Who will take charge of the Scottish Cup semi-finals?

The match officials have been revealed for the Motherwell v Aberdeen and Celtic v Rangers ties at Hampden Park on 14 and 15 April respectively.

Consistent: Bobby Madden (left) and Kevin Clancy have been two of the top performing officials in Scotland and Europe this season (Pictures from Sky Sports)

The match official appointments have been made for the semi-finals of the 2017-18 William Hill Scottish Cup at Hampden Park.

Bobby Madden will take charge of the eagerly anticipated Old Firm derby clash between holders Celtic and Rangers on Sunday, April 15. Kick-off will be at 14:30 BST and the game will be screened live on Sky Sports.

Meanwhile, Kevin Clancy will be in the middle for Motherwell against Aberdeen on Saturday, April 14. The 12:15 BST kick-off will be shown live on Sky Sports and BBC One Scotland.


BOBBY GETS THE BIG ONE

Referee Bobby Madden
Tough times: Madden bravely battled thyroid cancer back in 2016 (Picture from Sky Sports)

It was always going to be interesting to see who would be selected to officiate what is always likely to be an explosive affair, as the two Glasgow giants go head to head for a place in the final.

With Willie Collum taking charge of the most recent Old Firm clash, in the league at Ibrox last month, he was seemingly out of the equation, while Craig Thomson handled two recent semi-final showdowns between the sides in the cups – and the first league encounter this season.

Aside from Scottish football’s two leading referees, it didn’t leave many options who have significant experience of this most tempestuous of fixtures.

Referee Willie Collum
Man in black: The Euro 2016 whistler sent off Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic in the Hoops’ 3-2 league win at Ibrox on 11 March (Picture from Sky Sports)

Andrew Dallas is yet to receive his Old Firm derby initiation but, although he is making considerable progress, it would have been a huge gamble to appoint him to an occasion with so much riding on it, and unfair on the official himself to effectively throw him into the deep end on the big stage.

Kevin Clancy is also awaiting his first taste of one of the fiercest rivalries in world football, while John Beaton was eased into the spotlight when handed the final league derby of last season – awarding a penalty inside six minutes as Celtic cruised to a 5-1 victory at Ibrox almost 12 months ago.

With two Old Firm derbies already under his belt, it left last season’s Scottish Cup final official Madden as the main contender for the role and he has now been duly appointed – a wise move given what’s at stake.

Not only is it another feather in his cap, it is also more vital experience of the biggest of games that every referee in Scotland wants to officiate for the highly-rated 39-year-old – and his first Old Firm derby away from Parkhead.

Referee Bobby Madden
Bookings: Madden has brandished six yellow cards in each of his two Old Firm derbies so far (Picture from Sky Sports)

The Fifa whistler caused outrage among Celtic fans when he waved away claims for a penalty in the last minute of last season’s 1-1 draw, after Leigh Griffiths fell under a challenge from Clint Hill.

But he had a solid game when the sides played out a goalless draw just after Christmas in the league.

Madden booked two players and performed well as Celtic beat Aberdeen 2-1 in the 2017 Scottish Cup final at Hampden to complete a domestic treble without losing a game.

That was his second major domestic final at the national stadium after handling Celtic’s 2-0 win over Dundee United in the 2015 League Cup final, in which he sent off United skipper Sean Dillon early in the second half.

The East Kilbride official has refereed 35 games so far this season across six different competitions – dishing out 116 bookings and five red cards, as well as awarding 12 penalties.

Madden was in the middle for Northern Ireland’s recent 2-1 international friendly win over South Korea and his most recent outing was Hibernian’s 1-1 draw at Ross County in the Scottish Premiership last weekend, in which he booked two players.

He will be assisted on the day by David McGeachie and Graeme Stewart. Don Robertson and Nick Walsh will act as additional assistants behind each goal, while Steven McLean is the fourth official.


RECENT OLD FIRM DERBY REFEREES:

11 Mar 2018: Rangers 2 Celtic 3 (Scottish Premiership) – Willie Collum
30 Dec 2017: Celtic 0 Rangers 0 (Scottish Premiership) – Bobby Madden
23 Sept 2017: Rangers 0 Celtic 2 (Scottish Premiership) – Craig Thomson
29 April 2017: Rangers 1 Celtic 5 (Scottish Premiership) – John Beaton
23 April 2017: Celtic 2 Rangers 0 (Scottish Cup) – Willie Collum
12 March 2017: Celtic 1 Rangers 1 (Scottish Premiership) – Bobby Madden
31 Dec 2016: Rangers 1 Celtic 2 (Scottish Premiership) – Steven McLean
23 Oct 2016: Rangers 0 Celtic 1 (Scottish League Cup) – Craig Thomson
10 Sept 2016: Celtic 5 Rangers 1 (Scottish Premiership) – Willie Collum


SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION

Perhaps predictably, there was a largely negative reaction to news of Madden’s appointment for the Scottish Cup semi-final blockbuster, with many fans from both sides of the derby divide taking to Twitter to have their say…


MORE RECOGNITION FOR CLANCY

Kevin Clancy referee
Established: Clancy continues to make giant strides and is always in contention to officiate the big games in Scotland (Picture from Sky Sports)

Clancy has been chosen to take charge of the first of the two semi-final ties – another sign of his excellent progress and how well-regarded he is by the Scottish FA.

He also took charge of a League Cup semi-final earlier in the season, awarding Hibernian a contentious penalty which gave them brief hope in their 4-2 defeat against Celtic back in October.

His other major match at Hampden Park was the 2016 Scottish League Cup final, booking two players as Ross County scored late on to lift the trophy for the first time with a 2-1 victory over Hibernian.

Clancy was recently subjected to a barrage of abuse from Hibs head coach Neil Lennon after sending him to the stand in the Edinburgh side’s 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, following the award of a controversial penalty to Killie in the second half.

It led to Lennon slamming the refereeing standards in Scotland and claiming that managers should be able to send off officials. His comments and furious reaction led to him being given a three-match touchline ban.

Referee Kevin Clancy
On screen: Clancy has been a regular in front of the television cameras in Scottish football this season (Picture from Sky Sports)

It’s been another season in which the 34-year-old Fifa official has made giant strides, overseeing UEFA Youth League games, Europa League qualifiers, Euro Under-19 Championship qualifiers and European Under-21 Championship qualifiers.

On the domestic front, he also took charge of Motherwell’s 3-0 League Cup quarter-final triumph over Aberdeen and the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie between Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibernian.

Clancy has officiated 36 games in all competitions so far in 2017/18, brandishing a massive 153 yellow cards and sending off five players, as well as pointing to the penalty spot six times.

His most recent outing was in Dundee’s 1- 1 draw with Hearts at Dens Park on 1 April. He had a busy first half in particular, booking six players including Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty for diving but he has since had his yellow card rescinded.

He will be assisted on the day by Douglas Ross MP and David Roome, with Greg Aitken on electronic board duties as the fourth official. Andrew Dallas and Alan Muir will be the additional assistant referees.


HAVE YOUR SAY…

We’re down to the final four in the world’s oldest cup competition but who do you think will make it back to Hampden for the final on Saturday 19 May?

Cast your vote now in the poll…

What to look out for in the SPFL this weekend

From new faces and milestones to promotion bids and solid defences, here are six things to keep an eye on during the Scottish football weekend.

Following an extended period to recharge the batteries during the winter break, the Scottish football season is back in full swing once again.

There has already been plenty happening – from thrills and spills in the Scottish Cup to transfer dealings galore as managers look to boost their squads before next week’s deadline.

It’s already been a big start to the final weekend of action in January after St Mirren moved 11 points clear at the top of the Championship after beating fellow promotion challengers Dunfermline 2-1 at East End Park on Friday night.

Here are five more things to keep an eye on across the divisions…

TON UP FOR RODGERS

Formidable: Rodgers has won 72 of his previous 99 matches in all competitions as Celtic manager since joining in the summer of 2016

Records have been tumbling since Brendan Rodgers arrived at Parkhead and on Saturday the Celtic boss will reach a significant landmark as he takes charge of the champions for the 100th time in a competitive match.

The Northern Irishman will be desperate to mark the milestone with a victory but it promises to be a tough afternoon for the Scottish Premiership leaders against a Hibernian side who have found their feet back in the top-flight upon their return this season.

On his latest return to the East End of Glasgow, Neil Lennon will be desperate to spoil the occasion for his opposite number Rodgers, who has been very complimentary of the former Celtic player and manager this week by claiming he would be a good choice for the next Scotland boss.

Fourth-placed Hibs have already taken points off Celtic twice in the league this season in successive 2-2 draws and ran them close in the League Cup semi-final, so the Hoops will have to be at their best to give their manager a performance and result that he can be proud of as he reaches the century mark.


SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE AT TYNECASTLE

Impregnable: Hearts fans have seen their side keep eight successive clean sheets – a run which started with a 1-0 home win over Motherwell last month

An intriguing contest is in prospect in Gorgie as Hearts and Motherwell, two of the in-form teams in the division, go head to head.

Both sides are adjacent in the top half of the table – sitting fifth and sixth respectively – and are yet to lose a game or concede a goal so far in 2018.

That could stay the same, of course, should the game end goalless but, the way the teams have been playing of late, a stalemate would be a long shot.

Craig Levein’s Jambos will be marginal favourites given their formidable run of late, as they look to extend their unbeaten league run to 11 games, and the fact they have won their last four home league matches against Motherwell without a conceding a goal.

Stephen Robinson’s Steelmen have begun the new year with back-to-back 2-0 victories at Fir Park and, despite missing some key players, will be confident of extending their good start in their first away trip of 2018 as they look to consolidate their place in the top six.

Winger Danny Amankwaa could make his Hearts debut and Kyle Lafferty is back from suspension, while Motherwell are without Alex Fisher – who drove all the way down to Yeovil on Friday to feature in the Glovers’ FA Cup tie against Manchester United – but Peter Hartley, whose announcement video was akin to that of United’s Alexis Sanchez revelation, is back from suspension having signed permamently from Blackpool this week.


NO MARGIN FOR ERROR FOR THE TERRORS

More of the same: The Terrors will hope for a similar outcome to their last home game, when they thrashed bottom-club Brechin City 4-1 at Tannadice on January 2

After St Mirren’s charge at the top continued with a crucial away win at promotion rivals Dunfermline on Friday night, it only served as a further reminder that Dundee United cannot afford any more slip-ups like the disastrous 6-1 defeat at struggling Falkirk recently in the race for promotion in the Championship.

Since that thumping on January 6, the Terrors have responded well by keeping successive clean sheets – including earning a hard-earned point at Dunfermline – in a bid to keep the pressure on St Mirren, who they lost to at the tail end of December.

Next up on Saturday afternoon is a home clash against a Greenock Morton side who sit seventh in the table, so three points at Tannadice is a must in the first of two games in hand on St Mirren as they look to respond to the Buddies’ fine result.

Former Hearts boss Csaba Laszlo has repeatedly emphasised that taking United back to where they feel they belong – in the Scottish Premiership – is his sole focus since replacing Ray McKinnon in November.

If they are to achieve that, even via the play-off route, consistency in all areas will be key between now and the end of the season and games like this weekend’s shouldn’t present any problems.


CAN AYR KEEP THE FIGHT GOING?

Magnificent: McCall will be hoping the Somerset Park club can continue their excellent season so far

In Scottish League One, a fascinating battle is being played out at the top of the table in the race for the title between leaders Raith Rovers and second-placed Ayr United.

With just a point separating the sides, the Honest Men – who have played a game more but won the same number of matches (14) as Raith – make the trip to Hampden Park on Saturday to face a Queen’s Park side who are joint bottom of the 10-team pack with just 18 points from 22 games.

Apart from a disappointing home defeat to third-placed Arbroath, Ian McCall’s side have been going well and have the tantalising prospect of a visit from Rangers on the horizon in the Scottish Cup – should the Gers get past Fraserburgh in their re-arranged fourth-round tie.

Ayr managed to get a valuable point against Raith a fortnight ago in their last league outing and, with Gary Locke’s side expected to beat fifth-placed Alloa Athletic away from home elsewhere on Saturday, know they need to get back to winning ways in the league to sustain their excellent pursuit of top spot in what is sure to be an exciting second half of the season.


ODDS STACKED AGAINST THE BLUE BRAZIL

Doom and gloom: Cowdenbeath has been a welcoming place for visiting teams in the fourth tier this season

Propping up the entire SPFL, it’s been another largely unforgettable season so far for all the wrong reasons for Cowdenbeath.

Rooted to the foot of League Two with just one league win to their name, things are looking bleak for Gary Bollan’s men, who face the prospect of being demoted having avoided a third successive relegation by winning a play-off against Lowland League champions East Kilbride last season.

But, despite having just nine points on the board from 19 games, all hope is not lost just yet, with the gap between themselves and Edinburgh City just six points as it stands and Cowdenbeath have a game in hand on them.

The Fife club, who were playing in the Championship as recently as 2014/15, had lost successive games before last weekend’s game at Stenhousemuir fell foul of the weather so have had extra time to prepare for the visit of seventh-placed Berwick Rangers on Saturday.

Cowdenbeath know they need to start picking up points from somewhere in a collision course for survival which is looking increasingly like it won’t be successful and, if it can be this weekend, they might just give themselves a glimmer of hope in the face of adversity.


NEW FACES ON SHOW IN DINGWALL

The stage is ready: Ross County and Rangers are likely to continue to bed in several new signings when they meet in Dingwall in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Sunday

Keen to make an impression, there is likely to be a number of players still getting used to new team-mates and new surroundings when Rangers travel to Ross County in Sunday’s televised Premiership encounter.

Greg Docherty should make his debut for Graeme Murty’s side at the Global Energy Arena, just two days after the midfielder’s move from top-flight rivals Hamilton Accies.

He became the fifth new arrival in January for the Glasgow giants, following Sean Goss, Jamie Murphy, Jason Cummings and Russell Martin through the gates at Ibrox.

After their Scottish Cup tie at Highland League side Fraserburgh was postponed last weekend, the Gers roared back into action following the winter break with another impressive victory over Aberdeen in midweek – with all four of this month’s acquisitions playing a part.

Despite having to put up with a host of absentees, Murty will be hoping his promising new-look side continues to gel as they seek to maintain some kind of pressure on runaway leaders Celtic, who have an 11-point lead heading into the weekend, by beating bottom-club Ross County.

The Staggies have been one of the busier teams in the transfer market, with Owen Coyle bringing in former Liverpool striker David N’Gog, who he worked with at Bolton, as well as midfielder Greg Tansey on loan from Aberdeen, Inih Effiong from Woking and defender Harry Souttar on loan from Stoke City.

Although Tansey is doubtful with an injury, the trio of Effiong, Souttar and N’Gog look to set to make their home debuts as the Dingwall club – who have been on the road for six of their last nine games – hope to pull off a shock by ending a 10-game winless run back on their own patch against the Old Firm side who seem to be on the rise again.

Scottish Premiership: Willie Collum to referee Motherwell v Rangers

Willie Collum will take charge of Saturday’s lunchtime encounter at Fir Park, with Bobby Madden appointed to Celtic’s televised match against Hearts on Sunday.

willie-collum-referee-albion-rovers-v-celtic-22nd-jan-2017
Solid: Collum issued just one yellow card and was on top of proceedings during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win at Albion Rovers last weekend (Picture from Sky Sports)

WILLIE Collum will be the referee for Rangers’ televised Scottish Premiership match at Motherwell on Saturday.

The Euro 2016 official, who turned 38 last week, will be in the middle as the Gers make the trip to Fir Park for the lunchtime game live on Sky Sports (KO 12:45 GMT).

He will be assisted by David McGeachie and Gordon Crawford, with Euan Anderson on fourth official duties.

Collum – who won’t have far to travel from his Lanarkshire residence – will oversee his 29th game of the season in all competitions.

He has so far brandished 90 yellow cards, sent off five players and awarded nine penalties.

The Religious Education teacher will have no excuse for taking his eye off the ball after visiting a Specsavers store this week, in recognition of the partnership the opticians share with the Scottish FA.

It will be a 13th top-flight match of the campaign for Collum, who has handled a League Cup Final, two Scottish Cup Finals and the 2015 Uefa Super Cup.

The Glasgow-born whistler will control his fourth Rangers game of the campaign – and first of 2017 – after sending off Philippe Senderos in their 5-1 Old Firm derby defeat at Celtic in September before 1-0 victories at Inverness in October and home to Dundee in November.

Meanwhile, Collum will be in the middle for a third Motherwell match of 2016-17 after their 4-2 derby win over Hamilton in September – in which he awarded the Steelmen a spotkick – and 1-1 draw at St Johnstone last month.

It will be the third time he takes charge of a fixture involving the two sides – after Rangers’ 2-1 win in a League Cup semi-final at Hampden in 2011 and a goalless draw at Ibrox in the league in 2012, both of which passed without major incident.

Mark Warburton’s second-placed Rangers will be looking to extend the gap over Aberdeen in third, which currently stands at two points, while Mark McGhee’s Motherwell could move into the top six with a first top-flight win over the Gers since December 2002.

The sides met as recently as last weekend as Kenny Miller scored twice for Rangers, who came from behind to beat the Steelmen in their Scottish Cup fourth round tie at Ibrox.


Madden gets another top-flight test

Bobby Madden in action
Well-known: Madden has established himself as a referee domestically in the Scottish top-flight and on the European stage in the Europa League (Picture from Sky Sports)

Bobby Madden will take charge of Celtic’s televised encounter with Hearts on Sunday.

The 38-year-old will be in the middle when the champions host the Jambos at Parkhead in front of the Sky cameras (KO 13:00 GMT).

His assistants will be Graham Chambers and Stephen Mitchell, while Greg Aitken will be on fourth official duties.

Madden was also in the middle for a 3-1 Celtic win over Hearts last season in his only other experience of a fixture between the sides.

He enjoyed a largely quiet display but booked six players and sent off Hearts defender Juwon Oshaniwa late on for a second yellow card.

It will only be the 18th game Madden will have officiated this season, after missing two months as he bravely battled thyroid cancer.

Overall, he has dished out 48 yellow cards, two red cards and pointed to the penalty spot 11 times in his 17 matches so far.

The East Kilbride whistler, who was an additional assistant referee at Euro 2016, will handle his third Celtic game of the campaign after their 4-1 win over 10-man Aberdeen in August and 2-1 success against Dundee in December – both also at Celtic Park.

His only Hearts match so far was their 3-0 victory over Motherwell at Tynecastle in November – in which only two players were cautioned.

Madden’s biggest career honour to date came in Celtic’s 2-0 win over 10-man Dundee United in the 2015 League Cup showpiece at Hampden Park.

Both sides were in action in midweek – with Hearts beating Raith Rovers 4-2 after extra time in a Scottish Cup replay, while Celtic edged past St Johnstone 1-0 in their game in hand in the league.

You can see the rest of the SPFL appointments for this weekend here.

Scottish Cup: Thomson and Collum to referee Rangers and Celtic

Craig Thomson will be in the middle for Rangers against Motherwell at Ibrox, while Willie Collum has been appointed to Celtic’s fourth-round tie at Albion Rovers.

craig-thomson-and-willie-collum
Centre stage: Thomson (left) and Collum have attracted controversy in the past but have represented Scotland well on the European and international scene (Pictures from Sky Sports)

The heavyweights will be out in force as the match official appointments for the fourth round of the Scottish Cup have been announced.

Craig Thomson will take charge of the first tie of the weekend as Rangers face another Premiership side in Motherwell at Ibrox on Saturday (KO 12:30 GMT).

And fellow elite official Willie Collum will be in the middle for Celtic’s trip to League One Albion Rovers on Sunday – also live on Sky Sports – with kick-off at 15:00 GMT.

The other TV game will see John Beaton oversee Hearts’ match at Championship outfit Raith Rovers in front of the BBC Scotland cameras earlier on Sunday (KO 13:05 GMT).


Thomson makes Ibrox return

Craig Thomson referee
Veteran: Thomson is the longest-serving of the current crop of Scottish officials having refereed his first top-flight match in May 2002 (Picture from Sky Sports)

It will be the fourth time Thomson will encounter Rangers this season but his first trip to Ibrox for a year since giving them two penalties in their 4-1 win over Livingston on the way to the Championship title.

The vastly-experienced whistler handled their 2-1 win at Dundee in August, 1-0 loss to Celtic in the Old Firm League Cup semi-final, and 2-0 defeat at Hearts in November.

His only Motherwell matches were their 2-1 victory at Kilmarnock on the opening weekend and 1-1 draw at Partick Thistle in September.

Overall, the trained lawyer from Renfrewshire has brandished 95 yellow cards, sent off seven players and awarded six penalties in 24 games in all competitions.

Thomson has previously officiated three Scottish Cup Finals – including Rangers’ 1-0 victory over Falkirk in the 2009 showpiece at Hampden.

He will be assisted by Alan Mulvanny and Andrew McWilliam, with Stephen Finnie on fourth official duties.

Earlier this season, Thomson 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 success at Dens Park.

He was also branded ‘the Scottish butcher’ by angry Besiktas players after a controversial performance in their pivotal 6-0 defeat at Dynamo Kiev during the Champions League group stages.


Collum reunited with Celtic

willie-collum-with-erik-sviatchenko-v-hamilton-24th-dec-2016
Spotlight: Collum has largely stayed under the radar after being dropped for a period last term following a number of contentious decisions (Picture from Sky Sports)

Collum usually officiates Celtic on a monthly basis but it will only be the third occasion he will oversee the champions so far this term.

The 2015 Uefa Super Cup and Euro 2016 referee put in a fine display in their 5-1 thumping of Rangers at Parkhead in September.

But he was criticised by Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers for sending off Calum McGregor in their 1-1 draw at Hamilton on Christmas Eve.

It will be the first time the Religious Education teacher will be in the middle for an Albion Rovers game, which will be staged at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium to allow extra fans to watch – a stone’s throw from where he resides in North Lanarkshire.

In 27 matches across six competitions this season, Glasgow-born Collum has dished out 89 bookings, issued five red cards and pointed to the penalty spot nine times.

The 37-year-old has handled two Scottish Cup Finals – the first of which was Celtic’s 3-0 win over Hibernian in 2013.

He will be assisted by Michael Banks and John McCrossan, while Gavin Duncan will act as the fourth official.

To his credit, the notoriously card-happy Collum has rarely attracted controversy this term.

The only notable occasion came when he was slated by fans on social media after harshly penalising Jamie MacDonald for a perceived foul on James Maddison, which led to Aberdeen’s opening goal in their 4-0 win at Kilmarnock in October.

You can see the rest of the Scottish Cup match official appointments here.

Scottish Premiership: Celtic take New Year honours in Old Firm derby

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
players-tunnel
Adversaries: Celtic and Rangers went head to head for the 404th time in a competitive game – and the first at Ibrox since March 2012 (Picture from Sky Sports)

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.

The champions, seeking a sixth successive league title and first under Rodgers, have a hat-trick of derby wins this term after September’s 5-1 demolition at Celtic Park and the League Cup semi-final success the following month.

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.

rodgers
Worse for wear: Rodgers appeared to injure himself whilst celebrating Sinclair’s goal (Picture from Sky Sports)

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.


TEAMS:

rangers-xi

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′)

 

celtic-xi

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′)


MATCH OFFICIALS:

Steven McLean referee

Referee: Steven McLean – 9/10
Assistant referees: Douglas Ross and Frank Connor
Fourth official: John Beaton

Scottish Premiership: Steven McLean to referee Old Firm derby

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 referee
On the rise: McLean is regarded as one of the up and coming officials in Scottish football and on the international stage (Picture from Sky Sports)

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.

Both meetings this term – Celtic’s 5-1 league win and 1-0 League Cup semi-final victory at Hampden – were officiated by seasoned campaigners Willie Collum and Craig Thomson respectively.

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.

steven-mclean-in-action-inverness-v-ross-county-27th-oct-2015
Regular: McLean will take charge of his 11th Scottish Premiership game of the season at Ibrox (Picture from BBC Scotland)

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.

Celtic supporters will also remember McLean as the referee who oversaw their controversial Scottish Cup semi-final defeat against Inverness in 2015.

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.

McLean has since handled five matches involving the champions without any major controversy but incurred the wrath of then Hearts boss Robbie Neilson for failing to protect his players against Hamilton in November.

Steven McLean points for goalkick (Hearts v St Johnstone - 2nd August 2015)
Fresh: McLean hasn’t officiated a game since Hibernian’s 1-1 draw at Greenock Morton in the Championship on December 17 (Picture from BT Sport)

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.


State of play:

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.

Both sides had mixed fortunes on Wednesday night, with Rangers failing to get the better of St Johnstone in a 1-1 draw at McDiarmid Park while goals from Erik Sviatchenko and Stuart Armstrong gave Celtic a routine 2-0 victory over Ross County at Parkhead.

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.

Bobby Madden to referee first Scottish Premiership game since cancer scare

The Fifa whistler will oversee his first top-flight game since the end of August when the 10-man Dons were beaten 4-1 at Celtic Park after recovering from a battle with thyroid cancer.

Bobby Madden looks on
Back in business: Madden will be in the middle for his ninth game of the season – and only his fourth in Scotland’s top-flight (Picture from Sky Sports)

REFEREE Bobby Madden will take charge of his first Scottish Premiership game in over three months, following his scare battling a rare disease. 

The 38-year-old returned to action after two months out recovering from thyroid cancer at Glebe Park last Saturday for Livingston’s 3-0 over Brechin City in League One.

Although he didn’t wish to discuss his illness, the East Mains official said this week he was happy to be back refereeing and is “keeping very well”.

Now, Madden will oversee the televised Friday night encounter between Partick Thistle and Aberdeen at Firhill.

It will be his first top-flight match since he awarded Celtic a penalty and sent off Aberdeen defender Mark Reynolds for two bookable offences in the champions’ 4-1 win over the Dons on August 27.

Before that game at Celtic Park, he had handled qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League, two Betfred Cup ties and two other Premiership matches.

It’s understood Madden had been diagnosed at the end of last season but postponed surgery until after Euro 2016 – where he was an additional assistant as part of Willie Collum’s team of officials.

There were a number of positive messages from well-wishers on social media, as Madden was eased back onto the pitch last weekend.

The Fifa whistler was also an additional assistant for Craig Thomson in Atletico Madrid’s last-gasp 2-1 victory over FC Rostov in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

Madden – who oversaw Celtic’s 2-0 win over Dundee United in the 2015 League Cup Final – has so far brandished 17 yellow cards, sent off two players and awarded five penalties this term.

Three of those spotkicks were controversially awarded to St Johnstone in the space of 23 minutes during their 3-0 League Cup win over Falkirk in July – after which Bairns boss Peter Houston said he would monitor the official’s penalty calls throughout the season.

Domestically, Madden was promoted to Category One in 2009 and has built up a wealth of experience and respect to become a Scottish top-flight regular since his first match in January 2011.

He first took up the whistle in 2002 and last year revealed that an advert in the East Kilbride News – spotted by his brother Jamie – inspired him to become involved in refereeing after realising he wouldn’t make the grade as a professional player.

He will encounter Alan Archibald’s Thistle side for the first time since their 1-0 defeat against Hearts at Tynecastle on March 5, in which only one player was booked.

Madden will be assisted in Glasgow’s Maryhill for the first game of the weekend by Stuart Stevenson and Gary Hilland, with Stephen Finnie on fourth official duties.

Elsewhere, Crawford Allan will take charge of Celtic’s match with Inverness on Saturday and Andrew Dallas will be in control of Rangers’ televised trip to Ross County on Sunday lunchtime.

You can see a full list of SPFL match official appointments here.