BRENDAN Rodgers last night insisted he will face the strongest Rangers side from his time with Celtic at Ibrox next Sunday, writes Neil Cameron.

The Parkhead manager has yet to lose a derby, his record reads six wins and two draws, and his return from across the river is three wins from three, including a record 5-1 rout.

A Rangers win would cut the champions’ lead to just three points at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership, a scenario which appeared impossible not so long ago, and Rodgers acknowledged his team will meet a far better side than they one Celtic have dominated in this fixture over the past 20 months.

He said: “Yes, this is the strongest Rangers team [he will face]. What they’ve probably been striving for in my time here is that bit of consistency and stability. And I think Graeme [Murty] has done a very, very good job of that. It’s not easy, given the temporary charge, but once he was given the reins, at least that allowed him to plan as best he possibly could. They look to have a better spirit. That’s clear.

“They’ve brought some experienced guys in – the boy Jamie Murphy I liked even when he was up here before he went down to Sheffield and Brighton. He’s a good player.

“Russell Martin has been around a long time, Greg Doherty is a player who’s a supporter of the club, which always gives you a little injection as well.”

Following yesterday’s 3-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Morton, Celtic now have a whole week to prepare for the third Old Firm encounter of the season, and while there could be two more, Rodgers will never grow tired of what remains his club’s biggest fixture of the domestic season.

He said: “I’ve really enjoyed them, home and away. They’re great games and we’re looking forward to it.”