Mikael Lustig: Pressure on Celtic in Old Firm semi-final

Celtic's Mikael Lustig prepares to face Rangers. Picture: SNS

Celtic's Mikael Lustig prepares to face Rangers. Picture: SNS

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Celtic defender Mikael Lustig admitted he found his first Old Firm battle a stroll in the park - but reckons the pressure will be on his side during this Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final showdown.

The Swede moved to Parkhead four years ago but failed to face up to Rangers during his first few months in Glasgow after an injury-plagued start to his Hoops career.

The Ibrox club’s 2012 financial meltdown then ensured derby hostilities were put in cold storage until the teams were finally put back on a collision course with last year’s League Cup semi-final.

By that point, Gers were three years into their troubled rebuilding job but were vastly under-equipped to take on Ronny Delia’s side.

Led by caretaker boss Kenny McDowall, the Light Blues looked relieved to escape Hampden having suffered only a 2-0 defeat following goals from Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons.

And Lustig confessed he was surprised by how straight forward his side’s victory was.

He said: “We got two goals up quite quick last year and then controlled the game.

“Goals always change games, especially in a semi-final. But when you get the lead you don’t want to play a different kind of football and I think we did well for 90 minutes.

“It felt quite easy but it could be different this time.”

Having called in Mark Warburton to pick up the pieces of last season’s failed promotion bid, Rangers are on their way back to the top flight after clinching the Ladbrokes Championship crown.

Lustig insists his team are still superior to their Glasgow rivals but conceded the weight of expectation will press down heavier on Ronny Deila’s men than the Ibrox troops - even though the Premiership champions-elect have yet to hit top gear this season.

Asked if the pressure was on Celtic, he replied: “Yeah I think so. We have the better players and the better team, so I can see why people would think that.

“Should we win? I think so.

“We haven’t done that good this year. We know we have more [to give], that we can play better football, absolutely.

“I think we have learned now the last couple of games we can still win when we don’t play well and that is a positive thing.

“Right now we have not reached the top of our game but I think we’re going to get there.

“Last year, Rangers didn’t get promotion but now they have done it, so obviously they have probably had a better season. So maybe [they have closed the gap].”

Celtic are on the verge of a fifth straight title but Deila’s team have made heavy weather of the task.

It was suggested to Lustig as he faced the media at Lennoxtown on Tuesday that his boss’ Parkhead reign could be cut short if he failed to find a way past Rangers but the right-back replied: “I don’t think the manager’s future relies on one game, so hopefully not.”

The state of the Hampden pitch could yet play a part in this weekend’s clash after Hampden chiefs were forced to relay the surface for the second time in five weeks and just days before the national stadium hosts not only Sunday’s Old Firm meeting, but also Saturday’s semi involving Dundee United and Hibs.

The controversy, though, has only brought back bad memories for Lustig after last year’s game was also blighted by the dodgy turf.

“I remember last year was terrible but I’m sure they’re doing the best they can to make it the best possible pitch for Sunday,” he said. “We will see how the weather will be. There is a game there on the Saturday too, so that could affect it. Hopefully it will be pitch we can play good football on, though.

“Of course it’s not ideal. We had the same thing back in Sweden where the national team play. The first year in the new stadium they changed the surface six or seven times.

“It is always going to take a while for the grass to settle in. But hopefully it is going to be okay.”

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