Mowbray in need of Old Firm tonic
Celtic manager Tony Mowbray faces perhaps the most important 90 minutes of his brief tenure as Parkhead boss this lunchtime when Glasgow rivals Rangers come calling.
Trailing the Ibrox men by seven points going into 2010 (albeit with a game in hand), the pressure is on Mowbray, who it is fair to say has yet to win over many amongst the Parkhead faithful. Defeat in the traditional New Year Old Firm clash would be a serious setback for Celtic's hopes of reclaiming the championship.
One Celt glad to see the back of 2009 is Ireland international Aiden McGeady, who was outstanding in the club's League Cup final victory over their great rivals last March. However, he then saw the league title lost and, to cap it all, at international level he was denied the oppportunity to travel to South Africa this coming summer.
"We threw the League title away, that's the biggest thing for me," he says. "The only way to deal with disappointments like that is to bounce back and win the title this season."
McGeady, who could soon be on his way out of Celtic, played for less than half an hour in the World Cup play-offs against France -- and was honest enough to admit that "the World Cup was a bigger disappointment than the League because it only comes around once every four years. Playing at the finals would be the pinnacle of my career."
However, if a touch of individual brilliance is to win it for Celtic today, then it may well come from an unexpected source. Niall McGinn, signed by Gordon Strachan last January for £150,000 from Derry City, has taken time to settle in Glasgow due in part to the need to build up his fitness.
Utilised mainly as a sub, 22-year-old McGinn scored a spectacular second goal in Celtic's 2-0 win over Hamilton last weekend and many Parkhead followers believe he deserves a place in the starting line-up this afternoon.
"My life has changed completely since I moved to Glasgow. The chance to play in an Old Firm game would be something special. It would be a challenge I would relish," McGinn said. "I hope to be on the bench at least and if given the chance to make an impact if I came on."
His manager recognises the youngster's talents. "He has been doing well. He has pace and skill and can beat an opponent with ease. He is making progress -- but needs to be patient and work hard. One day his talent will demand he is in the team every week."
The run-up to the traditional Ne'erday clash sees a significant reversal in roles since the first Old Firm clash of October 4 when the Ibrox men defied pre-match odds to emerge triumphant 2-1. Rangers have been in devastating form in the run-up to today's showdown, with six consecutive SPL wins and 26 goals scored into the bargain.
However, the champions will make the journey across the city seriously understrength with the suspended Kenny Miller joined on the list of absentees by Madjid Bougherra, away on African Cup of Nations duty with Algeria and Pedro Mendes, Kevin Thomson, DaMarcus Beasley and Steven Naismith all out injured.
Celtic have been more fortunate in their African Championships representation with Danny N'Guemo -- a key member of their midfield -- available thanks to the flexibility of Cameroon manager Paul Le Guen, ironically Walter Smith's predecessor at Ibrox.
Celtic v Rangers,
Sky Sports 3, 12.30