Alan Brazil: Celtic should not think they’re home and hosed

Celtic's Olivier Ntcham celebrates his goal with team-mates
Celtic's Olivier Ntcham celebrates his goal with team-mates

BEFORE last weekend’s Old Firm clash, the vibe from Celtic fans was one of worry.

Now it’s as though the Hoops are already home and hosed in the title race.

It’s amazing how big an impact one game can have on the way people think.

But I reckon it’s simply too soon to write Rangers off.

Yes, Celtic looked very comfortable against the Gers, and could have won by a far more flattering scoreline.

It’s also true that the league table doesn’t make fantastic reading for the Teddy Bears.

One win, two draws and a defeat isn’t all that great a return for Steven Gerrard’s side from their first four games.

There’s no dressing that up.

But Rangers ARE a better team now than they were last season.

Their performances in the Europa League prove it.

Let’s not kid anybody on here – qualifying for the group stages of the tournament from the first qualifying round is no mean feat.

Aberdeen have been trying to do it for years without success.

For Stevie G to lead the Light Blues to the tournament proper at the first time of asking is seriously impressive.

All those games – and all the travel involved – will have taken something out of his players.

They are a new team, too. So when things get tough, there’s no real familiarity between team-mates for them to fall back on.

Celtic’s players have got that luxury after so many years of success together.

Each of Brendan Rodgers’ stars knows what the others are capable of, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

So when someone is running with a wee bit less than normal in the tank, they’ll know where and when they can conserve energy, depending on which players are around them.

Rangers are still getting to know each other, so it will take them time to get to that level of understanding.

But I reckon they will definitely get there.

After all, anybody who has watched Rangers in action under Gerrard can see the strides they have made since the dark days of last season.

The defence is miles better.

They look like they have a plan in midfield.

They’ve got a serious goal threat.

But the most important thing is that every single player looks willing to run through a brick wall for the cause.

That’s something they didn’t have before – and it’s priceless.

It’s something Brendan Rodgers has enjoyed ever since he walked in the door at Celtic Park.

There was a wee feeling that the Hoops’ transfer window troubles might sour the atmosphere in the dressing-room.

But their performance against Rangers showed they’ve still got the hunger required to win big games.

It looked, and felt, like an important performance and it might – as many Celtic fans seem to believe – be one that leads to an eighth title in a row.

But I’ve seen enough from Rangers to reckon they’re far from finished. They will get better and their results will pick up as the season unfolds.

Steven Gerrard will want his side to push Celtic all the way. He’ll also want to give Brendan Rodgers a fright.

And let’s not forget that, right now, it’s 100% Hearts who are the biggest threat to the aspirations of both halves of the Old Firm.

Put it all together, and I think it’s a recipe for a decent title race.

It’s one I still believe Celtic should win.

But I wouldn’t be crowning them Champions just yet.