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