Martin O’Neill has been in the news this week after a sit down with Viaplay TV ahead of Sunday’s big Hampden Showdown between Celtic and their fierce rivals theRangers. O’Neill is no stranger to these clashes, after having face-off against the now dead 1872 Rangers during his five years at Parkhead.
O’Neill enjoyed many victories during that era and also tasted the bitterness of defeat too on occasion. The Irishman knew the highs and lows of these mad derbies and how if you were not at it, you would be consumed by your opponents. Both teams had great players back at that time, although Celtic did manage to procure theirs through strictly legal channels.
The old Republic of Ireland boss has now revealed that he sees theRangers crumble under the pressure and intensity of these matches regularly and that they are psychologically weaker than their counterparts over the course of the season these days, giving the Hoops a big edge whenever these fixtures roll around. Speaking ahead of the match, he said: “Obviously Celtic have the upper hand at the moment,” via PLZ Soccer. “Victories give you that confidence and self-belief.
“I think theRangers have some decent players, but at big moments they just seem to falter. The last match it was 1-1, a simple headed clearance, they should have dealt with it and almost tried to keep the ball in play. The next thing Celtic are 2-1 in front. In big matches Celtic are flying and theRangers don’t seem to be able to nail them at all. It comes from results. Obviously the Old Firm matches are massively big. If you can’t win those games then of course confidence suffers greatly. So this is a big, big test for theRangers, a really big test for them.
“It’s amazing to say that. Not long ago they were contesting a Europa League final, a kick away from winning it. I had a lot of time for Van Bronckhorst as a person and a manager, and a player. I really felt for him, I genuinely did do, I thought it was tough that he lost his job. But, listen, if you are not winning football matches then you know the consequences.”
Having known what it is like to be the one to need to chase and dethrone the Champions and a team who have had that edge in games over a number of years, O’Neill says that the pressure is well and truly on Mick Beale to deliver now after successive defeats. He said: “Absolutely, Celtic are the benchmark and theRangers have to get there. And they will have to get there sooner rather than later.
“When I came in, there was about a 20-point gap. If you thought about it realistically, you would want to try and close that gap as soon as possible and then try to take over. I got a bit of luck early on, won a couple of matches that we might have drawn even before we played Rangers. So by the time they hammered us at Ibrox in November-time, we had enough confidence from winning football matches. TheRangers don’t have that to fall back on. In fairness to the manager who has come in, up until not so long ago they were matching Celtic in terms of league results but they weren’t making up any ground.”
He added: “That meant that the game against Celtic was massive, they had to win that game to close the gap. That hasn’t happened. So Celtic are very much the benchmark and theRangers have got to do something about it, and relatively quickly. You don’t get the time, absolutely. If I think back, I was trying to convince myself about closing the gap. I’m not sure that would have held for a great length of time. I might have been given a little bit of leeway early on, but eventually you are up here to win. The manager knows that anyway.”
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