Celtic v Rangers preview
Rangers (2/1) and Celtic (11/10) will end 2011 locked in combat in the final Old Firm Derby of the year. The Gers will travel to Celtic Park for a 7:45pm kick off which is set to be screened live on Sky Sports.
Neil Lennon's side will be looking to avenge a 4-2 defeat at Ibrox in September. Despite taking the lead through an uncharacteristic Allan McGregor mistake the Hoops let their lead slip and saw Charlie Mulgrew dismissed late on. That win opened up a four point gap between the Glasgow sides as Rangers continued atop the table.
Fast forward to December and there is a similar gap between the sides, Rangers held a 12 point lead at one stage during the season, but some poor performances have seen that lead disintegrate and Celtic will be motivated to get even closer with a win.
A shock loss to Kilmarnock and a draw with St Johnstone allowed their rivals to close the gap as Celtic's only real slip-ups have come in their ill-fated Europa League campaign. Rangers lack of European football hasn't really had the desired effect, they may lead the SPL, but they aren't racking up the big scores that sometimes you'd expect. Celtic also are producing tight 1-0 and 2-1 wins, probably a sign that the quality in the league is increasing.
Nikica Jelavić (13/2, First Scorer) and Gary Hooper (5/1, First Scorer) are the top two scorers in the SPL followed closely by Steven Naismith and Anthony Stokes (6/1, First Scorer) . The last five head-to-heads in all competitions have been split equally between the sides, two wins each and a draw.
Rangers will find it hard to hang on to their Croatian striker as the interest in him grows, but with the increasing interest, Jelavic seems to be responding positively and producing a lot more consistently.
Jelavic, Hooper and Naismith all scored in the last meeting of the top two and with such attacking prowess on show over 2.5 and 3.5 goals could be the bet. Only twice in the recent games between the two has the total finished under 2.5 goals with a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win.
Up to the Christmas period Celtic were unbeaten in ten league games and really set fire to the race for the title. A five nil win away to St Mirren really compounded their form, however they have yet to replicate that and they will need to score a lot to beat Rangers.
After the recent 4-2 win at Ibrox for Rangers the last time either side won by more than goals was at Celtic Park last season when Celtic won 3-0 in February. Gary Hooper bagged a brace (6/1) in that game, however the win failed to inspire the Bhoys to the league title.
There is no doubt that the winner of the Old Firm derby will take a massive step towards the title and Ally McCoist will be hoping to deliver the title in his first season in the Rangers hot-seat.
It's no doubt that heading into the second half of the season is a massive psychological advantage but if Celtic can close the gap to a mere one or two points then you'd have to fancy them to kick on for the rest of the season and really pile the pressure on.