Rangers’ unexpected 3-0 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday was precisely the morale-boosting result manager Pedro Caixinha would have wanted after drawing against relegation candidates Motherwell and seventh-placed Kilmarnock.
It cut the gap between them and Derek McInnes’ Dons to nine points with six fixtures remaining. More importantly, it provided some hope that they can overcome champions Celtic in their two meetings at the end of this month.
The first of these, on 23 April, comes in the semi-final of the William Hill Scottish Cup, and denying their Glasgow rivals a domestic treble would salvage something from a traumatic campaign. Yet, according to former Celtic and Scotland forward Simon Donnelly, there will be yet more disappointment in store for the long-suffering Rangers supporters.
Donnelly, whose father, Tom, joined Rangers as a schoolboy but was released without playing for them, claims that there is not a single player at Ibrox who could command a place in Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI.
“The gap is huge and these must be worrying times for Rangers when it comes to how they claw it back,” he said.
“Celtic seem to be on a steamroller which can’t be stopped. Look at the potential there – apart from Stuart Armstrong, you have Moussa Dembele and, if those guys move on, Celtic will have even more money to work with than they do currently.
“First of all, Rangers have to at least get back to finishing second. They’ve struggled to do that this season, although Aberdeen have done really well. I don’t see the gap closing any time soon, frankly. There’s not a single Rangers player I could pick who would get into the Celtic team.
“Kenny Miller, at 37, has been their best player but you wouldn’t drop Dembele for him. Full credit to Kenny – any time I’ve watched Rangers he’s been the one who’s tried to take the game by the scruff of the neck and popped up with a goal.
“People are already talking about ten in a row but that’s life in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. It was the same when we were trying to stop Rangers doing it in 1998, all the hysteria that surrounded it. We don’t know what’s just around the corner. Weird and wonderful things crop up in sport, which is why we all love it. But right now everything points towards ten in a row for Celtic.”
Celtic’s financial superiority is the biggest problem facing Aberdeen and Rangers as they attempt to prevent every title race turning into a procession.
Should Rodgers negotiate his way through the qualifying rounds of the Champions League again this summer, a minimum of £30m will find its way into the club’s coffers, widening the current gulf into a chasm.
Celtic also possess players who would command seven and eight-figure sums in the transfer market. Which rather begs the question: who can stop them?
“Nobody, by the looks of things,” Donnelly admits. “The semi-final is Rangers’ last crack at stopping their treble but, after watching Celtic demolish Hearts at Tynecastle to win the title, I don’t see anyone stopping them.
“The quality of the goals Celtic scored was breathtaking. The interplay between Patrick Roberts and Scott Sinclair was tremendous and that was done without Moussa Dembele or Leigh Griffiths in the team. They have strength in depth.
“Rangers will take some heart from the recent draw at Parkhead but, ironically, I think that result will help Celtic. It’ll have given them a wee kick. If you could accuse them of having been complacent this season then it was in that match. Rangers set their stall out to be hard to beat but that was a warning to Celtic and I think they’ll be right up for the semi.”
The feelgood factor at Parkhead is hardly in need of being enhanced yet that could happen if midfielder Stuart Armstrong follows Rodgers and full-back Kieran Tierney by signing the improved and extended contract which has been put to him.
Donnelly left Celtic in 1999 and, along with team-mate Phil O’Donnell, joined Sheffield Wednesday, then a top-tier club, on a Bosman. There has, understandably, been interest from England in Armstrong, 25, whose consistently excellent displays for his club were matched by an impressive debut for Scotland.
Donnelly, believes, though, that remaining in Glasgow may be Armstrong’s best option.
“Brendan touched on it the other week – you need to appreciate what you have,” he said. “He’s playing in a side which is going for a treble while trying to achieve something that’s never been done before by going through the entire domestic season unbeaten.
“He’s also now part of the Scotland set-up and was probably the best player on the park in his debut so Stuart should just focus on where he is now and keep developing. Further down the line, if he moves down south then it would need to be to one of the top clubs. I wouldn’t see leaving Celtic to join a mid-table Premier League club as being progress.
“But he could certainly succeed there. He could handle it, as he proved in the two Champions League games against Manchester City, when he was immense.
“I look back now, at when I left Celtic to join Sheffield Wednesday in 1999 and, being honest, I never worked alongside the same calibre of player as I did at Parkhead ever again.
“That’s a regret, even though I enjoyed the rest of my career.”
l Simon Donnelly was speaking at a William Hill event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.