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Saturday 3 December 2016

Celtic kick off title defence against Ross County

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths

Scottish Premiership champions Celtic will kick off their bid for a fifth straight title when they start the new season at home to Ross County.

Ronny Deila's team clinched the Parkhead side's 46th league crown last year after finishing 17 points ahead of the rest.

And the Norwegian boss will now look to retain that title when the 2015-16 campaign gets under way against Jim McIntyre's Staggies on August 1.

Runners-up Aberdeen pushed the Hoops close last term before fading.

But the Pittodrie men will hope they can mount a more sustained challenge when they start their season with a trip to 'New Firm' rivals Dundee United.

The Tannadice side started brightly last year but the loss of key men Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic cost them vital momentum and Jackie McNamara will hope he can keep hold of striker Nadir Ciftci - who has already informed the club he will not be signing a new deal - for as long as possible.

Championship winners Hearts will make their return to the top flight, 12 months after sliding out of the league following administration, when they host St Johnstone at Tynecastle.

The Jambos cantered to the second-tier title last term despite having Rangers and city rivals Hibernian for competition - but they will come up against a Saints side who could potentially be up to full speed on the back of their Europa League qualifiers, which kick off on July 2.

Elsewhere on day one, Hamilton will roll out their new plastic pitch for Partick Thistle at New Douglas Park and Kilmarnock welcome Dundee to Rugby Park.

William Hill Scottish Cup winners Inverness will take on Motherwell, who ensured their 30-year run in the top flight would carry on for at least another 12 months when they crushed Rangers in last month's play-off final, in the Highlands.

The opening derby of the new season takes place during the first midweek schedule on August 12 as Dundee United host Paul Hartley's Dark Blues, while Tannadice will be the venue once more for an early season blockbuster as Celtic face their first significant road test on August 22.

County and Kilmarnock will both be high on the bookmaker's list of relegation favourites after testing seasons and their clash at Rugby Park - also scheduled for August 22 - could hand one team an early chance to gain some confidence.

Derek McInnes will then have the chance to make amends for the 4-0 hammering Aberdeen suffered in Glasgow's East End in March when he takes the Dons to Celtic Park on October 31.

The Hoops' first visit to the Granite City, meanwhile, is scheduled for the last weekend in January.

The final set of fixtures before the league split are scheduled to take place over the weekend of April 9, with Deila's team travelling to Well's Fir Park base and Hearts hosting Aberdeen in Edinburgh.

The other games see United host Inverness, while Hamilton welcome Dundee to Lanarkshire, St Johnstone travel to Kilmarnock and County take on Partick in Dingwall.

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