Scott Sinclair scores the winner as Celtic claim the New Year honours in Glasgow by coming from behind to beat Rangers at Ibrox and earn a 15th successive league win.
Old Firm derby on Hogmanay at packed Ibrox
Miller puts Rangers ahead early on
Dembele and Sinclair turn it around for Celtic
Hoops maintain unbeaten domestic record
Celtic claimed the New Year honours in Glasgow, coming from behind to beat Rangers and record a 15th successive league win in the first Old Firm derby at Ibrox in almost five years.
Veteran striker Kenny Miller rewarded Rangers’ early enterprise by firing them into the lead from close range against his former club.
With their first shot on target, Moussa Dembele drew the Hoops level with a spectacular finish for his fifth goal against Rangers this season.
Celtic upped the ante in the second half and showed their powers of recovery, as Scott Sinclair scored the winner with 20 minutes remaining.
As 2017 approaches, Brendan Rodgers’ men open up a 19-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership, with a game in hand to come against St Johnstone next month, heading into the winter break – the biggest ever advantage at this stage of a top-flight season.
Rangers can take plenty of positives, with Barrie McKay excellent as an attacking force, but Mark Warburton’s side, who are now only two points ahead of third-placed Aberdeen, face a battle to secure the runners-up spot after suffering a first home defeat in 34 games.
Lining up with a back three, the hosts hit the front by pressing Celtic in wide areas from the outset.
It paid dividends in the 12th minute when Josh Windass released James Tavernier to cross low for Miller – wearing the captain’s armband in the injured Lee Wallace‘s absence – who finished well inside the six yard box for his 10th Old Firm goal.
But in the aftermath, fellow forward Joe Garner had to be stretchered off and was replaced by Martyn Waghorn.
Rangers continued to look menacing and ask questions of the Celtic defence but, after Sinclair struck the post and Clint Hill put the rebound behind for a corner, the visitors responded.
Stuart Armstrong’s deep delivery picked out Dembele, who had escaped the attentions of Danny Wilson, and the Frenchman instantly brought the ball under control before unleashing a powerful left-foot volley into the roof of the net for goal number 19 this season.
Celtic came out stronger in the second period to take a firm grip of proceedings, with Wes Foderingham in the Rangers goal the much busier keeper.
Armstrong and James Forrest brought good saves from the ex-Swindon man before Dembele hit the frame of the goal with a mishit effort after good work from Calum McGregor – returning after a one-match ban.
Rangers continued to offer a threat as McKay’s long-range effort and a Wilson header tested Celtic stopper Craig Gordon – celebrating his 34th birthday.
But the visitors struck the decisive blow to complete the turnaround in front of their delighted supporters as substitute Patrick Roberts found Armstrong in space and his inviting cross was touched in by Sinclair for his ninth of the campaign.
Celtic could have gone further ahead in the closing stages as Armstrong, Sinclair and sub Nir Bitton produced more saves from Foderingham.
And Rangers might have snatched a late leveller through Miller, who hit the base of the post from a well-weighted centre by Andy Halliday.
However, as referee Steven McLean – excellent on his Old Firm derby debut – blew the final whistle, the hosts could only reflect on an encouraging display despite their best efforts.
Meanwhile, Celtic ensured they signed off for 2016 by maintaining their domestic bliss after proving once again why they are looking such an unstoppable force this season.
Substitutes: Waghorn (on for Garner 16′), Dodoo (on for Windass 65′) and Forrester (on for Holt 83′). Not used: Gilks (GK), Hodson, Crooks, O’Halloran. Booked: Hill, Tavernier, Windass Goals: Miller (12′)
Substitutes: Roberts (on for Forrest 68′) and Bitton (on for McGregor 86′). Not used: De Vries (GK), Toure, Gamboa, Mackay-Steven, Griffiths. Booked: Simunovic, Lustig, Brown Goals: Dembele (33′), Sinclair (70′)
Referee: Steven McLean – 9/10 Assistant referees: Douglas Ross and Frank Connor Fourth official: John Beaton
Fifa referee Steven McLean will take charge of his first ever Old Firm derby when the two fierce Glasgow rivals meet on Hogmanay at Ibrox.
First Old Firm derby for Renfrewshire whistler McLean
First derby not officiated by Collum or Thomson since 2012
Second league meeting of the season
Celtic boss Rodgers’ first trip to Ibrox
Steven McLean will referee his first ever Old Firm derby in the televised New Year’s Eve lunchtime showdown, the Scottish FA has confirmed.
The highly-rated Fifa official has been given the difficult task of administering law and order in the Hogmanay meeting of bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers and Celtic (KO 12:15 BST, live on Sky Sports).
He will be assisted at Ibrox by Frank Connor and Douglas Ross – who were also the linesmen for September’s Celtic Park derby – while John Beaton will be keeping the peace in the dugout as the fourth official.
Collum and Thomson – Scotland’s only Uefa Elite Category officials – are the only referees among the current crop in the country who have previously experienced what is one of the most thankless tasks in world football.
So there is a certain level of responsibility on the shoulders of McLean, who has seemingly beaten off competition from Beaton and Bobby Madden to be appointed, in order to show that other officials are capable of rising to this particular challenge.
Only in an interview at the start of the season did McLean confidently insist the country’s whistlers can cope with the return of the unique Old Firm environment and there is enough strength in depth in terms of the number of leading match officials.
The 35-year-old has shown he can handle high-profile occasions in the 2014 League Cup Final at Celtic Park and last season’s dramatic Scottish Cup Final involving Rangers, after which he and his fellow match officials were caught up in an unsavoury pitch invasion.
McLean has been fourth official for two Old Firm derbies before but nothing can quite prepare him for his debut in the middle, with the Scottish Premiership’s top two desperate to sign off in 2016 with a winning feeling and bragging rights to boot.
The East Renfrewshire whistler endured an eventful afternoon in Rangers’ home win over Aberdeen at the start of the month, dishing out nine yellow cards and sending off both Gers defender Clint Hill and Dons skipper Ryan Jack in stoppage time.
Incidentally, McLean last encountered Celtic in a league match against the Dons at Pittodrie in October but many Hoops fans felt he allowed Aberdeen to apply too much rough treatment despite only brandishing five bookings in their side’s 1-0 victory.
They were the only occasions he has officiated either side in the league this term although McLean oversaw Rangers’ first competitive game of the campaign, in their 2-0 win at Motherwell in July in the Betfred Cup.
The officials – including an additional assistant referee positioned behind the goal – failed to spot a clear handball by Josh Meekings on the line before Hoops keeper Craig Gordon conceded a penalty and was sent off.
Celtic boss Ronny Deila was furious after the game with the first-half decision, which happened when his side led 1-0, and the club subsequently wrote to the Scottish FA but nothing came of their complaints.
Overall, he has brandished 95 yellow cards, sent off four players (three in the Premiership and all for second bookable offences) and awarded four penalties in 21 games in all competitions so far this season.
McLean – a Fifa referee since 2010 who refereed his first SPL game in November 2008 – is the older brother of former Ross County and Dundee United defender Brian McLean.
A qualified fitness instructor and physiotherapist, he is now employed full-time by the SFA as a referee recruitment and education officer.
Elsewhere, Willie Collum will be in the middle for Hearts against Aberdeen on Friday night as third and fourth in the table lock horns at Tynecastle.
You can see a full list of this weekend’s SPFL match official appointments here.
‘Horrendous and horrible’ – Fans react:
As is normally the case before any derby encounter, there is a lot of division among fans on social media – but most supporters of both teams have been largely united in being unimpressed with the choice of referee.
It's funny because Steven McLean is a horrendous referee.
Mark Warburton’s Rangers will be desperate to make home advantage count as they seek to record a first league win over their arch nemesis since a memorable 3-2 win over nine-man Celtic at Ibrox in March 2012.
But Celtic will have other ideas in their bid to increase their lead at the summit to a massive 19 points and simultaneously maintain their unbeaten domestic record this season under Brendan Rodgers.
Attention can now fully turn to the 404th meeting in one of world football’s oldest rivalries. Rangers know only a fifth league win in six games would be enough to keep alive their slim hopes of toppling Celtic, who have scored 11 goals in their last three away league games.
Craig Thomson will handle his 13th Old Firm derby while Kevin Clancy will referee his first domestic cup semi-final in this weekend’s Betfred Cup last-four ties at Hampden Park.
CRAIG Thomson and Kevin Clancy have been confirmed as the referees for this weekend’s Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park.
Thomson will be in the middle for the Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic on Sunday (KO 14:05 BST).
Meanwhile, Clancy has been selected to officiate Premiership side Aberdeen against Championship outfit Greenock Morton on Saturday (KO 12:15 BST).
Both ties will be televised live on BT Sport.
The perennial Old Firm whistler…
It may be an unlucky number for some but Thomson will be hoping it will bring him some fortune as he prepares for his 13th Old Firm derby – no other referee has handled more than five.
His first derby came back in 2006 and he has since built up a wealth of experience in handling Scottish football’s most explosive duel in cup finals, crucial league encounters and, more recently, semi-final battles.
It will be the third season in a row the Fifa whistler, who went to Euro 2012, will manage a cup semi-final between the sides at the national stadium – after Celtic’s 2-0 League Cup win in 2015 and Rangers’ Scottish Cup win on penalties earlier this year.
David McGeachie and Alan Mulvanny will assist Thomson, with Steven McLean taking the fourth official reins.
It was widely expected McLean or Bobby Madden might be entrusted with their first Old Firm derbies as Thomson and Willie Collum – who oversaw his third when Celtic thrashed Rangers 5-1 last month – are the only officials among the current crop to have previously refereed the fixture.
But, with a place in November’s Betfred Cup Final at stake, they have called on the vastly experienced Thomson to make the decisions for the latest meeting of Glasgow’s biggest rivals.
The former lawyer, from Renfrewshire, oversaw the League Cup final meeting between the sides in 2011 – awarding Rangers a penalty before reversing his decision and sending off Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre in an eventual 2-1 win for the Ibrox side.
Earlier this season, he was involved in a bitter spat with pundit Chris Sutton, who called him a ‘bottler’ after opting not to send off Rangers midfielder Harry Forrester for a second bookable offence in their 2-1 win at Dundee.
He was also an additional assistant referee in the 2014 Scottish Cup Final at Celtic Park and Rangers’ Scottish Cup semi win over Celtic on penalties, as well as European games such as the 2015 Uefa Super Cup.
Clancy first took up the whistle in 2000 and was admitted to the Scottish FA five years later before overseeing his first SPL match in 2012.
Such was his fast progression, he was even recognised by Fifa – one of seven currently from Scotland on the list – before his promotion to the top-flight had been confirmed.
Among Clancy’s other high-profile appointments was the Championship play-off semi first leg between Hamilton Accies and Falkirk in 2014 and Queen’s Park’s League One play-off second leg win over Clyde last term.
At Hampden, he will be assisted by Alastair Mather and Gordon Crawford, while Euan Anderson will be on electronic board duties as fourth official.
Moussa Dembele’s hat-trick helped Celtic thump five past Rangers in the first Old Firm derby in the Scottish Premiership for five seasons to maintain their 100% start to the league campaign.
Dembele nets perfect hat-trick: header, left foot & right foot
First league Old Firm for four and a half years
Rangers suffer first Scottish Premiership defeat of season
Rodgers gets better of Warburton as bosses clash in dugout for first time
MOUSSA Dembele scored a sensational hat-trick as a dominant Celtic swatted 10-man Rangers aside in the Scottish Premiership’s first Old Firm derby for five seasons.
The former Fulham striker, who only started because Leigh Griffiths was ruled out through injury, notched a double in the space of nine first-half minutes with a header and fine finish.
Joe Garner – on his first start for Rangers – gave the visitors hope by nodding home Kenny Miller’s header from close range on the stroke of half-time.
But Dembele set up Scott Sinclair, who netted for the fourth successive league game, before completing his historic treble to seal the deal.
And substitute Stuart Armstrong added gloss in stoppage time for the Hoops, who have now recorded four wins from four at the start of a league season for the first time since 2010.
The 20-year-old’s first career hat-trick was the first in an Old Firm league game since Stevie Chalmers in 1966, as the eagerly-awaited first league meeting of Glasgow’s fierce rivals since April 2012 delivered in every department and gave the Manchester derby a run for its money.
In truth, it was a comfortable afternoon for the champions, who laid down an early marker in their quest for a sixth successive title, as Brendan Rodgers enjoyed a winning Old Firm debut and his side maintained their 100 per cent start to the campaign in some style.
In contrast, it was a rotten first trip to Celtic Park for opposite number Mark Warburton as the Gers lost Rob Kiernan to injury and debutant Philippe Senderos to two daft bookable offences – before assistant manager Davie Weir was ordered to the dressing room.
Rangers began brightly but quickly faded away to become second best by some distance as their unbeaten, yet stuttering, return to Scotland’s top-flight came to a painful end at the home of their city neighbours.
For Celtic, it was the perfect warm-up for the start of their Champions League group stage campaign against Barcelona on Tuesday, with the only worry being Scott Brown’s withdrawal with a minor injury on 74 minutes.
Even though it failed to reach breaking point, the Hoops skipper – in his 23rd Old Firm appearance – enjoyed the hugely-anticipated duel with Joey Barton. And the recently retired Scotland international had the last laugh with another verbal jibe, claiming it was “men against boys”.
Although that was the case by the end, it was much tighter in the typically frantic opening exchanges, when lots of inflatables made their way on to the pitch and added to the carnival atmosphere inside a packed Parkhead.
Tom Rogic, who scored in April’s Scottish Cup semi-final before missing the decisive spotkick, had a couple of early sighters off target as he took up some intelligent positions in behind Rangers’ three-man midfield.
After an even opening, Celtic came on strong and started the unexpected rout on 33 minutes when Dembele rose above Kiernan to meet Sinclair’s corner before leaving Senderos for dead to confidently finish past Wes Foderingham and put the hosts firmly in control.
Rangers appeared to have dragged themselves back in contention before the interval as Garner bundled in Miller’s header from a James Tavernier cross – the club’s first league goal at Celtic Park in four visits.
After Andy Halliday replaced an ineffective Kranjcar for the start of the second half, the Gers briefly threatened to draw level when Barrie McKay curled a shot wide of the far post.
But the champions soon settled into their rhythm once more as Dembele’s defence-splitting pass released Sinclair, who clipped in off the post to continue his impressive start since arriving from Aston Villa.
As Celtic’s Patrick Roberts and Rangers forward Martyn Waghorn made their respective comebacks from hamstring injuries off the bench, Gers keeper Foderingham had to deny Armstrong and Dembele from distance.
Rangers began to unravel and a debut to forget for Senderos was compounded when the experienced former Arsenal defender, booked for a foul on Sinclair earlier, was dismissed by Willie Collum for a deliberate and daft handball.
It got worse when Warburton’s right-hand man Weir also received his marching orders for a foul-mouthed rant at fourth official Kevin Clancy.
Celtic showed no signs of letting up and ruthlessly cashed in on the numerical advantage in the closing stages, as Dembele took down a Mikael Lustig cross and fired home his third. He could be forgiven for the overzealous celebrations which earned him a booking.
3 – Moussa Dembélé is the first French player to score a hat-trick in Scottish Premiership over the last 10 seasons. Trigger.
As Celtic reflected on setting the standard in the first of four expected Old Firm showdowns this term, Rangers were left to lick their wounds and re-evaluate their options whilst scurrying out of the back door in the east end of Glasgow unnoticed.
But the real winner is Scottish football: the Old Firm is well and truly back, and here to stay!
Substitutes: Armstrong (on for Rogic 54′), Roberts (on for Forrest 64′) and McGregor (on for Brown 74′)
Not used: Gordon (GK), Gamboa, Izaguirre, Ciftci.
Booked: Bitton (8′), Toure (49′), Roberts (80′), Dembele (84′)
Referee: Willie Collum (Scotland) – 8/10 Assistant referees: Douglas Ross and Frank Connor (Scotland) Fourth Official: Kevin Clancy (Scotland)
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers: “It was a great day for the club and the team. If you think of all the travelling this team has put in over the last couple of weeks, with a lot of players away, to get back in and produce that level of performance with that energy in the team, I thought it was an outstanding team performance.”
Rangers manager Mark Warburton: “It was hugely disappointing. We were just talking in there that the fans were magnificent for us. I thought we were good in the second half. McKay had a good chance and we were in a good shape but we made some poor decisions and gave away cheap goals. As a group in there, we know that.”
Good Lord. What a shellacking. Celtic full value for 5-1. Rangers a touch lucky it wasn't more. Devastating.
Two cup ties in the last two seasons have given a small taste of what to expect but the first league meeting of Celtic and Rangers in four and a half years is sure to provide a more mouth-watering encounter to savour for a Saturday lunchtime.
Although the worldwide audience may be slightly diminished with the Manchester derby scheduled at the same time, the opening Old Firm derby of the campaign is the showdown everyone has been waiting for.
Rangers, back on the top-flight scene after working their way up the ladder in the face of adversity, are still yet to convince they can challenge their rivals from across Glasgow, who will look to maintain their 100 per cent league record ahead of a daunting trip to the Nou Camp to start their Champions League group stage campaign.
You can be forgiven for not knowing what to expect – other than the unexpected – so here are 10 things to keep a close eye on at Celtic Park…
1) Barton and Brown midfield match-up
Ever since the transfer of the summer in Scottish football arose, the mind games and banter has been flying around and the Twitter talk about how the combustible duo would conduct themselves on the same field has barely stopped.
Thankfully, there hasn’t been a long wait to find out – and Barton’s arrival at Ibrox has only added further spice to what was always going to be a titanic tussle.
Barton has played in high-profile battles south of the border but nothing on this scale and, after a slow start to his Rangers career, will be desperate to make a positive impact on the grandest of stages. Something he is more than capable of doing.
With two of the country’s biggest personalities going head to head, there is only room for one ego on the same field and don’t be surprised if one – or indeed both – lose their cool and don’t last the full 90 minutes.
2) Shaky defending from both sides
Despite the teams’ undoubtedly quality which makes them stand out as Scotland’s best, neither are renowned for their defensive stability.
Both have experimented with a back-three and a mixture of youth and experience in recent times but are yet to find the right solution to suit their personnel.
Although Eoghan O’Connell, 21, has shown a high level of maturity in the season’s early weeks, Celtic’s problems stem from constant changes to their centre-back pairing and their ability to make costly individual errors – Efe Ambrose being the prime candidate.
Whereas, Rangers have more experience of Scottish football in their ranks – Danny Wilson and Lee Wallace having played in several Old Firm meetings.
But rustiness is still evident, with Clint Hill admitting he still needs to get up and running and Wallace pulling out of Scotland duty with an injury complaint, while James Tavernier can often be too cavalier going forward, leaving acres of space waiting to be exploited.
With the stakes as high as they can reach and no margin for error, it will be interesting to see how messrs Warburton and Rodgers line up at the back and whether they will risk a more youthful look to the defence.
Neither have kept a clean sheet in the league so far this term and you would have to be extremely brave to bet on that statistic changing in this game of all games.
3) Drama upon drama
It would be no exaggeration to suggest a full-blooded Old Firm – complete with the usual cliffhangers that leave you wanting more – could rival an hour-long episode of Eastenders for explosive drama and unmissable viewing.
With sub-plots happening all over the pitch and every kick of the ball being keenly fought for, you can barely take your eyes off the action, of which there is a whole lot more than your average game.
Even a tepid battle between the sides – and there have been some in the past – contains its fair share of excitement and intensity to maintain your attention but rarely does it disappoint as far as entertainment value is concerned.
Assuming both sides finish in the top six (which is almost guaranteed), there will be four Old Firm encounters in the league this season and, should they all live up to the billing, Scottish football as a whole would be the biggest winners.
4) Passion on the terraces
When the fixtures were released in June, this was the one that everyone with Celtic and Rangers connections across the globe will have looked for before any other.
Ever since, the anticipation has been building – on derby day in Glasgow, emotions extend far deeper than the confines of the pitch.
An Old Firm occasion means so much to so many, regardless of the prize on offer, and the raw passion from a full house of 60,000 fans at Celtic Park will undoubtedly reverberate across the city on Saturday afternoon.
No matter what stage of the game or how well their team is doing, both sets of supporters will act as the proverbial twelfth man and could make the difference to ease the tension on the players and edge their side over the finishing line.
5) Touchline antics
Mark Warburton and Brendan Rodgers may have worked together on the coaching staff at Watford nine years ago, however Saturday represents the first time the two talented managers will come up against each other.
The pair – who were huge hits north of the border with Liverpool and Brentford respectively – have never been known for allowing feelings to overflow in the technical area and largely adopt a composed presence when issuing instructions to players.
If the game is played in good spirits, it might prove to be a quiet afternoon for the fourth official.
But, in the highly-charged derby environment when discipline and temperament can often fly out of the window faster than a tackle can fly in, anything goes and if decisions aren’t going their way they will be quick to make their dissatisfaction seen and heard.
Warburton has already sampled the atmosphere that comes with an Old Firm clash, albeit in different surroundings at the national stadium, hiherto it will be unchartered territory for Rodgers, who will know by the end of the afternoon just what all the fuss is about.
6) Attacking firepower coming to the fore
The big games always bring the best out of the big names and there will be plenty on show who will be looking to make an impact in the biggest match in the Scottish Premiership so far this season.
On Celtic’s side, Leigh Griffiths – who sweeped the player of the year awards with 40 goals last season – will be fresh from having the international break off, while James Forrest and Scott Sinclair have the creative potential to be the match-winner.
Regardless of who forms the attacking triumvirate behind Griffiths, it will contain enough quality to cause Rangers all sorts of problems.
One man who will be on a mission to take down the Hoops will be Kenny Miller, who has a habit of popping up with vital contributions as he did on the last derby day and will be full of condence after bagging four against Linfield. With Martyn Waghorn getting back to his best and Barrie McKay in top form, Rangers possess the tools to give Celtic a tough time.
There are options aplenty for both managers to choose from and, in a high-profile game when attack is likely to be the best form of defence, they should opt to overload their offensive choices which will make for a more open and expansive match and play to the strengths of both sides.
7) Officials feeling the pressure
Keeping control of an Old Firm derby can be as difficult a job for match officials as both sets of players care to make it.
Even before a ball is kicked, the referee has already adorned the status of ‘public enemy number one’ and Willie Collum, who has often come under fire for controversial calls, can expect nothing less than a tough afternoon.
He may have two Glasgow derbies under his belt, albeit in 2010 and 2011, but those experiences will count for very little once he sounds the first whistle.
As much as players are under pressure to perform, referees’ careers are also on the line in the biggest of fixtures and there is no margin for error.
Collum has kept a low profile in recent times after a flurry of high-profile errors earlier in the year but is notoriously card-happy, so the approach he adopts on Saturday will be interesting to observe.
As ever, concentration and position will be key – with an added need to stay focused amid a cauldron of noise inside a Parkhead packed with passionate patrons. If he survives the 90 minutes and isn’t being spoken about afterwards, that can be considered an achievement.
8) Revenge on Celtic minds
It may have hammered the final nail in Ronny Deila’s coffin to end his turgid two-year tenure but the Hoops will still be reeling, and hurting, from the Hampden horror of seeing their Glasgow adversaries progress to the Scottish Cup final at their expense in April – even though Hibernian went on to lift the trophy.
In contrast to Rangers’ stuttering form on their top-flight return, Rodgers’ men have made an assured start to their quest for a sixth successive league title and brushed aside their nearest challengers in the last two seasons, Aberdeen, with relative ease before the international break.
But the biggest opportunity to lay down an early-season marker in the title race comes this weekend – and Celtic will be desperate to send Rangers packing with a firm reminder of their status as the country’s force.
Only then could memories of Tom Rogic’s wild spotkick, which sparked even wilder Gers celebrations in front of their eyes at the national stadium, be truly laid to rest.
9) Fast and furious…even before the word ‘go’
The unrelenting tempo and frenetic nature made the Old Firm derbies of old a joy to watch from both a fans and neutral perspective.
Those occasions were simply unmissable and had a tendency to start at 100 miles per hour before speeding up somewhat.
Although the League Cup semi clash of 2015 lacked any real punch, last season’s Scottish Cup thriller delivered the typical blood and thunder encounter which ushered in a new era renewing the oldest of fierce rivalries.
The first league meeting in over four years has been a long time coming and – despite the prize only being three league points at this stage of the season, as opposed to a place in a domestic cup final – the competitive edge will be evident even before the first whistle has been blown.
10) Derby debutants looking to impress
A new league usually brings a raft of new signings and it’s been no different for Rangers, with 12 new faces winging their way through the Ibrox doors this summer.
It’s been a bit quieter on the Celtic front with six players drafted in as Rodgers looked south of the border to integrate fringe players from English clubs whilst opting for quality over quantity.
Of all the recruits from both sides of the divide, none have experienced this unique occasion before, which may count against some of them in the cauldron of Celtic Park.
Many of the summer buys have already had a settling-in period but still have a point to prove – and Saturday lunchtime at Parkhead is no better time to do it. If they can perform to a high level in their Old Firm initiations, it would certainly bode well for the mammoth season ahead.
The Euro 2016 referee will be in the middle at Celtic Park for the first Old Firm derby in the league since April 2012.
EURO 2016 referee Willie Collum will take charge of his third Old Firm derby when Celtic welcome Rangers to Celtic Park this weekend.
The 37-year-old has been given the responsibility of keeping a lid on proceedings this Saturday lunchtime for the first league meeting between the fierce Glasgow rivals for four and a half years (KO 12:00 BST, live on Sky Sports 2).
He will be ably assisted by Frank Connor and Douglas Ross, with Kevin Clancy on electronic board duties as fourth official.
Collum, of Lanarkshire, will be in the middle for his eighth game in all competitions this season – and third in the Scottish Premiership.
His latest outing came last weekend in which he booked three players in world champions Germany’s 3-0 win over Norway in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Ross – who was one of his assistants in Oslo – is also involved in politics, as a Scottish Conservative councillor for Fochabers-Lhanbryde on Moray Council and Member of Scottish Parliament for the Highlands and Islands.
But it will be difficult for the Glasgow-born whistler to stay out of the headlines as he prepares to handle the biggest game of the season so far and his third fixture involving the sides – all of which have come at Parkhead.
Two of the five bookings came in the first five minutes and he awarded a controversial second-half penalty to the Gers when Kirk Broadfoot fell easily over Daniel Majstorovic, even though he appeared to have his back turned to the play at the time.
Collum then oversaw Celtic’s 1-0 victory at Parkhead in December 2011, for which his handling of what might have been a volatile game was roundly praised but Lee Wallace had a goal ruled out for Rangers which had actually crossed the line.
During those games, Collum awarded three penalties to Celtic, whereas in contrast, he was in the middle for only three Rangers games in 2015-16 – but awarded the Gers a penalty in each one.
Collum – a part-time Religious Education teacher at a Bellshill primary school – was a late replacement for Craig Thomson to oversee Mark Warburton’s first game in charge in the 6-2 win over Hibernian in the Challenge Cup first round at Easter Road in July.
Warburton branded some of Collum’s decisions as “shocking” – referring to the penalty awarded to the hosts when Danny Wilson clearly brought down Will Vaulks outside the box, before Martyn Waghorn’s late penalty was saved after a perceived handball by Craig Alston.
A notoriously card-happy Collum, who began refereeing in 1993, is no stranger to dealing with difficult situations and has a wealth of experience in so-called big games both domestically and across Europe.
He has been in charge of two Scottish Cup Finals in 2013 and 2015, the 2012 League Cup Final, two Premiership play-off second leg ties as well as receiving the honour of refereeing the 2015 Uefa Super Cup when Barcelona beat Sevilla 5-4 in Tbilisi.
But Collum was dropped from officiating Premiership fixtures for several weeks last season after a number of high-profile blunders, including two penalty incidents in Aberdeen’s 3-1 defeat at Inverness in February.
And, having yet to encounter either side this season, it was widely expected Collum – the only other referee with previous Old Firm experience among the current crop of officials – would be appointed to the first derby of the campaign.
As domestic action resumes this weekend after the international break, champions Celtic have played a game less but sit one point ahead of second-placed Rangers – who have won only one of their last seven trips to Celtic Park.
It will be Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers’s first taste of the Old Firm but, as he prepares to come up against Mark Warburton for the first time in the dugout, the Rangers boss tasted victory in a penalty shoot-out on his derby debut in the Scottish Cup in April.
Good work by @ScottishFA in appointing Willie Collum as ref for Celtic v Rangers, therefore deflecting from the latest Strachan nonsense…
The longest-serving of the current crop of Scottish officials, he has a wealth of experience having handled 11 previous Old Firm derbies, with the first coming in April 2006.
Those past encounters include the 2011 League Cup Final at the national stadium in which the Paisley lawyer dismissed Celtic defender Emilio Izaguirre for a professional foul and overturned a penalty given to the Gers, who won 2-1 after extra time.
Meanwhile, John Beaton will take charge of the other semi-final between Hibernian and Dundee United.
He will be in the middle as Championship side Hibs tussle with the Premiership’s bottom club at the national stadium on Saturday, April 16 (KO 12:15 BST).
Beaton will be working alongside Graham Chambers and Stuart Stevenson, with Euan Anderson the fourth official – as he was for a League Cup semi in January. The goal-line officials are Andrew Dallas and Alan Muir.
Incidentally, Muir was behind the goal in the Scottish Cup semi 12 months ago when a handball on the line by Inverness’ Josh Meekings went unspotted in their controversial 3-2 extra-time win over Celtic.
Beaton will also be going to Euro 2016 as a goal-line official as part of Willie Collum’s team of officials for the summer tournament in France.
Thomson and Beaton handled both Edinburgh derby meetings between Hibs and Hearts in the quarter-finals, with Beaton sending off two players in the Easter Road replay which Hibs won 1-0.
Two-time winners Hibs have not lifted the Scottish Cup since 1902 as they bid to reach their second major cup final of the season after losing 2-1 to Ross County in the League Cup showpiece last month.
Rangers – who have not won the Scottish Cup since 2009 – have secured promotion to the Scottish Premiership in boss Mark Warburton’s debut season to ensure the Old Firm derby returns to the top-flight next season.
Premiership leaders Celtic are bidding to reach their first Scottish Cup final since 2013 in Ronny Deila’s second campaign in charge.
Both ties will be screened live on Sky Sports, while Hibs v Dundee United will also be shown on BBC Scotland.