Alan Stubbs has urged Celtic and their supporters to savour every minute of their current monopoly of success in Old Firm combat and has questioned Rangers’ lack of a coherent strategy in their efforts to turn the tide.
Celtic will look to extend their unbeaten run against their great city rivals to 11 matches when the teams meet for the final time this season at Parkhead on Sunday. A win for Brendan Rodgers’ men will also wrap up a seventh consecutive title win for the club.
Rangers, embroiled in a battle with Aberdeen and Hibs for runners-up spot in the Premiership, are also seeking to restore some pride following their 4-0 capitulation to Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden ten days ago.
“Whichever side of the Old Firm you are on, when you are having the upper hand you have to enjoy it and embrace it,” said former Celtic defender Stubbs.
“There will come a time – like it or not – when Rangers will start to improve and become a challenge again. They don’t seem to be close right now but if you look at Rangers earlier in the season, after the 0-0 draw at Celtic Park people started to talk of improvement.
“After January, some of the loan signings led to talk of them getting stronger and bringing in better additions to the squad. Then, suddenly, you bring the semi-final into the equation and people are now asking if they are actually making any strides?
“Rangers, to me, have some really serious and big decisions to make in terms of where they go from here. You look at Celtic and they have a real clear direction and a strategy for what they are as a football club. I’m not so sure Rangers have that. It seems to be very much off the cuff.
“Celtic are in a dominant position on and off the pitch. They are obviously way ahead of the rest in every sense. I don’t think Celtic have necessarily been at the same level as last year.
“But they’ve gone about it in the same ruthless, efficient way. The one thing about them this year is that they have always produced when they’ve had to. That’s a sign of a really good team. Whenever there has been a question asked of them they have always answered.”
Stubbs, speaking on behalf of BT Sport, believes Rangers must attempt to find a new manager for next season who has a similar stature and presence as Rodgers.
“That seems to be a fundamental criteria they are looking for in the next manager,” added Stubbs. “Brendan came in to Celtic with an aura about him which, straightaway, commanded a huge amount of respect in the dressing room without even getting on the grass.
“That’s where Rangers have to get to. That same type of appointment – whether he is British or foreign. The most important thing for Rangers is that they have to get this next appointment right. They have two years to try and get their house in order to try and put up the biggest challenge to Celtic when it comes to the ten-in-a-row season. For me, over the next two years, it seems like Rangers are not going to be in a position to stop Celtic getting to nine.
“So they have to have a short, medium and long-term plan. The short-term plan over the next two years is to try and build a squad capable of mounting a challenge in year three.” Stubbs was part of the Celtic side who won the title in 1998 to prevent Rangers achieving a record ten-in-a-row under Walter Smith and can appreciate the strain the current Ibrox players are under.
“I don’t think there is any doubt Rangers were a far better team than us on paper back then,” he said. “They had the big names, they had the big stars, we were just starting to rebuild as a club. Celtic went from the years when they almost went into administration, to Fergus McCann taking over and then slowly but surely started to build and put a team on the park that was capable of mounting a challenge.
“That season when we stopped ten-in-a-row for Rangers was mentally the most demanding I have ever experienced in the whole of my career. It wasn’t enjoyable because you knew the pressures upon our shoulders and the devastation among the Celtic fans that would result if we failed. We didn’t want to go down in history for the wrong reasons.
“If you look at the Old Firm games recently, Celtic have obviously been dominant by going ten unbeaten on the bounce. The Rangers players are getting everything thrown at them right now but they did manage to get a draw at Celtic Park in December and on another day, they could have won at Ibrox in the most recent league match if they had managed the game better. What Celtic showed was their quality and game management.
“So the issue for Rangers is not necessarily what they do in the Old Firm games – it’s the points they have lost against other teams which have had the biggest effect this season.
“Old Firm games can often take care of themselves. The biggest problem Rangers have to fix is their inconsistency against other teams.
“It’s about dealing with the pressure and expectancy. Celtic can play poorly and still win. Rangers can’t play at 60 or 70 per cent and still win. That’s the difference.
“Celtic haven’t been at their best this season, I think everyone would agree, but they can always find a way to win. They have so many match winners in their team. Rangers don’t have that luxury.
“Looking at the Rangers players at Hampden the other week, it was a really poor performance. Celtic were very good but I thought it was a sad indictment of Rangers, the lack of fight their players showed.
“For me, after the first goal went in, Rangers looked beaten straight away. For a professional, that can’t be the case.
“I know there was a lot of talk about the aftermath of the game and about the tactics – they are just excuses for the players to try and hide behind.
“When they crossed that white line, they were in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup with a chance to stop Celtic doing a double treble. To then show that lack of fight and desire, when you have 24,000 diehard Rangers fans in the stadium – it’s not good.
“Everyone knows that Celtic, man for man, are better than Rangers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight as hard as them, in terms of energy, desire, winning 50-50s. That comes down to how much you want to do something about it. That’s the least those supporters deserve from the players.
“Did those Rangers players have a chance to do something about Celtic winning the treble? Yes. Did they fail to take that chance? 100 per cent.”
l BT Sport’s post-split SPFL coverage continues with Aberdeen v Hearts on Friday 27 May from 7:15pm on BT Sport 2. BT Sport is where the best go head to head, bringing you live coverage of the Ladbrokes Premiership and Betfred League Cup. For more information, visit www.BT.com/sport