The days of going to Ibrox being seen as one of our most significant fixtures appear to be behind us – at least for the time being. The simple fact is, we are already five points ahead of the Rangers that currently play there. We can afford to lose this match and all it would really cost us would be our unbeaten domestic run and possibly slipping down a place in the table of Aberdeen win their game on Sunday.
But that’s away to Motherwell and that same fixture in the League Cup didn’t work out too well for them on Thursday night.
We couldn’t afford to lose to Dundee in midweek if we wanted to defend our League Cup, and we certainly don’t want to lose to Anderlecht next week if we want to be in Europe after Christmas.
Mind you, do we really want to give up our unbeaten record to this lot? I’ve said it before, for all it’s a new Rangers that have never beaten us in 90 minutes or even 120 minutes, it’s still the same fans in the stands and I for one don’t want to give them a single thing to try to hold over us.
This Rangers team have had a bit of an overhaul through the summer, and there’s no doubt they needed it. On our last visit to Ibrox, it was five going on fifty-five as Celtic utterly humiliated Pedro Caixinha’s side in their own backyard. Scott Sinclair missed some great chances to add to the scoreline throughout the match, but we still saw him open the scoring from the penalty spot. Leigh Griffiths fired in a wonderful second, but 2-0 at half time only flattered the hosts.
Any thoughts of them still being in the game were quickly extinguished in the second half as Callum McGregor added our third and his second in a week against them following his Scottish Cup semi final opener. Dedryck Boyata added a simple fourth with a header from a crossed in free kick, before Kenny Miller got the consolation goal of the game. But the four goal lead was quickly restored again when Mikael Lustig danced through their defence to give us our second 5-1 win of the season over our noisy city neighbours.
The first one saw Moussa Dembele score a hat trick, with Sinclair and Stuart Armstrong also getting on the scoresheet in a game where Joe Garner had pegged us back to 2-1 at half time only for Phillipe Senderos to be sent off for two stupid yellow cards after we’d restored our two goal lead.
Those results bookended the six fixtures between the sides last season. The other game at Celtic Park saw caretaker manager Graeme Murty come away with a 1-1 draw in one of just four matches where we dropped points in the league. Even that came courtesy of a disappointing Clint Hill equaliser and an even more disappointing blatant penalty claim waved away late on when that same Clint Hill kicked Griffiths at waist height and somehow got away with it.
That draw was followed by the aforementioned 2-0 Scottish Cup semi final win, our second semi final win over them last season having also won the League Cup match against Mark Warburton’s men 1-0 thanks to a late Dembele double nutmeg winner. It should have been more, but today’s referee Craig Thomson was also referee that day and bizarrely ruled out a perfectly good Erik Sviatchenko header early in the second half.
Our other visit to Ibrox last season came on Hogmanay, and even saw Miller give the hosts the lead. But as we did every time we went behind last season we turned things around and won the match. Dembele had us level before half time and Sinclair got the winner in a second half where we probably should have scored more but were still lucky that a Miller chance came back off the post.
It should be different this season though. Their defence is still an utter shambles from what we’ve seen so far this season, and that’s despite bringing it Portuguese international Bruno Alves to play back there. He’s been disappointing and actually won’t be fit for this match, joining their captain Lee Wallace on the sidelines.
Their foray into Europe lasted just a single qualifying round as they threw away a 1-0 first leg lead to the fourth best team in Luxembourg in a result that even the regular exiters of Europe that early in Scotland would be ashamed of. We were barely into July!
Their league campaign started well with a 2-1 win over Motherwell thanks to two Graham Dorrans goals, but that was followed by a 3-2 defeat at home to Hibs and then a 0-0 draw at home with Hearts. Wins away to Ross County and at home to Dundee have helped lift them up to third place, but they conceded in both of those games and their last league outing was a 2-2 draw away to city rivals Partick Thistle.
They also took extra time to get past that same Thistle team at the same venue on Tuesday night. Compare that with our stroll in the park away to Dundee and it’s clear which of the two teams had the tougher time in midweek!
This Rangers are certainly scoring goals, with Alfredo Morelos the top scorer in the Scottish Premiership so far this season. With Eduardo Herrera and Carlos Pena also finding their way to goal in recent weeks, adding to the attacking threat of Dorrans and Josh Windass in midfield, there certainly seems to be purpose to their attack. It’s quite possible that their best chance is just to attack us and hope our own defensive issues continue at Ibrox.
After all, there are questions as to who will play at the back for us yet again ahead of this game. Jozo Simunovic was ruled out of Wednesday night’s game with a knee injury, and if he’s in any way fit as Brendan Rodgers has suggested then it’s still possible he’ll be wrapped in cotton wool for the crucial Anderlecht game next week.
But what option does that leave? Boyata is just back from injury and didn’t play the whole game on Wednesday. Lustig, Nir Bitton, Kristoffer Ajer… It feels like we’re asking the same question before every game at the moment. We must be due some luck with availability back there soon.
Maybe we’ll go all out attack ourselves then. Just like our opponents, that’s where we’re strongest. It worked on Wednesday night, especially when we had 85% of the possession at times!
Dembele was rested ahead of this game, while Griffiths, Sinclair and McGregor all enjoyed a goal or two against them last season. That’s without even asking whether you play James Forrest of Patrick Roberts!
Forrest got another two goals against Dundee, adding to an already impressive tally for the season comparative to his best season totals – and it’s still only September! Roberts, on the other hand, might still fancy making up for the miss in the 2015/16 Scottish Cup semi final – although I’d argue he’s done that already given he helped set up the winner on Hogmanay and won the penalty in the second 5-1 win among other things.
This could be another high scoring game between the two Glasgow teams. I only half jokingly suggested it could finish 5-3 on a podcast on Monday night.
So clearly, get your money on 0-0.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)