BOOKENDING the maelstrom in the middle, there has been an element of constancy over the last few years when it comes to predicting what will happen at the top and bottom ends of the Premiership: everyone tips Celtic to be champions and Hamilton Accies to be relegated.

The Lanarkshire side, however, continue to confound expectation on an annual basis and will aim to do so again this year. Working with the smallest budget in the top division, Martin Canning will again ask his increasingly youthful of crop of players to do their utmost to stave off the threat of relegation. As opening-day missions go, being sent to Pittodrie is about as hard as it gets, although there will likely be no easy matches in the months ahead. The Hamilton players, though, are inured to that now.

The majority also pay little attention to being written off at the start of every campaign. For others, however, it serves as a source of motivation.

“People have to tip someone to finish 12th so some people are always going to be unhappy,” shrugs Mikey Devlin, the Accies club captain who won’t kick a ball again until 2018 after sustaining cruciate ligament damage at the end of last season.

“Personally I don’t pay too much attention to it although some of the boys will – Mr [Dougie] Imrie gets upset at times when he reads who has been tipped to finish bottom! But we’re a small club so we understand why at times people make us favourites.

“It means sometimes we can play with no pressure as the expectancy is so low. It doesn’t matter how many years we stay in this league – if we do it again for another season that’s a success for us. But internally we’ll set our own goals which will involve finishing higher than 11th. We don’t want to be involved in the play-offs as that was horrendous last year, although I didn’t play in the last two games.

“That wasn’t enjoyable at all. So we don’t want 11th or 12th this year. We’ll be looking to push higher up the table. It’s a strong league this year and the Premiership is getting back to what it was maybe five or six years ago which is exciting.”

Accies paid their first transfer fee in eight years to land Xavier Tomas from Lausanne but the French defender is one of only two new faces, with seven players heading in the opposite direction. Canning, then, will be expected to once more lean heavily on the club’s youth academy for reinforcements.

“The gaffer goes unnoticed as Hamilton are expected to be around the bottom of the league and that’s where we are,” added Devlin. “But given for the third consecutive year we’ve stayed in the league I think he’s done an exceptional job. A lot of the boys are academy graduates and another three or four have been moved up to the first team this year and will be expected to play their part.

“When that happens at our club you’re not there to make up the numbers, you’re there because that’s how the club want to go. The gaffer continually backs the young players and gives them an opportunity – just as they did with me. Given how tight the budget is at the club the manager has done a great job. I think he’s definitely one of the most under-rated managers in the league.”

Not everyone appreciates that, including some Hamilton fans who have not been slow to voice their displeasure.

“What’s been difficult for him is that he took over when the club was at its most successful point ever,” added Devlin who plans on travelling to watch the team home and away during his convalescence.

“We were third in the league and had been top for the majority of that season. So whoever took over from Alex Neil was always going to find it very difficult to maintain those standards. Maybe that’s why he gets some criticism. It’s totally unjust in my eyes. In the changing room we understand and appreciate how good a job he’s done and we want to try to back that up on the pitch.”