Celtic midfielder James Forrest has a tight hamstring and will be given until the very last-minute to make the game, while Georgios Samaras should take his place in the starting line-up after some impressive performances in recent weeks. Anthony Stokes and Adam Matthews have recovered from injury and are eligible for tonight’s match, as are Emilio Izaguirre and Kelvin Wilson.
However, defenders Daniel Majstorovic and Glenn Loovens are out of the clash through injury.
Meanwhile Rangers have Lee McCulloch available for tonight’s match following the club’s appeal against the red card shown to the midfielder after he was adjudged to have elbowed Buddies midfielder Graham Carey in the face. However, influential defender Dorin Goian is suspended following his sending off for two bookable offences in the same match.
Ahead of the game, Neil Lennon commented: “There’s not much between the teams, it’s just that, on recent form, ours has been slightly better than Rangers. But they’re the champions and they won the last one, so I don’t think there’s much in it.
“Momentum is important, as long as you don’t take any complacency into the game, and I’m sure the players won’t do that because they know what’s at stake.
“We know if we win the game we’ll go top of the table, and our focus is on winning the game, so if that’s the reward of it, so be it.
“We just want to make our home advantage count and keep the winning run going. It’s very important to the players – they’re in a good vein of form – but we’re playing our biggest rivals and there’s not much between the teams.”
“Even though I’m a young manager, I’ve been in football for a long time and I know that nothing is won in October, and nothing is won in December. There’s a huge amount of football to be played over the next four or five months. We’ve just been looking at one game at a time and trying to eat into the lead, and we’ve done that.
“We’re looking to go from strength to strength. We’ve had a rough period. It wasn’t nice and it wasn’t nice for me in terms of the disappointment I was getting from the results, but that’s part of football and you have to accept that sometimes. But we’ve found a consistency now. The players are playing to the form we know that they can and we just hope it can continue, and it’s our job to make sure that it does.”
Despite Ally McCoist’s rhetoric of going out to win this game in an attacking manner, it is expected that Walter Smith’s apprentice will set out his stall defensively.
He said yesterday: “We will approach it in a positive manner, we’ll always do that. We’ll see how one or two injuries are and look at the squad today. I’ve got a team in my head, obviously, and we’ll see how they come through training. But we believe we can win the game tomorrow and we have an opportunity to go four points clear.
“Of course it was a disappointing result against St Mirren, there is no doubt about that. We’ve sat and watched the game again and for the two goals we could have done better.”
As with every build-up to an Old Firm derby game, one player or another has to have his say on a major talking point and this time round it is Celtic midfielder Joe Ledley, who decided to have his say on the Lee McCulloch elbow appeal.
Ledley has accepted that Rangers are well within their rights to challenge the red card, but the Welshman stated that there is no doubt that the midfielder deliberately elbowed Carey.
Ledley said: “Obviously you can see it was a blatant elbow. I think everyone could see it was an elbow. I know straight away when I saw it that it was a straight red card and I thought the referee did well to see it as well.
“You can understand why Rangers are going to appeal. You need your best players for this game. Most teams would have appealed anyway. I’m maybe surprised at the delay over the appeal but that’s football and, hopefully, they can sort it out as soon as possible.”
Scotzine’s Rangers columnist Ewan McQueen has had his say on tonight’s match:
As a supporter of the visitors in tonight’s Glasgow Derby, I will admit I await the 7.45 kick off with some trepidation.
Out of form, key players missing and Celtic in great form, all the signs are pointing to a Rangers loss at Celtic Park.
But the Glasgow Derby matches are the one match in world football where form completely goes out the window and they are also notoriously impossible to predict.
In fact, I no longer predict Glasgow Derby matches having being humiliated on many an occasion over the years.
First of all, I would agree with Rangers midfielder Steven Davis that Celtic are favourites for tomorrow night. They have won their last eight SPL games, whilst Rangers are in the middle of a very shaky run of form, having won only three matches out of their last six.
The gap at the top of the table has been cut from 15 points on Bonfire Night to just one point ahead of kick off tonight.
But put all that to one side. Rangers are still top of the league and that’s because they have been the most consistent team this season. To quote that old cliché- the table doesn’t lie.
And of course Rangers are the champions and have been for the last three seasons. They have the players who have been there and done it in big games. And they don’t get any bigger than derby day in Glasgow.
In the build up to this game I think it has largely been forgotten by the media and Celtic fans that Rangers actually won the first derby of the season and in very convincing fashion.
In winning 4-2 back in September, Rangers undoubtedly produced their best performance of the season in a thrilling second half display where they attacked Celtic with wave after of wave of free-flowing football.
Of course, one of the catalysts for that win was Steven Naismith and he will be a massive miss for Rangers, just as he has been ever since he got injured against Aberdeen at the end of October.
Since losing the Scotland international, Rangers performances have been mediocre to put it mildly. They seem to lack ideas and energy without ‘Naisy’ and the results have shown that.
However, whilst he has been their key man this season, other players can step up tonight. Nikica Jelavic will be keen to show suitors what he can do in big games and perhaps shut up some critics as well.
Northern Irishmen Steve Davis and Kyle Lafferty are always fired up for Derby matches and Davis in particular will look to be at his best and grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
I suspect Ally McCoist will be taking a leaf out of his mentors Walter Smith’s book and will line up defensively. Despite Rangers fans wanting to have a go at their bitter rivals, I feel at Celtic Park things will be different to what they were at Ibrox and without Naismith, a 4-4-2 isn’t feasible in my opinion.
Hitting Celtic on the break will be the order of the day and despite the very poor performances against Kilmarnock and St Mirren away from home recently, Rangers have been better on their travels this season.
Getting back to basics defensively and creating a chance for Nikica Jelavic or Kyle Lafferty could see them snatch all three points.
It might not be pretty, but in all honesty who cares when it comes to beating Celtic on their own turf?
The bookies and the media have often got it wrong recently when it comes to Glasgow Derby matches. One only has to look at last year’s New Year game when Rangers were expected to hammer Celtic and Georgios Samaras sealed a 2-0 victory for Celtic at Ibrox.
I hope the underdog has its day again come 7.45 tonight.
Celtic, being the home team will go into this game in an offensive manner. While the formation will look like a 4-5-1, the wide players of Georgios Samaras and James Forrest will provide the necessary support to Gary Hooper playing up front. When on the attack the formation would be flexible enough to turn into 4-3-3 and when they are on the defensive then it could back to 4-5-1.
As with every Old Firm game, the midfield battle is where the game is won or lost. The likely trio of Beram Kayal, Scott Brown and Ki will try to rule the roost over Rangers’ midfield. Although Joe Ledley could slot into the midfield three in place of Ki.
Defensively, this is where Celtic have been weakest all season. Victor Wanyama, has been in great form for Celtic since moving to the club during the summer and should start alongside a returning Kelvin Wilson. However, Neil Lennon may not want to risk Wilson nor Izaguirre in tonight’s game and that could see Wanyama being partnered up with Mulgrew in the heart of defence and Ledley playing out of position at left back. Cha Du-Ri is expected to drop to the bench to make way for Adam Matthews, while Fraser Forster will stay in goals for Celtic.
Rangers will set out their stall defensively. With the attacking flair and threat of Naismith missing for the remainder of the season, Ally McCoist will have to rely on the likes of Kyle Lafferty and Sone Aluko to link up with lone striker Nikica Jelavic.
Again the midfield is key for Rangers winning tonight’s clash and the trio of Steven Davis, Maurice Edu and a defensive minded Lee McCulloch must be on their A-game if Rangers are to take this game by the horns and dictate how the game is played.
With Goian missing, Rangers face a bit of a conundrum, who to partner Carlos Bocanegra up with? There was talk of veteran David Weir coming back into the side for tonight’s game, but that would be a huge mistake from the Rangers manager as Weir’s lack of pace would prove too much of a hurdle for the side to overcome.
That leaves on-loan Arsenal player Kyle Bartley, Kirk Broadfoot and Sasa Papac as the likely candidates for the centre of defence. McCoist could place Sasa Papac in the centre with Lee Wallace at left back, although Papac is likely to keep his place at left back with Bartley the likeliest candidate to slot into central defence. Allan McGregor will don his gloves once more for the Rangers cause.
The weather and the referee will both play a pivotal role in tonight’s match. The weather at this moment in time is blustery bordering on gale force and with long-range shots the order of the day, the keepers will have to be on their game to deal with the wind-assisted shots. But such conditions should force the players to play the ball on the deck more, rather than the punt-and-hope balls that occur from time to time.
Meanwhile referee Willie Collum, who has come under huge criticism after his performance in the last derby game he officiated, will have to be strong and keep the players on the straight and narrow. The game should flow, as much as the conditions will allow it, but tough and late tackles are always the order of the day in this clash so the whistler must keep his own head where others may lose theirs. If Collum does not control the game, then we could ultimately see a high number of yellow cards even a red card or two.
- There have been 53 Old Firm games since the SPL began in 1998/99. Celtic have won 23, Rangers have won 19 and there have been 11 draws.
- The second Old Firm game of the season has been won six times by Celtic and four by Rangers, with three draws.
- The first SPL Old Firm match ended in a 0-0 draw at Ibrox in September 1998 but there have been only four goalless games in total.
- Celtic and Rangers both recorded their biggest SPL Old Firm wins in season 2000/01. Celtic, under Martin O’Neill, triumphed 6-2 at Parkhead and Dick Advocaat’s Rangers won 5-1 at Ibrox.
- Coming out on top in Old Firm games is no guarantee of winning the SPL title – Rangers prevailed in 2002/03 and 2010/11 despite Celtic taking more points in derbies, and Celtic were champions in 2006/07 when Rangers held the upper hand in Old Firm fixtures.
Celtic (from): Forster, Cha, Matthews, Wanyama, Mulgrew, Ledley, Forrest, Kelvin Wilson, Brown, Kayal, Ki, Rogne, Samaras, Bangura, Hooper, Stokes, Zaluska, Izaguirre, McCourt, McGeouch.
Rangers (from): McGregor, Whittaker, Papac, Bocanegra, Bartley, Wallace, Davis, McCulloch, Wylde, Edu, Lafferty, Aluko, Jelavic, Alexander, Broadfoot, Bendiksen, McCabe, Weir.
Stats provided by the Scottish Premier League