The sides most likely to challenge Dundee United for Championship title

Dundee United attacker Ryan Dow couldn’t find a way past a resolute Hibs side in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final, which the men from Leith eventually went on to win in the final against Rangers.
Dundee United attacker Ryan Dow couldn’t find a way past a resolute Hibs side in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final, which the men from Leith eventually went on to win in the final against Rangers.

Dundee United will kick off their quest to bounce back to the Premiership with a home clash against Queen of the South.

The Tangerines host the Doonhamers on August 6.

Ray McKinnon’s men then face a trip to Dumbarton on August 13, before home clashes with Ayr United, managed by Ian McCall, on August 20, and then the manager’s former charges Raith Rovers on August 27.

The festive period throws up a home game with St Mirren on Christmas Eve and Dumbarton (a) on Hogmanay, while United’s first encounter with title rivals Falkirk, and also Hibs, comes on the road — on September 17 and October 1 respectively.

Here we take a look at the sides most likely to rival United, who are looking to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Hibs

They are the clear favourites to win the title with the bookies and it is no secret as to why.

Hibs have pulled off the massive coup of convincing former Celtic boss Neil Lennon to take the job.

Now while securing a big name is no guarantee of success, Hibs will attract a different calibre of player, particularly north of the border, thanks to the arrival of Hoops hero Lennon.

His appointment has made Ray’s job a heck of a lot harder. And the ominous sign, from a United perspective, anyway, is that having went all out to land Lennon, and riding on the crest of the Scottish Cup win wave, Hibs look certain to throw cash at their manager in a bid to get back up at the third time of asking.

Hanging on to class talent like John McGinn and Jason Cummings could be crucial for the Edinburgh outfit.

Either way, though, they are now battle hardened, despite their second tier scars, and, they will be determined, as United are, to get back to where they belong.

Falkirk

Some are saying it could be a season too far for the Bairns but, with Peter Houston — one of the best operators at that level — at the helm, you just can’t rule them out of the fight at the summit.

Ex-United boss Houston, as Arabs know all too well, is often the perfect man to get the best out of his players, especially in the big games.

Over the last two years they’ve got wins over Rangers, Hearts and Hibs on their record. They could easily do the same to the Tangerines.

Falkirk still have some classy players and seasoned pros on their books in the shape of Craig Sibbald, Will Vaulks and Lee Miller, and they are probably the only team outside of United and Hibs that can claim to have a legitimate claim to the title at this stage.

Dunfermline

While automatic promotion will almost certainly be beyond them, unless a Leicester City-esque season ensues, Dunfermline will no doubt play their part in the race.

Given performances, particularly in the cups against higher opposition, they might be in the play-off mix. With a seasoned lower-league manager at the helm, and promotion credentials on his CV, the Pars might just shock a few. United will have to be wary of the trips to East End Park next season but, saying that, so too will Hibs and Falkirk.

St Mirren

Another outsider but, if they start well, you just never know. The Buddies, led by former Dundee boss Alex Rae, could muscle their way in.

The play-off mix, I would expect, will be the bare minimum for St Mirren and Rae this season.

And with the right additions to add to decent players like Gary Irvine, Andy Webster, Jamie Langfield and Stevie Mallan, they’ve got a fair chance.

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