Rangers eye Old Firm glory after Scottish wilderness years

by Alistair WATSON

Glasgow (AFP) - Recent history may not have been kind to Rangers, but in the early 1990s they were the undisputed kings of Scottish football.

On the pitch, the Ibrox side enjoyed numerous league and cup successes, while coming close to European glory.

Off it, Rangers' unmatched financial might seemed to give them a stranglehold on the Scottish game.

Scottish defender Steven Pressley was just 18 when he broke into a Rangers side in the middle of a sequence of nine successive league titles -- a run that also coincided with the Gers getting to within a goal of the inaugural Champions League final.

Home and away wins over English champions Leeds United clinched a place in the first-ever group stages of the competition and Rangers went into their final group game level on points with French club Marseille.

But Rangers? goalless draw with CSKA Moscow saw Marseille reach the 1993 final, where they defeated AC Milan 1-0 in Munich.

?When you were involved at Rangers at that time you thought that playing in the Champions League and winning trophies was normal,? Pressley, who made his European debut in the 2-2 draw with Marseille at Ibrox in November 1992, told AFP. "It's not until you look back on your career that you realise how fortunate you were to be involved in those games.?

A resurgence from Celtic, the first British club to win the then European Cup back in 1967, saw the Glasgow giants trade titles in the early 2000s in a rivalry made all the more bitter by the fact that Rangers are a traditionally Protestant-backed team, with Celtic a historically Catholic club.

Few of the 50,000 Rangers fans who witnessed their side claim a 3-2 win over Celtic in March 2012 would have imagined that six years later they'd still be waiting to celebrate another Old Firm victory in the Scottish Premiership.

Just three months after that 2012 win, 54-time Scottish champions Rangers were liquidated following financial mismanagement.

A four-year hiatus from the top flight followed as Rangers were forced to start again in the bottom tier. It was an amazing fall from grace for a club that has won more domestic honours than any other in world football.

Their enforced absence allowed Celtic to dominate on a scale not seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s when Jock Stein's side swept all before them at home and scaled the summit of the European club game as well.

Rangers were promoted to the top flight last season but Brendan Rodgers' Celtic won five of six derbies on their way to a sixth successive title and a historic treble, while the Gers languished 39 points behind in third place.

However, for the first time since former Liverpool manager Rodgers arrived in Glasgow, Celtic are looking over their shoulder.

- 'Must-win for Rangers' -

The sides meet at Ibrox on Sunday with Rangers in the better form, having claimed nine victories out of 10 since their goalless draw at Celtic Park last December.

Former youth coach Graeme Murty?s appointment as manager until the end of the season has brought some much-needed stability and confidence to a Rangers side that had failed to win three consecutive games under previous incumbent Pedro Caixinha.

Celtic, meanwhile, have failed to hit the dizzying heights they reached last season, with a record-breaking 67-match unbeaten run brought to a halt in December.

A Rangers win would reduce the gap at the top to just three points -- with Murty's men having played a game more than the Hoops -- and give some credibility to a division badly in need of a competitive title race.

"There certainly looks like there's a belief about Rangers at this time," said Pressley, who won league titles at both Rangers and Celtic as one of only a handful of players to cross the Old Firm divide.

"They've made strides but this game is really important.

"This is probably the first Old Firm game they'll have experienced where there is an expectation on them to get a result and they've got to handle that. For me it's a must win game for Rangers as a Celtic win ends any doubt about where the league title is going to go.

"Rangers were from where they were then to where they are now have a long way still to go.

"But the first part of that journey is overcoming Celtic and that's why Sunday's game is such a big game for them."