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Celtic aim for back-to-back titles without Rangers

Published: Friday 3 August 2012, 11.38CET
The departure of Rangers FC has made Celtic FC overwhelming favourites to retain the Scottish Premier League title but there is still plenty to play for when the season starts on Saturday.
by Alex O'Henley
from Glasgow
Celtic aim for back-to-back titles without Rangers
Celtic fans expect a repeat of last season's title victory ©Getty Images
Published: Friday 3 August 2012, 11.38CET

Celtic aim for back-to-back titles without Rangers

The departure of Rangers FC has made Celtic FC overwhelming favourites to retain the Scottish Premier League title but there is still plenty to play for when the season starts on Saturday.

This promises to be a season like no other in Scottish football. For the first time there will be no Rangers FC in the top flight. The Ibrox club's financial plight means they have to start again in the fourth tier, leaving rivals Celtic FC as clear favourites to retain the Scottish Premier League title, albeit without the glamour of the Glasgow derby.

The SPL championship flag will be unfurled before Saturday's lunchtime kick-off against Aberdeen FC at Celtic Park, and manager Neil Lennon wants a victorious send-off before taking his squad to Finland for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie against HJK Helsinki on Wednesday.

"I hope it's a full house," said Lennon. "It's a celebration of what went on last season. We haven't had it here for a while so it's a great way to open the season, and hopefully the players can put on a good performance for all our fans.

"I haven't really given Aberdeen much thought until now because I had been so focused on the opening game against Helsinki. We're looking forward to the occasion, with the league championship flag being unfurled. We want to get the defence of our trophy off to a good start and maybe that will set us up in a good frame of mind for Wednesday's return game in Helsinki."

With Celtic odds-on to defend their crown, much of the focus will turn to the race for second place. Motherwell FC have tasted the excitement of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers against Panathinaikos FC and Stuart McCall's men will seek to experience that again next season by improving on last term's third-place finish.

Dundee United FC will be another club vying for the coveted runners-up spot and their campaign has gained an extra dimension with the return of the Dundee derby following Dundee FC's promotion at the expense of Rangers. For the first time the SPL will also host Highland derbies, with Ross County FC joining neighbours Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC among the elite. Having won the second division by 24 points, the Staggies will be confident of holding their own.

Scottish Cup holders Heart of Midlothian FC have lost the services of manager Paolo Sergio and key midfielder Ian Black, so will do well to replicate their fifth-place finish of 2011/12. Edinburgh rivals Hibernian FC will simply attempt to avoid a repeat of their relegation struggle, while Saint Johnstone FC and Kilmarnock FC should be in contention once again for top-six finishes.

The aforementioned Aberdeen were disappointed to be outside the top six last term but, having signed the likes of Johnny Hayes, Niall McGinn and the experienced Gary Naysmith, the Dons could prove a surprise package.

Last updated: 03/08/12 17.58CET

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