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