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Brown rises above Ibrox frenzy as Celtic end year on high

By Andy Newport

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers was so worried his team would get caught up in Saturday's Old Firm frenzy he made them practise with 10 men.

The Hoops boss was left fearing that premonition could come true when skipper Scott Brown was given a early booking for a foul on Rangers' James Tavernier.

But the Parkhead boss praised his captain after he refused to be sucked in by the powder-keg atmosphere, seeing out a 2-1 win that moved Celtic 19 points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Rodgers said: "We did an exercise on this the other day because in these games you need to stay calm.

"We had a few bookings but the last thing you need to do in a derby game is go down to 10 men.

"You have to play with responsibility but Scott was again outstanding."

Goals from Moussa Demeble and Scott Sinclair handed the undefeated leaders a 15th straight league win after Kenny Miller had given Rangers early hope.

And the matchwinner was thrilled to end 2016 on a high after rejuvenating his career in Glasgow.

Former Manchester City and Aston Villa wideman Sinclair said: "The main thing was to win the game. Hopefully we can keep doing the same in 2017.

"It's been great working here. As soon as I signed I hit the ground running, and I just want to keep doing what I've been doing on a personal level and contributing to the team.

"It's great when the manager knows you as well as Brendan knows me. Over the past couple of years I've had some tough times, in and out of teams, but when a manager believes in you, you can see the confidence in my game. I couldn't ask for more."

Celtic were run ragged by the hosts during the opening 15 minutes at Ibrox but regrouped after Miller's strike, with their quality quickly shining through.

"I always thought they'd come out all guns blazing and in the first 10 minutes they were right up for it," said Sinclair. "We were as well but they scored the goal and the crowd got behind them. We had to deal with that and make sure we came back.

"It was a great finish from Moussa for the equaliser. We worked on it in the set-pieces and I put it out to the back stick and he did what he does best and scored the goal.

"How long can we go unbeaten? We just go into every game trying to win as many as we can.

"It's game by game. People will always ask how long you can go unbeaten but with our quality and character in the dressing-room I think if we keep showing up on these weekends we can continue.'

• Hearts are hoping to sign Aberdeen attacker Niall McGinn on a pre-contract agreement.

The Northern Ireland international is free to talk to other clubs with his contract due to expire in the summer and the Tynecastle outfit want to land the ex-Celtic player for next season.

Gorgie officials have held talks with McGinn's representatives and see him as a potential key player under new head coach Ian Cathro.

McGinn, a fans' favourite over the last three years, was in good form on Friday night as he helped the Dons defeat Hearts 1-0 at Tynecastle, providing the assist for Jonny Hayes' winner.

The 29-year-old is well known to the Hearts coaching set-up, with assistant Austin MacPhee having worked alongside him with the Northern Ireland national team, and it would be deemed a significant coup if Hearts could land him from one of their chief rivals in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Fellow international Liam Boyce all but confirmed his status as one of the January transfer window's hottest properties with a first-half double as Ross County beat Inverness Caly Thistle 3-2 in a thunderously competitive Highland derby.

Midfielder Martin Woods capped an imperious individual display with the crucial third goal as the Dingwall club ended a woeful run of five straight home defeats in the fixture. But the win was mostly about the work done by Boyce.

It was a display of great versatility as the Northern Ireland international ghosted into deeper positions, linked play and prompted attacks with style and cleverness.

His double made it five goals in two derbies and took him back ahead of Celtic's Scott Sinclair as top league scorer in the Premiership.

For home manager Jim McIntyre, it was a first derby win in Dingwall since taking charge in September 2014.

"It is very pleasing to get [the] monkey off our back," McIntyre said. "We wanted to get back into the top six heading into the break. Liam is a huge player for us and a clever one who we ask to play in a lot of positions. wherever he plays he can hurt the opposition as he has football intelligence and he can still get himself into goalscoring positions. He is a class player."

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