Celtic begin title defence against Hearts; Rangers head to Motherwell

Rob McCarthy

Brendan Rodgers’ rampant Celtic squad will kick-off their quest for a seventh straight Scottish Premiership title against Hearts on Saturday, August 5.

The Parkhead champions completed an astonishing 47 domestic games without defeat last season as they wrapped up a treble clean sweep.

And they will now set about extending their incredible run when the Jambos visit Parkhead for the traditional flag raising ceremony as the 2017/18 Ladbrokes Premiership season gets under way.

Pedro Caixinha’s new-look Rangers line-up open their campaign away to Motherwell on the same date, although the fixtures announced by the Scottish Professional Football League on Friday morning could yet be switched for TV coverage.

And the Ibrox faithful – buoyed by eight new arrivals already this summer and news of a peace deal struck between chairman Dave King and Mike Ashley – will be keen to see how their side fares against their Old Firm rivals when the Hoops arrive in Govan on Saturday, September 23 for the first derby clash of the new term.

Gers suffered two humiliating 5-1 drubbings at the hand of their bitter foes last term and will be hoping Caixinha’s recruitment drive has closed the gap significantly.

The big two are pencilled in to face off again at Celtic Park on Saturday, December 30 before returning to Ibrox for the season’s third showdown on Saturday, March 10. The final Parkhead clash of the campaign is expected to take place after the top-flight split.

Aberdeen, who split the Glasgow pair last season as they finished second, are also in positive mood after managing to fight off Sunderland’s interest in boss Derek McInnes.

The Dons manager has lost five of his key men from last year but hopes to have quality replacements in place by the time his Pittodrie side get their season under way with their opening day home clash with Hamilton.

Hibernian – back in the top division after a three-year absence – will hoist the Championship flag when they get started against Partick Thistle at Easter Road before heading to Ibrox to face Rangers a week later on the weekend of August 12.

That fixture is certain to be packed with spice following the controversial scenes that followed the capital club’s 2016 William Hill Scottish Cup final triumph over Gers.

Neil Lennon’s Leith outfit will also host the first Edinburgh derby duel of the new campaign on Wednesday, October 25.

Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone will look to keep their six-year run of top-half finishes going when they kick-off away to Kilmarnock on August 5, while Dundee host Ross County in the opening day’s other fixture.

Hearts play their first game at home on August 12 when they host Kilmarnock but eager Gorgie supporters will have to wait until their clash with Aberdeen on September 9 to see Tynecastle’s new £12million main stand unveiled.

Last season’s fixtures sparked a row when Motherwell, Hamilton and Partick were all handed just one home game each against Rangers and Celtic before the league split in April.

Before Gers’ 2012 financial collapse, SPFL chiefs traditionally guaranteed their top-flight rivals at minimum of three visits from the big two and their large travelling supports

That practice, though, was abandoned last term as the Light Blues made their Premiership return.

But that left Well staring at a £150,000 black hole in their budget as, like Accies, they missed out on two further lucrative clashes against the big two after finishing outside the top six.

Now, though, SPFL chiefs have moved to satisfy their concerns this term by handing the affected clubs four pre-split home fixtures against the Glasgow giants.

However, Hearts and Dundee – who both banked significant windfalls when they hosted the Old Firm twice before the campaign run in last term – plus newly-promoted Hibs will only welcome Rangers and Celtic to their grounds once this time around.

Motherwell chief operating officer Alan Burrows said his club were pleased to see last year’s disappointment resolved this term.

He told Press Association Sport: “It was always the expectation this was going to happen.

“The discussions after last year was that the anomaly would effectively sort itself this season and then after that the SPFL would take a view about how we perhaps go back to the old model which gives everybody in the league a more level playing field.”