THE Scottish football season has an earlier start than usual as the new League Cup format is rolled out across the country.
Complete with a group phase, penalty shootouts after draws and a November final at Hampden, it hopes to bring more excitement to fans and a competition which has been won by six different teams in the last six years.
Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian – with European exploits currently on their minds – will join in the second round.
But after the briefest of pre-seasons, it was back to business for 40 other clubs (in eight groups, each consisting of five teams) as they took to the field over the weekend hoping to get points on the board early on.
Here’s how they got on in the first round of matches…
FRIDAY, JULY 15:
Arbroath (Hamilton 90+2′) 1-1 Dundee United (Anier 85′) *
* Dundee United won 5-3 on penalties
Referee: Don Robertson
Dundee United began life under new boss Ray Mackinnon with a penalty shootout success over League Two Arbroath in the first round of the revamped Scottish League Cup.
Henri Anier looked to have won the tie for the Championship newcomers at Gayfield Park when latching onto fellow substitute Cammy Smith’s deflected shot to fire home late on.
But Colin Hamilton, despite appearing to use his arm, levelled from close range in injury time for Dick Campbell’s team against their Angus derby rivals.
The new group phase of the competition sees drawn matches go to penalties, with a bonus point on offer for the victors.
Charlie Telfer, Coll Donaldson and Paul Dixon converted for United, likewise Steven Doris and Mark Whalley for Arbroath.
But United’s debutant keeper Cammy Bell tipped Liam Callaghan’s effort onto the post and Scott Fraser won it for the Tangerines after successful spotkicks from United’s Harry Souttar and Arbroath’s Hamilton.
McKinnon’s men now have two points in Group C, with Arbroath having to settle for one.
Cove Rangers (Stott 32′) 1-2 Raith Rovers (Benedictus 36′, Vaughan 56′)
Referee: Graham Beaton
Championship outfit Raith Rovers had to come from behind to defeat Cove Rangers at Forfar’s Station Park.
Debutant Ryan Stott gave the Highland League champions a surprise lead just after the half-hour mark before Kyle Benedictus headed Raith level four minutes later.
Cove fought valiantly but Lewis Vaughan thundered home a 56th minute winner, via the crossbar, to give Gary Locke a winning start to his managerial tenure.
Former Hearts midfielder Rudi Skacel also watched from the stands, as he continues to mull over joining the Kirkcaldy club.
Airdrieonians 0-1 Partick Thistle (Doolan 55′)
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Partick Thistle kick started their 2016-17 campaign with a slender victory over League One side Airdrieonians in Group E.
The Premiership outfit – fielding four summer signings – were frustrated for long periods at a wet Excelsior Stadium as Airdrie held their own in manager Kevin McBride’s first game in charge.
But last season’s top scorer Kris Doolan rescued Alan Archibald’s Jags 10 minutes into the second half with a clinical finish from the edge of the box.
As was the case before all three Friday night games kicked off, there was a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the terror attack in Nice, France.
SATURDAY, JULY 16:
Motherwell 0-2 Rangers (Tavernier 48′, Waghorn 90+1′)
Referee: Steven McLean
Rangers got their 2016-17 season off to a winning start with a 2-0 victory at Motherwell in Saturday’s stand-out Betfred League Cup first-round tie.
Second-half goals from James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn secured the win for the Premiership newcomers against fellow top-flight opponents at Fir Park.
Harry Forrester also struck the crossbar for Mark Warburton’s men, who top Group F with three points after a resurgent display.
Motherwell boss Mark McGhee will be pleased with his side’s display but bemoan a host of missed opportunities, as Lionel Ainsworth and Ben Heneghan saw efforts cleared off the line.
Scott McDonald and Marvin Johnson were also denied by Rangers keeper Wes Foderingham as the Steelmen got in behind a shaky Gers backline on numerous occasions.
Tavernier swept in a stunning strike into the top corner three minutes after the break before last season’s top scorer Waghorn made it safe in stoppage time with a curling shot.
Ayr United (Forrest pen 2′, Crawford 49′) 2-1 Hamilton Academical (Longridge 90+3′)
Referee: Nick Walsh (late replacement for Willie Collum)
Championship newboys Ayr United provided a shock with a deserved triumph over an out-of-sorts Hamilton at Somerset Park.
Ian McCall’s men got off to a flying start when Alan Forrest converted an early penalty after Darian MacKinnon brought down Darryll Meggatt.
Hamilton’s on-loan Norwich keeper Remi Matthews was again left helpless when former Rangers man Robbie Crawford curled in a stunning shot from 22 yards.
Louis Longridge pulled a goal back in stoppage time but it was too little too late for the Premiership side as Ayr took three points in Group G.
Cowdenbeath (Brett 23′) 1-2 Inverness CT (Draper 18′, Warren 75′)
Referee: Stephen Finnie
Gary Warren scored a second-half winner as Premiership side Inverness beat League Two Cowdenbeath at Central Park.
Ross Draper gave Caley Thistle an 18th-minute lead, finishing well after being picked out by fellow midfielder Scott Boden.
Dean Brett drew level five minutes later for the Blue Brazil, who handed competitive debuts to no less than 10 new players.
Iain Vigurs twice hit the bar for the Highlanders, under new boss Richie Foran for the first time, before captain Warren headed in past keeper David McBurn via the underside of the crossbar.
Clyde (Linton missed pen 61′, Watson 87′) 1-2 Kilmarnock (Coulibaly 69′, Boyle 76′)
Referee: John Beaton
Two of Kilmarnock’s debutants scored as the Premiership side prevailed against a brave Clyde to top Group H with three points.
After a goalless first half, Scott Linton saw a penalty saved by Killie keeper Jamie MacDonald when William Boyle handled Dylan Easton’s shot in the box.
The impressive Souleymane Coulibaly, signed from Peterborough, backheeled in from five yards before on-loan Huddersfield defender Boyle powered in a header from a corner to put Killie in control.
Substitute Jamie Watson volleyed in late on to give Clyde a lifeline but the League Two slipped to defeat at Broadwood Stadium.
East Fife (K Smith 78′) 1-1 Dundee (Hemmings 36′) *
* East Fife won 5-2 on penalties
Referee: Barry Cook
Dundee suffered a blow in their opening League Cup game after losing a penalty shoot-out against League One side East Fife.
Despite being outplayed for much of the first half, Kane Hemmings rifled a dipping volley past Fifers keeper Willie Muir to put the Premiership outfit ahead.
Both sides had opportunities but Gary Naysmith’s men got their rewards when Kevin Smith curled home a delightful free-kick to take the game to penalties at Bayview.
After misses by Rory Loy and James Vincent for Dundee, former Hearts midfielder Scott Robinson struck the winning spotkick in dramatic fashion to give East Fife a bonus point in Group A.
Montrose 0-1 Ross County (Graham 86′ pen)
Referee: Craig Charleston
Holders Ross County left it late to secure three points in Group D with a slender win over Montrose at Links Park.
Brian Graham’s penalty four minutes from time was enough to see off the League Two outfit as the Staggies began the defence of the trophy.
The decisive moment when striker Graham was brought down by Michael Bolochoweckyj and he subsequently sent Montrose keeper Jordan Millar the wrong way from 12 yards.
Paul Hegarty’s Montrose had chances to cause an upset as Gary Fraser fired wide of the post and Chris Templeman’s chipped effort was kept out by Scott Fox.
Elgin City (Duff 48′) 1-3 St Johnstone (Swanson 16′, Cummins 70′, MacLean 79′)
Referee: Alan Muir
St Johnstone toiled before eventually getting the better of fourth-tier Elgin City in their Group B encounter.
Danny Swanson gave the Saints the lead at Borough Briggs before Jamie Duff equalised shortly after the break.
Graham Cummins rounded Elgin keeper Stuart Black to put the Premiership side ahead with 20 minutes remaining.
And Steven MacLean sealed the win when nudging home from close range following a Swanson cross.
Livingston (Cadden 50′, Carrick 68′) 2-3 St Mirren (Clarkson 13′, 81′, Morgan 74′)
Referee: Gavin Duncan
David Clarkson scored twice as St Mirren got the better of West Lothian rivals Livingston in a five-goal thriller to top Group G.
Clarkson volleyed Saints in front after 13 minutes before debutant Nicky Cadden levelled for Livi five minutes after the break, squeezing in a shot from 18 yards.
Substitute Dale Carrick put Livi ahead within 60 seconds of coming on for his debut as David Hopkin’s side took control at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
But the Paisley outfit responded well, with 19-year-old Lewis Morgan curling a cross-cum-shot over Livi keeper Liam Kelly before Clarkson rifled in from 25 yards nine minutes from time.
Stirling Albion (Smith 41′) 1-0 Falkirk
Referee: Colin Steven
League Two Stirling Albion ran out victorious against Championship side Falkirk to get their League Cup campaign off to the perfect start.
Darren Smith bundled home Eddie Ferns’s cross four minutes before the break for the only goal at the Forthbank Stadium.
Ferns missed a golden chance to double the lead for a spirited Stirling after the break but dragged his finish wide of the post.
Peter Houston’s Bairns reached the Scottish Cup Final in 2015 but will have to improve massively if they are to achieve a similar feat in this competition this term.
Albion Rovers 0-0 Greenock Morton *
* Greenock Morton won 4-3 on penalties
Referee: Craig Napier
League One Albion Rovers valiantly held Greenock Morton to a goalless draw but the Championship side took the bonus point in Group H.
Jim Duffy’s Morton edged a dull 90 minutes at Cliftonhill before Lee Kilday converted the decisive penalty in the shoot-out after misses from Albion’s Alan Reid and Gary Fisher.
Annan Athletic (Dachnowicz 87′) 1-2 Stranraer (Nade 59′, McKeown 76′)
Referee: Steven Reid
League One Stranraer secured a 2-1 win over League Two side Annan to get their Group F campaign underway with three points.
New signing Christian Nade set Brian Reid’s side on their way with a goal just before the hour mark and Frank McKeown doubled the lead before Przemyslaw Dachnowicz’s late consolation at Galabank.
Forfar Athletic (Peters 36′, O’Brien 62′) 2-2 Dumbarton (Gallagher 54′, Fleming pen 69′)
* Forfar Athletic won 6-5 on penalties
Referee: David Lowe
League Two Forfar Athletic came out on top in a dramatic penalty shoot-out after holding Championship side Dumbarton in Group A.
Josh Peters put the Sky Blues ahead soon before the break and, after Grant Gallagher’s equaliser, Thomas O’Brien restored their lead at Station Park but the Sons were rescued by Garry Fleming.
Forfar’s Jamie Bain was sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time before Gavin Swankie struck the decisive spotkick in the shootout as Gallagher’s miss proved costly.
Queen’s Park 0-2 Queen of the South (Pickard 29′, Dowie 34′)
Referee: Alan Newlands
Championship side Queen of the South comfortably saw off League One newcomers Queen’s Park to clinch three points in Group E.
Goals from Jake Pickard and Andrew Dowie in the space of five first-half minutes were the difference for the Doonhamers.
The game was moved to Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium because of damage to Hampden Park’s pitch following a recent Beyonce concert.