Bocanegra: Rangers will hold their nerve


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The Independent Football

Rangers defender Carlos Bocanegra believes there will be plenty of time for further twists in the Scottish Premier League title race no matter the result of tomorrow's Old Firm derby at Celtic.

Ally McCoist's side have seen their lead at the top of the SPL trimmed from 12 points to one by their fiercest rivals, with Celtic winning eight successive games. Rangers, who won the first derby meeting of the season 4-2 at Ibrox, are seeking to bounce back from Saturday's 2-1 defeat at St Mirren and avoid being overtaken at the league summit before the turn of the year.

United States international Bocanegra said: "Every Old Firm game is huge and I'm looking forward to testing ourselves against our biggest rivals. Any time you have a chance to get a result against [Celtic], it's a big opportunity and there was a lot of energy around the club after we won the last derby in September.

"Everyone at Rangers was happy and they all had a little pep in their step so we want to experience that sort of thing again. At the same time, there is still a long way to go this season and we're only around the halfway point at the moment.

"While this is a big game, there are a lot more points to be won and lost after this game and what happens this week will decide nothing."

Bocanegra insisted it was important to approach the fixture calmly, despite a run of three wins in six games. He added: "It is fun for the media and the fans to build up because it's an exciting game but it's up to us to prepare well mentally rather than get caught up in that. I'm certainly not going to play the fixture down but we must focus the way we would for any other game.

"We can't let all the hype get into our heads before the match because all the emotions will be there on game day."

Former Rangers manager Walter Smith hopes the Old Firm fixture can help his successor McCoist and his team rediscover the consistency that took them clear at the top of the table. Smith said: "I think an Old Firm game brings out the best in a team.

"They have had a fantastic level of consistency in the SPL and have been doing a great job there. While I know from speaking to Alistair [McCoist] that they haven't played at their best over the last few matches, an Old Firm game can maybe bring that out in them."

Being at the league summit when the calendar clicks over on New Year's Eve can be advantageous, according to Smith. He added: "If you can get in to the new year and find yourself in a good position in the championship then you can look forward, and psychologically it's a big thing."

Celtic manager Neil L ennon praised his team's character after watching further confirmation of their revival in the win against Kilmarnock on Christmas Eve. The solid performance from Celtic was in stark contrast to the Hoops' previous encounter against the Ayrshire side. Celtic had to come from three goals down at Rugby Park in October to rescue a point, and Lennon admitted afterwards that he had considered his position at the interval when his side looked down and out.

Lennon has slowly rebuilt his side's confidence and belief, but he played down the change in his own fortune from the time when his side were 15 points behind Rangers. "I don't feel any different," he said. "I am pleased the players are playing to their capabilities."