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Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Old Firm frenzy eclipses other derbies

Landry N'Guemo and Lee McCulloch challenge for possession
Old Firm derbies are always fiercely contested affairs

By Thomas McGuigan

Such is the hysteria that engulfs Glasgow ahead of Old Firm derbies, even dogs on the street have a view on who's going to win.

On Sunday, Rangers play Celtic in front of 50,000 emotionally-frazzled fans at Ibrox.

Countless more will be viewing and listening at home; while others, unable to watch, pace the room until the madness of the derby of derbies is over.

Rangers, seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand, must be confident that avoiding defeat will all but seal a second successive title for Walter Smith.

In the away dugout, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray has endured a tortuous debut season since succeeding Gordon Strachan.

Having taken a wrecking ball to the squad he inherited, Mowbray has been at the sharp end of fierce criticism as his new-look side have scored and shipped goals in equal measure.

Despite these two old foes slugging it out since time immemorial, the sense of excitement ahead of these blood-and-thunder derbies remains undimmed.

"Because it's Celtic, the build-up to the game is unlike any other," said former Rangers defender Craig Paterson.

"It doesn't matter if you've been there for 10 years or 10 minutes, as soon as you're in the door and coming up to your first Old Firm game or your 20th, there's always that extra edge."

It's virtually impossible to communicate with team-mates because of the bedlam going on around you

Craig Paterson

Paterson, who had a four-year spell at Ibrox from 1982 and is now a BBC Scotland pundit, said the kick off represented something of a relief.

"In our day, the media frenzy wasn't as intense, but you still knew exactly what it meant," he said. "Every time you met one of your own fans, they would say: 'right, come on, this weekend, do it for us' and that kind of thing.

"You knew exactly how big it was for everyone who follows the club. Nerves would really hit you before the game.

"Sometimes, the dressing-room would be the same. The manager was that bit more intense and the players more edgy, it was actually nice just to get out onto the park and get running.

"You ran off the adrenalin and then you were ready for business. They're the quickest games in the world; they seem to fly by.

"It's virtually impossible to communicate with team-mates because of the bedlam going on around you. It's a fixture unlike any other."

Celtic supporters and former Bhoys defender Tom Boyd are familiar with joy and despair in Old Firm games at Ibrox.

Boyd, who starred for the club between 1992 and 2003, said players are acutely aware of how important these clashes are.

"Most of the build-up in the week before the game comes from the supporters you meet in the street. You get the depth of feeling from them and that gees you up," he explained.

David Weir and Madjid Bougherra
Weir and Bougherra form a formidable defensive partnership

"Being a Celtic supporter myself, I knew what that was all about. The foreign and English lads maybe wouldn't know too much about it. But, with the media building up the game, it turns into a bit of a frenzy.

"Everyone soon knows what the consequences are and the meaning of the game. You get caught up fairly quickly on what it means to everyone on your side of the city."

The latest Old Firm offering has thrown up the usual pre-match drama. Doubts exist over the fitness of Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor after he was injured in an incident outside a Glasgow nightclub.

And Celtic lit the blue/green touch-paper when it was revealed they had held talks with the Scottish Football Association over what they felt were poor decisions against Mowbray's men this season.

"Because Allan McGregor has been in there virtually all season, it's nice to have pretty much the same back four and goalkeeper, to build on solid foundations," said Paterson.

"He's a good presence at the back, a terrific goalkeeper. You just have to look back at the last Old Firm game at Parkhead and his save from Georgios Samaras was worth a point to Rangers.

"The good thing for Rangers is that Neil Alexander time and again has been thrown into big occasions and he's never let them down. If he plays then I don't think Walter will be worried at all."

Celtic felt aggrieved over a couple of contentious incidents during the previous two Old Firm league fixtures this season: a 2-1 defeat at Ibrox and a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park.

In the first, Shaun Maloney's tumble under David Weir's challenge was one of a number of unsuccessful penalty appeals and, in the second, Marc-Antoine Fortune's effort was ruled out for a challenge on McGregor.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

And Boyd believes Celtic are due a rub of the green in Sunday's clash.

"If decisions break even over the course of a campaign then I think Celtic should be looking forward to a right number of fair decisions this time," he said.

"Celtic have to take their chances when they come along."

Rangers are a club looking for a buyer and unable to give manager Smith funds to breathe new life into his small squad.

But, with the prize of a second successive league title and direct passage to the golden Champions League up for grabs, the players have not let off-field problems shift focus from the task at hand.

Working without a contract, unsure of his future at the club beyond the summer, Smith's calm steering of the Rangers ship in such stormy waters has been remarkable.

"The fact Walter hasn't been able to freshen up the team for a long time speaks volumes for the players he's got under his command," Paterson added.

"They just keep churning out results, they've been absolutely tremendous and some of the players have played nearly every game.

"They scored seven against Dundee United, six against Motherwell, four against Hibs at Easter Road; they know how to roll their sleeves up but have played some really good football too."

And Paterson believes in-form striker Kris Boyd will be straining at the leash to prove he can find the net against their Old Firm rivals.

"This is one of the games where Boyd will want to prove that he can be the match-winner. He's done it against virtually everybody in the league. But it doesn't matter what this lad does, people are still saying: 'he's got to do it against Celtic'."

Celtic's on-loan striker Robbie Keane
Keane will get his first taste of the Old Firm derby

While David Weir and Madjid Bougherra form an iron blue curtain in front of McGregor's goal, a similarly impregnable defence is absent at Celtic.

January signing Jos Hooiveld is likely to miss the game with a hamstring injury, and, with Glenn Loovens a fitness doubt, teenagers Josh Thompson and Thomas Rogne may be given a real baptism of fire.

"There's an onus on the defence to avoid silly mistakes," said Boyd. "In an ideal situation, that's how you defend. But the midfield and strikers must cut off space and close down the channels.

"If you look at Celtic's performances in Old Firm games, they have been fairly decent, more so the recent 1-1 draw, where they totally dominated.

"It's a very important game for Scott Brown; being the captain, trying to control himself and the team. He needs to play in an aggressive style but not go over the score. A lot of times that's where the game is won and lost: in the midfield."

The Rangers team have been over the course and know what it means to win and lose Old Firm games. In recent times, Steven Davis, Nacho Novo and Kenny Miller have all earned their stripes with match-winning displays.

Celtic loan signings Robbie Keane, Edson Braafheid and Diomansy Kamara are in line for their Old Firm debuts and the stakes could not be higher.

"It's a great derby to win, you've got bragging rights and you can go out with your head held high," added Boyd. "I'm never very good at predictions, but Celtic need to win this and I'll go for a 2-1 away win."

Paterson adds: "My first Old Firm game was a League Cup final defeat. You think you've felt low before, but this was the ultimate: then, to go back the following season and beat Celtic, you experience the ultimate high.

"There's a huge gap between the two and, once you've sampled defeat, it's not something you want to taste too often. I've got a funny feeling it might be the legendary 1-1 draw.

"It's very difficult to split these teams; let's hope it's some magic we're talking about and not the man in the middle, who so often has a big part to play in this fixture."



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see also
Laudrup's Old Firm memories
26 Feb 10 |  Rangers
McDonald misses Rangers tussles
26 Feb 10 |  Celtic
Laudrup tipping Rangers for title
25 Feb 10 |  Rangers
McDonald backs Old Firm referee
26 Feb 10 |  Celtic
Doddsy's SPL predictions
27 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
Chick Young's view
22 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
Hartson shocked by ref row timing
25 Feb 10 |  Celtic
Old Firm ref not fazed by furore
25 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
McAvennie fears for Old Firm men
24 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
Keane says pressure is on Rangers
21 Feb 10 |  Celtic


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