Win may not be significant for Celtic
The 1999 Old Firm Ne'er day match sees Celtic, undefeated in the two earlier showdowns, go into tomorrow night's game at Ibrox - the last match in the Premier Division before the mid-winter break - a discouraging 10 points behind their fiercest rivals.
The 10 clubs only resume on January 30th, though all will be involved in Scottish Cup third-round matches a week previously, but even a Celtic victory tomorrow is unlikely to reduce the odds against their retaining the championship they won last May.
It is a curious situation for the Parkhead side, whose narrow failures in recent years could be traced to their inability to win the four-match series with Rangers. Now they have a clear lead, but face an almost irretrievable deficit.
As Jozef Venglos, the head coach at Parkhead, observed yesterday: "The derby match is always important because of what it means to so many people, but it is those games against the other teams which, over the period, may prove to be even more important."
Venglos knows that despite having beaten Rangers 5-1 at Celtic Park on November 21st, his team are back in the same position they were in on the eve of that game.
Now, whatever the result, Celtic have to rely on others inflicting damage on Rangers if they are to get back on the pace. That possibility seems to recede with every match the Ibrox side play.
In the past few weeks they have demonstrated that they possess the most formidable weapon of all - a talent for producing results which are much more impressive than their performances. A string of single-goal victories at the end of some uninspired form even had their coach Dick Advocaat admitting to good fortune.
"We played better earlier in the season than recently," said the Dutchman. "But the strange thing is we've won our last four, not with excellent football, although I prefer that situation to playing well and not winning."
In the two matches between them so far, the first of them a 0-0 draw at Ibrox in September, Celtic have been the better team. The arrival of Lubomir Moravcik, the Slovakian midfielder from MSV Duisburg in Germany, and the buttressing of the defence by Johan Mjallby, the Swede signed from AIK Stockholm, were significant factors in their extraordinary victory last time.
"But each game has a different history and each one to come a different development," said Venglos. "We think about the match every day and go through a process we hope will end with a good performance and result on Sunday night."
The stalwarts Craig Burley and Marc Rieper are probably unavailable to Venglos through injury. Advocaat is without the striker Stephane Guivarc'h but has Colin Hendry back from suspension and Andrei Kanchelskis recovered from injury although he may be omitted in favour of the new signing, Neil McCann from Hearts.
Simon Donnelly's future at Celtic is unclear. The 24-year-old has been transfer-listed and is now free to talk with other clubs regarding a pre-contract agreement elsewhere, but has expressed anger at how Celtic have handled his situation.
He said: "I feel this matter is an attempt to tarnish what I think is my good reputation at Celtic, to say I'm holding the club to ransom about a new deal is untrue.
"I'm an honest person and I want the fans to know the truth, but all the while I'm a Celtic player I'll continue to give everything on the park, it won't affect my commitment.
"I have to be realistic and say leaving is now a strong possibility and I have go and look elsewhere, but I'm disappointed because I've had a lot of good years at Celtic."
RANGERS (probable): Klos; Porrini, Hendry, Amoruso, Vidmar; B Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst, Albertz, McCann; Wallace, Johansson.
CELTIC (probable): Gould; Boyd, Stubbs, Mjallby, Mahe; Donnelly, Moravcik, Lambert, O'Donnell; Larsson, Burchill.