Make or break time for Celtic

Scottish football
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The Independent Online
Scottish football

DAVID McKINNEY

Amid the tension and hype of an Old Firm occasion there is an inbuilt temptation to over-dramatise a meeting of Scotland's big two, and in particular the new year fixture.

This is one game which retains the magic, the drama, the out-of-control emotions and the fear that following one of these teams can inflict upon the faithful. For Celtic supporters especially, Wednesday's match at Celtic Park could make or break their season. It has been eight years since those fans have heralded in the new year with a win over the great enemy; a 2-0 win achieved by goals from Frank McAvennie in a season which saw them win their last championship.

If the Parkhead fans can see improvement and renewed hope with the form of their side under Tommy Burns, Celtic's achievement in keeping within touching distance of Rangers this time will serve as a warning for the seven-times champions who are chasing Celtic's record nine consecutive titles.

Richard Gough, the Rangers captain, stands firm in asserting that his side have no intentions of allowing anyone, far less Celtic, to overtake them. That fact was underlined on Saturday as Rangers hammered seven goals past Hibernian and Jim Leighton - an embarrassing scoreline for the Edinburgh club who are third in the league, but a timely reminder to the rest of of where the powerhouse in the game remains.

Only Celtic, it would seem, have the resources and ability to compete with Rangers this season yet Gough insisted: "Celtic know deep down that if they want to win the championship they will have to master us, and that won't be easy. They have been praised for the way they've been playing and we have been criticised, yet we're the team that's ahead."

Eight points ahead to be precise, and although he is desperate for a win on Wednesday, Billy Stark, the Celtic assistant manager, knows his side have two games in hand so they need not panic. "There will be mind games played in the heads of the players before the end of the season, but we have to remember that we only get three points from this game, the same as any other," he said.

The power of this fixture is evident from Rangers' 4-2 win two years ago which proved a turning point in the removal of the old Celtic board, and Celtic will be hoping this new year game will herald a new change in .

While Scotland's big two prepare for Wednesday, the rest of has effectively been frozen out due to the weather with only two games, including the Hibernian-Heart of Midlothian Edinburgh derby, going ahead today - the other being Queen's Park against Albion Rovers.

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