This season already has a feeling of difference to it. By that I mean it’s becoming something of a normal season. No one is conceivably running away with the league at this stage. And for Rangers, it feels like there is a title race very much on the horizon for the first time since 2011/12.
Steven Gerrard had a massive job on his hands when he took over the shambles he was left with by previous people who had been, wrongly, appointed by the board. The first thing he had to do was to overhaul the playing squad, which he’s done. He’s had to sort out the spine of a team and a leaky defence, which he’s managed. Lastly, he had to sort out the mentality of the squad and the pathetic showings the teams before his have managed to muster at Ibrox.
That’s what looks to be happening, in fairness to Gerrard and his team, if we take last season for example. Yes, it should not be used as any kind of barometer of judgement. However, let’s just look at it for the purpose of the point. In 38 games, Rangers lost seven games at home, and 10 games overall.
For any Rangers team that is pathetic. This was a squad who crumbled under the pressure of playing at Ibrox. If you add into the mix that they were managed by two guys who couldn’t handle the pressure of managing Rangers, full stop, nevermind games at Ibrox it was never going to end well. The managers didn’t have a clue what to do when things didn’t go to their original plan and when things got tough out on the park certain players looked for the nearest cupboard to go hiding. Realistically it was always going to be a complete mess.
In the opening home games six games of that season, Rangers had lost 3-2 to Hibs and drawn 0-0 with Hearts. In the interest of fairness, they also had beaten Dundee 4-1. That set the tone for the season three home games, and only four points taken.
Now if you fast-forward 12 months to the present day, the whole picture looks entirely different. In terms of the home form, Gerrard’s men are four undefeated in Europe with Rapid to come next Thursday.
However, it’s the home league form that’s been quite impressive. Three games and three wins. One goal conceded and 11 goals scored, with the 5-1 win over St Johnstone the most impressive. Furthermore, all three games were effectively killed off within the first half hour. Gerrard often talks about being ruthless and relentless but we also have a team who look like they relish playing at Ibrox rather than one who folds under the expectation levels.
It’s that kind of attitude that’s needed because it felt to me like the three domestic sides we have faced were beaten before they had come out of the tunnel. It appears that teams no longer fancy themselves when they come to Ibrox, it’s slowly becoming a fortress. Of course, there are bigger tests around the corner with Rapid Vienna, Hearts and Spartak all to come in October.
We will see what happens in those matches. However, if Rangers are to make serious headway this season, they must continue to beat teams in the tunnel. It’s been a long time since we’ve had fortress Ibrox, maybe just maybe, Gerrard is in the process of bringing that back along with the clubs respectability and competitiveness on the park.