Caldwell calls on Celtic to show superiority

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The Independent Football

Gordon Strachan would scoff, and rightly so, at the suggestion that his job as Celtic's manager is on the line prior to lunchtime's Old Firm derby at Ibrox. With two SPL titles in the last two years, and two domestic cups, plus two consecutive advancements to the Champions League knockout stages, there should be mountains of goodwill in the bank.

So a P45 by teatime is not on the cards. But this is the Old Firm. A season without a trophy is a stain. Celtic's only hope of silverware is in the league. Just as bad, from their fans' point of view, Rangers are still on course for a domestic and European quadruple. One defeat means a step on a slippery slope.

The table alone shows why today's game is the most significant and eagerly awaited derby in years. Rangers top it, by three points and with a game in hand on second-placed Celtic, who are 19 points clear of Dundee United.

Rangers have 10 games remaining, Celtic nine. They must play each other three more times, today and then twice at Celtic Park. All other things being equal, Celtic realistically need to win two and draw one of these games to win the title. Twists and turns elsewhere are sure to skew that view, but what happens at Ibrox today could have a massive bearing on Strachan.

Victory will leave him and his stuttering team back in the chase in earnest, full of hope that he can become the first Celtic manager since Jock Stein to land three titles in a row. Lose, and the "crisis" that Strachan has been playing down will start to bite. Failing to win the SPL is unlikely to get him the sack, but it would certainly put him on notice early next season, if the stick and pressure have not already made him seek a fresh challenge.

The recent difference between two sides who are far from glittering in approach has been results. Rangers have won 12 SPL games in a row. Celtic were on their own good run until exiting Europe against Barcelona, and then dropped league points at home to Dundee United, lost on home turf to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, and were laboured in beating a crumbling Gretna last week.

Celtic's Gary Caldwell said yesterday that Celtic are a better team than Rangers despite the points difference. "We have players who can hurt teams and it's about getting those players on the ball in areas to do that," he said.

He might be right, but Celtic recently have added up to less than the sum of their parts, while Rangers under Smith have done the opposite. Rangers have been dogged, perhaps, with a priority on not conceding, but they have kept winning.

All four Rangers players who missed Scotland's midweek draw with Croatia, injured, will return today, and all – Barry Ferguson, Lee McCulloch, Christian Dailly and Allan McGregor – should start. Celtic's Barry Robson, another midweek absentee, is available too, while four Scotland players who did feature – Stephen McManus, Paul Hartley, Gary Caldwell and Scott Brown – are also expected to play.

Since Smith returned to Rangers last year, they have won all three derbies, without conceding. But as Caldwell said yesterday: "Defeat is never an option in an Old Firm game." Which is why the match holds such promise for neutrals.

Uefa is examining video footage appearing to show Celtic supporters involved in sectarian chanting in Barcelona earlier this month. "If the investigation is conclusive, then a disciplinary case would be opened," a spokesman said.

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