The Scottish Professional Football League and Police Scotland are braced for a potential title decider between Celtic and Rangers despite orchestrated attempts to ensure this is not the case.
Confirmation of the post-split fixtures finally came yesterday at 4pm – three days and over 70 hours after the final whistle was blown in the last match of the pre-split season between Hamilton Accies and Celtic.
Celtic are due to play Rangers at midday on Sunday 29 April live on Sky Sports. There will be another non-weekend Edinburgh derby – the fourth out of five meetings this season – on Wednesday 9 May, covered live by BT Sport.
The fixture list, which was originally planned to be released earlier this week, remained under wraps until late yesterday afternoon to the rising frustration of supporters. A spokesman for the Scottish Professional Football League said: “We want to thank supporters for the patience they have shown during the compilation of the post-split fixture schedule.
“Working with the 12 clubs, Police Scotland and our broadcast partners to produce a set of fixtures that meets everyone’s requirements can often be a complex and time-consuming process, but fans can now look forward to an exciting conclusion to the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign.”
A SPFL spokesman also confirmed fixtures were now set in stone and would not be changed, no matter how events unfolded.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has already made plain his views on the subject of when the Old Firm fixture should be scheduled.
He stressed how “sad” it was that the SPFL should actively look to avoid a potential title showdown between the two biggest clubs in the country.
Celtic require one more win to seal their seventh successive league title and have the opportunity to claim three points a week on Saturday against Hibs at Easter Road in a lunchtime kick-off. But failure to gain a win then could open the way for Rodgers’ side to clinch the title against Rangers in the second round of post-six fixtures.
While the SPFL’s implicit aim was indeed to avoid this scenario it would not require a hugely surprising set of results to see Rodgers’ desire for such a high-octane occasion realised.
If Aberdeen and Rangers, or either one of them, win their opening post-split fixture, against Kilmarnock and Hearts respectively, and Celtic drop points at Hibs, against whom they have drawn on two occasions already this season, Rodgers’ side could seal the title the following weekend against their old rivals at Celtic
League officials have actively
sought to avoid a potential league-settling encounter between the Old Firm sides since crowd trouble marred an explosive derby in 1999, when Rangers won the title with a 3-0 win at Celtic Park.
Meanwhile, Hibs’ concerns about potentially being asked to visit Ibrox on three occasions have been heard. Neil Lennon’s side, who are bidding to finish second and record their highest league finish in over 40 years, host Rangers at Easter Road on the last day. Hearts have been sent to Ibrox three times instead, as have Kilmarnock.
The Gorgie club released a statement last night registering their disappointment and complaining about the “inherently imbalanced system” used to determine the fixtures. Rangers have already faced all five of their top six rivals twice at home.
In the first round of bottom-six fixtures, bottom club Partick Thistle will host Hamilton Accies in what’s set to be a poignant occasion and which has already been termed John Lambie tribute day. Lambie, who managed both clubs, passed away earlier this week at the age of 77.
Thistle and second bottom Ross County go head-to-head at Firhill on Friday 4 May, live on BT Sport.