Steven Gerrard believes Rangers are better equipped to maintain a title bid this season after they leapfrogged Celtic at the top of the Premiership table.
Jermain Defoe grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Hamilton at Ibrox which ensured Rangers made the most of champions Celtic losing 2-0 at Livingston earlier in the day.
Rangers have a two-point lead over their Old Firm rivals and it’s the first time they have been league leaders since December last year. Their stay at the summit then was a brief one as Celtic responded with an eighth consecutive title.
But while Rangers manager Gerrard is dismissive of the significance of leading the pack at this stage of the campaign, he is in no doubt they are ready to deliver a far stronger challenge to Celtic’s domestic supremacy this time around.
“I’m not going to get involved in any top-of-the table talk,” said Gerrard. “That’s for you guys to do. My job is to win as many football matches as I can and focus on the next game. So there’s an international break now and I worry about what I have to do to beat Hearts when we come back.
“It is still very early days in the season. I’ve told the players not to get carried away, we still need to improve and grow.
“But yes, we are better
than last year. We are stronger. The first 11 is stronger, the squad is stronger. We’ve got people coming back from injury and we are in a good place.
“Look, it’s October. There is still tonnes and tonnes of football to be played. At this time in the last block of league fixtures, we lost the Old Firm game 2-0 at Ibrox. A lot of criticism came our way and rightly so because we didn’t perform well enough on the day. So we all deserved that.
“In this block of fixtures, we’ve won four out of four in the league with a lot of strong and positive performances, especially at home. We’ve shown really good hunger and aggressive play about us. That’s what I’m looking for. But it’s October and there is no point worrying about where we stand in the league or getting carried away. There is too much football to be played.
“Today was another strong win at home and another clean sheet. There were a lot of strong individual performances within the team performance. I’m happy.”
“Gerrard was full of praise for veteran striker Defoe – who celebrates his 37th birthday today – whose second hat-trick of the season - his first came in the 6-1 drubbing of Hibs - took his tally for the campaign to 12. The former England striker, who will celebrate his 37th birthday on Monday, provides Gerrard with a potent alternative up front to top scorer Alfredo Morelos.
“Jermain is a pleasure to watch,” said Gerrard. “His first touch, his movement, his strength for the size of him, his hunger to get goals. He’s been chomping at the bit to get on and show that. We’ve got two top class forwards, both bang in form, both happy, both playing well and doing their jobs for the team. So I’m pleased with both of them.”