With victory at Ibrox, Steven Gerrard won a hat-trick of Old Firm celebrations. He must now keep history from repeating this season itself.
In the last two campaigns, when Rangers won the required game, they struggled to build on the momentum and rapidly saw their chances of the title dropping as the new year unfolded.
It could be different this time, as a Callum McGregor own goal gave Rangers a victory that took them 19 points ahead of Celtic in the Premiership title chase.
Neil Lennon’s side, of course, only has three games up their sleeves, but Rangers may be just weeks away from finishing their 55th title in a decade-long wait.
The result is all that counts.
It was said last season that the Rangers were unfortunate not to win the Betfred Cup final and didn’t get what they deserved because Celtic won 1-0.
But Gerrard’s side had been disciplined on the day for their errors. Yeah, the objective of Christopher Jullien was an offside objective, but if Rangers had done their job better and more effectively, the cup would have been won with ease.
After this game, the same has to be said about Celtic. You can’t lament when you come up empty handed if you don’t take your chances while you are leading.
When Allan McGregor made a series of great saves, Rangers weathered an early storming run, but after that the keeper was rarely contested and Celtic brought it on themselves for failing to build on their promising time against a team that needed to be beaten.
The output of Rangers was definitely not at the necessary or anticipated stage, but good teams find a way to win and that’s exactly what they did.
The notebooks just tell the outcome, not how it came about, and only the losers at Hampden and Ibrox are to blame for it themselves.
It’s only one game at a time.
The message has been stressed throughout the season, and now that the finish line is in sight, the mantra won’t change.
For the Rangers now, the greatest threat is complacency. If they feel the job is done and they don’t approach the remaining 16 games with the same focus as they did in the Premier League during their 22-game unbeaten streak, they would falter and the momentum will change.
From this place, Rangers should win the title. But a failure now, under Gerrard’s leadership, will be the worst of the three; the Ibrox boss must be wary of self-inflicted harm.
RANGERS Get the Champions Look
Since the start of the season, there has been a new feeling for the squad and the tangible motivation and commitment are paying dividends for Gerrard’s side now.
Rangers are able to win wins, as they did against Hibernian, for the first time in a long time, or emerge triumphant from tough circumstances, as they did in beating Motherwell after losing St. Mirren’s Betfred Cup.
Saturday was more proof of a team that knows how to win in multiple ways now. They might not have been at their best, but teams that win championships do not do so by playing week in, week out at the highest level.
Gerrard’s team’s attitude has been challenged too many times in recent years. Those questions are now routinely and emphatically addressed.
MCGREGOR’s new deal must be a priority for
McGregor’s best days at Ibrox are obviously behind him at 38, but Saturday proved that he is still by far the country’s best goalkeeper.
Once again, his award for Man of the Match – and in particular his brilliant save against Leigh Griffiths – underlined his value to the Rangers. McGregor offers big moments and big results on the large stage.
Gerrard was cagey at Ibrox on the question of the future of McGregor, with his contract expiring at the end of the season. It would be easy for Rangers to extend it if the keeper wanted to, considering his presence on and off the pitch.
If he can win the title this season, McGregor might think it’s time to go out on a high, but he still has so much to give and so many years ahead of him at the highest level.
ARFIELD AND JACK A MISSS AREAL
For Rangers, who struggled to find their rhythm with the ball and their range with it, the first half performance was so out of character. Although Celtic was playing well, pres