Will Rangers prove best of the rest?
With the league sewn-up, the race is on for second
With Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic side chilling during the winter break as runaway leaders of the Scottish Premiership, having cemented the league title long before Christmas, we take a look at the ‘betting without Celtic’ market and just what Rangers need to do to secure second-place.
Season tickets were sold in bulk at Ibrox in the summer on the promise that the light blues would be challenging Celtic for the title in their first season back in the big league. On day one of the 2016/17 campaign a huge banner fluttered in the summer breeze which read ‘Going For 55’. How wrong fans were to allow their hopes to be cruelly raised. Rangers go into the year 19-points behind their bitter rivals, with The Bhoys having a game in hand. That’s the biggest top-flight gap between the Old Firm in 91-years.
So, with Aberdeen breathing down their neck for second-place, what do Rangers need to do to finish as best of the rest? Well, firstly, they must strengthen a defence that has conceded eight goals against Celtic in three games already this season, in league and cup action. The same backline have allowed, on average, a goal a game, that’s more than Aberdeen in third. Manager Mark Warburton seems reluctant to add weight to that area of the park however, and chooses, instead, to target attack-minded players.
Fans want a big name
Rangers, current favourites to finish second at 8/15 with Coral, boosted their ranks by bringing USA midfielder Emerson Hyndman in on loan from English Premier League side Bournemouth until the end of the season. With a similar deal in the making for Arsenal young-gun Jon Toral, the attacking-midfielder looks a ready-made replacement for former Spurs ace Niko Kranjcar, who will spend the rest of the season in the medic’s room.
Regulars at Ibrox remain rather underwhelmed by the new faces in Govan and know that their club must begin to finally produce the cash that was promised to them by owner Dave King if they are to get anywhere near stopping Celtic going on to record a record-breaking 10 in-a-row.
Dons can’t be written off
Rangers’ main rivals for the silver medal are Aberdeen, who finished in second last season and sit just a couple of points behind with a game in hand. The Dons already boast a league cheer over Rangers at Pittodrie earlier in the season, winning 2-1 thanks to a 90th-minute free-kick from on-loan Norwich youngster James Maddison. That result was reversed at Ibrox but punters may prefer to fill their boots on the 6/4 about ex-Bear Derek McInnis leading Aberdeen to another runner-up spot.
Further down the pecking order and with Hearts losing manager Robbie Neilson to MK Dons, and seeing replacement Ian Cathro suffer a stuttering start to life at Tynecastle, they have slipped eight-points off the pace and can be had at a bulky 16/1 as a consequence.