Scottish Championship promises competition and excitement

St Mirren manager Alex Rae
St Mirren manager Alex Rae begins his Championship campaign with a home game against derby rivals Morton

Over the past two seasons the Scottish Championship has produced dramatic games, with Hearts and then Rangers successfully making their way back into the Premiership.

This season should prove no different as several clubs aim for the sole automatic spot.

Further, with three play-off positions to target there should be no lack of passion and excitement once again throughout the campaign.

Three clubs with aspirations of promotion begin their campaigns with a new man in charge.

The departure of Alan Stubbs from Hibernian has allowed Neil Lennon to step into the hot seat at Easter Road as the club looks to build upon their Scottish Cup success in May.

Lennon has cast his eye over his squad in a short European campaign that ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Brondby but says the season ahead will only be a success if they achieve a place in the Premiership.

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon's immediate task is to get Hibernian out of the Championship, ideally as league winners

"It's important to get promotion," explained Lennon. "I think everyone has made that pretty clear.

"For a club this size it's not great to be in the second tier of Scottish football.

"We have to earn the right to be there and it's what we have to do over 36 games."

Lennon had a disappointing time with Bolton in the English Championship but believes his experiences of winning three Premiership titles at Celtic should help him reach his goal.

Dundee United's troubles over the past 12 months brought about two changes of manager as first Jackie McNamara and then Mixu Paatelainen vacated the Tannadice dugout.

In has stepped Ray McKinnon who celebrates his 46th birthday on the eve of the Championship campaign. A former United player, McKinnon took Raith Rovers to the play-offs last season.

His task this time could be extremely difficult given the number of players who left Tannadice after relegation was confirmed in May. He hopes their replacements will be good enough to push towards the top end of the league.

Dundee United manager Ray McKinnon
Ray McKinnon has brought in the likes of goalkeeper Cammy Bell, defender Lewis Toshney and midfielder Willo Flood, but has lost experienced figures such as Paul Paton and John Rankin

"We are in good shape and I would still like to add a couple of players," McKinnon explained.

"We have been very patient in our selection of players this year but we have brought in seven who I feel will do well for us.

"It's basically half a team and more (who have joined) and to turn around a team in six weeks is hard to do, especially a big team like Dundee United where expectation levels are high."

McKinnon says getting back up at the first attempt will be the goal but, as others have found, being top of the league after 36 matches is far from simple.

"Stats tell you everything," he added.

"Rangers spent two seasons in this league and Hibs are going into their third year.

"St Mirren got relegated and finished seventh last season.

"This is a tough tough league with a lot of good players in it.

"I don't think anyone will be running away with this league and I think you are going to have to fight and earn every point."

McKinnon's replacement at Raith Rovers' Stark's Park is the former Hearts and Kilmarnock boss Gary Locke.

Raith's new signing Declan McManus
Raith's new loan signing Declan McManus

The 41-year-old has had a turbulent start to his managerial career. He was in charge for the 12 months of Hearts' administration process before he was cast aside by the new regime at Tynecastle.

He then took over from Allan Johnston at Kilmarnock but lasted less than a year at Rugby Park before joining Raith in June.

"If you look at the teams in the league every team could play in the top flight," insists Locke.

"It's going to be a fantastic league, really competitive.

"I'm at a great club. I'm really enjoying working here. The board of directors and the fans have been great.

"It really is a club pushing in the right direction and hopefully we can go and emulate the success Ray and the rest of the team had last year."

In May, Falkirk came within 90 minutes of a return to the top flight but a disappointing second leg of their play-off final against Kilmarnock meant another season in the Championship.

Peter Houston won many admirers for his achievements at Falkirk last season, though they fell short in the play-off final against Kilmarnock
Peter Houston won many admirers for his achievements at Falkirk last season, though they fell short in the Premiership play-off final against Kilmarnock

Manager Peter Houston is entering his third full season with the Bairns and he says that, despite the disappointment of missing out on promotion, steady progress has been made.

"The first four or five months of my tenure here was difficult, getting to know the division and getting to know the players and then taking it forward and then strengthening the squad," Houston explained.

"We have sold five players since I came in but I think on the pitch we have still gone forward."

Houston is better placed than most to evaluate the league and says this season is likely to be the most competitive in recent times.

He continued: "You have Hibernian, Dundee United, Dunfermline, Ayr United coming up as well.

"It's probably a stronger league with more clubs full-time. Morton will be strong again as will Raith Rovers under Gary (Locke) so you can take nothing for granted in this league.

"Our target is to make the play-offs.

"If we do get there we will take our chances again and hopefully we will have a better experience this season.

"If we were to go through the season losing four games, as we did last season, there is a good chance we could win it.

"I think any team who only loses four games in the Championship will win the league."

Dunfermline captain Andy Geggan, chairman
Dunfermline captain Andy Geggan, chairman Ross McArthur and manager Allan Johnston display the Scottish League One champions flag, which will be unfurled before their opening league game against Dumbarton

Promoted clubs Ayr United and Dunfermline Athletic, who are full time, are capable of putting in a challenge and, with St Mirren, Morton and Queen of the South in the mix, the Championship seems to have more strength in depth than ever before.

Ayr captain Nicky Devlin said: "We can't wait to get going.

"We were used to winning a lot of games last year so hopefully we can continue that this year, but we know it's going to be a lot harder."

Experienced Buddies defender Andy Webster is desperate to begin the season with a home win over rivals Morton.

"Starting with a derby is great," he said.

"This season is going to be very competitive. We have to get off to a good start, build a bit of momentum and then reassess where we're going."

Dumbarton are the bookmakers' favourites to finish bottom yet last season they managed to defeat Hibernian twice and secure valuable points against other promotion contenders.

It all kicks off on Saturday at three o'clock. The fans are dreaming of promotion to the Premiership.

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