Rangers set for Hearts challenge at Ibrox on opening day of Scottish Championship

Rangers manager Ally McCoist
Rangers manager Ally McCoist

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson is relishing an eye-catching trip to Rangers on the opening day of the Scottish Championship campaign before tackling Edinburgh rivals Hibernian at Tynecastle a week later.

The popular belief that the second tier will be the most exciting league in Scotland next season was given credence when the fixtures were released on Wednesday.

Defending Premiership champions Celtic were drawn at home to Partick Thistle on Saturday August 9 but, owing to a clash with the Commonwealth Games, the match has already been postponed.

As such, Norwegian boss Ronny Deila – Neil Lennon’s replacement – will first enter the dugout for a league match on Wednesday, August 13 at St Johnstone.

That leaves much of the attention on Saturday, August 9, focused on Ibrox where Ally McCoist’s Rangers meet the Jambos for the first time since April 2012, while Hibs will be at home to Livingston.

Neilson told Hearts News: “I’m delighted with the fixtures – it’s a great start for us.

“Right at the start we have high-quality matches and they give us the chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the season.

“To be honest, it doesn’t matter who you get in the first two games of the season, they are just as important as any other but having Rangers and Hibs in the first two adds a little bit more to it as we know they are great games to be involved in.

“All the players will be desperate to be involved in them so they will have to work hard and be prepared in pre-season.

“It will be a great introduction to Scottish football for the new players and what a start to their Hearts careers with two full houses to play in front of.”

Rangers were promoted last season on their long way back to the top-flight while Hearts and Hibs were dumped out of the Premiership, with both Edinburgh clubs sacking their managers as a consequence.

Having taken charge at Tynecastle last month, Neilson could hardly have asked for a tougher start but it is one he finds appetising.

He said: “On a personal level, it’s a great start for me to be in charge for the first time in matches of this calibre.”

Deila is well aware that Celtic have Champions League qualifiers to negotiate before he thinks about the league campaign beginning in Perth.

He said: “It is going to be a good game, St Johnstone are the Scottish Cup winners.

“But first we have the Champions League. We will do everything we can to be well prepared.”

Elsewhere in the top-flight on the opening weekend, newly-promoted Dundee and Hamilton are at home to Kilmarnock and Inverness respectively, while Aberdeen host Dundee United.

Motherwell – second last season – are at home to St Mirren, and St Johnstone travel to Ross County.

Celtic head to face Dundee at Dens Park on August 30 before the first Dundee derby, at that venue, on September 20.

The top league is set to go for its annual split in mid-April and as such Celtic’s last scheduled game sees them head to Inverness on the 11th.

Other closing fixtures see Dundee United at home to Hamilton, Aberdeen at Kilmarnock, Partick at home to Motherwell, St Johnstone at home to Dundee and Ross County at St Mirren.

If the Championship turns out to be as tight as it promises to be then all could be to play for on the final day of May 2.

Rangers head to Hearts for a fixture which sounds like it may have something riding on it, while Hibernian – yet to appoint a successor to Terry Butcher – end at Falkirk.