The top division of Scottish football includes a slightly altered format. As always the team finishing twelfth will be relegated to the Championship but a new play-off has been introduced. The team in eleventh will go into a play-off with the teams second, third and fourth in the division below. This should make both the top and second tier of Scottish football more exciting and give teams something to play for throughout.
Hearts start the season on -15 points but their young squad will be motivated from the opening day meaning that, especially with the new play-off, there are several teams that will be anxiously looking down over their shoulders.
Hibernian already started their season with a shameful 9-0 aggregate defeat in the Europa League qualifiers, a competition they qualified for through the Scottish Cup. This means manager Pat Fenlon is already under pressure after being humiliated in two successive cup finals by Celtic and rivals Hearts. Indeed, Fenlon will have to improve quickly or he may well be sacked before the month is out. This will be difficult as their star player Leigh Griffiths has returned to parent club Wolves and it is almost impossible to envisage Hibs replacing his quality and goals. Hibs have already made 8 signings which should add depth to the squad but without Griffiths, and with Fenlon, there is a real chance Hibs will struggle.
Kilmarnock with their new manager Allan Johnston will be hoping for a solid season. Indeed a lot is dependant on if striker Kris Boyd will be able to return to his prolific best. They have lost key players, such as Cammy Bell, from the squad and it is clear that the overall quality had been reduced with versatile Darren Barr being the only signing of note. Top 6 will be the aim but finishing above the play-off position would be a good achievement for this Kilmarnock team which swiftly needs strengthening.
Partick Thistle have just been promoted to the top flight for the first time in a decade. The squad, and manager, are extremely inexperienced at this level and may struggle. They have lost key players from last season and the only reassuring fact for Partick is that they are already 15 points ahead of Hearts but even then they may have to negotiate a play-off.
Ross County were certainly the biggest overachievers in the SPL last year. Just promoted they finished in the top 6 which was a remarkable achievement. The quality in the squad has stagnated if not gone backwards which is troublesome news for Ross County especially since the teams around them have improved. To finish in the top 6 again would be a phenomenal accomplishment by Derek Adams but it seems that they will be in a fight to survive come the end of the season.
St Mirren endured a mixed season last year, where they finished one place above relegated Dundee but were victorious in the League Cup. Forward Esmael Goncalves is no longer at the club and they will struggle with his absence. It may be another difficult season and they will need to add several players if they are to survive.
While Hearts are at a massive disadvantage there is still a possibility that they can close the 15 point gap between them and the rest. Any hope for Hearts may rely on complacency from their rivals. Moreover, the introduction of a play-off will mean that not even finishing eleventh would mean safety. Partick Thistle are not yet a team worthy of the top flight and may struggle over a 38 game season. Hibs, Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Ross County should also be anxious as relegation is a possibility for each of them unless they improve the quality of their squads.