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.

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.

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

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: Motherwell close in on National League winger

Mark McGhee could make Forest Green Rovers star Elliot Frear his first signing of the January transfer window.

Lacking in depth: McGhee has limited options in the wide areas and lost Marvin Johnson to Oxford United last summer (Picture from Sky Sports)

Scottish Premiership side Motherwell are reportedly closing in on the signing of one of the National League’s most sought after players.

Winger Elliot Frear has been a key component this season for a Forest Green Rovers currently second in the fifth tier of English football and challenging for a return to the Football League.

The 26-year-old has made 19 appearances this season but apparently took a Diego Costa and Dimitri Payet like stance by refusing to play in Saturday’s 2-0 FA Trophy win at Chester, amid growing speculation he is about to make a move north of the border.

Speaking about Frear’s absence, Forest Green boss Mark Cooper said: “Elliot has said he doesn’t want to play for the club anymore and we have to move on.

“There has now been interest as far as I know and we need players that want to be with us going forward.”

But in his defence, Frear tweeted: “Just to confirm I haven’t refused to play today, still struggling from injury last weekend. I’m a professional & would never refuse to play.”

The Englishman, who was linked with a switch to League Two Cheltenham in the summer, began his career with Exeter City before moving to Salisbury City in 2014.

A former England C international, Frear then signed a two-year contract at the New Lawn the following year and helped Forest Green reach the National League Promotion Final last season, when they lost 3-1 to Grimsby Town at Wembley.

He is set to become the Steelmen’s first signing of the January transfer window as Mark McGhee looks to boost his squad before next weekend’s Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Rangers at Ibrox.

With the Scottish top-flight currently on a three-week winter break, Motherwell lie ninth in the table, two points behind sixth-placed Ross County, but will be hopeful of securing a top-half finish in the second half of the season.

Scottish Premiership: Summer 2016 Transfer Tracker

With the countdown to the start of the 2016-17 Scottish Premiership season underway, stay updated with all of the summer moves as the 12 clubs shape their squads for the new campaign.

Parkhead (v Aberdeen pre-match - 8th May 2016)
New era: Celtic will be aiming for a sixth successive title as Brendan Rodgers begins his managerial reign at Parkhead (Picture from Sky Sports)

AS the days and weeks tick by during the summer months, the 12 clubs in the Scottish Premiership are quietly going about their transfer business. 

Although the European Championship finals in France provide a welcome distraction, the announcement of the fixtures has accelerated excitement ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.

The return of Rangers, arrival of high-profile managers and attraction of established stars has only added to the anticipation that next season has the potential to be one of Scottish football’s best yet.

Teams are already going full steam ahead to conclude their deals sooner rather than later, with players coming and going all the time – some seasoned campaigners and others young rookies.

Here is a full list of all the happenings as they are confirmed:


Derek McInnes on sidelines (v Celtic - 12th September 2015)
Success: McInnes has guided Aberdeen to successive second-placed league finishes and a League Cup triumph in his three seasons at Pittodrie (Picture from Sky Sports)

Jayden Stockley (from AFC Bournemouth, free transfer) *
Miles Storey (from Swindon Town, free transfer)
Joe Lewis (from Cardiff City, free transfer)
Neil Alexander (from Hearts, free transfer)
Callum Morris (from Dundee United, free transfer)
Wes Burns (from Bristol City, season-long loan)
James Maddison (from Norwich City, season-long loan)

David Goodwillie (to Plymouth Argyle, free transfer)
Simon Church (returned to MK Dons at end of loan spell)
Adam Collin (returned to Rotherham at end of loan spell)
Barry Robson (retired)
Michael Rose (to Ayr United, free transfer)
Scott Brown (released)
Aaron Lennox (to Raith Rovers, season-long loan)
Willo Flood (to Dundee United, free transfer)
Cammy Smith (to Dundee United, season-long loan)



Celtic players after being crowned champions (v Aberdeen - 8th May 2016)
Indifferent: Celtic ensured Ronny Deila signed off as manager by celebrating another title but they failed to add to the trophy last term (Picture from Sky Sports)

Aidan Nesbitt (from Partick Thistle, end of loan spell)
Kristoffer Ajer (from IK Start, undisclosed fee)
Moussa Dembele (from Fulham, undisclosed fee)
PJ Crossan (from Dunfermline, free transfer)
Kolo Toure (from Liverpool, free transfer)
Dorus de Vries (from Nottingham Forest, undisclosed fee)
Scott Sinclair (from Aston Villa, £3 million)
Cristian Gamboa (from West Bromwich Albion, undisclosed fee)

Anthony Stokes (to Blackburn Rovers, free transfer)
Colin Kazim-Richards (to Coritiba, free transfer)
Carlton Cole (to Sacramento Republic, free transfer)
Stefan Scepovic (to Getafe, free transfer)
Michael Duffy (to Dundee, season-long loan)
Paul McMullan (to Dunfermline, season-long loan)
Stuart Findlay (to Newcastle United, free transfer)
Scott Allan (to Rotherham United, season-long loan)
Darnell Fisher (to Rotherham United, undisclosed fee)
Stefan Johansen (to Fulham, undisclosed fee)
Saidy Janko (to Barnsley, season-long loan)
Charlie Mulgrew (to Blackburn Rovers, free transfer)



Dens Park exterior (5th March 2016)
Disappointment: The Dens Park club will be hoping to improve on last season’s eighth-placed finish (Picture from Sky Sports)

James Vincent (from Inverness CT, free transfer) *
Danny Williams (from Inverness CT, free transfer) *
Yordi Teijsse (from Quick Boys, free transfer)
Mark O’Hara (from Kilmarnock, free transfer)
Michael Duffy (from Celtic, season-long loan)
Faissal El Bakhtaoui (from Dunfermline, free transfer)
Kevin Gomis (from Nice, free transfer)

Paul McGinn (to Chesterfield, free transfer)
Thomas Konrad (to Vaduz, free transfer)
Daryll Meggatt (to Ayr United, free transfer)
Kevin Thomson (to Tranent, free transfer)
Kane Hemmings (to Oxford United, undisclosed fee)
Greg Stewart (to Birmingham City, free transfer)
Gary Harkins (to Ayr United, free transfer)
Andrew Black (released)



Hamilton Accies sign at New Douglas Park
Consolidation: Accies – under boss Martin Canning – are preparing for their third successive season in Scotland’s top-flight (Picture from Sky Sports)

Jordan McGregor (from Hibernian, free transfer)
Jack Breslin (from Celtic, free transfer)
Remi Matthews (from Norwich City, season-long loan)
Massimo Donati (from Bari, free transfer)
Gary Woods (from Leyton Orient, free transfer)
Georgios Sarris (from Kayseri Erciyesspor, free transfer)
Dan Seaborne (from Partick Thistle, free transfer)
Rakish Bingham (from Hartlepool United, free transfer)

Oumar Diaby (released)
Kemy Agustien (released)
Chris Mandiangu (released)
Michael McGovern (to Norwich City, free transfer)
Ziggy Gordon (to Partick Thistle, free transfer)
Carlton Morris (to Norwich City, end of loan spell)
Alan Martin (to Dumbarton, free transfer)



Hearts players in tunnel (v Aberdeen Scottish Cup 4th round - 9th Jan 2016)
Exceeding expectations: Hearts finished third and qualified for the Europa League last season – their first back in the top-flight (Picture from BBC Scotland)

Paul Gallacher (from Partick Thistle, free transfer)
Robbie Muirhead (from Dundee United, free transfer)
Faycal Rherras (from Sint-Truiden, free transfer)
Conor Sammon (from Derby County, free transfer)
Tony Watt (from Charlton Athletic, season-long loan)
Bjorn Johnsen (from Litex Lovech, free transfer)
Krystian Nowak (from Pdobeskidzie Bielsko-Biala, free transfer)

Gavin Reilly (to Dunfermline Athletic, season-long loan)
Miguel Pallardo (released)
Blazej Augustyn (released)
Jordan McGhee (to Middlesbrough, season-long loan)
Billy King (to Inverness CT, season-long loan)
Morgaro Gomis (to Kelantan, free transfer)
Lewis Moore (to Cowdenbeath, short-term loan)
Juanma (to Murcia, season-long loan)



ICT Stadium (v Stirling Albion 4th round replay - 19th Jan 2016)
Downward spiral: Life has been a struggle in the Highlands since Caley Thistle won the 2015 Scottish Cup, as Richie Foran prepares for his managerial debut (Picture from Sky Sports)

Scott Boden (from Newport County, free transfer)
Jake Mulraney (from QPR, free transfer)
Kevin McNaughton (from Wigan Athletic, free transfer)
Billy King (from Hearts, season-long loan)
Lonsana Doumbouya (from Cercle Brugge, free transfer)
Larnell Cole (from Fulham, season-long loan)
Brad McKay (from St Johnstone, free transfer)

James Vincent (to Dundee, free transfer) *
Danny Williams (to Dundee, free transfer) *
Nathaniel Wedderburn (to Dunfermline, free transfer)
Liam Hughes (to Barrow, free transfer)
Jordan Roberts (to Crawley Town, free transfer)
Dean Brill (released)



Lee Clark pre-match (v Inverness - 24th April 2016)
Changing times: Lee Clark will look to reshape the Killie squad ahead of his first full season in charge after narrowly avoiding relegation last term (Picture from Sky Sports)

William Boyle (from Huddersfield Town, loan until January)
Flo Bojaj (from Huddersfield Town, loan until January)
Souleymane Coulibaly (from Peterborough, free transfer)
Callum McFadzean (from Sheffield United, free transfer)
Jonathan Burn (from Middlesbrough, loan until January)
Jordan Jones (from Middlesbrough, free transfer)
Martin Smith (from Sunderland, free transfer)
Joshua Webb (from Newcastle United, free transfer)
Jamie Cobain (from Aston Villa, free transfer)
George Green (from Burnley, short-term loan)
Charlee Adams (from Birmingham, short-term loan)
Dapo Kayode (from Dinamo Bucuresti, free transfer)
Luke Hendrie (from Burnley, short-term loan)
Scott Boyd (from Ross County, season-long loan)

Chris Johnston (to Raith Rovers, free transfer)
Kevin McHattie (to Raith Rovers, free transfer)
Lee Ashcroft (to Dunfermline, free transfer)
Jamie Hamill (to Queen of the South, free transfer)
Dale Carrick (to Livingston, free transfer)
Mark Connolly (to Crawley Town, free transfer)
Conor Brennan (released)
Julien Faubert (to Aris Salonika, free transfer)
Aaron Splaine (released)
Alex Henshaw (released)
Darryl Westlake (released)
Craig Slater (to Colchester United, free transfer)
Kallum Higginbotham (to Dunfermline Athletic, free transfer)
Josh Magennis (to Charlton Athletic, £250,000)



Fir Park pre-match (v Celtic - 9th April 2016)
Much improved: A strong end to the season ensured Motherwell finished fifth in 2015-16 – after being consigned to the relegation play-offs a year earlier (Picture from Sky Sports)

Jacob Blyth (from Leicester City, free transfer)
Richard Tait (from Grimsby Town, free transfer)
Ben Heneghan (from Chester, undisclosed fee)
Carl McHugh (from Plymouth Argyle, free transfer)
Dean Brill (from Inverness CT, free transfer)
Craig Clay (from Grimsby Town, free transfer after trial)
Ryan Bowman (from Gateshead, undisclosed fee)

Ben Hall (to Brighton & Hove Albion, undisclosed fee)
Conor Ripley (returned to Middlesbrough after loan spell)
Morgaro Gomis (returned to Hearts after loan spell)
Stephen Pearson (to Atletico de Kolkata, free transfer)
David Clarkson (to St Mirren, free transfer)
Robbie Leitch (to Burnley, undisclosed fee)
Josh Law (to Oldham Athletic, free transfer)
Louis Laing (to Notts County, short-term loan)
James McFadden (becomes assistant manager)
Marvin Johnson (to Oxford United, undisclosed fee)
Wes Fletcher (to the New Saints, free transfer)
Jack Leitch (released)
Brett Long (released)
Luke Watt (to Stranraer, short-term loan)



Alan Archibald pre-match (Partick Thistle v Celtic - 12th March 2016)
Survival specialists: The Jags will play their fourth successive season in Scotland’s top-flight under Archibald’s stewardship (Picture from Sky Sports)

Chris Erskine (from Dundee United, free transfer) *
Ade Azeez (from AFC Wimbledon, free transfer)
Danny Devine (from Inverness CT, free transfer)
David Syme (from Kilmarnock, free transfer)
Ziggy Gordon (from Hamilton Academical, free transfer)
David Crawford (from Alloa Athletic, free transfer)
Adam Barton (from Portsmouth, undisclosed fee)

Aidan Nesbitt (returned to Celtic after loan spell)
Paul Gallacher (to Hearts, free transfer)
Frederic Frans (to Lierse, free transfer)
Danny Seaborne (to Hamilton Accies, free transfer)
Gary Miller (to Plymouth Argyle, free transfer)
Chris Duggan (to East Fife, free transfer)
Jordan Leyden (released)
Marc Waters (released)
Scot Whiteside (released)
Mathias Pogba (to Sparta Rotterdam, free transfer)



Ibrox pre-match (v Kilmarnock Scottish Cup - 6th Feb 2016)
Long-awaited return: Scottish top-flight football will be played again at Ibrox for the first time since Rangers’ demotion in 2012 (Picture from Sky Sports)

Josh Windass (from Accrington Stanley, free transfer) *
Matt Crooks (from Accrington Stanley, free transfer) *
Jordan Rossiter (from Liverpool, undisclosed fee) *
Joey Barton (from Burnley, free transfer)
Clint Hill (from Queens Park Rangers, free transfer)
Niko Kranjcar (from New York Cosmos, free transfer)
Lee Hodson (from MK Dons, free transfer)
Matt Gilks (from Burnley, free transfer)
Joe Dodoo (from Leicester City, undisclosed fee)
Joe Garner (from Preston North End, undisclosed fee)
Philippe Senderos (from Grasshopper Club Zurich, free transfer)

Nicky Law (to Bradford City, free transfer)
David Templeton (released)
Nicky Clark (to Bury, free transfer)
Dean Shiels (to Dundalk, free transfer)
Cammy Bell (to Dundee United, free transfer)
Lee Robinson (to Queen of the South, free transfer)
Tom Walsh (to St Mirren, on loan until January)
Luca Gasparotto (to Falkirk, free transfer)
Liam Kelly (to Livingston, season-long loan)
Gedion Zelalem (to Arsenal, end of loan spell)
Dominic Ball (to Tottenham, end of loan spell)
Andy Murdoch (released)



Jim McIntyre (v Celtic League Cup semi-finals - 31st Jan 2016)
Memorable: Jim McIntyre guided the Staggies to their first major trophy in the League Cup and a sixth-placed finish last season (Picture from BBC Scotland)

Aaron McCarey (from Wolves, free transfer)
Christopher Routis (from Bradford City, free transfer)
Kenny van der Weg (from Breda, free transfer)
Erik Cikos (from Slovan Bratislava, free transfer)
Jay McEveley (from Sheffield United, free transfer)
Tim Chow (from Wigan Athletic, free transfer)

Stewart Murdoch (to Dundee United, free transfer)
Rocco Quinn (to St Mirren, free transfer)
Jackson Irvine (to Burton Albion, undisclosed fee)
Gary Woods (to Leyton Orient, end of loan spell)
Raffaele De Vita (released)
Peter Tait (released)
Darren Moffat (released)
Richard Foster (to St Johnstone, free transfer)
Brian Graham (to Hibernian, free transfer)
Scott Boyd (to Kilmarnock, season-long loan)



McDiarmid Park (St Johnstone v Celtic - 14th February 2015)
Solid: St Johnstone have finished in the top six for five successive seasons and won the Scottish Cup in Tommy Wright’s first season in charge in 2014 (Picture from Sky Sports)

Paul Paton (from Dundee United, free transfer)
Blair Alston (from Falkirk, free transfer)
Michael Coulson (from York City, free transfer)
Keith Watson (from St Mirren, free transfer)
Richard Foster (from Ross County, free transfer)
Joe Gormley (from Peterborough United, season-long loan)

Simon Lappin (released)
Scott Brown (released)
Jordan Millar (released)
Greg Kerr (released)
Michael Doyle (to Greenock Morton, free transfer)
Plamen Krachunov (released)
John Sutton (to St Mirren, free transfer)
Neil Martyniuk (to Edinburgh City, free transfer)
Darnell Fisher (to Celtic, end of loan spell)
Brad McKay (to Inverness CT, free transfer)

*  Pre-contract agreement previously arranged

Last updated:  31 August 2016

Scottish Premiership Opening Weekend 2015/16 PREVIEW

A look-ahead to the six fixtures taking place on the opening weekend of the 2015-16 Scottish Premiership season including champions Celtic at home to Ross County and newly-promoted Hearts against St Johnstone.

After a summer of transfer activity, pre-season friendlies and European exploits, the 12 top-flight teams are preparing to return to Scottish Premiership action this weekend. 

Nine months of drama, excitement and controversy lie ahead in what promises to be an exciting 2015/16 season at the top and bottom – and it all starts with the opening round of fixtures which include some intriguing match-ups.

Celtic are gearing up for a fifth successive league crown, Inverness are looking to build on winning their first major trophy in the Scottish Cup last term and Hearts are back in the top-flight following a one-year absence after romping to the Championship title.

Indeed, Celtic, Aberdeen and Inverness have already been flying the flag for Scotland in Champions League and Europa League qualification respectively with Caley Thistle falling at the first hurdle in their maiden European venture.

Although there are no managerial debuts, Hamilton player-coach Martin Canning, Kilmarnock’s Gary Locke, Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough and Ross County’s Jim McIntyre are embarking on their first full season in charge at their respective clubs.

The SPFL programme began in earnest last Saturday in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup and Championship, League One and League Two clubs will be in League Cup action over the weekend.

But the focus will undoubtedly be on the eagerly-anticipated return of top-flight football in the newly-named Ladbrokes Premiership as Scottish football supporters get the first glimpse of players at new clubs and make initial judgements about how the campaign may unfold.


Ladbrokes Premiership – Opening Weekend Fixtures:

Saturday 1st August              Celtic v Ross County                     KO 12:45pm (Live on Sky Sports)
Saturday 1st August              Hamilton v Partick Thistle           KO 3pm
Saturday 1st August              Kilmarnock v Dundee                  KO 3pm
Saturday 1st August              Inverness CT v Motherwell         KO 3pm
Sunday 2nd August               Hearts v St Johnstone                  KO 12:30pm (Live on BT Sport)
Sunday 2nd August               Dundee Utd v Aberdeen             KO 3:30pm (Live on Sky Sports)

Celtic Park

Jim McIntyre on touchline (Ross County boss v Celtic - 24th Jan 2015)
Busy: Staggies boss Jim McIntyre has signed 12 new players during the summer to enhance his County squad (Picture from Sky Sports)

Celtic will unfurl the Scottish Premiership flag before beginning their quest for a fifth successive league title against Ross County in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.

The Hoops – who hold a 1-0 lead in their Champions League third qualifying round tie with Azerbaijan champions Qarabag – begin their second season under Norwegian boss Ronny Deila seeking to build on last year’s Premiership crown and League Cup double.

Deila has openly targeted a domestic treble – as well as reaching the Champions League group stages – having come close to securing a first Celtic clean sweep since 2001 last term but for a controversial Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to eventual winners Inverness.

The Staggies are starting their fourth successive season in Scotland’s top-flight – and first full campaign under manager Jim McIntyre – after narrowly avoiding the two-legged play-off final last term with a final-day win over Kilmarnock securing a ninth-place finish.

County failed to score a single goal in any of their three encounters with the champions last term – the Hoops won 5-0 and 1-0 at the Global Energy Arena while the sides drew a blank at Celtic Park.

It is a repeat of the opening day fixture of 2013-14 when Anthony Stokes struck twice for Celtic – including an 87th-minute winner – as they came from behind to win 2-1 at Parkhead.

Deila said he does not know what to expect of the new-look Staggies but hopes they can mark flag day in a similar way to last year when the Hoops demolished Dundee United 6-1 before the upcoming Champions League trip to Baku on Wednesday night.

Pyrotechnics set off at Celtic Park (24th May 2015)
Explosive form: Celtic won nine of their last 11 league games last term including the last five at home, scoring 19 goals in the process (Picture from Sky Sports)

Celtic will be without striker Nadir Ciftci who starts a six-match domestic ban for biting Dundee’s Jim McAlister while at Dundee United on the final day of last term so Leigh Griffiths is expected to take his place in attack.

Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons are likely to be on the bench after recovering from a knee injury and broken toe respectively and Emilio Izaguirre is also suspended for five yellow cards at the end of last season.

Ross County’s only absentee is defender Jamie Reckord, who has an Achilles problem, while several of their 12 summer signings should make their debuts.

Referee:  Willie Collum

Prediction:  Celtic 2-0 Ross County

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Celtic

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Ross County

New Douglas Park

New Douglas Park (Hamilton v Aberdeen - 15th February 2015)
Recent visits: Partick Thistle drew 1-1 at Hamilton on May 9 and have lost just once on their last six trips to New Douglas Park (Picture from Sky Sports)

Hamilton Academical begin their first full season under player-manager Martin Canning against fellow relegation favourites Partick Thistle in north Lanarkshire.

The newly-promoted Accies – on their first top-flight return since 2011 – surprisingly topped the Premiership last October after an historic win at Celtic Park which summed up their impressive start to the season under Alex Neil.

But the highly-rated 33-year-old left to become Norwich City’s manager in January along with top scorer Tony Andreu while fellow striker Mikael Antoine-Curier also departed.

Since then, inexperienced defender Canning took over the managerial reins and presided over a 13-game winless run with just three victories in 18 games in charge as they slipped into the bottom six.

Now with Hearts, Kilmarnock and Ross County seemingly getting stronger, both Accies and Saturday’s opponents Thistle are considered by many to be the deepest in trouble.

Alan Archibald’s Thistle displayed their usual Achilles heel – inconsistency – last term to finish directly underneath Accies in eighth place having lost more games than they won.

But their safety was only secured in the latter weeks of the campaign and the Jags will be desperate to reach the 40-point mark as quickly as possible although it will be no easy feat having lost several key players including Kallum Higginbotham, Scott Fox and James Craigen.

Last term, the sides met five times in all competitions with Thistle winning 5-0 in the league and 2-0 in the Scottish Cup while Hamilton won 2-1 at Firhill and there were two thrilling draws.

Hamilton player-manager Martin Canning is missing with a calf knock while Danny Redmond, Eamonn Brophy, Darren Lyon and Michael Devlin are also out on the sidelines.

Recent signing Salva Chamorro is short of fitness and midfielder Darian MacKinnon is suspended.

Partick Thistle forward Steven Lawless completes a two-game for breaching betting rules last season.

Referee:  Brian Colvin

Prediction:  Hamilton Accies 1-1 Partick Thistle

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Hamilton Accies

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Partick Thistle

Rugby Park

Paul Hartley (Dundee boss v Celtic Scottish Cup - 7th Feb 15)
Promotion expert: The former Celtic midfielder guided Dundee into the top-flight and steered Alloa Athletic to successive promotions from League Two to the Championship (Picture from Sky Sports)

Two teams who leapfrogged each other on a number of occasions and were separated by four places and four points in last season’s standings meet on the opening weekend for the second year running.

Dundee could only draw 1-1 with Kilmarnock at Dens Park 12 months ago in their first match since returning to the top-flight despite dominating the game.

The Dark Blues, however, went on to achieve manager Paul Hartley’s top-six aim but ended up with fewer points than Hamilton and Partick Thistle – who finished seventh and eighth respectively – after six defeats in their last seven league games.

Having mainly recruited from the lower divisions of Scottish football, Hartley will be hoping those players can step up to the higher level if they are to avoid being embroiled in relegation trouble or mid-table mediocrity.

Kilmarnock, meanwhile, will be optimistic ahead of Gary Locke’s first full season in charge that a first top-six finish in five years is a realistic possibility ahead of what is expected to be another tight tussle near the bottom.

Former Hearts boss Locke – who replaced Allan Johnston in February after he tendered his resignation – has brought in plenty of experience with goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald joining from Falkirk while striker Kris Boyd has returned for a third spell and Lee McCulloch has come in as a player-coach.

After finishing 10th last term, the Ayrshire club’s first objective will be to stave well clear of the two relegation berths while Locke – who helped Hearts reach the League Cup final in 2013 – will hope he can replicate Killie’s success in the competition in 2012.

Victory for either side at Rugby Park would be a huge boost ahead of tricky fixtures ahead with Dundee travelling down Tannadice Street to close neighbours Dundee United and Killie hosting champions Celtic on matchday three.

Kilmarnock midfielder Craig Slater is recovering from double hernia surgery and will miss several weeks.

Dundee pair Kostadin Gadzhalov and Nicky Low are missing through injury and James McPake is suspended.

Referee:  Bobby Madden

Prediction:  Kilmarnock 2-1 Dundee

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Kilmarnock

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Dundee

Tulloch Caledonian Stadium

Ian Baraclough taking notes (v Rangers PO Final 2nd leg - 31st May 2015)
Ready to impress: Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough will be hoping to get his first full season in charge off to a winning start in the Highlands (Picture from BT Sport)

Inverness Caley Thistle will be hoping to put their early European exit behind them when kicking off their Premiership campaign against Motherwell.

The Highlanders lost 1-0 on aggregate to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League second qualifying round despite competing admirably and producing two excellent displays.

John Hughes’s men had qualified for the competition for the first time on the back of arguably the best season of their 21-year existence which brought their highest-ever league finish of third-place and their first major trophy in the Scottish Cup.

Sustaining such success and dealing with expectation will be a tough task for Caley Thistle – who won half of their 38 league games last term – without the departed Graeme Shinnie, Marley Watkins and Nick Ross while most of their summer imports are unproven names from abroad.

Meanwhile, Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in the top-flight by thrashing Rangers 6-1 on aggregate in the play-off final after a difficult year of decline resulted in an 11th place finish following three successive years in the top three.

A disastrous start to 2014-15 prompted Stuart McCall’s early resignation after five years in charge at Fir Park before Ian Baraclough took over the reins in December but, despite eventually improving their form, the former Scunthorpe boss could not prevent the two-legged tie against the Gers.

The Steelmen have refreshed their squad with another hefty player turnover and are still on the lookout for players – with a bid believed to be rejected for St Patrick’s midfielder Greg Bolger on Friday – but the Lanarkshire outfit appear to be in a more healthier position and should be competing further up the table this time around.

Motherwell have, though, lost on three of their last four trips to the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium but did come out on top against Caley Thistle at Fir Park in their last meeting in February.

The Steelmen beat Inverness 3-0 on the opening day in 2011-12 and have not conceded in their first league fixture in the past four seasons.

On-loan Middlesbrough goalkeeper Connor Ripley could make his Motherwell debut after the 22-year-old Englishman joined on Friday until January but striker Craig Moore is unavailable after he joined Ayr United on loan.

Lionel Ainsworth begins a two-match ban for his part in the post-match brawl against Rangers in last season’s play-off final and Craig Reid is yet to return to action following a knee problem.

Inverness midfielder Jordan Roberts is still nursing a groin injury while Carl Tremarco and James Vincent are fitness doubts but new striker Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo will be in the squad.

Referee:  Crawford Allan

Prediction:  Inverness Caley Thistle 1-0 Motherwell

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Inverness CT

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Motherwell


Hearts celebrate Scottish Championship title (2nd May 2015)
Celebrations: Hearts’ players lifted the Championship trophy on the final day last season in front of their home fans (Picture from Sky Sports)

Hearts will unfurl the Scottish Championship flag before opening their Premiership season against St Johnstone at Tynecastle.

The newly-promoted Jambos secured an immediate top-flight return by comfortably winning the second-tier title last term ahead of Rangers and Edinburgh rivals Hibernian in head coach Robbie Neilson’s first season at the helm.

Free-flowing attacking football and a reliance on home-grown talent were the prerogatives for the Edinburgh outfit, scoring 96 goals and losing just three games to finish 21 points above their nearest challengers.

The Jam Tarts begun their competitive campaign on Thursday night with a comeback win over Arbroath to reach the League Cup second round.

But Neilson – who afterwards set the Jambos the target of a top-six finish – was disappointed with aspects of his side’s play and will be desperate for his side to announce their arrival with three points and an improved display on the opening weekend.

Despite a mixed pre-season and bringing in only a small number of new players, Hearts will undoubtedly be well prepared for the task ahead and confident of making an impact rather than simply avoiding the pathway back to the Championship.

First up is a St Johnstone side who have had several weeks to regroup after falling at the first hurdle in the Europa League having qualified by virtue of Inverness winning the Scottish Cup.

The Saints wiltered in Armenia in a narrow first-leg defeat before going out on away goals to Alashkert despite a 2-1 win against 10 men in the return fixture at McDiarmid Park.

Tommy Wright’s men have now finished in the top-six in the past four seasons and clinched fourth place last term after losing just one of their last nine league matches.

The 2014 Scottish Cup winners can pose a serious threat on their day and have bolstered their numbers with SPL know-how in the shape of Motherwell’s top scorer last season John Sutton, a return for Liam Craig and defender Brad McKay from Saturday’s opponents Hearts.

The Jambos have opened their last two top-flight campaigns against the Perthshire men – winning 2-0 against 10-man Saints in 2012 before a 1-0 defeat away from home in 2013 – while St Johnstone are seeking a hat-trick of opening-day victories after beating Ross County last year.

Hearts remain without Soufian El Hassnaoui and Miguel Pallardo but Prince Buaben is available after being rested for Thursday’s League Cup win over Arbroath.

Nigeria left-back Juwon Oshaniwa has not yet complete his protracted move.

St Johnstone duo Simon Lappin and Frazer Wright have recovered from knocks but Steven MacLean is suspended and Liam Caddis joins long-term absentees Steven Anderson, Dave Mackay and Murray Davidson on the sidelines.

Referee:  Steven McLean

Prediction:  Hearts 2-2 St Johnstone

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Hearts

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to St Johnstone


Aberdeen v Celtic - Dons players on Remembrance Sunday
Mixed bag: Aberdeen have lost three, won two and drawn one of their last six opening day matches in the top-flight (Picture from Sky Sports)

European hopefuls Dundee United and Aberdeen lock horns in Sunday’s New Firm derby at Tannadice in the reverse of last season’s opening weekend fixture.

The Tangerines ran out convincing 3-0 winners at Pittodrie a year ago and won three of the five meetings with the Dons last term including the League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park.

Jackie McNamara’s men began the campaign steadily but plummeted in the second half after losing Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic in January – winning just three of their final 15 league games and losing 2-0 to Celtic in the League Cup Final.

After eventually finishing fifth in the top-flight, they have also lost all six of their pre-season fixtures and top scorer Nadir Ciftci to the champions while attracting the brother of Netherlands star Wesley Sneidjer is the most productive of their summer acquisitions.

Aberdeen have been beaten on three of their last four trips to the City of Discovery with the latest defeat carrying plenty of significance – the 1-0 loss in May confirmed Celtic as champions thus ending the Dons’ brave title tilt.

But Derek McInnes’s men finished only 17 points behind the Hoops in comparison to 31 the year before and have added quality if not quantity so far in the transfer window to aid their Europa League mission with Scottish Cup winner Graeme Shinnie the stand-out purchase.

The Dons will undoubtedly be the sharper of the two teams having already played five European ties since the start of July but could also be plagued by mental and physical fatigue after making the longest Uefa journey of some 3,415 miles to Kazakhstan on Thursday night.

Kenny McLean’s away goal in the 2-1 defeat to Kairat Almaty means a place in the play-off round would be theirs with a 1-0 win at Pittodrie in next week’s second leg. But for the moment, the Scottish Premiership runners-up will be hoping to make a victorious start to league business and build on what was their best top-flight finish since 1994.

Indeed, both teams will be desperate to make a winning start in a bid to close the gap between themselves and Celtic, who they are expected to challenge more robustly this time around.

Dundee United trio Ryan Dow, Callum Morris and Paul Paton are nursing injuries picked up in pre-season while Croatian striker Darko Bodul will be competing with Simon Murray, Mario Bilate and Robbie Muirhead for places in attack for the home side.

Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes has confirmed he may make several changes following his side’s Europa League trip to Kazakhstan this week.

Defender Mark Reynolds is a long-term absentee as he recovers from shoulder surgery picked up in the European tie with Rikeja.

Referee:  Kevin Clancy

Prediction:  Dundee United 1-2 Aberdeen

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Dundee United

Click here for a 2015-16 guide to Aberdeen


Ugly scenes overshadow Motherwell play-off win

Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni punched and kicked Motherwell striker Lee Erwin as unsavoury scenes broke out after the Steelmen’s 3-0 win at Fir Park which retained their Scottish Premiership status.

Lee Erwin
Taking a battering: Motherwell’s Erwin had blood on his face when interviewed after the events with Mohsni (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni punched and kicked Motherwell striker Lee Erwin as unsavoury scenes broke out after the Steelmen’s 3-0 win at Fir Park which retained their Scottish Premiership status.

BT Sport cameras showed 21-year-old Erwin approached Mohsni following the final whistle to shake hands but the Tunisian centre-back apparently told him to “f*** off”.

Erwin then shoved Mohsni, who reacted by physically attacking his opponent before officials intervened.

The brawl resulted in red cards being issued by referee Craig Thomson in the dressing rooms for Erwin, Mohsni and Motherwell’s unused substitute Fraser Kerr, who got involved with Mohsni as the melee between both sets of players ensued.

Motherwell fans also flocked onto the pitch and ran towards the Rangers supporters – most of which had already left – to gloat about the result.

Stewards and police officers eventually ushered them away while mounted police directed supporters back into the stands.

Motherwell fans
Invasion: Motherwell supporters rushed onto the pitch as the incident between Mohsni and Erwin took place (Picture from BT Sport)

Mohsni lashed out at Erwin, leaving him with a wound on his face which was visible when he re-emerged with the rest of the Motherwell players for their lap of honour to say goodbye to the fans.

Mohsni continued to act violently as players and coaching staff tried to restrain him and as he walked down the tunnel where it is understood there were further exchanges with McCall also believed to have spoken to a Motherwell fan shouting at Mohsni.

It is also reported that Mohsni had to be restrained from leaving the Rangers bus afterwards to have another confrontation with Erwin.

The Motherwell forward described Mohsni’s actions as “embarrassing for him and the club” in an interview with BT Sport afterwards.

He said: “I tried to shake Mohsni’s hand to wish him all the best but he told me to ‘f*** off’. I pushed him away and he reacted badly.

“A player at a club at that level shouldn’t be acting like that. It’s embarrassing for him and the club. But I wish him all the best.”

Mohsni, though, has defended his actions and said Erwin made him fear for his own safety, calling the Motherwell player ‘a coward’.

“What do you call someone who attacks you from behind? A coward. I was worried about my security so I did the only thing I could,” Mohsni said.

“He says I swore at him. I never swore. My mum used to say to me that when you swear at someone it is like you want to fight with them. She educated me properly.”

Bilel Mohsni sent off by Mark Heywood in pre-season friendly at Derby (July 2014)
Poor discipline: Mohsni is no stranger to a red card (pictured being sent off in a pre-season friendly against Derby County last summer)

Police Scotland will also investigate the fight by reviewing footage and liaising with both clubs in the coming days, assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins has confirmed.

Rangers have confirmed they will fully co-operate with the investigation.

“Bilel Mohsni’s behaviour was completely unacceptable and had his contract not now expired, the club would have started disciplinary proceedings,” Rangers said in a statement.

“The club will also assist with any investigation into the behaviour of Motherwell supporters and we would like to thank the Rangers fans who were excellent in showing admirable restraint despite severe provocation.”

Rangers manager Stuart McCall said he missed the incident but acknowledged such behaviour was “unacceptable” and “disgraceful”.

Disaster: It was a chastening afternoon for Stuart McCall and his assistant Kenny Black on their return to north Lanarkshire (Picture from BT Sport)
Disaster: It was a chastening afternoon for Stuart McCall and his assistant Kenny Black on their return to north Lanarkshire (Picture from BT Sport)

McCall also suggested that if Mohsni – whose contract expires next month – had acted in such an aggressive manner that he would not be at the club next term although his own future is also in doubt.

Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough described it as “an outpouring of emotions which has gone too far” and said that “Scottish football doesn’t need it”.

“The two games were played in a decent spirit and to have that at the end just has no place in this game at all,” he added.

Both clubs are likely to be heavily censured by the SFA with the SPFL also likely to take further action against Motherwell after Rangers captain Lee McCulloch was struck on the face with a flag by a supporter and a flare was thrown onto the pitch after the first goal was scored.

Flare thrown onto the pitch
Extinguish: Stewards moved quickly to put out the flare after it was thrown onto the pitch (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in Scotland’s top-flight by completing a comfortable 6-1 aggregate win to deny Rangers a third successive promotion.

Marvin Johnson broke the deadlock on 51 minutes as his shot took a wicked deflection off Marius Zaliukas and found the net after a howler from Gers goalkeeper Cammy Bell.

Lionel Ainsworth doubled the lead with another deflected strike 20 minutes from time and substitute John Sutton stroked home from the penalty spot in stoppage time as the Steelmen guaranteed their survival in style.

Motherwell players on the pitch
Appreciation: Motherwell players came back onto the pitch to celebrate with the fans and their children (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell retain Premiership status to deny Rangers third promotion

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in the top-flight and consigned Rangers to a second season in the Championship with a second-leg victory in the Scottish Premiership play-off final.

  •  Motherwell retain top-flight status they have held since 1984-85
  •  Rangers stay in the Championship and have not played in Premiership since 2012
  •  Marvin Johnson, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton seal 3-0 second leg win for ‘Well
  •  Stuart McCall suffers disappointing defeat on first return to Fir Park 
  •  Ugly scenes at full-time as Rangers’ Mohsni clashes with Motherwell’s Erwin
Ready for battle: The players emerged from the tunnel but it was Motherwell who demonstrated the gulf in class against their Championship opponents (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in the top-flight and consigned Rangers to a second season in the Championship with an assured second-leg victory in the Scottish Premiership play-off final.

Leading 3-1 from the first leg at Ibrox, deflected goals from lively wingers Marvin Johnson and Lionel Ainsworth and a late penalty from substitute John Sutton cemented a comfortable aggregate triumph for the Steelmen.

Their experience, discipline and – most importantly – quality prevailed on a blustery afternoon as Ian Baraclough’s men preserved their Premiership status after finishing second-bottom in the table to avoid going down with St Mirren.

Johnson’s speculative effort flicked off Marius Zaliukas and spun over the grasp of Cammy Bell whose attempted punch went badly wrong six minutes after the break for a goal of bizarre proportions.

Ainsworth doubled their advantage with 20 minutes remaining as his low effort squirmed off Zaliukas and past a despairing Bell as the Steelmen earned only their second win over Rangers in the past 40 meetings and stretched their unbeaten home record to eight games.

Stuart McCall on sidelines
Record: The former Rangers midfielder has won seven of his 17 games in charge since replacing Kenny McDowall in the hotseat (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers had won on their four previous visits to Fir Park but could not conclude the Scottish domestic campaign with a third successive promotion to join Hearts in next season’s top-flight.

It was a sixth play-off game in 22 days for Rangers who beat Queen of the South 3-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and overcame Hibernian 2-1 over two legs in the semi-finals after their third-place finish in the Championship.

Their failure to complete the job at the first time of asking leaves the future of Stuart McCall, who made his first return to north Lanarkshire since resigning as Motherwell boss in December after five years in charge, rather uncertain with talks set to take place in the coming weeks.

Stephen Pearson in Motherwell dressing room
Doubtful: Pearson’s participation was seemingly unlikely after his pre-match warm-up was cut short with a groin problem (Picture from BT Sport)

His successor Baraclough named an unchanged line-up with Stephen Pearson and Stevie Hammell both passed fit following injury concerns.

McCall made three alterations from Thursday night as captain Lee McCulloch came into a back three against the team he began his career with to replace the suspended first-leg scorer Darren McGregor while Kris Boyd was recalled in attack and Shane Ferguson made his first start since joining on loan from Newcastle in January as Dean Shiels and Nicky Clark dropped to the bench.

Kris Boyd
Possible farewell: The former Scotland striker could have figured for the final time in a Rangers shirt (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers were on the front foot in the opening exchanges as Kris Boyd headed Shane Ferguson’s cross straight at George Long and then slashed a half volley off target following a misplaced header by Louis Laing.

The moderate pressure forced Motherwell to defend desperately at times but Rangers lacked the decisive instinct in the final third to capitalise on the hosts’ early nerves.

It was a relatively calm opening considering the occasion with Gers doing much of the pressing and bossing possession as Ferguson and Richard Foster progressed forward from their wing-back positions to supplement the attack.

But tempers frayed midway through the first half when Marius Zaliukas appeared to thrust his head towards Stephen Pearson after a penalty-box melee which went unseen by the officials.

In a separate incident on the sidelines, Lee McCulloch was struck in the face with the end of a flag by a Motherwell supporter in the East Stand when trying to retrieve the ball for a throw-in that was dealt with by stewards.

Haris Vuckic was then shown a yellow card for what referee Craig Thomson thought was a dive when the on-loan Newcastle midfielder went over the outstretched leg of Stephen McManus just outside the box.

Vuckic dive
Taking a tumble: Vuckic felt there was contact with McManus and Rangers should have had a free-kick but Craig Thomson disagreed (Picture from BT Sport)

The scrappy and tetchy nature suited Motherwell but, despite the best efforts of Lee Erwin and Scott McDonald to make an impact, the Steelmen struggled to provide a threat and trouble the Gers defence with goalkeeper Cammy Bell largely a spectator.

The closest they came was through the counter-attacking pace which was effective in the first leg with Lionel Ainsworth again the catalyst, the winger delivering a dangerous low cross for McDonald which was turned behind by Foster.

Indeed, the hosts ended the first period strongly amid mixed weather conditions as Erwin – with five goals in his previous eight starts – flashed a fierce effort wide of the post as the Gers failed to clear their lines from a corner.

Lee Erwin
Breakthrough talent: The 21-year-old striker ended his first full season in Motherwell’s senior team with six goals in 37 appearances in all competitions (Picture from BT Sport)

Marvin Johnson was also inches away from his first Motherwell goal since joining on loan in January from Kidderminster Harriers when whistling a shot inches wide before his free-kick was glanced wide by the head of McManus.

But the Gers, with midfielder Nicky Law the driving force against his former club, should have gone ahead immediately before the break when Ferguson’s corner was inadvertently flicked on by ‘Well skipper Keith Lasley and Zaliukas sidefooted over from close range.

The tension only increased after the interval amid a frantic tempo at both ends as the challenges continued to fly in at a varying rate of knots.

However, the picture became clearer as Motherwell made the breakthrough to increase their healthy lead on aggregate and send their supporters into raptures.

The goal came in extremely fortuitous circumstances with Johnson’s shot taking a wicked deflection off Zaliukas before looping over Bell, who only helped the ball into the net as he backpedalled.

It left Rangers requiring a minimum of three goals to overturn the tie but the visitors did not give up hope as McCall made quick-fire changes with teenage midfielder Tom Walsh and striker Nicky Clark replacing Ferguson and Boyd.

Vuckic curled an effort straight at Long and his drilled cross was almost diverted into his own net by Josh Law.

But another cruel deflection undid the Gers to add further gloss to Motherwell’s advantage as Johnson surged forward before finding Ainsworth, whose low shot took a nick off Zaliukas which wrongfooted a disconsolate Bell.

It prompted vocal chants of ‘we are staying up’ from the exultant home faithful and, in contrast, a mass exodus from the 1,500 travelling Rangers supporters.

The damage might have worsened for the Gers had Bell not reacted superbly to deny Motherwell’s top scorer John Sutton, who came off the bench to replace Ainsworth.

And with the last kick of the game, Sutton converted from the penalty spot after the striker was bundled to the ground by Lee Wallace.

Ian Baraclough taking notes
Mission accomplished: Former Scunthorpe defender Ian Baraclough, 44, has steered Motherwell to Premiership safety (Picture from BT Sport)

Within seconds of the final whistle, ugly scenes broke out with an angry and violent altercation taking place between Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni and Motherwell’s Lee Erwin during which punches and kicks appeared to be thrown.

It was later confirmed that three red cards were handed out to Mohsni, Erwin and Motherwell’s unused substitute Fraser Kerr, who got involved in the incident as the aftermath continued as the players went down the tunnel.

Motherwell fans also invaded the pitch to celebrate with some taunting the Gers supporters before police and stewards intervened.

But the sense of relief and joy around Fir Park was palpable as the Steelmen retained their place in Scotland’s top division while the Glasgow side contemplate and rebuild for another mammoth campaign in the second tier.

Motherwell players on the pitch
Parade: The Motherwell players and their children posed for the cameras when returning to the pitch for their lap of honour (Picture from BT Sport)



Motherwell team

Substitutes:  Grant (on for Pearson 74′), Sutton (on for Ainsworth 76′), Ramsden (on for Johnson 84′)

Booked:  McDonald (51′)

Goals:  Johnson (52′), Ainsworth (70′), Sutton (90+3′ pen)


Rangers team

Substitutes:  Walsh (on for Ferguson 55′), Clark (on for Boyd 59′), Mohsni (on for Zaliukas 72′).

Booked:  Murdoch (26′), Vuckic (38′), McCulloch (40′), Foster (81′)


Craig Thomson referee (Inverness CT v Celtic - 11th April 2015)

Referee:  Craig Thomson (Scotland) – 7/10
Attendance:  9,220