Release of the SPFL fixtures begins to build anticipation

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Celtic assistant manager John Collins joins Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander, Morton captain Peter MacDonald and Albion Rovers player-manager Darren Young as the Ladbrokes Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two fixtures are announced for the 2015/2016 season
Celtic assistant manager John Collins, Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander, Morton captain Peter MacDonald and Albion Rovers player-manager Darren Young help to launch the fixtures for season 2015/2016 season

The release of the fixtures for next season provides a moment of anticipation. Clubs and supporters can begin to plan more definitively for the start of the campaign, and there are obvious attractions in the Premiership and the Championship.

Different storylines will emerge once the contests progress, particularly amongst the clubs involved in the relegation tussles and the fight for play-off places.

It is awkward to predict where all of the most competitive games will lie when perhaps only St Johnstone have completed their recruitment plans for the summer. Even so, certain games are already appealing.

Celtic open their Premiership title defence at home to Ross County, a team that hopes to improve on the steady rebuilding work carried out by Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds last term.

For the Celtic manager Ronny Deila, the early pressures will come from the challenge of trying to reach the Champions League group stages, and to integrate new signings, but to that extent the fixtures have been relatively accommodating.

After Ross County, they travel to face Partick Thistle and then Kilmarnock - two sides that finished in the bottom six last season - then Inverness Caledonian Thistle visit Celtic Park.

Hearts defender Calum Paterson tussles with Celtic striker Anthony Stokes
Celtic's Boxing day visit to Tynecastle to play Hearts is likely to be one of the festive season's most attractive fixtures

It is 22 August before Celtic play away to a team expected to finish in the top places, when they travel to Tannadice, and it is 12 September - the seventh round of fixtures - before they meet Aberdeen, who challenged at the top of the league for much of the last campaign.

Aberdeen benefited from the early uncertainties of Deila's reign, as the team came to terms with his tactics and approach, as well as the reliable consistency of their own form under manager Derek McInnes. To build on that, they need to remain commanding against the rest of the sides but also more capable of taking points off the champions.

They will look to their visit to Celtic Park on 31 October, and where they are in the league at that time, as an indication of their progress. It is intriguing, all the same, that their opening game is away to Dundee United, in what is traditionally a tense and fiercely competitive fixture.

Having returned to the top-flight as champions - having swept aside opponents in the Championship with an impressively robust and consistent run of form last season - Hearts kick-off at home to St Johnstone.

Season ticket sales at Tynecastle are approaching a record level, and the signing of Polish centre-back Blazej Augustyn is an indication of the team-building being carried out by head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein.

Dundee United's Chris Erskine slides in to score the opener in a 6-2 win over their city rivals on New Year's Day
Dundee United's Chris Erskine slides in to score the opener in a 6-2 win over their city rivals on New Year's Day this year

Hearts will hope to carry their momentum in to the campaign, and they will be motivated by having a point to prove. They lost to Celtic in the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup last season, and travel to Celtic Park on 26 September.

Celtic's visit to Tynecastle is also the most enticing of the Boxing Day fixtures, with the game sure to draw a capacity and vociferous crowd.

The same can be said of the Dundee derby, with the two clubs from the same street first meeting each other on 12 August - the third round of fixtures - at Tannadice. In keeping with tradition, the two sides also play each other in the first round of fixtures in the new year, on 2 January at Dens Park.

In the Championship, the title is expected to become a tussle between Hibernian, who start away at Dumbarton, and Rangers, with Mark Warburton's first league game in charge of the club being at home to St Mirren, who were relegated from the top-flight last season.

Hibs had the upper hand in games between the two clubs last season, winning four of their seven meetings, and the sides face each other for the first time at Ibrox on 22 August - the third round of fixtures. They also meet on Boxing Day at Ibrox, in what even at this stage would be expected to be a pivotal encounter.

The final round of games, when the title and play-off places could conceivably still be undecided, sees Rangers travel to St Mirren Park, while Hibs play host to Queen of the South.

The first weekend of the Championship also sees newly-promoted Morton meet Falkirk at Cappielow, and Jim Duffy's side also play their first Renfrewshire derby when St Mirren travel the short distance to Greenock on 22 August.

The fixtures will alter subject to European commitments and television schedules, while the potential significance of each one will shift as the nature of the league competitions unfold. For now, they represent an outline of the season ahead.