Football: Celtic fly flag for new league

The new-style Scottish Premiership starts today with the accent firmly on youth.
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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time in a decade the league flag will be unfurled at Celtic Park today. However, after the briefest of pauses to reflect and bask in the glory of last season's achievement those connected with Celtic will turn their attentions to the forthcoming campaign. The future of Scottish football lies in the new Premiership, with its accent on youth, the winter break and Sunday night football.

As a new regime kicks off, the continuing fragmentation of the action will be apparent immediately, as Celtic open against Dunfermline but then have to wait until tomorrow to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Hearts and Rangers, who are expected to be their main rivals for the title.

Today's match represents a first opportunity for Dr Jozef Venglos, the new Celtic coach, to pit his wits against Scottish opponents following the European ties with St Patrick's of Ireland. He will know (someone will have told him by now) that Dunfermline won 2-1 at Celtic Park at this stage last season. Celtic came back to win the league after losing their first two games and will inevitably look for a better start this time.

"I believe in the players and the organisation of this club," Venglos said. "Hopefully we'll take a positive attitude into the game with the flag being presented."

Celtic will be without their Danish duo of Marc Rieper, still recovering from back spasms, and Morten Wieghorst, who is receiving treatment for knee ligament damage.

Dundee, the club promoted from Division One, start their season at home against Aberdeen, who will be hoping that Craig Hignett will exert a telling influence in the midfield following his move from Middlesbrough.

Meanwhile, the Kilmarnock manager, Bobby Williamson, will find out if his side is capable of continuing the form they showed in beating Zeljeznicar in midweek, when Dundee United visit Rugby Park. "I'll tell you after this match if our new signings are settling into the team pattern," Williamson said.

Alan Mahood scored the only goal against the Bosnian side and much is expected of Ian Durrant, while Williamson is still hoping to entice Durrant's former Rangers team-mate, Ally McCoist, away from Glasgow.

Today's fourth game is at Fir Park, where Motherwell host St Johnstone. Hopes are high among the home supporters that the experience of Brian McClair, part of a summer clear-out from Manchester United, will help them avoid the kind of relegation battle they have endured over the last two seasons. There is, however, a completely new look to Motherwell, who released 17 players at the end of last season and have 10 new arrivals.

Hearts and Rangers are the first guinea pigs for the new Sunday night slot, which was the price paid for a huge injection of satellite television money. The new time might take some getting used to by players and supporters alike.

"We'll just have to get on with it and there will be a sell-out crowd for this one, so the fans are certainly giving it their backing," Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, said. He added: "We've have a good pre- season but this is when the action really starts."

And so to Rangers, who have bought big over the summer and in Dick Advocaat have the European coach they hope will lead them to success. He starts with the handicap of being without key players Lorenzo Amoruso, Barry Ferguson and Gordan Petric through suspension and he knows from last season that his side face a tough baptism.

"I saw Hearts in a live game and believe them to be an excellent and growing team with a lot of young talent," Advocaat said.