Scott Brown believes Celtic will need to be on their guard this weekend because Rangers are proving they are a better side without Joey Barton.
The Celtic skipper was unwittingly dragged into a feud with the now-suspended Rangers midfielder in the run-up to last month’s league clash, which saw the Parkhead side canter to a 5-1 victory.
But he laughed off Barton’s absence from Sunday’s BetFred League Cup semi-final rematch, saying: “After that last performance it’s quite amusing.”
Shortly after joining Rangers in the summer Barton taunted Brown by saying his Celtic opposite number was “not in my league”.
But Brown kept his counsel and easily outshone Barton in what proved to be a comprehensive win for Celtic.
That game had huge consequences for Barton’s Rangers career. He hasn’t played for the club since after being sent away from the Rangers training ground in the week after the match due to an outburst reported to be directed at team-mate Andy Halliday.
There was little sympathy from Brown yesterday. Indeed, he suggested that Rangers have benefitted from Barton’s exile. Since the Old Firm defeat Mark Warburton’s side have been beaten just once in five outings, keeping a clean sheet in four of those.
“They have started to get a few results and get a steady team and that’s better for them,” added Brown. “But we’re improving and getting stronger and fitter as well.
Brown painted Barton’s previous pre-match assertions as being counter-productive to his side’s cause. Without such a Barton-generated sideshow this weekend, he figured Celtic could be given more to think about.
“For me he tried to wind the whole game up and to make it about him, but yet again [it proved] you come into these games and top quality players in the past have struggled,” reflected Brown.
“It’s always going to be hard for anyone if they are not going to do the work.”
Nothing has been confirmed but it is unlikely Barton will play for Rangers again. Brown looked crestfallen at this turn of events yesterday. “It would have been good fun,” he said, when asked if he was disappointed by Barton’s absence from Sunday’s match.
To be fair to Barton, he took the defeat and the manner of it on the chin at Celtic Park. He deliberately searched out Brown at the final whistle and shook his hand.
But Brown later referred to the battle as being like “men against boys”.
The Celtic captain took the opportunity yesterday to underline how Barton had made life more difficult for his team-mates with his c omments before the September clash.
“For me he put his team-mates under a lot of pressure while we kept focused, kept on the straight and narrow and just worried about our game, no one else’s,” he said.
“I did my talking on the park rather than in the media.”