregg Wylde, Yoann Arquin, Jeroen Tesselar, Marian Kello, Victor Genev and Thomas Reilly whilst loan deals for Emmanual Sonupe, James Dayton and Kieran Sadlier all ended.

Former Hibee Murray has however made some replacements. Scott Agnew followed him to Paisley from Dumbarton whilst Burnley duo Cameron Howieson and Luke Conlan have arrived. Stuart Carswell was snapped up from Motherwell but his shrewdest acquisition could prove to be the loan signing of Celtic forward Paul McMullan.

An indifferent pre season saw the Saints annihilated 5-0 by Sheffield Wednesday last weekend and despite claims to the contrary it's difficult to see them offering a sustained challenge for the title over the course of the season.

Queen of the South were a side unfancied by most last season but had a fine campaign under the stewardship of Jim McIntyre to finish fourth.

The Doonhamers ultimately saw their promotion hopes doomed in the playoffs with defeat to Rangers but will certainly hold hopes of replicating their success in the months ahead.

They could find it hard this time around having lost four key players from their squad. Mark Durnan and Kevin Holt have joined one half of the Dundee clubs each whilst Dan Carmichael and Gavin Reilly have divided their loyalties between the Edinburgh clubs.

Midfielder Ian McShane has also departed for pastures new having elected to sign for SPFL outfit Ross County while goalkeeper Zander Clark has returned to parent club St Johnstone.

Queens have been active in the transfer market and McIntyre bolstered the squad with the signings of some nine players including Livingston duo Kyle Jacobs and Shaun Rutherford.

Callum Tapping, once of Hearts, has joined from Brechin City whilst defender Jordan Marshall moved from Carlisle United.

It'll be a hard ask for the Doonhamers to finish in a playoff spot once again but they should certainly be amongst those challenging.

Kirkcaldy could be a place to watch next season with Raith Rovers another outfit who saw managerial change in the summer.

Ray McKinnon took over the reigns from Grant Murray following a spell in charge of Brechin and he appears to have made some decent pre season signings as Rovers look to improve on a sixth place finish last time out.

McKinnon has bolstered the Starks Park outfit with the arrivals of Kyle Benedictus, James Craigen, Ryan McCord, Lewis Toshney and Mitch Megginson and, not unlike St Mirren, appear to have made a shrewd loan signing by capturing 17 year old Scotland youth international striker Craig Wighton on loan from Dundee.

The Fifers have also lost a few players with Paul Watson, Dougie Hill, Ryan Conroy, Christian Nade amongst the more influential to leave but it would appear they'll certainly be a stronger outfit this time around.

Livingston are another side hoping to improve on last season's showing when a transfer embargo saw them struggle to compete, finally finishing eighth and avoiding a potential playoff to secure their Championship status.

With the embargo now lifted manager Mark Burchill has been active in the transfer market over the summer and has signed a mixture of youth, experience and unknown quantities.

Among the more enterprising signatures Livi have captured are Bulgarian midfielder Spas Georgiev and Moses Duckrell, a 19 year old Englishman who arrived via BK Sport in Sweden.

Alongside those pair the West Lothian side have welcomed the promising Morgyn Neill to Almondvale with former Alloa striker Liam Buchanan also joining.

Jordyn Sheerin, a lifelong Hibs supporter, has signed from Musselburgh Juniors where the striker was in scintillating form last season and netted more than 40 times. It'll be interesting to see how he fares at a higher level and having spent his summer in the gym it would be a wonderful story if he was to succeed in this league.

The Lions have also saw a wave of departures with the aforementioned Jacobs and Rutherford joining Queen of the South and experienced midfielder Burton O'Brien leaving for Alloa.

Can Livingston surprise the top sides in the Championship? Unlikely but they should fare ok and any improvement on last season will be welcomed.

New boys Morton are favourites to head straight back down and might find the clashes against likely fellow strugglers Alloa and Dumbarton are key to their survival.

They released eight players over the summer including former Hibees Jamie McCluskey and Ross Caldwell but have added a few new faces to compensate.

The extravagantly named Romario Sabajo has arrived from Dutch outfit Lienden on a short term contract which will expire in January and Bobby Barr has signed from Brechin City.

An interesting and potentially brilliant loan signing is that of Denny Johnstone from Birmingham City. The former Celtic striker, who signed for the Blues last summer after a deal to take him to Dundee United fell through, has the quality to take the Championship by storm.

Should he not produce the goals expected it could be a long season for the Greenock boys.

Alloa are another team expected to struggle this campaign but may surprise a few, especially with Danny Lennon in charge.

The Wasps have strengthened during the close season with thirteen new arrivals but this offset the departure of some 22 players from the club's books over the summer.

Despite finishing ninth last season and requiring a playoff to secure their Championship status, Lennon will be seeking an improvement however such is the strength of the division it could well be a three or four team mini league at the bottom to see who gets relegated and who's forced into the dreaded two legged affair against a team from League One who are usually in a decent run of form.

Hibs opponents this Saturday, Dumbarton, are yet another outfit who see a new man in charge for the upcoming season.

Stephen Aitken took over from Ian Murray when the latter departed for St Mirren and despite losing sixteen players through contract or loan expiry, Aitken would appear to have signed some quality replacements.

Former Easter Road 'keeper Mark Brown and experienced Darren Barr have joined from Ross County, Jon Routledge from Hamilton and Steven Craig from Wycombe.

He's also added Alloa duo Kevin Cawley and Mark Docherty whilst Gordon Smith has moved from Stirling Albion.

As said previously, The Sons will likely be concerned mainly with avoiding the drop and they, alongside Morton and Alloa, are the likeliest to be involved in the relegation scrap.

Finally, Falkirk.

Hibs bogey team from last season and Scottish Cup finalists at the Hibees expense.

Peter Houston may not be everyone's cup of tea but he normally has his team well drilled and they know exactly what's expected of them.

Surprisingly, with cash in the bank from their cup run they've been remarkably quiet on the transfer front with only three arrivals.

Bob McHugh and Paul Watson are the permanent recruits and goalkeeper Danny Rogers has joined on loan from Aberdeen.

The Bairns have seen the departure of two key players with striker Rory Loy joining SPFL outfit Dundee and stopper Jamie McDonald teaming up with his former Hearts boss, Gary Locke, at Kilmarnock.

Vital Hibs Predicted Finishing Table

1 Hibernian
2 Rangers
3 St Mirren
4 Queen of the South
5 Raith Rovers
6 Falkirk
7 Livingston
8 Dumbarton
9 Alloa
10 Greenock Morton

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Writer:Al
Date:Tuesday August 4 2015
Time: 10:11AM

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