After three defeats against Celtic this season already (and three games still to go in the repetitive structure of Scottish football), it's fair to say there's not many Rangers supporters looking forward to Sunday's derby.
As someone who just turned 40 recently, like many Rangers fans of such a vintage, I served my apprenticeship as a bear during more successful times. The late eighties and most of the nineties were the source of many comfortable wins against our greatest rivals and even in the noughties, you could approach most Old Firm matches with genuine confidence. Although we were downsizing, managers like McLeish and Smith knew the Scottish game inside out and it wasn't often you felt much trepidation in the run up to big games.
Recent times have been different - and much more difficult. Sure, our penance in the lower leagues meant a few years free from Old Firm derbies but with every passing promotion both sets of fans couldn't ignore the inevitability of the games returning. Celtic won the first in the League Cup just over two years ago but a victory last season for us in the Scottish Cup suggested the gap between the sides may not be as big as some people hoped (or feared). Unfortunately, our first full season back in the top division has shown that in actual fact there's a chasm - both on and off the park.
Not only are Celtic over 30 points ahead in the Premiership table but they have a better goal difference to the tune of 52 goals - scoring twice as often as us and conceding half as many. I don't quote these figures lightly so please let them sink in. Off the park, they have a Celtic supporting manager happy in his job and able to spend millions on new players with up to £40,000 per week on their wages. They also have an impressive board and supporters in positions of power throughout the country's infrastructure. Quite simply, a run of five seasons unopposed to the league title and European football means Celtic are miles ahead in every department and that's a realism every Rangers fan has to accept. They are the Establishment.
However, things can change.
If we go back to the late 1990s, we held the same bragging rights. 9IAR was complete, we had an exciting world class Dutch manager and a chairman who apparently controlled much of the sporting debate in Scotland. We had no debt, a fantastic stadium and Celtic on the back-foot. Yet, our dominance was turned over via the laying of foundations by Fergus McCann during our run of titles. A foundation that took five years to build and another ten to secure via genuine competition. Meanwhile our owner's arrogance and our own similar sense of entitlement showed a weakness ripe for exposure at just the right time. And, oh boy, were we exposed over recent years.
But football is football and it can be unpredictable. Last season we shocked Celtic and in the most recent game we certainly competed for long periods after taking an early, deserved lead. Indeed, although our form has been poor this term, we go into Sunday's match off the back of our biggest win in a long time and, despite a couple of suspensions, should have a squad keen to prove a point under the watching eye of an interesting new managerial (or coaching?) appointment. Pedro Caixinha may well be unknown in Scottish football but there's something about the Portuguese bull-fighter that encourages me. Logically he's a gamble, and an obvious one at that, but he may provide a capriciousness that could, just could, pay off. However, he'll need quality in the boardroom and budget to do so.
In that sense, it's arguably the right decision to allow Graeme Murty to take Sunday's game and give Caixinha more time to settle in before the litmus test of Old Firm matches. The former Scottish international hasn't fully persuaded the Rangers support of his qualities but the team have gradually improved under his guidance of late. Although not all of us may have agreed with his selections, he's tried to maintain a settled team and I think that was sensible after a manager who seemed to prefer a system but not know who to deploy within it.
As such, despite suspensions for Rob Kiernan and Joe Garner, I wouldn't expect many changes to our starting XI from the team that played against Hamilton last week. Danny Wilson seems the most likely replacement for Kiernan with Kenny Miller retained in attack - though Murty may be tempted to introduce the pace of an O'Halloran or the creative quirks of Forrester. One also does wonder if someone like Lee Hodson is brought in to deal with the threat of Scott Sinclair? No matter the side he picks, as always they'll need to be up for a battle and if the new manager is watching from the stands, one assumes he'll quickly note who he can rely on in the most demanding of situations.
Of course, in many ways, the result isn't all that important on Sunday. With the club about to undergo another managerial/coaching reboot and the playing squad likely to change dramatically for next season, I doubt we can take much from a win or loss. After all, as we seen in the nineties, turning around your opponents dominance doesn't occur overnight. It might not happen on Sunday or in the next game or even next season. But we have to believe it can happen.
It's that kind of belief and patience that Rangers fans must adopt if we're to become successful again. Winning our 55th title was never going to happen this season and as Celtic rapidly approach their sixth straight championship win the echoes of the 1990s are obvious. What lessons can we learn from that and are we prepared to put our pride aside for the greater good? In any event, Sunday's game is just another battle in a war that is really just beginning.
Possible team (4-2-3-1)
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