Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Hearts aiming to conquer Scottish Premier League

AFP , GLASGOW, SCOTLAND

Barcelona's Thierry Henry, right, shoots past Hearts of Midlothian FC's Marius Zaliukas during a friendly at Hampden Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 28.

PHOTO: AFP

No club outside the Old Firm have won the Scottish Premier League (SPL) since the mid-1980s but this could be about to change -- according to Hearts' assistant coach Stephen Frail.

Celtic and Rangers have dominated Scotland's top division since Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen side lifted the title in season 1984/1985.

There would appear to be little sign of this pattern changing with both Glasgow giants spending millions of pounds strengthening their squads in the close season.

However, Frail -- who will be assistant to Ukrainian head coach Anatoly Korobochka -- believes Hearts can go one better than they did in season 2005/2006 and be crowned champions.

"I'm not content to just aim to finish third in the league. Hearts want to win the title," he said.

"People may say I'm being silly and that the Old Firm have dominated in Scotland for years and years, but a couple of years ago we split Celtic and Rangers by finishing second.

"Both Old Firm teams have strengthened in the close season with quality additions but we know what we have and we're in good shape.

"But it is not just Hearts and every team in Scotland has to put Celtic and Rangers under pressure," he said.

Hearts have arguably the third strongest squad in the SPL with top quality players such as Scotland international goalkeeper Craig Gordon, Ghanaian midfielder Laryea Kingston and new Spanish signing Ruben Palazuelos.

While the Tynecastle team should be able to better last season's fourth place finish a title triumph would be asking too much.

Aberdeen, who finished third last season, will be aiming to repeat this feat to again guarantee European soccer in the UEFA Cup.

Under Jimmy Calderwood the Dons have become a very fit and organized unit but they will be without their inspirational defender Russell Anderson, who signed for Sunderland for ?1 million (US$2 million).

Nevertheless, new signings such as former Celtic defender Jackie McNamara and Dutch winger Jeffrey de Visscher mean they should not be unduly weakened.

In addition to finishing third the Aberdeen fans would dearly love to win one of the domestic cups and make the group stages of the UEFA Cup by winning their first round tie.

Scottish League Cup winners Hibernian will again be expected to be the best side in the division under manager John Collins -- despite losing Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Ivan Sproule and Chris Killen.

Collins has been busy in the summer, however, bringing in seven new players.

In particular, the signing of Belgian goalkeeper Yves Makabu Ma-Kalambay from Chelsea could improve their chances as this position has been their biggest weakness in recent seasons.

Kilmarnock have finished in fifth place in the past two seasons and despite the likely departure of star player Steven Naismith, with both Celtic and Rangers interested in signing the 20-year-old, the Ayrshire side will again be challenging at the top half of the table.

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