Scottish Championship: Noisy neighbours, scoring sensations & managerial mavericks

Dundee United lost the Premiership play-off final on penalties to St Mirren in May
Dundee United lost the Premiership play-off final on penalties to St Mirren in May

From noisy neighbours splashing the cash, to a hotbed of managerial talent and some of the most prolific strikers in Britain.

It could only mean one thing - another captivating season in the Scottish Championship, which kicked on Friday night in thrilling style as relegated Dundee battled back from 2-0 down for a draw at Dunfermline Athletic.

Glasgow City and Scotland midfielder Leanne Crichton, who fronts BBC Scotland's live TV coverage of the division, makes her predictions for the months ahead.

Who will finish top of the pile?

Dundee United and Dundee go head to head in the second tier for the first time in 23 years and the renewal of the rivalry adds real spice to the division.

United, now in their fourth season outside the Premiership, invested heavily in January and have bolstered again during the close season after defeat by St Mirren in the play-off final. Robbie Neilson has been well backed and Lawrence Shankland - the Championship's top scorer with 24 goals last season - is the headline signing among half a dozen additions.

Having fallen agonisingly short last season, I'm backing United to go up. In fact, they should cruise it. They have the head coach to do it in Neilson and they have the strength in depth. The gut-wrenching memory of that shootout defeat by St Mirren in May won't do them any harm either in providing extra motivation.

Shankland can make the difference. A lot of people expected him to go south this summer when he left Ayr United, but what an opportunity for him to get United promoted. With better players around him, he can thrive and show just how good he is.

Dundee v Dundee United
Dundee and Dundee United face other on 30 August for the first time since a 2017 League Cup tie

Will anyone go up from the play-offs?

Only two teams - Livingston and Hamilton Academical - have been promoted via the play-offs since their reintroduction in 2013. But I wouldn't put it past Dundee, who - not to be outdone by their rivals' 200 yards down the road - have brought in nine new faces.

The most intriguing arrival at Dens Park, though, is Gordon Strachan's return to football as technical advisor to rookie manager James McPake. It's a big test with such a seismic management change. It will be fascinating to see how McPake acquits himself in his first job. He has Strachan to lean on for experience but needs everyone from the backroom staff to the players to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

The pressure is on Dundee. They should have the quality to be pushing near the top, but the play-offs is their best hope.

Who's going to struggle?

Alloa Athletic and Arbroath are both part-time and facing an almighty battle to stay up. Alloa have lost the manager, Jim Goodwin, who got them promotion then kept them up last season, while Arbroath's first campaign in the second tier since 2003 could quickly turn from novelty to despair.

So a straight fight between those two to avoid bottom spot, while the other team I can see being dragged into trouble is Queen of the South.

They'll need Stephen Dobbie to almost have a repeat season from last year - but it's a lot to ask a 36-year-old to match his haul of 21 Championship goals. If he does, and stays injury-free, they'll be fine. But Queens without Dobbie are a huge concern.

Jim Goodwin
Jim Goodwin has left as Alloa boss to take the reins at St Mirren

Any new hotshot strikers?

With 45 league goals between last season - and 77 in all competitions - Shankland and Dobbie may well take some shifting from the top of the scoring charts again.

But keep an eye out for Kevin Nisbet, who has hit the ground running with Dunfermline after stepping up from League One, where he scored 34 goals in 46 appearances for Raith Rovers last season.

The striker finished this summer's League Cup group stage as top scorer, netting five in four games, and is already off the mark with a goal in the league opener against Dundee. He has plenty more improvement to come having only turned 22 in June.

Player of the Year?

This accolade tends to boil down to goals and that's why, if Shankland fires United to the title, he will be the player lauded to the heavens.

But don't discount Shaun Byrne, who can be a crucial signing for Dundee. The all-action midfielder surprisingly dropped down a division after an impressive first season in the Premiership with Livingston and it was a real coup for Dundee to land him. Expect the 26-year-old to have a big impact.

Top talent in the dugouts

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'Is it harder to manage Celtic than Arbroath?'

Big-name signings aren't confined to Championship playing squads. There will rarely be a dull moment with former Scotland boss Strachan in the Dundee stands and larger-than-life national treasure Dick Campbell embarking on his 32nd season in the dugout when he leads Arbroath into action.

Elsewhere, former Scotland assistant Peter Grant has taken his first job as a manager in 12 years by accepting the challenge of succeeding Goodwin at Alloa.

And David Hopkin - whose stock was soaring when he left Livingston in May 2018 after leading them to back-to-back promotions - finds himself trying to restore former glories to first love Greenock Morton.

Anything else to look out for?

It's intriguing times at Firhill with Partick Thistle poised for a takeover. Three members of the board - including chairman Jacqui Low - have already been ousted and uncertainty looms large over the club in manager Gary Caldwell's first full season at the helm.

Scottish Championship table

How will the Scottish Championship table look at the end of the season? Place all 10 teams in your order, then share with your friends.

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