Archive for the ‘Rangers’ Tag

Jumpers for Goalposts – Episode 2 – It’s a Rich Man’s World (Everton Excluded)

Stef Meens bumbles his way through another episode of our critically panned show.

This week he’s joined in the studio by Ewan McQueen, Sahil Jaikda and Stu Martinez.

Topics on the agenda include Man United’s ominous start to the season, the never ending gloom at Arsenal, Everton’s desperate financial state, Jose Mourinho’s eye gouge and Michael Owen’s new found passion for jigsaws.

Apologies for the lack of a musical intro. We shall endeavour to have one next week.

Click on the link below to listen. Alternatively, you can catch us on Itunes. Search for ‘Champions Chat.’


Smith’s final Hampden appearance ends in style

After weeks of anticipation with ‘Old Firm summits’ and fear of another escalation between Lennon and McCoist and/or El Hadj Diouf and Scott Brown, football prevailed as the winner after a thrilling cup final which went into extra time.

Ashleigh McGuinley takes us back to Sunday’s clash at Hampden for the first piece of silverware in this season’s Scottish Football.

Nikica Jelavic was Rangers’ hero as he grabbed an extra-time winner over old firm rivals Celtic in a pulsating Co-operative Insurance Cup final at Hampden.

In a dramatic match credited for being a great advert for Scottish football, Rangers took the lead when Steven Davis tapped home the opening goal in the 23rd minute but Joe Ledley quickly headed Celtic level on the half hour mark.
Three penalty claims – two for rangers in the first half – were ignored by courageous referee Craig Thompson.

The second half was filled with tension with Celtic’s Fraser Forster denying Steven Whittaker and Rangers Neil Alexander smothering a ball in from Ledley.

Extra time was needed with no further goals in normal time allowing Jelavic to fire in off the post seven minutes into extra-time, winning it for Rangers.

In the dying seconds of the game, Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre was deservedly shown a straight red card for bringing down Vladimir Weiss.

Rangers’ victory ends Neil Lennon’s hopes of a domestic treble in his first season as Celtic’s manager. However, with each team frantically chasing the Scottish Premier League and Celtic still in the running for the Scottish Cup, each side remains in contention for a double trophy.

The win over Celtic means a 20th trophy win for Rangers’ manager Walter Smith, before he steps down at the end of the season.

After the events of the Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park earlier in the month, both teams received a visit from Strathclyde police warning them about the consequences of their behaviour on the pitch.

The first moment of controversy came in the 15th minute when referee Craig Thompson was faced with a difficult decision when Mark Wilson went crashing to the ground inside the penalty box after a challenge by Sasa Papac but referee Thompson instinctively denied the first penalty appeal of the match.

Izaguirre was finding some joy down the left side with his cross ins and flicks and left Kyle Lafferty struggling to keep up.

In the 21st minute Celtic nearly took the opening goal when Kris Common’s cross from the left hand side gave Skipper Scott Brown a chance to dive in but his header slipped past the post.

Two minutes later Rangers’ made the break through when Steven Davis made his way by David Forster with a long ball from the 25 yard point.

But seven minutes later at the half-hour mark Celtic equalised when Izaguirre’s deflected cross found Georgios Samaras and Ledley arrived to nod the ball past Alexander.

Rangers thought they had been awarded a penalty a few minutes later when Jelavic went down just inside the box after a tackle from Rogne. Referee Thompson appeared to be awarding the penalty when he pointed to the spot but after some advice from his assistant he issued a free kick to the Parkhead side and booked ger’s striker for simulation.

The first half ended with two strong teams determined to win, not defend.

Rangers started the second half on top form with Forster forced to make a quick dive to save a strong drive in from Whittaker. Ibrox skipper David Weir and Jelavic both threatened the Celtic side by quickly pushing the ball forward into the midfield section.

Celtic were quick to find their feet again and got straight back on the attack leaving Papac inches from scoring an own goal after attempting to clear a ball in from Commons’. However, Ibrox defender was out of danger when the ball swung wide.

The Rangers side tried to claim another penalty in the 60th minute when Wilson appeared to use his hand to block Maurice Edu inside the box but referee Thompson shook his head and signalled play on.

Ki Sung-Yueng and Loovens replaced injured skipper Brown and Rogne while Kyle Hutton came on to replace Madjid Bougherra.

A few moments later, substitute Loovens caused problems for the Rangers’ defence after a Celtic corner gave Ledley a chance from 10 yards only to be smoothly saved by Alexander.

In the final seconds of normal time, Weiss came on to replace Lafferty for extra-time.

At the end of the second half Celtic looked to have the advantage over the injured and tired Ibrox’s side but just five minutes into extra-time Celtic goaly Forster was forced to act quickly to a free-kick from Jelavic, tipping it over the bar into safety.

The Croatian striker did not give up easily and two minutes later returned after pacing out Mulgrew to latch on to a swiftly taken free-kick from Weiss and slipping the shot past Forster, the ball hitting the post before rolling along the goal-line and spinning into the net as Izaguirre desperately tried to clear it.

In the 110th minute Rangers had the chance to seal the deal as Jelavic tried his luck again but was pulled to the ground at the edge of the box by Mulgrew who consequently picked up a yellow card.

El-Hadji Diouff replaced Jelavic and set up Weiss with another Rangers breakaway in the final minutes but the ball was superbly brought to safety by Forster.

Celtic fans prayed for a last minute equaliser but Gary Hooper was denied his moment of glory by a block from Whittaker.

Just minutes before the final whistle, Celtic left back Izaguirre was shown a straight red card for fouling Rangers’ substitute Weiss as he tried to take advantage of an open goal, leaving the desperate Celtic side with just 10 men.

This was the last incident in what proved to be a great spectacle which saw Walter Smith’s side leave Hampden victorious with the first trophy of the season.

Jumpers for Goalposts Episode 6

Here we have it, the 6th episode of the podcast. Stef is joined by the usual crowd – Stu Martinez, Colin Stone and Elliot Busby – to discuss everything football; from Arsene Wenger’s smoke-screen and the pronunciation of Dirk Kuyt to contentious refereeing decisions and the Old Firm furore.

Listen below, or download from the usual site here.

Also from this week we are now available on iTunes. So make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode of JfG.

Preview PSV-Rangers: Dont expect total football Eindhoven fans

On Thursday night, Scottish champions Rangers will go to the Phillips Stadion in Eindhoven to entertain Dutch league leaders PSV.

After Stef Meens preview of the Dutch side, I am going to preview the Scottish champions and analyse their chances for Thursday night.

I am writing this a few hours after watching Rangers win their latest match against St Mirren in the SPL. They will have to play a lot better against PSV, if they are to bring any sort of result back to Scotland.

They struggled for long periods of the game against a side 2nd bottom of the SPL. At points, they struggled to make simple passes to each other and looked devoid of creativity.

On Thursday night Rangers will also have a number of players out including £4m striker Nikica Jelavic, who is ineligible for the Europa League, Steven Naismith, one of their top performers this season and Lee Mcculloch, always a presence in midfield among others.

However, there are positives for Rangers to be taking into this game. Firstly, the formation that Walter Smith puts out very rarely fails in European competition, especially away from home.

3 years ago, Rangers got to the Uefa Cup final based on their away form, although in each case they had played the first leg at home. However, this Rangers side seem to adapt very well away from home, containing the opposition for long periods of the game and trying to hit them on the counter attack.

They did this successfully in the last round in Lisbon,although they did look shakier in defence than they had done in previous matches.

Depending on who is fit, it looks likely either El Hadji Diouf or Kyle Lafferty will play the lone striker role. If Rangers wish to get anything out of this game, I think Walter has to go with Diouf. For all his faults and there are endless ones, he played this role against Lisbon a hell of a lot better than Lafferty.

Lafferty missed a barrel load of chances against the Portuguese side in the first leg and for a big striker doesn’t easily bully defenders.

Diouf hasn’t exactly set the world alight since joining Rangers but his best performance in a blue jersey did come in Lisbon, when he scored his teams opening goal. Lets not forget, he was a man Liverpool once paid £10m for. He could possibly be the man to give Rangers that bit of spark to get a priceless away goal.

That spark could also come from Steven Davis. The midfielder was the best player in Scotland last season, although he has been poor this season by his standards. In recent weeks, he has came back into some form and can still boss midfield with his range of passing and drive.

However, I fear this game may be a very defensive affair and Rangers will be at the forefront of it. PSV are a dangerous attacking side, who even scored 10 goals in one game this season and put 5 goals past Lille in the round of 32.

Rangers defenders will need to focus 100% for 90 minutes, something they have shown time and time again over their last few European campaigns. Before dropping into the Europa League, they performed admirably in a tough Champions League group, the highlight being a backs-to the wall draw against Man Utd at Old Trafford. Whilst PSV may not be in Utd’s calibre, they are a better side than Lisbon, so Rangers can ill afford the mistakes they made for the two goals they conceded in Portugal.

Rangers defence looks likely to be weakened by the loss of Sasa Papac, one of the side’s most consistent performers. The back 5- including goalkeeper Allan Mcgregor almost rolls of the tongue for Rangers fans- Mcgregor, Whittaker, Weir, Bougherra, Papac. That will need to be re-jigged in Eindhoven, so that is something that PSV could exploit.

However, on the plus side for Rangers, Richard Foster has performed well in European games this season and will probably slot in at right back, with Steven Whittaker switching to left back.

Filling the last gap in the Rangers defence will be Kyle Bartley an on-loan signing from Arsenal. Bartley has performed well since joining in January and scored the winner against St Mirren today. His presence and pace could be a great asset for his team in coping with PSV’s strikers.

Rangers will need to have some luck to not concede against a side that are scoring at a rate of almost 2.5 goals a game, 44 of those coming at home, where they have only lost twice.

PSV could well become frustrated at the Scottish sides defensive play and that could let Rangers in for a killer away goal. The game will be decided by the team that keeps their discipline and possibly doesn’t tire towards the end of the 90 minutes. Both sides have dangerous players in their line-ups,although Rangers will badly miss Nikica Jelavic.

It would be a significant achievement if Rangers came back to Scotland with an away goal or even a goalless draw, which would put them in a strong position for the 2nd leg.

Preview PSV – Rangers: A dull game on the cards in the City of Light

After being kicked out of the Scottish Cup by Old Firm rivals Celtic, Rangers  remain in the hunt for three trophies. The SPL crown is still within their grasp and the Carling Cup final against the Celts is a realistic chance for domestic silverware. In the Europa League, Rangers face Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.

The Dutch side have bounced back from a weak start of 2011 with six convincing wins out of the last eight . They drew against rivals Ajax, a game which they dominated and a certain victory was denied by an outstanding performance by Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

Despite losing to this year’s Eredivisie revelation Ado Den Haag (currently fifth after years of relegation battles), PSV are confidently leading the Dutch league with champions FC Twente trailing three points.

The team from Eindhoven (known as the City of Light because of the Philips headquarters) made it into the last 16 of the Europa league by beating current French league 1 leaders Lille and finishing first in their relatively easy group(FC Methalist Kkarkiv, Sampdoria and Debreceni VSC). Fred Rutten, the PSV coach, in the Netherlands known as the most cautious man in football, said his side  face a tough draw against Rangers.

However, his analysis after last week’s Old Firm proves PSV hardly fear the Gers firepower: “The atmosphere was amazing and I saw a lot of passion on the pitch. Rangers are a physically strong side who try to defend well; it will be hard to score against them.”

Rutten might not seem too impressed, but what does his team have to offer when they play host to the Scottish champions?

PSV have a long tradition of finding talented strikers who excel in the Eredivie and later become top goal scorers in Europe’s biggest leagues. Romaria, Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy are the best examples with  Mateja Kezman and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink  only scoring convincingly in the Eredivisie or SPL.

A couple of years ago, PSV found another Brazilian wonder kid: Jonathan Reis. After problems concerning his attitude (caught using cocaine) the talented striker was finally on the right track scoring and creating chances like his illustrious countrymen. However an injury leaves him out  for the remainder of the season.

His replacement, Marcus Berg, who is on a loan spell from Hamburg, hasn’t settled into the team. Another striker, Danny Koevermans,  is causing a bit of trouble in the dressing room expressing his unhappiness regarding his lack of playtime. In other words, PSV lack a reliable number 9.

Despite this they are in their most productive season since 2000. Their main threat comes from three players: Jermain Lens, Balasz Dzsudzsak and Ola Toivonen.

Dzsudzsak (left) and Toivonen (right) produced 27 goals and 17 assists in this season's Eredivisie so far

Despite he hasn’t yet showed his top form, Lens is a very fast winger/second striker, deadly on the counter attack. However, PSV’s real entertainers are Toivonen and Dzsudzsak, the latter being the most threatening forward in the Eredivisie with 14 goals and 12 assists. He has a fantastic right foot and great ability to pass his man.

Swedish international Toivonen has stood up to fill the void left by Barcelona midfielder Ibrahim Afellay. He doesn’t have the Dutch international’s quick feet but the Swede compensates with power, strength and good runs into the box.

However, PSV’s problem lies in their lack of movement. Even their star players like Dzsudzsak and Toivonen are better with the ball instead of finding space without it. Thus at times PSV’s play can be static and dull.

Although former Aston Villa Captain Wilfred Bouma is good in moving up the pitch from his position as a centre back, the two central midfielders Bakkal and Engelaar, both physically very strong, lack the quick feet to set up a flowing passing game.

In other words, if Rangers can pressure PSV early on and high up the pitch, PSV have little creativity left than to cross a long ball towards Toivonen or Dzsudzsak.

The goalkeeper, Danish international Andreas Isaksson never looks confident. He is a typical goalie who won’t make to many mistakes in a season but he won’t win you games either. He is particularly vulnerable  for crosses and corners through the air. Rangers should test him as much if they can, even from long-range.

In reality the first match in Eindhoven is not likely to become a classic. Rangers will hope to keep a clean sheet and with a bit of luck score on a counter attack.  PSV will rely on their excellent defensive record and will patiently wait for their forwards to strike.

With the lack of movement in either squad, this could mean that Thursday’s match might become more a battle of fitness and physical strength rather than one in which finesse and technique will determine the outcome.

Strong points
They always score and remain patient
Dangerous on the counter attack
Physically strong midfield

Weak points
Goalie Isaksson
Lack of movement and passing since Ibrahim Afellay left
Without reliable number 9 after injury Reis

Key players:

Stef Meens

Back to Parkhead and looking forward to Eindhoven

After the Old Firm cup tie, enough has been said about the managers and the players getting into fights and arguments. So before we forget about the most important thing (football) here is a recap of the game.

Don’t worry folks, next Tuesday, the Jumpers For Goalposts lads will debate settle the debate on the Old Firm once and for all so tune in for the podcast on Champions Chat.

We will also discuss Rangers and their chances against PSV Eindhoven in Europe, with a special contribution by host and professional Dutchman Stef Meens on PSV, a team he knows inside out. Ewan McQueen will provide a preview from a Scottish point of view so keep an eye out for the Champions Chat blog page!

In the meantime, let’s go back to Parkhead with Ashleigh McGinley

Celtic  1 – 0  Rangers

Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon bust up as 3 Rangers players are sent off in a stormy Scottish Cup fifth round replay.

Steven Whittaker was the first to be sent off by referee Calum Murray in the 35th minute after picking up his second booking for fouling Emilio Izaguirre and consequently the remaining time became an almost impossible uphill struggle for the injury stricken visitors.

Mark Wilson became the hero of the night three minutes into the second half when he fired home what turned out to be the only goal of the night.

Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra, was sent off in injury time after picking up his second caution of the night for a foul on Kris Commons, and after the game, the unruly El-Hadji Diouf’s dissent came when he approached Murray as the two benches clashed.

With a victorious win at their home ground, Celtic booked themselves a place in the quarter-finals away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and will be firm favourites to win the tournament and end the season with a domestic treble.

With Rangers losing two players in the run up to kick off, as Nikica Jelavic dropped out with a knee injury and Kyle Lafferty with tonsillitis, Walter smith opted for the same side which battled through the Europa League tie last week against Sporting Lisbon. The 5-4-1 formation was for strong defence.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon drafted in Georgios Samaras at the expense of Anthony Stokes who was dropped to the bench.

In the early stages of the match, it was clear that the injury ravaged Rangers side were struggling as they barely managed to get out their own half and Sasa Papac escaped an early yellow card after felling Wilson.

However, in the 12th minute, the away side were faced with a half chance when former Liverpool striker, Diouf raced through right wide leaving Zaluska off his line and his goals unprotected. Diouf’s cross in from the byline was quickly cleared by a swift header from Celtic defender Daniel Majstorovic.

Skipper, Scott Brown who continued his on-going feud with Diouf in the first half, took advantage of a clear run with the ball through the away sides defence but was unable to get past McGregors quick grasp.

Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung took a chance with a fierce left foot from the distance without any success.

Murray’s patience began to wear thin in the 28th minute and Whittaker picked up the first yellow card for fouling Ki. The Rangers midfielder made his early walk down the tunnel just seven minutes later with a reckless challenge on Izaguirre resulting in a further yellow card and then a red card.

The incident threw the game into further disorder after a touchline confrontation between Diouf and Lennon resulted in the Rangers striker being booked and both Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist receiving a warning from referee, Murray.

When play resumed a nearly costly mistake by Maurice Edu helped Georgios Samaras with a free shot at the Rangers goal but goalkeeper McGregor made a good block and the ball ended up out of play.

As the eventful first half drew to a close, Brown became the next player to join the book shortly followed by Rangers John Fleck who was also cautioned.

The tension on the pitch was carried on down the tunnel at half time when another altercation broke out between Celtic assistant, Johan Mjallby and Rangers defender, Kyle Bartley.

Celtic were in the driving seat at the start of the second half when Wilson took them into the lead just 3 minutes in.

Izaguirre’s cross from the left found fellow full-back, Wilson at the far side of the box but was superbly headed off the line by Papac – but the ball rebounded back to Wilson who quickly found the target.

Papac failed to recover from his headed clearance and was stretchered off the pitch and replaced by Gregg Wylde.

Bougherra was given his first caution of the night for a foul on Celtic striker, Gary Hooper who required treatment off the park before returning to play.

It was clear the home side were dominating and in the 63rd minute Samaras fired a shot against the left hand side of the Rangers post. The Hoops striker had a further two chances to score which were quickly cleared by McGregor and Wylde.

Rangers only real shot at a goal came in the final stages of the second half after a foul on Bartley gave Diouf a free kick, but the striker fired the ball straight at Zaluska.

In the last few minutes of injury time, Bougherra was given his marching orders after fouling Commons.

As the final whistle went, Diouf quickly followed Bougherra after approaching referee, Murray and another touchline clash between Lennon and McCoist ended in both being separated as the controversial match drew to a close.


Scottish clubs need to get behind Rangers’ European campaign

Matias Fernandez’s 88th-minute equaliser for Sporting Lisbon against Rangers last Thursday could prove to be the death knell for Scottish clubs in Europe this year – and for years to come.

With the co-efficient of Scotland’s clubs in dire straits, the SPL need Rangers to progress as far as they can to give Scotland a much-needed rankings boost and regain the two lucrative Champions League spots.

The Gers will face Sporting Lisbon tomorrow in the second leg of the knockout stages of the Europa League after the 1-1 draw at Ibrox, but Rangers will need to score in the Estadio Jose Alvalade to stand any chance of making it through to the last 16.

If Rangers crash out in Portugal, then Scotland could potentially slide further down the rankings pole with Switzerland breathing down their necks.

However, manager Walter Smith has reason to feel confident due to previous encounters with the Iberian side.

During Rangers’ run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, Smith’s men drew 0-0 at home with Sporting before an impressive 2-0 win in Portugal sealed their progress. A tap-in from Jean Claude Darcheville and a solo effort from Steven Whittaker proved to be enough on the night.

Supporters will be hoping that Smith can mastermind a similar result this time round, but Rangers look to be having serious problems in the striking department.

With £4m striker Nikica Jelavic ineligible and Steven Naismith out injured, it looks like Smith will have to persist with Northern Irishman Kyle Lafferty up front.

The much-maligned and unpopular striker has scored just 6 goals in 26 appearances this term, and in over 2 and a half years at the club has only scored 15.

With injuries piling up and the team having suffered a 3-0 loss to rivals Celtic at the weekend, it’s not looking good for Rangers as they try to claw back some co-efficient points.

As it stands, only the winner of this season’s SPL will qualify for the Champions League (and the preliminary rounds at that). Second and third place, along with the winner of the Scottish Cup, will take the Europa League spots.

However, due to other countries slipping up, Scotland are set to regain their two Champions League places for season 2012-13 and move back up the rankings table to 15th place – which would be a welcome financial boost for the participating clubs.

But Swiss clubs are hot on Scotland’s heels and if Rangers fail to get past Lisbon on Thursday then 15th place could be in serious jeopardy.

If Basel and Young Boys, who are both still very much in their respective ties, progress to the last 16 and Rangers do not, then Switzerland will inherit the two Champions League places instead and Scotland will slip even further into the co-efficient abyss.

Thursday’s result could have an impact on the Scottish game for years to come.

Rangers, if they do embark on a European run this season, will probably lose the SPL title and will also miss out on the millions of pounds that come with the Champions League spot. 

This makes it all the more crucial for the Gers to win on Thursday to bring in some much needed finance, and more importantly, some much needed co-efficient points.

Colin Stone

Lennon’s New Year resolutions beginning to pay off

There can’t be many New Year resolutions that survive the month of January. Quitting the cancer sticks. Sweating Tennents lager onto a treadmill five days a week. Flipping 50p’s into an old jam jar every time a profanity slips out your gub. I’ve heard them all, but will power alone just doesn’t cut it.

For those still hanging in there come the end of February, it usually takes discipline, hard work, sacrifice and a dogged determination to mute your doubters.

I can’t be sure what Neil Lennon promised himself as the big hand embraced the wee hand at midnight on December 31st, but it was probably along the lines of “I promise to keep my mouth shut and let my team’s football do the talking.”

As we wave goodbye to February and step into March, Lennon’s New Year vows remain intact. 11 games played, 9 wins, 2 draws and no defeats, with his Celtic side conceding just five goals. It’s been a hugely credible 2011, combining a run which has booked his team’s place in the League Cup final, maintained their presence in the Scottish Cup and extended their lead at the SPL summit to eight points, with just 12 league fixtures to fulfil.

Neil Lennon deserves credit for the turnaround in Celtic's fortunes since the turn of the year

But perhaps most significantly for Lennon, and certainly for his band of hooped followers, Celtic have inflicted successive Old Firm league defeats on their greatest adversaries, Rangers. By twice reversing a morale sucking 3-1 loss at the hands of their city rivals on their own patch in October, Lennon has instilled belief and excitement amongst Celtic supporters for the first time since he took his place in the Parkhead dugout.

Yet it was all so different at the tail end of last year. The removal from European competition was followed by some insipid home performances in the SPL that appeared to show the first sign of cracks at the once fortress building on London Road. Some distasteful touchline antics and misjudged comments to the press heralded a six-match touchline ban for Lennon, and when his side travelled to Ibrox on January 2 there weren’t many Celtic supporters who envisaged such a bruising defeat of their neighbours.

But gradually, the team that Lennon has built almost single handedly (of Celtic’s starting eleven against Rangers on Sunday, only Scott Brown and Giorgios Samaras started in the defeat to Ross County last April) have established a togetherness, a fluency and a work ethic which has superseded all who have come before them.

So impressive is Celtic’s current form that when you sit back and measure the impact Lennon has had in his inaugural season as a coach, it is impossible not to praise his performance level thus far.

Some of his signings have been nothing short of a revelation. “Izaleftback? No, Izaguirre.” Few people had heard of this galloping, nimble Honduran before he checked into Scotland in the close season. Gary Hooper’s Scottish profile before signing for Celtic was reduced to a name on a team sheet in a Sunday newspaper sports section.

There are, of course, a gluttony of other signings who have quickly embraced their flame topped manager’s ethos, but Izaguirre and Hooper have been particularly outstanding. The early form of Kris Commons, signed in January, continues to support the theory that Lennon has an ability to spot raw talent when it comes to player recruitment.

Beyond the signings, though, Celtic have benefitted from some bold decision making on the part of their manager. Hampered by the inability of some of his defenders to keep a clean sheet in the early stages of the season, Lennon refused to obsess over this deficiency and instead concentrated his side’s focus on doing what they were good at: going forward.

While some managers may have choked their side’s attacking advances to concentrate on building from the back, Lennon instead signed a further attacker in January in the shape of Freddie Ljunberg. Defensive signings weren’t forthcoming, so instead Charlie Mulgrew was picked to hold the hand of Daniel Majstorovic in central defence. The former Aberdeen player has so far enjoyed great success tucking into a more central role. Such decisions, which may once have appeared baffling to the club’s supporters, now look decidedly shrewd.

It’s amazing to think that just 10 months ago the same club, coached by Lennon on a short-term basis, limped out of the Scottish Cup after a comprehensive defeat to Highland minnows Ross County.

Off the field, Lennon appears to be focusing his energies on coaching his team as they look to wrestle the SPL title from the hands of Rangers, where once his mind was on other things. As he awaits the outcome of his touchline ban appeal, referees have been off his agenda of late. Sports hacks have been scratching their heads for a golden quote, but even this has been side stepped by the Northern Irishman. Even his Twitter account has been inactive for over a month.

Lennon continues to divide opinion in Scottish football, and some of his outbursts earlier in the campaign were inexcusable. However, he appears to have cleaned up his act of late. One would suspect this has been on the back of the advice of some senior figures inside Parkhead.

If there is anything at all that can be taken from this, it’s that his team and their supporters have built up some kind of siege mentality against all and sundry. This has manifested into a team who have recently shown an astonishing level of energy and commitment on the field, with some of their attacking play being a joy to watch.

Lennon deserves great credit for what he has achieved on a limited budget after inheriting a substandard team. But as he said himself after the 3-0 thumping of Rangers on Sunday, the title race is far from over.

If his passion and drive continue to flourish, there’s no reason why his New Year resolutions can’t continue until the end of the season.

Paul Barnes

Why Rangers MUST win Sundays Old Firm game

Is my heart ready for another one?Yes, folks on Sunday it’s round four of SEVEN Old Firm games that will be played this season.

As a fan of the visitors on Sunday, I feel we must go there and win. As much as it pains me to admit, Celtic are playing some superb free-flowing football at the moment, having been unbeaten in 16 games since losing to Hearts in November.

I was one of the harshest critics of Lennon when he lost big games such as Ross County in April, Utrecht in August and the first Old Firm game. However, after winning the New Year game at Ibrox, he really has got them motoring.

On Sunday we must put the brakes on their supposed charge to the title. We had a big chance to do so last Sunday, but we blew it big time. No matter who we are playing, if they go down to 10 men, we must put the game to bed. It was criminal that we didnt and for the first time in a while, I started to doubt Walter. He must put that right on Sunday.

Forget all this rubbish about we have games in hand. We need points on the board and fast.

We put down a marker earlier in the season when we went there and won 3-1 in October. Usually I say I dont care how much we win by or who scores but I think we need to go and win by a similar scoreline to knock the stuffing out of them. If you look at their results after that game, they dont make good reading for Lennon. They lost to Hearts, only won in injury time against St Mirren and drew at home against Dundee Utd and Inverness.

Im looking at the timing of the game as well. Win this and we are two points behind with 2 games in hand. Lose it and we go 8 behind with fixtures piling up.

There is also the small matter of the cup replay at the same ground just 12 days later. Win on Sunday and we go into that with renewed momentum, lose on Sunday and the curtains on Walters final season could be drawn by April.

Smith will know he has been outwitted in the last two games and he’ll be hurting as much as the fans. Get it right, like he has so many times on Derby day and Lennon’s inexperience in a title run-in as a manager could be cruelly exposed.

Put simply, Walter is the greatest manager that Rangers have had in my lifetime. He will want to go out with a bang, not with a whimper. The run-in to a potential domestic Treble begins in 6 days.

We have signed players that are too good not to win a league title. Nikica Jelavic, El Hadji Diouf and Vladimir Weiss are all proven internationals and Premiership quality. I have freely admitted that some of Lennon’s signings have been superb such as Izaguirre and Hooper. However, they havent experienced a title-run in like most of the Rangers squad have and like Lennon that could prove fatal for the team in the East End.

I hope Rangers go there and attack. None of this 5-4-1 or 4-5-1 rubbish. We need to go there and put them under pressure from the first whistle. Look at their forums and some are already predicting the title is on the way to Parkhead. Some are saying they will win 5-0 on Sunday. We were the same around the New Year game and look what happened.

Lets hope history repeats itself as Ill end with this. Can you imagine Lennon’s celebrations in May if he does win the SPL?

That is a nightmare that I hope doesn’t become reality.

Ewan McQueen

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