In the long history of Old Firm combat, both sides of Glasgow’s great footballing divide have been able to celebrate the contributions of players whose individual abilities allowed them to decisively stand out from the rest.
Stretching back to the early years of Scottish football’s highest profile fixture, prolific strikers such as RC Hamilton at Rangers and Jimmy Quinn at Celtic enjoyed the happy knack of consistently delivering the goods against their greatest rivals.
In more recent times, Rangers’ record scorer Ally McCoist and Celtic icon Henrik Larsson consistently made the difference for their teams in the derby.
Going into today’s latest instalment at Ibrox, there is no doubt Celtic have found another player who thrives on the fixture in the shape of 20-year-old French striker Moussa Dembele. He struck a hat-trick in the 5-1 win on his Old Firm debut at Celtic Park in September, then scored the only goal of the Betfred Cup semi-final between the sides at Hampden the following month.
In contrast, Rangers currently have no obvious talisman in their ranks. On an afternoon when they kick off 16 points behind Celtic at the top of the Premiership, their midfielder Andy Halliday recognises that they have to rely on the collective in order to have any chance of inflicting Celtic’s first domestic defeat of the season.
“When you look at our team, if I’m being honest, I don’t think that we’ve been blessed with match-winners,” said Halliday.
“If we’re going to win football matches, then we need nine or ten of our players on top form during the 90 minutes. So we’ll try to impose our style from the kick-off and, hopefully, get the win. Our biggest strength is as a team. If all 11 starters and the subs are at their best we can put a mark on the game. When I say we don’t have match-winners, we have boys who have quality who can try to win you games.
“But when we have won games this year, we have all been on form and most players have played really well. It’s probably only the Inverness game last weekend where we have not played well and still won, so we have to make sure we are ready to go against Celtic.”
Halliday is hopeful Rangers’ long unbeaten run at Ibrox, which now stretches back 33 games to September 2015, can prove significant as they attempt to upset the odds against the champions.
“We have to take a lot of pride in the fact we haven’t lost a league game at Ibrox under Mark Warburton and we’ve made it a fortress in the last 15 months,” he added. “We’ve got some really good home form going into this game but Celtic are obviously really strong. They haven’t lost a league game so far and it’s their best start to a season since 2003 and they have a lot of momentum but we’ll have the backing of most of the 50,000 fans and they can be our 12th man.
“It’s important we do our job on the park and we’re going to attempt to salvage some bragging rights and chip away at that lead Celtic have established.
“There are so many emotions involved in Old Firm games that you’re always playing for a lot of things, but Celtic have a very healthy lead and all credit to them for putting together that fantastic run. For us, we need the three points so we can try to whittle away that lead. Any Old Firm game is about bragging rights but we will be trying to put an end to their unbeaten run. I’m sure it’s not just us that wants to stop them. Aberdeen and Hearts will feel the same way and Motherwell ran them close a couple of weeks ago.”
Halliday insists avenging their heavy defeat at Celtic Park earlier in the campaign will not be the prime source of motivation for Rangers. “Of course, that still hurts and it should be in the back of your mind that we’ve lost 5-1 to our closest rivals,” he said. “But we need to concentrate on what we do because I don’t think we’ve been able to impose our own game on them in the two previous meetings. Celtic dominated both of those so it’s important that we try to control the game.”