Perfect starts put at risk by first Old Firm showdown

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The Independent Football

Something has to give. In the blue corner, Rangers have eight Scottish Premier League wins out of eight and are unbeaten in three Champions League games as well.

In the green, Celtic have eight SPL wins out of eight under the fledgling stewardship of Neil Lennon. Tomorrow's lunchtime encounter at Celtic Park will mark the first Old Firm meeting of the season and for all the duopoly they have enjoyed in Scotland, rarely have the two carried such emphatic form into the game.

More than ever it seems as if the Old Firm contests will decide the destination of the title, Walter Smith's 10th or Lennon's first. They are already 11 points clear of Motherwell in third. "I don't remember being eight games into the season before and going into an Old Firm match and neither team having dropped points," said Smith, who took charge of his first derby in 1991 en route to winning the first of seven successive titles.

"Unless someone can tell me differently, it's the first time that has happened. Maybe this season's four Old Firm matches will take on an added importance. There are certain to be points dropped over the season but maybe not as many as we have seen in the past."

In contrast to the Rangers manager, Lennon is in his first full season in charge of Celtic and has ushered his side quickly into its stride despite wholesale changes that saw eight new players arrive in the summer. "Give Neil credit, he made a very brave decision to turn around a whole bunch of players," said Smith. "Normally it would take a bit of time to settle in."

But for all the sound and Glaswegian fury surrounding the game, it is a fixture that Smith will not miss once he retires in the summer. "Not really, no," he said. "I must admit, it's a kind of nervy day."