SPFL Cinch Championship - Early Season Review - 2021/22Date: Friday, 17th Sep 2021
The Transfer Window has come and gone for the summer of 2021 for Scottish clubs and you can now bet on football at Lottoland now that the action has started. In this article, we review the activity – in and out – of all 10 SPFL Cinch Championship sides.
Arbroath Probably the `surprise` package inside the opening 5 matches – not that Dick Campbell`s side would ever be underestimated! However, the experienced manager has got the Red Lichties firing on all cylinders so far after some shrewd business in the summer window.
Standing out from their recruitment in the close-season is Nicky Low, who joined permanently from East Stirlingshire, having been loaned to the Championship side from the Lowland League outfit during the 2020-21 campaign. Another player who has impressed since making the step back up the divisions is Liam Henderson, having joined from Edinburgh City.
The versatile former Hearts youngster has shown he has the attributes to succeed in Scotland`s second-tier and that is currently benefiting the part-time Angus club. Joel Nouble has also joined, on a loan deal from Livingston, and he has proven to be a handful for many defenders this term already. After losing on-loan Livingston striker Jack Hamilton in the summer – as he returned to the West Lothian side – it could have been presumed he`d be a hard act to follow, but David Martindale has provided Arbroath with just as good a player for this current campaign.
Ayr United It has been a disappointing opening to the season for the Honest Men. David Hopkin was relieved of his duties after only 4 SPFL Cinch Championship matches, but under the Interim Manager of Jim Duffy, the Ayrshire club have managed to gain their first win of the term.
Tomi Adeloye has lead the line well for Ayr and has been able to contribute with goals too; the former Barnet striker looks like he could be a valuable asset to United going forward. Luke McCowan was a massive departure in the summer for then Hopkin`s men, as he made the step up to the SPFL Cinch Premiership with newly-promoted Dundee. However, Daire O`Connor has signed a 1-year deal from Cliftonville and has looked impressive in his outings so far: if anything, he is still going through an adaptation phase having never played in the Scottish game before, so only more can come from the Northern Irishman.
The majority of the players signed in the summer were from Morton, Hopkin`s previous club, so it will be interesting to see how those players perform under a new manager!
Dunfermline The Pars` early season form has been a disaster, to say the least. Peter Grant was appointed in the summer, following the resignation of Stevie Crawford. Club Captain Euan Murray left for Kilmarnock, while Kyle Turner joined league rivals, Partick Thistle.
Grant has signed around a dozen players so far, but many have received criticism from supporters. Deniz Mehmet joined from Dundee United, while Ross Graham joined on-loan from the Terrors. Graham Dorrans made the move to East End Park while Nikolay Todorov was handed the number 10 jersey following the sale of Declan McManus to The New Saints in the Welsh Premier League.
However, there seems to be major issues at Dunfermline right now, with the Fifers rooted to the bottom of the table, with 1 point out of a possible 12 and 3 points behind a cluster of teams all on 4 points. But, they do have a game in hand against Raith Rovers, to be played on the 29th of September.
Morton Gus MacPherson was handed the permanent position of Manager at Cappielow in the summer of 2021, after he helped the Ton stave off relegation to SPFL Cinch League One, via the play-offs.
The Inverclyde club have recruited experienced goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, defender Alan Lithgow and striker Gozie Ugwu, to strengthen their spine to the team, which continues to include midfielder Kyle Jacobs. However, MacPherson has also shown faith in the youths of the Greenock side during the matches at the start of the campaign, with further inexperienced players joining on Transfer Deadline Day, albeit from English Premier League sides Newcastle United and Brentford.
Morton have started the season OK and could do well this season, if the youngsters can carry on their good form that they have shown, so far.
Hamilton The relegated SPFL Cinch Premiership side have already lost their manager, in Brian Rice, after Accies accepted – albeit reluctantly – his resignation. They have appointed Stuart Taylor as Head Coach and hope that they can pick up form after a difficult opening to the term.
Keeping a hold of key players such as Brian Easton, Ryan Fulton, Jamie Hamilton and Lewis Smith has given Hamilton the nucleus of a good squad to try and battle for promotion this season. The one major setback has been the news that David Templeton will be out for the “foreseeable future” due to an ongoing hamstring injury. Raith Rovers Left-Back, Kieran MacDonald was purchased, as he re-joined Accies in a shrewd move by then boss Rice.
Selling Scott McMann on Transfer Deadline Day to Dundee United compounded the further sale of Hakeem Odoffin and the loss of Ross Callachan in the summer, but there should be enough at Hamilton right now to be in and around the Top 4 come the end of the season.
Inverness CT Many doubted and scrutinised the appointment of Billy Dodds as First-Team Manager by the Highlanders this summer, but he has answered most questions posed to him so far, after starting the season in blistering form.
The Caley Jags sit top of the SPFL Cinch Championship table with 5 wins out of 5, and a big part of that must be the experienced spine to the team which Dodds has assembled. To compliment the already contracted Mark Ridgers in goals, he has signed Kirk Broadfoot to lead the defensive line; Michael Gardyne has joined from local rivals Ross County to give the creative spark required to win tight matches, as they tend to be in this division; with the return of Northern Irish international, Billy McKay possibly proving pivotal over the course of the campaign.
But he has struggled for game time, with Shane Sutherland and Manny Duku firing in goals, aided by the likes of Aaron Doran and Roddy MacGregor, it is an impressive group of players that have been assembled by Caley this summer. They have already went and won away at title-favourites Kilmarnock, so it is hard to see anything other than a positive season in the offing for Dodds`s side.
Can they win the league? On this form, definitely.
Kilmarnock And if Inverness aren`t to win the league, you`d think this will be the winners. The pre-season title-favourites have recruited extremely well over the summer, as Tommy Wright hopes to help Killie bounce back to the SPFL Cinch Premiership straight away. Championship experience was added in the form of Euan Murray, Daniel Armstrong, Scott Robinson and Fraser Murray.
But Premiership class was also signed up, through the likes of Stephen McGinn, Jason Naismith; Liam Polworth and Oli Shaw. The ambition is clear, following their relegation through the play-offs at the end of the 2020-21 season. Apart from the already mentioned blemish against Inverness, Wright and his side have had a superb start to the campaign and you will struggle to not believe they will be there or thereabouts, come May.
Partick Thistle Ian McCall has managed to maintain the majority of his SPFL Cinch League One winners within his ranks, as they look for back-to-back promotions. Brian Graham and Zak Rudden up-front for Thistle will be crucial throughout the campaign, while the experience of players such as Stuart Bannigan and Richard Foster, gives them a good spine to build from.
Bringing in Kevin Holt and Cammy Smith - following both players having stints abroad – has proven to be two great acquisitions so far for the Firhill side; the additions of Kyle Turner and Scott Tiffoney make them a force to be reckoned with going forward. Lewis Mayo impressed while on-loan at Dunfermline Athletic last season, with the defender joining from Rangers on a loan deal, alongside his Ibrox colleague, Jake Hastie.
Partick currently sit 4th in the table and it is clear to see why early on: McCall`s men are set to have a positive seson as they return to the SPFL Cinch Championship.
Queen of the South Allan Johnston was faced with a typical, yearly, task of re-building his Doonhamers` squad, with the biggest departure of the summer being Stephen Dobbie. Other key players who departed Palmerston Park during the close season were Ayo Obileye and Connor Shields, who both made the step-up to the SPFL Cinch Premiership with Livingston and Motherwell, respectively.
But, Johnston has added players to his squad who have a point to prove and are desperate to do well for Queens. Harry Cochrane has signed from Hearts on a 2-year deal, while Roberto Nditi has made the step-up from Forfar Athletic. Ruari Paton joined for an undisclosed fee from Stranraer and has started the season in positive fashion, while Isiah Jones – the Middlesborough winger who enjoyed a loan spell with Queen of the South last season – has helped influence the signing of goalkeeper, Sol Brynn, who has also joined on-loan from the English Championship side.
The recent addition of Aidan Fitzpatrick on a permanent basis sets the Doonhamers up nicely for another productive season in Scotland`s second-tier. They are another club, one of many, who have had a decent start to the campaign, but if they can challenge at the top for the full term is yet to be seen.
Raith Rovers A club that surprised many during the 2020-21 SPFL Cinch Championship campaign, will be looking to replicate that form again this season – and maybe even go one better by gaining promotion to the top-flight!
However, their success last season came at a cost, with Hamilton signing Kieran MacDonald, while Regan Hendry left at the end of his contract to jojn English League 2 side, Forest Green Rovers. However, John McGlynn was able to hang on to most of his prized assets which will please the Kirkcaldy side. Dylan Tait left on Transfer Deadline Day as he joined Hibs, but the highly-rated youngster has re-joined on a loan deal until January.
Adding power to the midfield is Blaise Riley-Snow, while Ethon Varian has joined from Stoke City and already scored a few important goals for the Rovers. But the biggest piece of player news this summer was that Lewis Vaughan has ruptured his ACL for the fourth time, meaning his season is over before it had really begun.
The influential attacker will be a big loss to Raith as they aim to challenge at the top of the table – and while teams should never be a “one-man team” (and while that isn`t what is being implied here), the injury to Vaughan and his prolonged spell on the sidelines could have a major impact on the Rovers` promotion hopes, with Matej Poplatnik and James Keatings now having to step up off the bench and fill the void left by Vaughan for the remainder of the campaign.