Rangers and Celtic meet in the second Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox on Saturday – and the result could go a long way to determining the destination of the Premiership title.
Connor Goldson’s double gave Rangers the bragging rights back in October and the Light Blues have gone from strength to strength since then, while the Hoops suffered a major wobble during a miserable run that saw them win just twice in 12 games.
Here PA takes a look at the big talking points ahead of the match:
Neil Lennon’s date with destiny
The Celtic boss has doused the flames of protest that were sparked as his side lurched from one humiliating result to another, leaving their dreams of 10-in-a-row hanging by a thread and European ambitions ruined. The angry mob that gathered outside Celtic Park following the shock Betfred Cup defeat to Ross County have fallen back after seeing Lennon stabilise results, with the quadruple treble secured amid a run of seven games without defeat. But lose at Ibrox and the fans’ fury will return with a vengeance. Defeat does not appear to be an option for the Northern Irishman.
Time for Gers to show staying power
🎙️ SG: We've obviously had success on previous seasons in this fixture then not built upon it. Hopefully, we can continue our rhythm after this fixture.— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) January 1, 2021
Ibrox boss Steven Gerrard has emerged victorious in both of his previous two festive Old Firm clashes but he has not been able to translate those wins into sustained success. Twice Rangers have gone into the winter break on the high of derby delight only to freeze on their return to action. They do not have that issue to face this term after the Covid-19 crisis forced Premiership chiefs to axe the January shutdown but Gerrard knows his side will have to silence their doubters who are expecting his side to run out of steam yet again. Victory, however, will put the Light Blues 19 points clear and while Celtic still have three games in hand, it is hard to see how they could throw away that kind of lead.
Old guard or new blood for Hoops?
Lennon stuck by the majority of the players who have guided the Parkhead side to unprecedented success in recent years during last month’s William Hill Scottish Cup triumph over Hearts, with Scott Brown leading his side out at Hampden. But Brown has only managed 10 minutes of action since then because of injury and Ismaila Soro continues to put in displays which suggest he is a more energetic option than Lennon’s captain, having also opened his club account during Wednesday’s win over Dundee United. In defence, Lennon will also face a big call over who to start with Christopher Jullien set to be ruled out after a nasty collision with a goalpost. Shane Duffy is the more natural defender but the Irishman was left on the bench against United as Lennon turned to Nir Bitton instead when Jullien was stretchered off.
Old Firm specialist Ryan Kent may have to wait his turn
Rangers may have put together a blemish-free start to the Premiership campaign so far but the league leaders have still had to contend with form issues among their key men. Alfredo Morelos only ended a three-month scoring drought in the league on Wednesday as he finally netted against St Mirren. And Ryan Kent was benched for that 2-0 win in Paisley after seeing his early-season productivity drop off rapidly in recent weeks. The £7million recruit from Liverpool is something of a derby specialist having netted twice at Celtic Park but his touch was again out when he come on as a substitute against Saints and Gerrard insists he will not let sentiment sway his team selection this weekend.
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