SPL – who will shine this season?

by Joseph OBrien

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
 

Dunfermline and St Mirren brought the first round of games in the new Scottish Premier League season to an end on Monday with fans already witnessing some early season drama over the weekend.

Jim Jefferies’ Hearts managed to pull off a surprise in Saturday’s early morning kick off by holding champions Rangers to a 1-1 draw at Ibrox. The Jambos caught the reigning champions – bidding for their fourth championship in a row – napping in an opening day performance that was filled with energy and guile. Indeed, if it wasn’t for ‘Gers Allan McGregor, Jefferies’ side could easily have left with all three points.

A day later Celtic travelled to the capital, Edinburgh, and brushed aside Hearts’ rivals Hibernian in a comfortable 2-0 victory, with Gary Hooper also missing a penalty.

But with the season now one week in, who has shown some early promise? And who is set to shine this campaign?

Starting at Ibrox on Saturday, Hearts started the game on fire with the likes of David Templeton and David Obua playing starring roles. Templeton in particular terrorised ‘Gers Steven Whittaker before having to come off injured just 51 minutes in. The classy winger showed some of the form that earned him rave reviews on several occasions last year and could gate crash Craig Levein’s Scotland squad in September. Templeton probably should have snatched a win for Hearts when forcing McGregor into an excellent save with his feet with the score at 1-0.

McGregor himself again showed his class during that match with several world class saves for McCoist’s side. Time and time again the Scotland international has seemingly defied gravity to help snatch a point – or all three – from the jaws of defeat. It could even be argued that McGregor’s penalty save from Celtic’s Giorgios Samaras at Ibrox last season snared the Championship for his side, grabbing a 0-0 draw when defeat would have left them a mountain to climb in the run in.

He was on his best performance again on Saturday, saving smartly from efforts from Obua – who grabbed Hearts’ goal with a bullet header – and Templeton to once again show his worth to the Ibrox faithful.

If McGregor is set to be the star for Rangers, then across Glasgow you would be forgiven for thinking Beram Kayal or Emilio Izaguirre will be the stand outs at Celtic.

But from Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Hibernian, Ki Sung Yeung and new bhoy Kelvin Wilson showed a touch of class in everything they did. Ki was outstanding in a midfield master class and now looks as though he is ready to command a regular berth in the ‘Tic engine room – capping his display off with a fine goal.

Wilson – a pre contract signing in January from Nottingham Forest – strolled through his first competitive start for the club, the highlight being his goal saving tackle on Hibs’ whippet Ivan Sproule.

But as good as those two were, Gary Hooper was as poor as he has ever played for Celtic in what has been an impressive career so far in the Hoops.

At Easter Road on Sunday he looked surprisingly out of sorts, missing a penalty to add to his miserable day and not looking anything like the striker that scored 20 goals in his debut season last year.

Away from the Old Firm, there were a few others who stood out in their respective clubs’ opening day fixtures – with Motherwell’s Jamie Murphy being the pick of the bunch.

Fir Park welcomed a host of Premiership scouts for Motherwell’s clash with Inverness Caley Thistle in what was an entertaining 3-0 victory for Stuart McCall’s ‘Well side – with Caley also rattling the woodwork twice.

Reps south of the border had came north to cast their eye over Murphy and if today’s papers are to be believed, they left extremely impressed.

Murphy was a thorn in Thistle’s side all afternoon and even bagged himself a goal in the 3-0 win. And just like James McFadden and Stephen Pearson before him, Murphy could well be the next star who started out at Motherwell to gain national honours.

The first week of SPL action is over and done with, and there will be plenty more twists and turns throughout the year. Expect big things from Johnny Hayes at Caley Thistle, St Johnstone’s Murray Davidson and both Fraser Fyvie and Mitch Megginson at Aberdeen as the season progresses.

Roll on week two.

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