London (AFP) – Rangers have spent nearly a decade in the doldrums but their revival under Steven Gerrard appears to be coming just in time to stop rivals Celtic from winning a historic 10th consecutive Scottish league title.
The club have had a bumpy ride since they last won the league in 2011. Financial troubles led to liquidation and the club were reformed in the fourth tier of Scottish football.
Rangers returned to the Scottish Premiership in 2016, but even then the turmoil did not end as three managers were dismissed in little over a year trying to bridge the chasm Celtic.
Now it is the blue half of the Glasgow divide that enjoy an 11-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership and are outperforming their rivals on the European stage.
Gerrard’s men are unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions this season, confirming the steady progress he has made since landing his first senior managerial role in 2018.
The former Liverpool captain famously never won a league title as a player, but he will forever be hailed a Rangers’ hero if he denies Celtic the coveted 10-in-a-row.
Gerrard has benefited from a level of patience scarcely afforded to Old Firm managers.
He is the first Rangers manager to begin a third season in charge without winning a trophy in his first two.
Celtic have not just swept the board in the league, but won all of the past 11 domestic trophies on offer in Scotland and can make that 12 in the Scottish Cup final next month.
However, the tide appears to have turned, with Celtic boss Neil Lennon clinging to his job as calls grow from fans for the Northern Irishman to go after a run of two wins in nine games.
“I look at the league table every time we play, I’m not going to deny that,” said Gerrard after a 4-0 demolition of third-placed Aberdeen last weekend.
“But I’ve never known a manager to get carried away in November. I don’t know how many games we’ve played, but there is a lot of football to be played, a lot of challenges, a lot of big hurdles to get over.
“I’d much rather be where we are of course. But stay humble.”
– Gamble pays off –
The experience of Gerrard’s first two seasons in charge shows much can change in the second half of the season.
In December, for the past two years, Celtic were beaten in a derby to seemingly set up a proper title race, only to come back stronger as Rangers wilted in the New Year.
Celtic have two games in hand that could cut the gap to five points, but the Cup final means the Hoops will miss another league match in December, offering Rangers the chance to establish a 14-point lead before the sides meet again on January 2.
Sustained progress in the Europa League over the past three seasons has allowed Rangers to build a depth of squad that should last the course domestically.
The club’s accounts released last week show the faith that has been placed in Gerrard in terms of their willingness to build a strong squad — the operating loss for the year increased from £11.6 million ($15.4 million) to £15.9 million.
Unlike Celtic, who have consistently sold their biggest assets to keep balancing the books, Rangers’ investors are banking on Gerrard delivering a title and potentially Champions League football next season before selling any major players.
“I think the important thing to know is that this team is in much better shape than it was when we came through the door,” said Gerrard, in defence of those figures.
“The team is littered now with big assets. The team is worth an awful lot of money now compared to what it was.”
That gamble is paying off. Rangers are off to their best league start in 53 years, with 13 wins and just three goals conceded in their opening 15 games.
Gerrard’s men also top a Europa League group containing Benfica and saw off Galatasaray in qualifying.
Celtic’s consistency has set the bar in a nine-year run, but Rangers are now the ones with a ruthless streak.
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