Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football Scottish

Stephen Craigan: This Old Firm duel between Celtic and Rangers can be a defining moment in Scottish Premiership season

Rising again: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard and Ryan Jack need to bounce back after the Betfred Cup final defeat to Celtic
Rising again: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard and Ryan Jack need to bounce back after the Betfred Cup final defeat to Celtic
Andy Kirk
Stephen Craigan

By Stephen Craigan

All eyes turn to Parkhead tomorrow after routine wins for Celtic and Rangers on Boxing Day. For me, it has set up the Old Firm derby to be a real defining game of the season.

A win will see Celtic move eight points ahead of Rangers, although the Ibrox men have a game in hand, and firmly put them in the driving seat to retain the Scottish Premiership title. It would deal a huge psychological blow to the Light Blues and their supporters.

The Hoops are on a terrific run of 11 successive league victories and if Rangers have genuine ambitions of taking the trophy from their rivals then winning at Celtic Park would show real intent and lay down a marker for the second half of the campaign.

So, it's all set to be a cracker!

In the first meeting between the two this season, Rangers boss Steven Gerrard got it all wrong with his team selection as he went for five midfielders in an attempt to dominate the ball. Neil Lennon's side worked it out, however, and came away comfortable 2-0 winners.

The League Cup final earlier this month saw Rangers outplay Celtic for long spells but they ultimately lost out to a sucker punch from Christopher Jullien. Fraser Forster broke Gers hearts with the game of his life and Celtic clinched the first silverware of the season.

What should we expect from meeting No.3?

As per usual, I expect a feisty, competitive, high-tempo game. The atmosphere will be electric so who will flourish under the intense scrutiny?

With the winter break taking place after the game, the loser will have a while to suffer the disappointment. That adds a bit more spice to an already high-pressure situation.

Celtic will once again look to their proven players to carry them to victory. Scott Brown is a veteran of this fixture and will drive his side from the front as always.

James Forrest, Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie have 47 goals between them this season so Lennon will once again rely on these three to deliver a severe blow to Rangers and their title credentials.

Edouard in particular has been the scourge of Rangers over recent seasons, scoring five times against them. Conor Goldson and Nikola Katic have built up a good rapport in recent weeks at the centre of the Gers defence, and will be assigned with keeping him under control.

Lennon thrived on this fixture in his playing days and he's also had his moments as a manager, both good and bad. However, his experience and words of wisdom will be crucial as his team go searching for a precious win.

As for Gerrard, his two victories over Celtic during his time in charge of Rangers have both come at Ibrox so he and his players will have to go over new ground if they are to defeat their rivals.

This is a chance for Gerrard to show his mettle as well as his leadership qualities in a game I believe he cannot afford to lose.

Celtic have lost only once domestically at Parkhead since December 2015, so that highlights the task Gerrard and his players face.

He will once again look to his temperamental talisman Alfredo Morelos for inspiration.

Morelos has yet to break his goalscoring duck against Celtic and to be really revered by the Rangers supporters in years to come that has to change. The longer he goes without that goal, the more people will question his capabilities when it really matters.

The title may not be won or lost tomorrow but a victory for either side will galvanise them and the mentality of the players.

Celtic know they have the beating of Rangers, the recent League Cup final proved that.

Rangers aren't at that level of thinking yet, however that could change if they can overcome their rivals.

Let the battle commence.

Kirk has his work cut out to keep rapidly sinking Hearts afloat

Former Northern Ireland international Andy Kirk was recently promoted to Hearts assistant manager after a successful spell with the reserve side. It's been far from plain sailing for Andy since he stepped up to support new manager Daniel Stendel as the teams struggles go on.

I spoke about Hearts a few weeks ago and their troubles. After watching the Edinburgh Derby during the week it has to be said they are in a worse state than I first anticipated.

They are bottom of the Scottish Premiership by three points; they have won just two league games from 20 played and Stendel has lost his opening four fixtures. They haven't any pace in their team; they lack creativity; they're void of confidence and are in real danger of being relegated.

The side that has been bottom of the Premiership at Christmas in each of the last eight seasons has been relegated, which is an ominous sign for Hearts.

This proud club are in desperate need of inspiration. Their fans are a demanding bunch but incredibly loyal and deserve better than what they are currently being served up by the players. The upcoming January transfer window will be pivotal as they seek much needed improvement throughout the team.

Simply, Hearts need some heart!

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph