Former Rangers midfielder Greg Docherty predicts Saturday’s unique behind-closed-door Old Firm battle might just have the perfect conditions to see a rare game of football break out.
Meetings between Glasgow’s big two are usually not for the faint-hearted, with meaty challenges roared on as loudly as goals amid the frenzy of a powder-keg atmosphere.
But it will be a significantly different occasion on Saturday as Steven Gerrard takes his Light Blues across the city to face Neil Lennon’s champions for the first time this season at Celtic Park.
Covid-19 restrictions mean the clash will be played in front of an empty stadium and while Celtic may be hunting down 10-in-a-row, Docherty reckons football will be the real winner this weekend as he forecasts an end-to-end classic encounter.
Docherty – who joined Hull earlier this summer – told the PA news agency: “It will be so weird for the players walking out of the tunnel to be met with silence. Usually as you run out you get hit by this wall of colour and noise.
“It’s going to be a totally different derby experience, even if a lot of the guys will be now getting used to playing without fans.
“But I think it could end up being a really high-scoring affair – it could end up looking like a basketball game.
“When Rangers go to Celtic Park, their fans are normally outnumbered eight to one but I don’t think you’ll see one team being forced to sit back while the other dominates because Celtic are at home.
“I think instead you’ll see a game that’s end to end, where both teams just go at each other.
“In the Old Firms I played in, the first five or 10 minutes were all about the first tackle and trying to win your battles before the game eventually settled down.
“That stuff will still be there – you’ll never lose that.
“The majority of both squads have played in these matches so they know what it’s all about.
“But it will be different. From a Rangers point of view, when Celtic are attacking you’d usually face a huge roar coming at you with 50-odd thousand willing the ball into the net. You won’t have that this time.
“In the derbies I watched from down in England so far, they have all been pretty high scoring with a few upsets and results you don’t expect thrown in.
“Maybe Saturday will see a lot more football played purely because it will be come down to who is the best team on the day.”
Gerrard has previously questioned his team’s ability to cope with pressure, leading some to suggest the stadium lockdown measures favour Gers this term.
But Docherty does not buy into that theory, saying: “Regardless of how the fans react at times when you don’t play well, the players would still rather have them there because there’s so much at stake this season.
“Rangers have mostly killed games off early but there are times when you need a goal and the fans do help to suck the ball over the line.
“As I say, we haven’t seen Rangers really struggle yet this term but I think that is more to do with how well the team has been playing than the situation with the fans.”
Saturday offers Alfredo Morelos yet another chance to finally break his Old Firm duck.
The Colombian has failed to net in any of his 12 appearances against the Hoops so far – yet has topped the Ibrox scoring charts for the past three seasons.
The difference this term, according to Docherty, is that Rangers are no longer reliant on the striker to fire them out of trouble.
“The clean sheet record has been massive for Rangers this season,” he said. “Teams don’t even look like scoring against them most of the time.
“A lot of players are also hitting form for Rangers and they’re spreading the goals about. James Tavernier’s goal record is outrageous right now but we’ve also Ryan Kent, Ianis Hagi, Brandon Barker and Scotty Arfield chipping in.
“So the threat is coming from all areas. If anything, it’s the strikers who have not contributed as much as they’d want this season.”
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