Ian Durrant: Rangers must ‘man up’ in clash with Celtic

Ian Durrant hopes marquee signing Niko Kranjcar will shine. Picture: John Devlin
Ian Durrant hopes marquee signing Niko Kranjcar will shine. Picture: John Devlin
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Rangers are 9-2 outsiders to take all three points at Celtic Park this weekend but Ian Durrant knows all too well that upsets are as big a part of Celtic v Rangers meetings as prohibited song books and cancelling of police leave.

For an example of such an outcome, he referred back to his own introduction to the fixture on 1 May, 1985.

As a fresh-faced 18-year-old, the midfielder was thrown in at the deep end at Parkhead just 11 days after making his first-team debut.

Durrant was joined in midfield by Bobby Russell and Davie MacKinnon that night. Rangers, who hadn’t won the title for seven years, were to finish 21 points behind eventual champions Aberdeen (in the days of two points for a win) while Celtic had pushed Alex Ferguson’s side all the way.

When Rangers conceded a second-minute penalty, Durrant feared the worst. However, Roy Aitken failed to convert the award and the hosts were to squander more opportunities.

A goal by Alan McInally was sandwiched between red cards for Davie Cooper and Ally Dawson but the visitors salvaged an unlikely draw when the hapless Aitken was penalised for handball and Ally McCoist scored from the penalty spot.

“Celtic were strong at that time and, under big Jock Wallace, we were struggling a bit,” said Durrant. “Jock was great and he wasn’t scared about throwing in the kids. There was Derek Ferguson and myself and Robert Fleck was also around about the squad.

“It makes you. It forces you to man up. If you can handle that, the Old Firm game, then you can probably handle any game in the world.

“Celtic were massive favourites that night. We were fourth and Celtic were well in front of us, with Aberdeen and Dundee United challenging them: they were their closest rivals then. You need luck in these games and we got some that day after going down to nine men.”

That result, and others like it, provides the 49-year-old with some succour ahead of Saturday’s encounter. As 
Gordon Strachan is fond of pointing out, a player’s character is revealed (and sometimes exposed) on a football field and Durrant is hoping for a display of fortitude by his former club.

“There is no kidding about this, Rangers are chasing Celtic in terms of the financial side of it now and they have won five titles in a row,” he said. “So Rangers have to stand up and be counted.

“I’m looking forward to watching Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton. They are quality players and, hopefully, on the day they can show what they can do. I’ve watched Joey and he’s a really good player.

“He’s had a bit of stick but he’ll be finding his feet. He’s probably not hit the heights he wants to but, if he does, he can make Rangers a very good team.

“Of course, form goes out the window on these occasions. Everyone is saying Celtic are stronger on paper but you don’t win games on paper.

“Basically, these games are about who turns up – plus you need that bit of luck. Everyone is going on about Patrick Roberts, Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths – who are all lightning fast – and Rangers do need to be on their guard there.

“They will rely on the experience of Kenny Miller, who is a wily old fox. Martyn Waghorn will be important if he’s fit and wee Barrie McKay had a tremendous game against them the last time and he has to carry it to the next level. Celtic Park is an intimidating arena. It’s early in the season, though, and I think that could be a big thing for the Rangers boys because they will have time to recover if it does go badly.

“They shouldn’t have any apprehension about going to Parkhead. They showed in the last game, albeit in the Scottish Cup, what they can do.”

Of course, while visiting the champions is likely to provide Mark Warburton’s squad with the most thorough examination of their credentials, it is far from the only problem which lies in store for the newly-promoted club.

Rangers face a potentially treacherous trip to Aberdeen in two weeks’ time followed by another away game against Hearts.

“There are hard games coming up,” said Durrant. “Everyone’s talking about Celtic Park but I’ve said all along that it’ll be a new experience for many of them going to Pittodrie and Tynecastle, great arenas for football and proper atmospheres. They’ve a lot of tough games coming up, they knew that and that’s why the manager has assembled a squad he thinks is going to be capable of mounting a challenge to Celtic.”

Durrant, who served Rangers for more than 25 years as a player and coach of the youth, reserve and first teams as well as having one match as interim manager, remains rightly proud of his record in the derby.

“I take a lot of pleasure from that now,” he said. “You can’t get away from the fact we have missed this game.”