Steven Gerrard has not been short of major Old Firm wins for over three years. They were among the hallmarks of his tenure.
The December 2018 win ended Celtic’s 12-game unbeaten run. A year later, Gerrard oversaw a first division rby success at Parkhead since 2010.
Last season was one long and happy story about these intense occasions. Three Premiership wins and one draw were key factors in pushing Rangers to an unbeaten title.
Steven Gerrard has had no shortage of significant Old Firm wins for over three years in the lead
Sunday was a little different. While Gerrard was not with Ibrox due to his isolation, there is an argument to be made that it may well be one of his biggest derby wins to date.
Why? Because Rangers really needed it. The importance was huge from the perspective of the manager and his players. It could be the launch pad for their entire season.
An indifferent start meant that many questions were asked. Celtic were the team that arrived at Ibrox with a sense of momentum.
You weren’t sure what to expect from Rangers, especially with the Covid-related absences, but they found a way.
That’s what champions often do. Gerrard’s team has not delivered a top performance in terms of style – that remains to be seen – but they have shown the mentality, the will and the organization to cross the line.
Crucially, they proved once again that they have the ability to win ugly in these games. For all the fluid attacking football Celtic have seen lately, that’s something Ange Postecoglou’s team must be able to emulate if they want to take the crown away from their rivals. The jury stays outside.
Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic were the team that arrived at Ibrox with a sense of momentum
Psychologically for Rangers, this was more than three points. Much bigger. You could see that at the end in the reaction of the players, the staff and the audience. Together everyone felt what it meant. Not in terms of the title race, not yet anyway, but in terms of this squad and maybe how it sees itself.
There had been accusations about not being able to play in front of an audience, about not being able to handle the expectation, about not coping with adversity.
I never delved into those discussions, especially about the crowd. But if the same questions keep popping up week after week after week, then at some point it becomes the truth.
Rangers gave all the answers on Sunday. You can now put those theories aside.
Elements of the weekend reminded me of my own period at Ibrox. Coming in nine in a row, there were times when we had to patch up teams for the Old Firm games and look at unlikely heroes. On Sunday, Rangers found a couple. Robby McCrorie played with real coolness for a young goalkeeper making his Old Firm debut.
Then there was Leon Balogun, asked to fill in at right-back. It was a phenomenal effort from the 33-year-old, who was a study in concentration the whole time.
Filip Helander may have headed the only goal, but Balogun could just as easily be considered the match winner because of his performance.
Although Gerrard wasn’t with Ibrox, it could well be one of his biggest derby wins.
His one-on-one against Kyogo Furuhashi always seemed to have a real impact on the outcome. Balogun timed his challenges to perfection and limited the Japanese attacker’s involvement.
Furuhashi is a top quality player and you could see more of his threat as he moved into central position. Postecoglou admitted he should have started it there. It was a mistake not to. Rangers would certainly have been relieved to see him operate in that larger area where his range of motion felt more restricted.
In reality, Celtic could have viewed the Rangers’ attack in a similarly benign way. While the performance of Gerrard’s team in the second half was deep in character, they didn’t pose much danger from their own invention.
Ryan Kent is so often effective in the derbies, but right now he doesn’t look like a player who really believes he can beat the defender or score a goal – even if he had a bit of bad luck with one shot hitting the post hit . You would hope his confidence benefits from the end result.
Rangers are still not firing on all cylinders. Sometimes you just have to accept that you are going through difficult times. As a team, the balance doesn’t look right.
But if you can get through phases like this without taking too much damage, you tend to come out stronger for the experience. Taking that win on Sunday puts Rangers in a pretty good place overall.
The doubt would have grown had it gone the other way, but they can try to work through the international break to find that spark. Gerrard will feel that they have taken a huge step forward. I’m sure he will welcome the transfer window tonight and the security it brings.
The same, of course, applies to Postecoglou. Celtic have yet to add to their team as their bench was not the strongest.
No one should suggest that the result was some sort of disaster, given how early it is in Postecoglou’s reign.
Nevertheless, it brings a little more control over his approach. Relentless play on the forefoot, with inverted full backs and the rest, is really appealing. But when you lose matches – first at Tynecastle, then Ibrox – people will ask if it takes more facets to win a title over 38 matches.
I would think that is the case. Celtic will have to show another side – a Plan B, if you will.
An Old Firm game in the first month of the season does nothing but determine the mood of each club.
Rangers will feel braver about their prospects. For Celtic, Sunday was a reminder of how much work there is still to do.