Dunfermline`s Destinations DecidedDate: Wednesday, 7th Jun 2023
The 2022-2023 SPFL season came to end on Sunday, with Ross County prevailing in an enthralling second-leg against Partick Thistle in the final of the Premiership Play-Offs.
With that said, Season 2023-2024 is nearly upon us already, with Dunfermline Athletic now fully aware of who will be joining them in Scotland`s second-tier next season.
Rhys McCabe`s side won through the Play-Offs, defeating Falkirk and Hamilton Academical, to return to the Championship after many years away. The Diamonds built a squad which was super-competitive and arguably the Pars` hardest test in League One last term. With the majority of players out of contract, it`ll be interesting to see if Airdrieonians can maintain their competitive edge a level up and cause James McPake`s men as many problems this time around.
Dick Campbell`s men did what they had to do to ultimately survive in the Championship last season, finishing 8th – it`ll be a similar goal for the upcoming campaign you`d suspect, with arguably a tougher division making it extremely hard for the only part-time side within Scotland`s second-tier during Season 23-24. Former Dunfermline attacker Ryan Dow will be a key player for the Red Lichties, but the Pars will travel to Gayfield with confidence, following their 5-1 SPFL Trust Trophy win in Angus last season.
Ultimate heartbreak for ex-DAFC player Lee Bullen, will show a real test of character not just of his squad, but of the man himself, during the upcoming campaign. After finishing 2nd and then entering into the Promotion Play-Offs at the semi-final stage, the Honest Men were riding the crest of a wave, but were quickly brought down to earth with a bump following an 8-0 aggregate hammering by Partick Thistle. If they can keep Dipo Akinyemi – their top goalscorer from Season 22-23 – and build their squad around him once again, they`ll be a tough side to be reckoned with. However, key players such as Josh Mullin have already left Somerset Park, making Bullen`s job that little bit harder.
The bookies favourites for going straight back up to the top-flight, Dundee United will clearly be the side all have their eyes on as the campaign kicks off. It is yet to be seen how much of an overhaul there will be at Tannadice, with the majority of players under contract – but how many of them want to remain and how many are capable of competing in the Scottish Championship? That`s Jim Goodwin`s job over the summer break, to answer these questions: if he can get them right, you`d imagine the Tangerines do stand a good chance of making it a one-season stop-off in the second-tier, but we all know that is easier said than done.... with internationals littered throughout their squad, such as Aziz Behich and Steven Fletcher, then the quality is there, but is the mentality?
Inverness Caledonian Thistle
A side who have already had a mini summer-break and are now onto a second small holiday are the Caley Jags. The Highlanders were involved in the Scottish Cup Final, but had nearly a month to prepare for the match; they now have another month or so until pre-season resumes, but Billy Dodds has already spoken of his concern regarding burn-out and fatigue of his squad for next season, already. Ultimately, you`d think Inverness would be up there challenging for promotion, so you wonder if Dodds is trying to clamp down on expectations or if he genuinely feels his side may struggle to be competitive throughout next season due to fitness. They have already lost key player Robbie Deas, with the defender joining Kilmarnock, so it could be another summer rebuilding job for ICT.
Dougie Imrie`s side ran the `Top 4` close last term and were unlucky to miss out on the Promotion Play-Offs in the end. A side who are never easy to play against, at a stadium which the Pars never seem to have a great record at notoriously, shows that it won;t be an easy 12 points against the Ton in Season 23-24. Cappielow has seen the best of former Par Robbie Muirhead over the past 12 months and this emphasises how good a job Imrie is doing. The nucleus of a strong squad remain, but certain experienced players have been let go, such as Efe Ambrose and Lewis Strapp. With a few strong additions, Morton can be up there challenging again, but with such a competitive league, it really is hard to predict where anyone will finish as things stand!
The side that had more heartbreak than anyone else during last season was those from Firhill. They say `Firhill Fir Thrills`, but it was Dingwall where all the drama happened. Winning 3-0 on aggregate, with 20 minutes to go, the promotion party had started amongst the visiting supporters. Ultimately, losing 5-4 on penalties following a dramatic comeback from Ross County will have been a dagger through the heart of many in yellow and red that afternoon. Similarly to Ayr United, the upcoming season will depend on how they recover from this disappointment; if they can use the hurt as motivation and keep key players Brian Graham, Aidan Fitzpatrick and Kyle Turner (just to name 3!) then it could be a really enjoyable 12 months on the cards for Kris Doolan`s men. It will now be a real test of his managerial capabilities, in his first senior role: can he rejuvenate the players and get them playing at full potential once more?
Following their summer takeover, Raith`s put together a really strong and attack-minded side so far with plenty options middle to front – options which are young and have potential but also have the experience to hit the ground running too. If Ian Murray can bring in the correct players in defence and find a goalkeeper capable enough of replacing Jamie MacDonald, then the Kirkcaldy club may just be the dark horses of the SPFL cinch Championship for Season 23-24. With former Dunfermline Athletic striker Andy Barrowman now the CEO and heading up the new consortium which has just taken control at Stark`s Park, there is a real positive energy surrounding Raith right now, which can only make the 4 Fife Derbies ahead of us even more enthralling than they usually are.
Finally, but certainly not least, we have Queen`s Park, Currently managerless following the departure of Owen Coyle, it`ll be concerning times for the Spiders, who ended the season so much higher than they would have expected, but with ultimate disappointment too; missing out on the title on the final evening and then going out of the Play-Offs in the quarter-final stage, you wonder if the former amateur side have peaked and they will struggle to replicate their form next season in what will arguably be a tougher division. Dom Thomas remains a key figure for them and will provide hope that good times are still just around the corner, but the future isn`t as black and white as Leeann Dempster and her Board of Directors would`ve hoped for at this stage of the summer.
With over 2,000 Season Tickets sold and over a dozen players signed up for next season already, we are in a good place heading back into the second-tier of Scottish Football. But the hard work isn`t over yet, it has barely begun.