McCoist and Lennon charged with fresh hopes

It is one of the lingering images of last season: Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon confronting each other on the touchline at Celtic Park.

The hostility of the moment, coming at the end of a Scottish Cup replay that the home side won, was an expression of the antagonism that marred so much of the campaign. Striking referees, bullets and parcel bombs in the post, Lennon being assaulted by a supporter at Tynecastle; there was so much ill-feeling that Scotland was forced into a bout of agonised self-analysis.

Sectarianism remains a fraught subject for the nation – new legislation aimed specifically at football supporters has been delayed by six months as it passes through the Scottish parliament – but as Rangers and Celtic are drawn into opposition again, the hope is McCoist and Lennon will represent something different: competitive values, and a rivalry that is ageless but also capable of restraint. As the new season begins, and the Old Firm engage in another tussle for the championship, the competition is intensified by the two managers' circumstances.

Having succeeded Walter Smith at Ibrox, McCoist is beginning his first year in charge. He is 48, and has spent seven years working alongside Smith for Scotland and then Rangers, but he is still vulnerable to the mistakes that rookies can make. The sole responsibility for the team now belongs to McCoist, and the club's new owner – Craig Whyte – who is himself learning how football works.

The summer has been spent pursuing players with mixed success, and the sense is of the new regime coming to terms with the transfer market. They missed out on Tomer Hemed and Neil Danns, have yet to close a deal for Carlos Cuellar and David Goodwillie, and the three signings they have made are a journeyman Spaniard in Juan Manuel Ortiz, and United States international, Alejandro Bedoya, on a pre-contract agreement, and Lee Wallace, a Scotland full-back from Hearts.

Supporters inevitably grumble, and there is already a fear – however suppressed – that McCoist suffers the same fate as John Greig, another iconic player who stepped up to become Rangers manager in 1978 and failed. McCoist is the club's record goalscorer, and fans cannot bear the prospect of his career in the dugout not being as triumphant. It is the neurosis of the football fan, but McCoist has the shrewdness and experience of his surroundings to succeed.

Lennon found the same last summer. He failed in his efforts to sign David James, Sol Campbell and Jimmy Bullard, yet by October Celtic's work in the transfer market was being lauded since Emilio Izaguirre and Gary Hooper were performing impressively, then Beram Kayal returned to fitness and was one of the most accomplished midfielders in the country.

Lennon was involved in a radical overhaul of his squad last summer, and the task this year has been to refine that work. He has signed three players – Adam Matthews, Kelvin Wilson and Victor Wanyama – and is looking for a striker. Otherwise, he is trimming his squad, and this is where the essential difference lies between the two teams. While McCoist seeks reinforcements, and both starting line-ups are of a similar quality, Celtic have the greater strength in depth.

All the SPL clubs received visits from the police last week, to brief the players on what behaviour is not acceptable on the field. Scottish football, at the beginning of this fresh campaign, still stands on the brink; Lennon, having lost the title once, and McCoist, having yet to win it, are in the same fragile place.

Three things to look out for this season

More turmoil in the capital

During the summer, Hearts sacked Craig Thomson, after the full-back pleaded guilty to lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour, and was placed on the sex offenders' register. Hibernian have faced constant speculation that their manager, Colin Calderwood, is about to join either Birmingham City or Nottingham Forest. The season may only bring further unrest at two clubs where stability has become rare.

The battle to escape mediocrity

Who can finish the best of the rest behind the Old Firm? It was Hearts last season, Dundee United the year before that. Can Motherwell or Kilmarnock rise above their competitors? They both have much to build on from last term, and two ambitious managers in Stuart McCall and Kenny Shiels, respectively.

Relegation looms

St Mirren and Hamilton were adrift at the bottom for much of last season, with the latter eventually dropping into the First Division. Dunfermline have replaced them, but will struggle to cope in the top flight, particularly since the other lower-ranked teams from last season have strengthened during the summer. It could be a short stay in the SPL for the Fife side.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world