Football: Celtic look to Viduka to keep their season afloat

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The Independent Online
AS SOMEONE who spent last Christmas loafing on an Australian beach, Mark Viduka appreciates more than most the need to catch the right wave. The laid-back striker will face the crucial test of his short Celtic career today when he must prove he can cope with the bigger ripples in the Scottish Premier League.

Viduka's 18 goals this season are very laudable, but hat-tricks against Aberdeen are not the same as taming Rangers. The Australian international has yet to find the net in three Old Firm appearances so far and needs to use the Glasgow derby at Parkhead to prove he operates at the deeper end of the pond too.

Most of the 60,000 spectators (Celtic's 53,000 season ticket holders means only 7,000 spaces for Rangers fans) are looking to the man who has filled the void since the talismanic striker Henrik Larsson's abrupt removal from the season. So too, do his team-mates. "Mark is playing very well," said Stilian Petrov, Celtic's Bulgarian midfielder, "and we will need him to be at his best against Rangers.

"I think he is the form player in Scotland at the moment. If he plays the way he has been recently, then he will cause Rangers problems."

However, that fact is not lost on the man who will be marking Viduka, his compatriot Craig Moore, whose form since returning from Crystal Palace last April has completely overhauled the image of a central defender who was ridiculed before he left for England.

"I have known Mark since he was 17," said the Australian international defender, "and I am not surprised at how well he has coped since Larsson's injury. A lot has rested on Mark's shoulders but he has led the line well."

John Barnes' team must win to cut the gap to one point going into the SPL's winter shutdown. Defeat would leave a seven-point chasm, with Rangers also having a game in hand.

However, Barnes insisted the objective must be pursued without the inflammable spirit which saw two Celtic players sent off when Rangers last visited Parkhead, that turbulent evening last May, when they won 3-0 to clinch the title.

"We need 11 players on the pitch and its important that we have clear heads," said the Celtic coach. "If you don't have a clear head, then you are not focused and you cannot do the right things to win the match."

His counterpart, Dick Advocaat, however, feels that is not possible in such a hostile environment. "I had derbies in Holland but you cannot compare them to a Celtic-Rangers game."