ANGELO ALESSIO acknowledges Celtic “are the best team in Scotland”, but the Kilmarnock boss is hoping to achieve something at the weekend no club has managed this season – to prevent them scoring a goal.
The Italian takes his Rugby Park outfit to Parkhead on Sunday in the realisation Neil Lennon’s men have racked up 18 goals in five Premiership outings in a campaign where they are eyeing nine titles in a row.
But Alessio can point to the fact his side have won three of their last four games – keeping clean sheets in all of those contests.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for the Killie gaffer who took over from Scotland-bound Steve Clarke in the summer.
He was under pressure following a humiliating Europa League exit against Welsh minnows Connah’s Quay Nomads and an opening league defeat at home against Rangers when Conor Goldson headed the last-minute winner.
Alessio, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “For us, it is a tough game. Celtic at the moment are the best team in Scotland. It’s very early to say if they will win the Premiership, but I think at the same time, they stay near the top.
“We are confident, but we stay compact because mistakes will cost us the game. We have to work hard on the pitch on Sunday.
“The team has taken a good step. Four games with clean sheets, and two wins in a row, it was important to keep a compactness.
“But at the same time we have to improve in attack. The last game against Hibernian, we saw something we have to improve.
“We work very hard on the defensive line, but we have to improve up front.
“It will be good for me and my team to play this type of game and it will let us see how much we have improved.”
FOOTNOTE: The last time Alessio was at Parkhead was in 2013 as assistant to Antonio Conte at Juventus. Neil Lennon’s men failed to score as they crashed 3-0.
JOHAN MJALLBY, the former Celtic player and assistant boss to Neil Lennon, believes Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side are now legitimate title rivals for the Hoops for the first time in years.
The Swede, speaking to Sky Sports News, said: “I expect it to be that way. It is good for both clubs that it is going back to this.
“It is going to be so important that you don’t drop points against other teams. The two clubs are going to be stronger from it.
“The questions about who is going to win the league will improve both clubs because they cannot sit on the fence and they have to be really good in recruitment, as well.
“I have always seen Celtic as the favourites because they have this winning habit, the culture is there, they are a fearsome team in Scotland.
“We know that this is the first time Rangers are proper challengers to go all the way and really, really compete.”
DEREK McINNES has admitted Aberdeen are experiencing their worst crisis in his six years at Pittodrie with the news Funso Ojo and Craig Bryson have been hit by injury.
Ojo, the Belgian midfielder signed from Scunthorpe for £125,000, will be sidelined for the next three months.
Craig Bryson, the former Scotland international who also arrived this summer from Derby County, has been ruled out for a month.
McInnes, speaking to BBC Sport, admitted: “Up until last season, we have been pretty fortunate.
“We took a lot of the plaudits for not signing particular players and not having as many injuries as perhaps there were previously.”
Injuries had already restricted Bryson to only four starts and one substitute appearance and the 32-year-old midfield man had to come off with an ankle knock during Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to St Johnstone.
Former PSV Eindhoven 28-year-old Ojo followed nine minutes before the end of his 10th appearance having damaged both hamstrings.
Striker Scott Wright was ruled out for the season last week with a knee injury, while midfielder Stephen Gleeson and centre-backs Scott McKenna and Ash Taylor are still sidelined.
CHIC CHARNLEY insists Partick Thistle’s sacking of Alan Archibald in October last year and replacing him with Gary Caldwell sparked disharmony inside the Firhill dressing room.
The Jags legend, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “When I look at where it’s all gone wrong at the club, I look at the Alan Archibald situation and they should never have sacked him. He was loyal to Thistle and it should never have happened as he would have turned things around, I have no doubt about that.
“Then Gary was appointed and it didn’t work as there was a personality clash with the players and it didn’t look a good fit from day one.
“It happens in football, from what I can gather the boys just couldn’t take to him.
“Once that happens, no matter who you are, you are on a hiding to nothing.
“I was with John Lambie when he told Archie the worst thing he could have done was take Thistle into the top six. Sure as heck, he’s been proven right.
“If Archie wanted to come back I would also be happy with that. The players liked him and he’s a terrific manager who knows how to manage people.
“Gary may not have had the majority of the dressing room onside, but you shouldn’t have to like the manager to go out and perform. It should be about personal pride within yourself.”