Bob Malcolm: In 200203 title race, Rangers squandered nine points lead – Steven Gerrard correct to be cautious

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At Ibrox in early April 2003, when Rangers defeated Partick Thistle 2-0, they were nine points clear in the Premier League with only six games left to play and looked in a strong place to win the Scottish championship.

But a 2-1 loss in their final Old Firm game of the season the following month and a 2-2 draw with Dundee left them at the bottom of the table going into their final league game at home against Dunfermline.

On a final day that was hard to beat for suspense and thrills, it took an injury-time penalty from Mikel Arteta in a 6-1 victory to secure the league title for Alex McLeish’s men on goal difference.

Therefore, Bob Malcolm, the former defender and midfielder involved during the rollercoaster ride with the Govan club, can understand exactly why Steven Gerrard is so cautious heading into the second half of the season 2020/21.

After the 1-0 victory over Celtic at Ibrox Stadium on Saturday, some jubilant Rangers fans set off fireworks, giving the league leaders no less than a 19-point advantage over their nearest pursuers.

They feel like the Premier League is finally within their reach after ten years of suffering, disappointment and false expectations, as their old chairman, Dave King, would say.

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Malcolm, though, knows from his own experience that before anything is settled, there is still a very long way to go, with Celtic excluded from Europe and three games still to go.

“In the 2002-03 season, we were nine points clear and ended up being pegged back,” he says. “It was strange. It went down to the last second. We didn’t win the league with a win over Dunfermline until the last day of the season.

We were kicked out of Europe earlier this season (Rangers lost away to Viktoria Zizkov of Poland in the first UEFA Cup qualifying round). But when it came to domestic league and cup competitions, that probably helped us in the end.

For now, that’s something Rangers need to look out for – Celtic doesn’t have Europa League games to play and next month they’re facing Royal Antwerp in the last 32 and hopefully a couple more games after that.

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Celtic will now be able to concentrate on the league. In the 2002/03 season, that proved to be a major thing for us. We were able to concentrate on the competitions in the league and the cup. This gave us that little bit of additional inspiration.

Malcolm added: “Steven Davis and Allan McGregor, the guys who have been there before, will continue to motivate the guys to get it done. The winners are also Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister. With Liverpool and Leeds, they have won trophies and titles and know what it takes.”

“I’m sure the manager and coaching staff, even though the fans do, won’t talk about the league. They’ll know they’ve got to keep the players focused and grounded. They need all the noise to be ignored and keep playing soccer.

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But this season, Malcolm was impressed with Rangers and is optimistic that, thanks to their current strength in depth, they will escape the bankruptcies that ended their Premier League challenges in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons.

He fought for a starting spot with the likes of Lorenzo Amoruso, Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Sergio Porrini and Fernando Ricksen during his time at Ibrox and was always conscious that if he were to be given the nod by Dick Advocaat or McLeish to retain his place, he would have to play at a high level.

Gerrard, who reinforced Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey, Ianis Hagi, Cedric Itten, Jon McLaughlin, Kemar Roofe and Bongani Zungu in the summer, now faces the same kind of rivalry, he claims.

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It’s huge,” Malcolm said. “You can relax and shut down when you think you’re going to play every week, when you think you can just turn up and play. But it strengthens your back and keeps you focused because you know you have a player who has a talent close to you and who can step in at any moment when you’re not doing so well.

“This Rangers squad certainly has the potential and the players to win the championship. They’ve come a long way since the last

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