MAKING long-term forecasts on the back of whatever unfolds in Sunday afternoon’s final Old Firm game of the season will likely be a spurious exercise.

Rangers have already shown they have the capacity to defeat Celtic over 90 minutes, as they demonstrated the last time the sides met at Ibrox at the end of December. That prompted frenzied debate throughout the winter break about the prospect of a bona fide title race and Celtic’s dominance over the domestic landscape finally being eroded.

Neither materialised. Celtic may have endured one or two minor stumbles in the aftermath of Brendan Rodgers’ departure but they have still run out convincing champions for an eighth successive season. A nine-point advantage to their rivals in second could yet become double figures before the campaign is out.

Forensically examining, therefore, whatever takes place this afternoon – especially in the event of another Rangers victory – and attempting to cast it forward seems like a waste of time. Despite all the hype that surrounds this fixture and the aggressive intent certain to be shown by both sides, this is still a dead-rubber match. Nothing beyond bragging rights is on the table for either side. It is difficult to draw lasting conclusions from a game where there is next to nothing at stake.

A Rangers win today should make little difference to what happens next season. Celtic will need to address the uncertainty over their management vacancy in the summer but whether it is Neil Lennon or someone else who gets the job, they will be heavy odds-on favourites to again win the title.

The strength of Celtic’s playing squad and the depth of their resources dictate as much. Barring the wheels coming off the bogie in spectacular fashion, it is Celtic’s title to throw away for the next few years yet, a possibility that must seem wholly demoralising for Rangers and the rest of the chasing pack.

Rangers can do little about that. The difficulty they face, however, is that their fortunes are forever pegged against how their greatest rivals are faring, like some kind of perpetual see-saw. If Celtic are on the up then, so the logic goes, Rangers must be down.

Where that may have been an accurate assessment prior to Rangers’ financial implosion and subsequent slide into liquidation in 2012, it no longer applies in 2019. During Rangers’ enforced absence from the top division, Celtic ascended to a higher financial plane thanks to regular access to the Champions League’s pot of gold and the millions acquired through the sale of players.

Rangers will, as you would expect, have designs on eventually closing that gap but it would be completely unreasonable to set that as a short-term target, even if that means the club and their fans having to accept the unpalatable fact that Celtic will almost certainly go on to reach the fabled 10-in-a-row landmark in two seasons’ time.

It won’t be easy but Rangers need to forget all about Celtic for the time being and focus instead on achieving realistic, incremental progress. Their most pressing task was to wrest from Aberdeen the tag of the country’s second best team and Steven Gerrard has managed that in his first season in charge. Rangers will comfortably finish in second place this season and their main objective next year should be to do the same again. For now, Aberdeen are their closest rivals, not Celtic.

How quickly they can close that gap to Celtic will depend on whether they can source the sort of investment needed to make it a level playing field once again. At the moment, however, Gerrard’s early recruitment for next season seems to suggest he expects to continue working within similar financial parameters.

Jordan Jones, Jake Hastie and Greg Stewart, if the latter is confirmed, will all enhance Rangers’ squad but do not suggest they are of a mind to splurge excessively to try to rein in Celtic quicker than would be realistically viable. A prudent approach is the correct path at this time.

Rangers fans will rightly celebrate with some vigour should their team hand a first defeat in his second spell as Celtic manager to old adversary Lennon this afternoon. They would be wise, however, not to misinterpret it as a sign of a seismic shift in Scottish football. They have a long way still to go on that front.


JOSH TAYLOR isn’t a household name yet but that ought to change on Saturday when he bids to become Scotland’s first world champion boxer since Ricky Burns lost his unification bout to Julius Indongo two years ago to surrender his WBA super-lightweight belt.

Ivan Baranchyk’s IBF version of that title will be up for grabs at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow when home advantage should see Taylor to victory, although he will face the toughest test of his professional career to date against the unbeaten Belarussian nicknamed The Beast.

Should Taylor come through this one unscathed, he will meet highly-fancied Regis Prograis in the World Boxing Super Series final where the American’s WBA title will also be on the line, as well as the Muhammad Ali trophy.

Taylor isn’t young at 28 years old, but he’s now looking at the possible scenario of holding two versions of the world title after just 16 professional fights. At that point, everyone in Scotland ought to know who he is.