Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, does not expect to have Madjid Bougherra available for this week's Old Firm derby despite reports to the contrary.
The defender was in fine form again yesterday as the Scottish champions overcame the shock of conceding after 12 seconds to secure a 4-1 win over Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League. Reports originating from Algeria suggested Bougherra had been given permission to face Celtic on Sunday before joining up with the rest of the national squad ahead of the African Nations Cup. But, as far as Smith is concerned, the influential centre-half will only be available for Wednesday's game against Dundee United before joining up with his countrymen. "That's the way it's looking at the present moment," Smith said.
Rangers also look set to be without DaMarcus Beasley for the next few weeks after he suffered an injury in training that kept him out of the game at Easter Road. Better news for Smith is the form of his two strikers, Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller, with both on the score sheet again against Hibs as Rangers took their goals tally to an impressive 19 in five December games. "They are playing very well just now," said Smith. "They are doing well in all aspects of their game for the team and they are still managing to get goals, which is a good thing for us."
Hibs enjoyed a dream start when Anthony Stokes netted the fastest ever SPL goal. But a double from Miller and goals from Boyd and Nacho Novo allowed Rangers to claim another emphatic win, with Hibs manager John Hughes now conceding his side have no hope of challenging for the title this season.
"We got some answers today and possibly the biggest is that we can't match the Old Firm, which is disappointing," Hughes said.
Celtic failed to impress as they made hard work of beating Hamilton 2-0 at Celtic Park on Boxing Day. Glenn Loovens put them ahead in the 13th minute but it needed a late goal from Niall McGinn to seal the points for the Bhoys.
Hamilton's Flavio Paixao had a goal disallowed for handball when the score was 1-0 and the Celtic manager Tony Mowbray claimed that for once, his side got the "rub of the green", presumably with no pun intended. He said: "The referee gave the foul right away but I think it was a bit harsh. We haven't had much rub of the green this season so we will happily take that one."
Elsewhere, managerless Dundee United were held to a scoreless draw at home by Kilmarnock and Hearts won 1-0 at Falkirk.