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Home Sport Football Scottish

Gers need fix like one Rodgers provided for Bhoys

By Julian Taylor

The watershed moment, almost exactly two years ago, that subsequently changed the course of modern Celtic was freshly recalled by former club captain Tom Boyd.

"There is always a ray of sunshine when you are depressed," noted the Bhoys' ambassador. That in itself is a statement which can be disputed but nevertheless, even as the post-defeat darkness engulfed Celtic following a dramatic Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers, the club instinctively understood it was time to think big.

And thus, Brendan Rodgers arrived - at no little expense - to replace Ronny Deila. It is possible the Ulsterman, then spending valuable contemplative time out, would otherwise never have arrived at Parkhead. The hand of fate.

Celtic retained clarity as they digested what was a temporary disappointment. Even Dermot Desmond, the majority shareholder, could not have guessed the immense dividend Rodgers was plotting. Extraordinarily, with just two domestic defeats in two seasons, the Celtic manager is on the verge of an historic 'double treble'.

Can Rangers halt this professionally-driven, financially comfortable, irresistible force?

As the teams clash in tomorrow's Hampden Scottish Cup semi-final, ironically, it is the Light Blues who are stalling in similar existential crisis as the aforementioned Celtic in April 2016. They lack fibre, subtle game management - and, ultimately, a manager with gravitas. The identity of the next Ibrox boss appears to be the priority over any serious belief that the team can curtail their rivals' colossal appetite.

Since Celtic extracted a dramatic 3-2 Premiership win across Glasgow last month, with 10 men exposing Rangers' naivety, optimism coming out of Ibrox is fading.

What a difference in managerial worth that day. As interim Gers chief Graeme Murty appeared intimidated by the task of working out how to use the extra man, Rodgers quickly implemented a courageous strategy. The Carnlough native sent on Odsonne Edouard in attack and the Frenchman consequently curled in a fine winner. How Rangers must hope Alfredo Morelos, their leading scorer, can become possessed with such composure.

There is no doubting the abilities of certain Rangers individuals, but struggles at home and mental subordination when Celtic appear into view are issues Murty has failed to overcome. Rodgers, meanwhile, despatches his men thinking and believing like champions, where the ideas of enjoying your football and chasing your goals are happily embraced.

As responsibilities increasingly drain Murty, promoted out of expedience by a Rangers board who, over six months on from Pedro Caixinha's sacking, appear vague on a long-term successor, a mercurial number in Light Blue are charged with bearing influence.

Jamie Murphy has been a revelation on the flank since arriving from Brighton in January. His pace and grace lights up Rangers' play and his crossing ability is the kind of fare Morelos relishes. This is where Celtic are perhaps most vulnerable. Josh Windass has shown signs of a backbone to accompany a creative, scoring slant and is attuned to unlock organised rearguards.

Both sides have central defensive problems, which point to another open, even epic, encounter. Rodgers' dilemma is whether to start Leigh Griffiths, made for these showdowns, or opt for Moussa Dembele and Edouard, whose combined physicality, speed and clinical nature can finish the derby.

Celtic captain Scott Brown has enjoyed many a comfortable Old Firm occasion, and considering Rangers' lack of an equivalent combatant, tomorrow is another day to do the talking on the pitch alongside the consistent Callum McGregor. And the Parkhead support relish watching Kieran Tierney take to these important occasions with ease.

Any dips to speak of? Dundee and St Johnstone have drawn at Celtic Park and, of course, Hearts spectacularly ended the famous 69-game unbeaten run.

Naturally, an Old Firm cup semi-final is a different arena. Rodgers has long established a steely mindset when it matters. Rangers, you suspect, will be pressed into answering much bigger questions beyond tomorrow.

• Rangers forward Windass has handed Murty a boost ahead of tomorrow.

The Englishman suffered a calf injury when he was clattered by Motherwell defender Cedric Kipre a fortnight ago and sat out last Saturday's win over Dundee. However, having trained fully yesterday, he is in contention for the Old Firm tie.

Midfielder Stuart Armstrong will be assessed by Celtic due to a calf injury, with the decision over his involvement delayed until tomorrow.

Defender Jack Hendry is cup-tied having played for Dundee in an earlier round.

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