NOT having been involved in the Old Firm game previously didn’t prevent Callum McGregor from helping Celtic romp to an emphatic 5-1 triumph over Rangers at Parkhead on his debut in the world-famous fixture back in 2016.

McGregor has no doubts that his fellow midfielders Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull will also shine despite their lack of experience in the derby match if they, as looks highly likely, make their bows at Ibrox this afternoon.

In fact, he believes the youthful duo’s energy, enthusiasm and ability could be vital for Neil Lennon’s side as they bid to record a victory that will resurrect their hopes of completing 10-In-A-Row.

“I think they’ve been great,” he said. “Sometimes when you put players in they have no fear, which is good. That can be an advantage.

“We have enough experience around the squad and so we can manage that if it’s the case that a few boys are playing in the derby for the first time. It would be up to us, the experienced ones, to make sure they are okay.”

Soro and Turnbull have helped Celtic to put a slump in form that led to protests outside Parkhead and calls for Lennon to be sacked behind them and go on a six match winning run in recent weeks. McGregor feels the quadruple treble winners are in a good place going into the important encounter.

“We’ve built a bit of momentum and that was the objective,” he said. “It was about getting back to our identity and I think we’ve started to do that. We’ve scored a few goals and that’s also a good few clean sheets now. So we’re happy where we’re at ahead of the Rangers game.

“We’re scoring goals and the two boys up the top of the pitch (Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths) are looking in good form. We also seem to have a nice balance behind that which is good. We have to go into the game positively. It’s an important match and we’ll be looking to win it.

“I think winning these games always give you a lift. When you win them you get a huge shot in the arm confidence-wise and the momentum keeps building. We’ve had six straight wins and we have to try to continue that and make it seven at Ibrox.”

McGregor was unable to prevent Celtic from slumping to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of their city rivals at Parkhead back in October. However, he argues there were reasons for that poor display and is optimistic that both he and his team mates will give a far better account of themselves on this occasion.

“There’s obviously no excuses when you lose that type of game,” he said. “But I think when you step back and consider the bodies we had missing you can appreciate the affect it had. It also affects the hysteria around everything when you lose a game like that.

“But when you look back with a bit of perspective, it was a different Celtic team. The challenge for us now is to do a whole lot better on Saturday. We’ve got a better balance about us now. We need to try and show a good side to Celtic.

“It absolutely hurt to lose the last two games against Rangers. When you suffer defeat in these games it can be devastating. You carry them with you until you play them the next time. So it’s definitely something we’ll be trying to put right.

“We need a positive result out of the game and we’re in good form, so we have to fancy ourselves to go there and try to give them problems.”

McGregor, though, doesn’t reckon that Celtic, who are currently 16 points off top spot in the league table with three games in hand, need to triumph to keep alive their hopes of winning a record 10th consecutive Scottish title come May.

“I think it’s an important game, for definite,” he said. “But the Dundee United game on Wednesday was the most important one and we had to win it. We did. Now, it’s the Rangers game and we have to try and win it. Then the next one and so on.

“There are 38 games and normally the best team wins the league. That’s what we have to be at the end of the season.

“You can have ups and downs, it’s how you deal with those results that ultimately determines where you finish in the league. We have a lot of ground to make up and we have to try and do that as quickly as possible.”

Asked if he thought it was a must-win game, McGregor replied: “I don’t think so. I think everyone on the outside will maybe think that. But, like I say, it’s how you deal with the setbacks during the season.

“It’s about where you finish at the end of May. We have to look at the long picture. Ideally, we want to win at Ibrox. But it’s where we finish come the end of May that will matter.”

The Celtic directors gave Lennon two votes of confidence when he was coming under intense pressure from disgruntled fans last year and stated they would review his position after the festive fixtures.

McGregor is confident that beating Hearts in the Scottish Cup final and completing the quadruple treble has strengthened his manager’s position and is hoping the Glasgow club can follow that up with a win over Rangers at Ibrox.

“Everyone at the club wants to do well and the manager’s no different,” he said. “We’re in it with him. He got a bit of stick during the bad spell and we’ve managed to come through that.

“We delivered the cup final for him, we felt that was a big moment for him. We have to just keep it going. Saturday is the next game, so it's the most important one and we have to try and win it."