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John Hughes reckon title race between Rangers and Celtic could come down to a Battle of the Gloves

© SNSCeltic's Fraser Forster (left) and Rangers' Allan McGregor
Celtic's Fraser Forster (left) and Rangers' Allan McGregor

John Hughes believes the Premiership title race could come down to a Battle of the Gloves.

The former Hibs, Inverness Caley Thistle and Falkirk manager was part of the Celtic team that lost only one game in the 1995-96 season – yet still lost out to Rangers, who collected their eight successive championship.

A quarter of a century on, he still remembers the pressure he and his team-mates were under at the time, and the pain of coming up short.

And he is also in no doubt who was their tormentor-in-chief.

“We didn’t talk in the dressing room about the need to stop Rangers winning nine-in-a-row,” said Hughes.

“But when we were travelling, it would definitely come up.

“I travelled with Gordon Marshall and Jackie McNamara, and we were all well aware about how important it was to stop Rangers making history.

“Tommy Burns was our manager, and you could feel a revolution starting under his charge.

“He conducted himself so well on the training pitch, and the standards he set were unbelievable.

“We had brought in the likes of Paolo di Canio, Jorge Cadete, Andy Thom and Pierre van Hooijdonk – guys who could embrace the pressure and thrive under it.

“But there is one main reason Tommy never won the league – Andy Goram.

“I’m sure we would have won the league if it hadn’t been for him.

“He was outstanding, the best keeper I played against, and he did so well in the derbies.

“Now Rangers are back up there challenging, and we have a title race again.

“Allan McGregor is their number one, and I thought he was outstanding at Celtic Park in the recent Old Firm game.

“Some of the saves he made, as well as the penalty. The big players do something special in the big games, and McGregor did that.”

Andy Goram denies Pierre van Hooijdonk from point-blank range in 1995, one of the many stunning saves ‘The Goalie’ made against Celtic

As Hughes pointed out, the same claims can be made of Celtic keeper Fraser Forster, who is on loan from Southampton.

“He was just as good in the Betfred Cup Final,” Hughes continued. “He saved the penalty (from Alfredo Morelos) and made some top saves.

“So I’d say it is 50-50 as to who is the best between the two keepers.

“And I do think they could be crucial as there is such a fine line between winning and losing.”

The 55-year-old is honest about how he would like to see the tussle between Glasgow’s big rivals turn out.

“With my connections, I still want Celtic to win it and get nine-in-a-row,” he admitted.

“I like Neil Lennon, but you have to admire the job Steven Gerrard has done at Rangers.

“I have spoken to Scotty Arfield a few times and asked him about Steven’s training and things, and he raves about it.

“Steven has a level, and he is trying to drag his players up there with him.

“He won’t settle for second-best. He has set a standard, and the players are trying to reach that.

“As a spectacle, and for the Scottish football brand, it is great for our game.”

John Hughes was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.