It might seem like an impressive calling card for Graeme Murty to take into his first ding-dong derby fixture as ‘semi-permanent’ Rangers manager on Saturday. As it stands, the 43-year-old is the only Ibrox boss to take charge of the side unbeaten at Celtic Park since Davie White almost five decades ago.
All right, so Murty might only have negotiated one game, but the 1-1 draw he achieved in March during his first interim spell was a mini-triumph that served as the earlier indication the then Rangers under-20s manager knew how to set up the club’s senior team for a high-profile occasion. The late equaliser Clint Hill netted that day brought to an end a 22-game winning streak in the Premiership for Brendan Rodgers’ then unbeatables. It remains the only time since their top flight promotion in the summer of 2016 that the Ibrox men have avoided league defeat against their city rivals.
Murty’s mission to make Rangers contenders again as Celtic close in on seemingly inevitable seventh consecutive title means he is hardly feeling like letting off the party poppers over his one managerial experience at the scene he returns to this weekend.
“I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about us getting close to them. I’m proud of the players and what we did that day, in front of a packed house at Parkhead. But are we going to shout from the rooftops about getting a draw at Parkhead, or are we going to aspire to be better than that? Are we going to aspire to have a team that go to Parkhead and compete and win? And hopefully win leagues, because that’s what I want for the club, I’m sure that’s what the board wants and I’m certain that’s what the fans want.
“We have a chance next week to measure ourselves against the team who are the benchmark. But we also have to be pushing as a football club to be at the top table. Celtic are currently there and the team to beat. We have to make up the gap, that’s the aim for the season. It was the aim at the start and it’s still the aim.
“We must have an outstanding second half of the season. We have a cup competition to play for and we’re still in touch in the league – albeit we could be closer. If we’re positive and strong, who knows where that could take us?
“I’ve been holding the reins and preparing a team for someone else until now. I’ve been keeping the ship as steady as possible and not rocking the boat. But now those reins have been passed to me and I have to be true to myself.
“I must try to shape things how I see them and not second guess what another manager might want. I have to compose the squad the way I’d like it and implement a style of play that I’m comfortable with. I now have an opportunity to do that.”
By the end of next week Murty will have taken the Ibrox team for more league games this season that predecessor Pedro Caixinha. Tasked with stabilising the club following the sacking of the Portuguese coach in late October, Murty has largely achieved that with big wins – which have offset some desperate defeats, the latest of which came yesterday at Kilmarnock. And as with his caretaker spell in the wake of Mark Warburton’s departure nine months ago, has made more of the resources he has inherited.
The Rangers squad still appears misshapen and lacking, which he will seek to address by bringing in his own players across the forthcoming transfer window. However, Murty won’t look to point the finger at the managers he follows if his Rangers team do not usurp Aberdeen or win the Scottish Cup – the likely requirements for him to be retained beyond the five months in the post that the Rangers board have initially offered him.
“The squad is composed of two different philosophies in Mark’s and Pedro’s,” said Murty. “But it’s what I have. I’m sick of hearing youth coaches or managers blaming players. It’s up to you as a coach to get a tune out of what you have. If you can, great. If you can’t, look at yourself and what you’re doing.
“I played Daniel Candeias in a diamond formation recently and it didn’t suit him. It was my decision but it was unfair on him, so we changed it. We changed shape to get the best out of him. There are assets in the squad, but I need to get them together collectively and get good outcomes for the football club. There’s a window coming up so there might be a slight accent on what I would like. But I’m just grateful for being here and to work with the players we have.”
Murty, whose side host Motherwell on Wednesday, is grateful but also proud of the life he has made for himself in Scotland. He only joined Rangers as, effectively, a youth coach in August 2016. There was no inkling then of just what an extraordinary 2017 he would be in for, or how that would end.
“My wife [Karen] moved up from our house in Norwich a year ago yesterday,” he said. “So that shows the year that we’ve had. We’ve had loads of ups and downs, loads of challenges. I think we’ve ridden them out fairly well so far. I’ve got no doubt there’s many more challenges to come.
“I’m grateful to her for the support she’s given me. I’m also grateful that it was a brilliant decision to come here – to move and relocate the family here. I could never in my wildest dreams have thought I’d be sitting in front of you here as Rangers manager. It’s still ever so slightly surreal at the moment.”