SPL fixtures: Rangers begin defence against Hearts

Walter Smith and Davie Weir
Rangers won their third consecutive title last season

Rangers will begin the defence of the Scottish Premier League title at home to Hearts on 23 July, the opening day of the season.

Celtic travel to play Hibernian at Easter Road, with newly promoted Dunfermline hosting St Mirren.

Aberdeen will face St Johnstone at Pittodrie and Terry Butcher takes Inverness Caledonian Thistle to face his former side Motherwell.

Dundee United's clash with Kilmarnock has been moved back to 24 July.

The Scottish Premier League had already announced that the second Old Firm fixture of the season would be played on 28 December instead of at New Year.

It follows talks at the Joint Action Group set up by the Scottish Government to address the problems that tainted matches between Celtic and Rangers last season.

Now Aberdeen are to seek a change of date for their festive fixture away to Inverness, where they are due on 24 December.

"All clubs have been allocated a fixture on Christmas Eve - in our case a trip to Inverness," said Dons chief executive Duncan Fraser.

"The SPL I know will look to work with clubs that may seek to bring that game forward and that is something we will try to do nearer the time.

"I'm sure many of our supporters will baulk at the thought of a game on a day that is traditionally a time for families to be together."

SPL fixtures have at times been controversial in recent seasons, but Fraser declared the Dons largely happy with their schedule.

"I think we have to be pleased with the fact that, for the vast majority of the season, we are home and away on alternate matches," he said.

The Dons host St Johnstone in their opening game and the Perth side's manager is happy with that trip.

"I think it is a start we can really look forward to," Derek McInnes told his club website.

"We knew we would be away from home in the first game at our request and a trip to Pittodrie is tough but winnable - we have a great record up there since coming back into the SPL."

Dunfermline goalkeeper Paul Gallacher says there will be no room for sentiment when he faces St Mirren, who he left this summer to return to East End Park.

"I had a lot of highlights and good memories when I was at St Mirren," he said.

"It's a massive game for us, but it's one that I'm looking forward to.

"I'm a Dunfermline player now and I'll be looking to do my best for the club and hopefully we can get a result in that game."

Hibs manager Colin Calderwood is bracing himself for a difficult start to the new campaign - his side are away to Inverness after facing Celtic on the opening day - but insists he is relishing the challenge.

"We've been handed a testing start to the season, but it is one that I'm excited about and we will be aiming to accumulate as many points as possible," he told his club website.

"Our opening match of the season - at home to Celtic - will be a real test.

"Hopefully we will make it a lot more difficult for them than we did in last season's matches against them.

"It is not a bad marker for the rest of the season.

"Then, straight after that, we've got another tough one and it could be argued that facing Inverness is the most awkward away trip in the SPL outside the Old Firm.

"Now the work starts to prepare properly for the start of the season to ensure we hit the ground running."

Scottish Premier League opening fixtures (23 July unless stated):

Aberdeen v St Johnstone

Dunfermline v St Mirren

Hibernian v Celtic

Motherwell v Inverness CT

Rangersv Hearts

Dundee United v Kilmarnock (24 July)

All fixtures and kick-off times are subject to change. The BBC is not responsible for any changes that may be made.

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