LOOKING AT THE BIGGER PICTURE; LEADERS OF MEN: Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan Watch Another Old Firm Encounter Unfold from the Celtic Park Touchline

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Byline: Graeme Croser

GORDON STRACHAN insists his head-to-head record against Walter Smith isirrelevant when set along side the broader achievements of his team over thepast 12 months.

Only the most warped among the Celtic support would argue with their managersassessment that trophies and European advancement have held far greatersignificance than local bragging rights during 2007 but a new year is set tobring a new set of circumstances.

Wednesday marks the return of the traditional Neerday derby, albeit with a24-hour delay, and its hard to play down the significance of the game forCeltic and for their manager in particular.

Strachans Old Firm stats in the year since Smith returned to manage Rangersread played three, lost three but of those only one has been competitive in thetruest sense of the word.

On the first two occasions, Celtic already held an unassailable lead at the topof the SPL table and were in cruise mode as they counted down the weeks anddays until they could pick up the championship trophy.

Defeat at Ibrox in the first derby of the season in October was an altogetherdifferent matter. With everything to play for and both teams jostling forsupremacy, a lack of motivation was no excuse for the 3-0 drubbing endured by ateam which played without cohesion and with little passion.

With Rangers holding a couple of games in hand, Celtic darent offer asignificant title advantage to their greatest rivals by losing this week. Interms of both psychology and points, defeat would be extremely harmful and itcould also sour an already unsteady relationship between Strachan and theParkhead support.

Nevertheless, for the next few days at least, Strachan is perfectly entitled tohighlight his impressive achievements with the club.

Within the time of the three defeats to Rangers, we have reached the last 16 ofthe Champions League, won a league and won a cup, he said. When history istold, people wont say: Youve lost three games against Rangers. Because, downthe side of the programme, it will read: One league, one cup, Nakamura Playerof the Year and advancement to the last 16 of the Champions League for thefirst time ever.

Theyll notice all that. Not that I like getting beat. Defeats are never easy totake, Old Firm or not. Losing to Inverness Caley Thistle isnt easy, I canassure you. Getting beat is getting beat.

Strachan tends to clam up or respond flippantly when faced with anyRangers-related questions. Witness his recent I dont care response when askedwhether he felt Rangers could make it to the knockout stages of the ChampionsLeague.

The harsh politics of life at an Old Firm club make his reticenceunderstandable. Nevertheless, he was happy to joke around a little when askedabout his past Premiership tussles with Smith.

This is a different environment from when I used to come up against Walter inEnglandthe games between Everton and Coventry were all crap, he joked. …