Stokes can't wait for resumption of Old Firm rivalry

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Anthony Stokes, pictured (right) in October, fires Celtic to a 1-0 win over ten-man Motherwell to extend their winning streak to seven successive matches (AFP Photo/Ian Macnicol)
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Glasgow (AFP) - Celtic striker Anthony Stokes says he can't wait to resume his club's Old Firm rivalry with Rangers after the Glasgow giants were paired together in the League Cup semi-final draw.

The fierce rivals haven't met since April 2012, when the pair last clashed in Scotland's top flight.

Rangers were forced to start life again in the country's bottom fourth tier after the old company was liquidated in May of the same year and are currently second in the Championship as they bid to return to the Premiership next season.

The pair will now meet at Hampden at the start of February next year as they bid to make it through to the League Cup final and Irish striker Stokes expects it to be an epic encounter.

"There were a few cheers in the dressing room when the draw was made," Stokes, who came on as a substitute the last time the sides faced each other, admitted.

"I think it is the draw that everyone wanted if we are realistic - the fans and ourselves - and it's going to be a tough game.

"I think it's going to be different from any other Old Firm game because we have gone two or three years without it. I'm sure the fans will be looking forward to it and it should be an epic game.

"I think there has been a bit of a build-up the last couple of years and people have missed it so I imagine on the day it will be pretty special.

"I think everyone misses the rivalry. I have said it before that I think once Rangers are back in the top flight it will bring more competition and it will be better for all of the clubs not just ourselves.

"We are looking forward to the game now and hopefully we can keep up this run of form we are in at the moment."

The match, the first time the sides have met in the competition since 2011 when Rangers defeated their rivals in the final, will hand Hoops manager Ronny Deila his first experience of the fierce Old Firm derby since he arrived in Glasgow in the summer.

The Norwegian manager has now guided his side to five straight wins in all competitions after making a shaky start to his Celtic career and is looking forward to testing himself in the white-hot atmosphere of an Old Firm match.

"It's going to be a huge game and hopefully we will win and make it even better," Deila said.

"I haven't been at an Old Firm game before but I am looking forward to experiencing it.

"Of course we are favourites. We are favourites in every game here in Scotland but we are used to that.

"Everybody knows it is unbelievably important in Glasgow. Everyone is looking forward to a fantastic atmosphere. It is two clubs that really want to beat each other."

The draw came after Celtic had claimed their third consecutive league win to move third in the Scottish Premiership.

On-fire Swedish striker John Guidetti grabbed his ninth goal in nine games since joining the club on-loan from Manchester City on transfer deadline day to seal a 1-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Celtic Park.

A nervy-looking Celtic then survived a late Inverness surge to record their third consecutive clean sheet in the league.

The Hoops are now just two points behind new league leaders Dundee United, who were drawn with Aberdeen in the other League Cup semi-final, with a game in hand.