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Stephen Craigan: Changing of the guard talk will motivate Celts and put pressure on Rangers


Strong depth: Mikey Johnston was missing for Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock

Strong depth: Mikey Johnston was missing for Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock

Strong depth: Mikey Johnston was missing for Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock

When the question was posed to Neil Lennon during the week about a potential "changing of the guard" in relation to Rangers' improvement, his response was, as expected, bullish and very assertive.

He said it was "very premature" to assume his side were ready to relinquish their stranglehold as the No.1 club in Scotland.

Neil has been absorbed in Scottish football long enough to know it takes more than one result to gain superiority in the city of Glasgow, although he'll certainly be looking over his shoulder.

But the fact that journalists have even considered asking the question tells us all we need to know about the nature of this title race; it's alive and kicking.

Every media outlet that has covered Scottish football for the last seven and a half years has waited for the moment to say that there is genuine uncertainty as to the destination of the Scottish Premiership trophy, and that moment has arrived.

This to-ing and fro-ing will continue as the season evolves and it's just what our game needs. Too often Scottish football in recent times has been predictable and straightforward. That is changing and the excitement is palpable.

On Lennon, I've no doubt he and his players will have spoken about the comments and they will use people doubting them as a source of motivation as they look to retain their title. As a manager you always look for a way to galvanise your players and sometimes the inspiration comes from outside your group.

They've had a good start after the short winter break. They comfortably dispatched Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup and their performance against Kilmarnock on Wednesday night was equally as impressive.

When you consider Celtic were without the creative influence of James Forrest, Ryan Christie and Mikey Johnston, the 3-1 victory showed that the Hoops not only have strength in depth but also flexibility in their formation.

Lennon, unusually, went with a 3-5-2 set-up due to a lack of wide players and it allowed him to partner Leigh Griffiths with Odsonne Edouard once again. His players adapted very well and Griffiths made it two goals in two games as he responded perfectly to critics who said his time at the club looked like coming to an end.

So for those who thought there's a wind of change in Glasgow, Celtic don't seem to be playing ball.

On the other side of the city, Steven Gerrard has his own issues.

Gerrard had to answer questions on Wednesday regarding the restlessness of the Rangers fans after his side laboured to a single-goal victory against St Mirren.

They clearly weren't as sharp as they would like to be but ultimately got the job done and claimed another valuable three points.

The Old Firm win in December has heightened expectation amongst the Rangers fans that their time has arrived and now the players have to deal with their expectancy.

On the flip side, the supporters have to understand every game isn't going to be a walkover and teams will go to Ibrox and set up ultra defensively. Patience is going to be the key, particularly at home, and unrest from the stands could potentially add to the apprehension the players will be feeling.

Four of Rangers' next six league games are at Ibrox so if they're to show there's a reasonable possibility regarding a "change of guard" then everyone must be pulling in the right direction, fans included.

Both managers and squads will have their ups and downs and their resolve will be tested on occasions. The key will be not to get too high when you win or too low when you don't, although I'm not too sure the supporters will abide by the same rules.

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