THERE is no real surprise that the Glasgow derby, the Old Firm derby, the Celtic v Rangers or Rangers v Celtic game or whatever terminology most appeals to the foot you kick with has been the dirtiest derby in Britain over the last two decades.

It can be no surprise, either, that the closer the teams get the more febrile the encounter becomes. When Celtic were riding roughshod over Rangers and dishing out fairly regular hammerings, the red cards were not quite so bountiful. But as the gap narrows and a greater intensity returns to the fixture it cannot raise too many eyebrows when teams end the game at a numerical disadvantage.

So far this season, each meeting between the sides has had a flash of red thrown into the mix; Jeremie Frimpong left the Hampden pitch in tears earlier this month after being sent off while Moritz Bauer’s bruises might just be fading now after a hefty boot up in the air from Jordan Jones back at the beginning of September.

The National:

In the last 20 years there have been 421 yellow cards and 38 red cards in the meetings between the teams. That the crime count can be expected to rise again by close of play tomorrow afternoon is a given.

Yet, one can only imagine the upward trajectory of the chart should both Celtic and Rangers get beyond FC Copenhagen and SC Braga respectively in their Europa League last-32 ties. It is plausible that both will prevail – and if so it would seem fated that they would come out of the hat against one another in the last-16 of the competition.

Three Old Firm/Glasgow derby/Celtic v Rangers/Rangers v Celtic games over the course of eight days – the third league meeting is scheduled to take place in between the last-16 first and second leg Europa League ties – would fairly add some fizz to the occasion. Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon managed to spark a Scottish government intervention after the last similarly intense schedule between the teams.

There was always a feeling this season that the games between the sides would have considerable bearing on how the title played out while the fact that Celtic are pushing for a record-equalling nine-in-a-row inevitably lent an additional weight to the campaign. But the consistency of both teams in easing past those around them has brought this fixture into sharp, significant focus.

Both teams have lost just one league meeting each; Rangers to Celtic, Celtic to Livingston. Both are significantly better off in the points department than they were at the same stage of the season a year ago – Rangers by 12 points, Celtic by 10. The games between the teams are the only place to measure just what the chasm between them is.

Tomorrow augers well for Celtic; aside from the fact that the new ticket allocation means that it is a game with little hostility in it for them as they play out almost exclusively in front of their own support, the Parkhead side have also not lost a meaningful league game on home soil since Ronny Deila’s side were booed off the pitch following defeat to Motherwell four years ago.

They will also point to the fact that although Rangers dominated much of the game at Hampden three weeks ago, Celtic actually created the best chance of the game in open play. Odsonne Edouard’s pass through to Mikey Johnston ought to have put the match out of reach of the Ibrox side.

That Edouard will start the game tomorrow is not to be overlooked. Of the games where Rangers have taken heart in their performances and results against Celtic, the commonality has been the Parkhead side starting the game without a physical frontman to lead the line and hold the ball up.

Celtic with Edouard in their starting line-up are a far more onerous proposition than without. The France Under-21 internationalist has earned himself a reputation for coming into his own on the big occasion and indeed made his first impression to the Celtic support when he came off the bench at Ibrox to score in the fixture as Celtic came from behind under Brendan Rodgers to win. Alfredo Morelos will surely end his duck against Celtic at some point but the longer it goes without a goal against Celtic, the more he will gnaw over it.

Still, given the way the season has panned out the difference between this term for Celtic compared to recent campaigns suggests that even a win, as psychologically important as it may be, would not be regarded as the gateway to the historic ninth title. It would potentially come to be viewed as a turning point rather than an end point which underlines the manner in which both teams have pulled away from everyone else around them.

With two games still to play in the league there is still the possibility for twists and turns. And the crime count can be expected to rise accordingly.

At one stage Steve Clarke’s headache was accommodating the midfielders at his disposal. Now, with John McGinn suffering an ankle fracture and Scott McTominay sustaining knee ligament damage in Manchester United’s win over Newcastle there is suddenly a question mark over the personnel in the middle of the park for the March play-offs.

Stuart Armstrong’s timing, then, isn’t too bad.

The former Celtic midfielder claimed an impressive assist at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day as Southampton beat Chelsea. Armstrong has impressed recently for the Premier League side after earning a starting place and if he can sustain his recent form then Scotland would be the eager beneficiaries of it.