Ian Durrant: Celtic Park is acid test for Steven Gerrard's Rangers
A huge week awaits with the Europa League return at Maribor on Thursday and a tough Betfred Cup tie at Kilmarnock on Sunday while Celtic’s Champions League hopes are on the line in Athens tonight.
The Ibrox hero knows the swinging pendulum of Old Firm life more than most having starred in the nine-in-a-row era and then suffered as a coach down the divisions following the club’s liquidation in 2012.
Durrant is impressed with how quickly Gerrard has improved Rangers and the rise of his old club has coincided with a rift between Brendan Rodgers and Peter Lawwell over money, compounded by Celtic’s defeat at Tynecastle on Saturday.
However, he has cautioned that the real test for Gerrard will come on 2 September and the first Glasgow derby of the season at Celtic Park.
Durrant said: “Steven Gerrard has got people smiling again. There’s a feel-good factor about the place which hasn’t been there for a long time. “Everything about the club is on the up at the moment. I hate going on about it but it’s like when I was there and Graeme Souness came in. Rangers have had a similar lift with Gerrard, compared to where the club had been before.
“You can tell by the way fans are turning up for games now. You see the way Gerrard talks – everything is positive and long may that continue for Stevie G.
“I haven’t seen too much of them this season but they seem to get the ball forward quickly and they have pace in the team and good legs in the middle of the park. “They have solidity in there and he’s also brought in good defenders.
“Plus, Alfredo Morelos is smiling again. He’s a threat and if you get the ball into him then he’ll cause you problems.
“We will find out where Rangers are in a couple of weeks and if they can take advantage of what is happening at Celtic. “Between then and now, Celtic have a tough game in Athens, Rangers a tough game on Thursday, then Rangers have got to go to Kilmarnock on Sunday.
“And I think the way it will work out is if Rangers get through their next European away game will be the Thursday before the Old Firm game.
“So, there are tough games and even this early in the season this is when the squad comes into play.
“It is about building momentum for Rangers. It does seem that everyone at Ibrox has a spring in their step and they will be looking to this season to build and build.”
A seasoned veteran of the Glasgow rivalry, Durrant reckons a clearer picture will emerge when the two teams meet in under three weeks’ time.
He said: “The game against Celtic is the ultimate marker. Of course, it will be. I’m not saying the games will determine who wins the league but everyone will be looking at them to see how far Rangers have progressed.
“They were unlucky in a couple of the games last season. There were moments here and there when they might have got in front and then Celtic proved just that wee bit too strong on several occasions.
“Will the Old Firm games be a contest? We will find out soon enough. Morelos did miss a chance at Ibrox last season which would have made it 3-2 to Rangers, then Odsonne Edouard does score and Celtic win 3-2.
“The smallest of fractions in these games do count for a lot. You just need to take your chances when they come.
“It is funny. There is a month to go before the Old Firm game and we’re talking about it. But that’s what it is. It has been a mismatch in some of the previous games and now we will find out how close the teams are.
“It is like it’s always been with the Old Firm, you get one bad result and everything gets scrutinised.”