CHRIS JACK

If they don’t go all the way now, they will look back and think what might have been

Evening Times - - FEATURES -

Is it fi­nally time for Rangers fans to dare to dream of ti­tle glory?

BREN­DAN Rodgers has ad­mit­ted that the race is on, while Derek McInnes be­lieves it hasn’t even started. Steve Clarke dis­missed any no­tion of a chal­lenge, but Steven Ger­rard’s ac­tions speak louder than words.

With just three points sep­a­rat­ing the top four in the Premier­ship, and fifth-placed Hearts only an­other three off the pace, the de­bate has com­menced over whether we will have a proper bat­tle for the league ti­tle in the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

The small print here, of course, is that lead­ers Celtic still have a game in hand over the chas­ing pack and a vic­tory at home to St John­stone would give Rodgers’ side a bit more breath­ing space. That is no cer­tainty, how­ever.

Kil­lie boss Clarke was quick to play down talk of a po­ten­tial bid for the ti­tle when his side moved top of the ta­ble last month. Their stay didn’t last long as they went down 5-1 at Park­head and there are surely few in Ayr­shire that be­lieve their team could sus­tain their form if the pres­sure was really on in the clos­ing weeks of the cam­paign.

The per­cent­age of Premier­ship hope­fuls at Pit­to­drie could well be even less and McInnes did lit­tle to in­spire the Red Army when he in­sisted there was no ti­tle race over the week­end.

Be­ing best of the rest has been the am­bi­tion for Aberdeen in re­cent years and it is a goal they have achieved even in the two sea­sons where Rangers have been back in the top flight.

Like their coun­ter­parts at Rugby Park, there is noth­ing to sug­gest that McInnes’s side would have the killer in­stinct to haul them­selves over the win­ning line should the sil­ver­ware be in sight.

Both teams, as they have proven once again this term, are ca­pa­ble of string­ing to­gether a run of re­sults that keeps pun­ters im­pressed and en­sures they re­main at the sharp end of the stand­ings.

But you just can’t see ei­ther of them be­ing close enough to Celtic come the fi­nal few fix­tures to really be in with a chance of a re­mark­able ti­tle tri­umph.

That, then, leaves Rangers. Could it be third time lucky for the Light Blues now that Ger­rard is at the helm?

The cam­paign so far has been en­cour­ag­ing for the Gers but they will emerge from the win­ter break with feel­ings of ‘what if?’ fol­low­ing their Old Firm win at Ibrox.

That vic­tory pulled Ger­rard’s side level with Celtic at the top of the ta­ble but the points that have been squan­dered will surely frus­trate the 38-year-old. It has been good, but it could, and should, have been so much bet­ter.

As Celtic have stum­bled their way through the first half of the sea­son,

Rangers have failed to cap­i­talise like they needed to, but they have done enough to still be in the mix.

This newly as­sem­bled Ibrox squad still have it all to prove as well. While Celtic are tried and tested over the dis­tance, Ger­rard’s side have yet to show they have the ti­tle met­tle.

The ad­di­tions of Jer­main De­foe and Steven Davis will un­doubt­edly help in that re­gard, how­ever, and those two deals last week were a state­ment of in­tent from Rangers.

If they don’t go all the way now, if they don’t give it a right good go, they will look back and think what might have been. They are still the out­siders, but they are in con­tention for the ti­tle for the first time since their re­turn to the Premier­ship.

The Gers were not strongly fan­cied at the start of the sea­son but sup­port­ers are dar­ing to dream once again and Ger­rard and his play­ers must surely now be­lieve they are gen­uine ti­tle chal­lengers this term.

It is still more likely than not that the Premier­ship tro­phy will have green and white rib­bons on it come May and it would still be a con­sid­er­able sur­prise if Rodgers doesn’t lead Celtic to an eighth suc­ces­sive ti­tle. All the ex­pec­ta­tion and all the pres­sure is di­rected to­wards Park­head.

But that will start to rise at Ibrox the longer Rangers can re­main neck and neck with their Old Firm ri­vals and that is when Ger­rard will really find out what his play­ers are made of, and maybe learn some­thing about him­self as well.

As the Premier­ship pre­pares to get down to busi­ness once again, the league is per­fectly poised and geared up for what could be a head­line-grab­bing, eye-catch­ing run-in.

The race is on. This time, it may not be a one horse one.

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