ROBBIE KEANE will face Rangers in today's crucial Old Firm derby at Ibrox, barring a reaction to yesterday's training session, in which the Republic of Ireland captain was able to take part for the first time in a week.
Celtic had been sweating on Keane's fitness after he sustained an unspecified injury in the 1-0 victory over Dundee United last weekend, a result that brought them to within seven points of the champions, who have a game in hand.
A victory for Rangers today would all but guarantee Walter Smith's side a second successive title and a draw would also keep the odds heavily tilted in their favour. However, a Celtic win would throw the issue into the balance again, especially with one more Old Firm derby to be played at Parkhead.
Victory would also see manager Smith equal Jock Stein and former Ibrox boss Scott Symon's Old Firm record of 26 victories in the Glasgow derby. However, Smith was keen to play down the potential milestone, saying: "The first thing is that it would be nice to win and that's always the main aspect. To equal the record of Mr Stein and Mr Symon would be terrific. It might bring us equal in terms of the number of Old Firm games but that's all."
Rangers remained silent about the prospects for Allan McGregor. The goalkeeper complained to police about an injury he sustained on a night out in Glasgow last weekend but after training on Friday he spent the afternoon in a city police station helping detectives with their inquiry.
The other controversy that dominated the build-up to this match was the leak by Celtic of a complaint to the SFA about the standard of refereeing in Old Firm derbies this season and also about the capacity of assistant referees to cope with Keane's attempts to beat offside traps. Tony Mowbray, the Celtic manager, dissociated himself from any suggestion that match officials might be biased against his team.
However, he revealed last night that he had instructed his captain, Scott Brown, to question today's referee, Dougie McDonald, about judgments that go against Celtic. "I've actually told him to be more vocal with the officials in some decisions that don't go our way because, if anything, we are quite a passive team," said Mowbray.
"Robbie Keane has already picked up a booking because of his chirping and for me it's part of the professional game. There's nothing wrong with asking a question of a referee and I don't think we've done that enough.
"We don't want to take that competitive edge off Scott so that if the ball bounces between two players he's got to do what he does. I think the fact that he is skipper and he has an armband round him will mean there's a little voice in his head that calms him. That's all it is -- one split second to stay calm because of the responsibility that he carries."
Mowbray also disclosed the efforts he has made to smooth out the wrinkles in Brown's game, while praising the midfielder's determination to contribute to the team despite an ankle injury that plagued him for months last year. "It's a great credit to him that he soldiered on through the problems he had," said the manager.
"Most players, when they're not 100 per cent fit, don't want to put their boots on but Scott played on and in the end it was a case of 'Let's put a stop to that and get him right'. It did take him some games to get him back to being the player he wants to be.
"I don't want to change him into something different because I don't want to take away that enthusiasm and endeavour. We'll try to make him a more thoughtful footballer, a player who can influence a match more. He's got all the qualities to do that.
"He plays the game at such a ferocious speed all the time. Sometimes the best players have the ability to switch, in your mind you've got to slow down and dictate the tempo of the game. We just have to calm him down, slow him down and get him to understand that he can dictate games."
Mowbray knows it's a big day in his short reign at Celtic against the old enemy. "They have found some good consistency and have made life difficult for us," he said of Rangers. "But let's hope it is a good game, a good spectacle and the best team wins."
Rangers v Celtic,
Sky Sports 1, 12.30