WHERE once there were four, now there is one. The Scottish Cup represents the last hope that Celtic have of salvaging something from a campaign that promised so much and has delivered only misery to date. It all comes down to this.

Standing immediately in the way of Celtic and reclaiming the trophy for the fifth successive season is the Rangers side that have denied them the opportunity of winning an unprecedented tenth title in a row, and it could be argued, they also stand between interim Celtic manager John Kennedy and any outside chance he may have of succeeding Neil Lennon on a permanent basis.

With so much at stake for both the club as a whole and on a personal level for the rookie coach, Kennedy faces some massive calls as he looks to give the Celtic supporters something to cheer about at last this term, and boost his own job prospects in the process.

Despite Rangers sailing through their Premiership fixtures undefeated to this point, they have lost already in the other domestic cup competition, crashing out of the League Cup to St Mirren. And with Celtic looking more like their old selves of late, particularly in the 6-0 demolition of Livingston at the weekend, hopes will be high among their embattled fanbase that a sliver of light may well be forthcoming in the form of the first win over their city rivals during this campaign.

Here are some of the key selection issues that will be occupying the thoughts of Kennedy and his coaching staff as they deliberate on how to deliver just that.


They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and rarely can a player have been missed quite so keenly as Celtic have missed James Forrest this season,

This is a call that Kennedy will desperately want to have to make, with the fitness of Forrest the biggest concern for Celtic going into the match at Ibrox on Sunday.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Celtic have looked a much more balanced side since Forrest made his long-awaited comeback from injury as a late substitute against Dundee United early last month.

The winger wasn’t quite ready to start the last Old Firm derby which quickly followed on from that game at Tannadice, managing 12 minutes at the end of the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park, but his impact on the team since his first start in six months against Falkirk in the previous round of the Scottish Cup has been impressive.

He followed up a goalscoring performance against the Bairns by starting and scoring again in the emphatic win over Livi, with the only downside from the day being that he was forced off just before the hour with stiffness in his back.

Kennedy said afterwards that his withdrawal was a precautionary measure, and he will perhaps welcome the fact that the game has been moved back a day as it affords Forrest more time to recover.

This is meant as no slight to Ryan Christie, who replaced Forrest at the weekend and also went on to notch his second goal in the last two games. But Christie himself would no doubt readily admit that he has been performing below the standards he has previously set this term, despite still chipping in with nine goals in total for Celtic.

If Forrest is fit though, then surely he will be the man to provide the threat from the Celtic right.


A Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan or Scotland’s third-choice left-back who was signed from Kilmarnock? The fact that this is a question at all is testament to the ability and tenacity of Taylor, who is giving Kennedy a selection headache on the left-hand side despite the perception problem he faces due to his humble origins.

Taylor has made two more appearances for Celtic this season than Laxalt, with 29 to the Uruguayan’s 27, though an injury sustained in Neil Lennon’s last match in charge at Ross County meant he didn’t start his first game under the management of Kennedy until the win over Livingston at the weekend.

Whether his solid display in that game will be enough to retain his place for the game at Ibrox though looks doubtful, and one major plus going for Laxalt is that he was perhaps Celtic’s best player in the home draw with Rangers in the last meeting between the sides.

Laxalt gave makeshift right-back Leon Balogun a torrid time of it in that game at Celtic Park, and then proved hard to handle for his replacement Nathan Patterson too.

Patterson has impressed for Rangers since in the absence of their captain James Tavernier, but it is likely that Laxalt will fancy he can cause problems for the youngster again on the Celtic left should the Ibrox skipper fail to prove he is fit enough to come back into Steven Gerrard’s side.

It may be a little harsh on Taylor, but with that game in mind, Kennedy should send out Laxalt to see if he can produce a repeat performance.


The pair have performed the Celtic hokey cokey in midfield since Soro was brought into the team around October, with the Ivorian impressing at times only for a recharged Brown to then come in and reclaim his place with renewed vigour.

The Celtic captain may be on his way to Aberdeen at the end of the season, but he will be determined to go out on a high, and with the midfield being a key battleground in the last few Old Firm fixtures, it would seem a certainty that Kennedy will go with the tried and trusted experience provided by his skipper.

Brown will be absolutely champing at the bit to not only get the win over Rangers for the Celtic support in his last season at the club, but he will also be desperate to take his final bow at the club at Hampden by lifting the Scottish Cup.

Soro may have the legs, but Brown’s know-how and desire make him a shoo-in for the starting XI.