Scottish Premiership: Steven McLean to referee Old Firm derby

Fifa referee Steven McLean will take charge of his first ever Old Firm derby when the two fierce Glasgow rivals meet on Hogmanay at Ibrox.

  •  First Old Firm derby for Renfrewshire whistler McLean
  •  First derby not officiated by Collum or Thomson since 2012
  •  Second league meeting of the season
  •  Celtic boss Rodgers’ first trip to Ibrox
Steven McLean referee
On the rise: McLean is regarded as one of the up and coming officials in Scottish football and on the international stage (Picture from Sky Sports)

Steven McLean will referee his first ever Old Firm derby in the televised New Year’s Eve lunchtime showdown, the Scottish FA has confirmed. 

The highly-rated Fifa official has been given the difficult task of administering law and order in the Hogmanay meeting of bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers and Celtic (KO 12:15 BST, live on Sky Sports).

He will be assisted at Ibrox by Frank Connor and Douglas Ross – who were also the linesmen for September’s Celtic Park derby – while John Beaton will be keeping the peace in the dugout as the fourth official.

Both meetings this term – Celtic’s 5-1 league win and 1-0 League Cup semi-final victory at Hampden – were officiated by seasoned campaigners Willie Collum and Craig Thomson respectively.

Collum and Thomson – Scotland’s only Uefa Elite Category officials – are the only referees among the current crop in the country who have previously experienced what is one of the most thankless tasks in world football.

So there is a certain level of responsibility on the shoulders of McLean, who has seemingly beaten off competition from Beaton and Bobby Madden to be appointed, in order to show that other officials are capable of rising to this particular challenge.

Only in an interview at the start of the season did McLean confidently insist the country’s whistlers can cope with the return of the unique Old Firm environment and there is enough strength in depth in terms of the number of leading match officials.

The 35-year-old has shown he can handle high-profile occasions in the 2014 League Cup Final at Celtic Park and last season’s dramatic Scottish Cup Final involving Rangers, after which he and his fellow match officials were caught up in an unsavoury pitch invasion.

steven-mclean-in-action-inverness-v-ross-county-27th-oct-2015
Regular: McLean will take charge of his 11th Scottish Premiership game of the season at Ibrox (Picture from BBC Scotland)

McLean has been fourth official for two Old Firm derbies before but nothing can quite prepare him for his debut in the middle, with the Scottish Premiership’s top two desperate to sign off in 2016 with a winning feeling and bragging rights to boot.

The East Renfrewshire whistler endured an eventful afternoon in Rangers’ home win over Aberdeen at the start of the month, dishing out nine yellow cards and sending off both Gers defender Clint Hill and Dons skipper Ryan Jack in stoppage time.

Incidentally, McLean last encountered Celtic in a league match against the Dons at Pittodrie in October but many Hoops fans felt he allowed Aberdeen to apply too much rough treatment despite only brandishing five bookings in their side’s 1-0 victory.

They were the only occasions he has officiated either side in the league this term although McLean oversaw Rangers’ first competitive game of the campaign, in their 2-0 win at Motherwell in July in the Betfred Cup.

Celtic supporters will also remember McLean as the referee who oversaw their controversial Scottish Cup semi-final defeat against Inverness in 2015.

The officials – including an additional assistant referee positioned behind the goal – failed to spot a clear handball by Josh Meekings on the line before Hoops keeper Craig Gordon conceded a penalty and was sent off.

Celtic boss Ronny Deila was furious after the game with the first-half decision, which happened when his side led 1-0, and the club subsequently wrote to the Scottish FA but nothing came of their complaints.

McLean has since handled five matches involving the champions without any major controversy but incurred the wrath of then Hearts boss Robbie Neilson for failing to protect his players against Hamilton in November.

Steven McLean points for goalkick (Hearts v St Johnstone - 2nd August 2015)
Fresh: McLean hasn’t officiated a game since Hibernian’s 1-1 draw at Greenock Morton in the Championship on December 17 (Picture from BT Sport)

Overall, he has brandished 95 yellow cards, sent off four players (three in the Premiership and all for second bookable offences) and awarded four penalties in 21 games in all competitions so far this season.

McLean – a Fifa referee since 2010 who refereed his first SPL game in November 2008 – is the older brother of former Ross County and Dundee United defender Brian McLean.

A qualified fitness instructor and physiotherapist, he is now employed full-time by the SFA as a referee recruitment and education officer.

Elsewhere, Willie Collum will be in the middle for Hearts against Aberdeen on Friday night as third and fourth in the table lock horns at Tynecastle.

You can see a full list of this weekend’s SPFL match official appointments here.


‘Horrendous and horrible’ – Fans react:

As is normally the case before any derby encounter, there is a lot of division among fans on social media – but most supporters of both teams have been largely united in being unimpressed with the choice of referee.


State of play:

Mark Warburton’s Rangers will be desperate to make home advantage count as they seek to record a first league win over their arch nemesis since a memorable 3-2 win over nine-man Celtic at Ibrox in March 2012.

But Celtic will have other ideas in their bid to increase their lead at the summit to a massive 19 points and simultaneously maintain their unbeaten domestic record this season under Brendan Rodgers.

Both sides had mixed fortunes on Wednesday night, with Rangers failing to get the better of St Johnstone in a 1-1 draw at McDiarmid Park while goals from Erik Sviatchenko and Stuart Armstrong gave Celtic a routine 2-0 victory over Ross County at Parkhead.

Attention can now fully turn to the 404th meeting in one of world football’s oldest rivalries. Rangers know only a fifth league win in six games would be enough to keep alive their slim hopes of toppling Celtic, who have scored 11 goals in their last three away league games.

Five-star Celtic thrash 10-man Rangers in season’s first Old Firm derby

Moussa Dembele’s hat-trick helped Celtic thump five past Rangers in the first Old Firm derby in the Scottish Premiership for five seasons to maintain their 100% start to the league campaign.

  •  Dembele nets perfect hat-trick: header, left foot & right foot
  •  First league Old Firm for four and a half years
  •  Rangers suffer first Scottish Premiership defeat of season
  •  Rodgers gets better of Warburton as bosses clash in dugout for first time
dembele-goal-2-0
Star of the show: The Frenchman took his tally of Celtic goals to seven in all competitions already this season with a stunning hat-trick showing (Picture from Sky Sports)

MOUSSA Dembele scored a sensational hat-trick as a dominant Celtic swatted 10-man Rangers aside in the Scottish Premiership’s first Old Firm derby for five seasons.

The former Fulham striker, who only started because Leigh Griffiths was ruled out through injury, notched a double in the space of nine first-half minutes with a header and fine finish.

Joe Garner – on his first start for Rangers – gave the visitors hope by nodding home Kenny Miller’s header from close range on the stroke of half-time.

But Dembele set up Scott Sinclair, who netted for the fourth successive league game, before completing his historic treble to seal the deal.

And substitute Stuart Armstrong added gloss in stoppage time for the Hoops, who have now recorded four wins from four at the start of a league season for the first time since 2010.

The 20-year-old’s first career hat-trick was the first in an Old Firm league game since Stevie Chalmers in 1966, as the eagerly-awaited first league meeting of Glasgow’s fierce rivals since April 2012 delivered in every department and gave the Manchester derby a run for its money.

In truth, it was a comfortable afternoon for the champions, who laid down an early marker in their quest for a sixth successive title, as Brendan Rodgers enjoyed a winning Old Firm debut and his side maintained their 100 per cent start to the campaign in some style.

Brendan Rodgers with Chris Davies and John Kennedy
Sitting pretty: Rodgers, centre, watched on as Celtic moved four points clear of Rangers at the top of the table with a game in hand (Picture from Sky Sports)

In contrast, it was a rotten first trip to Celtic Park for opposite number Mark Warburton as the Gers lost Rob Kiernan to injury and debutant Philippe Senderos to two daft bookable offences – before assistant manager Davie Weir was ordered to the dressing room.

Rangers began brightly but quickly faded away to become second best by some distance as their unbeaten, yet stuttering, return to Scotland’s top-flight came to a painful end at the home of their city neighbours.

For Celtic, it was the perfect warm-up for the start of their Champions League group stage campaign against Barcelona on Tuesday, with the only worry being Scott Brown’s withdrawal with a minor injury on 74 minutes.

Even though it failed to reach breaking point, the Hoops skipper – in his 23rd Old Firm appearance – enjoyed the hugely-anticipated duel with Joey Barton. And the recently retired Scotland international had the last laugh with another verbal jibe, claiming it was “men against boys”.

Although that was the case by the end, it was much tighter in the typically frantic opening exchanges, when lots of inflatables made their way on to the pitch and added to the carnival atmosphere inside a packed Parkhead.

griffiths-in-stands
Watching brief: Celtic’s leading scorer, who missed Scotland duty after coming off against Aberdeen, sat out again with a hamstring injury (Picture from Sky Sports)

Tom Rogic, who scored in April’s Scottish Cup semi-final before missing the decisive spotkick, had a couple of early sighters off target as he took up some intelligent positions in behind Rangers’ three-man midfield.

After an even opening, Celtic came on strong and started the unexpected rout on 33 minutes when Dembele rose above Kiernan to meet Sinclair’s corner before leaving Senderos for dead to confidently finish past Wes Foderingham and put the hosts firmly in control.

Rangers appeared to have dragged themselves back in contention before the interval as Garner bundled in Miller’s header from a James Tavernier cross – the club’s first league goal at Celtic Park in four visits.

After Andy Halliday replaced an ineffective Kranjcar for the start of the second half, the Gers briefly threatened to draw level when Barrie McKay curled a shot wide of the far post.

But the champions soon settled into their rhythm once more as Dembele’s defence-splitting pass released Sinclair, who clipped in off the post to continue his impressive start since arriving from Aston Villa.

As Celtic’s Patrick Roberts and Rangers forward Martyn Waghorn made their respective comebacks from hamstring injuries off the bench, Gers keeper Foderingham had to deny Armstrong and Dembele from distance.

Joey Barton
Me and my big mouth: Barton was made to eat his words as he failed to turn up on the big stage – and Celtic counterpart Brown delivered a statistical masterclass (Picture from Sky Sports)

Rangers began to unravel and a debut to forget for Senderos was compounded when the experienced former Arsenal defender, booked for a foul on Sinclair earlier, was dismissed by Willie Collum for a deliberate and daft handball.

It got worse when Warburton’s right-hand man Weir also received his marching orders for a foul-mouthed rant at fourth official Kevin Clancy.

Celtic showed no signs of letting up and ruthlessly cashed in on the numerical advantage in the closing stages, as Dembele took down a Mikael Lustig cross and fired home his third. He could be forgiven for the overzealous celebrations which earned him a booking.

Armstrong, in his first taste of the famous rivalry, had the final say with a goal his excellent cameo merited – tucking into the bottom corner from Kieran Tierney’s cutback in added time.

The headlines, though, belonged to one man and, with Griffiths confirmed to be absent for the trip to the Nou Camp, Rodgers will be hoping the irrepressible Dembele can continue in the same vein.

As Celtic reflected on setting the standard in the first of four expected Old Firm showdowns this term, Rangers were left to lick their wounds and re-evaluate their options whilst scurrying out of the back door in the east end of Glasgow unnoticed.

But the real winner is Scottish football: the Old Firm is well and truly back, and here to stay!


TEAMS:

celtic-xi
Four derby debutants: Summer signings Dorus de Vries, Kolo Toure, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele tasted the Old Firm for the first time (Picture from Sky Sports)

Substitutes:  Armstrong (on for Rogic 54′), Roberts (on for Forrest 64′) and McGregor (on for Brown 74′)

Not used:  Gordon (GK), Gamboa, Izaguirre, Ciftci.

Booked:  Bitton (8′), Toure (49′), Roberts (80′), Dembele (84′)

Goals:  Dembele (33′, 42′, 83′), Sinclair (61′), Armstrong (90+2′)

 

rangers-xi
Old Firm initiations for five: Philippe Senderos, Josh Windass, Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar and Joe Garner all lined up against Celtic for the first time (Picture from Sky Sports)

Substitutes:  Halliday (on for Kranjcar 45′), Waghorn (on for Miller 63′) and Forrester (on for Kiernan 72′)

Not used:  Gilks (GK), Hodson, Hill, O’Halloran.

Booked:  Kranjcar (29′), Senderos (63′), Kiernan (68′)

Sent-off:  Senderos (75′)

Goals:  Garner (44′)


MATCH OFFICIALS:

willie-collum-referee
Under the radar: Scotland’s Euro 2016 referee gave seven yellows and a red but managed his third Old Firm derby very well and came through unscathed (Picture from Sky Sports)

Referee: Willie Collum (Scotland) – 8/10
Assistant referees: Douglas Ross and Frank Connor (Scotland)
Fourth Official: Kevin Clancy (Scotland)

Attendance: 60,000


REACTION:

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers: “It was a great day for the club and the team. If you think of all the travelling this team has put in over the last couple of weeks, with a lot of players away, to get back in and produce that level of performance with that energy in the team, I thought it was an outstanding team performance.”

Rangers manager Mark Warburton: “It was hugely disappointing. We were just talking in there that the fans were magnificent for us. I thought we were good in the second half. McKay had a good chance and we were in a good shape but we made some poor decisions and gave away cheap goals. As a group in there, we know that.”

Celtic v Rangers: Ten things to look out for in the Old Firm derby

With the first Old Firm derby in the Scottish top-flight in four and a half years on the horizon, here’s 10 things to cast an eye over at Celtic Park.

Celtic v Rangers Old Firm derby (September 2016)
History: The two most successful teams in Scotland, who first locked horns in 1888, will meet for the 402nd time this weekend (Picture from Sky Sports)

After an international break in which Scotland proved their mettle in Malta, the Scottish Premiership returns with the biggest of bangs. 

Two cup ties in the last two seasons have given a small taste of what to expect but the first league meeting of Celtic and Rangers in four and a half years is sure to provide a more mouth-watering encounter to savour for a Saturday lunchtime.

Although the worldwide audience may be slightly diminished with the Manchester derby scheduled at the same time, the opening Old Firm derby of the campaign is the showdown everyone has been waiting for.

Rangers, back on the top-flight scene after working their way up the ladder in the face of adversity, are still yet to convince they can challenge their rivals from across Glasgow, who will look to maintain their 100 per cent league record ahead of a daunting trip to the Nou Camp to start their Champions League group stage campaign.

You can be forgiven for not knowing what to expect – other than the unexpected – so here are 10 things to keep a close eye on at Celtic Park…


1)  Barton and Brown midfield match-up

Joey Barton and Scott Brown
The best of enemies: Barton, 34, (left) has been stoking up the fires with Brown, 31, as the pair prepare to do battle on the pitch for the first time (Picture from Sky Sports)

Ever since the transfer of the summer in Scottish football arose, the mind games and banter has been flying around and the Twitter talk about how the combustible duo would conduct themselves on the same field has barely stopped.

Thankfully, there hasn’t been a long wait to find out – and Barton’s arrival at Ibrox has only added further spice to what was always going to be a titanic tussle.

If you believe everything you read and what’s been said, Barton is a Celtic fan (as well as a world beater), Brown is not ‘in the same league’ as him and Aberdeen are Celtic’s biggest title challengers. But now, the time has almost come for the football to do the talking.

Brown, who has retired from Scotland duty in a bid to extend his Celtic career, has masses of Old Firm experience and used to like pushing El Hadji Diouf’s buttons – now he has another egotistical Rangers hothead to wind up.

Barton has played in high-profile battles south of the border but nothing on this scale and, after a slow start to his Rangers career, will be desperate to make a positive impact on the grandest of stages. Something he is more than capable of doing.

With two of the country’s biggest personalities going head to head, there is only room for one ego on the same field and don’t be surprised if one – or indeed both – lose their cool and don’t last the full 90 minutes.


2)  Shaky defending from both sides 

Rangers v Celtic defenders (Sept 2016)
Susceptible: Although there have only been 66 goals in the last 35 Old Firm derbies but (left to right) James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan, Efe Ambrose and Dedryck Boyata are all prone to individual errors (Picture from Sky Sports)

Despite the teams’ undoubtedly quality which makes them stand out as Scotland’s best, neither are renowned for their defensive stability.

Both have experimented with a back-three and a mixture of youth and experience in recent times but are yet to find the right solution to suit their personnel.

Although Eoghan O’Connell, 21, has shown a high level of maturity in the season’s early weeks, Celtic’s problems stem from constant changes to their centre-back pairing and their ability to make costly individual errors – Efe Ambrose being the prime candidate.

Whereas, Rangers have more experience of Scottish football in their ranks – Danny Wilson and Lee Wallace having played in several Old Firm meetings.

But rustiness is still evident, with Clint Hill admitting he still needs to get up and running and Wallace pulling out of Scotland duty with an injury complaint, while James Tavernier can often be too cavalier going forward, leaving acres of space waiting to be exploited.

With the stakes as high as they can reach and no margin for error, it will be interesting to see how messrs Warburton and Rodgers line up at the back and whether they will risk a more youthful look to the defence.

Neither have kept a clean sheet in the league so far this term and you would have to be extremely brave to bet on that statistic changing in this game of all games.


3)  Drama upon drama

Celtic v Rangers feud April 2011
Worth the wait: It will be the first league meeting since Celtic’s 3-0 win over Rangers at Parkhead in April 2012 (Picture from Sky Sports)

It would be no exaggeration to suggest a full-blooded Old Firm – complete with the usual cliffhangers that leave you wanting more – could rival an hour-long episode of Eastenders for explosive drama and unmissable viewing.

With sub-plots happening all over the pitch and every kick of the ball being keenly fought for, you can barely take your eyes off the action, of which there is a whole lot more than your average game.

Even a tepid battle between the sides – and there have been some in the past – contains its fair share of excitement and intensity to maintain your attention but rarely does it disappoint as far as entertainment value is concerned.

Assuming both sides finish in the top six (which is almost guaranteed), there will be four Old Firm encounters in the league this season and, should they all live up to the billing, Scottish football as a whole would be the biggest winners.


4)  Passion on the terraces

Celtic and Rangers fans
Loud and proud: Fans of Celtic and Rangers, who are separated by a mere six miles, will generate an electric atmosphere at Celtic Park (Picture from Sky Sports)

When the fixtures were released in June, this was the one that everyone with Celtic and Rangers connections across the globe will have looked for before any other.

Ever since, the anticipation has been building – on derby day in Glasgow, emotions extend far deeper than the confines of the pitch.

An Old Firm occasion means so much to so many, regardless of the prize on offer, and the raw passion from a full house of 60,000 fans at Celtic Park will undoubtedly reverberate across the city on Saturday afternoon.

No matter what stage of the game or how well their team is doing, both sets of supporters will act as the proverbial twelfth man and could make the difference to ease the tension on the players and edge their side over the finishing line.


5)  Touchline antics

Mark Warburton on sidelines (v Hibernian - 1st November 2015)
Optimistic: The 53-year-old, the first Englishman to be Rangers manager, is in confident mood as he prepares for his trip to Celtic Park (Picture from Sky Sports)

Mark Warburton and Brendan Rodgers may have worked together on the coaching staff at Watford nine years ago, however Saturday represents the first time the two talented managers will come up against each other.

The pair – who were huge hits north of the border with Liverpool and Brentford respectively – have never been known for allowing feelings to overflow in the technical area and largely adopt a composed presence when issuing instructions to players.

If the game is played in good spirits, it might prove to be a quiet afternoon for the fourth official.

But, in the highly-charged derby environment when discipline and temperament can often fly out of the window faster than a tackle can fly in, anything goes and if decisions aren’t going their way they will be quick to make their dissatisfaction seen and heard.

Warburton has already sampled the atmosphere that comes with an Old Firm clash, albeit in different surroundings at the national stadium, hiherto it will be unchartered territory for Rodgers, who will know by the end of the afternoon just what all the fuss is about.


6)  Attacking firepower coming to the fore

Rangers v Celtic attacking options (Sept 2016)
Fearsome four: Rangers duo Miller and Waghorn and Celtic’s Griffiths and Forrest are likely to be the key attacking weapons which decide the game (Picture from Sky Sports)

The big games always bring the best out of the big names and there will be plenty on show who will be looking to make an impact in the biggest match in the Scottish Premiership so far this season.

On Celtic’s side, Leigh Griffiths – who sweeped the player of the year awards with 40 goals last season – will be fresh from having the international break off, while James Forrest and Scott Sinclair have the creative potential to be the match-winner.

Regardless of who forms the attacking triumvirate behind Griffiths, it will contain enough quality to cause Rangers all sorts of problems.

One man who will be on a mission to take down the Hoops will be Kenny Miller, who has a habit of popping up with vital contributions as he did on the last derby day and will be full of condence after bagging four against Linfield. With Martyn Waghorn getting back to his best and Barrie McKay in top form, Rangers possess the tools to give Celtic a tough time.

There are options aplenty for both managers to choose from and, in a high-profile game when attack is likely to be the best form of defence, they should opt to overload their offensive choices which will make for a more open and expansive match and play to the strengths of both sides.


7)  Officials feeling the pressure

old-firm-derby-officials-10th-september-2016
The third team: Collum, 37, who went to Euro 2016, will be assisted at Celtic Park by Douglas Ross, Frank Connor and fourth official Kevin Clancy (Pictures from Sky Sports)

Keeping control of an Old Firm derby can be as difficult a job for match officials as both sets of players care to make it.

Even before a ball is kicked, the referee has already adorned the status of ‘public enemy number one’ and Willie Collum, who has often come under fire for controversial calls, can expect nothing less than a tough afternoon.

He may have two Glasgow derbies under his belt, albeit in 2010 and 2011, but those experiences will count for very little once he sounds the first whistle.

As much as players are under pressure to perform, referees’ careers are also on the line in the biggest of fixtures and there is no margin for error.

Collum has kept a low profile in recent times after a flurry of high-profile errors earlier in the year but is notoriously card-happy, so the approach he adopts on Saturday will be interesting to observe.

As ever, concentration and position will be key  – with an added need to stay focused amid a cauldron of noise inside a Parkhead packed with passionate patrons. If he survives the 90 minutes and isn’t being spoken about afterwards, that can be considered an achievement.


8)  Revenge on Celtic minds

It may have hammered the final nail in Ronny Deila’s coffin to end his turgid two-year tenure but the Hoops will still be reeling, and hurting, from the Hampden horror of seeing their Glasgow adversaries progress to the Scottish Cup final at their expense in April – even though Hibernian went on to lift the trophy.

In contrast to Rangers’ stuttering form on their top-flight return, Rodgers’ men have made an assured start to their quest for a sixth successive league title and brushed aside their nearest challengers in the last two seasons, Aberdeen, with relative ease before the international break.

But the biggest opportunity to lay down an early-season marker in the title race comes this weekend – and Celtic will be desperate to send Rangers packing with a firm reminder of their status as the country’s force.

Only then could memories of Tom Rogic’s wild spotkick, which sparked even wilder Gers celebrations in front of their eyes at the national stadium, be truly laid to rest.


9)  Fast and furious…even before the word ‘go’

Celtic v Rangers challenge April 2012
Tumultuous: The home side have won the last four league meetings, on the back of a fast start to proceedings (Picture from Sky Sports)

The unrelenting tempo and frenetic nature made the Old Firm derbies of old a joy to watch from both a fans and neutral perspective.

Those occasions were simply unmissable and had a tendency to start at 100 miles per hour before speeding up somewhat.

Although the League Cup semi clash of 2015 lacked any real punch, last season’s Scottish Cup thriller delivered the typical blood and thunder encounter which ushered in a new era renewing the oldest of fierce rivalries.

The first league meeting in over four years has been a long time coming and – despite the prize only being three league points at this stage of the season, as opposed to a place in a domestic cup final – the competitive edge will be evident even before the first whistle has been blown.


10)  Derby debutants looking to impress

scott-sinclair-comes-on-for-celtic-debut-v-hearts-6th-aug-2016
Impact: Winger Scott Sinclair, 27, has made a positive impression for Celtic with four goals in six appearances in all competitions so far (Picture from Sky Sports)

A new league usually brings a raft of new signings and it’s been no different for Rangers, with 12 new faces winging their way through the Ibrox doors this summer.

It’s been a bit quieter on the Celtic front with six players drafted in as Rodgers looked south of the border to integrate fringe players from English clubs whilst opting for quality over quantity.

Of all the recruits from both sides of the divide, none have experienced this unique occasion before, which may count against some of them in the cauldron of Celtic Park.

Lively striker Joe Garner and former Arsenal centre-back Philippe Senderos are likely to receive their first Rangers starts after run-outs in last weekend’s friendly thrashing of Linfield, with the latter bringing a wealth of international nous to the Gers backline.

For Celtic, Cristian Gamboa could be thrown in at the deep end following his deadline day arrival from West Bromwich Albion but that prospect is one the Costa Rica right-back is already relishing.

Many of the summer buys have already had a settling-in period but still have a point to prove – and Saturday lunchtime at Parkhead is no better time to do it. If they can perform to a high level in their Old Firm initiations, it would certainly bode well for the mammoth season ahead.

Celtic v Rangers: Willie Collum to referee Old Firm derby

The Euro 2016 referee will be in the middle at Celtic Park for the first Old Firm derby in the league since April 2012.

Willie Collum referee (Motherwell v Celtic - 9th April 2016)
Renewing acquaintances: Collum will make his second trip to Celtic Park of 2016 but it will be the first time he encounters Rangers in this calendar year (Picture from Sky Sports)

EURO 2016 referee Willie Collum will take charge of his third Old Firm derby when Celtic welcome Rangers to Celtic Park this weekend.

The 37-year-old has been given the responsibility of keeping a lid on proceedings this Saturday lunchtime for the first league meeting between the fierce Glasgow rivals for four and a half years (KO 12:00 BST, live on Sky Sports 2).

He will be ably assisted by Frank Connor and Douglas Ross, with Kevin Clancy on electronic board duties as fourth official.

Collum, of Lanarkshire, will be in the middle for his eighth game in all competitions this season – and third in the Scottish Premiership.

His latest outing came last weekend in which he booked three players in world champions Germany’s 3-0 win over Norway in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier.

Ross – who was one of his assistants in Oslo – is also involved in politics, as a Scottish Conservative councillor for Fochabers-Lhanbryde on Moray Council and Member of Scottish Parliament for the Highlands and Islands.

Collum has kept a low-profile so far this season, issuing just two yellow cards apiece in both St Johnstone’s goalless draw with Aberdeen on the opening weekend and Hearts’ 2-1 victory over Partick Thistle on August 27.

But it will be difficult for the Glasgow-born whistler to stay out of the headlines as he prepares to handle the biggest game of the season so far and his third fixture involving the sides – all of which have come at Parkhead.

Collum endured an eventful Old Firm derby debut in October 2010 at the age of 31, as Rangers came from behind to win 3-1 – after which he received death threats.

Two of the five bookings came in the first five minutes and he awarded a controversial second-half penalty to the Gers when Kirk Broadfoot fell easily over Daniel Majstorovic, even though he appeared to have his back turned to the play at the time.

Then Celtic boss Neil Lennon was critical of him afterwards for making what he felt was “two big mistakes” which cost his team.

Collum then oversaw Celtic’s 1-0 victory at Parkhead in December 2011, for which his handling of what might have been a volatile game was roundly praised but Lee Wallace had a goal ruled out for Rangers which had actually crossed the line.

willie-collum-in-action-inverness-v-celtic-29th-november-2015
Modest record: Collum dished out 11 yellow cards in his two previous Old Firm derbies, which were not without major talking points (Picture from Sky Sports)

He encountered Celtic seven times last season – in their 2-0 win over Ross County on opening weekend, 3-1 win at Dundee United later in August, October’s 3-1 win against Aberdeen, a 3-1 success at Inverness in November, the 3-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final victory against Morton in March, April’s 2-1 win at Motherwell and their 2-1 defeat at St Johnstone in May.

During those games, Collum awarded three penalties to Celtic, whereas in contrast, he was in the middle for only three Rangers games in 2015-16 – but awarded the Gers a penalty in each one.

Collum – a part-time Religious Education teacher at a Bellshill primary school – was a late replacement for Craig Thomson to oversee Mark Warburton’s first game in charge in the 6-2 win over Hibernian in the Challenge Cup first round at Easter Road in July.

He was also in charge of their 4-0 win at Morton in September and 2-1 defeat at Falkirk in December, awarding a controversial spotkick for both sides in a decisive promotion battle at the Falkirk Stadium.

Warburton branded some of Collum’s decisions as “shocking” – referring to the penalty awarded to the hosts when Danny Wilson clearly brought down Will Vaulks outside the box, before Martyn Waghorn’s late penalty was saved after a perceived handball by Craig Alston.

Father-of-three Collum, who has been a Fifa referee since 2006, went to Euro 2016 as Scotland’s only representative for his first major international tournament as a referee and left filled with pride in his team’s performances.

Willie Collum in action
Understated: Collum performed well in both of his group-stage matches and kept out of the spotlight (Picture from ITV Sport)

He officiated Turkey’s 2-0 win over the Czech Republic and France’s 2-0 victory against Albania – brandishing eight yellow cards, no reds and awarding no penalties – before being sent home at the end of the group stages.

A notoriously card-happy Collum, who began refereeing in 1993, is no stranger to dealing with difficult situations and has a wealth of experience in so-called big games both domestically and across Europe.

He has been in charge of two Scottish Cup Finals in 2013 and 2015, the 2012 League Cup Final, two Premiership play-off second leg ties as well as receiving the honour of refereeing the 2015 Uefa Super Cup when Barcelona beat Sevilla 5-4 in Tbilisi.

But Collum was dropped from officiating Premiership fixtures for several weeks last season after a number of high-profile blunders, including two penalty incidents in Aberdeen’s 3-1 defeat at Inverness in February.

Craig Thomson has handled the last two meetings – Celtic’s 2-0 League Cup semi-final victory in February 2015 and Rangers’ win on penalties in last season’s Scottish Cup semi.

And, having yet to encounter either side this season, it was widely expected Collum – the only other referee with previous Old Firm experience among the current crop of officials – would be appointed to the first derby of the campaign.

As domestic action resumes this weekend after the international break, champions Celtic have played a game less but sit one point ahead of second-placed Rangers – who have won only one of their last seven trips to Celtic Park.

It will be Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers’s first taste of the Old Firm but, as he prepares to come up against Mark Warburton for the first time in the dugout, the Rangers boss tasted victory in a penalty shoot-out on his derby debut in the Scottish Cup in April.


REACTION:


ELSEWHERE…

The experienced Crawford Allan has been assigned to Aberdeen’s home match against Inverness later on Saturday.

You can view a full list of SPFL match official appointments here.

Celtic v Rangers: Previewing the Old Firm derby

CELTIC and Rangers will go head to head in the first Old Firm derby in almost three years on Sunday in the Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park.

Celtic v Rangers challenge April 2012

CELTIC and Rangers will go head to head in the first Old Firm derby in almost three years on Sunday in the Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park.

The two Glaswegian rivals will battle for a place in the March 15 final against Dundee United after the Tangerines came from behind to knock holders Aberdeen out on Saturday.

Both have gone in vastly different directions since Celtic won the last meeting 3-0 in the Scottish Premier League at Parkhead in April 2012.

The Hoops – now under the stewardship of Ronny Deila with the Norwegian replacing Neil Lennon last summer – are gearing for a fourth successive top-flight title having experienced the highs and lows of the Champions League and won the Scottish Cup in 2013.

The Gers meanwhile were subsequently expelled to the fourth tier having gone through liquidation and administration but – having gained successive promotions – sit 13 points adrift of Scottish Championship leaders Hearts in the race to return to the Premiership.

As well as numerous players, both managers will be making their Old Firm initiations although Light Blues caretaker boss Kenny McDowall – who took over from Ally McCoist last month and will himself resign at the end of the season – has tasted this fixture for 18 years as a coach.

Celtic, having won four league games in a row and kept five successive clean sheets, are overwhelming favourites to emerge victorious as they seek to win the League Cup for the first time in six years.

27-time winners Rangers – the most successful side in the competition – will take confidence from the fact they have beaten three Premiership teams in cup ties this season although their last two league matches against Hearts and Cowdenbeath have been postponed.

Celtic – three points clear of second-placed Aberdeen in the Premiership – lost 3-2 to St Mirren in their most recent League Cup semi appearance two years ago while it is the first time the Gers have reached this stage since winning the trophy in 2011 by beating the Hoops in the final.

Although Rangers have been bailed out by a £10 million loan from Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct this week, Hoops fans took the opportunity to taunt their financial situation by shelling out £3,000 to publish an advert claiming the Old Firm is “redundant” and this was the first ever meeting of the sides in reference to the Gers re-launching as a new company.

Whether the Rangers supporters – desperate for more glory at the national stadium – will have the last laugh remains to be seen.

 

ROUTE TO THE FINAL:

Celtic:

Round Three –  3-0 win v Hearts (H)

Quarter-Finals –  6-0 win v Partick Thistle (H)

Rangers:

Round One –  2-1 win v Queen’s Park (A)

Round Two –  1-0 win v Inverness (H)

Round Three –  3-1 win v Falkirk (A)

Quarter-Finals –  1-0 win v St Johnstone (H)

 

Rangers 0-2 Celtic Hoops fans at Ibrox - 1 Jan 2011

The last five meetings and most memorable encounters

Celtic v Rangers: The Old Firm circus back in town

Celtic v Rangers: The opinions that matter

 

PREDICTION:

Celtic v Rangers Bougherra red card

CELTIC 3-1 RANGERS

The Hoops have recovered from a minor blip with an emphatic response and are entering the contest in almost the best possible shape. Ronny Deila will know his side are overwhelming favourites and warn the players against complacency. Rangers, meanwhile, could be rusty having not played a full match since January 10. Celtic have greater firepower with Kris Commons appearing to hit the kind of form which helped him win the PFA Player of the Year award in Scotland last season while John Guidetti will be itching to get on the scoresheet as per his hat-trick comments. The Gers have the ability to cause an upset and at least frustrate the Premiership champions but quality and endurance will eventually prevail. However, it is important for both sides to maintain their discipline. It cannot be understated how huge an occasion it is and one that everyone hopes will be memorable. The global audience will be casting its eye and let’s hope Scottish football proves to be the ultimate winner.

 

MATCH FACTS:

This is the 400th meeting of the two rivals stretching back to May 1888 – and their 48th in the League Cup.

Celtic last appeared in the final of the competition in 2012 when they lost 1-0 to Kilmarnock.

The last 10 meetings in all competitions represent five Celtic wins, three Rangers wins and two draws.

John Guidetti has not scored in his last eight games having netted 11 times in his first 12 appearances for Celtic.

The Hoops have scored 13 goals and are yet to concede in either domestic cup competitions this season.

 

TEAM NEWS:

Celtic striker John Guidetti – who earned his first start in six games against Ross County last time out – has previously claimed he aims to bag a hat-trick against Rangers.

Hoops midfielder Stefan Johansen is expected to return after missing last weekend’s 1-0 win at the Global Energy Arena with a head injury despite still having stitches in a cut above the eye.

On-loan Aston Villa winger Aleksandar Tonev is available again after serving a seven-match ban having been found guilty by the SFA of racially abusing Aberdeen defender Shay Logan back in September.

But versatile Scottish international Charlie Mulgrew will be out with a knee problem until the end of March.

Last time out: Celtic's starting eleven against Ross County in their previous outing on 24 January
Last time out: Celtic’s starting eleven against Ross County in their previous outing on 24 January

Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni has been ruled out after his nation Tunisia advanced to the next stage of the Africa Cup of Nations and will play on Saturday night.

Number one goalkeeper Cammy Bell remains sidelined with a shoulder problem so veteran Steve Simonsen – who was recently found guilty of placing 55 bets on football matches – will continue to deputise.

Former Celtic striker Kenny Miller – set for his 17th Old Firm derby outing – and Jon Daly are likely to lead the line for the Gers.

 

PROVISIONAL SQUADS:

Celtic:  Gordon (GK), Zaluska (GK), Lustig, Denayer, Matthews, Izaguirre, Ambrose, van Dijk, Johansen, Tonev, Bitton, Johansen, Brown, Forrest, Commons, Scepovic, Stokes, Henderson, McGregor, Griffiths, Guidetti, Fisher.

Possible Hoops line-up

Rangers:  Simonsen (GK), Robinson (GK), Wallace, McGregor, Shiels, McCulloch, Clark, Law, Black, Templeton, Boyd, Faure, Miller, Crawford, Daly, Foster, Aird, Hardie, Zaliukas.

Possible Gers line-up

 

MATCH OFFICIALS:

Craig Thomson at Celtic Park for 2014 Scottish Cup Final

Referee:  Craig Thomson

Assistant referees:  Graham Chambers and David McGeachie

Fourth Official:  Calum Murray

 

Celtic v Rangers: The past meetings

AS Celtic and Rangers prepare for their 400th ever meeting, here are the past five showdowns as well as a pick of some of the most memorable clashes in an Old Firm derby rivalry which stretches back over 127 years.

Facing each other: Celtic and Rangers have met on 47 previous occasions in the League Cup with Rangers enjoying 24 wins to Celtic's 21
Facing each other: Celtic and Rangers have met on 47 previous occasions in the League Cup with Rangers enjoying 24 wins to Celtic’s 21

THERE have been many blockbuster occasions and classic showdowns which have defined the Old Firm derby since it was first contested in May 1888.

From SPL title deciders to Scottish Cup finals, rarely does a meeting of Celtic and Rangers have little or nothing riding on it.

This – the first in almost three years – is no different with a place in the Scottish League Cup final against either Aberdeen or Dundee United the prize for the winners.

With the current contrasting states of the sides, Celtic are the clear favourites in many eyes but Rangers often raise their game on big occasions so predicting an outcome could be perilous.

As they prepare for their 400th clash, here are the past five encounters between the Glaswegian rivals as well as some of the most memorable meetings down the years…

 

LAST FIVE MEETINGS:

Preparing for battle: Celtic won 3-0 in the last meeting between the sides in the SPL almost three years ago
Preparing for battle: Celtic won 3-0 in the last meeting between the sides in the SPL almost three years ago

CELTIC 3-0 RANGERS (Scottish Premier League)
29 April 2012

The last meeting certainly placed what was to come in stark perspective. Celtic were heading towards their first title under Neil Lennon with Rangers down in the doldrums and in financial turmoil having just been docked 10 points for entering administration.

The Hoops fans even taunted their counterparts with RIP signs and chants throughout a contest which had the feeling of the end of an era.

The Parkhead hosts strolled to a comprehensive victory – which extended the gap between the sides to a gigantic 21 points with three games of the 2011/12 season remaining – as Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons and Gary Hooper got on the scoresheet.

 

RANGERS 3-2 CELTIC (Scottish Premier League)
25 March 2012

Celtic were aiming to achieve something that had occurred only a handful of times before when they arrived at Ibrox – sealing the title at the home of their arch nemesis.

But the incentive served to spur the troubled Light Blues on in a thrilling contest that saw five goals and three red cards – four if you include Neil Lennon’s ordering the stands at half-time – which even by Old Firm standards is quite something.

A first league defeat in 21 games for the Hoops meant the delaying of the inevitable as the title celebrations were put on hold for another week while Rangers gave their fans a small reason to cheer while avoiding such ignimony.

 

CELTIC 1-0 RANGERS (Scottish Premier League)
28 December 2011

In the context of the season, this was regarded as a significant turning point when the title race swung in Celtic’s favour for the first time.

Joe Ledley’s second-half header was enough to leapfrog the Hoops above Rangers to the SPL summit following a ninth straight win – ensuring they had clawed back a 15-point deficit in less than two months.

Ally McCoist – on his first visit to Celtic Park in the Gers dugout – had seen his side condemned to back-to-back defeats on a blustery evening in which few clear-cut chances were carved out.

 

RANGERS 4-2 CELTIC (Scottish Premier League)
18 September 2011

Ally McCoist’s first Old Firm derby as Rangers manager was certainly one to remember and could not have gone much better – but not without a few scares along the way.

The result reflected the early-season optimistic that was rife around Ibrox as they fought back from falling behind courtesy of an Allan McGregor mistake to take the spoils with their frightful front-three of Steven Naismith, Nikica Jelavic and Kyle Lafferty contributing in a six-goal thriller.

In doing so, the Gers went four points clear and maintained their unbeaten start to the season. It was an afternoon to forget for Celtic, who had Charlie Mulgrew sent off for two yellow cards.

 

RANGERS 0-0 CELTIC (Scottish Premier League)
24 April 2011

It might have been goalless at Ibrox but the sixth and final derby of the 2010/11 campaign made for compelling viewing.

And Walter Smith – in his final Old Firm in the Gers hotseat – was indebted to goalkeeper McGregor for a stunning penalty save from Georgios Samaras with seven minutes left.

Despite missing out on all three points, the outcome suited Celtic better and left Neil Lennon’s men needing to win their last five matches to seal the title. A simple scenario but it didn’t quite go according to plan

 

MOST MEMORABLE MEETINGS:

Celtic v Rangers flare-up at Parkhead
Flashpoint: A major flare-up occurred as players and coaching staff made their way down the tunnel at half-time

CELTIC 1-0 RANGERS (Scottish Cup Fifth Round Replay)
2 March 2011

Tempestuous, feisty, difficult for the referee, three red cards, managerial combustion and precious little football played – if ever there was a game that summed up the Old Firm’s heated rivalry this was it.

First things first, Celtic right-back Mark Wilson scored his fourth goal in six games to send the Hoops through to a quarter-final against Inverness and keep his side’s treble hopes alive – whilst dashing Rangers’ in the process.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg on a night where passion and aggression spilled over with Gers ending the game with eight men – pantomime villain El-Hadji Diouf among those sent off by Calum Murray.

Diouf went face-to-face with Neil Lennon on the touchline in the first-half before Lennon was involved in another angry confrontation with Gers assistant boss Ally McCoist.

 

CELTIC 3-2 RANGERS (Scottish Premier League)
27 April 2008

A classic encounter that represented the see-saw battle the two Glasgow giants have enjoyed over the years as Gordon Strachan’s Hoops came out on top in a topsy-turvy humdinger.

From 1-0 up to 2-1 down, Celtic eventually stole the spoils through Barry Robson’s 70th minute penalty to move five points clear at the top with a second Old Firm win in the space of 11 days.

Although Rangers had three games in hand, the title momentum was firmly with the Bhoys, who subsequently went on to record four more victories and lift the trophy.

 

RANGERS 5-1 CELTIC (Scottish Premier League)
26 November 2000

Rangers equalled their biggest margin of victory in modern Old Firm times with a blistering four-goal haul in the second half as the defending champions left runaway leaders Celtic without an Ibrox win in six years.

Tore Andre Flo and Michael Mols scored on their Old Firm debuts while now Clyde boss Barry Ferguson and captain Lorenzo Amoruso were also on target in what was a must-win game for the Gers, who moved to within 12 points of their rivals.

Celtic’s Alan Thompson also received two yellows from referee Kenny Clark but it made little difference on a day that will be forever enshrined as one of the most famous in Gers’ history.

 

RANGERS 3-2 CELTIC (Scottish Cup Final)
4 May 2002

Another colossal and typically tight tussle was decided in the most dramatic circumstances with barely 10 seconds of injury time remaining as Peter Lovenkrands’ second of the game settled a cup double for Alex McLeish’s Rangers.

Martin O’Neill’s Celtic had twice led in front of a sell-out Hampden Park crowd but a team consisting of Jackie McNamara, John Hartson and Stiliyan Petrov among others were eventually undone as they were left to make do with only the SPL title that season.

With the two sides as evenly-matched as ever before, it was too close to call yet the Gers – inspired by captain Barry Ferguson – proved their worth on an emotionally-charged occasion to lift the Scottish Cup for the 30th time.

 

CELTIC 6-2 RANGERS (Scottish Premier League)
27 August 2000

As far as early-season entertainment goes, this Parkhead contest fitted the bill in every sense with Celtic producing six of the best to preserve their perfect start to the campaign under Martin O’Neill.

It had all the typical Old Firm ingredients – controversial decisions, penalties and red cards – with many conspiring against Dick Advocaat’s Rangers, who had been much the dominant force in Glasgow in the preceding years.

But there was no disputing the attack-minded Hoops were worthy winners as the likes of Chris Sutton and Henrik Larsson tore the Gers defence – which included Fernando Ricksen – to shreds.

Click here for a full head-to-head record

Celtic v Rangers: The opinions that matter

AS Celtic prepare to face Glaswegian rivals Rangers in the first “Old Firm” derby since April 2012, many of those past and present who have or have not been involved in the famous fixture give their views.

Celtic v Rangers in the SPL (October 2010)

THE build-up to any derby is naturally going to generate widespread interest but when the two sides have not locked horns in almost three years, it takes on added significance.

This weekend, Celtic and Rangers lock horns for the first time since April 2012 with a place in March’s Scottish League Cup Final up for grabs.

With the Old Firm rivalry being renewed and the two Glaswegian rivals currently in two different divisions, the intrigue surrounding this semi-final is at fever pitch as Hampden Park will be on Sunday.

Therefore it is no surprise that everyone from Scottish football fans to Kenny Dalglish have been having their say before the players go outside and sort this out once and for all.

It is relatively unusual for supporters to get the mind games rolling but that’s exactly what the Celtic fans have been doing with suggestions that it should be referred to as a Glasgow rather than Old Firm derby in reference to Rangers re-launching as a “new company”.

Interesting stuff. Talk about banging the drum…

Here are some of those opinions and then you can decide for yourself:

On target: Stokes celebrates his goal against Motherwell at Fir Park in December
On target: Stokes celebrates his goal against Motherwell at Fir Park in December

Celtic striker Anthony Stokes (speaking to the Scotsman):

“It is a one-off game and I think the form book goes out the window, especially when it is a rivalry of this magnitude, especially with us not playing them for so long.

“For me it has always been the biggest game.

“It is great to play in Europe but with the rivalry and what it brings to the city it is a special occasion and something I am really looking forward to.

“This could arguably be the biggest because because of the time that has passed since we last played them.”

 

Man with the plan: Smith masterminded many a triumph over Celtic as manager of Rangers between 1991 and 1998 and 2007 and 2011
Man with the plan: Smith masterminded many a triumph over Celtic as manager of Rangers between 1991 and 1998 and 2007 and 2011

Former Rangers manager Walter Smith (speaking to the Daily Record):

“You go to England and there is Everton v Liverpool, Manchester United v Manchester City, I have experienced the two of them. The Old Firm game has an edge to it that is missing in these matches.

“But I can’t say that I miss them. On the other hand I say they are necessary. They are necessary for everyone else except maybe the two managers.

“Scottish football needs it; needs a Rangers v Celtic game. The profile that this game will achieve over Europe, and even the world, will be massive and it gets that profile focused onto Scottish football again, which we are struggling to achieve at European level at present.”

 

No complacency: Gordon - who is set for an Old Firm debut on Sunday - says it is not a forgone conclusion that Celtic will beat Rangers
No complacency: Gordon – who is set for an Old Firm debut on Sunday – says it is not a forgone conclusion that Celtic will beat Rangers

Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon (speaking to the Scottish Daily Mail):

“Is it a 50-50 game? They probably always are 50/50 games, regardless of who’s playing for the two sides.

“Rangers still have enough quality in their team to win a game so we’ll be looking at ourselves and our preparation.

“The form book goes out the window in Celtic-Rangers matches. There are two sides with 11 men desperate to win the game. And when you have that, anything can happen.”

From the blue side: McLeish managed Rangers for five years before a mutual decision was made to end his tenure in 2006
From the blue side: McLeish managed Rangers for five years before a mutual decision was made to end his tenure in 2006

Former Rangers manager Alex McLeish (speaking to STV Sport):

“Normally Celtic should win because of the difference in quality but it is a cup tie and an Old Firm game. Rangers will probably raise their game big time.

“I think the important players next week are going to be the experienced Rangers players. That could be key.

“We saw big FA Cup shocks at the weekend and there’s no reason why Rangers can’t do that.”

 

Luckless: Lennon did not win the League Cup during his four and a half year stint as Celtic manager
Luckless: Lennon did not win the League Cup during his four and a half year stint as Celtic manager

Former Celtic manager Neil Lennon (speaking to STV):

“Yeah I mean I know there’s a debate that it is not Rangers, it’s a newco, this that and the other. Listen when it comes to Sunday and the stadium is packed, people will know what it is all about.

“Regardless of the position in the league, regardless of what has gone on in the last three or four years, I think everyone from a fan’s point of view will be looking forward to the game. Now Rangers fans might not but that’s just the nature of the beast.

“Anything can happen in a derby and if Celtic play as well as they can then they should be comfortable winners.”

 

Familiar face: Dalglish played for Celtic during the 1970s and briefly managed the Parkhead club at the turn of the century
Familiar face: Dalglish played for Celtic during the 1970s and briefly managed the Parkhead club at the turn of the century

Former Celtic striker and manager Kenny Dalglish (speaking to the Scotsman):

“It’s a massive game, everybody knows what it stands for. Even if it’s your first venture into one, you soon realise what it means. Everybody who has played football knows the importance of a derby match, and the one you’re involved in is the most important.

“If you are born in Glasgow, you know the magnitude of the game and what it means to win it. That tells you it doesn’t matter what state either club is in, or how long it’s been since they played each other. So that feeling will not be diluted or devalued on Sunday. Both sets of fans have really missed the Old Firm games.”

 

Experienced campaigner: McDowall has been part of the Old Firm derby as a Rangers player, first-team coach and assistant manager over the past 18 years
Experienced campaigner: McDowall has been part of the Old Firm derby as a Rangers player, first-team coach and assistant manager over the past 18 years

Rangers caretaker manager Kenny McDowall (speaking to the Scotsman):

“There is probably as big a gap between the teams as there has ever been. Celtic are favourites for it and rightly so.

“I think it will be a fantastic occasion. It has been three years and it has finally arrived. It will be massive because it has been so long, but this is what you are in the game for.

“It is a cup game and we know anything can happen. You need a bit of luck on the day, but you need to play well on the day as well.”

He added when talking to BBC Scotland: “I think Scottish football needs this fixture. Hopefully it will help Scotland get back to better things in the future.”

 

First timer: Deila has only ever watched an Old Firm derby on television before but will be in the thick of the action on Sunday
First timer: Deila has only ever watched an Old Firm derby on television before but will be in the thick of the action on Sunday

Celtic manager Ronny Deila (speaking to BBC Scotland):

“It’s a first meeting with Rangers for me. It’s exciting. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be a very good day.

“There is a lot of emotion. It means a lot to people, the whole city. Football needs derbies like that. A lot goes into the game, it’s not just going to the final.

“You can feel the atmosphere in the city. Right now it feels like the most important thing in the world.”

 

Veteran: Rangers captain Lee McCulloch made his Old Firm debut at Ibrox in a 3-0 SPL win in October 2007
Veteran: Rangers captain Lee McCulloch made his Old Firm debut at Ibrox in a 3-0 SPL win in October 2007

Rangers captain Lee McCulloch (speaking to BBC Scotland):

“Obviously Celtic for this one are resounding favourites, so we are just looking to give a good account of ourselves and hopefully get through to the final.

“Form goes out of the window as this is a one-off.

“It’s up to us to try to prove people wrong about their opinion and persona of where we’re at just now and show we have got character in the dressing-room and that we have got leaders that can lead a dressing-room to an Old Firm victory.”

 

Leading by example: Celtic skipper Scott Brown will relish the midfield battle with his Rangers counterparts in the derby atmosphere
Leading by example: Celtic skipper Scott Brown will relish the midfield battle with his Rangers counterparts in the derby atmosphere

Celtic captain Scott Brown (speaking to BBC Scotland):

“It is good for Scottish football because everyone all over the world will be watching and hopefully we can put on a show for them. Do we miss Rangers? Yes, on occasions like this.

“It is good to have the hype of the game and the fans having the banter between one another. It is going to be a terrific occasion and everyone’s counting down the days now. It will be exciting.

“Every Celtic-Rangers game, everyone relishes, especially on the big occasions going out in front of 50,000 at Hampden. The atmosphere as soon as you walk out on to that pitch, hairs stand up on the back of your neck.”

 

Neil McCann (Sky Sports pundit - Hamilton v Celtic 17th Jan 2015)

Sky Sports pundit and former Rangers defender Neil McCann (speaking to Daily Mail):

“Rangers are in real trouble at the moment. The sides are worlds apart in terms of the performances on the pitch. It could be really tough for Rangers.

“You just want to see Rangers back for the good of Scottish football. We knew this game would come around. We would have liked to see it in the top league but it’s the cup and one team are going in very strong and another who are a lot weaker.

“But I still believe Rangers have guys in that squad who, if they get things right tactically, there is a chance an upset could happen.”

 

Off the boil: On-loan Manchester City forward Guidetti has not found the back of the net since November
Off the boil: On-loan Manchester City forward Guidetti has not found the back of the net since November

Celtic striker John Guidetti (speaking to BBC Scotland):

“I fancy three [against Rangers at Hampden Park]. That is what I did against Ajax when I was with Feyenoord and that’s the aim this time.

“Big games are what I love the most.”

 

Looking ahead: Celtic fans will be optimistic but bullish about their chances of reaching a first League Cup final since 2009
Looking ahead: Celtic fans will be optimistic but bullish about their chances of reaching a first League Cup final since 2009

The Supporters View: