Hartson happy to turn attention away from derby goal record and back to Celtic's title ambitions

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The Independent Football

"The older you get, the wiser you get." That new year reflection offered up yesterday did not come from some venerable figure, but John Hartson. The Wales striker is only 27, although the early breakthrough in his career often adds years to him in some people's minds.

All too often, it seems, Hartson has suffered from incorrect opinions. Yesterday he was fending off suggestions that he should conjure up a celebration that involved him touching his knee if he has the final say in yet another Old Firm encounter.

Celtic's robust frontman is in pursuit today of a fifth successive goal in Scottish Premier League derbies between the sides, yet he will settle for someone else taking over the role of Rangers' torturer if it means securing the victory which would put clear green water between the leaders and their great rivals in the title race.

Hartson is more concerned with opening up an 11-point gap at the top, and extending Celtic's remarkable run this season, than any quest for retribution on the club which failed to sign him on the evidence of an insubstantial medical. Hartson, in fact, disputes the term "medical" for the examination he allegedly failed at Ibrox in August 2000 which scuppered a £7m move from Wimbledon to Rangers.

Instead, he arrived in Glasgow a year later. On the other side of the city. Martin O'Neill paid a million pounds less and got twice the player. The Celtic manager's talent for rejuvenating players is vividly illustrated by Hartson, whose rude health and 25 goals last season were interrupted only by a back injury sustained after scoring against Rangers in the final derby that wrecked his dream of playing in the Uefa Cup final.

Hartson has rammed in the point, frequently, that Rangers blundered. But he does so quietly. "I am too old for that [celebrations]," he said. "I might have done it eight or nine years ago but the best way to rub people's noses in it, is to score."

This season, it is another O'Neill work-in-progress, Chris Sutton, who is getting the goals. The former Blackburn Rovers striker is joint-top scorer with Henrik Larsson on 19, but Sutton says the overriding characteristic of this Celtic side - which is seeking an 18th successive League win to set a club record - is that it is "unselfish".

Hartson would agree. "This game is too big for anyone to worry about goals or records," he said. "It means too much to the fans and to the League race to be worried about personal achievements. I played in the north London derby for Arsenal against Tottenham but this is much bigger. I enjoy scoring against Rangers but I will be just as happy if someone gets the winner in this game. We all work for each other and we have worked very hard to get an eight-point lead over Rangers, so we don't want to give it up."

Neither do Rangers. The title, that is. However, those at Ibrox know that that defeat at Parkhead would leave a massive task on their hands or retaining the championship they snatched from their rivals on goal difference last May.

"I would not say the title would be done and dusted if we lost, but it would give us a hell of a mountain to climb," Craig Moore said. The Rangers captain is back after a hamstring injury that saw him limp off at Old Trafford as Rangers' Champions' League ambitions evaporated in early November. A similar scenario in the East End of Glasgow would see the domestic ones narrowed, too.

Gavin Rae, signed in mid-week from Dundee, may be kept out of his debut by a hamstring injury while Celtic may be without Johan Mjallby after he picked up an injury in training.

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