Walter Smith says his 100 per cent record as the Rangers manager over Gordon Strachan's Celtic since he returned to Ibrox last year will have no bearing on tonight's Old Firm match at Celtic Park.
Maybe not, but the stakes on a Glasgow derby have rarely been higher. The league title is effectively up for grabs and the pressure is all on Celtic. Rangers have won four out of four against their city rivals without conceding since Smith began his second spell in charge. Victory tonight would put Rangers seven points clear of Celtic in the Scottish Premier League with two games in hand. After tonight Rangers have seven SPL games left, Celtic five.
If Celtic win, the deficit will be a single point, albeit with Rangers having played two fewer games, and a comeback would be more feasible, not least because Celtic host Rangers again later this month.
Smith is taking nothing for granted. "I don't think that the previous matches really have that much of an influence on the Old Firm games," he said. "If I look at my own team, we are more confident now but not because of results against Celtic, but because the team has settled down and are doing well on all fronts at the moment."
The CIS Cup is already in the trophy room. Rangers are favourites for the Scottish Cup, with a semi-final against First Division St Johnstone on Sunday, then, probably, a final against Queen of the South of the First Division.
Smith's side are also in the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup and seeking an unprecedented quadruple. And even with Celtic's home advantage in the two remaining SPL Old Firm games, Rangers are 1-8 favourites for the league before kick-off tonight.
"We have gained in confidence over a season, but Celtic had that confidence to start with because they are the champions and had qualified for the Champions League two years in a row," Smith said. "So I don't think the previous games [with them] are any great indicator of how any one of the Old Firm games are going to go."
Rangers' Kevin Thomson, who scored the winner against Celtic in the last game, on 29 March, is suspended, but Smith has no new injury worries. He rested seven players at the weekend in the cup and most should return – including the captain, Barry Ferguson – in a line-up virtually guaranteed to have only one recognised striker at most, probably Jean-Claude Darcheville. Charlie Adam and DaMarcus Beasley both remain on the sidelines with knee injuries.
Pragmatic, maybe, but it has been effective in a run of 27 games in all competitions where the only defeat was a 1-0 Uefa Cup loss to Werder Bremen that ended in an aggregate win.
Celtic have an injury worry over Paul Hartley. The midfielder has a slight strain but Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager, expects him to recover. They will, though, be without Scott Brown, who is suspended. Their on-loan striker Georgios Samaras said: "We are sure we are going to win.... We will try 100 per cent to win and try to win the title."Reuse content