Neil Lennon has denied that familiarity breeds contempt as his Celtic side prepare to play Rangers tonight, the second Old Firm derby in 11 days. The sides meet at Celtic Park in a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay, having previously drawn 2-2 at Ibrox on 6 February. They also met less than a fortnight ago in the league, a game Celtic won 3-0.
When asked about the controversy that surrounds the contest, particularly given recent animosity between his midfielder Scott Brown and Rangers' El Hadji Diouf, Celtic manager Lennon just spoke positively about the prospects for the match. "It is one of the great fixtures in football," he said, "leave it at that." Earlier this week, Police Federation chairman Les Gray suggested that abandoning the Old Firm fixture was the only way to stop the "murder and mayhem", which regularly follows games.
The draw last month was notable for Celtic captain Brown celebrating his goal by standing, arms out-stretched, in front of Diouf, who was then making his Rangers debut. Kyle Bartley, on loan at Ibrox, spoke out against Brown. "Not many people at Rangers get on with Scott Brown," he revealed, "and I'm not his biggest fan so we will see what happens in the next game."
Lennon, however, believes that no special instructions are required for his captain. "He doesn't need me to say anything to him," said Lennon. "Scotty can look after himself and has proved that this season. There will be no special talk about that. Players know that discipline is important in these games but they should relish the challenge."
Celtic lost 2-0 to Motherwell on Sunday but Lennon is hoping for better this evening. "[The league win over Rangers] is only 10 days ago so it will be fresh in their minds," he said yesterday. "I want to see that hunger again. There was an intensity to their play that wasn't really evident on Sunday. So we are looking for a positive reaction. The players didn't do themselves justice at Motherwell and they know that."