It's been almost six weeks already since Celtic trounced us 5-1 at Parkhead in September. No defeat is easy to take but we were hammered that day with several players struggling to match the pace and desire of the home side. Strangely enough we started reasonably well and were largely comfortable defensively until the opener after 33mins. However, it's safe to say we then made it far too easy for Celtic with silly red cards and gifted goals ruining every bear's afternoon. Injury and crucial missed chances also combined to ensure we all went home disappointed.
Since then our form has improved - despite dropping more points at home to Ross County and to Aberdeen at Pittodrie. In the five games since Parkhead, we've lost only two goals but (the League Cup quarter final aside) we've also struggled to score as well which is frustrating considering the chances we do create from the majority of possession we generally enjoy. In saying that, our overall quality has adjusted upwards with a higher tempo to our passing, better movement from attacking players and more confidence in our ability to deal with the opposition's high press - something we struggled with against Celtic last month.
With that in mind, this morning's news that Niko Kranjcar has badly injured his knee is a big blow to the team. The former Croatian international didn't have the best of starts to his Rangers career but there's no doubt he's been much better of late and his creative influence a joy to watch over the last four weeks. To lose that just as the team is starting to settle is hugely frustrating but with Dean Windass and Harry Forrester ready to step in, it's also no excuse to dealing with the upcoming schedule.
Nevertheless, unlike last season, various niggling injuries have been a real source of negativity this term. Wilson, Kiernan, Hill, Rossiter, Windass, Holt, Dodoo and Waghorn have all suffered from a variety of issues and it can be argued this has had an unsettling affect on the team and system. Continuity of selection is a vital part of any winning mentality and without that it's no surprise to see us being so inconsistent compared to the majority of last season. Consequently, Kranjcar aside, I don't see many changes tomorrow to the team that won away in Inverness last Friday.
In defence, I'd expect a back five of Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Hill and Wallace. Yes, Matt Gilks has thus far played in the League Cup games but he may sit it out on Sunday. Similarly, Philippe Senderos was arguably signed with a view to being a regular starter but his underwhelming performances so far suggests only a place on the bench for the big defender with Clint Hill doing much better of late. Lee Hodson can perhaps consider himself unfortunate that he's been unable to force his way into one of the first choice full-back roles but he should also make the bench again this weekend.
Moving into midfield and our selections in this area of the team will be key to Sunday's outcome. Andy Halliday may not (yet) have the CV of Joey Barton but he was badly missed at Parkhead last month and will be eager to match his excellent display at Hampden last April. The same can be said of Jason Holt whilst the third place in the middle will most probably go to Josh Windass who was arguably our best player in the 5-1 defeat. Both Windass and Holt's mobility and industry will be crucial if we're to get a positive foothold in the game.
We also struggled in attack in September's contest. Joe Garner made a reasonable Old Firm début and scored a fine header but was often isolated up front as the team failed to link our attacking play well enough. This may mean Kenny Miller is preferred as he can drop slightly deeper, enabling others to get into the game. Add in his ability to switch with the likely choice of Waghorn on the right, this gives us a more familiar look in attack. Barrie McKay hasn't had the best of seasons but will start again tomorrow as he's an important outlet for retaining possession whilst his understanding with Lee Wallace is vital to the way we play.
Despite the injury to Kranjcar we still have plenty of strength in depth should the team below not be selected. As well as Gilks and Hodson in defence, guys like Forrester and Dodoo are capable of offering quality further forward whilst Michael O'Halloran and Matt Crooks could be the kind of wild-card selections that are often seen in these games. Certainly, as much as Celtic easily beat us in September and have done well domestically, neither are they unbeatable and they've have had their own defensive concerns at times as well.
In conclusion, it's imperative we stamp our authority on the game as early as possible. When we won at Hampden last season, it was because we kept the ball well, played out from defence with confidence and kept Celtic on the back-foot. Last month was the opposite as we seemed to sit deep, gave the ball away far too cheaply and, aside from a short period either side of half-time, offered a minimal threat in general. It's time to right these wrongs and it's sure to be another exciting day In Glasgow come Sunday afternoon!
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