Sunday, January 02, 2011

Rangers v Celtic Preview

Given the brickbats being flung his way it is easy to forget that Neil Lennon has taken his Celtic side to the top of the table.

If the number of call offs this wintery winter have given the SPL a slightly artificial look this New Year, Celtic can still move themselves into the driving seat with an away win today.

Another big game test for Lennon. And, at some stage, he's going to need to pass one of these tests.

To do so Celtic will need to overcome their defensive brittleness and show more ruthlessness in front of goal than they have of late. A trip to Ibrox is unlikely to throw up as many chances as Celtic have enjoyed and squandered in their recent run of home games. Wastefulness will not be tolerated.

Rangers might have concerns about player contracts and an increasing fixture backlog but games like these are enough to invigorate Walter Smith and his squad.

If we expect Rangers to be thrawn and stubborn in defence and incisive in attack then we need to search the Celtic team for the bit of creative magic they need.

Will new signing Freddie Ljungberg be the man to surprise Rangers? It's a big game to make your debut and the jury remains locked in debate about what benefits the ageing Swede is actually going to bring to Celtic. Any role he plays today will be watched with interest.

I expect Rangers to score today. And that means Celtic have to produce something. I look back to the first Old Firm game of the season and the lessons to take from that when, with a one goal lead, Celtic froze in the second half.

Do I see signs of an increasing maturity in the Celtic team, an improved ability to cope with the unique atmosphere of an Old Firm game? I'm afraid I don't.

And for that reason although I expect a tense and close affair at Ibrox today I've got to back the home side. Home win.

Elsewhere in the SPL

St Johnstone v Inverness
Two home defeats in a row for the blog's team of the year but they'll be looking to extend their admirable away record today. St Johnstone will be looking to kick start their New Year with an assault on the top six. Draw.

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