McStay tries to lift Celtic

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The Independent Online
Paul McStay will lead Celtic into tomorrow's Old Firm match against Rangers with a rallying call to his team-mates that it is the crucial game of their season.

McStay insists that Celtic have made giant strides over the past 12 months, but he desperately wants a New Year win at Parkhead over their great Glasgow rivals, after two defeats and one draw in their meetings so far this season.

Rangers are eight points clear of Celtic after strengthening the claim to retain the title with Saturday's 7-0 thrashing of Hibernian. Celtic do, at least, have two games in hand.

The Celtic captain said of the Old Firm game: "I think it is very crucial - and maybe that is an understatement. It's our home game and we want to go and win it. It will be the side who wants to win it more that takes the three points. The two teams are evenly matched and I think it's all about determination on the day."

Rangers have proved the hungrier at this time of year for the past seven seasons. Their last New Year derby defeat came in 1988, when two Frank McAvennie goals helped Celtic to a 2-0 win and later the title.

While McStay acknowledges that Celtic have made considerable progress in the past year - when the sides met at Ibrox last January, Celtic were 17 points adrift of the champions - he knows that Celtic, who ended their six-year trophy famine with the Scottish Cup triumph last May, have a long way to go. "The consistency is there this season which we have lacked in recent years," he said. "But we are only halfway there and the sign of a good team is to do it over a full season. I've been happy with what has happened in 1995 at the club. I think on the park there has been a dramatic turnaround."

Celtic may well have to be at their best on Wednesday against a Rangers side going for a Parkhead hat-trick. Ally McCoist's goal settled the Coca- Cola Cup quarter-final between the sides and 11 days later Rangers won 2-0 in a League game.

Rangers have scored 10 goals in their last two games. Gordon Durie, who is under pressure from talk of the signing of new strikers, like Brazil's Jardel, has netted five of them. "There are players coming and going here all the time," Durie said. "I don't know if the Jardel deal is finalised or whatever, but I just need to keep playing away myself and do my best."

McCoist could be fit for a place on the Rangers bench, but Stuart McCall has been ruled out. Celtic will be without John Hughes and Peter Grant, who are both completing three-match suspensions. Hughes and Grant would have been available but for the postponements of fixtures at Raith on Boxing Day and Hearts last Saturday. Phil O'Donnell and Malcolm Mackay are likely to continue in their places.

Hibs take heart, page 21