SINCE seeing off Celtic’s attempt to claw their way back into the title race at Ibrox on the opening weekend of the year it has been a matter of when rather than if for Steven Gerrard’s side.
Delivering the club’s first title in a decade and stopping the ten is seen by everyone other than those within as done and dusted. Such is the unwillingness to hex that which has been so far off for so long, that there is no-one inside Ibrox prepared to give voice to the fact that their work this season is just about done.
If there is a reticence off the park to suggest thoughts are straying to parties and celebrations, on it is a different story.
The swagger with which Rangers dispatched Ross County and sent them scurrying back up to Dingwall on the end of a resounding thumping suggests that even without a vocal acknowledgement, this is a team who know they are champions in all but name.
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With suggestions that pre-contracts are already in place now for Bournemouth duo Jack Simpson and Nnamdi Ofoborh there is already an indication that Gerrard will not be sitting on his laurels.
Ryan Kent started it all off on Saturday – the first of five different scorers – with a clever header after Alfredo Morelos had headed James Tavernier’s cross onto him. If it was a torrid start to the game for Ross county, Rangers’ reluctance to take the foot off their neck made for a 90 minutes that would have felt three times as long.
Tavernier could afford to miss a penalty without it being anything other than a footnote and the combination of a sleepy County defence and a Rangers side who were sharp, confident and carried menace with every forward movement suggested a scoreline that could have widened further.
Rangers have now scored 65 goals – 17 more than Celtic – and conceded a miserly 7 on league duty this term. Their 23 point lead over a Celtic side that they have played three more games than means that they are just 9 games away from sealing the title. Yet to lose a league encounter so far this term, Gerrard’s side have the aura of a team who know the rewards that lie within touching distance.
However you look at the numbers it adds up to a convincing campaign in which there has been an irrefutable power shift.
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The return of Ryan Jack from a problematic knee injury he picked up last November would have added further cheer to Gerrard. Jack chipped in with a goal, the fourth of the afternoon, after being on the park for just five minutes.
It added to Filip Helander’s header, Joe Aribo’s classy third when he netted from an acute angle and came just before Connor Goldson rounded off a decent day at the office with a fifth that was reflective of Rangers’ superiority throughout.
Thoughts will now go to a Hibs side who will doubtless sill be smarting from their 3-0 defeat to St Johnstone in the Betfred League Cup at Hampden on Saturday evening. Easter Road will host the game but on current evidence the Ibrox side will fancy it as another one to tick off the list as the procession towards the title continues.
Not that Gerrard will take such a view, publicly at least.
“They are a good team and they are never going to make it easy for you by rolling over and allowing you to just beat them,” he said. “They have always been one of the strongest teams in this league, even when I’ve been looking in from afar.
“They’ve recruited well, got a good manager but I don’t think the playing surface looks too good on the eye from what I’ve seen in recent games that I’ve watched.
“It will be a challenge, it will be a test. But we’re in a good place, we’re looking forward to it.
“We’ve been there and won before. I thought we should have won the last game if we’d have taken our chances. And we know what we have to do to get what we want out of that game.
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“We’re going to need a similar level of performance that we got today for sure because they are going to do everything they can to be the first team that beats us from a league point of view.
“I take everything into consideration all the time. I look at all the details. We always try to pick a team that is capable of winning the game, of course. But certain things you have to take into consideration around that as well.”
Gerrard may tweak his team in accordance with the pitch and the requirements from the game but the message will simply be for more of the same. On the evidence presented on Saturday afternoon, this is a Rangers side who are in a hurry to get where they are going.