When it comes to the distinct environment occupied within our game by Celtic and Rangers, it is practically non-existent.
The folly of overreacting to a single result, for which supporters of both Old Firm clubs have a remarkable aptitude, has been sharply illustrated at the start of this season.
The opprobrium hurled at Celtic manager Neil Lennon and his club’s board of directors for one slapdash and costly display against Cluj in the Champions League qualifiers has quickly given way to a renewed sense of optimism among their fans. That’s the effect an assured 2-0 win at the home of your greatest rivals tends to have. Last Sunday’s success at Ibrox certainly allowed Lennon to go into the first international break of the season with much to be satisfied about. Not only did his Celtic side move three points clear at the top of the Premiership table, they also ensured that the unforgiving glare of knee-jerk scrutiny was switched to Steven Gerrard.
Criticism of the Rangers manager from his own support has been nothing like as ferocious as was faced by Lennon in the aftermath of Celtic’s Champions League exit. But while Gerrard’s approval ratings remain high, there is no doubt the insipid manner of his team’s performance last weekend has tested the faith of many Rangers fans who believe he is the man who can dethrone eight-in-a-row champions Celtic. Rangers chairman Dave King has invested heavily in the Gerrard project which, he bullishly proclaimed earlier this year, already has his club “within tangible reach” of becoming the dominant force in Scottish football once more.
King’s significant backing of Gerrard was evidenced again 24 hours after their Old Firm disappointment. The deadline day signing of Ryan Kent from Liverpool, in a deal potentially worth as much as £7.5 million, completed another transfer window when Gerrard has pretty much been given everything he has asked for.
He has, of course, repaid King in the form of two consecutive qualifications for the Europa League group stage, a platform the South Africa-based businessmen made clear was crucial to his strategy in rebuilding the club. Any further progress Rangers make in that tournament this season will be regarded as a bonus by King. It is domestic silverware he now craves from Gerrard’s sizeable squad, with a sustained title challenge the priority. Last Sunday suggested Celtic continue to hold the aces in that battle. So when Premiership actions resumes next weekend, the pressure will be firmly on Rangers to kick-start a sequence of results which keep them in contention.
The overall records of Celtic and Rangers since the start of the season suggest it should be the most competitive campaign for many years. Both have played 13 games in all competitions with just one defeat each. Both have played eight European qualifying matches and secured group stage football.
Celtic have outscored Rangers by 41 to 32 goals. But Rangers have a better defensive record so far, keeping eight clean sheets to Celtic’s seven and conceding five goals fewer than the champions. Celtic’s defence, however, came out on top when it mattered at Ibrox, with Christopher Jullien’s dominant display at the heart of the back four suggesting that the £7 million fee shelled out to Toulouse for the big Frenchman could turn out to be Lennon’s most significant piece of business this season.
Gerrard must hope that Kent, his own signature signing, can hit the ground running on his return to Rangers and make the difference in what still promises to be an intriguing title race – and doubtless also one where snap judgments will continue to be made on the basis of just one result.