Bobby Madden to referee first Scottish Premiership game since cancer scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:


ABERDEEN:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

DUNDEE:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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 ACADEMICAL:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

INVERNESS CT:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

KILMARNOCK:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

MOTHERWELL:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

PARTICK THISTLE:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

RANGERS:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

ROSS COUNTY:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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)

 

ST JOHNSTONE:

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)

IN:
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)

OUT:
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

Referee Nick Walsh set for first Scottish Premiership game

Referee Nick Walsh will take charge of his first Scottish Premiership match in Dingwall this weekend in only his third season as a senior official.

Nick Walsh in action (Hibernian v Alloa)
Card happy: Only Craig Thomson has handed out more cards this season in Scotland than Nick Walsh (Picture from Sky Sports)

REFEREE Nick Walsh is set for the biggest game of his short officiating career so far after being appointed to his first match in the Scottish Premiership.

The 30-year-old is only in his third season as a senior official but has been chosen by the SPFL to take charge of Ross County v Partick Thistle at the Global Energy Stadium on Saturday (KO 15:00 BST).

Walsh – a Category One Development official from Stirling – has issued the most red cards among Scotland’s referees this season with 12 in 27 matches in all competitions.

The last of which came in his most recent match on March 26 to Livingston’s Jackson Longridge late on in their surprise 2-1 win at Falkirk2-1 win at Falkirk in the Championship.

Walsh has handled nine second-tier matches, all of which have been this season and two were televised.

He has also overseen 10 in League One and three in League Two in 2015-16 but has experienced the top-flight as fourth official for seven Premiership games – including Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hearts last weekend.

In February, the Glasgow-born whistler was in charge of an U17 International Challenge Match between Scotland and Iceland at Morton’s Cappielow.

He will be ably assisted in Dingwall by the experienced Graham Chambers and Alan Mulvanny and fourth official Kevin Graham, while Alan Freeland will keep an eager eye on proceedings as his observer.

With the sides seventh and eighth respectively, there is a lot riding on this final game before the split as both can still realistically finish in the top six – so Walsh will be under pressure to perform.

He will certainly want to stay under the radar but impress enough to show he is worthy of future Premiership games and, maybe, promotion to Category One status.

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 v ROSS COUNTY
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


HAMILTON ACCIES v PARTICK THISTLE
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


KILMARNOCK v DUNDEE
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


INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE v MOTHERWELL
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 v ST JOHNSTONE
Tynecastle

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


DUNDEE UNITED v ABERDEEN
Tannadice

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

 

This weekend’s Scottish football predictions

AS the cold snap begins to bite in the Scottish climbs, it can only mean the gruelling festive schedule which can often be the defining period of a season is almost in full swing.

Aberdeen v Celtic - captains, Dons mascot and referee Alan Muir

AS the cold snap begins to bite in the Scottish climbs, it can only mean the gruelling festive schedule which can often be the defining period of a season is almost in full swing.

This weekend, all 12 Scottish Premiership teams are in action – 10 of them on Saturday at 3pm – as the top-six battle intensifies and the need for the bottom six to collect points becomes greater.

In the Championship, Hearts continue to set the pace at the summit with fellow promotion favourites Rangers and Hibernian struggling to keep up.

All teams are embarking on their 16th league game of what has been a largely unpredictable campaign thus far with plenty of twists and turns.

It promises to be another explosive weekend of action and here are my predictions:

Friday 12 December:

Scottish Championship
Queen of the South v Rangers (Palmerston Park)
KO 7:45pm – Live on BT Sport

Leader: Can Lee McCulloch guide Rangers to victory in their first league trip to Queens in 65 years?
Leader: Can captain Lee McCulloch guide Rangers to victory in their first league trip to Queens in 65 years?

The under-fire Ally McCoist has come under even greater scrutiny in recent weeks as the nine-point gap between themselves and Hearts continues to be maintained. The Rangers manager knows this festive period will be incredibly important in the context of the title race in the second-tier. Maximum points is a must for the Gers, who need to take care of their own business and have the chance to eat into the deficit in the first fixture of the weekend before the Jambos take to the field. It would give the players another injection of confidence and then put the pressure back on Hearts. But James Fowler’s Queens side are going well in third place and their only two defeats in their last nine games came against the league leaders. It will be a tough game for the hosts and Rangers would be favourites to take the spoils but it will be tight.

Prediction:  Queen of the South 1-2 Rangers


Saturday 13 December:

Scottish Premiership
Dundee United v Aberdeen (Tannadice)
KO 3pm

Stopper: Can Aberdeen goalkeeper Scott Brown keep a clean sheet at Tannadice?
Stopper: Can Aberdeen goalkeeper Scott Brown keep a clean sheet at Tannadice?

The New Firm derby has an added dimension nowadays as these two sides are widely regarded as the ones with the biggest chance of challenging Celtic’s domestic dominance. Aberdeen lost the last meeting 3-0 on the opening weekend but won on their last trip to Tannadice in May. The Tangerines have won their last five home games and came out on top in a topsy-turvy encounter at bottom-club Ross County last weekend. United boss Jackie McNamara reckons it will be difficult for his team and Aberdeen to stop Celtic from winning the Scottish Premiership title but if they can get a run together and maintain consistency then it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s all to play for and incredibly hard to call – expect there to be goals but the points being shared is the best bet.

Prediction:  Dundee United 2-2 Aberdeen

Scottish Premiership
Hamilton Academical v Dundee (New Douglas Park)
KO 3pm

Dundee boss Paul Hartley (Scottish Cup v Aberdeen - 29th Nov 2014)
Talking a good game: Will Paul Hartley’s Dark Blues pick up maximum points against Hamilton Accies?

After a hugely promising start to the season in which they topped the table, beat the champions and went on a long winning sequence, it is fair to say that Hamilton’s bubble has now well and truly burst with just one victory in their last seven games in all competitions. Alex Neil’s men rarely fail to find the back of the net but their defensive record has plummeted – their rearguard being particularly leaky during last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat by Aberdeen. Dundee, meanwhile, have lost just two of their last six league matches and Paul Hartley will be keen to get back on track after losing to Inverness last time out. With November’s SPFL player of the month David Clarkson in tow, they certainly won’t lack a goal threat in north Lanarkshire. However, Hamilton have been decent on home soil this season and they should come out on top in the battle of the two promoted sides.

Prediction:  Hamilton Accies 2-1 Dundee

Scottish Premiership
Inverness CT v Partick Thistle (Tulloch Caledonian Stadium)
KO 3pm

Midfield maestro: Will Partick Thistle's James Craigen be on the winning side in the Highlands?
Midfield maestro: Will Partick Thistle’s James Craigen be on the winning side in the Highlands?

Inverness are one of the form teams in the Scottish top-flight at present with just a solitary defeat from their last nine. John Hughes has finally put down a marker and his own stamp on the club. Everything is coming together and he has come through some challenging periods to get to this stage. Their home record is always up there with the best and no visiting team gets an easy game at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium. Partick Thistle are the definition of inconsistent – backed up by their last three results which have brought a draw, a win and a defeat. They tend to perform better on the road when the shackles are off and we see the best of their counter-attacking abilities. Defensively, the Jags leave plenty to be desired and Alan Archibald will no doubt reiterate the need to keep things tight at the back. It will be hard for them to get anything against a Caley Thistle side who sit only behind Celtic in the table.

Prediction:  Inverness CT 2-0 Partick Thistle

Scottish Premiership
Kilmarnock v St Johnstone (Rugby Park)
KO 3pm

Goalless: Will Kilmarnock forward Lee Miller get off the mark against the Scottish Cup holders?
Goalless: Will Kilmarnock forward Lee Miller get off the mark against the Scottish Cup holders?

Kilmarnock are another team who were taking the division by storm at the start but have faded somewhat as the games have gone by. The Ayrshire outfit remain in the top six – albeit several points off the pace – and their main aim will be to stay there for the rest of the season. They reacted to their humbling Scottish Cup exit by Rangers with a well-earned point at Partick last Saturday but will be hoping to go one better on home soil against a St Johnstone side they beat in Perthshire earlier in the campaign. Tommy Wright’s team have won four of their last five after losing four of the previous five. They are only a point behind their hosts and could move into the upper half of the table with any kind of positive result. Goals have been hard to come by for both sides, who are difficult to separate at present, so don’t expect much goalmouth action.

Prediction:  Kilmarnock 1-1 St Johnstone

Scottish Premiership
Motherwell v Ross County (Fir Park)
KO 3pm

Caretaker: Stuart McCall's former assistant Kenny Black is expected to take charge of the Ross County game
Caretaker: Stuart McCall’s former assistant Kenny Black is expected to remain in charge for the Ross County game

It’s been a season with many more lows than highs for Motherwell and things still look just as bleak even after the resignation of manager Stuart McCall. Their resurgence has lost steam and their finances have been hit harder than ever before. After finishing second in each of the last two seasons, their landslide towards the bottom of the table is akin to that of Hibernian twelve months ago – and we all know how that ended. Kenny Black has tried to steady the ship but has struggled for results with just one win from four games – although they have all come against the current top three, including Dundee United in the Scottish Cup. The fact they only lost 1-0 to Celtic last weekend was a miracle in itself after the Hoops wasted a hatful of chances. There’s still a possibility that a new manager will be put in place before bottom-club Ross County visit Fir Park. Performances have been better than the Staggies’ points-total would suggest but they have often contributed to their own downfall. With St Mirren – whom they are level on points with – facing Celtic on Sunday, Jim McIntyre’s side will be optimistic that they can lift themselves off the foot of the table and cash in on Motherwell’s vulnerability. Only two points and two places are between the sides – and it might be a similarly tight margin on the pitch.

Prediction:  Motherwell 0-0 Ross County

Scottish Championship
Cowdenbeath v Hearts (Central Park)
KO 3pm

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson at Tynecastle v Rangers (22nd Nov 2014)
Award winner: Robbie Neilson picked up the SPFL’s November prize – his third manager of the month award so far this season

To think that Hearts are the only team unbeaten in Britain in league terms is quite astonishing. Enormous credit must go to Robbie Neilson for the way he has got his young team competing again after the ignominy of relegation. They are scoring goals, steamrolling teams and have a solid base at the back. Ever since they beat Rangers and Hibernian at the start of the season, they have never looked back. After a disastrous Scottish Cup exit to Celtic a fortnight ago, gaining promotion is now their only focus and they will achieve it if they can maintain their form through this tough period when the games come thick and fast. Cowdenbeath, second from bottom with just 11 points from 15 matches, are capable of putting a spanner in the works and ran Rangers close last weekend in a 1-0 reverse at Ibrox. Jimmy Nicholl’s Blue Brazil have lost five of their last six but their displays have been filled with plenty of promise. Should they make a slow start against Hearts, it is more than likely that they will be punished – and heavily.

Prediction:  Cowdenbeath 1-4 Hearts

Scottish Championship
Hibernian v Alloa Athletic (Easter Road)
KO 3pm

Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs in the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle
Behind the pack: Can Alan Stubbs get his stuttering Hibernian side back in the race for the title?

Rarely does a season go by without some sort of a rollercoaster ride at Hibernian, who are again experiencing mixed fortunes with an inconsistent set of results. The scale of Alan Stubbs’ task in getting Hibernian back to where they belong is only getting harder as the weeks go by. Easter Road should be a fortress but the Leith side have drawn their last four at home. They are already well adrift of Hearts and 10 points behind Rangers – with Falkirk and Queen of the South also breathing down their necks. Alloa may be down in eighth position after just one win in their last eight league outings but Barry Smith’s side are still enjoying the whirlwind from one of their biggest ever scalps. The sides only met a fortnight ago at Recreation Park with Hibs running out 2-1 winners in the Scottish Cup but it was Alloa’s exploits in the Challenge Cup which have made all the headlines after their thrilling comeback victory over Rangers. If Alloa can rise to the occasion again, it would be a cat among the pigeons but Hibs should have enough to edge it.

Prediction:  Hibernian 1-0 Alloa


Sunday 14 December:

Scottish Premiership
Celtic v St Mirren (Celtic Park)
KO 3pm

Celtic defender Emilio Izaguirre
Winning streak: Can Emilio Izaguirre help Celtic continue their sequence of victories in the Scottish Premiership against St Mirren?

They may have taken their time but Celtic well and truly have their feet under the top table and they fully intend to stay there. Their narrow victory over Motherwell last weekend should have been more emphatic but it was their seventh in a row since the reverse at home to Hamilton in October. Ronny Deila’s men will be difficult to displace now and they could consolidate their grip on first place – which currently stands at three points – against the Buddies. Numerous changes are likely to be made from the side which were defensively culpable in Croatia on Thursday night in their Europa League defeat to Dinamo Zagreb to keep the side fresh. St Mirren, meanwhile, have had a week of change themselves after Tommy Craig was sacked as manager. With only three wins in 19 games in charge, two goals in their last six league games, and no clean sheet all season, the decision to relieve the 64-year-old of his duties was hardly surprising. The future looks increasingly uncertain with the Paisley club currently occupying the relegation play-off place and boasting a squad which looks out of its depth. By the time their game in Glasgow finishes, they could be sitting bottom of the table and it would be hard to see how they could lift themselves from that position. It will be a home banker and, once the first goal arrives, a case of how many.

Prediction:  Celtic 4-0 St Mirren

Celtic thrash Partick Thistle to secure Scottish Premiership title

Celtic thrash Glasgow rivals Partick Thistle 5-1 at Firhill to clinch their third successive Scottish Premiership title.

Celtic champions banner at Parkhead
Early birds: Celtic have claimed the earliest top-flight title in Scotland for 85 years (Picture from Sky Sports)

CELTIC are crowned champions of Scotland for the third successive season after thumping Glasgow neighbours Partick Thistle at Firhill.

Anthony Stokes got the party started inside three minutes and Liam Henderson doubled the lead early in the second half with his first goal for the club.

Stefan Johansen drilled home four minutes later before substitute Christie Elliott replied for the Jags, who sit just two points above eleventh-placed St Mirren.

But late goals from Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons added the gloss to round off a memorable night as the Hoops secured a 45th title with seven league games to spare in the continued absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers.

With the last two trophies claimed on 7 and 21 April respectively, it is the earliest the Scottish top flight has been secured since the Gers won on 16 March in season 1928-29.

It was business as usual for the Bhoys, who established an unassailable 26-point lead over second-placed Aberdeen after the Dons were held by Ross County on Tuesday night.

Neil Lennon, four years on from the day he took over from Tony Mowbray, won five league winners medals as a player and secured another as manager with relative ease.

The Celtic boss expected Thistle to be desperate to spoil the championship celebrations because “they are fighting for their lives” while Alan Archibald’s men had ran the runaway leaders close on two occasions this term, losing 2-1 in October before a 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park on New Year’s Day.

But with a determination to wrap up the division as soon as possible, the Hoops ran riot to make it four wins out of four since their only league defeat of the season at Pittodrie last month, scoring 16 and conceding just once.

Lennon made one change from Saturday’s 3-0 win over St Mirren, which took the Hoops past last season’s tally of 79 points, as Efe Ambrose returned in defence with Liam Henderson dropping to the bench and Charlie Mulgrew slotting into midfield.

Nir Biton and James Forrest were sidelined with groin injuries while Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter remained out with an abdomen problem.

Thistle were also one different from their 1-0 defeat to Inverness in the Highlands as Prince Buaben bolstered the midfield with striker Kris Doolan among the substitutes and former St Mirren stalwart Lee Mair overcame flu to retain his place in defence.

On-loan West Ham youngster George Moncur was again on the bench but Conrad Balatoni, Isaac Osbourne and Sean Welsh were still on the treatment table.

Following 13 games without a home win this term, the Jags were seeking a hat-trick of victories in Maryhill after beating Aberdeen and Hibernian, propelling them into eighth to ease their relegation play-off fears.

But the hosts pressed the self-destruct button inside three minutes as Celtic made the perfect start to get the title celebrations in full swing.

Advanced left-back Emilio Izaguirre cut inside onto his right foot and clipped a cross to the back post where Stokes pulled away to nod past Paul Gallacher with the freedom of the six-yard box for his 100th goal in Scottish football.

Captain Scott Brown’s curved centre was headed straight at the keeper by Leigh Griffiths and Stokes curled off target from 20 yards as the Hoops had an extra spring in their step.

A tough task for Thistle was made increasingly harder as they struggled to gain a foothold against the utterly dominant visitors, who bossed proceedings without creating chances to illustrate their superiority.

The relegation-threatened hosts finally settled after a quarter of an hour with a sustained spell of possession and were encouraged forward by their vocal supporters.

Kallum Higginbotham, with four goals in his previous five appearances, guided a free-kick into the side netting and on-loan Dundee United midfielder Chris Erskine almost stole in one-on-one with Fraser Forster after deceiving Ambrose.

Commons curled waywardly over the crossbar from a dead-ball after being knocked over just outside the box by Gabriel Piccolo while Griffiths ambitiously struck over the bar from distance as Celtic ended the first half on top.

Lennon was seemingly relaxed in his dugout seat but his side were in a precarious position at the interval and were forced into a reshuffle as a hamstring problem ended Adam Matthews’ evening prematurely with Liam Henderson entering the fray.

And the 17-year-old, a starter in the previous two games, made an instant impact by opening his Hoops account in his fourth first-team appearance.

An Izaguirre cross was dummied by both Commons and Griffiths which ran onto Henderson, who took one touch to steady himself before rifling into the bottom corner to double the lead on 49 minutes.

Celtic were in the comfort zone and soon in cruise control as Johansen ensured the champagne corks would be unscrewed before the night was out.

The Norwegian exchanged passes with Griffiths before driving into the box and drilling clinically into the net for his second goal in as many games, picking up a yellow card for his troubles as he dived into the Hoops fans housed in the Jackie Husband stand.

With two goals in four minutes, the champions had stepped up a gear but Thistle offered a decent response.

On-loan Sheffield United striker Lyle Taylor could not add to his five Thistle goals when slicing Taylor-Sinclair’s cross off target before nodding Buaben’s chipped centre into the gloves of Forster, who turned a swerving 25-yard drive from Gary Fraser around the post.

Forster, who had kept 16 clean sheets in his previous 17 games, had to stay firm to block a powerful shot from Jags full-back Stephen O’Donnell.

Buaben’s piledriver then struck the arm of Mulgrew although referee Steven McLean deemed the contact to be unintentional.

At the other end, Stokes was denied by Gallacher before the Irishman’s precise cross was tucked away by Griffiths from an offside position.

Steven Lawless replaced Higginbotham with 20 minutes to go while Beram Kayal was sent on for hamstring injury victim Mulgrew as Brown was forced to cover at right-back.

Celtic enjoyed a measure of control in the closing stages with the 2,500 away fans, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, in fine voice.

Commons was close to adding a fourth when Henderson’s dangerous delivery was allowed to travel across the goalmouth and the Scotsman lifted over from three yards with the veteran Gallacher making the angle acute.

Another intricate move saw substitute Georgios Samaras, on for Griffiths, slide the ball into Stokes but his conversion was chalked off by the assistant referee.

And just 20 seconds later, Thistle reduced the arrears as Celtic conceded for just the 15th time in the Premiership this season.

Virgil van Dijk misjudged a downfield punt from Taylor-Sinclair and Christie Elliott, who stepped off the bench for the 17th time this term in place of Erskine, volleyed home his first goal since September in emphatic fashion.

The loss of a rare goal did not dampen Celtic’s spirit as two final flourishes capped off a resounding title-clincher, their first since the Premier League and Football League merged into the SPFL.

Samaras spun away from three Thistle players before dinking a pass to Stokes, who swivelled and planted a stunning effort into the top corner.

And top scorer Commons, the leading contender for Player of the Season, got in on the act by smashing Samaras’s pass through the legs of Gallacher for goal number 22 in the league this term.

It sparked wild scenes in the away end with several Celtic fans streaming onto the pitch before being restrained and ushered off by stewards.

The invasion denied the players the opportunity to embark on a lap of honour but they will mark the achievement on their homecoming against Ross County at the weekend.

Thistle, one of five teams involved in the scrap to avoid finishing second from bottom, travel to St Johnstone and host basement club Hearts before the split.

Neil Lennon: Celtic ‘dug out’ Partick Thistle win

Celtic manager Neil Lennon was pleased with his side’s 2-1 win over Partick Thistle at Firhill which maintains their unbeaten Scottish Premiership record.

Neil Lennon as Celtic manager in pre-season (20th July 2013)
Happy: Hoops boss Lennon was pleased with a ‘brilliant’ win for his side in the west Glasgow derby in Maryhill

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon was pleased with a ‘brilliant win’ for his side although he admitted they had to work hard for their 2-1 victory over Partick Thistle.

In their first meeting with the Jags in nine years, the Hoops prevailed in the Glasgow derby at Firhill to extend their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership to six points thanks to goals from Georgios Samaras and Amido Balde.

And Lennon was relatively happy with the display, telling BBC Scotland: “We had to dig it out in the end. We were sloppy, I felt, at times and if it wasn’t for our finishing we would have been out of sight at half-time.

“I think Scott Fox has made three great one-on-one saves from [Anthony] Stokes and twice from [Teemu] Pukki and at 1-0 Partick Thistle are always in the game and they are a good team.

“But I didn’t think we started the second half well at all and for fifteen minutes we were on the back foot due to our own sloppiness more than anything else. They got the equaliser but our reaction again was good.

“I was trying to get Amido [Balde] on before they scored but thankfully we got him on and he scored a brilliant goal, that’ll do him the world of good and it’s fantastic for us.

“It is a brilliant win, absolutely brilliant.”

Portuguese striker Balde has started just once in the league so far since joining from Vitoria Guimaraes in the summer but the 22-year-old came off the bench to net his second goal for the club, breaking forward and roll the ball home.

Lennon added: “We know where he is and the level he is at. He knows where he is in terms of the development and he is going to play a lot more as the season progresses.

“We just work our way with him. In training he has had to be patient but you can see the attributes he has.

“He’s still got a bit of work to do in terms of his hold-up play but he’s definitely got goals in him and he gives us a different dimension when we play him.”

Despite collecting the three points, Celtic lost scorer Samaras and left-back Emilio Izaguirre through injury in the second half.

“Emilio (Izaguirre) has obviously got a bit of concussion. He got a bang to the head making a fantastic block at a crucial time in the game.

“He can’t remember the running shot with his right foot which he put over the bar but I quickly reminded him of it but he’s OK hopefully. After a couple of days rest we’ll see how he is but he may be a doubt for the weekend,” Lennon said.

“It’s always a worry when he looked wobbly in the legs and obviously he’s gone down and you can see it is an immediate concern but he’s sitting up in the dressing room and he’s OK. He’s just a bit woozy at the minute.

“Sammy [Georgios Samaras] has a got a deep gash on his knee. It’s been stitched up now so again he will be a doubt for the weekend.”

Celtic remain unbeaten in the Premiership after 10 games, winning eight, with Lennon quick to dispel thoughts that the Hoops should romp to the title again in the absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers.

“It’s not always going to be champagne football and you have to respect the opposition because Partick Thistle can play a little bit and they had their tails up after a great win last week.

“They’ve had no midweek games so they’ve had a free week where their energy levels are probably higher than ours.

“But I’ve got to give great credit to the players. It wasn’t pretty at times, at times our football was good. I thought we deserved to win over the 90 minutes,” he continued.

Celtic do not play again until next Saturday against Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United at Parkhead before travelling to Amsterdam to face Ajax in the Champions League, giving the Hoops the whole week to prepare and get key players back to full fitness.

Former Bhoys skipper Lennon added: “The midweek break is welcome for us. We’re patched up at the minute. We were down to ten men with ten or eleven minutes of the game to go.

“Hopefully Charlie [Mulgrew], [Derk] Boerrigter and [James] Forrest will be back and we missed a little bit of width in the team today.

“That’s through bad luck more than anything else and getting those three back in for next week that will give us extra dynamism going forward as well.”