Resurgent Rangers Well Placed to Finally End Celtic's Decade of Dominance

George Cannon
Rangers have come on remarkably under Steven Gerrard
Rangers have come on remarkably under Steven Gerrard / Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Eight years ago, Rangers were playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football after severe financial mismanagement had seen them liquidated after a period in administration.

The route back to the top looked long and bleak for one of the world's most successful clubs, but finally, finally, they appear close to returning to the very top of Scottish football.

It was never going to be easy rising through the divisions, and at times they've made it hard for themselves. Two years of treading water in the Championship was followed by defeat in the 2016 Scottish Cup final, before a wasted season under Pedro Caixinha's pitiful tactical plans and caretaker Graeme Murty marked their return to the top-flight.

Heavy defeats to Celtic spelled the end for Graeme Murty
Heavy defeats to Celtic spelled the end for Graeme Murty / Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Oh how things have changed since then, though. After 4-0 and 5-0 losses to bitter rivals Celtic back in 2018, Murty returned to his previous role as manager of the Under-20s, with Rangers seemingly as far away from their Old Firm foes as they ever had been.

Brendan Rodgers' Hoops had just completed another domestic treble when former Gers chairman Dave King announced Steven Gerrard would be the new manager at Ibrox attempting to close the ever-expanding gap across Glasgow.

The former Liverpool and England great had little coaching experience before making the leap north of the border, with his only previous managerial role seeing him take charge of Liverpool's youth team. His appointment was seen as a gamble by many, but has arguably turned out to be the best decision Rangers' hierarchy has made in a decade - not that there was much competition for that title.

Rangers have improved significantly under Gerrard
Rangers have improved significantly under Gerrard / Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Under Gerrard, Rangers have been transformed. The hollow, hapless shell of a club, filled with individuals, has been replaced with a carefully constructed pre-planned team, capable of competing at the highest level.

Since his arrival, Rangers have played 38 European matches. Their record has been nothing short of remarkable, notching 20 wins, 13 draws and just five defeats.

Critics can point to the fact that a large portion of those results come in the Europa League qualifying stages, where several minnows make up the numbers. But the likes of Porto, Feyenoord, Braga, Villarreal, Young Boys, Spartak Moscow, Galatasaray and Benfica can all testify that they're no flat-track bullies.

Their success on the continent is all the more surprising given they've been unable to usurp bitter rivals Celtic atop of the Scottish Premiership, but recent events indicate that the Bhoys' decade of dominance - currently overseen for a second time by Neil Lennon - may finally be coming to an end.

Celtic have been struggling under Neil Lennon of late
Celtic have been struggling under Neil Lennon of late / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Sunday's 8-0 thrashing of Hamilton saw Rangers ruthlessly record their biggest win in seven years and it moved them nine points clear at the top of the table - albeit after playing two games more than Lennon's charges. It was also the 12th clean sheet Rangers have kept from their 14 league outings.

Gers been in a similar situation before, granted. In previous campaigns heading into the winter break, Gerrard's men have been level on points with Celtic having played a game more, and then in 2019/20, they were two points behind the reigning champions having played a game less.

Both ended in disappointment for the Light Blues. In 2018/19 there was a nine-point gap come May, and in 2019/20, a 13-point difference separated the two sides as the season ended early due to coronavirus. Rangers' post-Christmas collapse has had a sense of inevitability in times gone by, but that feeling - at long last - has fallen by the wayside.

Connor Goldson got both the goals as Rangers defeated Celtic 2-0 earlier in the season
Connor Goldson got both the goals as Rangers defeated Celtic 2-0 earlier in the season / Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Now, Rangers appear to be an entirely different beast.

Time will tell whether that is true or not, but you'd be brave to bet against Gerrard's side on recent evidence. Confidence is flowing throughout Rangers' squad and Gerrard's confession of how their recent 3-3 draw with Benfica in Lisbon felt "more like a defeat" is reflective of how far they've come in such a short space of time.

The next and final step is the smallest, yet hardest, they've had to make on their prolonged path back to the top of the game. But with Celtic faltering in Europe and Lennon under the microscope, Rangers appear well positioned to complete one of football's finest comeback stories.