Kicking off a new SPL season against a powerful, all-consuming Olympic backdrop is a brave move by the league’s administrators, yet the close season has been so full of dramatic twists and turns, it’s possible that fans will be gripped by the time Celtic and Aberdeen get the ball rolling at 12:45 on Saturday.
The reigning champions’ odds to win the title border on the unbackable (they’re 1/33 with William Hill), although in the market excluding Celtic, Dundee United are Stan James’s 7/4 favourites, closely followed by Hearts, offered at 9/4 by bet365; Motherwell are a 6/1 shot according to BetVictor.com.
Few punters expect Celtic to slip up in their opener. Although the Dons forced a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie in March, Celtic have won every one of their last 14 SPL matches against Aberdeen at Parkhead; no wonder they’re 1/4 (Stan James) to make it a straight 15 on Saturday lunchtime.
Aberdeen endured a miserable campaign last term and will be hoping for a better start this season, although BetVictor’s 14/1 price for them to score an unexpected victory highlights the fact that their last win at Parkhead came in October 2004. This record accounts for the popularity of Skybet’s 4/5 about the champions leading at the end of both halves and for the 5/1 (Betfred) chalked about a 2-0 home win.
Less clear-cut is Ross County’s opener against Motherwell at Victoria Park. The Staggies romped to the First Division title last season, winning it by 24 points while remaining undefeated at home in the league. They’ve never met Motherwell before and kick off as Stan James’ marginal 8/5 underdogs, whereas bet365 chalk 6/4 about the visitors starting their campaign with a victory. Canny punters may fancy the 12/5 (BetVictor.com) posted about the stalemate; Paddy Power mark 7/2 against Ross winning by a single goal.
Dundee, the SPL’s other new boys, kick their season off at Kilmarnock, a side they faced twice in the Scottish Cup last term. However, the pair have not met in the league since April 2005 and Killie’s greater top flight experience accounts for their even money (Coral) price to overhaul their guests, who start priced at 10/3 (Ladbrokes) to win and at 2/1 (William Hill) to finish the season bottom of the SPL.
A closer affair is promised at Love Street where St Mirren entertain Inverness. Only once in the pair’s last 23 meetings in all competitions has the outcome been settled by more than one goal; seven of those matches have finished all square. Not surprisingly, BetVictor’s 5/2 chalked about the draw has proved popular, while the 9/2 (bet365) marked in favour of both halves finishing level has also been well backed – Stan James offers a goalless outcome at 8/1.
Hearts and St Johnstone played each other six times last season, with the Saints securing three league victories to Hearts’ one. Despite this, however, the Tynecastle team have been installed as Paddy Power’s even money favourites, with the Saints available at a frothy-looking 10/3 (bet365) to register three points.
Coral chalk 5/6 about St Johnstone winning when handed a one goal start and as only 3 of the pair’s last 13 duels have been settled by more than a single goal, Boylesports’ 10/1 for the visitors to win 1-0 cannot be ignored.
Finally, on Sunday, Dundee United (7/10, BetVictor.com) should have little difficulty beating Hibs (4/1, Stan James). United have lost only one of the pair’s previous 13 SPL encounters, explains the appeal of bet365’s 7/4 posted about them winning when kicking off with a single goal deficit.