What’s happening? Rangers legend Mark Hateley has taunted Celtic by claiming they lost to Steven Gerrard’s ‘second choice’ XI in Sunday’s narrow 1-0 Old Firm Derby victory.
Following their European exploits in the searing heat of Armenia and a 5,000 mile-round trip on Thursday night, the Gers headed into the first David Vs Goliath battle of the season without a number of key players due to a Covid outbreak.
Gerrard was absent from the game, but the pre-match disruption didn’t seem to affect the Ibrox side – led by assistant manager Gary McAllister – as they made it seven Glasgow derbies in a row without tasting defeat courtesy of Filip Helander’s headed winner.
The likes of defender Leon Balogun and goalkeeper Robby McCrorie were presented with an opportunity to impress and both players grasped their chance.
Balogun was asked to fill in at right-back in the absence of both captain James Tavernier and Nathan Patterson and he managed to keep Hoops dangerman Kyoyo Furuhashi quiet for the majority of the contest.
As for shot-stopper McCrorie on only his second appearance, the 23-year-old produced a brilliant save to deny Furuhashi in a one-on-one during the second half and has been widely tipped as Rangers future No.1 in years to come.
Hateley expects the Scottish Premiership title race to be closer-run encounter this term, but is adamant Rangers are just as good if not stronger than the team who went the entirety of last season undefeated.
Their early-season form raised a few eyebrows as Gerrard’s side lost their blemish-free unbeaten record with defeat against Dundee United at Tannadice.
Celtic, under Ange Postecoglou, have improved significantly over the past month and Hateley concedes it is unlikely there will be 25-points separating both rivals come the end of the season but believes the Gers will be crowned Champions once again.
He told BETDAQ: “It was more like a second XI that beat Celtic. You’re looking at a third choice right-back, a third-choice goalkeeper…
“There were players out injured and with Covid that would have started on the day, but Rangers have still gone out there and put on a performance.
“Celtic had a lot of possession but never really troubled Rangers.
“I’m expecting a closer title race than last season, but I still see Rangers finishing on top.
“That quality is still there from last year where they finished unbeaten. I know they’ve already been beaten this season, but you reset and you go again.
“The squad is the same level if not stronger than last season and as Steven Gerrard says, they’re just waiting for that trigger to kick on again this season to play the way they did last year.”
The legendary striker, who scored 112 goals during his time at Ibrox, added: “Rangers are getting back to the form of last season again.
“Rangers will take that Celtic result forward, it’s always good to be the victors of the first Old Firm game of the season. It sends out a signal.
“It sends a message out to all the contenders that are looking to win the league. And it sends a huge message as it wasn’t Rangers first-choice side that played against Celtic.
“It puts the team in a good frame of mind and a good spot for the rest of the season.”