Kevin Clancy will referee Rangers’ Premiership clash with Aberdeen at Pittodrie and Nick Walsh will handle Celtic’s flag-day meeting with newly-promoted Livingston at Celtic Park.
The match official appointments for the opening weekend of the 2018/19 Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) season have been revealed.
Last season’s Scottish Cup final referee Kevin Clancy will take charge of Sunday’s televised Premiership clash between Aberdeen and Rangers as new Gers boss Steven Gerrard oversees his first league game, at Pittodrie in front of the Sky Sports cameras (kick-off 13:00 BST).
Nick Walsh will be in the middle for champions Celtic’s encounter with newly-promoted Livingston on Saturday at Celtic Park, where the title-winning flag will be unfurled before the 15:00 BST kick-off.
Elsewhere, fellow newly-promoted side St Mirren’s home match against Dundee will be officiated by Alan Muir.
John Beaton will referee Kilmarnock against St Johnstone at Rugby Park and Andrew Dallas has been appointed to Hearts’ trip to Hamilton Academical.
Meanwhile, Fifa officials Craig Thomson, Willie Collum and Steven McLean have been handed Championship games on the first weekend.
Thomson will take charge as Ayr, who were promoted to the second tier as League One champions last term, welcome relegated Partick Thistle to Somerset Park.
Collum will be in the middle at Tannadice when Dundee United kick off their second season in the second tier at home to Dunfermline Athletic, with McLean on duty at the Falkirk Stadium for Falkirk’s clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Here are the full list of appointments as the 2018/19 campaign gets under way…
SATURDAY 4 AUGUST 2018
Celtic v Livingston
3pm kick-off at Celtic Park
Referee: Nick Walsh
Assistants: Dougie Potter and Andy Milne
Fourth official: David Munro
Hamilton Academical v Hearts
3pm kick-off at New Douglas Park
Referee: Andrew Dallas
Assistants: Stuart Stevenson and Daniel McFarlane
Fourth official: John McKendrick
Hibernian v Motherwell
3pm kick-off at Easter Road
Referee: Bobby Madden
Assistants: Jordan Stokoe and David Doig
Fourth official: Gavin Duncan
Kilmarnock v St Johnstone
3pm kick-off at Rugby Park
Referee: John Beaton
Assistants: Alastair Mather and Sean Carr
Fourth official: Euan Anderson
St Mirren v Dundee
3pm kick-off at the Simple Digital Arena
Referee: Alan Muir
Assistants: Paul O’Neill and Michael Banks
Fourth official: Steven Kirkland
Ayr United v Partick Thistle
3pm kick-off at Somerset Park
Referee: Craig Thomson
Assistants: Calum Spence and Daniel Graves
Dundee United v Dunfermline Athletic
3pm kick-off at Tannadice
Referee: Willie Collum
Assistants: Drew Kirkland and Alan Macfadyen
Falkirk v Inverness Caledonian Thistle
3pm kick-off at The Falkirk Stadium
Referee: Steven McLean
Assistants: Ralph Gordon and Craig Ferguson
Greenock Morton v Queen of the South
3pm kick-off at Cappielow
Referee: Gavin Duncan
Assistants: Andrew McWilliam and Kevin McElhinney
Ross County v Alloa Athletic
3pm kick-off at The Global Energy Stadium
Referee: Mike Roncone
Assistants: Frank Connor and Jonathan Bell
Scottish League One
East Fife v Dumbarton
3pm kick-off at Bayview Stadium
Referee: Grant Irvine
Assistants: Joseph Lawson and George Calder
Forfar Athletic v Airdrieonians
3pm kick-off at Station Park
Referee: Graham Beaton
Assistants: Graham Chambers and Robert Thomson
Montrose v Arbroath
3pm kick-off at Links Park
Referee: Alan Newlands
Assistants: Gordon Crawford and Ryan Oliver
Stenhousemuir v Brechin City
3pm kick-off at Ochilview Park
Referee: Barry Cook
Assistants: David Roome and Mark McHendry
Stranraer v Raith Rovers
3pm kick-off at Stair Park
Referee: David Lowe
Assistants: Gary Hilland and Craig King
SUNDAY 5 AUGUST 2018
Aberdeen v Rangers
1pm kick-off at Pittodrie – live on Sky Sports
Referee: Kevin Clancy
Assistants: David McGeachie and Graeme Stewart
Fourth official: Don Robertson
Walsh also fulfilled the same role in last year’s final, while Robertson did so in the 2015 showpiece – which was the first to utilise the extra officials behind each goal.
Ross infuriated Celtic fans when he was caught on camera shouting “red, red, red” before Jozo Simunovic was sent off in their 3-2 Old Firm derby win over Rangers at Ibrox in March.
The assistant referee, who has also been the Conservative MP for Moray since June 2017, will officiate in his second Scottish Cup final after being part of Willie Collum’s team for Celtic’s 3-0 win over Hibernian in 2015.
His fellow linesman Roome will experience his second final of the campaign, having assisted referee Andrew Dallas for the Challenge Cup final in March as Inverness beat Dumbarton 1-0 at St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park.
He has also been the fourth official for two League Cup finals, has refereed several quarter-final and semi-final ties in domestic cup competitions and was an additional assistant referee for the 2014 Scottish Cup final, when St Johnstone beat Dundee United 2-0 at Celtic Park.
Therefore, his considerable big-game experience should stand him in good stead when the pressure will be at fever pitch on cup final day.
Clancy has seemingly been preferred to John Beaton, who was the only other Fifa referee yet to take charge of the showpiece but has connections to Lanarkshire, where Motherwell are situated.
As he has been given the weekend off for the final round of Scottish Premiership games and hasn’t yet been involved in the SPFL play-offs, he has plenty of time to prepare for the clash at the national stadium – which takes place on the same day as the Emirates FA Cup final in England.
HIS SEASON SO FAR
Despite a period of absence through injury, Clancy has continued to make giant strides during what has been another largely successful season for the promising whistler.
He has maintained his presence on the European stage, taking charge of Under-19 and Under-21 European Championship qualifiers, two Uefa Youth League group games and Europa League qualifiers, as well as being an additional assistant referee in the Champions League and Europa League.
On the domestic front, Clancy has been restricted to 15 Scottish Premiership matches because of his spell on the sidelines but still handled semi-finals in both major cup competitions, involving both sides he will encounter on 19 May.
Clancy has already overseen a game between both finalists this term, booking four players as Celtic thumped Motherwell 5-1 at Celtic Park in the league at the start of December.
In February, he 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.
Celtic have only lost one of their 26 games with Clancy in charge – winning 23 and drawing twice. That solitary defeat, however, did come in their last match with the official at the helm – their 1-0 defeat at Kilmarnock at the start of February.
Meanwhile, Motherwell have a more mixed record with the Fifa referee in charge – winning half of their 20 games that Clancy has refereed in all competitions, drawing three and losing seven.
HOW HE HAS REACHED THIS STAGE
Clancy first took up the whistle in 2000 and was admitted to the Scottish FA five years later.
The Renfrewshire-based official was promoted to a Category One referee in 2009 and – having hugely impressed in the SFL – oversaw his first SPL match in April 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.
Clancy recently missed out on a place in Willie Collum’s team of officials for Euro 2016 in France in the summer, with Bobby Madden and John Beaton instead selected as additional assistant referees.
He has handled several Europa League games and been behind the goal in Champions League matches, and is widely regarded as a lenient referee who keeps control of games and rarely attracts controversy.
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION
There hasn’t been much reaction to the news on Twitter as of yet, with most Motherwell fans seemingly relieved that it’s not Craig Thomson in charge.
Here are some responses…
CHRIST!!!!!!! Kevin Clancy to referee the cup final. Only positive thing I can say about that appointment, its not Craig Thomson. Walloper of the highest order tho
2017: Bobby Madden – Celtic 2 Aberdeen 1 2016: Steven McLean – Rangers 2 Hibernian 3 2015: Willie Collum – Inverness 2 Falkirk 1 2014: Craig Thomson – St Johnstone 2 Dundee United 0 (Celtic Park) 2013: Willie Collum – Hibernian 0 Celtic 3 2012: Craig Thomson – Hibernian 1 Hearts 5 2011: Calum Murray – Motherwell 0 Celtic 3 2010: Dougie McDonald – Dundee United 3 Ross County 0 2009: Craig Thomson – Rangers 1 Falkirk 0 2008: Stuart Dougal – Queen of the South 2 Rangers 3
CELTIC ON CUSP OF DOUBLE TREBLE
The Hoops have the opportunity to complete an unprecedented feat of winning back-to-back Trebles – consisting of the Premiership title, League Cup and Scottish Cup.
Celtic wrapped up a seventh consecutive league crown by thrashing Old Firm rivals Rangers 5-0 at Hampden Park at the end of April and beat Motherwell 2-0 at the national stadium in the final of the League Cup back in November, thanks to a James Forrest strike and Moussa Dembele penalty.
Dembele’s trophy-clinching second goal from the spot came as the result of a controversial incident, as Motherwell’s French defender Cedric Kipre was given his marching orders by referee Craig Thomson for the feintest of brushes on Scott Sinclair inside the box.
Now only the men from Fir Park stand in the way of yet more history for Celtic and Brendan Rodgers, who has already won every domestic trophy available to him since arriving at Parkhead in the summer of 2016.
But Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell can take some encouragement from their most recent meeting with the champions, having held them to a goalless draw at Fir Park in March, despite playing with 10 men since the 41st minute when Kipre was again dismissed by ref Thomson.
Celtic are already the most successful side in the history of the Scottish Cup – having reached the final of the famous old competition for the 57th time and they are looking for a 38th triumph.
The Hoops had to come from behind to beat Aberdeen 2-1 in last season’s final, which was refereed by Bobby Madden, thanks to a late goal from Tom Rogic.
This year’s showpiece is a repeat of the 2011 Scottish Cup final, which the Hoops won 3-0 under Neil Lennon – a game refereed by the now retired official Calum Murray.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
Former Ibrox season ticket holder Bobby Madden to referee the semi final against The Rangers.
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’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.
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?
Why Andrew Dallas has the potential, in time, to be Scottish football’s leading referee – just like his father more than a decade ago.
As far as the limelight in Scottish football is concerned, referee Andrew Dallas isn’t normally too far away from the headlines – for one reason or another.
He has been the subject of ridicule and constant criticism since taking up the whistle in 2012/13, particularly when stepping up to the unforgiving environment of the Scottish Premiership at the start of the 2014/15 season.
It would be fair to say it has sometimes been warranted but too often it has gone too far, although not quite to the level experienced by his colleague Willie Collum, who received death threats after awarding a controversial penalty in an Old Firm match in 2010.
Dallas has often been too brash and almost tried too hard to get himself noticed but has come a long way since being branded ‘devious and manipulative’ by Kenny Shiels in 2013 and ‘not ready’ to officiate in the top flight by John Hughes in 2015.
Mistakes are part and parcel of the game and a referee’s development. Like any official, he has had his fair share.
Dallas wrongly booked Hearts midfielder Malaury Martin, thinking he had tripped Motherwell’s Louis Moult, when in fact the striker had fallen over his own team-mate Lionel Ainsworth in a Premiership clash at Tynecastle in February 2017. In fairness, he later rang then Hearts boss Ian Cathro to apologise for the error.
Back in August, Partick Thistle boss Alan Archibald was left in doubt that Dallas should have awarded a last-minute penalty for his side, who were trailing 1-0 to Celtic in the Glasgow derby at Firhill when Nir Bitton appeared to impede Miles Storey in the box.
More recently, he gave St Johnstone midfielder David Wotherspoon his marching orders for a second bookable offence in their 1-0 defeat at Hearts – a decision which was branded ‘ridiculous’ by Saints boss Tommy Wright, who appears to have his own vendetta against Dallas.
“Same old, same old with that same referee,” Wright told BBC Scotland after the game. “I have been [disappointed] most of the times I’ve had him. I have probably spoken to [SFA Head of Referee Operations] John Fleming more about Andrew Dallas than any referee. Nothing seems to change.”
He has been under-fire and naturally took time to adapt to the rigours of the rough and tumble of Premiership football but has come on leaps and downs, in the last 12 months alone.
Earlier this month, Dallas was slammed on social media for disallowing an early goal for Motherwell in their Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Hearts but, by the letter of the law, which the referees know inside out, he was spot on as Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin had the ball within his grasp – even if it was just with one hand.
He was also right to award Hearts a penalty after Cedric Kipre wiped out Steven Naismith and ignore appeals for a second spotkick for Craig Levein’s side late on for handball after the ball struck Andy Rose, but it wasn’t intentional. Getting the big calls right is the main thing that should be expected of a referee and he did that in the important tie at Fir Park.
Although it’s the least glamorous trophy of them all, it was still a big occasion for the two Championship clubs that he knew well, at a ground he has become accustomed to refereeing at in St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park.
He put in a solid display overall and stayed under the radar – issuing five yellow cards and correctly awarding Inverness a late penalty for handball by Dumbarton left-back Chris McLaughlin, which Iain Vigurs had saved by Sons stopper Scott Gallacher before Carl Tremarco spared his team-mate’s blushes with a last-gasp winner.
Being awarded the final of the competition which is primarily for Championship, League One and League Two clubs in Scotland acted as a springboard in the successful careers of fellow officials Craig Thomson and Calum Murray, to name but two.
Despite some boos ringing around the ground as he stepped up to collect his medal after the game, Dallas could be happy of his performance and undoubtedly his father Hugh would have been proud of his display as he watched on from the stands.
Dallas has the shadow of his dad – the last Scotsman to go to a World Cup who spent 15 years officiating in Scotland before hanging up his whistle in 2005 – to contend with and there are always going to be comparisons drawn between them.
But he has spoken in the past about how his old man has been “invaluable” to him and he was the one who suggested that he took up the whistle in the first place. Claims that he has progressed as far as he has to date because of his father’s stature are also unfair, because he has reached the highest level on merit through his own hard work and determination.
Dallas has already demonstrated his capabilities and didn’t get fast-tracked on to the Fifa list in January 2015 for no reason.
2017/18 really has been a breakthrough campaign for the promising official, who has handled matches in the Europa League, a 2018 World Cup qualifier, a Champions League qualifier and numerous European youth games.
Closer to home, he’s been trusted with some key top-flight matches – including an Edinburgh derby debut in October, Rangers’ 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Ibrox in November and Hibernian’s 2-0 victory over the Dons in another significant contest in the battle to finish the best of the rest behind Celtic.
It is evident that the Scottish Football Association are fully behind Dallas, who is not afraid to give big decisions and generally stays calm under intense pressure – even on the big stage.
With Collum and Thomson out in front as Scotland’s leading officials, Dallas has some way to go to join the elite but the signs are there that he can at least be third in line for high-profile games on the domestic front and even go on to follow the footsteps of the pair – and his father before them – on the European and international scene.
He has already reaped the benefits of working closely with Collum, who he has regularly trained with, and being coached by fellow Fifa whistler Steven McLean.
“They’ve been fantastic in offering advice and encouragement and they’re always available for a chat about decisions and incidents from matches,” Dallas once said in an interview.
He got a bird’s eye view of Collum’s excellent display in Celtic’s 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox as the fourth official – a selective appointment made with careful consideration.
Selecting him to carry out electronic board duties undoubtedly had the near future in mind and suggests an Old Firm derby debut in the middle isn’t too far away, particularly as he’s the last of the seven Fifa referees to get a first taste of one of world football’s fiercest rivalries.
It could happen as early as next month in the Scottish Cup semi-final showdown at Hampden Park but it’s more likely to be a more experienced official in charge given the magnitude of the occasion.
Last May, former top-flight referee Charlie Richmond expressed his belief that Dallas is under more pressure to perform than some of his colleagues because of his father and still had plenty to prove.
This season has been one of real progress for Dallas, who has learned a lot and proven he’s not just a rookie and gaffe-prone referee but can handle matches at a high level.
He still has hurdles to climb over but, with age on his side and advice readily on hand in the form of his old man, he has the potential to be the cream of the crop – if fans and pundits alike can cut him some slack and let him develop.
POLL: Have your say about Andrew Dallas by casting your vote below…
Kevin Clancy will take charge of Celtic’s trip to Rugby Park in Saturday’s televised lunchtime game, before Willie Collum oversees Rangers against Hibernian at Ibrox.
Kevin Clancy will take charge of Celtic’s lunchtime clash with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday afternoon, the SPFL has confirmed.
The 34-year-old will be in the middle for his first Hoops game of 2018 as the champions and current Scottish Premiership leaders visit Ayrshire for the 12:30pm kick-off, which will be screened live on BT Sport.
Celtic are unbeaten in the 25 previous games that the Fifa whistler has officiated, winning 23 and drawing two – stretching back to his first in February 2013. The only other occasion he’s previously handled a game between the two sides was three years ago in a 2-0 away victory for the Hoops.
It will be the fifth time Clancy will encounter Brendan Rodgers’s side this season in what will be his 28th match of the campaign overall in all competitions. He has so far brandished 107 yellow cards, sent off five players and awarded three penalties.
The Glasgow-born official was also in charge of Celtic’s 4-1 win over Hearts on the opening weekend, October’s 4-2 League Cup semi-final win over Hibernian, the 5-1 thrashing of Motherwell in December and, most recently, their 2-0 success at Dundee on Boxing Day.
Elsewhere, Willie Collum will oversee Rangers’ meeting with Hibernian at Ibrox, as second takes on fourth in the top flight.
It will be the sixth time already this season that Collum will oversee a match involving the Gers, but the first since their surprise 2-1 reverse at Kilmarnock on December 23.
He will also be at the helm for his 30th game of the campaign in all competitions and, not for the first time in his career, has come under fire in recent weeks amid some controversial decisions.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.