SCOTTISH football aficionado Gerry Taylor (@thefurlongpole) shares his verdict on the upcoming outright markets from the Scottish Championship, League One and League Two ahead of the 2020/21 campaigns.
Scottish Championship 2020/21
Hearts go off at long odds-on (1/4) favourites to be champions and bounce straight back to the Premiership and it’s difficult to argue with the skimpy prices that are on offer from the bookmakers.
To have Scottish International keeper Craig Gordon return in goal is a great capture for Robbie Neilson. Guys like Craig Halkett, new signing Stephen Kingsley and John Souttar when he returns from injury, should ensure that the Jambos have a solid base in defence.
Stephen Naismith, Jamie Walker and Northern Ireland's Liam Boyce will ensure there are plenty of goals in this easier grade.
Teams to struggle
I can envisage the likes of Morton, Queen of the South, Raith and Alloa scrapping it out towards the lower reaches of the Championship this season.
David Hopkin’s Morton side had by far the worst defence in the division last term – conceded 52 goals in 28 matches. Looking at their squad and new signings its difficult to see anyone who will really get amongst the goals for the ‘Ton.
Similarly, Allan Johnston despite signing a whopping 15 new players for Queen of the South will be searching for an improved goal return. The Doonhamers only averaged exactly one goal per-game in their 28 outings last season.
In recent years Queens have relied on the legend that is Stephen Dobbie for his prolific goal return, however the veteran is approaching his 38th birthday and will not play every game now, so Queens will need the likes of Aiden Fitzpatrick and Connor Shields to contribute also.
Newly-promoted Raith will be looking to survive on their return to this division after three years away. John McGlynn will be pleased he has a good experienced goalkeeper in Jamie McDonald to rely on.
Alloa under Peter Grant at least have a decent goalscorer in Allan Trouten to give them a fighting chance.
Where is the value?
In my opinion, the battle for the play-off places in second, third and fourth lies between five teams: Dundee, Arbroath, Inverness, Ayr and Dunfermline.
Dundee have done very well to acquire veteran Charlie Adam to Dens. The local lad has returned home to his roots, and he should enjoy playing in the Championship, having plied his trade in the top divisions in England for so long.
Adam aside, the rest of James McPake's squad doesn't look as if it's one that's totally nailed on for a top-two finish. Young striker Jonathon Afolabi has been signed on loan from Celtic, though there is no obvious prolific striker in the ranks, in my opinion.
As previously mentioned on WLB, Inverness have lost six players to the Premiership this year. Whilst they undoubtedly should still be in the mix under the shrewd John Robertson, there is no doubt they have a weaker squad than the one that finished second last term.
Ayr have recruited pretty well in the last few months – getting striker Bruce Anderson on loan from Aberdeen is a bit of a coup. Dario Zannatta, Tom Walsh, Joe Chalmers etc are also good signings. These shrewd acquisitions should ensure the Honest Men are competing at the top end of the division.
Stevie Crawford's Dunfermline should similarly have a decent season. Kevin O'Hara and Declan McManus will be the main goal providers for the Pars, with Dom Thomas doing the assisting.
Arbroath have been doing very well in recent seasons under very experienced boss Dick Campbell. Eye-catching away wins at Dundee United and Inverness saw the Red Lichties finish fifth.
Michael Ruth and Miko Virtanen have joined on loan from Aberdeen, the experienced Kris Doolan has been recruited to add to the Arbroath goal threat for this term. This is where Arbroath can improve on last season as the defence was pretty solid.
Betting Without Hearts
BetVictor are offering a Without Hearts market. Dundee look short enough at 7/4. Inverness are 10/3 and Dunfermline 4/1.
Ayr and Arbroath are 8/1 and 20/1 respectively. These two prices for me, are the value shouts. As I believe the five teams below the Jambos are much of a muchness and could finish in a heap.
This market pays out at a fifth the odds each-way 1,2,3. So in effect, if as expected Hearts win the league, a top-three finish would guarantee a return.
Scottish League One 2020/21
Relegated Partick Thistle are going off as short-priced favourites around the 11/10 mark. For me, the Jags for a season long bet, are too short. They are maybe being priced up on reputation, as no doubt they are a big club to be operating at this level.
Ian McColl will be looking to the excellent Joe Cardle, Zak Rudden and Brian Graham to provide the goals for the Maryhill Magyars.
Falkirk (2/1) and Cove Rangers (11/2) in my opinion have as good a chance as Partick of claiming the title this season.
The Bairns have plenty of experience in their ranks with Paul Dixon, Margaro Gomis, Conor Sammon etc. Two players acquired from Hearts should do well at this level also – Aidan Keena and Callum Morrison.
Cove are making the step-up from League Two. As they showed with their excellent showing against a strong Hibs side in the League Cup, Paul Hartley's side could be contenders in League One. Mitch Megginson, Leighton McIntosh, Jamie Masson and Rory McAllister will be a good source of goals for the Aberdeen-based club.
So at the prices, and as I cannot see them being out the top three, I will put up Cove Rangers as a sporting alternative to the skinnier priced duo.
Scottish League Two 2020/21
Queens Park are no longer an amateur club – they are now a professional outfit and are being backed with some serious money for this lowly level.
Ray McKinnon has signed front-man Simon Murray who is an eye-catching capture for League Two level. Likewise, Bob McHugh should score a few at this lower level.
The bookies however are taking no chances with quotes of 1/3 on the Spiders winning the league. The pressure will be on McKinnon with the money that has been chucked at it, and he is yet to convince at the various clubs he has been at.
If understandably 1/3 on an ante-post bet doesn't float your boat, you might get a run for your money with Davie Irons’ Stenhousemuir instead. Priced at a nice 7/1, it will be interesting to see how they go.
The thing they have that catches my eye with Stenny is, the amount of potential regular goalscorers they have in their squad: Mark McGuigan, Botti Biabi, Greg Spence, David Hopkirk and Callum Tapping. This should guarantee that Stenny are worth following this season especially with the firepower at their disposal.
Stenhousemuir put a marker down away to second favourites Edinburgh City (4/1) at the weekend in the League Cup, gaining an extra bonus point, winning on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Scottish Championship 2020/21 – Ayr to win Without Hearts (8/1 each-way BetVictor)
Scottish Championship 2020/21 – Arbroath to win Without Hearts (20/1 each-way BetVictor)
Scottish League One 2020/21 – Cove Rangers to win outright (11/2 each-way SkyBet)
Scottish League Two 2020/21 – Stenhousemuir to win outright (7/1 William Hill)