Celtic look to end era of Rangers

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The Independent Online

Tommy Burns knows how important the downfall of Rangers is to Celtic players and supporters alike, but he insisted yesterday that this should not become an obsession.

The Old Firm rivals meet at Parkhead tonight in one of the most eagerly awaited Glasgow derbies for years. Rangers, champions for the past seven seasons, take an eight-point lead into the televised fixture but Celtic have two games in hand.

Burns has guided Celtic into a rich run of form and they are better-placed now than for eight years to wrest the big prize back across the city for the first time since their last title win in 1988.

The Parkhead manager admits that ending the Ibrox dynasty should be Celtic's New Year resolution as Rangers march on towards the famous nine- in-a-row run of championship wins achieved under Jock Stein between 1966 and 1974.

"Any Celtic player would know the importance of that achievement to our supporters," Burns said. "The main ones who have been here will know it, and will reiterate it to the others.

"It's not something we should become obsessed with. The most important thing is to make progress each year. But we will do our utmost to make sure it does not happen - we want our turn of the glory."

Burns was speaking in the Parkhead boardroom from beneath a treasured photograph of Stein and the Lisbon Lions who won the European Cup in 1967 and were heavily involved in the nine-in-a-row run.

But he says stopping Rangers from matching, or even surpassing, that run could become a damaging obsession.

"It could become damaging to us. Everything would not fall apart for Celtic if we do not stop them. We are in a position of strength now and will grow by the year.

"Some people want to think that if we do not stop Rangers, Celtic will fall away, but that is nonsense. No decent supporter or self-motivated professional would allow it to become the be-all and end-all."

For now, Burns is concentrating solely on pegging back Rangers tonight and has taken a 20-man squad to Celtic's traditional retreat on the Ayrshire coast.

Peter Grant and John Hughes complete three-match suspensions which have been held over because of the postponements of games at Raith and Hearts.

Malky Mackay could make his Old Firm debut in central defence as Celtic look to avenge their only league defeat so far, a 2-0 reverse in the September derby at Parkhead. "It's a long time since we've been in contention and we aim to take it to the wire," Burns said.

The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, admits the side that wins the New Year meeting usually gains a psychological edge for the second half of the season.

Nine times in the past 10 years the Old Firm derby winners in January have gone on to take the title. Last year, it ended 1-1 as Rangers went on to take their seventh successive championship.

"The penultimate meeting of the season seems to have the biggest outcome, with whoever gets a result taking a psychological lift thereafter," Smith said.

Rangers, aiming for a hat-trick of Parkhead wins this season, have Stuart McCall out injured, but Ally McCoist could be on the bench, while Alex Cleland may return at right-back.