LOSE THE BIG GAME, WIN THE TITLE; OLD FIRM DERBY SPECIAL: THE INSIDE LINE FROM OUR COLUMNISTS.
DOWN the years, pundits and punters have loved to build up an Old Firm clash as "the game you can't afford to lose".
But in this fascinating SPL campaign, the team that has lost a Glasgow derby has been inspired by the setback and set off on a spectacular run of form.
Celtic picked up 24 points out of 24 following their defeat in August, whereas only five points out of a possible 12 were taken in the aftermath of their December win at Ibrox.
Rangers' unbeaten form since that Christmas loss has harvested 10 out of 12 points, which suggests that Walter Smith's men would appear to be in better current form than the champions.
With both clubs registering away wins in the opening two encounters, it is anyone's guess who will emerge with more pride - and the three points - after today's battle at Parkhead.
The big call from Rangers' point of view is whether Kris Boyd will be in the starting 11 or on the bench, as he was against Aberdeen three weeks ago.
The country's top scorer did comeon late in that match but the game petered out as both teams hardly created a decent scoring chance all afternoon.
The last Old Firm game at Ibrox saw Boyd start alongside Kenny Miller, and the match appeared to swing on the one real clear-cut opportunity for Rangers when Boyd had his effort saved at point-blank range by Artur Boruc.
Unfortunately for Smith, he has no Daniel Cousin at his disposal, having sold the big striker to Hull City after the victory at Parkhead. And there is no-one else on the Rangers playing staff who can play that swashbuckling role.
Walter can adopt the same 4-5-1 system he deployed at Pittodrie, but he needs the solitary frontman to be able to rough up the Celtic centre-backs while also retaining the ball and linking up with runners.
Celtic's strength is in the quality of their midfielders, so having an extra man in that area would probably benefit the visiting team.
Part of Rangers' game-plan will be to quieten the crowd for as long as possible and to increase the tension with every passing minute. But Celtic have a history of snatching goals in the last few moments and will certainly keep going until the final whistle.
I can see the match being nervy and tense, with few goalscoring chances for either side.
Celtic face two tricky away matches among their next four SPL fixtures - at Motherwell and Dundee United - whereas Rangers play four sides in the bottom six.
However, there is also the not-so-trivial matter of the CIS Cup final in a month.
I think Rangers would be the happier side with a draw today as the remaining clash is at Ibrox in probably the first match after the split.
But losing today would not be the end of the world - well, it hasn't been so far!
'Part of Rangers' plan will be to quieten the crowd and increase the tension'
KRIS OF DEATH? Boyd is desperate for another chance against Celtic; DAN DEAL: Cousin could be missed
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|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Feb 15, 2009|
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