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Stephen Craigan

Rangers need to stand tall in big moments to pile title pressure on the Hoops

Stephen Craigan


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Firing line: Ianis Hagi

Firing line: Ianis Hagi

PA

Firing line: Ianis Hagi

What another intriguing week in Scottish football. The gap at the top of the table is now seven points with Celtic firmly in the driving seat, although Rangers still have that game in hand.

What has this last week told us about the state of affairs at both clubs?

Well, Rangers are clearly still trying to find the rhythm they had before the winter break. They have lacked that spark and zest they had in December when they were blowing teams away. With that, they're putting their title aspirations on the line and labouring their way through games.

Last Saturday, they dropped two points at home to Aberdeen in a 0-0 draw and on Wednesday night left it late to beat mid-table Hibernian 2-1.

The plus side to that is the late goal on Wednesday night showed manager Steven Gerrard that his side responded in a positive manner when under pressure.

Celtic, on the other hand, have been in relentless form since their return from the break and won both their games in the last week, but in different ways. They beat Hamilton 4-1 and Motherwell 4-0, both away from home.

They showed a lot of patience to eventually break down a resilient Hamilton side last Sunday and on Wednesday night at Fir Park produced possibly their best half of football this season.

After Wednesday, Neil Lennon was waxing lyrical about his Hoops' quality, ruthlessness and appetite for the game; it was hard to argue with him.

What about squad depth?

Upon looking at both teams, the sheer size of Celtic's squad seems superior to Rangers' but also the options Lennon has within it appear better than that of counterpart Gerrard.

Clearly there isn't a lot between both sides' first-choice starting 11 but when the going gets tough and players are having an off day, managers need options from the bench to find a way to win.

Lennon in the last few weeks has started without star players Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie and James Forrest yet his men have won five games on the spin and look unstoppable. Lennon has changed the system to suit the players available yet it hasn't hampered their form or results; six wins from six and 19 goals scored back that up.

As for Rangers, their stuttering start to 2020 has coincided with James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos, Jermaine Defoe and Ryan Jack being unavailable for different reasons.

The impression in December was that Rangers had good depth in their ranks but they've looked a bit lightweight in the past few weeks as they have dropped five points and handed the initiative to Celtic.

Who's shown the biggest goal threat?

The thing that will please Lennon most is the spread of goals in his side. Edouard, Christie and Forrest are well into double figures and Callum McGregor is sitting on nine.

That's comforting for a manager, knowing you have that quality throughout your squad. With Leigh Griffiths back fit and hitting the goal trail too, Lennon has every right to feel his players are in a good place for the title run-in.

Rangers, on the flip side, look heavily reliable on Morelos, who incidentally has gone four games without a goal; his worst drought this season.

Morelos is by far their highest scorer with 28 goals but he needs back up. With Defoe missing for the foreseeable future, Gerrard must hope Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi, who scored the winner on Wednesday night, can step up.

Gerrard regularly talks about his players delivering in the big moments. Well, there will be plenty of big moments still to come in this title race and the Rangers players can't afford to disappoint.

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