Football Expert & Columnist
Gers in good Nik
With Celtic and Rangers renewing rivalries this weekend, Andy Walker assesses their striking options.
Last Updated: 14/02/11 2:53pm
Celtic and Rangers will go head-to-head on Sunday at Celtic Park on league business after both posted impressive wins at the weekend.
On Saturday, Rangers destroyed Motherwell at Ibrox with a ruthless display of finishing in a six-goal victory and in Nikica Jelavic, they have a striker of real quality.
After posting his first hat-trick for the club, Jelavic is getting back to his best form after missing three months with injury. Rangers will need their most impressive striker in top form for the challenging week ahead.
On Thursday the Ibrox club host Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of the Europa League then all thoughts will turn to Sunday when they must avoid defeat against Celtic on Sunday to stay in the race for the SPL title.
Walter Smith took a gamble last summer when he spent almost all of his transfer budget on the 24-year old Croatian international but when you spend £4million on a striker you tend to get quality. In my view, his form and potential for goals represents Rangers' best chances of success this season.
When they sold top scorer Kenny Miller in the January transfer window for £400,000, few could understand the reason behind getting such a paltry sum for a man in the form of his life, albeit in the last few months of his contract. If anyone can replace the high return of goals - especially in big games - then Jelavic has the ability to step up in class.
The only downside to their 6-0 win over Motherwell was a hamstring injury to Steven Naismith, substituted just before half-time. Since the season began, Naismith has arguably been Rangers most consistent player and his energy, drive and determination are badly needed over the next few games.
Celtic had to face the potential banana skin of a trip to Tannadice to face Dundee United 24 hours later but came through with flying colours and a 3-1 victory. Their first came through top scorer Antony Stokes and his partnership with Gary Hooper has been a key feature of Celtic's impressive run of eight wins and a draw from their last nine games.
Given their recent goalscoring form and the fact that Sunday's game is at Celtic Park, you would expect both to be guaranteed a starting place in Neil Lennon's side. I'm not so sure.
My guess is that Stokes will drop to the bench once again on Sunday with Neil Lennon choosing once again to go with one recognised striker and five in midfield. Stokes missed out at the start of the year when Lennon opted for Georgios Samaras at Ibrox and the Greek's physical presence and running power is more suited to the role of a lone striker. In winning 2-0, his decision was completely vindicated.
Just recently in the Scottish Cup when Celtic had been scoring goals regularly and Stokes had notched in his previous six games, the Celtic supporters were desperate for their manager to "play the Celtic way" and go for all-out attack. Stokes was dropped to the bench again.
Lennon has been clever and astute in his team selection for this most demanding of occasions and even when reduced to 10 men I the recent Scottish Cup tie, his team were still dominating possession. Celtic showed that playing with five in midfield and one striker doesn't have to be a negative system and I imagine Gary Hooper will be the lone striker on Sunday with Kris Commons and Joe Ledley getting up in support of him.
Celtic will start as narrow favourites but having won already at Celtic Park earlier in the season, Rangers still have the players to record an away win.
Elsewhere, Hearts maintained their notable run of form against teams outwith the Old Firm with another victory on the road.
Hamilton had no reply to Steven Elliott's two goals and are now five points adrift at the bottom of the table from St Mirren.
With back-to-back wins, Colin Calderwood has eased the anxiety of the Hibs fans who now have an eight-point gap between themselves and Hamilton. New signing Akpo Sodje has given them a physical presence up front that has been lacking and he claimed the vital breakthrough goal early in the second half.
I have to say the penalty later converted by another new signing Victor Palsson was one of the softest you'll ever see but winning should breed confidence now at Easter Road. St Mirren and Inverness shared six goals in an engrossing 3-3 draw with Terry Butcher's men clinging to a place in the top six by just one point.
With less than three months of the season to play, every point becomes more and more vital.