Boruc is skipper's number one
Celtic captain Stephen McManus has backed Artur Boruc to play a major role in the Old Firm derby.
Last Updated: 31/12/07 7:56am
Celtic captain Stephen McManus has backed Artur Boruc to play a major role in Wednesday's Old Firm derby following a triumphant return against Gretna.
The goalkeeper had been sidelined for several weeks following a minor knee operation but was back on top form as the Clydesdale Bank Premier League champions eased to a 3-0 win over the division's bottom side.
Boruc will now be between the sticks when Rangers come calling in Wednesday's crunch encounter and McManus admits he will feel more confident with the Polish player acting as the last line of defence.
"I think we have missed Artur,'' said the Parkhead skipper.
"Mark Brown has come in and done really well but I think just to have that stability - where you have someone you are used to playing with behind you - will be good for us.
"He's a massive player for us."
McManus also hailed the return of his fellow centre-half Bobo Balde.
Balde ended a year-long spell on the sidelines in the 2-0 Boxing Day win against Dundee United and held onto his place in the team for the visit of Gretna.
McManus added: "He is great and I thoroughly enjoy playing beside Bobo, just like the other lads.
"Bobo was great to play with when I first broke into the side, he was a great help to me and it was certainly nice to have him back beside me.''
Balde's return to the team marked the end of Celtic's lengthy run of games without a clean sheet and McManus admits the champions were beginning to feel the strain.
"We did feel the pressure," he said. "There is pressure on you every day as a Celtic player.
"What I have realised as captain in the last few weeks is that's probably the first time that the team has got serious stick but I've loved every minute of it so far.
"Because of the pressure you are under at Celtic, it means so much more when you get a victory, especially a clean sheet as well.
"It's a nice feeling, especially when a lot of people have been saying stuff that isn't as nice as it should be or what it can be.
"But it's a great feeling when you get a good result."
Celtic are hoping for another good result against Rangers, who trail their rivals by just two points in the SPL, but McManus does not believes the outcome of the match will have a major bearing on the title race.
"There is still a long way to go," he said.
"You have seen this season going to Tynecastle, going to Easter Road, Tannadice, Inverness, both sides of the Old Firm will drop points.
"That's all credit to how far the other clubs have come.
"Going into an Old Firm game, you want to win but there are many matches after that.
"In the last two campaigns, we have really been out in front, which has been great for us.
"Don't get me wrong, I would love that to be the case just now but Rangers are a better side than they were in the last two years.
"It's going to go right to the wire, which is great for the country.
"We are looking forward to the game - and we certainly believe we can win the game.''