GLASGOW – Steven Gerrard got an early lesson in how fickle life as a football manager can be as a 12-game unbeaten run to start his reign as Rangers boss turned into the Gers' worst league start in 29 years with a 1-0 defeat to Celtic.
Billed as a clash between Gerrard and his former manager at Liverpool, Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers, the hosts showed there is still some way for Gerrard to go if he is to end a seven-year domination of Scottish football by the green-and-white half of Glasgow.
While the scoreline was far more respectable for the visitors than on their last visit to Celtic Park when Celtic sealed the title with a 5-0 rout in May, there was little change in the general flow of the game from Rodgers' first two seasons in which Celtic have pummelled Rangers on their way to back-to-back domestic trebles.
Celtic hit the woodwork three times before scoring the only goal through Olivier Ntcham to already extend their lead over Rangers to four points. A return of five points from four games is Rangers' lowest points tally since 1989/90.
Gerrard pointed to a tough run of fixtures and the fatigue accumulated from overcoming eight qualifiers to reach the Europa League group stage as justification for that tally, with three of his first four league games away from home.
“Rangers have been blown away, annihilated, scorelines that are not acceptable in this game. I'm not saying 1-0 is acceptable but I've seen enough today to say we are working in the right direction,” insisted Gerrard.
Relief for Rodgers
Rodgers’s record in Old Firm derbies is now 10 wins and two draws in 12 meetings.
And while Gerrard claimed before the game he would happily settle for losing all four clashes between the two this season if it meant winning the league, the former Liverpool captain knows only too well Rangers have to land a blow on their bitter rivals to stand any chance of a first title since liquidation in 2012 forced Rangers to start again at the bottom tier of Scottish league pyramid.
This, though, may have been Rodgers’s most pleasing derby day given the pressure not to be embarrassed by his former pupil and the contrasting circumstances surrounding both sides before kick-off on Sunday lunchtime.
Gerrard has been backed with 15 new signings over the summer, with Northern Irish international Gareth McAuley set to become the latest addition.
Rodgers, meanwhile, had seen his superiors fail to address key positions clearly in need of strengthening in a frustrating window that ended with star striker Moussa Dembele leaving for Lyon in a club record sale of £20 million without time to find a replacement.
As Gerrard was keen to point out, Celtic do though maintain the core that have made a habit of winning. And he is hopeful that given more time to gel and prepare, having arrived back in Glasgow in the early hours of Friday morning from a Europa League trip to Russia, Rangers will be in a better position to strike back when the sides meet again at the end of December.
“We played against a team that's been together for two years, with a lot more experience,” added Gerrard.
“They know how to win, we know they are a good team, but I saw enough today to feel if we can get bodies back, new signings up to speed, I believe we can be a match for Celtic, particularly in the next fixture.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)