Julian Taylor: Gerrard effect has Rangers on serious business
It’s happened. The Gerrard effect and a display of detailed composure has Rangers on serious business.
Following yesterday’s deserved 2-1 victory at Celtic Park, in what must register as, arguably, his finest moment as Ibrox manager so far, even accounting for a host of eye-opening results in the Europa League, Steven Gerrard proved that his men finally have the measure of Celtic. Only time will tell if this mood lasts – but the portents, as the Gers boss raised arms in post-match triumph, are increasingly fascinating at Ibrox.
Counterpart Neil Lennon talked about the psychological impact of suffering defeat. So, conversely, there’s a new tinge of boldness enveloping across Glasgow, after Rangers secured a first league success at Parkhead since 2010.
Of course, a lot of football still has to be played before the Premiership title is decided, but goals from Ryan Kent and Nikola Katic have sent, at least, minor tremors within the normally secure Parkhead establishment.
What we are seeing now is Gerrard’s managerial credentials being critically elevated, the final examination of his squad’s fibre answering the biggest question of all. This is officially a major, compelling race.
Let there be little doubt about the pressure on Gerrard ahead. Would Celtic, with a potential eight point gap going into the winter break have relinquished such an advantage? Rangers have turned the title race wide open, now only a couple of points behind Celtic with a game in hand. Conviction, if not exclusively calm, given Alfredo Morelos’ late ordering off, a slight blemish. But by then, Lennon’s men looked in uncharacteristic, quiet desperation. It happens, even to this treble winning outfit.
Gerrard had, wisely enough, opted to start with fit-again Steven Davis in place of Scott Arfield. The Northern Ireland captain’s guile is invariably essential on this most combustible of occasions, and so it proved with a couple of crucial goal line clearances. The sub plot of vibrant Morelos and his hex when faced with a Celtic goalmouth was another aspect the Light Blues faced. Having netted an astonishing 29 goals so far this term, the Colombian was denied in a personal duel in the recent League Cup final defeat against Celts’ keeper Fraser Forster. The red card was an echo of last season’s immaturity, but largely academic as it turned out.
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Yesterday, Rangers’ stopper Nikola Katic came of age. He was initially let off by McGregor, with his goalkeeper denying Ryan Christie from the penalty spot.
Elsewhere, Kent is, essentially, Rangers’ creator, conjuring up and keeping cool. And with the winger supplying the opener it had something of a tripwire effect on a Celtic side - including Odsonne Edouard - whose touch let him down at times, despite scoring a debatable equaliser. Lennon must ask why the Champions’ mentality faded, considering how his €10m man brought Celtic back into the game at the perfect time, moments before the interval.
Celtic have been so impressive in terms of their resilience, the recent Cup success a classic example. Intriguingly, many pre-Gerrard Rangers teams would have capitulated in the wake of a Hoops’ equaliser in these ferocious circumstances. What the Liverpool icon is constructing in terms of mentality has more than an intriguing faint note of Walter Smith’s 90s sides, so accustomed to winning against the odds at Celtic Park.
Katic’s eventful afternoon, when he powered home a header for Rangers’ second, will be a concern over the winter break for Lennon. Kristoffer Ajer has been slack recently and he will not escape questioning over his failure to track the Croatian.
Apart from brief spells either side of the interval, Celtic were listless by their own high standards. However if Lennon is in the mood for consolation he already knows that these displays tend to be in isolation and his side remain top of the table. There is, as he said, “no panic here”.
However, the Northern Irishman will be busy sourcing an additional striker in the January transfer window, because as impressive as Edouard is, he cannot shoulder all the scoring responsibility on his own.
The Old Firm have another two meetings and the outcome of both is likely to determine the title. Celtic officially have their rivals back on board, completely.
Belfast Telegraph Digital