The 2021-22 SPFL campaign is finally upon us but how will Aberdeen perform?
Will it be a season to remember for Stephen Glass’ men or a disappointing campaign for the Red Army?
Can Cove Rangers and Peterhead win promotion from League One and who will win the Highland League?
Our panel – Ryan Cryle, Paul Third, Callum Law and Jamie Durent – predict how the 2021-22 season will unfold.
Who will be the key men for Aberdeen this season?
PAUL THIRD (PT): The lack of goals in the Dons team last season ultimately cost them dear. Addressing that has been new boss Stephen Glass’ most important task in the summer and the early signs are that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Christian Ramirez can help solve that problem.
CALLUM LAW (CL): Christian Ramirez, Scott Brown and Declan Gallagher. The American can provide the goals the Dons need, while Gallagher can be the defensive lynchpin and Brown’s experience and winning mentality could also be key.
JAMIE DURENT (JD): Christian Ramirez and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. The Dons struggled mightily for goals last season and the club have pushed the boat out to get two experienced forwards on board. Delivering on that expectation could be the difference between Aberdeen achieving their goals this season or missing out.
RYAN CRYLE (RC): Based on the sparkling team performance against BK Hacken in Europe, there are plenty of Reds players I could list here, but I’ll focus on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Last season the Dons struggled to score goals, with new boss Stephen Glass bringing in strikers ‘JET’ and Christian Ramirez this summer to try to fix the problem. I’ve no doubt he’ll find the net himself, but Emmanuel-Thomas showed against Hacken he has the deftness of touch and vision to lay chances on a plate for his team-mates this season.
Where will Aberdeen finish in the Scottish Premiership this season? And who will win the league?
CL: Aberdeen will finish third in the Premiership and Rangers will retain the title.
JD: Fourth. I expect it to be a bunfight between Aberdeen and Hibs for the best-of-the-rest slot. At this stage the Hibees have the proven Premiership goalscorer in Kevin Nisbet but if Ramirez and Emmanuel-Thomas hit the ground running the Dons could become a real threat.
RC: I would be really surprised if Rangers didn’t win the league comfortably this season, but an attacking Glass side – who aren’t afraid to mix it with the Glasgow two – could upset Scotland’s football duopoly. Questions remain over Celtic after their chaotic off-season and I think second might be up for grabs.
PT: The challenge remains splitting the big two of Scottish football and it’s a big ask for any club. It will be interesting to see if Hibernian can maintain their progress but I expect a strong response from the Dons this season. It’s Rangers’ title to lose as Celtic’s hangover from last season looks to still be lingering but being best of the rest in third place is still a significant achievement given the gulf in resources.
Will there be cup joy for the Dons this season?
RC: You’re always beholden to the draw in both competitions, but – armed with nothing more than my optimism for the Glass revolution – I’ll say yes. St Johnstone’s achievements last season have reaffirmed silverware isn’t just a possibility for two clubs.
JD: I think it’s too early to be talking about cup success. They have reached semi-finals perennially under Derek McInnes and the odd final, only to fall short. Progress in European competition may be more pivotal, with the experience of their new signings clearly geared towards clearing that hurdle.
PT: A cup renaissance for Aberdeen is needed after two disappointing campaigns last season. The early season optimism and momentum could take the Dons far in the League Cup but the Scottish Cup is the one Dons fans really want to see back in the Pittodrie boardroom for the first time since 1990. If Glass can deliver the Scottish Cup he’ll be a hero.
CL: Unfortunately, I think the Dons will just miss out on silverware this season.
What can we expect from Cove Rangers and Peterhead in League One this season?
PT: Anything other than the League One title will be a disappointment for Cove Rangers. Their recruitment this summer is a clear indicator of their ambition and on paper they now boast the strongest squad in the division. As for Peterhead, a play-off place is not out of the question but Jim McInally doesn’t have a biggest of squads and having his players fit and available will be key for the Blue Toon boss.
CL: After play-off disappointment last season, Cove will be looking to challenge at the top of League One again. Peterhead will also be looking to improve on last term and could push for a play-off spot.
JD: Cove Rangers have set the bar high for themselves with the nature of their summer signings. Iain Vigurs, Ross Draper and Shay Logan indicate a club that has to challenge for the League One title. Peterhead could be one of the surprise packages in the division – their midfield is vibrant and energetic and Russell McLean has the bit between his teeth on his return to Balmoor. A top-half finish is not out of the question.
RC: Cove have perhaps the strongest part-time squad ever assembled in Scotland for the new campaign and, with Megginson, McAllister, Fyvie, Vigurs, Draper, Logan and more, they have to win the league. If Russell McLean can fill the post-McAllister goal void at Balmoor, the Blue Toon can make the play-offs.
Finally, who is going to win the Highland League?
PT: As a Brocher I have to go with my hometown team Fraserburgh. They have been building towards a title win for a couple of years now and Mark Cowie has an excellent squad. Brora Rangers remain the team to beat but I’m not convinced their squad is as strong as it has been in recent seasons. Time will tell but I fancy the Broch this season.
CL: Brora Rangers would be my tip for Highland League glory at this stage but they’ll face stiff competition from the likes of Fraserburgh, Buckie Thistle, Brechin City and Inverurie Locos.
RC: Fraserburgh – they’ve been building towards something under Mark Cowie at Bellslea. Despite the strength of champions Brora Rangers and new boys Brechin City, I’m backing the Broch.
JD: It is still hard to see past Brora Rangers. In Jordan MacRae and Andy Macrae they have two prolific scorers who will only get better and if Josh Meekings stays fit, he’s a fantastic signing for this level. Fraserburgh and Buckie Thistle look to be the strongest competition, with Rothes, Inverurie Locos and Formartine all likely to have a say. The balance of youth and experience in Nairn County’s squad should also see them enjoy a good season, with the possibility of cracking the top six.