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Boyce handed early chance to rock Hoops

By Andy Newport

Scottish Premiership champions Celtic will be on Liam Boyce alert when they kick off the new season.

The Hoops host Ross County in their opening clash and Northern Ireland international Boyce will be keen to start the campaign with a bang for Jim McIntyre's Staggies on August 1.

Former Cliftonville hero Boyce was voted the fans' Player of the Year at the end of last season after some impressive performances and the 24-year-old will be hungry to pick maintain the form that has kept him in the thoughts of international boss Michael O'Neill.

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

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.

Championship winners Hearts will make their return to the top flight, 12 months after sliding out of the league following administration, when they host Tommy Wright's 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.

Meanwhile, new Rangers boss Mark Warburton will hope to put the Ibrox club on a path to promotion when his side open their Ladbrokes Scottish Championship campaign at home to relegated St Mirren on August 8.

The former Brentford boss has been hired by chairman Dave King to pick up the pieces after last year's campaign ended in humiliation.

Despite having the second biggest budget in Scotland, 'Gers could only finish third in the second tier and were then swatted aside by a rampant Motherwell in the play-off final.

But Warburton and his assistant, former Ibrox skipper David Weir, have already started work on rebuilding the squad.

Belfast Telegraph


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