The potential for tomorrow’s derby at Ibrox to stimulate a title race seems to have created an inability – or wilful unwillingness – to differentiate between the excitable chatter from the Rangers support and the more sober appraisals from those within the club.
Graeme Murty was asked every which way yesterday whether a win for his side over Celtic tomorrow would result in his team being genuine challengers for the championship. Even if this scenario would leave Rangers only three points adrift of Brendan Rodgers’ men after playing a game more, the Ibrox manager sought to play down any sense of this weekend’s fixture as a game-changer.
As well he might. For while the encounter has been ramped up as possibly “defining”, that is only the case if Celtic win because that would kill stone-dead the currently slim prospects of Rangers pushing them.
Murty rebuffed any suggestions a defeat would put his team back to square one on the back of a stirring run of displays that has brought them ten wins and a draw from their past 13 games. Conversely, even if that sequence was to be extended to 11 victories in 14 games, it would not prompt the 43-year-old to big-up his team’s chances of toppling the six-times champions.
“We want to make every single game meaningful,” he said. “This is meaningful in that it’s an Old Firm game. It’s a massive game and will never be anything other than massive. I’ve got a group of fans coming to the ground hopeful of a really good performance and gaining three points against our opponent.
“We’ve won six in a row but this is the biggest test. If we were to win it then it would add to our confidence and what we’re trying to do. It would make us start to say: ‘do you know what, we’re a good team’. I honestly don’t know if us winning would mean there is a title race.
“But until it’s mathematically impossible, we’re up there. Celtic have done it. They are at the top of the league. We’re still chasing them and whether we chase them down or not won’t just be on this one game – it will be on the games after it. So we have to make sure what we do, from Sunday, is put ourselves in as good a position as possible to go and chase them down.
“This is the game since I’ve come in that there’s been most interest in from south of the border. This is the game where people are talking about ‘the game’ as a contest rather than it being one sided. It’s not about whether it’ll be six, seven or eight goals like before the first game I did at Parkhead.
“It was also about the fact we didn’t have a manager. But people are now talking about ‘the game,’ which I think is indicative of the journey we’ve been on and the distance we’ve come as a squad and a football club. I think we’ve moved in the right direction. The fact this game is generating so much interest shows that in a good light.”
The upward curve that Murty has sent Rangers on since being given the job till the end of the season has been exponential. The arrival in January of Jamie Murphy, Sean Goss, Greg Docherty and Russell Martin – who will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness – has been transformative.
Murty believes Rangers are now a “different team” from the one that more than held their own in the scoreless draw at Celtic Park at the turn of the year. “Our style of play is different and the threats we pose are different,” he said. “I would suggest we have different attributes that could trouble Celtic.”
The Rangers manager admits he has a number of key decisions to make ahead of tomorrow. “Personnel. Style. How attacking we want to be. How open we want to be. How much we want to take the game to the opposition, take your pick.”
Murty refused to get bogged down on how much the decision the Rangers board have to make over retaining his services beyond the summer would be impacted by what happens tomorrow.
“I like to think we can crack on in the league and finish really high,” he said. “My chances of this job will be defined by that.”