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Page last updated at Friday, 28 March 2008, 07:36 GMT

Old Firm set for grand finale

By Colin Moffat

Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan go head-to-head on Saturday
Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan go head-to-head on Saturday
With the business end of the season in sight, Rangers fans will be delighted to see their favourites out in front in the title race.

With 10 SPL matches remaining, Walter Smith's side hold a three-point lead over Celtic and have played a game less.

It is a nice cushion for a team that can boast a run of 12 consecutive league victories.

However, due to the vagaries of a more mixed up than usual domestic calendar, three of those games will be Old Firm derbies, with the first taking place at Ibrox on Saturday lunchtime.

"I don't think there are many points to be dropped elsewhere, so the Old Firm games will decide the title," former Celtic midfielder John Collins told BBC Sport this week.

And Collins, who enjoyed wins over both halves of the Old Firm this season before quitting his managerial post at Hibs, believes the visitors must avoid defeat.

"In the last few years, they have been in front in the title race, so the pressure is on now that they are chasing Rangers," he added.

"It's a game they can't afford to lose as to go nine points behind would be very difficult to come back from."

Rangers won the CIS Insurance Cup earlier this month to end two barren seasons and remain involved in the Scottish Cup and Uefa Cup.

Celtic have no other distractions as they go for three titles in a row for the first time since the culmination of their sequence of nine back-to-back championships ended in 1974.

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Rangers face a hectic schedule but they are not likely to suffer from heavy legs in what is one of the most fiercely contested derbies in the world.

Ibrox quartet Steven Davis, Jean-Claude Darcheville, Christian Dailly and Kirk Broadfoot are all preparing for their Old Firm debuts, while Celtic pair Barry Robson and Georgios Samaras are also new to the rivalry.

"Until you've played in that first game you don't know what it's about," said ex-Rangers striker Kevin Drinkell.

"It was a totally different atmosphere," he said, recalling the 1988 game which Rangers won 5-1 at Ibrox.

"I was rather blase going into the game but the whole atmosphere doubled and tripled as it approached kick-off.

"The majority of the players at Rangers now have experienced it. To that degree they'll know what they're anticipating, but it's just the expectation levels which are on you which you have to handle.

"You can talk to people. I could say, 'I was a bit like you, a bit unsure what to expect on the day'.

"But until you experience it, you don't know."

Celtic have stuttered slightly in recent weeks, exiting the Scottish Cup to Aberdeen and being held 0-0 at home in the league by Dundee United.

Rangers forward Nacho Novo celebrates a goal against Celtic
Rangers beat Celtic 3-0 at Ibrox back in October

But manager Gordon Strachan can point to an impressive league run that has yielded 31 points from a possible 33.

Will Strachan stick with his favoured 4-4-2 formation, with strikers Scott McDonald and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink aiming to add to their combined tally of 41 goals?

That would leave Robson, Paul Hartley, Massimo Donati and Evander Sno battling it out to partner Scott Brown in central midfield.

However, Strachan could shuffle his pack to match the 4-5-1 deployed by Smith, who will look to Darcheville to lead the line.

That leaves top scorer Kris Boyd on the bench once more but former Ibrox favourite Dado Prso would like to see his old team-mate feature.

"He is the man for Rangers, he can always score goals," the Croat told BBC Sport.

"He has to improve other parts of his game, yes, but I think he can always score.

"It's up to Walter Smith to decide who should start, I'm not the coach.

"But Boyd, even when he is not running all about the pitch, is always there in the box and you can count on him.

"It's nice for the team to know they have a man like him."

Nacho Novo is also pushing for a place, having scored last weekend - and he was on target twice when Rangers overwhelmed Celtic 3-0 in the season's only previous meeting.

Smith has had the upper hand in this fixture since he returned to Ibrox last January, winning all three fixtures without conceding a goal.

Strachan has the opportunity to level the head-to-head record before the season is up. If he does, then there's a very good chance Celtic will keep their crown.

* You can listen to live commentary from Ibrox on Radio Scotland's Sportsound, starting at 1200 GMT

SEE ALSO
Rangers v Celtic
28 Mar 08 |  Scottish Premier
Strachan looks to Old Firm test
24 Mar 08 |  Celtic
Players deserve a rest says Prso
25 Mar 08 |  Scotland
Rangers 3-0 Celtic
20 Oct 07 |  Scottish Premier


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