O'Neill has no illusions about Old Firm task

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Martin O'Neill's four years in Glasgow have taught him anything, it will be never to dilute the importance of the city's 116-year-old turf war. That is why the Celtic manager will be ready for a Rangers side tomorrow that is on top of the world instead of one that is consumed by its critics.

If Martin O'Neill's four years in Glasgow have taught him anything, it will be never to dilute the importance of the city's 116-year-old turf war. That is why the Celtic manager will be ready for a Rangers side tomorrow that is on top of the world instead of one that is consumed by its critics.

O'Neill knows there is no such thing as a pattern when the Old Firm meet. His first derby, in August 2000, saw a 6-2 triumph, the biggest derby win in more than 60 years. Two months later, Rangers took revenge by winning 5-1 at Ibrox. That is why O'Neill disregards Rangers' failure to qualify for the Champions' League.

Celtic won all five of the meetings last term - four in the League and one in the Scottish Cup - and could go five points clear of their rivals if they win this one.

Yet O'Neill remembers that it was not that long ago when newspapers were writing that the Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, had turned the tables on the Northern Irishman.

"Back then, we couldn't win a game, apparently," said O'Neill. "You can make statistics out of anything. I was pleased we won the games last season. Obviously they are important psychologically but it is a new season and all of that has gone. Rangers will come here with all guns blazing. I expect that from them, and I would hope they would expect us to be as well prepared as we possibly can be. I think it will be an incredible struggle."

Celtic's buoyancy could not be any greater. Not only have they won their opening three games but they have landed a mouth-watering Champions' League assignment against Barcelona and AC Milan, while Rangers have to make do with the Uefa Cup. They have also signed a World Cup winner in the past few days, though that status might not be enough to get Juninho a place in the side.

"He looked good in training and I can tell he is keen to play," said O'Neill, who has fitness doubts over Chris Sutton and Jackie McNamara.

McLeish may have felt wounded at some newspaper criticism after losing to CSKA Moscow, but publicly he refuses to show pain. "I thought the lack of respect in some papers was predictable but it is water off a duck's back," he said.

"I don't want to dwell on it. Nor do I want my players feeling sorry for themselves. I have faith in them."

Comments