This weekend’s Old Firm clash will be the first between the two sides in the league since April 2012. Kenny Miller will make his 19th appearance in the fixture, his 15th for Rangers, and knows a thing about one of the biggest games in football. Speaking earlier today at Auchenhowie Miller revealed he has been counting down the days since the fixtures were released saying: “Obviously it’s a huge game for both teams and a huge game on the Scottish calendar and for me it’s the first game you look for. You want to be playing the biggest and best games and there’s no doubt that, within the Scottish game, it’s two giants going head to head and I’ve been fortunate enough to pop up with a few goals.
“Everyone knows the history behind the fixture and the fact it’s two rivals from the same city, separated by 5 or 6 miles or so, and you’re always going head to head for leagues, Scottish cups and League cups. Obviously, the history dates back a long, long time and these two good clubs have been at it for a long time.
“I love it (going back to Parkhead), absolutely love it. I’ve been fortunate enough, in my last spell here, where we won there and I managed to get a few goals. There was another one we lost, although I think we’d won the league already, which was Neil Lennon’s first game and we lost 2-1. As much as it’s a huge fixture it was still hard to take. Even looking back on that night I thought we’d played well. It’s been a successful venue for me as a Rangers player.
When asked how he felt about signing for Celtic, and scoring for them in an Old Firm game, after having already been a Rangers player, Miller joked: “Sickened. These are the decisions you have to make throughout the course your career. At that point I felt it was the right choice for me and my career although I’ve been fortunate enough to get back the where I belong and since I came back I’ve had a successful time in the fixture.”
Miller’s return to Ibrox brought added pressure. Not only was he coming to Rangers for a second spell but he was doing so as a former Celtic player. Miller was acutely aware of this but believes his first trip back to Celtic Park had a massive bearing on the success of his return, saying: “Because of what the games mean every goal is a huge, huge goal. For me coming back here, off the back of playing for Celtic, and scoring two goals in that first game at Parkhead which we won 4-2, for me, went a long way to being accepted back into the Rangers family.”
Since Rangers relegation to the then Third Divsion, the two Old Firm clashes have been at Hampden. Neutral venues mean a much more evenly split crowd but Miller is prepared to have the majority of Saturday’s crowd on his back for 90 minutes: “The difference at Ibrox or Parkhead is different to when it’s a final or semi final at Hampden” Miller said. “Whether it’s at home, and you’ve got the backing of 50,000 fans, or away, and you’ve got 50,000 fans against you, there’s a real notch up in the noise level in those games.”
Having played in 18 Old Firm games Miller isn’t too worried that new teammates likes Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar will be fazed by the experience. The striker said: “I know experiencing it as a player is different but watching as a fan you get an insight into what it can be like, even in terms of the noise. I remember Barry Robson and Christian Dailly, after about three seconds, there was a head-to. Just to look it and watch it as a fan you can see what it means to both clubs, both sets of players and both sets of fans.”
Despite being written off in any quarters Miller believes Rangers have enough quality in their side to take something from the game. The veteran striker is aware though that Warburton’s side haven’t managed to put together a solid run of form yet, saying: “If you look at any Old Firm game the home team are normally bookies’ favourites and this time we’re a team who’ve come up through the lower leagues and they are the champions but that never stopped us last year and we went into that game full of confidence in what we can do and that’s not changed. Listen, we know we’ve started slowly, a lot slower than we’d have like to have started but you’ve seen in our games you’ve seen how we can hurt teams. You’ve seen it in all four of the league games so far but it’s not been a sustained performance and we need to put that right.”
Under Mark Warburton, Rangers style of play has been often discussed with a high pressing game and lots of short passing winning plaudits everywhere and Miller insists that wont change against Celtic: “We always talk about our gameplan and our style of play and that’s never going to change. We’ll be going to Parkhead and looking to dominate the ball, create chances and score goals. We know we have to tighten up at the back as they have players who can hurt us but for us it’s all about what we can do.”
“This is what Scottish football has craved for the last four years with Rangers returning to the top flight Not just for these fixtures, and I include Hibs in this too as I’d like to see Hibs back in the top flight too. I think it was Ally (McCoist) who was saying we need Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen, Rangers and Celtic all in the top flight for the good of our game.”
“Whether we get the right result or not, for us, if we can hit our performance then you’ll win some and you’ll lose some. Titles are never going to be lost in September. I’ve found myself with 5 or 6 games to go and 6 or 7 points off top and still won the league so we’re approaching this game like any other. As we said before the Scottish Cup semi, it’s about what we do and we know we have the game to hurt anybody. If we do that we’ll be in a good place.”
“We’ve got a confidence and a belief in what the manager wants to do. We just haven’t put it together this season yet as well as last season. Whether that’s the increased level of the opposition or trying to bed in the new signings; 20 players we’ve turned over in the last two summers so that’s a lot of lads to come in and gel. This season it’s just taken us a little bit longer than it did last season.
“I really believed, hand on heart, we’d have won that game (April’s Scottish Cup semi final) and won it well. I think the performance showed we deserved to win it and if it wasn’t in normal time then it would’ve been extra time or penalties. It’s a different challenge at Ibrox or Parkhead and a different atmosphere. Obviously the nature of our first four results and performances in the league is...yep, look at the positive. We’re unbeaten. If you’d offered people four games unbeaten going into the Old Firm game I think they would have taken it. As a player we’re disappointed we’ve not performed as well (as we could) but we have belief in what we do.
The back-and-forth between Joey Barton and Scott Brown was brought up as well as questions about the former Man City midfielder’s temperament and Miller revealed: “It’s trying to find that balance between a cool-head and being aggressive. You don’t want to get lost within the fixture but you don’t want it to pass you by. I can’t speak for what’s going on inside Joey’s head but he’s a VERY experienced footballer. I think a lot of what he says and puts out there in public is tongue-in-cheek and we’ve no worries about him losing his cool. He’ll go about his business the way he does and hopefully that means he’s dominating the football, making passes and breaking up Celtic attacks. He’s had that focus on him throughout his career playing at big clubs in big games and coming to Rangers and playing in an Old Firm won’t be different to that. It’s a huge fixture and the spotlight will be on him, and every player on that pitch, and hopefully he brings his A-game and does his talking on the pitch.”
One of the big concerns about Rangers has been the possibility that Celtic’s pacy forward line could expose the Gers’ defense but Miller disagreed with that assessment saying: “Yeah they’ve got pace in forward areas but we’re pacy too. I don’t know if there will be a player in Scotland quicker than Barrie McKay or Josh Windass. These lads are fast players, I still retain a wee bit of pace myself that I once had, and we’re a threat. You could be a sprinter but it doesn’t make you a good footballer. It’s about the intelligence with the football and how to use it. In our squad we’ve got players who might not all have that level of pace but definitely have the ability to hurt Celtic.