Murdo MacLeod backs Willie Collum to handle Old Firm battle

Murdo MacLeod has backed referee Willie Collum to cope inconspicuously with his return to the centre of Old Firm combat tomorrow.

Referee Willie Collum is surrounded by players from both sides during the Old Firm derby at Celtic Park in October 2010. Picture: SNS Group.

Collum will take charge of the third Celtic-Rangers fixture of his career but his first since 2011. Despite being Scotland’s highest profile Fifa-ranked referee, he was overlooked for the League Cup semi-final between the teams in 2015 and the Scottish Cup semi-final earlier this year, both of which were handled by Craig Thomson.

Collum attracted controversy in his first Old Firm fixture with his award of a penalty to Rangers in a 3-1 win for the Ibrox club at Celtic Park in October 2010.

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His second match between the fierce rivals passed off less contentiously, albeit a Lee Wallace header which crossed the line for Rangers was not spotted by the officials during a 1-0 win for Celtic at Parkhead in December 2011. Former Celtic midfielder and assistant manager MacLeod is optimistic Collum, who earlier this week took charge of a World Cup qualifier between Norway and Germany, will be able to operate under the radar tomorrow.

“Hopefully we won’t be talking about the referee,” said MacLeod. “He has been at a high level recently, including refereeing at the Euro 2016 finals in the summer, and he should be able to handle the game quite well. Yes, there is going to be a bit of aggression from both sides in their efforts to win the game, as is always the case in Old Firm games. There are one or two players who are quite fiery but I think the referee has got enough experience to cope with that.

“The way this one is going to be played, it won’t all be about passion. I think we will see a lot of the ball on the deck because they are two good footballing sides who like to play that way, so that should help the referee.”

There will be a clutch of Old Firm debutants on both teams tomorrow, including men with English Premier League experience such as Celtic defender Kolo Toure and Rangers midfielder Joey Barton. But MacLeod warns this is a fixture where previous reputations offer no guarantees.

“It’s amazing how many big name players down the years have come into Old Firm games and just not performed,” he added. “You can’t scout players to be good enough to cope with an Old Firm game. There is no formula for that.”