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.

Opinion: Alexis Sanchez can be the answer for Manchester United

It might have been against lowly opposition in Yeovil Town, but Alexis Sanchez has already shown he can make the ultimate difference for the Reds.

It might have only been against lowly Yeovil Town, but Alexis Sanchez showed on his Manchester United debut just what all the fuss has been about.

The chase to secure his signature went on for months and the discussion over what part he would play in Friday’s Emirates FA Cup fourth-round tie began almost from the moment his eagerly awaited arrival from Arsenal was announced on Monday evening.

The sense of anticipation at Huish Park reached fever pitch once the team news was revealed and Jose Mourinho understood the forward’s desperation to play, even though he has been short of match action recently, by including him in the starting line-up.

It didn’t take long for Alexis to make his mark and he was involved in all the good things United did, taking the game to Yeovil at times and seeing a lot of the ball.

The difficult surface at Huish Park often made the ball bounce awkwardly but the first Chilean to represent the Reds in a competitive match didn’t let that deter him, even if every touch wasn’t totally assured, and his close control was excellent at times.

It wasn’t a vintage performance by him or United, particularly in the first half, as he gave the ball away a few times and was on the receiving end of some heavy tackles – including an absolute cruncher from Yeovil’s Nathan Smith which saw the defender rightly booked.

Focus: All eyes were on the Chilean to see how he would perform on his United debut – and he didn’t disappoint the club’s supporters

Starting out wide on the left, the 29-year-old tried to influence proceedings as best he could and often drifted inside, exuding confidence with every touch and lifting the tempo.

The closest he came to scoring was a drilled low effort which he dragged wide and a free-kick from 25 yards which dipped comfortably into the midriff of Yeovil keeper Artur Krysiak.

A lot has been spoken about the need for United to kill off teams on the counter attack when in control, having failed to do so in many games recently – including the 2-2 draw at Leicester just before Christmas and last weekend’s 1-0 win at Burnley.

Although it was the ninth time this season the Reds have hit four in a match, United have often been profligate in the final third, choosing the wrong option or lacking the final ball and finish.

But Alexis already illustrated the difference he can make by having a hand in the first two of the Reds’ four goals, playing a simple pass through towards attacking spearhead Marcus Rashford who seized upon defensive certainty to score the decisive opener just before half-time before sliding the ball into Ander Herrera who finished off a swift breakaway with a clinical finish to make it 2-0.

In doing so, he showed that he can be the answer to the main problem and is what Mourinho has been looking for to complete the attacking part of his team.

The stage: The 9,500-capacity Huish Park was the setting for one of world football’s most talented players to shine on his first appearance in United’s famous no.7 shirt

Alexis also laid on other opportunities for his new team-mates, who have already spoken about how impressed they have been by how he has quickly settled into life at Old Trafford in his first week.

Mourinho has already spoken about his ability to occupy every attacking position in his team and his versatility, as well as his will to win and lack of frustration even when losing the ball, makes him an all-round player that can be the complete package.

Sanchez in fact lost the ball 31 times but his risk-taking and high-energy display was rewarded and his involvement in the game was key, demanding the ball at every opportunity. He may have only been on the field for 72 minutes before being replaced by Jesse Lingard but the former Barcelona man was the clear Man of the Match and the standout player for United.

It’s still early days, it was only against a struggling League Two club and he knows he can play even better but the signs are already positive and the travelling United fans will have made the long trip home from Somerset convinced that their new no.7 can be the missing piece to the puzzle in a bid to bring the big trophies back to the Theatre of Dreams.

From the humble surroundings of Huish Park, Alexis can look forward to his Premier League debut for the Reds on the grandest of stages as United face Tottenham on Wednesday night at Wembley – a venue at which he boasts a formidable record and scored on his last appearance in last season’s FA Cup final as Arsenal beat Chelsea to lift the trophy.

For Alexis, it was a great start to his United career and things can only get better from here on in. Tougher tests undoubtedly lie ahead but the experienced forward has already shown glimpses of the world-class talent that he is and will relish the challenge to prove that he can be the player to make the ultimate difference.

In the words of BBC pundit Alan Shearer, the Reds have got “one hell of a player” and, on the evidence of his successful three-and-a-half-year stint at Arsenal and his first 70-odd minutes in a United shirt, it’s difficult to disagree.

Referees revealed for FA Cup third round weekend

The match officials have been announced for the 32 Emirates FA Cup third-round ties this weekend.

Bobby Madley will take charge of the standout tie at Anfield on Friday night, as the match official appointments for the Emirates FA Cup third round have been revealed.

The West Yorkshire whistler has come under fire for a number of high-profile errors this season, with former Premier League official Mark Halsey even suggesting he looks “overweight”.

But he will be in the middle for his second Merseyside derby when Liverpool and Everton kick off one of the biggest weekends in the football calendar in front of the BBC cameras.

His first taste of this fierce rivalry was also Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s maiden experience, as his side thrashed the Toffees 4-0 in April 2016 – a thumping Premier League win helped by the 50th minute dismissal of Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori for a challenge on Divock Origi, which saw the striker stretchered off with an ankle injury.

Elsewhere, on Friday night, Kevin Friend will oversee his first game involving Manchester United this season as the Reds welcome Championship side Derby County to Old Trafford in their first home game of 2018.

It’s the first time United will not be screened live on TV in the UK in the competition in 58 matches stretching back to the first game of their defence of the trophy they won in 2004 – a surprise goalless home draw against non-league Exeter City.

Meanwhile, Andre Marriner – who oversaw United’s 2-0 win at Everton on his 47th birthday on New Year’s Day – will make history when taking charge of the first competitive game in England in which video replays will be used in the first live Video Assistant Referee (VAR) test.

The West Midlands official will be in the middle for Brighton’s televised all-Premier League tie with rivals Crystal Palace on Monday night – as he was when the sides played out a goalless draw at the Amex Stadium at the end of November, when he issued just two yellow cards.

Neil Swarbrick is the official who will be the first-ever VAR in a competitive fixture in English football and he will be assisted by Peter Kirkup at the final tie of the weekend, which is also being screened live on BT Sport.

Swarbrick himself will take charge of Saturday’s all-Premier League clash between Newcastle United and Swansea City at St James’s Park.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s televised ties will see Select Group 2 official Simon Hooper tasked with taking charge of Leicester City’s trip to League One Fleetwood in the lunchtime encounter on the BBC, while Stuart Attwell will be in the middle for Chelsea’s encounter at Championship side Norwich City in the evening encounter on BT Sport at Carrow Road.

Sunday’s four matches begin with Mike Dean in charge of Leeds United’s midday kick-off at League Two Newport County, live on BBC One Wales. The Wirral whistler was in the spotlight after awarding a controversial penalty for West Bromwich Albion in their draw with Arsenal last weekend – much to the anger of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Lancashire whistler Paul Tierney will be at the helm as David Moyes’s West Ham face a tough test at New Meadow in front of a national audience on BBC One against a Shrewsbury side flying high in League One under Paul Hurst.

Highly-rated Select Group 2 official David Coote – who has been earmarked for potential promotion to the Premier League in the future – is back at Wembley, where he’s officiated on numerous occasions in the past, on Sunday as Premier League giants Tottenham entertain League One outfit AFC Wimbledon.

Then, finally on Sunday afternoon at 16:00 GMT, Jon Moss will take charge of Arsenal’s trip to managerless Championship side Nottingham Forest, which will be shown live on BT Sport 2.

Among the other highlights, Graham Scott will take charge of Manchester City’s clash with fellow Premier League side Burnley at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The corresponding top-flight fixture back in October saw City awarded a controversial penalty by Roger East when Burnley keeper Nick Pope was adjudged to have fouled Bernardo Silva, which led to Sergio Aguero’s opening goal in the 3-0 win for Pep Guardiola’s side.

Scott has established himself as a regular choice in the Premier League this season – officiating 12 games so far, including City’s 2-0 win at Leicester in November in which he booked their captain Vincent Kompany for an early foul on Jamie Vardy which some pundits thought could have been a red card as the striker looked to have a clear run on goal.

Meanwhile, Manchester’s Chris Kavanagh is tasked with keeping the peace as the referee when Championship rivals Middlesbrough and Sunderland lock horns in a Tyne-Wear derby at the Riverside Stadium in a 13:00 GMT kick-off on Saturday.

Here’s a full list of the match officials who will be overseeing the 32 ties from Friday to Monday…

FA CUP THIRD ROUND MATCH OFFICIAL APPOINTMENTS:

Friday 5 January

Liverpool v Everton (KO 19:55 GMT, live on BBC One)
Referee: Bobby Madley
Assistants: Marc Perry and Adrian Holmes
Fourth official: Jon Moss

Manchester United v Derby County (KO 20:00 GMT)
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: Mick McDonough and Neil Davies
Fourth official: David Coote

Saturday 6 January

Fleetwood Town v Leicester City (KO 12:45 GMT, live on BBC One)
Referee: Simon Hooper
Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Lee Betts
Fourth official: Michael Salisbury

Middlesbrough v Sunderland (KO 13:00 GMT)
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Assistants: Akil Howson and Wayne Grunnill
Fourth official: Carl Boyeson

Aston Villa v Peterborough United (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Robert Jones
Assistants: Philip Dermott and Steven Meredith
Fourth official: Peter Gibbons

Birmingham City v Burton Albion (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Assistants: Adam Crysell and John Flynn
Fourth official: Antony Coggins

Blackburn Rovers v Hull City (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Oliver Langford
Assistants: Mark Jones and Duncan Street
Fourth official: Tom Nield

Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Roger East
Assistants: Andy Halliday and Jonathan Hunt
Fourth official: Martin Coy

Bournemouth v Wigan Athletic (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Andy Madley
Assistants: Harry Lennard and Matt Foley
Fourth official: Charles Brakespear

Brentford v Notts County (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Tim Robinson
Assistants: Michael George and Darren Blunden
Fourth official: Craig Hicks

Cardiff City v Mansfield Town (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Lee Probert
Assistants: Rob Merchant and Craig Taylor
Fourth official: Robert Lewis

Carlisle United v Sheffield Wednesday (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: David Webb
Assistants: Barry Cropp and Barry Gordon
Fourth official: David Underwood

Coventry City v Stoke City (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: Matthew Wilkes and Nick Greenhalgh
Fourth official: Paul Tierney

Doncaster Rovers v Rochdale (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Assistants: David Avent and Paul Hodskinson
Fourth official: Matthew Donohue

Exeter City v West Bromwich Albion (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistants: Derek Eaton and Mark Russell
Fourth official: Brett Huxtable

Fulham v Southampton (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Dan Robathan and Nick Hopton
Fourth official: Gavin Ward

Ipswich Town v Sheffield United (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistants: Robert Hyde and Ian Cooper
Fourth official: Graham Horwood

Manchester City v Burnley (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Graham Scott
Assistants: Simon Bennett and Shaun Hudson
Fourth official: Andy Haines

Millwall v Barnsley (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Darren Bond
Assistants: Mark Pottage and Anthony Da Costa
Fourth official: John Busby

Newcastle United v Luton Town (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Assistants: Andy Garratt and Billy Smallwood
Fourth official: Darren Handley

Queens Park Rangers v Milton Keynes Dons (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: James Linington
Assistants: Mark Dwyer and Lee Venamore
Fourth official: Nick Kinseley

Stevenage v Reading (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Ben Toner
Assistants: Nigel Lugg and Mark Griffiths
Fourth official: Alan Dale

Watford v Bristol City (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistants: Stuart Burt and James Mainwaring
Fourth official: Mark Heywood

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Swansea City (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistants: Ian Hussin and Geoffrey Russell
Fourth official: Graham Salisbury

Wycombe Wanderers v Preston North End (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Peter Bankes
Assistants: Tim Wood and Callum Walchester
Fourth official: Chris O’Donnell

Yeovil Town v Bradford City (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: John Brooks
Assistants: Samuel Ogles and Matthew Lee
Fourth official: Adam Bromley

Norwich City v Chelsea (KO 17:30 GMT, live on BT Sport 2)
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Assistants: Simon Beck and Constantine Hatzidakis
Fourth official: Dean Whitestone

Sunday 7 January

Newport County v Leeds United (KO 12:00 GMT, live on BBC One Wales)
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: Simon Long and Dan Cook
Fourth official: Kevin Johnson

Shrewsbury Town v West Ham United (KO 14:00 GMT, live on BBC One)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Steve Child and Mark Scholes
Fourth official: Bobby Madley

Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Wimbledon (KO 15:00 GMT)
Referee: David Coote
Assistants: Adam Nunn and Daniel Leach
Fourth official: Andre Marriner

Nottingham Forest v Arsenal (KO 16:00 GMT, live on BT Sport 2)
Referee: Jon Moss
Assistants: Sian Massey-Ellis and Eddie Smart
Fourth official: Kevin Friend

Monday 8 January

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace (KO 19:45 GMT, live on BT Sport 2)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: Scott Ledger and Richard West
Fourth official: Graham Scott
VAR and Assistant VAR: Neil Swarbrick and Peter Kirkup

SkyBet Championship: Bobby Madley to referee Brighton v Newcastle

The Premier League referee will take charge of the crucial top-of-the-table battle at the AMEX Stadium between two sides destined for the top-flight.

bobby-madley-gives-free-kick-mboro-v-leicester-2nd-jan-2017
In the middle: Madley took charge of the first Premier League game of 2017 in a goalless draw between Middlesbrough and Leicester at the Riverside (Picture from Sky Sports)

A Premier League referee will take charge of the crucial SkyBet Championship clash between leaders Brighton and second-placed Newcastle United.

Bobby Madley has been appointed to keep the peace as the two hot favourites for promotion do battle at the AMEX Stadium in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Tuesday night (KO 19:45 GMT).

The 31-year-old will be assisted on the south coast by Select Group linesmen Marc Perry (west Midlands) and Adrian Holmes (west Yorkshire), while Lee Probert (Wiltshire) is the fourth official.

Madley – who hails from west Yorkshire – will take charge of his 28th game of the campaign in all competitions.

Overall, he has so far brandished a massive 119 yellow cards, sent off four players in four different competitions and awarded eight penalties (seven in the Premier League).

It will be Madley’s first Championship game of the season and he has only ventured down into the Football League once before.

He was criticised by Scunthorpe United boss Graham Alexander for his display in the League One leaders’ 3-1 defeat at Southend United earlier this month and dismissing midfielder Neal Bishop for perceived violent conduct late on at Roots Hall.

Bobby Madley referee (Hull v Sheffield Weds - 28th May 2016)
Honour: Madley was a surprise choice as he became the youngest referee to handle a Championship Play-Off Final last season (Picture from Sky Sports)

The Ossett-born whistler, who joined the Fifa list of international referees last year, was only in the middle for two Championship games but one was another pivotal encounter for Brighton which proved decisive in the promotion battle.

On his last visit to the AMEX, Madley oversaw the Seagulls’ 1-1 draw with Derby County in their penultimate league game in May last year, sending off Brighton defender Lewis Dunk for a second bookable offence late on before James Wilson’s late equaliser for the hosts.

Just five days later, he oversaw his last match involving Newcastle, which was a difficult one for him to contend with in a goalless draw at already-relegated Aston Villa as beach balls were thrown onto the pitch in protest by the home fans at Villa Park.

However, he will still be remembered by most Magpies fans from last season’s Wear-Tyne derby against Sunderland for the controversial dismissal of Fabricio Coloccini which led to a penalty and subsequently turned the game in favour of the Black Cats, who ran out 3-0 winners at the Stadium of Light.

Last May, Madley also handled his first game at Wembley as a referee and put in a solid performance in the Championship Play-Off Final as Hull City earned promotion with a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, with the appointment coming despite his Yorkshire connections.

It was his second trip to the national stadium last term having been fourth official to Michael Oliver for the League Cup final between Liverpool and Manchester City, capping a consistent and excellent season for him.

madley
Recent: Madley’s last encounter with a Championship side was earlier this month in Fulham’s 3-0 FA Cup defeat at home to London rivals Tottenham (Picture from BBC Sport)

The Wakefield-born official has established himself as one of the better referees in the Select Group in the last two seasons and will no doubt benefit from the departure of Mark Clattenburg at the end of the season with more regular high-profile matches.

Madley’s most recent game was at Selhurst Park on Saturday for Crystal Palace’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough in the Premier League, in which he somehow booked James McArthur for diving rather than award Palace a penalty when the midfielder was fouled by Stewart Downing in the box.

He only joined the National List of referees in 2010 but has made plenty of progress since.

Madley sent off three players on his Premier League debut when West Brom beat Southampton 3-0 at St Mary’s in April 2013 before being promoted to the Select Group of referees for the 2013-14 campaign.

He is the younger brother of Select Group 2 referee Andy, who endured a busy weekend after being fourth official for Wolves against Birmingham at Molineux on Friday night and sending off Aston Villa’s Leandro Bacuna for pushing a linesman in their 1-0 win over Derby County on Saturday.

Bobby Madley speaks to Yaya Toure (v Everton CO Cup SF 1st leg - 6th Jan 2016)
In control: Madley has shown he can remain calm under pressure, overseeing a League Cup semi-final and a Merseyside derby last season without difficulty (Picture from Sky Sports)

Huddersfield Town fan Bobby has previously handled seven Brighton games stretching back to 2012, all in the Championship, while he has controlled six matches involving Newcastle – four in the Premier League and two in the League Cup.

A referee since 2001, Madley’s experience of the Football League will be required in what is likely to be a fiery and tense occasion under the floodlights on the south coast for the standout game of the midweek fixtures on Tuesday night, with the pressure high on both teams to deliver a positive result.

Newcastle had the edge when the sides met back in August at St James’s Park, with goals from captain Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey securing a 2-0 win over 10-man Brighton.

The vastly-experienced former Premier League official Keith Stroud was in charge and issued six yellows as well as dismissing Sam Baldock for a second bookable offence for a challenge on Newcastle keeper Matz Sels.

Brighton, managed by former Magpies boss Chris Hughton, went top of the Championship on Saturday after a 3-0 win over promotion rivals Reading in the evening kick-off, following Newcastle’s 2-2 draw at home to struggling Bristol City.

Rafael Benitez’s men came from two goals down to earn the point which keeps them one point behind leaders Brighton with 13 games remaining.

Meanwhile, after the game at the AMEX, Madley will be back in Premier League action at the weekend after being appointed to Saturday’s evening showdown between heavyweights Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield.

SkyBet Championship: Peter Bankes to referee Newcastle United v Aston Villa

The Merseyside whistler will be in the middle for a crunch televised SkyBet Championship clash at St James’s Park between two sides relegated from the Premier League last season.

peter-bankes-in-action-barnsley-v-walsall-14th-may-2016
Prominent: Bankes, who is now in his third season as a Football League referee, oversaw the first leg of the League One play-off semi-final between Barnsley and Walsall at Oakwell last season (Picture from Sky Sports)

The referee has been announced for the crunch SkyBet Championship clash between Newcastle United and Aston Villa on Monday night.

Peter Bankes will take charge of the televised encounter under the floodlights at St James’s Park with kick-off at 20:00 GMT, the Football League has confirmed.

He will be ably assisted by Paul Hodskinson (Lancashire) and David Avent (Northamptonshire), with Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) on fourth official duties.

A Select Group 2 official primarily officiating in the second-tier, Bankes will oversee his 28th game in all competitions of what has been a busy campaign for him so far.

The 34-year-old has so far brandished 100 yellow cards and a staggering 10 red cards – which is twice the amount he gave in the whole of last season, while only Keith Stroud and Scott Duncan have sent off more players among the 18 Select Group 2 referees.

He has also pointed to the penalty spot on seven occasions – but only one of those spotkicks was in the second tier.

It will be the Merseyside whistler’s 19th Championship match of the season and he won’t forget his only other game involving Newcastle – their memorable 4-3 victory over Norwich at St James’s Park back in September.

Bankes booked 10 players and awarded the Magpies a dubious second-half penalty as they came from 3-1 down with two goals in injury time sealing a comeback victory.

Immediately after that game, he handled the first of his two Aston Villa matches this term – both ending up in 2-0 defeats away from home, which may be a bad omen for Villa boss Steve Bruce, who is bound to receive a hostile reception as a former Sunderland manager on Tyneside.

The notoriously card-happy Bankes issued another eight bookings in their loss at Preston at the start of October and awarded Villa a late spotkick, which Ross McCormack saw saved by Lilywhites keeper Chris Maxwell.

He was then in the middle for their defeat at Leeds United in front of the Sky Sports cameras in December and put in a good performance, with just four yellows given out.

Bankes returned to Elland Road on Tuesday evening as fourth official for Leeds’ match against Bristol City, while he assumed the same role at St James’s Park as recently as February 1 for Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with QPR.

The Liverpool-based official has shown plenty of promise in recent times and has received high praise from former Premier League referees Keith Hackett and Jeff Winter for impressive keeping some challenging games under control.

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Fleeting: It will only be Bankes’s third appearance in front of the live TV cameras in all competitions this season (Picture from Sky Sports)

Bankes began officiating in 1996 at the age of 14 whilst a pupil at Bootle High School and served as a Premier League assistant referee for two years, during which he ran the line on FA Cup and League Cup semi-final ties.

Arguably the proudest moment of his career so far was refereeing Cambridge’s 2-1 win over Gateshead in the National League Promotion Final at Wembley in May 2014.

He was subsequently promoted to the Football League list of referees and has since taken charge of two Play-Off Semi-Final ties in League One and League Two, as well as being fourth official for last season’s FA Vase Final.

Bankes has already shown his officiate in the Select Group in the future having overseen several Premier League teams in domestic cup competitions, including Sunderland’s 2-1 EFL Cup win at QPR this season, and been fourth official for numerous top-flight games.

He had a busy time when performing electronic board duties at Turf Moor on Saturday, intervening on more than one occasion as Burnley and Lincoln City coaches clashed during the National League side’s famous 1-0 FA Cup fifth round win.

Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle will be looking to reclaim top spot in the Championship from Brighton, who won 2-0 at Barnsley on Saturday, and return to winning ways after a 2-2 draw at Norwich in midweek.

Hovering just six points above the relegation zone, Aston Villa would be forgiven for fearing the worst having lost their last four league games and seven of the last eight on the road. The Midlands side, beaten 3-1 at home by Barnsley in midweek, have also not beaten Newcastle since 2011 or won on Tyneside since 2005.

The reverse fixture at Villa Park was also overseen by a Select Group 2 referee, with Chris Kavanagh performing well in September’s 1-1 draw between two sides seeking an immediate return to the Premier League following relegation last season.

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Role: Bankes is a former Football Services Officer in Coach Education at Liverpool County Football Association (Picture from Sky Sports)

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.

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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.

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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

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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.