Glasgow (AFP) – This weekend will see the return of one of Scottish football’s nastiest fixtures and no one is looking forward to it more than the Rangers players, manager Mark Warburton says.
Sparks are sure to fly at Pittodrie on Sunday as the Glasgow giants make their way north to take on Aberdeen in a match that, outside of the Old Firm clash, is one of the most fiercely contested in the Scottish Premiership.
It is their first meeting in nearly five years, but there is no love lost between these bitter rivals in what is one of the country’s modern football rivalries.
Unlike most rivalries, this one does not stem from geographical location but rather its origins can be found in the 1980s when Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen were the dominant force and broke the Old Firm dominance of the Scottish game.
However, Neil Simpson’s reckless challenge on Rangers starlet Ian Durrant in 1988, which left the midfielder on the sidelines for two years, is thought to be the main catalyst for the animosity between the supporters.
Police Scotland have already revealed there will be extra patrols, dog handlers and mounted cops for one of the most thorough security operations ever launched in and around Pittodrie.
Former Rangers captain Barry Ferguson said this week he did not enjoy the nastiness that attached itself to the fixture when he was playing, but Warburton says the current crop of Ibrox players will revel in it.
“That’s why players come to Rangers. They want to play in these type of games,” the former Brentford manager said.
“It will be a 20,000 sellout and an intimidating atmosphere and they will enjoy that. It has been five years since we have been up there. The fans are looking forward to it and so are the players.”
Both sides have had almost identical starts to the season having collected nine points from their opening six games.
A win for Rangers, who booked their place in the League Cup semi-finals with a 5-0 win over Queen of the South in midweek, could go some way to easing the memory of their 5-1 thrashing by Celtic in the first Old Firm match of the season — they are four points adrift of their bitter rivals having played a game more.
The powderkeg fixture will also pose a welcome distraction for Rangers and their supporters in a week which saw the Ibrox club dominate the headlines following their decision to suspend outspoken midfielder Joey Barton for three-and-a-half weeks for a dressing room row with teammate Andy Halliday.
“We have momentum and we have also trained well, the boys have been excellent. Performances are a consequence of training. It filters through the squad and breeds confidence and self-belief,” Warburton added.
“We are looking forward to the trip north. After what happened at Parkhead (the defeat by Celtic) hard work is the only way of getting better. You have to put your head down at the training ground and the Saturday game becomes a consequence of what you do there.
“The players have been outstanding, all credit to them. They’ve worked really hard and we’re looking forward to what will now be a tough game on Sunday but we’re relishing that challenge.”
Fixtures (1400GMT unless otherwise stated)
Celtic v Kilmarnock, Hearts v Ross County, Inverness CT v Dundee, Partick Thistle v Motherwell
Aberdeen v Rangers (1200), Hamilton v St Johnstone
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