Rangers v Celtic, SPL, February 28, 2010
The bottom line going into the latest Old Firm clash is that Celtic have to win to stay in contention at the top of the SPL table. Tony Mowbrayâ€™s side are seven points behind Rangers who also have a game in hand as well as a far inferior goal difference. As ever, events off the pitch surrounding these two great rivals have led to a match build-up full of intrigue. (Rangers are 1/4 to win the SPL, Celtic are 4/1.)
This is a crucial game for Mowbray, a failure to claim victory for the third time this season against Rangers would leave Celtic not only well adrift of the title but also struggling to justify what has been a huge outlay on players dwarfing their great local rivals.
Robbie Keane was the glamour signing last month and after scoring three goals in five appearances for Celtic and will be a key player at Ibrox, certainly in the eyes of the home support. Fellow January signings Diomansy Kamara, Morten Rasmussen and Edson Braafheid should also play a part and are all fine illustrations of the attacking quality available to Mowbray, nicknamed Mogga by the Scottish press. (Celtic are 8/1 to win both halves.)
A quick glance at the SPL table clearly proves the difference between these two sides. Rangers have let in just 15 goals in 2009/2010 whilst Celtic have conceded 28 and could well struggle to keep it tight on Sunday. (EVS to be over 2.5 goals.) Jos Hooiveld is a doubt so one of inexperienced duo Josh Thompson or Thomas Rogne look set to start for the Bhoys.
The pressure surrounding Celtic has been illustrated this week by the club bringing a complaint to the SFA about refereeing decisions this season. Most notably the green side of Glasgow are disappointed about decisions that went against them in the two previous Old Firm matches this season. Expect there to be plenty of pressure on referee Dougie McDonald. (4/1 to be a red card.)
Rangers meanwhile look in great shape on the pitch which contrasts sharply with the financial books off it. Walter Smithâ€™s side have now gone 17 games without defeat since losing at Sevilla in December. Kris Boyd has been in sensational goal scoring form all season and Kenny Miller is the third top goal scorer in the SPL. (Rangers are 4/1 to win both halves.)
Walter Smith has also hogged some attention in the build-up to the Old Firm as he can equal the record of legendary managers Jock Stein and Scott Symon if he leads Rangers to a 26th win over their great rivals. In his second spell at Rangers Smith has overseen seven victories in 13 matches and his experience is vital in the pressure cooker environment of these matches.
The negatives for Rangers have surrounded keeper Allan McGregor who has been a doubt for this game since last weekend when he was ambushed on a night out in Glasgow city centre. (Rangers are 9/4 to keep a clean sheet.) The home team is likely to be packed with confident players who have huge experience of this game and the likes of David Weir and Steven Whittaker will know that a victory takes them to the brink of the title.
Almost everything is pointing to an uphill battle for Celtic. It is questionable if their defence can withstand the pressure of an Old Firm battle (Celtic are 3/1 to keep a clean sheet) and recent form would suggest they havenâ€™t quite gelled with a number of new players. The fact they also have to chase the game and that they face the experienced Walter Smith means it should be the blue half of Glasgow that is celebrating come Sunday afternoon.
101gg predicts: Rangers 2 â€“ Celtic 1 (10/1)
Full match odds here.