The fitness (or lack thereof) of Portuguese defender Bruno Alves and Welsh full-back Declan John has been a cause for concern among Rangers supporters ever since both players picked up knocks in Tuesday’s Betfred Cup victory over Partick Thistle.
Captain Lee Wallace had already been ruled out of today’s visit of Celtic due to a groin injury but John, the loan signing from Cardiff City who had deputised for the left-back in the double-header against the Jags, had to be replaced by Lee Hodson in midweek.
Alves could not continue after sustaining a calf injury and 19-year-old Ross McCrorie (whom manager Pedro Caixinha hyperbolically claimed “will become one of the best centre-halves in history”) hadn’t appeared for the first team until thrown on for the final 44 minutes at Firhill.
Celtic go into the first Rangers clash of the season on the back of 4-0 victories over Ross County and Dundee and having scored 16 goals in the six meetings between the clubs last season but goalkeeper Wes Foderingham is unconcerned about the possibility of facing the champions with a patched-up rearguard.
“Don’t forget that I train with them every day so it’s not that unfamiliar,” he said. “Whatever side we put out, we are confident. The gaffer has brought in the type of players that can come in and play when needed, so there are no worries there.
“I’m looking forward to this game. I enjoy playing in them. The reason I joined Rangers was to play in the big fixtures. We’ve got a point to prove. We know that these matches didn’t go at all well last season but we have to build on that and improve those results this time out.
“Sometimes it just comes down to what happens on the day. In that first [5-1] game a couple of mistakes cost us, even though we’d started really well. But if we can turn up on Saturday and play our football then, hopefully, it’ll go to plan. There are certain events – like Philippe Senderos being sent off – which can change the game and we ended up finishing poorly. You’ve got to start and end well on these occasions.”
Celtic’s annual accounts, published last week, emphasised the financial gulf between the clubs but Foderingham is optimistic that Rangers can compete with Brendan Rodgers’ side.
“They’re a top team; they’ve been unbeaten for a while now and you can’t do that if you’re a bad side,” he acknowledged. “But we’re better placed now to challenge more than we did last year. The first Old Firm meeting of the season is always the most difficult because everyone is a little apprehensive and you don’t know how the game’s going to go. However, we’re prepared and we’re confident and looking forward to it.”
Rangers finished 39 points behind the champions last season and Foderingham accepts that they must close that gap. Curiously, though, he does not feel that victory against them is essential. “It is a direct way of doing it [pulling them back] but there’s no point in winning all your matches against Celtic if you are going to drop points elsewhere,” he said.