The last time Rangers went eight years without a title win, Ian Durrant lit the spark which ended their barren run.
It was all of 33 years ago this weekend that Durrant raced on to a sublime reverse pass from Davie Cooper at Ibrox to score the only goal of the first Old Firm game of the season.
Rangers hardly looked back after that victory, its momentum driving them on to become champions under Graeme Souness by a six-point margin from Celtic.
As Rangers bid to prevent Celtic making it nine titles in a row this season, once more under the management of a former Liverpool captain in Steven Gerrard, this Sunday’s Ibrox showdown between the ancient rivals is being framed with similar significance in the eyes of many.
Durrant doesn’t believe it will make or break either team’s title hopes but does see similarities in the manner Gerrard has strengthened Rangers’ squad through his personal standing in the game as much as from the backing he has received from the club’s board.
“It’s a different scenario this Sunday in that I don’t think it’s going to be a defining moment of the season,” said Durrant. “Of course it’s a game you want to win and it will show us how far Rangers have come.
“But back in ’86, we went into that Old Firm game having already lost twice in the league to Hibs and Dundee United. We were behind the black ball and it was a must-win against Celtic. We would have gone five points behind them if we’d lost, when it was still just two points for a win.
“Thankfully we won the game and everyone knows the rest. We signed some top-calibre players in that era, big players like Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, Ray Wilkins and Trevor Francis. Those guys came to Rangers because of Graeme Souness.
“Now players like Jermain Defoe, Joe Aribo [below] and Sheyi Ojo are coming to Rangers from England again, who in previous years might not have come to Ibrox, because of the Steven Gerrard factor.”
Durrant, a member of the coaching staff when Rangers last won the title back in 2011 under Walter Smith, has been impressed by Gerrard’s work since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2018. But he believes another season without silverware is simply not an option if Gerrard is to truly enhance his managerial reputation.
“The quality of the team and squad has improved but there is no getting away with it now for Steven,” added Durrant.
“Last season, he got away with it being a rookie manager. He tried a few things but he knew he was short. The club have backed him up this year and they now have a strong first-team squad of 22 players.
“They know the size of what is in front of them. It’s a big week for Rangers, with the second leg of the Europa League play-off against Legia Warsaw on Thursday night and then the Old Firm game.
“Steven wants to challenge himself as a manager and he wants the players to be the best they can be in Europe. Given the money available in Europe now, it is imperative they qualify for the group stages. This week will be an indication of how far Rangers have come.
“Last season they didn’t have any consistency, but so far this season they have not lost a game. They have been watertight at the back and you can see the signs he is building a proper squad.
“The manager clearly thinks it is capable of challenging Celtic. I think he has more trust in his squad to deal with a hectic schedule.”
As an aficionado of midfield play, Durrant has been enthused by Rangers’ strength in that department this season and singles out Ryan Jack for special praise.
“Rangers have great quality in midfield now and Ryan has been fantastic right since the start of this campaign,” he said.
“Steve Davis has had a good pre-season under his belt and Scott Arfield has come back from the Gold Cup with Canada. Glen Kamara also provides competition there, along with Joe Aribo and Sheyi Ojo, so that’s healthy.
“Ryan has been an ever-present. Others have dropped out but he now seems to be a first pick for Gerrard. He has a mixture of everything – he can play all right, although he’d probably admit himself that he could add more goals to his game.
“He’s the sitting midfielder, though, and he likes a tackle and he very rarely gives the ball away. The manager raves about him and I can relate to that because when I was on the coaching side I always used to relate more to the midfielders.
“Steven sees things in Ryan that he can improve and I think we’ve already seen the Gerrard factor at work in him this season. He’s been immense and he’ll want to learn even more. Graeme Souness told me he was still learning when he was at 34.
“Davis is the quiet man in the way he goes about his work – he does his job without being vocal but that’s just the way he is and, working with Gerrard and Gary McAllister, they’re still learning from two of the best guys to play in their positions in the last 20 years. Jack and Davis will be picking their brains all the time.”