Boyd matures on and off the pitch
Rangers 1 Hibernian 0
Monday 22 December 2008
The build-up to Saturday's Old Firm match will focus on two players, one of whom, Celtic's Aiden McGeady, will not even be involved because he has been dropped for a fortnight for bad behaviour by Gordon Strachan.
Celtic fans are split on the issue, with pro-McGeady and pro-Strachan camps respectively arguing for the merits of flair and discipline. The debate will continue up to kick-off, throughout the game and afterwards.
The other player is Kris Boyd, whose winner for Rangers on Saturday was the catalyst for the first Happy Christmas headlines of the festive season.
The goal should earn Boyd a starting place in an Old Firm match under Walter Smith for only the second time in what will be the eighth derby since Smith returned to Ibrox in January 2007.
Smith believed the enigmatic 25-year-old to be too flaky in big games to play him in any of the last five meetings with Celtic. But since Boyd announced on 12 October he would not make himself available again for Scotland under George Burley he seems to have matured, on and off the pitch, and become a more consistent all-round contributor. Boyd himself says he is doing nothing different and that he has nothing to prove to anyone, but Smith is among those who have noticed a change. A previous cockiness in Boyd is giving way to something approaching humility.
Hence after Rangers had huffed and puffed (Boyd's words, and accurate) against a Hibernian team who, on this day, were dogged but limited, he admitted he should actually have scored twice, and deflected all praise to his team-mates. "My goals are down to the amount of chances being created for me," he said.
Saturday's winner was from an overhead kick that was the single best piece of skill in the game. It was Boyd's 18th goal in 18 starts this season in all competitions, and 16th in the Scottish Premier League, to take his SPL career tally to 131. Boyd is on track to overtake the all-time leader, Henrik Larsson, who hit SPL 158 goals, sometime next season.
Smith was asked if Boyd could now be trusted to start an Old Firm game and the manager said: "He's scoring all the time and hopefully that can continue." If Boyd does not get picked, he would have every right to feel aggrieved. He is holding up his part of a bargain.
In search of a way to wound Burley with a flounce, he actually stumbled on a mission of self-improvement. Perhaps McGeady can learn a lesson or two from that. Boyd seems, in all ways, less self-regarding these days. He could not even recall on Saturday whether he had scored in six consecutive games before, as he now has. For the record, he has done it once before, in an eight-match scoring run that comprised 13 goals in his last seven games for Kilmarnock in 2005 and his Rangers debut in January 2006. A repeat could not be more timely.
Goal: Boyd (61) 1-0.
Rangers (4-4-2): McGregor; Whittaker, Broadfoot, Weir, Papac; Davis, Ferguson, Mendes, Lafferty; Miller (Novo, 74), Boyd. Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), McCulloch, Beasley, Dailly, Niguez, Fleck.
Hibernian (4-4-2): Ma-Kalambay; Van Zanten, Hogg, Jones, Murray; Rankin, Bamba, Thicot (Yantorno, 74), O'Brien; Nish (Pinau, 51), Fletcher. Substitutes not used: McNeil (gk), Keenan, Stevenson, Chisholm, Campbell.
Referee: S Conroy (Scotland).
Booked: Hibernian: Van Zanten.
Man of the match: Mendes.
*Goals from Georgios Samaras, Koki Mizuno and Scott McDonald gave Celtic victory at Falkirk yesterday as the champions restored their lead over Rangers at the top of the SPL to four points. Samaras headed Scott McDonald's cross in just after the break. Mizuno, making his first start for the club, finished Japan international team-mate Shunsuke Nakamura's pass on 90 minutes, before McDonald sealed the win deep in stoppage time.
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