Football: Ibrox is no place for `crazed Red Indians'

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The Independent Online
Number nine will be uppermost in the minds of those players in the Old Firm match at Ibrox today when Rangers will attempt to take a major step towards equalling Celtic's record of nine consecutive championships, established under Jock Stein.

Victory for Walter Smith's side would increase their lead over Celtic, who have two games in hand, to 14 points. Furthermore, it would be Rangers' ninth fixture without defeat against their old rivals.

It is a game which Celtic need to win if they are to start making serious inroads into Rangers' lead but their manager, Tommy Burns, has stressed the need for caution in a game which will be watched live by a crowd of 51,000 and millions of satellite TV viewers. "It is a question of being calm for us going into this game," Burns said. "We don't want to go there like crazed Red Indians."

Celtic have been dealt 10 red cards this season with Burns himself reported by the referee, Hugh Dallas, in the last derby match in November.

Burns is considering a change of tactics after falling foul of Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne in the past 18 months. All the signs are that Celtic will sit back in front of a three-man defence, looking to catch Rangers on the break. Yet there may be no starting place for the Dutch striker, Pierre van Hooijdonk, who is expected to return home in the near future and join either Feyenoord or PSV Eindhoven.

Celtic are expected to recall Jackie McNamara with Andreas Thom also in contention, while Paul McStay, the captain, will surely take his place after his comeback against Dunfermline last Saturday.

Rangers' line-up looks easier to predict with the Swedish defender Joachim Bjorklund likely to return, even though he has not had a reserve outing, after missing seven matches because of a hamstring injury. He was due to play at Kilmarnock last Saturday until that game was postponed and could now join Alan McLaren and Richard Gough in a three-man defence with Paul Gascoigne, Jorg Albertz and Ian Ferguson in midfield and Ally McCoist and Brian Laudrup in attack.

"Rangers have got stronger and stronger over the last six or seven years," Burns said. "We came from fourth or fifth in the Premier League to within four points of the title last season. Other people forget that but it hasn't bypassed me. Rangers have set unbelievable standards over the last couple of years but so have we. Perseverance is a great thing and we'll keep asking questions of them until the door opens.

"If we win we will get a huge lift from it but we would only get three points. What we want most is something in the trophy cabinet at the end of the season. We won't get that if we win at Ibrox, just three points."

Asked if composure would be needed amid the new year mayhem, Burns replied: "Yes. That is the most important element, both in life never mind Old Firm matches."

He denied that he felt intimidated by Rangers' run of success against his club, which includes five defeats, two of them this season. "I don't feel any frustration," he said. "We have learned to step away from that. We've met them twice this season and played well in both games.

"At Ibrox the last time we hit the bar and the post and a decision early on went against us. We deserved something from that game after losing a player [Tosh McKinlay] shortly before half-time.

"At Parkhead in November, Laudrup went up the park a couple of times and scored once. We got caught too far up the field pushing for a goal but it was understandable with 50,000 screaming for you to score. We must learn from that."

Smith would not go as far as to say victory for Rangers would all but wrap up the title, but was in no doubt about the significance of one over the old enemy today.

"A lot of people have maintained that the Old Firm games are decisive in the championship," he said. "If that is the case, we have won two of the four games already and if we can win this one we'll be in a strong position."