Celtic and Rangers must cope with Old Firm heat
Ally McCoist insists tomorrow’s Old Firm derby is all about the players — and not himself and Neil Lennon.
The pair clashed at the end of a particularly fiery Scottish Cup tie between the Glasgow giants back in March.
McCoist has since been promoted from his role as Walter Smith's assistant and is preparing to go head-to-head with Lennon in the dug-out for the first time as manager.
Asked if tomorrow's clash at Ibrox is a chance for him to get one up on Lennon, Rangers boss McCoist insisted: “Not at all. I know that's not the answer you wanted to hear, but it's about the two teams.
“I want our team to go out and play well and win the game. Once that whistle goes, there is nothing the managers can do.
“They can tweak formations and change players, but the most important people in Old Firm games are the players on the park.
“It's the players who will hopefully win us the game on Sunday.”
McCoist says this game will be no different to any other Old Firm derby, adding: “The scrutiny on the players and coaches and management is always there.
“It's something you've got to handle and it's something the players and coaches and management staff will hopefully handle.
“The scrutiny is only greater because of the enormity of the game.
“The expectancy levels to have discipline should be the same no matter what the game is throughout the country.
“It goes without saying that, because of the size of the game and the focus on the game, there is far more scrutiny on ourselves.”
McCoist is relishing his managerial debut in the famous fixture and does not feel the need to seek advice from his former mentor Smith ahead of the match.
He said: “I won't consult with him, not at all. Possibly I will talk to him because we are friends and we speak quite a lot on the phone.
“I would imagine we will have a conversation, but I won't be phoning for any special knowledge or tips or anything like that.
“Walter has always been there and he is a great friend now and he will obviously be wishing us well, but the contact will purely be friendship.
“I'm lucky in the respect that I totally understand and know the enormity of the occasion having played in so many of the games.
“I do appreciate the enormity of the situation so from that point of view, having played in a few and assisted in a few, you would hope that would help.”
Celtic arrived back in Scotland yesterday following Thursday night's Europa League defeat against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital, but McCoist does not expect their midweek exertions to provide any advantage for Rangers.
He said: “I wouldn't have thought so. We did it last year and managed to win the league. There are arguments for and against.
“The only guarantee — and it is a guarantee — is that Celtic will be ready to play us on Sunday. Make no mistake about that.
“You can say they had a tough game in Madrid, but Celtic will be ready to play us and we will be ready for them.
“I expect a very aggressive approach from a fired-up team. They won't like the fact that we've been champions for the last few seasons.
“They will want our championship. They will want to leave a mark by winning the game.
“We will face a totally committed Celtic team, as you would expect, but they will face the exact same in the shape of our team. It's a game that will hopefully provide lots of excitement and some fantastic goals.”
Like McCoist, opposite number Lennon is relishing his trip into the lion's den for the first Old Firm derby of the season.
The Parkhead boss believes the fixture against Rangers is the perfect way for his players to bounce back after their 2-0 defeat in Madrid and he is looking forward to the passion and tensions that come with it.
“Going from the European game into the Old Firm game is probably the best thing that can happen,” said Lennon.
“Sometimes you can come back from a European game and there is a flatness going about your SPL duties, but with a game of this magnitude, it can be easy to motivate the players.
“I like the edge, it keeps you on your toes. I think everyone enjoys it. You love Old Firm games when you win and hate them when you lose.
“I enjoy going there, I always have done. It's a great venue to play football in and there is always a decent surface.
“It isn't intimidating, but there is always an edge to the atmosphere which is always good.
“I think that is what football is all about, going to away grounds like Ibrox and Tynecastle and setting out your teams to do well. It is a good challenge.
“I have been delighted with the way the team has performed at Ibrox since I took over as manager. I think they have played very well and were unlucky not to win the last one.
“But it's a new season, and Rangers are a bit fresher with new players.”