Do or die: Can Rangers humiliate their rivals and snatch the title on their own turf?
Back in 2018, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic were steamrolling the Scottish Premiership to the extent where the title celebrations were pretty much underway by spring. An unprecedented invincible treble had been won the previous season, and Celtic were coasting once again to the title. Graeme Murty’s side travelled to Parkhead knowing a derby day defeat would hand their fiercest rivals the title. They had to have the determination and sheer hunger to spoil the party. But that simply was not the case. Odsonne Edouard started the party with a goal inside a quarter of an hour, and the floodgates opened. His second, followed by a third from James Forrest had sent Celtic Park into raptures. Some Rangers fans had already made their way for the exits; they knew the unbearable reality was coming. Tom Rogic added a fourth early in the second half, and Callum McGregor rounded it off with a fifth. They had 40 minutes left, but the damage had been done, and the stands were echoing with songs of celebration. The title had been won, and for those wearing light blue that afternoon, it was quite simply the lowest of lows. Now, three years later, the story has been completely changed. It wasn’t scripted to be like this in the eyes of many. Steven Gerrard wasn’t meant to be in Scotland, the expectation was that he would be living his life as a manager in England, but Rangers had bagged themselves a legend of the game. Celtic were still meant to go on and win ten titles in a row. Rodger’s and the returning Neil Lennon took them to nine. Gerrard looked down and out at times, and the Hamilton game at Ibrox a year ago this week seemed to be the moment even the most loyal of Rangers fans had truly given up and accepted that the tenth was on its way. Then everything changed. Lennon was still captaining the ship in the East End, and Gerrard survived an abysmal collapse of form in the winter to go one more season knowing he had to win a trophy. To the amazement of Rangers supporters, it only took two games for Celtic to drop points. A dire 1-1 in Kilmarnock gave them an early glimpse of hope, but they knew the first derby of the season was going to be crucial. A raw defeat in the League Cup final last season was still fresh in the mind of the masses; a game they had dominated and bullied Celtic only to leave with runners up medals was a deep cut. The derby rolled around and if I had asked Siri to show me an example of a one-sided affair, this would be a top answer. Rangers totally controlled the game, so much so that Celtic failed to register a single shot on target. It was a total shut out and put Rangers well on their way towards a healthy lead at Christmas. The second derby rolled around on the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster, and on a day when emotions were so high, they found themselves on the receiving end of a bullying from Celtic. They were fighting back knowing for them it was now or never to save the ten, but a red card for Nir Bitton and an own goal from McGregor sealed a 1-0 win for Rangers. Gerrard’s men, who remain unbeaten to this day, have put in a remarkable shift this season, and totally turned around what was a shipwreck last season, the same of which cannot be said for their neighbours. Celtic have dropped points left right and centre. Livingston twice, Hibernian twice, Ross County twice. It’s been brutal, and now the title can be sealed by Rangers in mid-March with victory in the third derby of the season. It felt cocky by fans to set off fireworks in the 55th minute against Livingston to celebrate title 55, but when you’re the best part of 20 points clear, you almost wonder why you haven’t seen it more often. There is a huge occasion on the horizon for Rangers, and the prospect of a first title in ten years after a club administration is an epic story of a revival from the dead. The occasion itself won’t feel the same. Football in Scotland remains without fans, but quite frankly when you’ve had the decade Rangers have had, that doesn’t matter. One more big shift and the red white and blue ribbons will be back on the trophy. This would be the final chapter of their redemption, and what a way they could end the story of their comeback and return the hurt they’ve become far too accustomed to. Who said derbies were dull?
Written by Ruaraidh Britton