Walter Smith believes nerves will begin to kick in for both halves of the Old Firm this week as they continue their rival challenges for the Scottish Premier League title.
Rangers and Celtic have both scraped unconvincing victories in the SPL in recent weeks, with a single point all that separates the Glasgow giants at the summit. Despite the nature of those narrow wins, Smith does not reckon too many jitters have been evident so far but admits that could all be about to change with the final Old Firm derby of the season looming this weekend.
Asked if he was aware of an increase in tension and anxiety, the Rangers manager said yesterday: "I think we will start to experience that now. I don't think we have witnessed a great deal of that so far. It's part and parcel of getting to this stage of the season. It happens if your team is fortunate enough to be involved in attempting to win a championship or your team are fighting relegation – there is a nervous aspect that has to be overcome."
A large number of the Rangers squad have been involved in delivering the SPL crown in the last two seasons and Smith added: "You always hope the experience will be a good thing for you. But Celtic have a freshness about them that can counter that bit of experience we've got. It comes down to how we do and how we handle the matches. The old managerial adage of taking one game at a time is exactly what you have to do at this stage of the season."
Before the visit of Celtic on Sunday, Rangers travel to Tannadice to take on Dundee United tonight, but Smith does not believe the next seven days will necessarily be the most crucial week in the title race. "I hope not, in the sense that we would hope to get through this week and have vital games to come in the future," he said. "As we get to this stage, each of the games you play become important in the run-in. Dundee United have beaten us at Ibrox recently, so we don't need to be reminded of the difficulties of going to Tannadice. It will be an extremely difficult match for us."
Rangers blew the chance to move top of the SPL when they suffered that 3-2 defeat to United earlier this month. Smith said: "It's not so much about revenge – it's just getting back to a situation where we hope to make up for that defeat. It was a costly one for us, in the sense that we could have gone to the top of the league in our own right and managed to stay there with the results we have had since that game.
"I just hope we can show good form. It was actually a very good game at Ibrox and we were disappointed with the manner in which we lost the last goal. There was slackness on our own part and a bit of desperation to try to win the game. We will need to make up for that."
Shaun Maloney's tap-in for Celtic against Aberdeen on Sunday was possibly the easiest goal of his career but few have been more enjoyable. Maloney came off the bench to net the final goal in Celtic's 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final triumph at Hampden.
Celtic have seven matches left in the SPL, starting with a trip to Kilmarnock tomorrow. Maloney said: "It was a pretty easy finish in the end but it was just very enjoyable, and anything I can do to help with the result is a massive bonus. Every game, there is so much riding on it. We would much rather be in a position like this than we were at this time last season."