THE last thing the Celtic players need to be lumbered with is a persecution complex as they prepare for the noon kick-off at Ibrox today.

This is an afternoon for positive vibes and assured and unwavering mindsets from those adorned in green and white hoops.

Count me out of those who subscribe to fairly wayward conspiracy theories. These fretting individuals have had a field day, especially after the unnecessary and antagonistic SFA appointment of John Beaton as referee for this particular powderkeg locking-of-horns of the Glasgow clubs.

Other match officials were available for the fixture so you have to wonder about the decision-making process on the sixth floor at Hampden. Maybe they are simply not equipped to handle such situations.

WELCOME BACK…Brendan Rodgers returns to Glasgow derby action as he watches Celtic win 1-0 at Ibrox on September 3 last year.

I said recently that Scotland’s governing body were to common sense what Long John Silver was to tap dancing. They cemented that belief by handing the silver whistle to Beaton for this game.

This is the same referee whose VAR performance was labelled “incompetent” by the Celtic manager after some brain-twisting interventions at Tynecastle just over a month ago. As we all know to our cost, this official has a bit “previous”, as they say in the best TV cop shows, when these two opponents get down and dirty on matchday.

The landslide of verbiage, innuendo and mumbo jumbo cannot be allowed to act as a sideshow before an absolutely vital confrontation in Govan where the hate crime police will most likely spend an afternoon in apoplectic shock as the songsters go through their vile repertoire.

The importance of this game is unmistakably crucial as we near a dramatic crescendo to the campaign. If Celtic win I have no doubt the twelfth crown in 13 years will once again reside in the Parkhead trophy room.

A defeat could have disastrous repercussions. The title fate would be out of the hands of Brendan Rodgers’ men. They would require favours from elsewhere and that is not a situation with which anyone of a Celtic persuasion can be comfortable.

The champions could rack up a record scoreline when the teams meet again in the east end of Glasgow following the SPFL split, but it wouldn’t make a whit of difference if Philippe Clement’s outfit are successful in their other league outings.

A degree in maths is not required, it’s not a complex equation and it’s understandable that tension levels can soar to unhealthy levels in this high-octane environment.

The Celtic players know what is in front of them today. Rodgers and John Kennedy will have been working on their individual and collective psyche all week.

WALLOP…Kyogo Furuhashi is clattered from behind by Livingston defender Mikey Devlin.

To be fair to the onfield performers, they did not allow their focus to be disturbed when they were denied a stonewall penalty-kick at Livingston a week ago. The game was locked at 0-0 in the 37th minute and the visitors were not overly-convincing in a first-half where keeper Shamal George had to wait until two minutes into stoppage-time to be tasked with making a save.

In such circumstances, players will always be more than delighted to receive assistance from “outside sources”, as I believe those in charge of control sticks are termed these days.

Don Robertson, the onfield official in Edinburgh when Beaton was the entrusted technical guru in the VAR studios, turned a blind eye to a reckless challenge from Mikey Devlin that flattened Kyogo Furuhashi in the box.

The prolific Japanese striker was about to move onto a pass from Alistair Johnston when he was crudely knocked to the ground by a rash tackle from behind. There was a deep-breath moment when it became obvious the referee thought such a primitive approach to the art of tackling by the home side’s captain was perfectly legitimate.

We waited for Alan Muir, sitting whiling away an afternoon in front of the multi screens in Clydesdale House in Glasgow, to have a word in the ear of his colleague. We’re still waiting.

Remarkably, the VAR mastermind reckoned everything was fine and dandy, absolutely nothing wrong with a defender wildly lunging in from the back to clip the heels of an opponent to prevent a clear goalscoring opportunity.

BOWLED OVER…Kyogo Furuhashi is sent tumbling after Mikey Devlin’s reckless challenge. Penalty-kick? No chance. Not even a VAR intervention. Celtic still won 3-0.

Everyone who witnessed the incident was convinced it was a stick-on penalty-kick. Well, all apart from one character known to us all but who shall remain nameless.

Suffice to say, this individual’s credibility can be neatly filed between zero and zilch.

At the very least, it was anticipated that Muir might instruct Robertson to review the incident on his touchline monitor. Beaton had twice made such a requirement at Tynecastle that concluded with a Celtic player red-carded and a phantom penalty-kick awarded to the grateful hosts.

I am working merely on supposition here, but what if Robertson had asked his colleague to please refrain from making such an order in this game? Following two ludicrous decisions after similar scenarios in Edinburgh, how could the referee have viewed the bludgeoning tackle from Devlin on Kyogo and not award a penalty-kick?

And so that adds to the material gathered by those who anticipate a snake under every rock.

It will take only a handful of minutes at Ibrox today for anyone who possesses a scintilla of football knowledge to prophesise what lies in store for the rest of the game.

For instance, if Reo Hatate or Matt O’Riley – or Callum McGregor if he is deemed fit – is bowled over in an obvious foul by an over-eager opponent and no action is taken we will know it is time to buckle up for a bumpy ride.

If Cameron Carter-Vickers or Liam Scales – or any of the visitors – picks up a quickfire booking for what may be deemed a foul challenge early in proceedings we will have a fair idea what is around the corner.

No team needs a cornerstone of the team spending the rest of the match treading on eggshells in fear of a second yellow card and the very real threat of expulsion.

Unwittingly, perhaps, Beaton will give us all an indication of how things will play out. And if there are any eyebrow-raising early deliberations from the official, those judgements, dodgy or otherwise, will spark the conspiracy theorists’ claim that the world and its auntie is against us.

To be fair, those of this trend of thinking have been handed a fair amount of ammunition in the past to back up their assertions.

For your humble scribe, though, I am content to take the Jock Stein way of overcoming such issues, real or imagined.

His mantra was: Just make sure you stick the ball in the opposition’s net at least once more than they do in ours.

Let’s hope for a clean, sporting and entertaining contest and may the better team win.

That’s all we can ask for.


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