Celtic have given the response whenever the issue of changing the guard in the pecking order of Scottish soccer has arisen.
They went back and left their competitors behind when they lost the Old Firm game convincingly last December and Rangers went into the winter break top of the table. When Rangers defeated them last season in the Betfred Cup final, they displayed immense determination and won the cup anyway.
That would be the crowning achievement if Rangers could win the league from their current place and make it 10 wins in a row, but Celtic manager Neil Lennon acknowledges that if they are to win at Ibrox today, he has a tactical conundrum to overcome.
Lennon acknowledges that even in the Old Firm games Celtic recently won, Rangers have had the upper hand, such as the victory at Hampden in the League Cup, and that he will have to find a way around the tactics Steven Gerrard has so effectively used to stifle the late Celtic.
“I wouldn’t disagree with that [that Rangers have dominated recent Old Firm games], so that’s something we need to look at and correct,” Lennon said. I believe we owe a performance to ourselves – we need to play better, be stronger and be more aggressive.
“The last game had some extenuating circumstances. We had a lot of players and injuries with Covid out, and we were a little flat.
But Rangers were the better team here at Celtic Park and even at Hampden in the last two games, even though we eventually came out on top.
That’s why it’s crucial that we put a good performance into motion. However, I’ll still be happy if we play like shit and win, but I’d like to get the best of both worlds.
Their system is good and they are well practiced, but we have to think about that. In the last two games, we played with a 4-3-3 system and we weren’t very good. So we switched to a three-man backline in the last game, but the team wasn’t as good and we didn’t have the consistency we would have liked.
“So that’s something we have to think about, no question about it.”
Lennon also acknowledges that his team would need mental strength to come out of Ibrox with a victory, away from the tactics board, which in turn will give his players a big emotional boost as they face the rest of the season.
A win will give us a big boost mentally, which is why we think about this game,” he said. “We are optimistic, but we don’t want to assume that we have turned the corner.
You might tell we are back on track if we could get a result at Ibrox. But, while I liked aspects of our last game against Dundee United, there were some other aspects that I didn’t like.
But we score goals, build a lot of good opportunities and start to look a lot more like ourselves.
We look better now, we have good depth and the team is healthier. We’ll see, but I think the players are centered and looking forward to the game.
In a derby, you can’t take it for granted – it’s about what happens during the day – so we have to make sure it’s our day and that we’re ready for it.
We seem to be in good shape, the players look new all of a sudden, and maybe that’s more psychological than anything else.
“There are no signs of fatigue and they don’t look sluggish, so I think we’re okay mentally at the moment, but that can change in 90 minutes.”
Perhaps it’s no exaggeration to suggest that those 90 minutes might be critical for Lennon and his own role as Celtic coach. The January analysis of his position promised by major shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell will loom like storm clouds on the horizon should his side lose in Govan, having weathered the storm of the last few months to bring his team to an even keel.
Lennon said, “I think we need to put in a good performance,”
“We need to be strong physically and mentally.
In the last couple of games, I don’t know what’s happened, maybe it’s just the hope that’s no longer there. Maybe the cup win and the quadruple-triple gave us a bit of a boost.
All that’s gone now, and we can concentrate on being free, but solid.
“That’s something we haven’t done in the last few months.”
David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro have played a major role in bringing a new lease of life to Celtic’s team.