Don Robertson – the referee whose performance in the Ross County v Celtic match was widely condemned – has been warned by Brendan Rodgers that his career is on the line if he blunders again in Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final Old Firm collision.
Robertson – who played at youth level for Partick Thistle and St Mirren – is not in charge of this fixture but will be one of Willie Collum’s additional assistants behind the goals at Hampden Park.
Robertson missed an outrageous dive by County striker, Alex Schalk, who went down without contact from Celtic defender, Erik Sviatchenko. The outcome was a penalty kick to County from which Liam Boyce levelled the score, and Rodgers said that another error of such magnitude in the Old Firm derby could not be overlooked. “That would be two in a week and he is really struggling to be a top-class ref,” said the Celtic manager.
“But get him out there. Get him on the field. Get his composure. Clear your mind and be the best that you can be – and we have to help him. We have to help raise the standard.”
It could be argued that such a specific caution could affect Robertson’s performance adversely, but the official has also been the subject of an apology to Rodgers from the Scottish Football Association’s head of refereeing, John Fleming.
“It was the first call he has ever made to a manager, apologising on Don’s behalf and his behalf,” said Rodgers. “I told him he didn’t need to do it but I respect that he did do it. I don’t need Don to ring me, I just need him to apologise to Erik.
“I don’t want to throw the kid to the garbage when he is trying to learn his profession but if he makes too many of them he is not going to be a top-class referee, it is as simple as that.”
Robertson also showed Scott Brown a red card for a lunging challenge on Boyce in Dingwall and Rodgers cited a previous decision by the referee as grounds for appealing the Celtic captain’s dismissal, a plea which permits him to play against Rangers ahead of next Thursday’s disciplinary hearing. The incident in question was a similar challenge by Motherwell’s Ryan Bowman which left the Celtic defender with stud marks on his shin.
“We appeal because of the inconsistency,” said Rodgers. “It was the same referee when Kieran Tierney got a challenge in the Motherwell game at home and the guy [Bowman] got a yellow card.”
Celtic were held to a 1-1 draw by Rangers in the most recent meeting of the sides, a league fixture at Parkhead but Rodgers suggested that the outcome of that match was as good as it was likely to get for the Ibrox side. “We can’t be perfect,” he said.
“We take great strength from the fact that we didn’t play so well, Rangers probably played as well as what they’ll play, and we still drew the game. This is a different game coming at a different moment.”
In the interim, of course, Pedro Caixinha has taken charge at Ibrox and Rodgers has observed a change in the Rangers style. “Yes, they look as if they go direct at times,” he said.
"Martyn Waghorn is taking long throws into the box. Pedro wants to set them up in a slightly different way. They still look to play, they’re still open but they look a little more pragmatic and not maybe so keen to play short or pass it – they’re happy to go longer.”
Rodgers acknowledged that he had an advantage which is remarkable at this stage of a campaign which has seen Celtic play 12 European games, beginning last July, plus an assault on all domestic fronts. Despite the demands on flesh and spirit, Rodgers has a fully fit squad at his disposal.
“We don’t just turn up and make it up every day. There’s a periodised programme that we have for our technical and tactical work and for our physicality.
“We can’t be any more prepared, we can’t have any more players available – and we’re ready.”