It’s the final game of 2018 at Ibrox on Saturday afternoon – and just for good measure the last ‘Old Firm’ encounter of the year.
Steven Gerrard must have wished for a better preparation for this fixture, as crucial as any since he arrived in Glasgow.
An injury-ravaged squad and recent inconsistent form that has seen four points lost in two games against Hibernian despite Rangers dominating both.
Celtic currently sit three points clear of their great rivals and go into this one on the back of three successive wins, including a remarkable win by the odd goal in seven against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Boxing Day.
A win for Rangers would ensure a real and live title race that may well go down to the wire.
The previous ‘Old Firm’ encounter during the current campaign saw Celtic emerge victorious 1-0 at Parkhead back in September – in a match where Rangers were clearly suffering the after-effects of an exhausting midweek journey to Ufa in Russia on Europa League duty.
The Rangers manager remained upbeat despite that extensive injury list that includes Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley, Borna Barisic, Scott Arfield and Ryan Kent as well as long-term absentees Graham Dorrans and Jamie Murphy.
“I feel we’re a couple of results away from having the perfect six months, if you like,” he said.
“We know that we have to be at our best to get the result we want. I’m confident the players can do that.
“It’s the last fixture before the winter break, there’s ninety minutes to go – so let’s give everything you’ve got and see where it takes us.”
Gerrard spoke highly of the opposition, managed of course by his former manager Brendan Rodgers.
“We have to bring our ‘A’ game. We’re playing against a good team with good players. They will be well-drilled, I know that for sure,” he said.
“We’ve certainly got respect for the opposition - but what a fantastic opportunity for the players to try to get the result we need.
“I just hope the players give a true account of themselves. I think we’ve shown at Ibrox this season against high-level opposition that when we play with freedom, back ourselves and go out with confidence then we’ve played some really nice stuff.”
The Ibrox boss was optimistic regarding the prospect of the injury list being reduced before kick-off.
“We will give everyone up to the last possible moment. I’ve still got some decisions to make and checks to do. We’ve still got 24 hours to go and decisions to be made. There’s still two or three that are touch and go. It’s not ideal in terms of availability but we will still have a strong team out.”
A full-house Ibrox packed to capacity will house just a meagre 800 Celtic fans – and Gerrard welcomed the backing of the Light Blue legions.
“The atmosphere is going to be electric - we need our fans right behind us and we want them to take the roof off because we have experienced it before in big games against high level opposition and it has been a big help for us.
“We also understand that it’s our responsibility to try and start the game well and produce a performance that gets them on the edge of their seats.
“It works both ways - but I’m really looking forward to the atmosphere and the players should thrive on it.
“We know we have to be at our best to get the result we want and I’m confident the players can do that - this is an opportunity for us, if we can get the win and the result we want, it puts us where we need to be.”