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Jul 4, 2013

Market forces

This week's transfers have sifted more sense from the skinny squads with which most SPL teams entered the summer, although several managers are still without multiple members of what will likely be their starting XI when the league begins.

You can bet David Goodwillie will be in that number for Dundee United. The striker returns on a six-month loan from Blackburn Rovers, the club who paid £2 million for him two years ago but who would use him rarely. Goodwillie is 24 and if he has not lost anything during his downtime, should be one of the pick-ups of the summer, possibly as effective as Wolverhampton Wanderers' Leigh Griffiths was at Hibernian on loan last season. United need something serious up front, having lost the starting pair of Billy Russell and Jon Daly in the close season.

Jackie McNamara, the new United manager, has made some interesting moves to fill the gaps left by Russell, Daly and Willo Flood, the latter two lightening the wage bill at Tannadice. Andrew Robertson, 19, and Aidan Connolly, 17, arrive from Queen's Park; Chris Erskine and Paul Paton follow McNamara from Partick Thistle, with all three to face their former club on opening day.

Aberdeen continues to add depth to their squad with the acquisition of Gregg Wylde. Like Goodwillie, the former Rangers winger had dropped off the radar with restricted game time at Bolton Wanderers. The extent of their challenge in the new season however, could come down to what they have up front, especially if Niall McGinn is off the field or off target. They, too, raided Queen's Park, for 17-year-old Lawrence Shankland, but he may have to duke it out with academy graduates Declan McManus and Cameron Smith to become the breakthrough act of 2013/14 at Pittodrie.

Kilmarnock's new manager, Allan Johnston, will do well to hang on to all three free agents at the club. Kris Boyd, the league's all-time leading goalscorer, ended last season back at his first club, but will have other options to work through before he decides which shirt to wear in the new season. Johnston has made Boyd, the penalty-box killer, his top priority and it's hard to imagine an SPL team with him on the roster getting into any kind of difficulty at the bottom of the table. Darryl Duffy has SPL pedigree and may be a more realistic option, but his career curve in recent years has been even more alarming than Boyd's. Finally, Andy Webster is a sure thing at centre-back if he remains fit and can be persuaded to take a cut on his previous contract at Hearts. If Webster picks up the option of a contract with Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa, Johnston has Darren Barr, another Hearts survivor, lined up.

St Johnstone got David Wotherspoon on a free after his contract at Hibernian expired. Wotherspoon began last season in devastating form on the right side of Hibs' midfield, but ended it frequently on the bench. He joins the club closest to his heart, which may have helped St Johnstone in their pursuit of the 23-year-old. St Johnstone, however, are one of many SPL clubs with business yet to do, as departures outweigh arrivals in Perth, particularly in attack.

St Johnstone's budget was increased in unique circumstances, however, as they agreed compensation, reported at £40,000, with Ross County over Richard Brittain. The midfielder signed a pre-contract agreement with St Johnstone in January, but then told them he wished to remain in Dingwall for family reasons. After an entertaining stand-off, St Johnstone have effectively sold a player whose boots they never once had to clean.

Motherwell, second-place finishers for the previous two seasons, continue to rebuild their first team after half of their starters left under freedom of contract. This week the large hole left by Darren Randolph, the goalkeeper who will play for Birmingham City this season, was filled by the Faroe Islands international Gunnar Nielsen. The 26-year-old had been on loan at Motherwell in 2008, but did not see any action.

Motherwell also brought back John Sutton to Fir Park, the target man who refused the offer of reduced terms at Hearts when his former club went into administration. Sutton is a like-for-like replacement for Michael Higdon, in a positional sense at least. North of the Border does not recommend you place your wager for SPL top goalscorer on Sutton, but then we would have said exactly the same thing about Higdon this time last year, so what do we know?

On the betting side, even with a few weeks left of the close season, North of the Border is going out there with a prediction for the Second Division. Rangers appear to have a very good shot at it. The manager at Ibrox, Ally McCoist, was this week reportedly told to reduce his playing staff or stick with what he has. This as he attempts to sell Christophe Berra, the Scotland centre-back released by Wolves at the end of last season. So far McCoist has seven players lined up for September 1, when the club's registration ban is lifted - five former SPL first-teamers, one Honduras international and the top goalscorer in all of the pro leagues in Scotland last season. At odds of 1/10, Rangers offer better returns than a cash ISA, and are no less certain to deliver.

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