Few handshakes in Old Firm meetings with slighted clubs

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The Independent Football

A sense of atonement is high on the agenda this weekend as the Scottish Premier League contemplates two confrontations which possess the potential to send the year out on an explosive high.

The SPL could not have foreseen the intrigue when it earmarked Celtic against Hibernian or Dundee facing Rangers on the last date on their calendar. Neither host is particularly happy with their respective visitors.

Celtic are still deeply upset by the accusation from Hibernian's Grant Brebner that they were guilty of bad sportsmanship after the Edinburgh club knocked Martin O'Neill's team out of the CIS Insurance Cup nine days ago.

Dundee cannot even afford pride these days. However, even a club whose very future is in doubt know when they are being insulted, which is how Jim Duffy described an attempt by Rangers to "buy" Gavin Rae for just £50,000 when the fee for the £1m-rated Scotland midfielder is already knocked down to a quarter of that value by the club's administrator.

With such a backdrop, neither Parkhead today, nor Dens Park tomorrow, will lack an edge to proceedings. Celtic hold an eight-point lead over Rangers and their supporters secretly hope that Dundee can inflict further damage to their rivals ahead of the Old Firm derby on 3 January.

However, while Celtic are unbeaten in the league, their reaction to losing their domestic record at Easter Road has been defended by their manager. O'Neill's response to Brebner's claim that his players refused to shake hands after the cup upset was typically tongue-in-cheek.

"The Hibs players were actually celebrating in all four corners of the pitch, so maybe they did not get a chance to shake our players' hands," O'Neill said. "Hibs were quite right to go over to celebrate with their fans - but it would not be our players' position to wait around for them to finish."

Celtic's wilful display in winning at Motherwell last Sunday illustrated that they had recovered from that dent to their pride in Edinburgh. The other recovery involves Henrik Larsson, who went off at Fir Park after just 40 minutes but has overcome his back problem to play today as he prepares to start his final year in Celtic's colours.

Even O'Neill's persuasive powers have done little to make the Swede think again about remaining at Parkhead once his contract expires in the summer. "If Henrik is clear in his own mind that he is going, then we just have to accept that."

At Dens Park, however, meek acceptance is not on Duffy's mind. The Dundee manager has branded Rangers' attempt to steal Rae, whose sale in the transfer window will hand vital revenue to a club that is £20m in debt, a "disgrace."

"It was a derisory offer and a disgraceful attempt to manipulate our circumstances," Duffy said. "It's embarrassing for a club of Rangers' stature. I've said £250,000 is Gavin's price. For that you get a 25-year-old Scotland player who played against Holland in the Euro 2004 play-offs. I could not cut the price any more."