Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Strachan plays down Old Firm game hype

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan insists Saturday’s crunch Old Firm encounter at Ibrox will run along familiar lines, with "good players" deciding the outcome.

The Clydesdale Bank Premier League champions go into the game one point ahead of Rangers at the top of the table and ultimately looking to win their fourth title in a row.

The hype surrounding the lunchtime kick-off has been increasing as the week goes on, with many believing the winners will go on to claim the championship.

However, the Celtic boss did his best to play down the significance of what is set to be an even more fraught occasion than usual.

Strachan (pictured), who will have to do without captain Stephen McManus after the Scotland defender was ruled out following an exploratory operation on his knee, said: "There have not been too many surprises in the Old Firm games I’ve been involved in; it’s all down to players, which it has been for the last 100 years.

"Good players win games; a good player won the game (at Ibrox) the last time with a cracking goal, Scott McDonald.

"And Mendes scored a cracking goal earlier in the season which won the game for them.

"So it seems to be decided by good players.

"Like every game, it has relevance; every game is a turning point.

"If we win, we will have the advantage until the next game. If Rangers win, it will give them an advantage until the next game."

Strachan added: "It is fantastic, a privilege to be involved in it.

"When I was an Aberdeen, Manchester United or Leeds player - or wherever I’ve been - I was always jealous of not being involved in it.

"I didn’t get there as a player but as a manager it’s good.

"I enjoy the atmosphere (at Ibrox), it’s good. But there are no intimidating stadiums, only intimidating players."

With McManus and Darren O’Dea missing through injury, and Scott Brown suspended, Strachan has several crucial decisions to make for the trip to Govan.

The Celtic boss will draft in Glenn Loovens to partner Gary Caldwell at the heart of the Hoops defence and he has been boosted by the return to training of Barry Robson.

The Scotland midfielder has not played since February after injuring an adductor muscle and has had one setback during his recovery, but is in contention to play tomorrow.

Strachan is comfortable with the inclusion of bit-part player Loovens and he welcomed back Robson.

"Glenn has been a top, top player for us," he said.

"It’s just unfortunate that he is against one of Scotland’s best players this year, Gary Caldwell, and the Scotland and Celtic captain (McManus).

"So he has been unfortunate that way, but he has been a fantastic signing for us.

"Barry’s infectious, a great character and it was nice to have him back - he adds to the place."

Strachan also played down the absence of suspended Brown, named PFA Scotland Player of the Year on Sunday.

He said: "We handled the blow last year when he wasn’t playing in the run-in.

"This year Paul Hartley has stepped in and last week at Aberdeen we won 3-1 at a place where we had been beaten 4-2 in the previous game."

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