Old Firm heats up

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GLASGOW, February 26 – Defending champions Rangers will seek to put an end to Celtic's faltering title challenge when the Glasgow rivals meet in the third Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox on Sunday.
Walter Smith’s side have a seven-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League over the Hoops and a game in hand over their long-time adversaries.

"If we can win this game it would put a serious dent in their championship hopes," said Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist.

"We certainly wouldn’t win anything at this stage but you’d have to say it would put a real dampener on things for them."

The Gers beat Tony Mowbray’s men 2-1 in the season’s first Old Firm game in October, which was followed by a 1-1 draw at Parkhead last month.

The Celtic manager is yet to taste victory in the fixture since joining the club in the summer and moved to strengthen his squad with eight new signings in the January transfer window.

In contrast, Rangers made no new signings, even allowing Pedro Mendes to leave the club and sending on-loan French winger Jerome Rothen back to Paris Saint-Germain.

McCoist, himself a former Rangers player, said his side have more experience of coping with the intense atmosphere and expectation that goes with an Old Firm derby.

"I would go along with the theory that us not bringing players in last month means the guys we have here know what the game is all about already," he said.

"With that said, as soon as the first whistle goes on Sunday, Celtic’s players will quickly find out what it is like

"A very positive way of looking at things is that we’ve got a good, tight squad. They’re a closely knit group who are very aware of what this game means."

Celtic winger Aiden McGeady, however, says there is still everything to play for as both sides have surrendered significant leads in recent years to finish second.

"Last season, we were seven points clear and Rangers won the league," the Irish international said.

"The season before, they were seven points clear and we won the league. That was with seven games to go and there are more than that now to go; there are 13 or 14 games to go."

"I think Rangers can drop points from now to the end of the season. I can see it happening."

Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor could miss the game after being beaten up in Glasgow city centre last weekend.

McGeady, meanwhile, is under no illusion as to who he thinks will make the difference for second-placed Celtic: Republic of Ireland international team-mate Robbie Keane, who has joined on loan from Tottenham.

"He is a fantastic player. He’ll get you goals but he’s not just a number nine, he’s one of our link-up players as well and he’s a clever player to have in the team," McGeady said.

"I’m sure he is going to score a lot of goals for us and hopefully help us kick on from this point of the season onwards."

Keane is on loan from Spurs until the end of the season and has scored three in his last four outings for the Hoops.

He faces a Rangers defence that has kept a clean sheet in eight of its last ten matches.

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