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Is Rangers Resurgence A Real Threat To Celtic’s Title?

52690062.jpgSportingo.com writer Ralph Little puts on his thinking kilt as the Scottish Premier League gets underway.

As the SPL kicks off, Glasgow football fans get to renew their fierce battle as Celtic and Rangers both aim to secure the title and Old Firm bragging rights. And this season it seems that Walter Smith’s side are knocking on the door of Gordon Strachan’s hooped rivals.

After the painful, but mercifully short reign of forlorn Frenchman Paul LeGuen, the Gers got their wish with successful former manager Smith making a much-needed return to Ibrox. His return in January signalled an upturn in form that was not enough to make up the gap to an imperious Celtic side, but did have the effect of boosting the morale of the squad and fans and give them renewed hope in the fight to make up ground on the Bhoys.

It seems that Celtic were pushing ahead last term and perhaps their major achievement was not so much winning the league for the 41st time, but in fact their qualification to the final 16 of the Champions League where they lost narrowly to eventual winners AC Milan. It is to such heights that the blue half of Glasgow are now aiming and with a strong squad and a good injection of quality young players, they may be well on the way to achieving this goal.

Chairman Sir David Murray has already conceded that on a financial footing his Rangers side may be lacking – so even more of a reason for Smith, Ally McCoist, Billy Kirkwood and the rest of the backroom staff continue to create, hone and test the talent that is on offer. There are a host of players on the fringes, and indeed within the first-team set-up, who have come through the ranks, including attacking midfielder Charlie Adam, full-back Steven Smith and the more experienced but still maturing Chris Burke (when he stays on his feet), and newly-capped Alan Hutton.

If Rangers’ most experienced campaigners are consistently performing at their best, including rocks in both defence and midfield in the shape of David Weir and captain Barry Ferguson, and if Kris Boyd can continue to score at will, and get himself a strike partner who can support him ably – be that Nacho Novo, Jean-Claude Darcheville or at a push Filip Sebo – then there are signs that Walter Smith can secure his eighth SPL title.

Then we come to Celtic, who must be excited, if daunted, by the prospect of a rejuvenated rival, a rival that can take them to the wire following three title wins in four seasons all of which were won by a dozen of more points. During the summer, impish Strachan has strengthened his midfield greatly with the signings of Scott Brown, a player apparently too expensive for Murray to invest in, and AC Milan’s Massimo Donati, who although only on the fringes at the San Siro, is still one of the hottest properties in Scotland. The acquisition of proven goal scorers, at SPL level at least, Chris Killen and Scott MacDonald has helped to widen the Bhoys squad and in some areas of the park they have an embarrassment of riches and have a squad that can battle on many fronts.

Celtic, too, have an impressive array of young homegrown talent to fill out their side, and the continued emergence of talent can only be good for the national team and indeed the national game, which will please former Rangers and current Scotland boss Alex McLeish.

The Scottish game has come in for a great deal of criticism and patronising from fans south of the border, some of which has been both expected and in some areas justified. However, there is no doubt that the top two in the league (Celtic and Rangers if you were wondering who I was referring to!) are on the up and would sit comfortably in EPL comparison.

This season promises to be an exciting one, if Hearts, Aberdeen and Hibs can push the Old Firm, all the better, and if new boys Gretna can continue their heady climb (although Saturday’s 4-0 reverse against Falkirk seems ominous), then I think Scottish football fans can continue to hold their heads high.

It would be great for Scottish football if both Glasgow sides could reach the Champions League group stages and if they can put one over their English neighbours, as Celtic achieved against Premier League champions Man United on that glorious night last November, then that would be the icing on the cake.