Football/Soccer

Celtic boss Neil Lennon not relishing atmosphere of fan-free Old Firm clash

Rangers' James Tavernier (left) moves in on Celtic's Diego Laxalt during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow on Saturday October 17, 2020. Picture by Jane Barlow/PA.
Ronnie Esplin

Celtic boss Neil Lennon has reconciled himself with the prospect of another "excruciating" Old Firm match played behind closed doors.

The Light Blues' 2-0 win at Parkhead on October 17 was stripped of its traditional colour and frenzied noise as the fixture took place without supporters due to coronavirus restrictions.

The January 2 match at Ibrox will also be played in relative silence, which is not to the liking of the former Celtic captain.

"It is excruciating," he said. "Let's get it right.

"It is what it is, you have to get on with it but it's not the same."

Celtic go into the game in much better shape than they were following the Gers defeat, which sparked a run of just two wins in 12 and calls for the manager to go.

Lennon has turned it around with six successive victories, albeit the William Hill Scottish Cup final win over Hearts at Hampden Park earlier in the month required a penalty shoot-out.

The Hoops' convincing 3-0 win over Dundee United at Parkhead on Wednesday afternoon - David Turnbull, Ismaila Soro and Odsonne Edouard were on the scoresheet - kept them 16 points behind Premiership leaders Rangers with three games in hand.

Lennon noted the importance of the second Old Firm match of the campaign and pointed out that his team has changed in the intervening period.

Edouard and Ryan Christie, who missed the Light Blues game due to Covid-19 issues are back in the side, Leigh Griffiths is almost back to full fitness and midfielders Turnbull and Soro have emerged as regulars.

The Northern Irishman said: "You don't want to lose it, you want to get a positive result, either three points or a point.

"We are not even contemplating losing the game, we are going there with a positive frame of mind and we have to play, and we have to play a lot better than we did here in October.

"We have Christie, Edouard, Griffiths, Turnbull, Soro, they are all available to play so hopefully that will give us a real spark going into this game.

"We are playing well, everybody is fit, available and there is good competition for places.

"We are creating a lot of chances which we hadn't been doing in that (poor) spell and we have been looking a lot more assured at the back, so the players have found their rhythm.

"I wouldn't say I am relaxed about it, you never are going into a game like this but we are looking forward to it."

 

Rangers' Connor Goldson (centre) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game against Celtic during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow on Saturday October 17, 2020. Picture by Jane Barlow/PA.

 

Meanwhile, ahead of the Old Firm clash, Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor insists three points at St Mirren means more to him than racking up 400 games for the Glasgow club, writes Andy Newport.

McGregor reached his latest milestone for the Light Blues as Steven Gerrard's team beat the Buddies 2-0 in Paisley.

It was McGregor's 13th clean sheet of the campaign so far - and his team's 23rd shut-out in total.

But all that matters to McGregor is the fact his team remain 16 points ahead of Celtic going into Saturday's Old Firm clash.

He told RangersTV: "I'm more pleased with the win rather than the other two (appearance and clean sheet achievements). But 400 games is a good achievement and definitely one to look back on when you're retired, so I'm pleased.

"I think we've played a lot better than that this season but the most important thing is the win. We say that every time.

"It's more important than a clean sheet. I'd rather win 2-1 than draw 0-0, so the most important thing is the three points."

Rangers were back at the scene of their only defeat so far this season as they squared up against Saints for the second time in a fortnight.

Since that Betfred Cup loss, Gers have now won four games on the trot, with the latest sealed thanks to goals from Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos.

McGregor has been pleased with his team's response to the shock defeat to Jim Goodwin's team but admitted Rangers were not at their best as they edged to a 13th straight league win.

He said: "It's been good. I think you need to do that. Every good team when you have a small setback or a big setback, you need to come out and forget about it foremost then learn from it.

"Then it's about getting back to doing the good things you've done all season. I think we've done that so far.

"It doesn't matter how you win any game of football, as long as you do.

"I wouldn't say that's the worst we've played this season but we didn't really get into our stride. But we got two decent goals and I'll say it for the millionth time - three points is the most important thing."

The Scottish Premiership Table

P W D L F A Pts

Rangers 21 19 2 0 56 5 59

Celtic 18 13 4 1 45 14 43

Aberdeen 19 11 5 3 27 18 38

Hibernian 21 10 6 5 30 20 36

Dundee Utd 21 6 7 8 17 27 25

Livingston 19 7 3 9 22 26 24

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St Mirren 18 6 3 9 14 21 21

Kilmarnock 20 6 2 12 21 25 20

St Johnstone 21 4 6 11 18 30 18

Motherwell 19 4 5 10 17 28 17

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Ross County 21 4 4 13 12 38 16

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Hamilton 20 4 3 13 18 45 15

 

Rangers' James Tavernier (left) moves in on Celtic's Diego Laxalt during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow on Saturday October 17, 2020. Picture by Jane Barlow/PA.

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Football/Soccer