Before I look forward to this weekend’s Old Firm top of the table clash at Ibrox, it’s worth taking a quick look back first.

Almost six months to the day, we were about to be beaten by Aris Limmasol in Cyprus after sacking Michael Beale a few days previous. The Englishman had gone off the back of a 3-1 home reverse to Aberdeen at Ibrox, his third league defeat of a domestic campaign that was quickly becoming a disaster. Add in the loss to Aris, the season was on the verge of being a write off before October had really begun; especially when we consider almost all of Beale’s summer signings were struggling to impress.

Fortunately, an international break allowed the Rangers board a fortnight to appoint a replacement. Various names were linked – some well known by our fans, others less so. However, with only Steven Gerrard able to deliver a single league title across the previous five seasons, the pressure was on to find the right man; someone who could not only bring back success in Scotland but continue our good work in Europe and offer a style of play that could enthuse a fanbase bored of the horseshoe mentality developed by Gio van Bronckhorst and allowed to fester under Beale.

Philippe Clement was ultimately given the job and it’s fair to say there was some doubt (or uncertainty at least) about this. The former Belgian international defender had had a decent playing career and had impressed as manager at Genk and Club Brugge before a season at Monaco failed to deliver on some early promise. How would he fare at Rangers? Was he experienced enough? Could he turn us back into winners?

Initial signs were good: a run of wins in the league and a League Cup semi-final victory over Hearts at Hampden offered early encouragement for Rangers supporters. However, two draws at the end of November: away to Aberdeen and at home to Aris in the Europa League were blemishes that could easily have caused deeper issues.

The good news is Rangers regrouped and went on an excellent run through December, including an away win versus Betis to top our Europa League group and a 1-0 hard-fought win over Aberdeen at Hampden to secure the League Cup for the first time since 2011/12. Unfortunately, just as excitement was building due to Celtic losing two of their December fixtures, a disappointing performance and loss at Parkhead to close out 2023 put us on the back foot again. Could we dig deep again?

The reaction from the players and manager was a positive one and although we have lost two games this year, our form has been better than our East end rivals to ensure that only a disgracefully cancelled game away at Dundee last month has arguably cost us the psychological benefit of being top of the table for Celtic’s visit on Sunday.

Ahead of that game, all things considered we can say the reign of Clement has been a positive one so far. Not just in terms of results but both in team and individual performances. Yes, there has been the odd blip – the home defeat to Motherwell this time last month was particularly disappointing – but progress has been solid and the manager’s ability to get the best out of a squad often blighted by injury and improve the contribution of players such as Cyriel Dessers, John Lundstram and Dujon Sterling means confidence is rightly high as we enter the business end of 2023/24.

But can we beat Celtic? Ultimately that’s the $64,000 question.

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So far this season, we played them twice and lost twice in two performances that demonstrated a lack of genuine belief; both under Beale and Clement’s leadership. Indeed, despite an impressive win at Ibrox in May 2023, you have to go back two years to April 2022 for our last meaningful victory where we won at Hampden after extra time in a Scottish Cup semi-final. In terms of the SPFL we did win at Ibrox earlier that season but it has now been the best part of three years since we’ve won a league game against them – a record that should embarrass us and goes a long way to delivering Celtic’s own domestic success.

With that in mind, whilst Sunday’s contest may not decide the title one way or the other, clearly the outcome will have a major effect on the final period of the season; especially with one further Old Firm game in the league (and a Scottish Cup final tie-up also looks probable).

The good news for Philippe Clement is that his preparations for Sunday offer him the best squad platform since he arrived last October. Whilst we still have players injured - Ridvan Yilmaz might make it but Danilo, Cortes and Jack will not – having the likes of Todd Cantwell, Abdallah Sima and Kemar Roofe as options offers us an attacking flexibility we’ve not had since we faced Celtic in December. Yes, ideally, we would liked to have had some more games in the legs of Cantwell and Sima in particular but if we’re entirely honest with ourselves, we go into Sunday’s game with a squad more than capable of winning. Speaking of injuries is now an unhelpful distraction.

In fact, Clement has arguably done enough in the eyes of most Rangers fans to demonstrate no matter what happens between now and the end of May he deserves the backing (both of the fans and the money men on the Rangers board) to have another go in 2024/25 but it’s also fair to say his six months in charge now has us in a great position to win the title this year.

Speaking of the supporters, one of the cleverest aspects of Clement’s time at the club so far is him directly engaging the fans. By speaking of a synergy between the support and the players we have seen a patience (at Ibrox especially) that had been missing in recent years. It’s no coincidence that we’ve scored as many late goals (at the end of both halves) as I can remember this season with players having the supporters onside for longer periods in games. We should not under-estimate our input.

Indeed, with no away fans present that relationship could be even more important come Sunday lunch-time. There’s no doubt our support could be that extra factor that proves crucial; more so when we consider how the referee and VAR has influenced games this season with Celtic benefitting from at least two decisions that could have affected the outcome in each match. As with the injury debate though, it’s all about what we do now and that has to be our focus.

In that sense, it’s now very much sink or swim for this season as we won’t have a better chance to apply the kind of pressure that has been missing post-55. Our squad is as strong as it has been this campaign, we have home advantage and we have had a week to prepare for a season-defining game. Of course, nothing is certain and there are always other factors you cannot plan for but I firmly believe we should consider ourselves favourites to win on Sunday and I’d like to see our players and fans fully embrace that.

In conclusion, yes, we’ve done well to even be in this position but if we want to be genuine winners then we build on that now and take advantage of a six-month improvement that should be the foundation for success this season and beyond. No more excuses, no more disappointment; we can now take charge of our own destiny. Stand tall Rangers – this is our time!

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