Football: Celtic buoyed by firm belief: James Traynor analyses the shifting fortunes of the Glasgow rivals

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The Independent Online
CELTIC supporters will flood into their rented accommodation, Hampden Park, this afternoon buoyed by a belief that their turn in purgatory is about to end. The fact they are about to become key factors in another of those desperately intense occasions, the season's second Old Firm encounter, will not make them break stride.

These fans have been denied the taste of success for five years during which time their club has fallen behind Rangers. The traditional enemy have spent more than pounds 20m on players in the past eight years, yet Celtic's followers are convinced their time has come again.

The cause of Celtic's well-being - their resurrection, if you like - is down to one man, manager Tommy Burns who arrived from Kilmarnock in the summer.

Although he would never willingly allow himself to be portrayed as a saviour, the players have responded to him in a way that has transformed most of them from the people who failed Liam Brady and Lou Macari, the previous Celtic managers, so miserably.

Yet, there may be no great secret to the instant success Burns is enjoying.

He is fiercely committed to Celtic, for whom he played for 17 years since he was 15, and his passion for the club has swamped the dressing room. 'He is with us. You can feel the enthusiasm and understanding oozing from him,' said Charlie Nicholas, one of the game's veterans of whom a touch of cynicism might have been expected.

Burns is also acutely concerned about the game in general and in this respect he is similar to Walter Smith, his opposite number at Ibrox, but both will shelve their concerns over Scottish football's falling standards for a 90 frantic minutes today. This time most of the pressure is on Rangers, who have been unable to harness their best form this season.

Last Wednesday, Celtic won a turgid, hard fought Coca-Cola Cup semi-final against Aberdeen to reach their first final since 1990 and with Raith Rovers, a First Division team, in next month's final it seems Burns is about to end his club's barren spell. By way of contrast Smith's side, who have won the Premier Division championship six successive times, are being rebuilt in the wake of their damaging failure to qualify for the Champions' League.

However, because of their European failure, the club reckon they have lost the potential to generate pounds 5m which means Smith must move players on to raise capital, but other clubs are showing little interest in his ageing employees. However, last week he was able to sign Alan McLaren, Hearts' Scottish international defender, by scraping up pounds 1.25m and also handing over central defender Dave McPherson.

McLaren will make his Old Firm debut today in a defence which is missing the injured Richard Gough and which will also be without Craig Moore who is suspended. On the plus side there is a chance that Ally McCoist, Rangers' most prolific ever goal-scorer, will return after months on the sidelines fretting over a troublesome calf injury. Last night his chances were evens and 17-year-old Brian McGinty was on standby, but if ever Rangers needed McCoist's predatory instincts it is now.

James Traynor writes for the Herald, Glasgow

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